South Bank Christmas Market

I went down to the Christmas market on South Bank last weekend. Music floated up the stairs to the bridge, kids on piggyback, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, shopping and chatting and a general good Christmas spirit!

Christmas Market Crowds

So, tell me… Do you celebrate Christmas? how’s the shopping going? Do you love the holiday season or loathe it? Favourite or least favourite time of the year? Are you staying in London for Christmas? What are your plans?

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Everybody Needs a Place to Think

Thinking is the greatest torture in the world for most people.
Luther Burbank

Having just spent six months in a small Colombian village with dirt roads, ambling mules and lazy afternoons spotted with siestas, I’ve come back to London this time with a slightly different approach.

I’m on a mission to savour the beautiful little moments in life, walk a bit slower, smile more, occasionally actually allow myself to make eye contact with a stranger, appreciate this incredible city without letting the chaos and madness of every day life in it overwhelm me and suck me into its vortex.

In the morning rush, I look around and people are visibly stressed. A lot of 9-5 Londoners seem very serious in the morning. Serious and on a mission, fast walkers, robots.  A year ago, I’m sure my morning face looked similar.

That said, it’s not easy to create a little bubble of personal space when you’re toe to heel with the commuter walking in front of you, fighting for elbow space on the tube and stumbling over confused tourists stopping in the middle of the pavement while you’re on your way to work.

So it’s nice to see the benches lined up on South Bank these days that say “Everybody needs a place to think.”

We probably don’t do enough of that. Just thinking, that is. Sitting and thinking without watching the time, texting or chatting. I know I don’t. But London is actually full of places made for just that, especially with all of the green spaces we have access to in the city. As part of my new outlook, I’m going to make a point of taking advantage of them more often.

One of my favorite places to sit and think is at the end of the dock down by the OXO Tower. I did an internship back in 2004 with a company whose offices were right on the river. I ate my lunch on the dock every day, walked over Blackfriars Bridge twice a day. It was a brilliant time of my life so being there always calls on those memories.

So I took a picture of it the other day, my dock… It’s just a dock, nothing special really, but it’s my favorite place in London just to sit and think. There’s a certain slice of peacefulness to be found there (just don’t go and ruin it now, will you?!)

As for this pigeon, roosting right smack in front of me on the steps of St. Paul’s, he’s mastered the art of calm.
He can think (or, more likely, not think) anywhere.

So, where’s your favorite place to think in London?
Why? What makes it special to you? 

Listen to a Londoner: Elizabeth Remes

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!

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.

Elizabeth Remes

Betsy is a city girl at heart and is proud to call London home for the forseeable future.  She works in development in the performing arts, sings in a chamber choir, loves the expat blogging community, and intrepidly explores the best (and worst!) that London has to offer.  Her boyfriend wants to you know that although she is assimilating very well to life in England she once fell asleep at a cricket match at Lord’s.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
ER: I am originally from Washington, DC, although I have also spent a significant amount of time in New York City and in Paris. I got my MA in London a couple of years ago and that allowed me to apply for a Tier 1 visa – I moved back in June 2010, happily! I now live in South London and work in North London.  (Yes, I do need a passport to cross the river!)
LLO: What have been your biggest challenges as an expat so far? Any advice for newcomers?
ER: I have found that the biggest challenges are the nitty-gritty! Expats should (and usually do) expect a certain amount of culture shock and so prepare themselves for that. I don’t think that most newcomers arrive ready to do battle with banks, mobile phones, and utilities companies. My advice for newcomers is: try to do as much research as possible on the nuts-and-bolts of living in a different country.
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LLO: Favourite London locations for a romantic or unusual date?
ER:
I actually just wrote a blog post on my top five London date spots – good timing! I think my favorite for this time of year would have to be the Somerset House ice skating rink. It’s a fun date in a gorgeous venue, and you can treat yourselves to a yummy dinner at Tom’s Kitchen afterwards.

