Listen to a Londoner: Kirsty Allison

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Kirsty Allison
Image by Kelli Ali

Novelist, film producer, fashionista, rock n’ roll queen, journalist, Ibiza party girl, teacher, DJ, editor, stylist, poet, traveller and, most importantly, born and bred Londoner, this is Kirsty Allison…

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years? Anything in particular you miss?
KA: I used to frequent a goth club called the William Morris in Wimbledon, I drank snakebite and black, and pretended to be an art student before I became one.  I was thirteen or fourteen.  I’d like to take a time machine back to those times, and have a talk with myself.  London will always have speakeasys and people trying to fight the powers that they think restrict them, it’s the nature of British culture, thankfully, like the city itself, it’s all about contrasts.  The best advice I got at primary school was being told to look up – at buildings…there’s more sky around London than there used to be – rooftop bars, penthouses, I like feeling elevated, rather than suppressed by the towering infernos of our city, although they inspire me.

Image by Kelli Ali

LLO: Which area of London are you most familiar with? Write us a mini-poem about why it rocks.
KA: Shoreditch, is my bitch, She’s the devil to my itch, Roaming there, my artistic lair, Makes my teenage dreams fall fair.  The seen it all before they were twelve year olds, or the enthusiastic old boys and girls, We’re hunting for where we lost our souls, and this is where I like to roll.

LLO: You’ve challenged yourself to wear a different outfit every day for a year. If you were to do it again next year, which five London shops would you hit first to build up your wardrobe?
KA: I’d drop by Fiona Doran’s (aka Mrs Jones) Emporium on St John’s Street. She’s an alma mater who’s guided me like a lady with a lamp in her dress for years.  Beatrix Ong has recently opened a shop in Sloane Street, she knocks class and sex into heels.  I collect Alexander McQueen, so it’s hard to think of a wardrobe without some of his original pieces.  The Vivienne Westwood shop at World’s End features clothes she’s sewn herself.  The Shop below Maison Bertaux in Soho is great, and I love Kokon Tozai.  Off Broadway rocks, set up by the divine Donna Kernan.  Concept stores like http://www.ln-cc.com and Dover Street Market…I could go on…Liberty’s is a pleasure to shop in…whoops, how many was that?!

Image by Gaynor Perry

LLO: Ambit just featured an excerpt from your first novel Medicine and you made the cover! You’ve got three sentences to sell your book. Ready, go…
KA: So tough to compress a work into a small space, but, it’s set in 90’s Shoreditch in an exclusive scene where fashion and music industry myths are accepted as truth.  It’s rock n roll to the max, following the downward social adventures of a fashion designer who starts managing a band, Chernobyl, fronted by a male model.  As their fate becomes stardom, she travels from Ibiza to Paris and a world tour, letting her fashion designs become increasingly bonkers.  It’s a funny tale which makes people cry.  I’ve been working on it for 15 years…

LLO: You’ve been a celebrity stylist and a model, coming across some influential names in the fashion industry. Which up-and-coming London-based designers should we keep an eye on?
KA: Louise Amstrup. Holly Fulton. Elliot Atkinson. James Long. SD Yohans.

LO: Best London discovery?
KA: Churches and graveyards are always good value.

LLO: I’m in London for one night and want to veer off the tourist trail for some food and drink. Any fabulous recommendations?
KA: I like La Trompette in Chiswick, I’ve taken my mum there.  The Seven Stars, off Fleet Street behind the law courts is entertaining, it’s proper characterful landlady stuff.  If you want to keep it cheap, C&R on Rupert Court does a good Singapore Laksa, and follow it with a few drinks at The Coach & Horses in Soho, where every table has served me as an office.  Cay Tre on Old Street is always busy, but if you like Vietnamese it never disappoints.  Lemonia on Regents Park Road.  Wholefoods Market is a palace.  Cecconi’s is proper Jackie Collins territory.  A curry in Southall. There are always new places everywhere.

