WIW: Denim, deconstruction, DIY

This may be controversial and I had to screw up my courage to post it, but it’s been a good talking point among friends who like this sort of thing so I thought you guys might enjoy it too.

As a dressmaker and inveterate hacker of clothing, I have a deep appreciation for the art of deconstruction. I always love looking at fashion, but very little delights me as much as something that makes me think differently about form and function in garment design, and once in a while I like to experiment in my own closet.

This, though, may be the sartorial equivalent of raiding the refrigerator for leftovers which are past their sell-by date. An old merino wool sweater dress from Weekday came out of summer storage with some damage to the front. I have no idea how it happened since there were no other casualties, but I have to accept it as the price I pay for living in an old building. I love the colour and I’m not ready to send it off to landfill so I gave it a retread.

I was inspired by the upside down sweatshirts at Slow and Steady Wins the Race. After some experimental draping on a dress form, I cut a circular opening around the damaged area and hemmed it with shirring elastic and tricot binding. This is now an armhole or a neckline, depending on how I feel like wearing it.

(The skinnies were a HEWI for the longest time. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to denim. I prefer it unwashed with a selvedge, which can be hard to find in womenswear, so I was thrilled to find these at G-Star this year. Denimheads may sneer at this brand but I’ve had a few pairs and they make great jeans for women.)

I remodelled my oversized Levi’s after a design that appeared at Vetements a year or so ago. I’m much happier with the fit and I found it very satisfying to rip off the branding. They got the approval of the sales staff in Amsterdam’s trendiest jeans emporium, who had to ask where they came from, but I should probably fray the hems more artfully.

I quite like the two together, but I suspect both items work better in support of avant-garde designer pieces. The sweater plays nicely with the Comme culottes and the jeans are a winner with my Ann D blazer.

Props to deconstruction maestro Martin Margiela (who else?) - the boots are original, the oversized blazer from H&M’s Replicas collection, and the base layer is my own modification of his legendary sock sweater, made out of four pairs from Hema.

As ever, thoughts and comments are appreciated. I’m very curious to know how others feel about deconstructed clothing. Do you love it, or does it weird you out?


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Day 5 After Bowie: Moonage Daydream

To close my Week of Bowie, I’m paying tribute to the most influential fashion designer you’ve never heard of and the unsung hero of the entourage, Freddie Burretti (aka Frederick Burrett) the star’s personal tailor in the years ’70-’74.

I’ve seen the David Bowie Is… exhibition twice on its tour, in Berlin and Groningen. Each time, I’ve been struck by Burretti’s remarkable designs. It’s fair to say his work stands out as a highlight in the esteemed company Kansai, McQueen, Mugler and Slimane, all represented in the collection.

Burretti became friends with Bowie in 1970. He’s name checked in All the Young Dudes and it’s said Moonage Daydream is about him. For a few years he was Bowie’s principal stylist, creating the quilted jumpsuits of Ziggy Stardust, the tailored suits of Diamond Dogs and much of the colourful wardrobe that defined the star’s style of the time. The two parted company in 1974 and Burretti drifted into obscurity. He passed away in 2002, aged just 49.

Burretti’s designs were bold, visionary and pioneering. His innovative tailoring and vibrant colours are a clear precursor to the styles that appear in the following decade. The hip-skimming jackets, loose-fitting pants and pagoda shoulders all appear light years ahead of their time. I had to look twice at the double breasted blue suit from the Diamond Dogs tour to convince myself it had in fact been made in 1974, and not ten years later as I originally thought.

The cream of the crop, though, is the iconic suit worn by Bowie in the Life on Mars video. It’s an exquisite piece of tailoring, skilfully merging the conventions of menswear and womenswear in a way that reads neither masculine nor feminine, just flat-out fabulous (how great did it look on Kate Moss!) The turquoise taffeta still shimmers and every seam is flawlessly rendered. A striped shirt, metallic tie and two-tone shoes are high-contrast details that make the whole look sing.

No way can I ever come up with something this fabulous, but I can dream of a Life on Mars in a lilac mohair blazer, patterned button down shirt (both Paul Smith) blue tailored silk-mix pants and striped heels by Balenciaga. Since I don’t have a necktie I added a chandelier crystal pendant to finish it off.

Freak out in a Moonage Daydream, oh yeah!

Freddie Burretti Youtube playlist:

Erratum: Just realised I've been spelling his name wrong, duh. Corrected. 


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Day 4 After Bowie: not sure if you're a boy or a girl

Bowie was known for his androgynous style. His best looks transcend gender without compromising masculinity. For me, this is one of his most important contributions to fashion. It’s also damned sexy on a man with the charisma to pull it off.

