Thoughts on Birkenstocks

Birkenstock website homepage.

The other day, while mindlessly scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, I stopped for a few seconds as an ad for a Vogue article entitled: ‘BirkenShock! After 242 Years, Birkenstock Premieres at Paris Fashion Week’ caught my eye. Nevermind the fact that this means that all of the lovely internet cookies are doing their slightly scary work of keeping track of the fact, that yes, I have been googling Vogue a lot. What really struck me was the article’s meaning, however. Birkenstock? At Paris Fashion Week? Really? I chuckled slightly, and then sat back in awe, marvelling at what appears to be a genius piece of marketing strategy. Growing up as a child in Germany, I can safely say that, in my own experience, Birkenstocks were popular, but not cool, let alone fashionable. Practical? Yes. But not cool at all. They were worn widely but seemed especially popular in slightly musty smelling organic shops. Not at all like the health food, hipster-ised places today, but the ones you only ventured into when you had a genuine food allergy (dairy and wheat in my case) and had no other choice. You would be served by middle-aged, muscular, skinny women called Maike or Ortrud, that probably lived on a diet of sunflower seeds and herbal tea alone; fabulous non-conformists with sun tanned skin, crop tops and long skirts. The other place the cork soled shoe could be spotted almost with certainty every time was a doctor’s office. Pared with clinical white trousers, shirts and overcoats they formed part of the uniform of horror that greeted you for your set of vaccinations – a known traumatic experience of any childhood. Birkenstocks back then were and still are deemed as a health shoe; they were comfortable and practical, impeccably German and not the most aesthetically pleasing.

The short article in Vogue, too stresses their health aspect, but quotes Birkenstock’s CEO as justifying the brand’s venture into fashion by saying: ‘We have been in the fashion industry for so many years already! Go around and ask every top photographer and stylist, they are all wearing Birkenstock…’. And really, while flicking through the slideshow of the fashion show on Vogue’s website you do feel that the shoe slots right in. The fact that the article appears in Vogue alone lends them increasing fashion credibility. Birkenstock’s own website also highlights them as a shoe for creatives, interviewing a few Londoners working in the creative field (fashion curator Shonagh Marshall amongst them) to showcase just how fashionable they are.

The Vogue article

Birkenstock’s are, for me, one of those very straightforward examples of the constant volatility within the cycle of fashion and also the tension between what is popular but not necessarily fashionable at any given moment and period of time. Clearly for me, the article in Vogue perhaps suggest I get over my childhood trauma, and give into the fashionable comfy-ness of the ultimate German shoe. Different to many other fashion fads, at least this one promises to keep my feet healthy…

Sources:

http://www.vogue.com/article/paris-fashion-week-birkenstock

http://mag.birkenstock.com/the-birkenstock-appreciation-club/

The Life of a Young Fashion Designer: Yordan Mihalev

Born in Bulgaria, Yordan Mihalev is a 26-year-old fashion designer who studied at Varna Free University in Bulgaria, with a semester abroad at Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp that also educated designers such as Dries van Noten. With a first prize for “Young Designer”, television interviews and an Italian shop interested in buying his latest collection, he is on his way to establishing his brand.

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Juanistyle Photography | First Model: Aïsha Bénédicte Mibenge |  Ethno Tendance Fashion Weekend Brussels, 2013

What have you been working on since completing your study?

My first fashion show took place about a month before my graduation at Ethno Tendance Fashion Weekend Brussels. The idea of the event was to gather a lot of designers from different countries to create a collection that was inspired by their own culture, so my entire collection was inspired by Bulgaria and presented by models of African origin.

Afterwards, I moved to Paris where I had a normal, paid job for an American brand, which I wasn’t really interested in. In addition to the job, I did a lot of side projects with different stylists, designers and artists which was really nice, but not spectacular. One of the projects, perhaps the most interesting one, was for Palais de Tokyo. I worked with a stylist and designer who is mainly famous for working with Lady Gaga. He’s a big name and a very interesting guy and I was lucky to have the chance to work for him as an illustrator.

