Friday, 13 July 2018

Frida Kahlo at the V&A

Last week I went to the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Frida was the flamboyant Mexican painter who dressed as colourfully as she painted, but this exhibition was much less about her bright and arresting paintings and more about her life, with photographs and film footage of her experiences. Most of the objects in the exhibition were items found from her home, which had been locked away for 50 years after her death, effectively in a time capsule.

Items in the exhibition included her prosthetic leg and red leather boot which was beautifully decorated with a Chinese dragon.

They also had the plaster corset painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo. She suffered a lot of pain in her life due to polio in earlier life and a traumatic car crash which she never really recovered from. Decorating these items was a way of coping with it.

My favourite part of the exhibition was in the final room where there was an amazing collection of her outfits accompanied by a small selection of her artwork and bright photos of herself. I love this photo below which shows Frida against a turquoise wall with pink flowers in her hair.

Frida embraced the traditional Mexican dress and this became her signature style, which involved long, full skirts (enagua) and boxy tops (huipil), all in fabulously bright colours.

Needless to say, the exhibition shop had some wonderful items to choose from including the fabulous colourful top below. I realised that these tops are actually very simple to make as they are effectively two squares sewn together so I've decided to try my hand at making one of these. Watch this space for an update on the next Cheeky Leopard venture!

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Japan House

The other day I paid a visit to the wonderful Japan House which has recently opened on Kensington High Street. It's the new cultural home of Japan in London and includes a gallery, theatre, restaurant and retail floor thoughtfully curated with Japanese products. Even from the outside it has a Japanese aesthetic - low key and undemonstrative.

The ground floor houses the retail section and I immediately homed in on the brightly-coloured printed paper items. I love the origami paper and mini envelopes, as well as the paper-covered bins above and the brightly coloured, embossed tea canisters below.

I always love the blue and white colour palette used in Japanese design and there were these lovely little cups for sale (used for sake or soba), as well as the patterned tenegui fabrics below, of which I became a bit of an addict when I lived in Tokyo!

The simplicity of Japanese design was even applied to the way that items were displayed. Everyday home items were showcased as museum pieces, such as these woven soba utensils below.

A beautifully simple tray and bowl are displayed so dramatically and lit from above using stark white light. This silver lunch box sits next to its blue and white furoshiki fabric wrapping.

There is also a large area to relax on sofas and armchairs. Drink a calming cup of green tea bought from the counter at the front, and take in your calm surroundings.

The work of Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto is also on show. On the ground floor he has created an exhibition that uses everyday items. By placing small-scale human figures next to these items, they suddenly change context and become architectural spaces. He believes that the inspiration for architecture can come from anywhere, whether it's a kitchen sponge ('People live in nooks and crannies') or a pile of staples ('A house like bookshelves? Or bookshelves like a house?'). A plastic fruit bag ('A transparent cave') or a circuit board ('Complex, or simple?'). Can you spot the mini white human figures on each piece?

Downstairs in the gallery space, Fujimoto has an exhibition of his ongoing projects and works he is known for but also current experiments for the future.

Many of his forms are very organic and you feel that his thought process is ongoing as he builds his pieces in paper and card. Many of his pieces consider the social interaction of humans and show constructions on many different levels where architecture and nature blend together.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Marvellous moustaches

The moustache has been a popular motif in design and fashion for quite a while now and I love the fun and simple play on graphic styles that have been incorporated into all sorts of products.

For the home, you can have a fab print to hang on your wall. The product by Redbubble (below left) takes popular moustache styles and adds a jaunty french phrase to each. The print on the right, from Simple Sheep Design, is simple but immediately recognisable as the moustache of a very famous singer! I love the acid yellow background.

Other fun moustache items for the home include salt and pepper shakers and bookends. The two below are made from wood and cut into a simple moustache design.

The designs by Hus and Hem are fab and quirky and this Lars cushion below is a great way of adding an injection of quirk to the home.

Even baby can have a moustache decoration in the bedroom. I love the modern colours of this  mobile paired with a cool grey wall colour.

