We went to an exhibition this week, and by the time you read this it will be over. Nevertheless it was interesting and I hope I can draw some points out.
The first is that taking a day off work, and going to see something mid-week is a complete and utter luxury and just so different from walking around in a massive weekend group.
The idea of the exhibition, organised by Burberry, is to show the craft skills associated with a collection. They write
A crafted collection featuring historic, cultural and artisanal details…noble and authentic fabrics are combined, blurring masculine and feminine, casual and formal, night and day, all mixed together to create a new reality born of all the moments that have gone before”
OK, it’s a wee bit pretentious, but it is also a marvellous exhibition. More broadly, in the old Foyles bookshop before it is redeveloped for luxury flats, it show cases the talents we have in London and encourages people to either commission artists and crafts people to create work for them or just be inspired. The following crafts were on show over the week (20-27 September 2016) which followed the September 2016 runway event. As we went on Monday 26 September we only saw some of these artists – those I have named.
- Sculpting – Thomas Merrett
- Experimental design
- Fashion history
- Visible mending
- Sand casting
- Silk screen printing
- Miniature portraits – Holly Frean Here is Holly in a little studio, painting a sitter (in one hour slots). Her style is inspired by the old master paintings found in country houses.
- Military embellishment – Kings’ Troop. We spent some time talking to Godfrey and his apprentices. The three saddle makers are serving members of the British Army. Their work was exquisite and the role they play in the Army is significant and important. Godfrey showed us how he pierces the leather with a sharp needle, then sews with two interlinked pieces of thread. Very skilled work.
- Patchworking – Rachel Scott. I spoke to Rachel at length, and I am sorry the picture didn’t come out too well. Rachel mainly makes rugs, from natural, undyed wool. In fact there were some of Rachel’s rugs on the ground in Holly’s area. Rachel had been commissioned to produce a patchwork cushion cover from the fabrics used in the Burberry collection and she was sewing it when I visited. It’s the greens and browns on her left in the picture. I was suprised at the relatively large stitches and the quantity of them (five or six per hexagonal side). As you can see her dress is made with the same hexagonal patchwork technique. I asked her what she thought of machine sewn quilts, and she said she couldn’t see the point. She always handstitched – this meant that patchworking could be combined with other things like conversation and social life. I asked her if it was working with colour that appealed to her, and she agreed that this was the primary motivation – creating new arrangements of colour. She trained as an artist at the Royal College of Art and looking at her clothes you can see the strong artistic skill in her confident use of pattern and colour. I admired her dress and she said she hadn’t bought anything to wear since about 1970.
- Traditional lacquer – Pero da Costa Felgueiras. I also really enjoyed talking to Pero – an enthusiastic, Portuguese craftsman who makes fine lacquered furniture, but who also works on the restoration and decoration of historic houses including Strawberry Hill and Hampton Court. (I thought for a moment that Joyce’s bulldog was on show, but it was actually a lion). He was very charming and told me a little bit about lacquer work and the different styles. We shared our experiences of the Brighton Pavillion too, with its Chinese style decor. (Thomas Merrett, sculpturer, in the background)
- Book binding
- Stitching and Embroidery
Also on show upstairs was the entire collection. Here are just a few of the garments which I loved. Spot the pink velvet men’s jacket!
Thank you Kate for documenting the exhibition. I heard of it on Burberry’s site. I love Bailey’s work for Burberry. I would have loved to be able to see pieces of the collection particularly the equestrian jacket. I dream of a patchwork coat or jacket like the one you saw.
My daughter in law works for the company so I knew it was coming. I wish I had arranged to go more than once. I took lots of pictures of the clothes which they encouraged.
that looks amazing………….I adore the patchwork skirt – must have been a very intense day…..i have book marked the site to read on it later….it really looks fantastic, thank you of the share
I would have loved to get up close with the garments – Years ago just out of college, I worked for a luxury brand (not clothing unfortunately!). This particular company gave tours showing the original method of producing their pieces – about ten workers who continued to make the most expensive pieces by hand. The rest of the pieces sold were made in the adjoining factory using much more modern methods, and many pieces were made in factories abroad – this process was briefly referred to, but the industrial factory wasn’t part of the tour – it would have ruined the romantic narrative!
I heard mention online of the Burberry Makers House, and it reminded me of my old job. Were the makers actually hired by Burberry to work on any of their collection? Or are they there for a brief time to romanticise the making of Burberry’s mass produced fashions? …..and then next week must get back to the reality of making a living as an artisan…I’m sure they get exposure by being part of the exhibition, but they probably get less from the collaboration than the multinational company….very cynical perspective I know… !
Thanks for your interesting story Chris. I don’t think these craftspeople actually contributed to the collection – it was, as you say, just for show. I felt a bit sorry for them. Many visitors were just taking “arty” Instagram type pictures of the makers, going in close and just treating them as an object, without asking permission and I felt very uncomfortable. I always ask first and Godfrey said “It’s nice to be asked”. The rest I think were interested in selling their work – there was a little shop – or gaining commissions, and I would say the exposure was pretty good actually if you are an extrovert and don’t mind the intrusive and generally fairly ignorant viewing. In fact I didn’t see many other people actually talking to the artists. Although the exhibition was free of charge and open to all most of the clientele were dressed up and I overheard someone giving instructions to her cleaner on the phone. And the coffee in the café was £6 a cup!!
It’s a shame that people weren’t engaging more with the artists – I think I too would feel uncomfortable. Something that struck a chord with me was that the makers were a sideshow attraction in a way. Although it is also possibly true that many people who have never seen craft being created before, will now have a better understanding of the labour involved. And it is good that there was an opportunity to sell their work at the venue. I now have a funny mental picture of that lady on her phone …. and as for the coffee- at that price, you’d hope you were getting a free mug!!
Wow, I would have loved to have been there with you!
Thanks kate .
Just home from road trip here, hoping to catch up soon.
The Material Lady
Lucky you! That is a great opportunity to see real artists at work. I wish I had known – but in all honesty I would have been hard pressed to spend any more time in London at the moment.
Those pieces are exquisite, thanks for posting.
That hand patchwork is intriguing, six stitches per side seems like it would grow quite quickly. This to my mind more satisfying than buying overpriced cotton that although beautiful makes a quilt very expensive to make, defeating their original purpose.
Yes, that is very true. I find the idea of ripping up fabric in order to make a smaller piece of fabric a bit weird. To me recycling is a key part of making a quilt (it still doesn’t appeal very much, however).
Thank-you so much for writing this up. It’s great to armchair travel with blogs.