I returned to Bulgaria about nine months ago, because I discovered that it was impossible for me to do what I wanted to do in Paris. I was first thinking about going to Germany, but Bulgaria was a more obvious choice because I would have much more space to create my collection. Since February, I have constantly been working on my new collection, which I presented at the beginning of October at the Salone della Moda, a yearly event in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

What is your favourite part of designing fashion?

The beginning and the end. The beginning and end are the most interesting because the beginning is when you have ideas; a vision of what you want to do. You’re only drawing and sketching and it feels free and you can experiment. The end is when you finally see everything three-dimensionally; everything is done. I don’t know about other designers, but I am always surprised at the end at what it finally became.

Are you now working on setting up your own brand in Bulgaria?

Yes. It’s interesting because for a lot of years I thought that I would have to be outside of Bulgaria, in France, Italy or the US, somewhere where fashion is huge. But this collection, for example, I made in Bulgaria, showed in the Netherlands and now I am going to sell it in Italy. Fashion is very international and the world is such an open place that it doesn’t really matter where you are physically based. I really want to establish my collections in Bulgaria, so that one day I can create spaces and jobs for people in my own country, but after that I want it to be everywhere.

Since the interview, a shop from Dubai has also shown interest in selling Mihalev’s latest collection.

 

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Make-Up: Maico Kemper | Models from left to right: Jalisa Minnaar, Aissa Sow, Julia Zendman, Liora Schoew, Djerra Zwaan, Sensemielja Letitia Sumter and Lauren Parmentier.

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Designer/Illustrator: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Denitsa Diyanova

http://www.mihalevcouture.com/

Louis Vuitton Series Three

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Louis Vuitton’s enigmatically titled exhibition, ‘Series 3,’ has taken over 180 Strand, just a few doors down from the Courtauld. It documents Nicholas Ghesquiere’s inspirations for his fourth ready-to-wear show as the Artistic Director for women’s collections at Louis Vuitton.

Before going to the exhibition, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. There is very little information available on Louis Vuitton’s website, and I was only aware that it was even happening having walked past the venue. (I have since, however, been absolutely inundated with advertising for it, which is unsurprising). Upon arrival, I was met by an army of people, dressed identically in black suits with white shirts. Their crisp, stark appearance was, I soon realized, to be echoed throughout the exhibition space. The entrance, as well as all the hallways connecting the rooms were a bright, somewhat severe, white. The rooms housing the displays, however, were an immersive, loud, bright, highly sensory experience. The first room, entered via a white tunnel, displayed a trunk hanging from the ceiling. The round walls played a repeating montage of video clips, some of models talking about their experience of working for Louis Vuitton, others of the same models, marching down the catwalk, interspersed with alternating flashes of the famous LV print and white noise, which spun at an increasing speed around the walls. The whole thing was enough to make the visitor just dizzy and nauseous enough that they had to stagger into the next space. Bright lights, loud music and rapid moving images were employed again and again by the curators, in an attempt to make the experience as immersive, and subsequently memorable, as possible.

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The aim of the whole exhibition, was, it quickly became apparent, to emphasize the genius of Ghesquiere, and elevate him to the status of a revered and respected artist. The exhibition guide described the show as a ‘stream of consciousness, dreams and self-reflexive journeys… The designer’s careful thoughts pair with a  delicate artisanal touch.’ This idea of the designer as a genius, and the exhibition as an insight into his inspiration and psyche is reiterated again and again, creating a ‘sensorial journey, venturing deep into the designer’s soul and an artisan’s heart.’ The curators were evidently far less concerned with conveying any information about Louis Vuitton or the new collection.