Image by Kelli Ali

LLO: In the late 90s, you were DJ-ing internationally with the likes of Kris Needs, Irvine Welsh and Howard Marks including a residency at Manumission Motel in Ibiza. Where’s your favourite place in London to party the weekend away?
KA: The party is where you’re at.  Aside from that, The Sanctum Hotel in Soho is cool.  Quintessentially is fun.  The lure of a private member’s bar is something I fall victim to but I love a decent bass, and there are so many warehouse parties going on again, it’s easy to get lost partying.

LLO: Tantric Tourists is one of your latest creative projects. Tell is a bit about what inspired it. Any London screenings or events scheduled?
KA: Tantric Tourists follows a self-proclaimed guru as she escorts 10 American students on a quest for enlightenment across India.  It’s a comedy road movie.  The director, Alexander Snelling, and I first met the guru, Laurie Handlers, in India where she was “whirling on the beach”.  We did a test shoot at a workshop she was hosting in Primrose Hill and cracked up at the rushes.  It was too good a story to turn down.

It goes on limited release from Valentine’s Day.  The DVD is available with a discount by becoming a fan on Facebook.  More info: www.tantrictourists.com

LLO: Do you have a favourite London-based book or a great bookshop to recommend – one of those cosy ones with the slightly musty basement smell or great in-house coffee shop?
KA: This is mainstream but I used to like Borders, they had chairs, it was an easy place to get lost in. Waterstones in Piccadilly does a good job, as does Foyles (if only the Westfield rates weren’t so high they’d still have a second floor).  There are many indie shops doing a great job. Broadway Books is hitting the mark. And my local library has a cafe in it, long may it last.  The Daunts in Marylebone is great because it has all these wonderful wooden bannisters, and they are so excellent at travel books.  Judd Street Books is lovely for art books and oddities, towards Bloomsbury from Kings Cross.  The Oxfam bookshops are always great.  The customer service in Hatchards is good. I love a good bookshop, I clear my head by walking through them, flicking through those who manage to hold their fort on the shelves.  The Espresso Machine is a concept I’m excited about – it’s so called because in the time of a coffee you can order whatever book you desire in whatever paper you choose – so if I wanted Lolita in baby pink, Bob the Paedo is my uncle…(almost) any bookshop or library is serving the future of England a favour.

Image by Laurence Tarquin Von Thomas

Thanks Kirsty!

For more on Kirsty’s fascinating life, lookie here: www.kirstyallison.com

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

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London Art Spot: Holly Somers

If you walk down Carnaby Street right now, you’ll see a wintery scene in the windows of the Deisel shop called “Paper vs. Scissors” with delicate paper cut-out trees and mannequins with blank faces and big white hair. This is the work of Holly Somers, a recent graduate of London College of Fashion and joint winner of the Nina De York Illustration Award 2010.

Her debut collection takes the simple practices of folding, pleating and layering to the next level with inspiration from Japanese origami in rich, earthy tones perfect for this time of year. There’s a selection of images below for this week’s London Art Spot and for a more expansive look at the origami collection, there’s a great blog post here.

Read on to hear about Holly’s favourite gold blazer, where her love of a great fabric leads her on days out in the shops around here and her thoughts that went into the design of the Deisel shop window display.

LLO: Give us an overview of your latest Japanese origami-inspired collection.
HS: Throughout my design career, I have always had an interest in and an admiration for Japanese design and in particular Japanese fashion. Working with initial origami maquettes, I was able to experiment with unusual shape construction on a small scale before transferring it on to the body. This quickly led to the development of manipulating a two dimensional form to create a three dimensional object, both in paper, but then more naturally in fabric and garment construction. I was fascinated with the juxtaposition of woven fabrics with stretch fabrics and the intrinsic properties of these opposing materials. This concept became integral to the design and success of the garments as fabric manipulation extended beyond simple folding, pleating and layering. Much of the silk was transformed through interfusing before the fabrics were even cut altering the nature of the fabric to suit the needs of each garment. This collection became an exploration.

