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: Alisa Bieniek

A Polish-Dutch designer, Alisa studied design and styling at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. When she graduated, she had the unique opportunity of undertaking an internship with Alexander McQueen in London about five years ago. She learned a lot from him and her experience with his perfectionism has shaped her collections today. A recent graduate of the London College of Fashion, Alisa uses laser cutting and digital print to build a 3-D look with layers, transparency and movement.

For this week’s London Art Spot, she talks about the unusual inspiration behind her latest collections, the differences in approach to fashion in London and Amsterdam and, of course, a bit about her experience working with Alexander McQueen. 

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
AB:
A lot. I am surrounded by many individuals, people who are fashion aware, but at the same time dress in the way that reflects their personality and backgrounds. I meet people from different parts of the world who happen to have some sort of an impact on my design. It makes me look at the clothing from a different perspective. There are so many interesting places to see, galleries to visit, events to attend. All of this has an impact on my work. After all London is the Metropolitan city that never sleeps. I also have a lot more respect for traditional English tailoring. I put more attention to detail and the finishing of the garment.

LLO: Which piece in any of your collections are you most proud of and why?
AB:
The layered printed dresses as they are very wearable. The wearer can put his own order of the layers depending on the mood. It also reflects well the idea behind my concept. I like to translate 3D illusion through layering and transparency. Each layer of the prints presents a different stage of an opening flower. While wearing all the layers on top of each other, the illusion of 3D occurs.

LLO: When you moved to London in 2005, you had the privilege of participating in an internship with Alexander McQueen. What was he like as a person and how has this experience influenced the way you approach your own work today?
AB: Alexander McQueen was a perfectionist in every way. I was involved with the Autumn/Winter 2005 collection and I worked on the embroidery. Lee is pushing people forward; all of us worked on each piece of the collection. I was overwhelmed with the amount of time that each of us worked, sometimes even till early morning. Everything had to look perfect. Lee could notice every little detail. If the skirt was a couple mms too short, it had to be done again. His professionalism motivated me to work harder and maintain focus.

LLO: Tell us a bit about the techniques used to create your “Eclipse” collection where two identical models are then used to show off each piece.
AB: My work is also influenced by a movie director and musical choreographer Busby Berkley. His choreography performances involved complex geometric patterns which made the trademark in Busby’s career. The stage held hundreds of showgirls lined up in circles performing interesting patterns which gave an impression of looking through a kaleidoscope.

I wanted to reflect that effect in my presentation and so I have worked with Marta Tomecka, my colleague from Digital Fashion course who edited the pictures in the After Effects program. She has worked on the Eclipse movies which were shown during an exhibition at Mall Gallery.

LLO: Your collection “Future Circulation” is completely different from “Eclipse”. Tell us about your inspiration for this collection and your muse, Rachel.
AB:
I used to be very much into Sci-fi films like Star Wars or Matrix. The collection is inspired by cult movie Blade Runner from 1982. It represents the cyberpunk vision of the future where the man has developed the technology to create replicants, which are essentially humans who are designed for labour and entertainment purposes.

One of these replicants is Rachel. Although she had real emotions, everything else was too perfect about her look and behavior and the way she walked which was artificially improvised, as she was programmed. Her structured clothing influenced her straight posture and attitude.

In the 80s, the designers were inspired by the 30s and I have tried to find the balance between these two centuries and translate it into my design. The jackets are the statement pieces of this collection; it is made for powerful women who like to be in control. With the Eclipse collection, I have finally found myself with my designs. It is a conceptual more mature and wearable collection.

LLO: Having studied on fashion courses in both Amsterdam and London, have you noticed any specific differences in the way each city has inspired a unique sense of fashion – both in the shops and on the streets?
AB: 
AMFI collage is focused on the commercial market, while the Digital Fashion Course at LCF offers a new approach on fashion and an artistic view on design. It has a lot of great workshops that support creativity.

I see a lot more individuals in London than Amsterdam. It is a city of mixed cultures and styles. Even if you wear something absolutely ridiculous, people won’t judge you; you can be yourself here. 

There are so many boutiques stocking independent and young designers. It is a great spot for fashion students. You can see the quality of the clothes better and places like Dover Street Market challenge you to work harder.

LLO: What new techniques and skills have you acquired throughout your MA course at the London College of Fashion that you plan to continue to develop in your future career?
AB: I will definitely continue working with digital print and laser cutter. I also discovered interesting 3D software programs which I am willing to develop, such as OptiTex 3D cloth stimulation and 3D Studio Max for modeling, animations and rendering package. As I have used very delicate and difficult-to-sew fabrics for this collection such as leather and all sort of silks, I have improved my pattern skills and learned new sewing techniques. 

LLO: Favorite place to shop for clothes in London?
AB:
I like the mix of high fashion with some designer pieces. Selfridges is good because it has a bit of both. Dover Street Market and Liberty for window shopping.

LLO: Which other up-and-coming London-based designers should we keep our eyes on?
AB: For 3D animations, Marta Tomecka. Kelley Kim for her combination of different techniques with knitwear, laser cutter and digital prints and Katarzyna Roguszczak for the accessories.

LLO: What’s next on the agenda for you?
AB:
I would like to work for a company to gain more experience and better skills with production. In the future I would like to set up my own label.

Thanks Alisa!

For more of Alisa’s work, check her website: www.alisabieniek.com/