Of course, the popularity of moustaches as a fashion statement means that there are plenty of interesting grooming products out there, from moustache brushes to waxes and soaps to keep your moustache well quaffed.

Cheeky Leopard loves a moustache print and has made some fab items that you can find in store. They include glasses case and tissue holder - perfect for the moustachioed man in your life.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Fashioned from nature

A recent visit to the 'Fashioned from Nature' exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum was very inspiring and insightful as it covers centuries of fashion that has been inspired by the natural world. It also shows how the fashion industry has plundered the natural world, to devastating effect. It includes stunning embroideries, intriguing techniques and beautiful prints and leads to a slightly uncomfortable feeling where you are appreciating the fashions of the past but also realising the effect that they have had on nature.

The silk dress below is from 1733 and uses a stunning print inspired by nature, depicting fantastical, over-sized fruits and flowers. The white ground sets off the vibrant colours.

The exhibition continues through to the 18th century where manufacturing came into mass production and shows the principle fibres being produced at that time (flax, cotton silk and wool) and how they were made. It also shows how man's greed for feathers, furs and even bones - such as whalebone that was used for corsets - was incorporated into fashion of the time. The dresses below use pretty floral prints but also show how much fabric was used in a garment. I was intrigued by how much fabric could be gathered into such a small waist.

The international trade in exotic materials such as feathers and fur increased dramatically during the 19th century and London was a hub for the sale of both. Concerns about the brutality of the trades meant that local campaigns were established to oppose the trade. 

Items made from feathers included dramatic shoulder wraps and large feather fans.

Colour plays a large part in the novelty and change of fashion and raw materials with natural beauty were prized for clothing and accessories. The earrings below were made from the heads of Honeycreeper birds, and were very popular in the late 19th century.

Among the many birds imported to ornament dress, the ones with iridescent feathers were the most desirable. Peacocks, honeycreepers and hummingbirds had stunning natural colours that changed in the light.

As well as feathers, beetle wings were also used to decorate dress. Over 5000 green beetle wings were used to decorate this dress to create a natural jewel effect.

The starling on the hat below had its feathers added to with feathers from another bird to suggest a larger, more exotic species. On the right you can see an X-ray of the hat.

The 19th century saw new methods of transport and the spread of cheaper books and periodicals as well as the opening of museums which created greater opportunities for people to learn about nature. The book below shows a stunning imprint of sea life which would have inspired many textile designers.

The fluctuating supply of raw silk meant that a search for man-made alternatives was needed. By spinning glass it creates a soft, fine flexible thread that only breaks when strong pressure is applied to it. Glass is cheaper than silk and the colours don't fade. It is also waterproof and fire-proof and was manufactured for furnishing from the 1830s. Below is a sample of a skein of fabric made from spun glass.

The exhibition continues upstairs where it shows how more modern techniques were used in the production of fashion as well as contemporary innovators who are directly addressing the issues caused by the fashion industry. The two dresses below were early examples of synthetic materials made to look like natural fibres, but they used harmful chemicals and treatments. 

The dress below is designed by John Galliano and was inspired by Christian Dior's vision of women as seductive hot-house flowers.The garment uses a vibrant purple colour with red gloves and incorporates ruffling and tulip petal skirt. Even the belt and hat were inspired by florists materials.

This Philip Treacy 'Windswept Veil' was inspired by high winds yet at the same time the feathers seem to grow around the head and form an organic green curtain. There is a stunning delicacy to it.

The dress below was designed by John Paul Gaultier in 1997 for his 'Russia Collection', and it appears to have a leopard skin draped over the front of it. But look closer....

....and you will see that the dress is made up of thousands of beads that create the leopard print. The gown took over 1000 hours to create! See how the head of the leopard creates the bodice of the dress.

Alexander McQueens last fully realised collection imagined a world of climate change. His collections often expressed his concern with ecological awareness and in this collection the models wore complex digital prints of amphibious skins.

The Gucci handbag below uses a menagerie of creatures and includes a metal fox head and two stag beetles that have been silk-screened in gold onto calf skin. The designer was inspired by 'Theatre of Insects', a source book that inspired some of the 17th century textile designs.