LLO: You created the lovely Paper vs. Scissors display in the Female Diesel shop windows on Carnaby Street. What was your thought process when given the brief through deciding on your final designs?
HS: The Window Installation was a fantastic opportunity to step into the world of visual merchandising and with the paper theme I could build on ideas from my previous collection but move it away from the body.  Diesel wanted a white paper forest to appeal to the Christmas season, however, it had to keep the edge that the Diesel brand upholds. I researched back over many artists who had manipulated paper for art installations with a focus on paper cutting rather than folding as before. I began experimenting drawing over tree designs using Adobe Illustrator to create intricate, ambiguous tree stencils that could be laser cut for the window. Design ideas went from broken chairs to be stacked up like tree trunks, rotating lights casting stencil silhouettes on the walls to importing large quantities of branches and logs from the Cotswolds to act as support and structure for the installation; from 8ft wooden trees attached to the store facing to laser cut paper creepers pasted to the woodwork like vines encompassing the store in a tangled forest. The concept also had to translate to the Male Diesel store so we attached hundreds of laser cut scissors to trees there to convey the idea that the boy’s trees had cut up the paper girl’s trees. Despite a great deal of design development there was still an aspect of improvisation on the installation nights, especially to deal with the restraints that come from the location being first and foremost a working shop. Working alongside the team at StudioXag was a great: logistically, technically and creatively.

LLO: Where’s your favourite place in London for fashion inspiration – both in the shops and on the streets?
HS: London as a city is a fantastic source of inspiration in itself with the endless resources available to anyone who lives here. The markets, libraries and museums are  perfect places to contemplate design ideas; especially the Design Bookshop in the V&A. However, since  moving here, I find walking along the South Bank at night when the city is alight one of the most inspiring places to be.LLO: Give us a hint at some of the upcoming fashions in London for next season?
HS: London’s fashion strives to be new and exciting playing to a more youthful clientele where the idea of design and creativity is pushed to the limit when the factor of wearability often comes into play. I feel that next season London designers will continue in this way, however there is definitely starting to be a move to more accessible collections as individual designers’ stylistic tastes are becoming more refined and therefore subtler in their portrayal.

LLO: Which aspects of your designs make them uniquely yours?
HS: Detail. In everything that attracts me, inspires me or interests me it is always the detail that captures my attention. The cleverness of an idea or the way something has been cut. It does not have to be complex but it provokes thought. I want my work to engage people in this way; for them to see and to appreciate the detail and depth of an idea.

LLO: Who is the target audience for your work? Do your designs transfer easily from the catwalk to the streets?
HS: My work is aimed at women aged from mid-twenties to mid-thirties with an understanding and appreciation of fashion, fabric and cut who will find innovative creations in my work that augments their style and femininity. I feel my designs could be diffused from the catwalk to the streets especially as jersey is a very popular fabric to work with at the moment. However, my collection relied on using high end fabrics to create the desired effect. Replacements can be found to cater to the high street market and price-point though the results would still be different. The joy in designing for the catwalk is there is not always a mass market and a low cost budget to consider. As a designer you have more manoeuvrability.

LLO:  Which piece are you most proud of so far and why?
HS: The gold blazer from my collection. It was ironically one of the easier pieces to design as it seemed to design itself on the stand. After working on something for so many months I am often too close to my work to appreciate it, however for some reason I could still relate to this piece and enjoy wearing it myself. It is an example of an idea that remained strong from the initial sketch to its final fruition and therefore I am proud that it is mine.

LLO:What are your favourite materials to work with and the best places to buy them in London?
HS: For me, fabrics are of the utmost importance in a collection, so I take great pleasure in searching around fabric shops and showrooms to discover what is available. Shepherd’s Bush is a great place for toiling fabrics and there is a particular shop on Goldhawk Road which sells fantastic wools. There are a few showrooms along Great Titchfield Street that act as agents for factories and mills across the world. These places are ideal as you can touch and feel samples and quickly discover the vast range of fabrics that are on offer. I particularly love working with jersey and I actually sourced all of my silk jersey from Japan for my last collection.