This image from the back of Hunky Dory (his first real masterpiece) is one of his more restrained looks, but it’s also one of his most subversive. Young Dude in a Dress has given way to something altogether more ambiguous: a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man. It’s an out-and-out appropriation of the classic mid-century menswear glamour pioneered by Coco Chanel, Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich.

I don’t think he ever improved on this as a template for androgynous style that transcends the very notion of gender altogether. It’s both genders simultaneously and yet it is neither. It brings to mind Helmut Newton’s iconic shots of Le Smoking, which move beyond mere cross-dressing and suggest an erotic synthesis of both masculine and feminine archetypes.

But wait. This mysterious creature is next seen out and about pushing a pram in the company of another glamorous androgyne. The first Mrs Bowie is sporting high boots, proto-Ziggy hair and a teddy-fur jacket. Hard to tell at a glance which of this couple of kooks is the mother of the child and which the father.

Incidentally, the teddy-fur is the very same one worn by Bowie in the picture on the front of the album, leaving one wondering whether Ziggy Stardust wasn’t first conceived when Bowie randomly plundered his wife’s closet.


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Day 3 After Bowie: some cat from Japan...

I already said that I consider The Thin White Duke to be “my” Bowie (everybody has one, they just need to find him) but that was yesterday and today I realise that the Bowie I’m more likely to reference when getting dressed is of the early seventies Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane/Diamond Dogs era.

By this time, he’d already had an impact in his Mr Fish dresses (if I had anything like that in the wardrobe, you can be sure I’d be wearing it this week) and he was onto exploring an even more radically androgynous persona.

Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto had moved to London in 1971, and was concerned with adapting traditional Japanese forms into a very modern look. The aesthetic is pure Kabuki theatre, with bold colours and exaggerated silhouettes. Bowie was eager to wear his creations, and hired him for the Aladdin Sane tour. The rest, as they say, is fashion history.

Fun facts:

  • the inscription in kanji on the white cape is a homophone for David Bowie. It translates as “Fiery vomiting and venting in a menacing manner”. 
  • the rabbit onesie was worn by Kate Moss to collect an award on Bowie’s behalf. 
The starting point for today’s outfit was Terry O’Neill’s amazing Diamond Dogs photograph. I love the short pants with platform boots. But the main reference point is the tricot jumpsuit.

I am completely obsessed with this garment. True confession: this is the kind of thing I would wear all the time if I thought for a moment I could get away with it (I always wanted a Pam Hogg jumpsuit) and now I discover that there may be a knitting pattern for it. I have to learn to knit.

Until that happens, I am making do with a vaguely body con knit dress from Sonia Rykiel pour H&M accessorised with a shearling scarf in lieu of a feather boa. Or an asymmetric patterned sweater with gold pants (reposted) another direct reference to this look. Or even the vintage Kansai top that you all politely but firmly talked me out of last month.

In fact, I can go back through any number of looks from the last year or so and see an awful lot of Bowie in my style, which is unsurprising when I think about it. It’s Bowie’s world, after all. I just live in it.


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Day 2 After Bowie: The Thin White Duke

In the second instalment of bereavement therapy by wardrobe, I chose to emulate my personal favourite Bowie incarnation.

The Thin White Duke is the first Bowie I came to know and still what I think of when I hear his name. Vulnerably aloof and repellently alluring, between California and Europe, blue-eyed soul and krautrock, starring in The Man Who Fell to Earth and recording Station to Station, possibly the album I love the most. 

This is Bowie at his most romantic. The style is minimal, refined, dissipated, shot like Hollywood noir, the cigarette smoke never stale. A white shirt dishevelled, neck suggestively open, black fitted vest and tailored pants, wrapped around a slight, dangerous man ready to whisk you away in the back of a dream car twenty foot long.

It's not the side effects of the cocaine. I'm thinking that it must be love. 


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WIW the day after Bowie...

This is harsh. I'm thinking in lyrics right now so you'll have to forgive the incoherence (brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare).

Once in a while, you loose someone in the public domain who really matters to you. When Alexander McQueen passed, I was upset for days and couldn't look at any fashion for weeks (it's loud and it's tasteless and I've heard it before).

But this, this is worse. I can't think of another artist, designer, musician or icon who's had a deeper, more profound influence on my sense of style than David Bowie. I know I'm not alone in this: if you doubt me, try to imagine what popular culture would look like without him (she opened strange doors we'll never close again).

When the news broke this morning, I didn't need to think about it. I instinctively reached for a sharp shouldered velvet jacket and gold pants, two things I've never put together before which probably wouldn't exist without him. I've always thought they'd be a bit much flash for one outfit, (trying hard to fit among your scheme of things) but today they're just right.

You can probably tell my heart's not in it (your face is a mess) but today is Day 1 of my Bowie challenge. This week, I'm going to dress more like my hero, and I'd love it if you join me, because I know there's more where this came from. With so many faces to choose from, who could fail to be inspired?


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