The Set Life of Mary Howard

America’s greatest set designer allows access into her complex world. She has a portfolio spanning over two decades, from working with Richard Avedon to Phyllis Posnick. 

In Vogue Italia’s 2012 July issue, there is an editorial by Steven Meisel based on the autumn/winter collections of the year; titled, ‘Collections’. Twelve collections by twelve designers, showcased in twelve different ways — the Comme Des Garcons image is a whirlwind of flowers in crimson, buttercup yellow, amethyst, white, powder blue and every colour known to Pantone. A sphere-like flower ball sits on a flower bed of fallen petals — a beautiful chaos created by New Orleans set designer, Mary Howard, who has just moved her studio, Mary Howard Studio, into Brooklyn, where she lives “six blocks away. It’s like a little seaside village, it’s cut off from the rest of New York, but we’re very close to Manhattan which is literally a quarter of a mile from Brooklyn Bridge.”

Howard’s studio is in a 1930s five storey building, two of which are taken up by her team. MHS started small and personal through the contacts she formed at Macy’s Special Production and also help from her artist husband, Mike Howard. “The first carpenter I hired is now a set builder,” she says proudly in her soft raspy New Yorker accent. Currently, eleven set designers reside at MHS, which has built a solid portfolio for itself by working with photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Peter Lindbergh, Patrick Demarchelier and brands like Dior, Loewe and Moncler.

“It’s a big sunlit kind of art studio space, the building is from the thirties. A huge warehouse-y feel, it’s good to see all the things in one place,” she says about the the 22,000 square feet space. Howard confesses that she loves the neighbourhood. “We were in three different buildings within half a block of each other,” revealing the reason for the move, “now we’re all in one area, under one roof. In April, we will have a photo-studio right next door. So basically, in New York, you can have everything you need, the props, the set, the perfect lighting.”

Upstairs is Aladdin’s cave, which is about “ten-thousand square feet and it is reserved for in- house prop stuff, which is about twenty-five ceilings of racks. Filled with furniture, fabrics, fake flowers” and the little details likes ropes and wires. Howard explains that she keeps everything from a set because objects are usually altered from shape to colour downstairs in the set shop, where the magic comes to life. No detail is forgotten when making a set. Every brush stroke and crack matters from the corners to the edges of the floor. “It’s chaotic,” Howard explains, “we just moved in January, so we’re basically still putting things away and we have already done sixty- eight jobs which is sixty-eight photoshoots. Things are moving in and out of trucks.”

Ever since a little kid, Howard has “always liked arranging objects. I guess I was always very visual and growing up in environment like New Orleans, it was a really beautiful town.” Her favourite memory is Mardi Gras as she remembers “things moving through the streets like the beautiful colourful smokes. It was a very visually stimulated place.” She still finds herself inspired by things around her, comparing it to “chocolate eating chocolate.”

Before the role of a set designer, photographers and stylists such as “Grace Coddington at Vogue would just get their assistant to go find a chair or they would get their architect friend to make something,” Howard admits. Young and in New York in the ‘80s, during the day she was a paper sculptor at Macy’s Special Production and at night she would continue sculpting and sowing. It was when she was asked to help a fabric company with their window display that “somehow lead to Avedon needing something and I was able to build a sort of sand dune landscape for an early Versace campaign he had.” She is the right-hand woman to the photographer too, she has been trained by Avedon and Meisel, “I’m there to help them to figure out what the girl is doing in the picture.”

Howard’s sets are meticulous, just like a Wong Kar-wai film, but the only difference is that the film industry celebrates the role of a production designer. She cleverly points out that “when you go to a movie, you’ll see the production designer is credited right behind the director and cinematographer — it’s the third most important person on the set, they create the environment for the action to take place and for the narrative to happen.”
However, Howard is as humble as she is talented — she understands the business and that “it’s all about the girl in the clothes, the set designers have to take a back seat to hair, make-up and wardrobe. We’re really there to support the photographer and help create a world for the girl to be in. To create an environment.”

Howard’s less exciting days consist of planning and preparing, she admits that “editorial budgets are not that great these days,” but with twenty-five years of experience “its great because I draw on all of these objects I have in-house.” Tomorrow, she is shooting for Vogue.com with a marching band. Her enjoyment comes from being on set and “looking at the photos from the monitor and getting excited about the next picture.” She is also working on projects for Steven Klein and Phyllis Posnick, who coined the title of production designer in Vogue, which Howard “thought that was really nice of her.”

All creative industries are under pressure from technology, but Howard is confident that “people still want to feel,” and “that everything should feel like a real place because that is what photography is to me, the magic of it.” Although, she reveals that she does “not pick up a physical magazine anymore like the rest of the world, I go online and I see things.” 

