A Stroll Through Soho and an Exhibition at The Society Club

The news came through the other day that four of my Soho photo will be featured on the walls of The Society Club from this Friday, May 10, for about a month. Very exciting!

The images were chosen from some submissions to Yelp’s contest to capture this area of London. Any sales go to The Soho School. Stop by if you can. The Society Club made it onto CNN Travel’s list of 10 of the most interesting shops in London. We popped in there a few weeks ago when we were to Ginger & White and it’s definitely eccentric with a quirky mix of books on the shelves lining the walls, a long table in the middle and a small gallery space downstairs. There is also a resident dog that hangs out inside. Stop down and check it out if you get a chance. There should be 24 photos of the area in the exhibition, I believe.
One for the diary! (The Society Club, 12 Ingestre Place Soho, W1F 0JF). 

And now for some photos from the walk Jorge and I took around the once-much-seedier streets of Soho. These aren’t the photos in the exhibition (except one and I’m not going to tell you which…). I loved that this fish & chips joint is called the Dining Plaice. A little creativity in a shop name goes a long way! Reminds me of The Codfather.

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We walked through Berwick Street Market, which is small but still vibrant with the few stalls that are left and the creative shops on their side of the street. In the 60s, this street was the place to buy records from independent shops.

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The music scene has been replaced by fruits, vegetables and vintage clothes now and there were a few street photographers scattered around against the walls waiting for a good shot.

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I took photos of a few colourful shop fronts because I liked the names or the colours. Soho is still one of London’s eccentric areas and it attracts a creative and trendy crowd as well as a steady stream of tourists.

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Flowers were for sale in quite a few places as well, outside shops like the one above, or from vendors working a market stall like the one below. Some of these stalls have likely been passed through families as the market has established in the 18th century.

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A little taste of Soho fashion in that one up there as well. And looking up can be key, as my dad says to do in this city. You never know what you might see, like this here roof garden and funky green tiles.

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The Market leads into Walkers Court, a little alleyway.

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There’s not so much left of London’s sex industry for which this area was the main hub. It still is, but there’s no obvious prostitution on the streets as there was once upon a time. It’s mainly closed up in flats now, indicated by signs that say “model” on street level doorways.

Walkers Court has a few sex shops selling vibrators, whips and DVDs, private dance clubs for a good old striptease and plenty of Viagara advertisements.

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From there, we made out way to Soho Square, with its French church, nearby Hare Krishna temple, the British Board of Film Classification and Paul McCartney’s MLP Communications company.  In the 1700’s it was home to The White House which was called a “high class magical brothel”…

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There’s a small cottage at the center of the square which was an air raid shelter during the Blitz.

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Not sure if they are still there, but there was a series of sculptures by Bruce Denny in one corner of the square.

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We sat on a bench in the park people watching for a while, enjoying the nice weather.

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We had a little wander through Chinatown, where you can get a massage and dinner in the same building…

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I found a splash of colour and made Jorge do a bit of modelling for me.

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And then we had a tea and cake in Ginger & White, which I loved and wrote about already so I won’t bore you with any more photos. At the end of that same street is The Society Club which the photo exhibition I wrote about above will be held. We couldn’t help but scope it out. If there’s poetry on a board outdoors, that’s always a good start.

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We ended up exploring the little basement gallery.

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On our way back home, we wandered through the back alleyways.

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Sometimes my favourite photographs to take are the simplest ones – little splashes of colour and textures that are tempting to touch.

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And, of course, street art, like this Invader piece that’s been in Soho for what seems like forever.

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We walked back through the throngs of tourists on Carnaby Street.

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And I played a bit of the tourism game outside of Liberty just for fun. When in Rome, right?

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Speaking of Liberty, it’s a bit of an institution around here and well worth a visit, particularly the first floor which sells expensive but nice things (and they’re one of only a few shops that stock French brand Sessun, which I love) and the top floor which often gets skipped over but they have some amazing furniture and home decor as well as the brand RE, in a little room of its own, where they sell “raRE, REmarkable, REcycled, REscued and REstored homewares and accessories”.

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The old building itself is stunning with its natural light, beautiful wood floors and high ceilings.

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Love their creative plant displays!

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And the spray-painted shopping baskets in RE are pretty fabulous too.

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Do you spend much time in Soho? If so, where’s your favourite place to hang out? 

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/