LLO: You recently graduated from London College of Fashion and won the highly acclaimed Nina de York Illustration Award wowing people with your designs. What’s next for you?
HS: I want to keep experimenting in a range of Fashion Design disciplines. My loyalty will always remain with garment design and this is where I wish to build my career, however I feel that working in visual merchandising, buying and accessories, etc., all feeds my creativity and I hope to remain as creative a designer as possible. To study in Paris would be a fantastic opportunity and there are MBA courses that appeal to me greatly. However, I intend to gain further experience in the industry over the next few years before I embark on further education.

LLO: Any other up-and-coming London-based designers we should keep an eye on?
HS: Joanna Pritchard. I have known Jo throughout my time at London College of Fashion and she is a very talented, unassuming designer. Her minimalist style has a wide-ranging appeal but her detail attracts a closer scrutiny. Jo has just started an MA Womenswear Design course at Central St Martins and I cannot wait to see her move from strength to strength and produce an astounding collection.

Thanks Holly!

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Ruweyda Dool

Through her course at London College of Communication, designer Ruweyda Dool has built up a stunning portfolio of elegant collections for both women and men. A passion for African culture, fabrics with ethnic prints and attention to detail made her models stand out on her recent runway show. 2010 has brought the focus over to her latest colourful jewellery collection and a venture into menswear that she is thoroughly enjoying.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Ruweyda, who is also interested in photography, shows off a few of her designs worn by some gorgeous models, talks about her African/ethnic collection you’ll see in some of the photos and tells us where her work is headed.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity?
RD:
Everything really, even if it’s like the littlest thing. Different things influence my creativity at different times.

LLO: Give us an overview of your latest African/Ethnic collection.
RD:
It’s an eclectic fusion of colour inspired by the vibrancy of African culture with a Western twist. The influence is to capture the colour and warmth of AFRICA and what it represents.

LLO: Which piece are you most proud of and why?
RD:
Every piece has had its moments, however, I think the two pieces that have had most exposure and feedback as well as photographed beautifully are a long, light blue, v-shape bust dress with boning at the bottom and a natural disaster themed dress where the fabric has been digitally printed with my design.

LLO: Who is your target audience?
RD:
 Ages: 16 – 30 both males and females

LLO: What are your favourite materials to work with and the best places to buy them in London?
RD:
The best place to buy fabric is central London. As for my favourite fabrics, I don’t really have one as they all do different things, but I did really enjoy working with the African fabrics as the manipulations and drape of them are different to other fabrics.

LLO: You’ve dipped into menswear as well. Is this something you plan to expand on?
RD:
Yeah, definitely I’m really enjoying menswear at the moment and I’m positively looking to expand in both the male and female areas.

LLO: Which fashion trends should we look out for when Autumn collections hit London’s shops?  
RD:
The fabrics that will be popular this Autumn/Winter are: leather, velvet and sheer fabrics. Military-style and cut out garments will also be evident.

LLO: Favourite place in London to people watch for inspiration?
RD:
Depending on what you’re into, inspiration is everywhere whether it’s the type of music you listen to, art, photography, colours or the feel of fabrics, etc…

LLO: Other up-and-coming London-based designers we should keep an eye on?
RD:
I don’t have any designers I can think of at the top of my head right now, but London is a very competitive city to live in and talent is everywhere.

LLO: What’s next on the agenda for you?
RD:
Well, I guess I’ll have to see what the world has in store for me. However, I’m looking to really build on my menswear collections.

Thanks Ruweyda!