Dressing Between the Lines

Reading is fashionable, but yet so are the authors, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Fran Lebowitz. In collaboration with Harper Collins, Terry Newman, a London based journalist and lecturer, has hand-picked fifty legendary authors who have re-defined the meaning of dress within the literary world. Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore unravels the black, white and red in every authors closet.

Hikmat Mohammed: What sparked an interest in the way authors dress?

Terry Newman: Basically, I have only ever been interested in two things and that's books and clothes. When I started thinking about writing a book, it seemed to me that writing about authors clothes would be really interesting because when I was growing up I was a voracious reader, it seemed authors themselves were just as interesting as the books they wrote. I was always fascinated by the characters that wrote the books. As well as I am in love with clothes, it just made perfect sense to write about the two of them together. 

HM: What is it about a writer that makes them just as fascinating as an artist?

TN: For me a writer is a very artistic character, you know when you meet people who are really artistic and creative, they kind of can't help themselves because they are sort of compelled to do what they do, I think in that respect, a writer is much as an artist as an artist or fashion designer — you meet these people that have this thing in them that they have to do whether it is writing or designing clothes or painting a picture or sculpting something.

HM: Why do you think people still see tension between style and substance? 

TN: People do sometimes feel that the clothes can be quite superficial and I have to say when I sat down and "I had to write this book." I had done a proposal, I thought, "so I am going to start now, I was going to write about Samuel Beckett," and I thought this is perhaps a mad thing to do, to talk about such amazing writers and analyse them as per their clothes, then I realised that is just kind of wrong and that is not how I feel about clothes. People do have a tendency to sort of think clothes can be quite superficial, but as you and I know, clothes reveal intense amounts about people: about their character, about their purpose, about their emotions, everything about them gets revealed in their clothes — it seemed to me to find a little bit more about these authors that I love and looking at their clothes was a really obvious choice, it is as revealing as talking to somebody. Obviously I can't talk to Samuel Beckett because he is dead, but looking at his clothes kind of gave me a better glimpse of his personality. People refer to clothes as being superficial sometimes, but I think they are kind of missing the point. It's about character and expressing yourself in the widest possible way.  And you have to remember none of these authors worked with stylists, what they put on is what they wanted to put on, what they gravitated towards.

HM: Does intellectual status influences the way we perceive style? 

TN: Obviously light is shone on these people because of the work they have done. I wrote the book and called it legendary authors, so in some respect their intellectual status is a given. A lot of people asked me why I wasn't writing about Jackie Collins because she is major and she obviously looks incredible or looked etc etc. The point of the book is to look at the writers that I admire the most in the world and sort of gleam a little more about them. All of them are very intellectually stimulating.

HM: There are many great authors as there are libraries in the world, what was the research process like?

TN: I had kind of written about more [authors], but I wasn't writing the Bible or anything. I had to sort of give myself a target number and I sat down originally, I wrote a list of all my favourite authors and thought these would definitely be the ones I would want to write about. There are some kind of more obvious writers in there who are more known for their style for example Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde, and to a larger extent Jacqueline Susann, but I just put down my heart, my best writers on paper and I thought, "these are the ones I am going to look into." What I found was that my premise was correct, as I started researching what was most interesting was all of these authors had a style, that sort of hypophysis was correct, they all kind of had this uniqueness, but also the way they wrote about clothes and the way they used clothes in their literature was quite similar as well. They are all magnificent writers, all of them to a greater or less extent use clothes as a way of encapsulating character even more in their books, from James Joyce right through to Tom Wolfe, not one of these authors, going back to superficiality and clothes, have dismissed clothes as being superficial in their work or head, if you like. They have all used them as a way of illuminating character — that was very satisfying. The research process was very organic. I was very systematic and I just went crazy, taking a long time researching to a very large extent all of these authors to find out absolutely everything I could. I wrote much more than what is in the book, we had to cut a lot of it out because it is a book and not an encyclopaedia. There was loads and loads to say, which I was very happy making because what I feel about clothes, almost all these authors feel about clothes, they are important and interesting. They are useful for many reasons. 

HM: What author were you most surprised to learn had a keen interest in fashion? 

TN: I did a lot of picture research because images in the book are very important, so one of them was Gertrude Strein, who I obviously just love from her story to her attitude, I love her biography, I love her words, she is this amazing author. I did a lot of research about her and I found these postcards that Pierre Balmain had sent to her and they had a correspondence because she was kind of his mentor, I suppose, I found that really interesting because it wasn't something that I knew about. He would make clothes for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, I thought that was something fascinating that I didn't know about. 
I found out stuff about James Joyce for example, obviously he was Irish and Ireland is very well known for its tweed, the fabric of Irish tweed is legendary in its own right, and I so found out that James Joyce didn't have much money, ever really, but he worked as a tweeds salesman when he was in Europe because he loved Irish tweed so much, I thought that was really interesting because James Joyce is the king of modernism, he is the absolute literary god, but the fact that he loved Irish tweed was really fascinating for me.  Small things like that made me fee very happy.

