Monthly Archives: September 2013

Fashion inspired by real women

One of the reasons I started this blog is because I love sharing new discoveries, be it travel destinations, restaurants, boutiques, designers or cafes serving good coffee. Recently, I have made a new exciting discovery: a designer brand whose philosophy resonates with my view of fashion – DEPLOY demi-couture.

On my way to DEPLOY’s event at Home House in London last week I had no expectations and intended to only stay for under an hour. But the story about independent sustainable fashion business I heard and the stylish, feminine and, what inspired me most, customisable clothes I saw that night left me very curious. Keen to learn more, I arranged to speak with DEPLOY’s designer and creator, Bernice Pan at her boutique near the fashionable Marylebone High Street in London. This small elegant boutique is filled beautiful clothes that flatter a female figure, made from luxurious natural fabrics, that are sourced from certified ethical suppliers. I felt like I travelled back in time to the pre-mass consumption period in history when clothes were tailored for the customer and the service was very personal.

Elegant clothes made from high quality natural fabrics
Elegant clothes made from high quality natural fabrics
Shoes and accessories
Shoes and accessories
DEPLOY boutique has a beautiful hat collection
DEPLOY boutique has a beautiful hat collection

Bernice, who has a PhD in Fashion Design Innovation and a background in architecture brings a new, multi-disciplinary approach to fashion. She founded DEPLOY in 2005 creating a fashion brand that revives the golden-era couture and at the same time embraces innovation and puts the concept of ethical consumption and sustainability at the core of the business model. The name “DePLOY” signifies action for Bernice, it means applying the ethos of responsible, sustainable high quality style throughout the whole supply chain. But also, according to Bernice, “trends can become a ‘ploy’ to increase consumption”. And while she understands that it is natural for a business to want to increase sales, she is concerned with the amount of waste we create as a result of such consumption. So DEPLOY wants to offer a new form of consumption to “de-ploy” obsolescence. This is why the clothes she designs are not for throwing away every season. They are made specifically with a person or function, not a trend, in mind.

This jacket can be turned into a simple cropped version. The denim material is innovative eco-friendly fabric made from recycled coffee grounds
This jacket can be turned into a simple cropped version. The denim material is innovative eco-friendly fabric made from recycled coffee grounds

I, personally, loved two things about DEPLOY: the creative element that each piece of clothing carries and style aesthetics of the brand and the boutique: think old-style glamour, luxurious fabrics and textures, quality and attention to detail, and flattering ultra-feminine cuts.

The fact that the clothes are designed in a way that allows customers to be creative and wear one piece in many ways is what, in my view, sets DEPLOY apart. Dresses become skirts and blouses, jackets become vests, there are removable decorative details, such as additional folds of fabric or ruffles, on some jackets or dresses. Many of the detachable parts are interchangeable making the entire collection very interactive.

Designs that encourage creativity: one dress can be worn in two completely different ways
Designs that encourage creativity: one dress can be worn in two completely different ways
Versatility: trench coat that can be worn as a dress too
Versatility: trench coat that can be worn as a dress too

This definitely takes personalisation of fashion to a new level. “Designers are not the only people who are creative,” says Bernice, “creativity is for everyone”.

This approach to fashion – “less prescriptive and more liberal” – definitely speaks to me and many other women, I am sure.

The fact that all designs are inspired by real women and their needs really appeals to me too. “The starting point for me as designer is what the clothes can do for you,” says Bernice. Women and what they need to look comfortable and confident is what inspires her designs. My guess is this is why the clothes are of such high quality and the cuts are so flattering. Most pieces are designed to accentuate the waist and flatter (or help to create, as in my case) feminine curves. “Women walk out surprised at how feminine they can look,” shares Bernice.

I try on a jacket with detachable sleeves that helps to do exactly that – add womanly curves, something I always attempt to do with clothes for my straight up and down figure.

This jacket that turns into a vest is very flattering on many female figures.
This jacket that turns into a vest is very flattering on many female figures.
For example, it helps to add feminine curves to my straight up and down figure
For example, it helps to add feminine curves to my straight up and down figure

Other pieces I am shown promise to work like magic by creating shape and curves in all the “right” places and hide what us women are not so keen to show.

This jacket is designed in a way that helps to flatter the lower abdomen area, an area that is considered 'problematic' by many women
This jacket is designed in a way that helps to flatter the lower abdomen area, an area that is considered ‘problematic’ by many women

Ever keen to define what style is, I ask Bernice to share her thoughts. “Style is about the grace of the woman herself, people don’t need to try and be someone else,” she answers. I could not agree more.

