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: Karishma Shahani

Brightly coloured designs marked Karishma Shahani’s award-winning catwalk collection for the London College of Fashion’s Graduate Runway Show 2010. She came away with an award for “Best Surface Textiles” to add to her CV alongside the “Nina De York Fashion Illustration” award and “Fashion Graduate of the Year award.

It’s no surprise her eye-catching work has caught the attention of staff at Vogue, Grazia, Elle and ID magazine alongside quite a few others around the world from France to Russia to Hong King and Japan.

Her values of longevity in clothing, ethical fair trade and using “upcycled” and organic materials match the values of the forward-thinking audience she will reach with her vibrant collections.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Karishma tells us how life in her native India plays a massive part in her work, shows off some photos of latest stunning collection and lets us in on the details of her collaboration with American artist Amy Sol.

LLO: Give us an overview of your latest collection, Yatra.
KS: The collection draws inspiration and elements from the multiple layers of India’s vibrant culture that continuously create colourful, vivid and eclectic experiences for the onlooker. The colours are picked from traditional paintings of Indian Gods, and recreated through natural methods of dyeing. The surface texture adds to the multi-dimensional feel enhancing the use of natural fabrics alongside upcyled packaging materials.

In its essence this collection is a reflection of the Indian lifestyle of re-interpretation of materials and their function at every step; always re-using and recycling; creating heirlooms that are passed down through generations. Each garment is made with beauty, simplicity and versatility as its core which lends it a multi-layered and personality-driven charm. The designs combine a fusion of two extremes, making the collection experimental and unconventional, while being hinged on modern functionality.

LLO: Which aspects of life in your native India most inspire your work? What about aspects of London life?
KS: A lot of aspects ranging from the people on the road, to our vast history, culture, architecture, crafts, travel, the list is endless. London’s cosmopolitan nature is very appealing. Being a melting pot for people from all around the world is quite inspiring. UK too has a comprehensive history and its ties with India are aspects I like exploring.

LLO: Tell us about some of the materials that have gone into your latest collection – the bright colours, the recycled concept, etc. What’s the most unusual material you used or the most difficult to obtain?
KS: The materials in the collection range from calico and cotton to pure silk and silk tulle and then over to High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). The last being a material used extensively in packaging in India hence lending to the upcycled nature of this collection as the patterns were cut from previously used sacks. All the material in the collection barring the HDPE have been hand dyed to suit the colour requirements that give enough homage to their source of inspiration. The accessories include secondhand hand-painted shoes and piece from chandeliers, cut away sneakers and blankets. The toughest material to obtain was the HDPE due to its varied sizes and quality control it required to obtain large pieces to create the garments.

LLO: Do you remember a precise moment that made you decide you wanted to have a career in fashion?
KS: Just the simple fact of creating new things. Consciously or without realising, clothing plays an important part in defining a person’s personality for the onlooker and I’ve always found this aspect really interesting. So I can’t pinpoint a precise moment.

LLO:Which signature elements of your designs make them unique to you?
KS: Colour, texture, contrast

LLO: Not only have you won some impressive awards (including “Best Surface Textiles 2010 LCF BA Graduate Show”, “Nina De York Illustration Award 2010” and “Fashion Graduate of the Year 2010 British Graduate 100 Award”) but you also started your own label. What has been your proudest moment so far in your fashion career?
KS: Receiving the “Best Surface Textile Award” at the London College of Fashion Graduate show 2010 was a great way to graduate, a fulfilling pat of encouragement.

LLO: Your bio includes a degree in economics, experience in at an NGO and a stint as a production manager. Does your career background have an impact on the way you approach fashion?
KS: Yes it does. I do think that one needs to know all the aspects of the industry they are a part of; it’s not about mastering all aspects but just simply about knowing how things work, because everything works hand-in-hand. All my previous work experiences have shaped my outlook towards design and its end result. The work has made me travel and live in various cities, that in itself is an enriching experience.

 

LLO: Where’s your favourite place in London to gather fashion inspiration – both in the shops and on the streets?
KS: Camden Town. One of my absolute favourites. I love how you can find ‘anything’ in the market and see ‘anyone’ on the streets. It always puts me in awe at the diversity that is around us.