 The handmade quality of the objects in the collection was also a prominent theme of the exhibition. In one room, the viewer was encouraged to sit at a wooded table, and watch a real time video of the maker’s hands, carefully crafting a clutch bag. The description of this room tells the viewer that ‘each craftsman’s movement is that of an artist.’ Like Ghesquiere, the creators are heralded as artistic heroes, however, unlike the designer, whose name is the most prominent aspect of the exhibition, they remain completely anonymous. In this room, it is only their hands on show. In a later room, the visitor met the maker, head on. Two women were sat at desks, carefully crafting clutch bags. They were surrounded by an intricate system of lights and cameras, projecting videos of their hands onto screens behind them. The act of making a bag was turned into a performance, and the women a spectacle.

a video showing the hands of an anonymous maker

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The visitors were first shown the collection about half way through the exhibition, in a large, bright room with mirrors lining every wall. Lifesize videos of models marched to the pumping beat on large free standing screens. The effect was clever, making the visitor feel as if they were actually at the show, however, again the clothes of secondary importance to the room itself. The information for this room was quick to reinforce Ghesquiere’s position at the top of the pyramid, stating ‘… 45 models, one designer- Ghesquiere.’

Floor to ceiling mirrors were employed in nearly every room, creating the effect of never ending, infinite space. However, they also caused the visitor to look at themselves too, alongside Ghesquiere’s collection. From a curatorial point of view, this forces the viewer to, perhaps subconsciously, compare themselves to the glamourous collection, or imagine themselves wearing it, giving the exhibition an aspiration quality. This was extremely apparent in the final room, in which the entire collection hung in open Perspex boxes. Visitors were not only allowed, but encouraged to touch things, pick them up and open them. The guide for this room read ‘clothes speak to the women to wishes to own them,’ and I overheard a tour guide dub the room ‘every woman’s dream come true- the walk in wardrobe.’ It was clear that, upon entering the room, the visitors were meant to covet the luxurious, fur coats and elaborate jewel encrusted skirts.

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The mirrors also served another function: they made the rooms the perfect setting for the ultimate selfie. They had clearly been conceived of as the most instagrammable rooms ever (it suddenly became apparent why the wifi password had been displayed so prominently in the entrance!), which was a hugely clever PR technique from Louis Vuitton. Every visitor in the exhibition with me was lapping up the opportunity to take the artsiest selfie they could, which, presumably, they would soon share on social media, creating the desired buzz around Ghesquiere’s new collection during Fashion Week season. I couldn’t help thinking throughout that this was one of the most elaborate and immersive marketing strategies I had ever seen.

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in selfie heaven

This was definitely not most informative fashion exhibition- I left feeling scarcely more knowledgeable about Louis Vuitton than when I arrived. In fact, I would scarcely call it an exhibition,  but rather the most lavish example of experiential marketing I have ever seen. It was an eye-opening foray into the techniques design houses use to promote their collections. In terms of marketing, the exhibition was enormously clever, because it created an experience that no visitor could resist photographing and sharing. It seemed to be an exhibition for exhibition’s sake. The actual collection was of secondary importance to the exhibition itself, and very little information was provided. However, where it succeeded was creating an unforgettable experience, and, even if the visitors can’t remember what one garment in the collection looks like, they will definitely remember that it was by Louis Vuitton.

Fashion Week Reactions Part 2

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Shifting attention from the catwalk to the street.
Style.com

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Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.

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Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.

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Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.

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Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.

As part of a special series this week, we give our reactions to the recent fashion weeks…

Rebecca:

One of the most striking aspects of the current fashion weeks’ coverage is the shift of focus away from the catwalk and onto the streets surrounding the venues. Many posts from style.com, for example, headlined with street style, rather than designers’ latest showings. The dynamic between clothes, settings and photographers has gradually shifted emphasis, from professional models, in designer clothes, carefully shown to convey the latest season, to celebrities on the front row and, in the last few years, to a carnival of self-styled visitors, who perform for the cameras and each other. So, what and who are fashion shows really for nowadays? And who is watching whom?