If you don’t know DEPLOY already, I highly recommend visiting their website http://www.deployworkshop.com or stopping by the boutique in 34 Thayer street in the Marylebone area in London. I will be coming back before too long, having added one of DEPLOY’s dresses and a jacket to my A/W wish list.

Some of the photographs used here were provided by the DEPLOY team

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Exploring fashion and design in Antwerp

For a small historic European city with medieval architecture Antwerp is surprisingly cool and avant-garde. Belgium’s second largest city and Europe’s second largest port, Antwerp is rightfully referred to as the fashion capital ever since the 1980s when it was put on the international fashion map by the “Antwerp Six”, six Belgian fashion designers – Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Marina Yee, Dirk Bikkembergs, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Van Saene – who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and shook the fashion world with their avant-garde designs. Today, the Royal Academy in Antwerp is one of the best in the world. And this, in my opinion, has a major impact on this small city and its eclectic style.

I discovered Antwerp in 2000 when I moved to Belgium. One thing I immediately noticed was Antwerp’s very distinct character and attitude that makes it stand out among all other Belgian cities in term of atmosphere and style. Antwerp’s style is bolder, brighter, edgier. For years, I have been visiting Antwerp like a local. First, when I lived in Brussels, I went there for shopping or clubbing, two things Antwerp is known for in Belgium. Then, after I moved to London, I came back regularly to visit friends. But during these visits I rarely took the time to explore the city, as it often happens with cities we know, preferring house parties and dinners to discovering new places. So this year I decided to see this beautiful and vibrant city as a first time visitor.

There are many reasons to visit Antwerp: classical Flemish art, beautiful architecture – from medieval to baroque to art deco and modern – vibrant café culture and nightlife, delicious food, chocolate and, for some, hundreds of varieties of Belgian beer.

I went to Antwerp several weeks ago intending to explore its unique fashion and design scene and get fresh style ideas. By “fashion scene” I don’t mean high street shopping; Belgian fashion often resembles creations of art and shopping is similar to walking into art galleries.

My Antwerp shopping experience definitely felt more like a gallery crawl. Most of the fashion scene is clustered in and around Nationalestraat, where Dries Van Noten’s Het Modepaleis (Nationalestraat 16) is located. His beautifully designed hand finished pieces decorated with feathers and embroidery gave me an impression I was in a Belle Époque period shop.

Modepaleis
Het Modepaleis
Dries Van Noten's embellished pieces
Dries Van Noten’s embellished pieces

Ann Demeulemeester’s shop is a dramatic space in monochrome colours with an occasional splash of colour breaking into the black and while palette from one of the clothes rails – a completely different feel to van Noten’s boutique.

Ann Demeulemeester's creations
Ann Demeulemeester’s creations
Leather necklace
Leather necklace

Anwerp has several very interesting concept stores. I came across one of them – Seven Rooms – completely by accident. Bright and spacious, this is the space where I could easily spend an afternoon looking through carefully selected pieces by international fashion designers, beautiful furniture, and even food and wine.

Furniture pieces at
Furniture pieces at Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms

Another beautiful concept store worth a visit is 13 GraanMarkt. It also has a lovely restaurant inside.

If you are planning to visit Antwerp I highly recommend going to these shops, if only to look at design and fashion as creation of art. If your budget does not allow you to buy avant-garde creations of the famous Belgian designers, but you are keen to add a bit of Antwerp style to your wardrobe, try these shops.

Essentiel, Antwerp fashion brand that for me really reflects the city’s bold, colourful, sometimes edgy style.

Bright accessories at Essentiel
Bright accessories at Essentiel

Jutka and Riska, a boutique in trendy South part of Antwerp selling a mix of vintage, own design by the shop owners and creations by young designers along with accessories and occasional interior design pieces.

On Lombardenvest (one of the streets off Nationalestraat) you will find a good selection of European labels, such as A.P.C., Les petites…, Fillipa K, Acne, Maison Sctoch.

Taking a break from shopping (or visiting design spaces as I call it) is easy with a vast choice of cafes in nearly every street.

At night, head to Marnixplaats, a square in trendy Anwerp Zuid (South) area. It has a very lively restaurant and bar scene where stylish locals meet for a bite to eat and drinks.