LLO: Any other up-and-coming London-based designers we should keep an eye on?
KS: Felicity Brown, Manjit Deu, David Longshaw to name just a few.

LLO: What’s next for you?
KS: I am currently working on developing an AW 11 collection, alongside a brand that further promotes social responsibility and traditional techniques for a sustainable future of products and fashion; that continues to become more aware of its power to change and assist changes in lives of all those involved. Alongside this, I am working on a collaboration project with American artist Amy Sol, whose phantasmagorical paintings always depict girls in flowing dresses wandering through luscious landscapes. This project for a social eco-fashion enterprise called “Jhoole”, a non-profit business, designed to uplift female artisans based in a weaver’s village in rural Madhya Pradesh, India which will culminate in exhibitions and fashion shows in the summer of 2011. Another, being a textile development project for a textile producer based on recyclability and sustainability of fabrics combined with a base to provide further work for craftspeople in different regions of India.

Thanks Karishma!

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

Guest Post: Good Bye London

Words and photo by Ramble who came from India to enjoy the little things London had to offer for a while. She blogged here about her London experience, but now it’s time for her to move on to the next adventure. She wanted to share her goodbye to London with us.

Your assorted collection of people from all over the world, your cold rainy mornings which give an excuse to crib, the kiss of smooth snow on your grumpy old roads, the haughty rail tracks which boast about being your arteries, your toddlers who have a secret religion of waving and smiling at every passing stranger, your manicured leafy parks who put on unconvincing make up to try a hand at idyllic beauty…what am I going to miss most about you?

They were wrong. You weren’t fake, gloomy, cold or soulless; nor were you overflowing with riches and opportunities. You couldn’t afford to give me even the meanest of wages. You were so poor that you had to sell everything at exorbitant prices.

And, you weren’t a city which will just be a mild drizzle over wax, leaving every thing the same as before. You do know to leave your mark without colouring it with loud melodrama and tantrums. The split seconds which makes one age as old as the chronicled calendar years, leaving behind the vestiges of teenage carefully wrapped and carried into a decade of adult hood…. the moments which remind that being a traveller means having faith in the kindness of strangers….the warm sun of your autumn and the cool breeze of your summer which reassures that home is a place within one’s heart…. Well, there is much that you have given, beyond the limits of shoddy ‘thank you’ notes.

So, good bye from one among the ‘platform’ souls, we who are always waiting for a few wheels to make a journey to somewhere else. Always acquiring only that much which can be left behind.

And, try to be kind to those who come in, saluting yet another flag, mouthing yet another piece of jingoism, swearing allegiance to yet another ‘invincible’ nation, learning yet another ‘great’ language….. so as to call a few feet of land ‘home’.

Globe Media Fashion Show

Last week, we had a great night at the Assembly Hall in Islington stuffing ourselves with African and Caribbean food and drinks, listening to some storytellig, watching some African drumming by a very cool woman with amazingly big hair, some energetic bhangra dancing and, of course, the fashion show.

There were designers from Indonesia, Romania, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Sri Lanka, China, France, Algeria, Eritrea and more. I wasn’t sitting in the best spot for photos, but caught the top half of a bunch of them so you get the general idea!

Fashion Show 1

Fashion Show 2

Fashion Show 3

Fashion Show 4

Fashion Show 5

Fashion Show 6

Fashion Show 7

Fashion Show 8

Fashion Show 9

Londoners: Peacock Feather Sellers

Making a regular appearance on Brick Lane, the peacock feather sellers always intrigue me. I asked this man if I could take him photo and he said yes. He posed, wiggled his lips around a bit, but didn’t break a smile.  

Brick Lane is a largely South Asian area. Peacocks are native to Sri Lanka and India where they are the national bird and fully protected under the National Wildlife Act. The feathers are considered auspicious and protective, the bird itself sacred in many cultures. Many of the feathers sold on Brick Lane are imported from Bangladesh – the home country of many people who live around the area.

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