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Gareth Pugh designs V&A Christmas installation

Each year to celebrate the festive period, the Victoria and Albert commissions a leading designer to create a Christmas tree for the grand entrance of the museum, and this year the installation has been designed by British fashion designer Gareth Pugh.

Standing at over 4 metres high the installation mirrors the shape of the traditional Christmas evergreen tree featuring nine tiered pyramids that are clad in gold which collect around a central beacon of light to represent an abstract nativity. The arrangement of the mirrored pyramids has been created to suggest a gathering, highlighting the notion of community at the heart of the festive season.

On working with the V&A, Pugh said: “The V&A is a true British icon and a guardian of our cultural heritage. It was an honour to be invited to take part in its festive celebrations. I hope our installation might provide a moment of reflection for those who visit over the next month, and perhaps even contribute a little to the magic of the season.”

Previous V&A Christmas trees have been designed by a number of fashion designers including Alexander McQueen who made a tree from 100,000 Swarovski crystals on polished stainless steel branches, Matthew Williamson who decked the tree with more than 1,000 soft pink velvet and silk chiffon roses, and Jasper Conran, who decorated his tree with 1000 crystal drops inspired by his bone china range.

The V&A’s 2014 Christmas tree by Gareth Pugh will be on display at the museum until January 6, 2015.

Images: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Department store John Lewis has commissioned world renowned composer Bob Chilcott to write a piece of music to mark the retailer's 150th anniversary.

The special composition will be performed this Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall by the Partnership's orchestra, the Cavendish Ensemble, and will feature singers from John Lewis and Waitrose branches from across the country, all lead by Chilcott, a former member of the Kings Singers, a principal guest conductor of the BBC Singers.

The music will tell the story of the tenth century Czech legend of a King (Wenceslas) and his page (Podiven), delivering alms on a bitterly cold winter's night with the traditional verses by JM Neale interwoven with text by poet, and friend of the composer, Charles Bennett.

John Lewis managing director Andy Street explains: "In a business that has music in its DNA, this is a unique, special way to close a year of celebration. Now members of the public, as well as Partners from Waitrose and John Lewis, will be able to witness the world premiere of Chilcott's Wenceslas."

Chilcott added: "Music is part of the fabric of the John Lewis Partnership, with voice and instrumental tuition available to those who work for Waitrose or John Lewis. When composing the piece, I couldn't help think that the journey of King and Page could be one taken by delivery drivers in foul weather to ensure that customers get their groceries!"

Eternal futurist of fashion Pierre Cardin opens new museum at 92

"That coat has been round the world. That's when I actually started to make some money!" Pierre Cardin says, stopping in front of a flared, red design among the first exhibits at his new museum in Paris.

One of the last survivors of the great post-war French fashion houses, Cardin, at 92, still heads a sprawling business empire. "Back then I hadn't yet become Pierre Cardin. I hadn't found my voice," he says, in uncharacteristically reflective mood.

The avant-garde designer, known for his geometric shapes, dresses decorated with circular and rectangular motifs and astronaut's headgear, has always tended to look forward rather than backward. But he is making an exception today.

His Past-Present-Future museum, until recently tucked away in a far-flung corner of the Paris suburbs, is reopening in the more central Marais, the city's historic former Jewish quarter. The exhibit traces Cardin's 60-year career through some 200 fashion pieces, as well as hats, shoes, pieces of jewellery and furniture.

'Came from nothing'

The son of parents who settled in France in 1924 after escaping Italy's fascist regime, Cardin says the museum will deliver a "legacy for a couturier who came from nothing". As successful in business as was in fashion, Cardin started work as an apprentice at 14, moving to Paris after World War II where he worked at the Paquin and Schiaparelli fashion houses before joining Christian Dior.

Eternal futurist of fashion Pierre Cardin opens new museum at 92

In 1950, having failed to get a job with Balenciaga, he decided to set up on his own. "I had the chance to achieve everything I wanted without needing a banker, authority... I was a free man from the age of 20," he recalls. His 1964 "Space Age" collection remains a landmark in fashion history with its cut-out dresses, knitted catsuits, tight leather pants, close-fitting helmets and batwing jumpers.