HM: Do you think contemporary authors dress as well as writers from the past? 

TN: I think there are a lot of writers who dress really well, but the point about these authors is that they didn't have a stylist and as I have said, if you get into the public eye these days it is almost like you are going to have a stylist or the possibility of somebody giving you some advice on what to wear to a launch or to a book signing. As a result, somebody's style can get easily diluted or swayed by an external person, with these authors in the book, that didn't exist then, they didn't have stylists to manipulate their look, it was all there and I found that very interesting and it is not a question of whether authors look good today or not, I think a lot of them do, but when you get into the public eye, you will start getting a bit groomed and for me that is not as quite as interesting as having your own particular style.

Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore is available to be purchased on Harper Collins and Amazon.

The Priscilla Process

The craftsmanship of hat-making at Maison Michel is constantly evolving with French creative director, Priscilla Royer at the helm of the house. She speaks to FAQ about the balance of risk-taking and why a hat is more than just an accessory.

It is a mellow Monday morning in Paris — a scene out of a Victor Hugo poem. It is a forty-five-minute commute from Ségur Metro station to Aubervilliers, where Maison Michel’s design studio is based.

Coming out of Aubervilliers Metro station, it feels like I am stepping into Algeria, from the various Arabic accents and dialects surrounding me. Women in hijabs are crossing the streets in vibrant trainers whilst holding up their abayas; whilst the men and young boys are standing in Ferrari t-shirts and sandals.

  PHOTOGRAPHY  HIKMAT MOHAMMED  FOR  FAQ

PHOTOGRAPHY HIKMAT MOHAMMED FOR FAQ

The walk to the Maison Michel atelier is ten minutes, and on the way I am accompanied by the smell of shawarma and the graffiti on the walls.

The gates outside Maison Michel are matte black. I am buzzed in by a group of friendly faces on their way back from lunch. The waiting area is shared with a kitchen where there is a brown leather sofa that I sat on. As everyone walks past, they greet me using eye contact and ask if I would like something to drink. The walls are white and the floor is clean, a subtle reminder that this is a company owned by Chanel. A woman walks in from outside and greets me with a handshake, I introduce myself and presume she is Kety, whom I have been emailing, but it turns out to be Pricilla Royer.

Royer is completely unrecognisable from the photos I found when researching her. She is five foot six with light dusty brown hair, cut in the style of a pixie like Jean Seberg — no platinum blonde hair like the ones on Google images. She tells me this is her trick now days, people are always expecting someone else.

She is wearing a soft grey jumper, matched with an argyle scarf. There is an impalpability about her style — lying between tender art-lover and French intellect. Her kindness towards her team tells me that she is very maternal. Royer grew up in the French country side with her family, revealing that she always had a very strong bond with her sister. The Royer sisters always knew they wanted to do something together, because “it is something we had always said from a young age.” 

Piece D’anarchive, a niche Parisian label dedicated to knitwear, was formed from passion and not from a gap in the market, “we didn’t think anything was missing, we just wanted to talk about knitwear and to make it a key piece of your silhouette,” Royer says, “the knitwear piece would be the star piece of your whole silhouette and it would make everything less interesting, that was the starting point.”

“It was wonderful to be honest because I would start a sentence and she would finish it and the other way around,” Royer says about working with sister. Alongside creating the collections, the sisters modelled them too. Tim Blanks for Style.com said, “the Royers are surfing their own vague in French fashion,” before adding that their Spring 2014 ready-to-wear “certainly made for a memorable and enlightening alternative to catwalk convention.”

In 2014, the sister-duo closed down the label, despite the commercial success because they were not “sharing the same vision with the partners at the time. It was normal for us to leave the whole thing because if its not who you are or if it doesn’t go where you want it to go then there is no point.”

  PHOTOGRAPHY  HIKMAT MOHAMMED  FOR  FAQ

PHOTOGRAPHY HIKMAT MOHAMMED FOR FAQ

Royer was appointed the role of creative director in 2015. She previously held the same title at Vivienne Westwood’s Red Label.  Her role at France’s most luxurious hat-wear company is to help sustain the reputation, and to take the label forward with quality designs. A Maison Michel hat is particularly important to Royer because it is all made by hand, hence the reason she is very close with her design team because, “at the end of the fashion cycle, what is left is a product in the hand of a consumer, so it is key that it is thought through from the shape to the material to the colour to the details outside and inside.”