LLO: Best place to spend a Saturday night out with the girls?
ER: For a classy girls’ night out, I’d recommend Purl, a new cocktail bar in Marylebone – it has a great speakeasy vibe and very imaginative drinks with secluded booths perfect for gabbing. If you want to be a bit more wild and crazy, though, try The Lexington in Islington – it’s a loungy bar with an incedible selection of whiskey, and they’ve played retro dance music every time I’ve been there!

LLO: You post “Frock Fridays” on your blog. Give us a few of your favourite London shop recommendations that aren’t on the high street, especially since the big NYE is coming!
ER:
I’ve brought my love of Anthropologie with me from the States (there’s one on Regent Street and another on the King’s Road in Chelsea). They’ve got great party dresses plus unique jewelry and quirky accessories. There’s an amazing vintage shop in Shoreditch called Absolute Vintage. They have tons of clothes from every decade you could want, plus shoes and bags galore. Trilogy, which has a couple of stores around London, has a great selection of jeans. And – I want to include this even though they don’t have any physical shops and are only online – I love Boden for basics.

LLO: Best place in London for people watching and fashion inspiration?
ER:
Depends what kind you want! But I think that one of the most entertaining places for people watching and fashion inspiration is The Book Club in East London. Go for breakfast with a newspaper, stay for lunch with your laptop, and then hang around for drinks and music in the evening. They cater for everything – and everyone goes! It’s eclectic and fun, though it can tread the line of too-cool-for-school.

LLO: Tell us about a memorable moment that could only have happened in London.
ER:
In early September my flatmates and I went to the Mayor’s Thames Festival, a free weekend event on the South Bank. We went on the Sunday, and it was packed! There were tons of food stalls as well as activities for kids and live music – in fact, there was a swing dancing spot in front of the Tate Modern! The day closed with a massive Carnivale-style parade and then an incredible fireworks display. The whole thing was so much fun, and it was amazing walking next to the river, seeing the sun set over iconic landmarks, and thinking, “I live here!”

LLO: Have you found a place in this city that always seems to make you happy? Where and why?
ER:
Borough Market always makes me happy! You can tell from my blog that I love cooking and entertaining, and my weekly (if I can afford it!) pilgrimage to Borough Market is an integral part of the dinner party process. I have a whole routine for my Borough Market Saturdays that includes my favorite butcher and Neal’s Yard Dairy for British cheeses – and the trip has to be concluded with lunch and scrumpy from one of the stalls. No matter how hungover I may be after a too-late Friday night, stepping out of the London Bridge tube station and seeing the sign for Borough Market always makes me happy.

LLO: Favourite quirky or unique London discovery?
ER:
There are so many options available to you if you want to get some culture, but my favorite discovery is that there are tons of possibilities other than West End shows and the most famous museums – check out the smaller venues for performances and exhibits that might be even more exciting than the big stuff!

LLO: If you were to leave London in the near future, which 5 specific things would you miss the most?
ER:

5.
Full English Breakfast – America does good brunches, but if you want to get down and dirty with good hangover food, you have to have a full English. 
4.
Borough Market and the guy at Laithwaite’s Wines (whose name I embarrasingly can’t remember!) who always helps me find the perfect wine to match my menu.
3.
Meandering along the South Bank and watching the sun set at the horizon of the Thames.
2.
All the commons – I love that almost every neighborhood has its own green space.  It makes the city seem more intimate and more spread out at the same time.
1.
My life with my English boyfriend of two years – even if he came with me to wherever I was going, I would miss the life we’ve been making here in London. Even just over the past six months, we’ve really set down roots here together. I’d definitely miss that.

Thanks Betsy!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Steve Cotton

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.

Steve Cotton

Steve likes street art, graffiti, punk music and taking walks with his camera. His website Art Of The State shows off some stunning images of London’s most impressive street art and all sorts of other London-y stuff (it’s a perfect place to procrastinate, but don’t say I encouraged you).

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
SC: Since I was three years old – any more of an answer would be telling you my age!