For more about Ruweyda and her work, see her website: www.ruweydadool.com

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Agata Bartoszcze

 
Agata Bartoszcze, is a photographer, artist and designer living between London and her native Poland. However, her photography takes her around the globe. Her work has featured in numerous publications, most recently Photolife magazine. Her exhibition, “Vernisage – Women by Agata Bartoszcze” at The Bowler pub in Farringdon, is the first public exhibition of her work. It concerns the complex delicacies of the female form and spirit.  

“Rather then thinking of myself a photographer, I instead think of myself as a traveller and a teller of stories,” Agata said. “My travels are part of a life journey. I explore nature, cities and objects but also human behaviour, thoughts and feelings. I collect moments and transform them into images. Images which complete my stories. This thinking has led me to photograph almost everything and tell stories of unforgettable places, convey the fairy tales of the objects, children’s dreams, adult dramas or women’s desires. Lives of ordinary people play the main role in my stories and my challenge is the endeavour of revealing a layer of honesty and true thoughts behind the humans captured on film.”  

For this week’s London Art Spot, Agata tells us about her first public exhibition in London, the story of a chinese woman with peanuts and shares some of her stunning photographs from all over the world. 
 

LLO: How did you choose which photographs to include in your first public exhibtion and are you happy with the outcome?
AB:
Lovely female shapes are terrible complicators of the difficulties and dangers of this earthly life, especially for their owners.” ~George du Maurier

Women are inspiring, intriguing and beautiful. Their minds are like a riddle and feelings like a sea. Because I am one of them. The theme suits its surroundings and the relaxed atmosphere of The Bowler pub. Very positive outcome.

LLO: Has your approach to photography changed since moving to London?
AB:
I’ve always loved photography, so this hasn’t changed. I think I’ve grown with all what I’ve experienced in London.

LLO: Share a photo with a great story behind it and tell us about it.
AB:
Chinese woman with peanuts. Very old lady wanted to sell us some peanuts. We really didn’t want to eat them, but she insisted, started being very annoying even violent. She appeared to be strong. I thought this is a fantastic opportunity for a great shot.

 

LLO: Your photos from Mongolia are stunning. What challenges did you face in order to get the perfect shot?
AB:
I think I am a good observer and sometimes very lucky, especially with the landscapes. Sometimes you have to wait hours to get the best shot, sometimes you are right there, like it was waiting for you.

To approach people is a different story and very individual I would say. Sometimes I have to hide and take a shot secretly, sometimes I build invisible connection and other times I behave bravely and don’t ask even if I know I shouldn’t photograph the person.

LLO: Take us behind the scenes and describe your favourite photoshoot so far.
AB:
 I love traveling, so relaxing and taking photographs is so natural and pleasurable for me.

One of the best ones was on the Trassiberian train, when I saw a little Mongolian girl, very shy at the beginning of our photoshoot. After a while she became a real model, very confident and relaxed, we both enjoyed it withought saying a single word.

LLO: What sort of equipment do you have in your collection?
AB:
It is not equipment which makes you a photographer. I haven’t got a fancy camera or lenses, but I have a vision.

LLO: Are there any London-based photographers you really admire?
AB:
Matt Stuart. Absolutely honest photographer. I admire him for his patience and optimism.

LLO: What are you working on next?
AB:
Any subject is a challenge. As I mentioned before, photography is my journey, I try to see beauty in everything and then tell these transformed into images stories.

Thanks Agata! 

For more of Agata’s work, have a look at her Flickr page.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here. 

London Art Spot: Eliana Dimitrakopoulou

With an MA in Fashion Design and Technology under her (probably fur) belt, Greek designer Eliana Dimitrakopoulou has big plans to revolutionise the use of fur in fashion as the world knows it. Her latest collection shown in the photos throughout her interview has been influenced by different types of monkeys, staying in touch with nature and the idea of evolution.