Sunday, when most shops are closed, is a good day to visit Antwerp’s museum. Recently opened MAS museum in the port area with its own Michelin-starred restaurant is definitely a must-see. Not only is it the largest contemporary art space in the city, but also it has a unique and striking architectural style.

And if you are still in need of fashion and design inspiration, then MoMu, the fashion museum, is the place for you.

Last but not least, I recommend staying at South Side Suite. This tastefully decorated spacious apartment that sleeps up to three people is located in the trendy Zuid area. The location is ideal: it is central enough to explore the city by foot, but far enough from the main tourist attractions to experience a local vibe and enjoy a vibrant food and nightlife scene together with the locals. The hosts, a young Belgian-Brazilian/Angolan couple will pamper you and make you feel at home. I speak from experience, I have stayed with them many times! Book early as it usually gets booked quickly.

20130919-190343.jpg
Enjoying afternoon sun in the trendy Zuid area
Antwerp style - not afraid to stand out with bright colours
Antwerp style – not afraid to stand out with bright colours
Bright accessories...
… and bright accessories
Unusual design
Unusual design
Art deco building
Art deco building
20130919-190404.jpg
Street art

Travelling light

I am a big fan of short breaks. This allows me to satisfy my craving for travel without using all my annual holiday allowance in the first two months of the year. However, as much as I love travelling and everything that comes with it – eating delicious local food, slowing down, enjoying local culture – there is one aspect of frequent travelling that I am not very excited about – packing.

As an experienced traveller I should be very quick and efficient when it comes to packing but my love for choice and variety often results in over-packing. I still remember the shock on people’s faces in March this year when I was getting on a boat in Bali to travel to another island with my huge and very heavy suitcase (probably more than half my body weight) while everyone else had compact backpacks. What can I say, I am a maximalist when it comes to packing. There is nothing wrong with this approach in my opinion. Airlines, especially the budget airlines, tend to disagree and continue to reduce their luggage allowance and charge us more for travelling with bigger bags. Even BA now has no checked in luggage fare.

On my recent trip to the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria I was faced with a challenge. Wizz Air, the only airline with direct flights from London to my chosen destination, has a new cabin luggage policy meaning my cabin size suitcase was too large to take on board.  Of course I could pay the extra fee and bring it onboard. But it was a matter of principle rather than price. Plus, I felt ready to open my mind to new ways of travelling (and packing). So I boarded Wizz Air flight to Burgas with only one small piece of hang luggage and discovered that travelling light has its benefits (spending less time in airports) and can be quite liberating.

But is it possible to feel stylish when travelling with only one small piece of hand luggage?  I think yes!

Here is what I packed to maximise the space and still be able to have a bit of variety. I hope these tips are helpful for other over-packers.

packinglight.jpg

  1. Travel bag, Paul & Joe, can be used as a beach bag too
  2. Multiway wrap dress in sapphire, Butter by Nadia . I love this versatile dress, bought in New York last year. It can be worn in a variety of ways and works as both a day and an evening outfit, I even wear it as a midi skirt. It is a must pack item for most of my summer trips. Tip: choose multi-tasking items in your wardrobe.
  3. Cropped leather jacket, Twenty8Twelve
  4. Three white t-shirts. Tip: simple basics, such as white t-shirts, can be matched with almost anything. If an outfit feels a bit boring, it can be livened up with a scarf or an accessory.
  5. Denim shorts, Roxy
  6. Turquoise jeans, Lui Jo
  7. Fold up shoes, BCBGMAXAZRIA – so compact they can fit into a small handbag
  8. Flip flops, Havaianas
  9. Silk dress, bought in Ubud, Bali earlier this year. Tip: I really love silk, not only does it feel and looks great, but also it is very practical for packing light as it is almost weightless and takes very little space
  10. Animal print sweat top, Baum und Pferdgarten
  11. Blue cardigan, Kookai to cover up in the evening
  12. Beach sarong, made from very thin cotton that takes little space when folded and can also be worn as scarf, Enfasis  Beachwear
  13.  Two bikinis, the one above is from Liberty
  14. And a couple of scarves in different colours to accessorise outfits with and cover up in the evenings and during the flight.

Wearing my silk dress to the beachwearingshorts

The Black Sea
The Black Sea
Delicious fresh local food is reason enough to visit Bulgaria
Delicious fresh local food is reason enough to visit Bulgaria