Fashion editors – who move between the various players in this scenario – act as a conduit to the wider public through print and digital media, and bridge this move from centre to periphery.  Whereas most editors used to be fairly anonymous, their every outfit is now commented upon, as they mirror bloggers use of self-presentation to build a distinctive identity. In each case, the way they dress has become a focus – a way to ‘democratize’ fashion, with the editors adopting street style tactics, as a means to assert their authority, and compete with the mass of ‘amateur’ fashion commentators.

As bloggers renegotiated the ways fashion was communicated at the start of the century, access to new styles via the Internet, and a closer, more direct style of writing and, importantly, photographing new styles impinged on traditional media. Using your own body as a way to display emerging trends appears more direct and linked to how the wider public uses fashion.

Ironically, couturiers originally tried to keep the press out of their shows – wishing to control access to their designs and the timing of their release. Now, changes brought about by the Internet, combined with recession-led conservative styles on the catwalk, have shifted the gaze again, and blurred lines between professional and amateur, design and performance.

Liz:

Hot Fuzz: Shrimps

The newly launched girly and kitsch faux fur label Shrimps, the brainchild of 23-year-old LCF graduate, Hannah Weiland, made its debut on 12th September at London Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2015. Rainbow-coloured beautifully-crafted fluffy pieces inspired by the Flintstones, Muppets and Popeye the Sailor provided a humorous and invitingly tactile contrast to the more austere creations seen in other collections. Enthused by the pop-art witticisms of Eduardo Paolozzi, sixties style and British humour, Weiland showcased furry mid-length coats with horizontal contrasting stripes, oversized clutches adorned with pearls, luxurious collars in hot pink or orange, and fur-trimmed biker jackets, all of which were made from the synthetic fibre modacryclic. ‘Why wear real fur when the potential for luxe faux fur is so rich and unexploited?’ quizzed the designer. The label makes faux fur, which, while not cheap, costs considerably less than the real thing – the ‘Wilma’ striped faux fur coat is currently £595 on Net-a-Porter and is made more desirable with its bright colours, pastel hues and overall silly charm. ‘Perhaps my obsession with fluffy animals is the reason why Shrimps came about — I’m imitating the animals I grew up with’. But with stockists Net-a-Porter, Avenue 32 and Opening Ceremony all queuing up to place orders for spring, the names of items, which include Pluto, Mabel and Dulcie, don’t seem quite so silly…

Check out Shrimps’ quirky fashion film ‘Shrimps World’ featuring Laura Bailey, complete with langoustines, chewing gum, gherkins, and a caravan, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYYDUbv7vcY.

Lucy:

Dark Naturalism: Beauty at New York Fashion Week, Spring 2015

Many of the beauty looks featured at New York Fashion Week displayed takes on the city’s impeccably groomed, understated trademark style, and Derek Lam and Vera Wang’s respective shows were no exception. Shiny curls softly bounced, though with a subtle irregularity and loosened nature that prevented them being uniform and kempt. Faces were left fresh and dewy, lips glossy but in natural hues, and eyebrows full and merely brushed. The fine plaits that peeked out within models’ hair as they moved down the Vera Wang catwalk, quietly conjured an air of refined rebellion, encapsulating this insouciant individualism.

This was furthered by the shades of violet that were washed over the eyes in each show. At Derek Lam, brown eyeliner, and mauve lipstick smudged onto the lids avoided a classic, explicit finish, and merged the product with the skin. The purplish tones were emphasised with mascara of the same shade. At Vera Wang, similar tones were apparent in a heavier manner, here without the definition of mascara. Colour surrounded the eye and was extended below the lower eyelid, creating a sunken effect.