"Only lines count. I only care for simplicity," he once wrote. For style to become real, proportion and line are primordial." Cardin, who will inaugurate the 1,000-square-metre (10,000-square-foot) museum on Thursday, was also one of the earliest believers in ready-to-wear. After launching his first ready-to-wear collection in 1959, he was promptly expelled from Paris's association of haute couturiers.

But the new trend for more accessible fashion was an unstoppable force and he was later readmitted.

Inexhaustible

Today, despite being in his tenth decade, Cardin remains inexhaustible. His many business acquisitions take in hotels, factories, boutiques and restaurants, including Paris's upmarket eaterie Maxim's which he turned into an international chain with branches all over the world.

In 2011, he put his fashion label -- made up of some 300 licence contracts -- up for sale saying he hoped it would fetch up to a billion euros. His property projects, however, have sometimes been controversial. His attempts to build a golf course on land he owned in the south of France were eventually scuttled following local protests.

And, in 2013, he had to abandon his plan for a futuristic billion-euro tower in the Venice lagoon amid warnings it would destroy the city's skyline. "I've always had bizarre ideas that surprise, but this is what makes my personality," he says. Even now, Cardin continues to design for the catwalks from time to time.

"It's youth that makes fashion, not old people. Me, I'm one of the old people now -- but I have stayed young," he says.He does not mention any of the younger generation of designers as heirs, though, and appears to regret what he perceives as a loss of distinctiveness. "Style design is so diverse. It does not have clear identities as before with Balenciaga, Chanel, Cardin, Courreges. Design is about being recognised without a label. Elegance alone is not sufficient," he says.

Still busy with his own business empire, however, he is happy to remain largely detached from the rest of the fashion world."I don't see the other designers. I have so much to do personally," he says, adding: "I don't have to judge them... they have their work and I have mine." (Helen Rowe and Anne-Laure Mondesert, AFP)

"Women Style Power" opens at the Design Museum

Jettisoning the corset, donning a designer gown, wearing a punk wedding dress or even trainers -- the various ways women take control of their lives through fashion are the subject of a new exhibition which opened in London on Wednesday.

"Women Style Power" at the Design Museum traces key moments in the development of women's clothing since 1850, culminating in a collection of modern outfits contributed by some of the most influential women of the 21st century.

The exhibition comprises items from underwear to red carpet gowns, interspersed with photographs, memorabilia and a pair of Reebok Freestyle Hi Tops trainers, revealing how women adopt fashion trends to create a style that suits their lives.

"It's about clothes and how women can use them to empower themselves to intimidate people and to make themselves feel sexy," said co-curator Colin McDowell. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo opened the exhibition as one of 26 powerful women from around the world who contributed an outfit -- in her case, slim-fitting black trousers, a black jacket, a silk blouse and a wool scarf.

"The clothes you wear, particularly as a woman in politics, are inevitably the first statement you make to people who come to meet you, before they even hear you speak," she told AFP. Wearing a black dress and black leather jacket, Hidalgo said she dresses primarily "for comfort, something in which I feel good."

A Prada cape worn by architect Zaha Hadid -- who designed the exhibition -- a red Dior crocodile jacket worn by Hong-Kong-born gallery owner Pearl Lam and an Akris Dove evening dress from Princess Charlene of Monaco are also on display.

Going back 150 years, the exhibition traces how women's outfits have evolved from the constraints of the corset through to flapper dresses, mini-skirts, female tuxedos, power-dresses, sportswear, grunge and eco fashion.

The exhibition includes the blue Mansfield skirt suit worn by former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher when she was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. The black Jacques Azagury dress worn by Diana, Princess of Wales on her 36th birthday also features, as does a striking Zandra Rhodes-designed wedding dress from 1977.

"Women Style Power" runs from October 29 to April 26, 2015. (AFP)

Decoded Style: How Luxury becomes a business on the Web

Internationalization, digitalization and young people, in other words new talents that can pour energy into the Italian fashion system. This is the recipe for putting the spring back into the fashion system which Jane Reeve, CEO of Cameradella Moda - the governing body of Italian style - gave the international public of Decoded Style last week.

Hosted in Milan for the second time, 500 people attended the event which confirmed itself as a launchpad for young people with brilliant ideas for selling clothes and accessories brands. The winner of the Style Pitch was Modist, the "Made in Canada" startup founded by Jamila Jamani which offers a “visual tour” for retailers, featuring content and photos taken from magazines and elsewhere.