LLO: Tell us about your website, Art Of The State.
SC: Art Of The State is just a reflection on the parts of London that catch my eye. Typically that’s architecture, street art and punk rock, but over recent years it has pretty much expanded to anything worth taking a picture of. So recent updates have included the stair case of the Monument and Southgate Tube station.

LLO: Where are your favourite places in London to discover random graffiti or other street art?
SC: Well the best place to discover street art is around Shoreditch, but that’s not my favourite place. It’s kind of a jaded scene around Shoreditch. You could drive a full size paper mache buffalo spinning plates of jelly on the front of a neon triple decker bus around there and nobody would bat an eyelid because they’re so used to ‘urban art interventions’. So the answer I would give to this question is where you would least expect it – seeing a tag by serial rail trackside graffiti vandal 10Foot in the toilets of ‘mums with their chums’ eatery Giraffe on the South Bank ranks pretty highly on this scale.

LLO: Best part about living in your postcode?
SC: Hmmm, good question. I’m not sure there is a best part so I looked up my post code on upmystreet.com. That didn’t really help – it just went on about single parents, betting, bingo and satellite TV being popular pastimes and then oddly said that the Scottish Record was the most popular paper. So really I think the best things are the A30 and Tube into Central London. I realise that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of where I live.

LLO: Who are the most impressive punk bands around London these days and where’s the best place to catch a gig?
SC: I like Refuse/All for straight down the line / no nonsense punk. I go to see them at the Fighting Cocks in Kingston, but I understand other venues are available. I also like Gallows, but I’m not terribly sure if they’re cool or not. Whatever, I often play their song ‘Misery’ on the iPod when walking around London. It just works really well, it’s a slow burner but by the time it’s finished I’m normally up for whatever is next.

LLO: Any cool new up-and-coming London-based street artists to look out for?
SC: Really London is pretty quiet at the moment regarding street art. That said ROA’s animals are pretty neat. Most of the work is by out of towners and often on walls where they have been granted permission. Graffiti on the other hand is kicking on in my humble opinion. Old hands like Shok-1 and Lovepusher are in a league of their own with their respective styles but are only working legally as far as I know. Illegally, the nine members of Burning Candy are some of the most prolific often working up at rooftop level to avoid their work getting removed. They’re really getting about – a trip down the new London Overground line through Shoreditch will get you first class views of lots of BC member Mighty Mo’s work.

LLO: Favourite established London-based artists who started their work on the streets?
SC: Got to be Banksy and Dface as established artists. Banksy is still on the streets, Dface less so – which is a shame as he had scale and ambition.

LLO: Do you think the way street art is viewed in London has changed since you started photographing it back in 2001?
SC: Yeah. Back in 2001, I was photographing a stencil near Vinopolis and I got a mouthful of abuse from a dustcart truck driver along the lines of “Oi saddo, what do you want to photograph that for.” I could have pointed out to him that he was wearing a Spurs shirt, but that’s another story. Anyway fast forward to 2008 and I’m in the same location and another dustcart pulls up. This time a different driver sees me taking a photo, gets out of his cab and proceeds to reel off the location and names of all the street art he has spotted on his round. All the talk used to be of vandalism but now it’s all “Banksy…blah…blah…£100,000”. All the stories in the paper seem to be centred around the money street art is supposedly worth.

LLO: Where is your favourite place in London to take your camera if you’re not photographing street art?
SC: Probably along the South Bank – there is always something going on there no matter what time of year it is. I like the highs and lows of London too. I love to go high up on the roofs of the tallest buildings and down in the depths on it’s dark, dank tunnels – but getting access is always hard.

LLO: Share one of your favourite shots with us?
SC: This is taken on the South Bank. Rain and the light at dusk really add something to a scene. I watched this man waiting forlornly in the drizzle with an umbrella and a bunch of flowers in his hand. Seconds after I took this picture he kind of shrugged his shoulders and threw the flowers into the Thames. It’s a picture for me but for him I guess it could have been a total turning point in his life.

Thanks Steve!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

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.