While praised by media coverage for injecting colour, the shadows’ considered placement and thorough blending create not so much a colour pop, as a suggestion that they are part of the skin, and therefore represent bruising: in-keeping with the rest of the looks’ naturalism, but focusing on an unconventional and controversial condition of the skin. They recall the haunted, hollow eyes that prevailed within the ‘heroin chic’ look of the late 1990s, when fashion images depicted models styled as drug abusers, their rake-thin bodies and lack of vitality enhanced by a haze of smoky shadow. Just as at the end of the last millennium, the suggestion of violence is never far beneath fashion’s seemingly impenetrable surface.

Fashion Week Reactions Part 1

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As part of a special series this week, we give our reactions to the recent fashion weeks…

Alexis:

“I love New York, I’m a New Yorker, I can’t imagine living anywhere else” – video, DKNY S/S 2015

The city of New York has played a role in the shaping of American fashion since industrial professionals such as Eleanor Lambert and Dorothy Shaver worked to promote original American design in the 1930s and 40s. As the site of the country’s garment industry as well as, in advertisements, a prime space of imagined consumption of clothing, New York became synonymous with fashion over the course of the twentieth century. Since its creation in 1988, DKNY, the less expensive extension of Donna Karan New York, has utilised the city as a tool of branding. DKNY even defines itself, according to its current website, as “the energy and spirit of New York. International, eclectic, fun, fast and real.” And the presentation of DKNY’s S/S 2015 collection on 7 September in Lincoln Center began with a video that visualised these ideals. A rapid patchwork of faces, clothed bodies and minute details of New York spaces – from the subway to wire fences and graffiti-covered brick walls – the video set the tone for the show, which presented models of various ethnicities in sporty and colourful garments. Styled by Jay Massacret, the models conveyed a quirky femininity in their A-line skirts and boldly patterned garments. They painted a portrait of style found, according to the video, as “you walk down the streets…different energies, different styles…a lotta noise, colours.” The show thus extended the definition of New York to its outer, less affluent spaces. And the models, dressed in sweaters and neoprene bomber jackets, recalled 1990s B-girls. With their sunglasses, foam stacked trainers, and gelled baby hair and braids (conceived by Eugene Souleiman), they commemorated inner city street style – today a part of American fashion heritage – and the specificity of this image to New York.

Katerina:

Audrey Hepburn’s Granddaughter Emma Ferrer Makes Her Modelling Debut

Fashion has made no secret of its fascination with Audrey Hepburn. From the mid-1950s films Sabrina (1955) and Funny Face (1957), which dramatised the gamine actress’s transformations through Hubert de Givenchy’s couture, to subsequent pronouncements that a new model has something of her eyebrows or quality of movement, fashion has remained entranced with Hepburn’s delicate, extraordinary face and waif-like, ballerina body. The latest model to be cast in Hepburn’s mould is her twenty-one-year-old grand-daughter Emma Ferrer. Ferrer, who to date has been an art student in Florence, is moving to Manhattan and embarking upon a modelling career. Her debut into fashion was the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, where she was photographed by Michael Avedon, the grandson of the famous Richard, who worked with her grand-mother. Although Ferrer, has been ballet-trained like her grandmother and shares her deportment, she is not Hepburn’s doppelganger in either appearance or life experience. Nevertheless, in the photo-shoot, she has been made to adopt Hepburn’s characteristic poses, for example: her face in profile and tilted up to exaggerate her neck-length; or in a Funny Face style frieze-frame of quirky spontaneous movement. There is something sad and forced about asking a young woman to literally take her grandmother’s position, and in my opinion, the photo shoot is too derivative to be inspiring.

Still, the fashion industry’s interest in Hepburn’s granddaughter indicates that it values a model’s symbolic value in addition to her physical attributes. One speculates that when Lanvin asked Ferrer to make her catwalk debut at their Spring Summer 2015 show on September 25, they wanted to exhibit not only her beauty in their clothes, but the aura that manifests in her blood-relation to Hepburn. It’s too early to tell whether Ferrer will follow the successful path of Georgia May Jagger and other descendants of fashion royalty, but first, her collaborators have to allow her to emerge from Hepburn’s shadow.