The idea is to show anyone thinking of buying a garment how it is worn, who has bought it and so on. At the moment the app is optimized for iPad. The winner was declared by a jury consisting of, among others, Francesco Bottigliero, CEO of e-Pitti.com, the company which brought Decoded fashion to Italy, Stefano Rosso, CEO of OTB, the holding company for Diesel, Maison Martin Margiela and Marni. The winners will be at the next edition of Pitti Uomo and will meet the Diesel team, as well as Stefano and Renzo Rosso, at the company's headquarters.

Decoded fashion: a marketplace where fashion companies can compare strategies

Decoded fashion is also a marketplace where fashion companies can compare notes on their strategies. There are several funds in the audience on the hunt for promising ideas in which to invest. Unfortunately, however, foreign investors still have difficulty coming to Italy, frightened off by the taxes and the bureaucracy. “On this front there is an open dialogue with the government, which is aware that fashion is one of the drivers for the economy," Reeve explained.

“Prime minister Renzi knows textiles well and attends fashion week," added Raffaello Napoleone, chief executive of Pitti Immagine. There is no lack of young entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs on the floor. To judge from the trolleys with the airport label attached to the handle in the cloakroom and in the hall, foreigners were present in large numbers. The speeches, all strictly in English, contributed to making the atmosphere international. What gave away the identity of the Italian digital people was the large number of espresso coffees consumed at the bar set up at the entrance.

Decoded Style: How Luxury becomes a business on the Web

Besides the lack of ability to attract investment, another factor penalizing the fashion business in Italy emerged during the day. As Barbara Franchin, director of ITS explained, English fashion schools are perfect for attracting people from anywhere and everywhere. “The English school supports young people even before they arrive: and helps them find money to pay for tuition and books," Franchin emphasized. Then, when the course is finished, "if a person wants to start their own label they can. In England they don't just push the labels of young English people, but anyone who wants to begin producing in the country.”

Once a name has been found and production started, digital technology can do a lot. “When the brand is young it can gain young customers who pick up their tablet to order garments. There are social media platforms such as Instagram, for example, which become more important than the magazines," said Uri Minkoff, CEO of Rebecca Minkoff. If the brands have greater history and tradition, and belong to the world of luxury, as often happens with those made in Italy, however, e-commerce and social media are equally as important.

30 percent of Italian Twitter users have connections to the fashion world, explained Salvatore Ippolito, Italy country manager for Twitter. For Jarvis Macchi, global digital PR manager at Tod's: “Digital is a fantastic tool if you have a story to tell. We are not on Twitter because it is a social medium which is not suitable for the story that we want to tell.” According to Federico Barbieri, senior vice president, digital and e-business at Kering, however, “only when we begin to merge our historical background with innovation can we move forward," explained the manager, emphasizing that Kering is investing "a heap of money" on this front.

But what is the secret of calculating the benefits of investments in the web? “Online has an impact on business, but to prove it we would have to shut e-commerce down," Barbieri cut us short, stressing that to be able to ensure a top-class experience the secret is in the small data, the detail.

H&M celebrations collaborations with book

Style retailer H&M is marking its 10 years of designer collaborations with a commemorative book, which will launch to coincide with its latest collection with Alexander Wang on November 6.

The book, “The First Ten Years’,takes readers through the creative journey of past to present designer collaborations, with dedicated chapters for each designer, so readers can get an insider view of archive materials surrounding each collection. The book will also feature ad campaigns, quotes and interviews, as well as some never before seen materials.

The collaborations started with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004 and it changed the fashion industry by bringing luxury fashion to new audiences at affordable prices. "Taste and looking chic is no longer a question of money or how you spend, but how you create a unique sense of style," Lagerfeld comments in the book.

The collector’s edition will feature the designs and imagery from Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf, Roberto Cavalli, Commes des Garcons, Matthew Williamson, Jimmy Choo, Sonia Rykiel, Lanvin, Versace, Marni, Maison Martin Margiela, Isabel Marant and Alexander Wang. It will be available in around 250 stores, priced at 34.95 dollars, with 25 percent of proceeds going to UNICEF.

The Swedish retailer is also mounting a retrospective exhibition of its annual collaborations at its Fifth Avenue flagship in New York from October 27, showcasing iconic looks from each past designer ending with this year's Alexander Wang x H&M collection.