Designer Michelle Lowe-Holder sources end-of-line and vintage haberdashery to create her handmade jewellery. This dramatic ruff is made from end-of-line ribbon.

Scientists in Sweden and Britain created this wearable paper made from unbleached wood pulp, finished using natural dyes. Energy and chemicals are reduced at every stage.

Diane Scherer trains the roots of plants to grow in intricate structures, creating a 3D textile. When the roots are fully grown, she removes them from the soil and cuts off the plant stems. See the dress below left and the process, below right.

I highly recommend a trip to this museum to appreciate the good and bad side of fashion and to see how much we have progressed over time.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Lovely lobsters

I do love a lobster design and it seems that there are a lot of lobster motifs out there at the mo. My first spotting was this fab lobster sweater by Louche at Joy. The sweater makes quite a statement with it's bold motif!

If you're wanting something slightly more subtle, White Stuff are also using lobster motifs on a sweater design. This one uses mini lobsters embroidered onto a striped background.

John Lewis seems to have gone lobster crazy and has used the motif on everything from homewares, plates and cushion covers..... outdoor items such as lie-on inflatables by Sunnylife and a fetching beach towel by Ted Baker.

And if you want the full lobster look in your kitchen, you can even get a lobster clock designed by Tatty Devine at using their trademark laser-cut acrylic.

Tatty Devine also does a fabulous lobster necklace. It looks great with this green sweater.

Cheeky Leopard loves lobster items and has two lovely little offerings in store. They include a tissue holder and a card case. Each have a red and white cotton polka dot lining. Watch out for matching glasses case and coin purse in store soon.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Orla Kiely

As a textile designer myself, I'm always interested to see how other textile designers choose to work. Many, like me, freelance for wholesalers, retailers or work for an agent who sells their designs for them, but every now and then you get a textile designer who makes a name for themselves and recognition for the beautiful designs they do. One of those people is Orla Kiely, who is well known for her graphic patterns which are instantly recognisable. She now has an exhibition of her work on at the Fashion and Textile Museum and I headed down there to check it out.

The exhibition features over 150 patterns and products as well as collaborations with photographers, film directors and architects. You quickly get a feel for how much she has done over the years that she has been designing. The walls were covered with a random patchwork of all the designs she has done, many of which I'd forgotten about.

Her well known 'Stem' design (similar to the one above) has been used on everything from handbags to oven gloves and has been reproduced in a varying style and colour but always manages to keep the essence of the simple leaf and stem design that is instantly recognisable.

The designs above appear simple but have obviously been well thought out using a balanced colour palette and a variety of scales within each design to give it interest. For example, the design above (bottom left) uses a very simple black and red floral and leaf motif, but by alternately enlarging the flower, it creates more interest within the design.

The designs above are fun and playful and I love the abstract nature of them. Look closer at the green design and you see that it is a selection of little people tipping their hats to one another. The simple yet clever design below shows swimming ladies. I love the Art Deco feel to the design.

Orla Kiely has used a lot of animal motifs in her designs. In a lot of cases their simple, set layout creates a new design where the negative space is just as important as the positive. I like the simple inclusion of a selection of colours in each of the foxes faces below.

Orla Kiely was always interested in fashion from an early age and the styling of her fashion ranges were often inspired by the 60s and 70s, as were her textile designs. For this exhibition she created garments that showed a play on scale.

She created nine enormous garments based on previous collections in iconic prints (above), and alongside those she had the most beautiful little dolls wearing the same print but scaled right down (below).

Upstairs in the exhibition there is a selection of garments from past collections. One of my favourites was this dress that had a fab graphic print of a 1960s shoe. The model was also wearing similar shoes.

And last, but definitely not least, there was a wall of handbags! Heaven. They had all been organised in order of colour and nearly made me weep with joy!

In the mid-90s, whilst showcasing hats at London Fashion Week, Orla Kiely's father noticed that few women actually wore hats, but they all had a bag, and so began a key addition to the Orla Kiely collections. She started with cotton bags, but soon moved on to more durable versions, often including a quirky touch. My favourite bag was the one below.

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