Eliana was born in Thessaloniki in 1984 and completed a BA at the Institute of Fashion Design and Technology there before moving to Kastoria for three years. There, she worked for a company called Vito Ponti as a fur designer. Second prize winner in the MIFUR Remix design contest in 2005 for Greece, she currently represents the UK for this year’s contest in Milan. Eliana has just completed her studies at the London College of Fashion.

She talks to us for this week’s London Art Spot about her ideas behind this collection, gives us her answer to activists who fight against the use of fur in fashion and tells us which (non-fur) trends will be hitting London’s streets for summer.

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
ED: 
In London there are no fashion limits or a special style followed – like in Italy. It’s the place that all different styles can evolve and any designer can express their ideas.

Photographer: Michael Addison
Stylist: Anna Szanto
Stylist assistant: Sinead Isabella Iqbal
Model: Cyan Cheung
Hair and Make-Up Artist: Monica Rossi

LLO: Tell us a bit about your collection “The Origins of Fur”. I hear it’s influenced by monkeys and the theory of evolution?
ED: 
Based on both natural and sexual selection, my collection of reversible fur garments represents evolution, the adaption to the environment. By selecting different types of monkeys, I created a link between them and the contemporary fur design applied to my market needs. Inspired by the monkey’s shapes, colours, lines and acting, I was driven into connections with design and fashion. Man has come a long way over the last few millennia, but we’re definitely still part of nature; a monkey. My collection was sponsored by Kopenhagen Furs in Denmark and British Fur Federation.

Photographer: Michael Addison
Stylist: Anna Szanto
Stylist assistant: Sinead Isabella Iqbal
Model: Cyan Cheung
Hair and Make-Up Artist: Monica Rossi

LLO: Colour plays a large role in your fur pieces and they are also reversible. What sort of working process do you go through until you feel you’ve got the look that you want?
ED:
 Before making fur garments we send most of the pieces to CIPEL, a professional fur tannery in France. After I received samples of its colour, we proceed to the rest of them.

LLO: Who is your target customer for these pieces?
ED:
 My client is every woman who loves fur, feels unique and is aware that the only way to feel happy and content is to accept herself as is. She is a woman who doesn’t feel any complex to express her beauty or sexuality. Women who are usually dressed by the Italian fashion houses of Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Roberto Cavalli. They love garments that reflect power, luxury, beauty, elegance, sexuality, and a fresh new fashion style. Russia and Italy are the major markets that this collection is designed for.

Photographer: Ana Barreira
Hair&Make-up: Nelson Catarino

LLO: How do you respond to the viewpoint that wearing real fur is wrong or controversial?
ED:
 Fur is beautiful, sustainable, warm, soft, elegant, glamorous and sexy; in other words everything a woman wants. There is nothing wrong in using fur. Animals are farmed under international regulations and there is no cruelty involved. Many videos are made on purpose by activists. It’s true that an animal should be farmed and have a good life so that the fur of it is healthy and rich.

LLO: What other London-based designers do you admire?
ED:
I used to be a great fan of McQueen. He always was an inspiration for me as for many other designers as well.

Photographer: Ana Barreira
Hair&Make-up: Nelson Catarino

LLO: How do you ideally see your future in fashion unfolding over the next five years or so?
ED:
My future plan is to dedicate in fur and work in the fur industry as I did the past three years, but my mind is set on revolutionising fur design as we know it today.

LLO: Coming from Greece, where in London do you go to get the best taste of home?
ED:
In my friends hearts! It was a great surprise for me to meet people from other countries, having so common interests.

LLO: What other London-based designers do you admire?
ED:
I used to be a great fan of McQueen. He always was an inspiration for me as for many other designers as well.

LLO: What fashion trends should we keep an eye open for in London this summer?
ED:
Jeans over jeans and there’s a cowboy influence as well coming up.

LLO: Where can we see more of your work?
ED:
In Russia! I used to work for three years in a fur company. All my fur pieces are exported there.

Thanks Eliana!

For more of Eliana’s work: www.arts.ac.uk/showtime/ElianaDimitrakopoulou

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