Royer is a firm believer in destroying something in order to re-build it again. The biggest risk she has taken at the atelier is when she took the “Virginie, the most iconic and best selling Maison Michel hat, and cut it into three pieces with a pair of scissors and then re-stitched it. It became quite emblematic because every season we stitch it with new materials such as a plastic thread or scooby doo or bread or ribbons.”  Royer’s French background always plays a role in her design decisions, especially she is stepping outside the boundaries. “I have this internal clock that tells me whether I’ve gone too far, this is not a crazy London label, this is a traditional French house,” she says about her fashion intuition. Since Royer has been at the helm of the house, she has removed all gender labels attached to the hats because she feels “it is more open to what your heart would go for, in a way I can see that sometimes when I leave models in a front of the product, men tend to go more for the women’s stuff and vice-versa, that is why I do not put any labels on the products because I like customers and buyers to choose for themselves.”

  PHOTOGRAPHY  HIKMAT MOHAMMED  FOR  FAQ

PHOTOGRAPHY HIKMAT MOHAMMED FOR FAQ

A Maison Michel hat is the equivalent to a Birkin bag, in the way that it is French, hand-made and it is always named after someone. Personality is a key part of a hat Royer states: “a person has to think it and really live with the hat. The hat is here to lift the person up.” Maison Michel hats are treasured beyond the borders of Paris, “we have a lot of Italian and Asian [customers]. Fedora’s are more for the U.S. and Italians, whereas, in Asia, they will go for the cap with ears or scrunchies with ears — more of the kawaii stuff,” Royer reveals.  Last year, Sofia Coppola asked the French label for a chapka, which quickly ended up becoming “integrated in the collection,” as the Sofia.  The brand’s hats have been worn by Victoria Beckham to Beyonce in her Formation video wearing the house’s straw hat.

It would come as no surprise if Maison Michel was to reach into the growing luxury market of the Middle East since Chanel already has. Royer hinted that a venture into the Arab world could happen, explaining “that other day we had a woman from Dubai and she was trying on a few hats for the horse races, she came here and was quite convinced.”

Taken from the first issue of FAQ magazine.

OG: Only Gert

A Dutch humour is the most important part of making a successful magazine.

“I think rebellion is a good inspiration or it can be a good engine to do things,” says Gert Jonkers, editor of all things fantastic and men.  Fantastic Man celebrates their twenty-fifth cover anniversary with West London film director, Steve McQueen. Since 2005, Fantastic Man has covered characters from all walks of life: actors, authors, designers and even footballer, David Beckham.

Finding humour within fashion is rare, especially for an industry that the public thinks is a running circus, but that is where Jonkers and co-founder, Jop van Bennekom came together -  to “combine style and humour, the idea of having fun with clothes.” They don’t consider Fantastic Man a fashion magazine per say as Jonkers clarifies: “we’re not here to represent the current fashion trends on the catwalk — Fantastic Man is about dressing up with clothing or masculinity,” and, “we’re not going to tell people that they are going to be happier if they buy this Hugo Boss bag, because it is not true.”

A piece of truth — this is what you gain when reading a Fantastic Man interview, which is double or triple the word count of an average glossy style magazine. “We fetishise the idea of having a six-thousand-word profile on somebody, rather than a nineteen-hundred words or so,” Jonkers reveals.

 DEMNA GVASALIA — AUTUMN AND WINTER 2016

DEMNA GVASALIA — AUTUMN AND WINTER 2016

The magic formula to the magazine lies behind Jonkers’ favourite moment of interviewing the subjects within: when they are not trying to sell something because “that is the moment for them to reflect on whatever they do or to talk about themselves,” and, “we love it if someone has character, that is one of the reasons why we started the magazine.”

Every fantastic man has a past and the history of this one starts with BUTT magazine, created by the magazine-making dream team in 2001. Based on sex and the duo’s obsession - humour: “a big part of BUTT was humour and sex which is not a very logical combination because most people are extremely serious about sex.”  BUTT magazine managed to find the success it had because they didn’t “treat sex as this sort of idealised perfect world where people would have the most perfect sex forever, it was a quite realistic and a funny thing to talk about or write about or to show.”

 GERT JONKERS BY HIKMAT MOHAMMED FOR FAQ

GERT JONKERS BY HIKMAT MOHAMMED FOR FAQ

BUTT magazine helped to embrace different body types within the gay community and reshape perceptions. Jonkers acknowledges that “it was fun to show men who were a little bit hairy and chubby, you think, actually that looks sexier than I thought.” He recalls the backlash they received the time they put a twink-like model on the cover of the magazine: “that was bad news for me because people really had expectations. It means the magazine has a really thick set of rules, I can’t step out of that, so we’re fucked basically.”

BUTT and Fantastic Man have always been consistent in “realities, the realness of things. They are both quite blunt and funny,” Jonkers says — a tie that has held strong the reputation of both. He compares the constant flow of the magazines to a ship, “you should always steer it back to where you want it to go and that is what we constantly have done in both magazines, they are quite consistent, if you look at the first issue and the most recent issue, there are similarities, but they are also completely different in a way.”

 BUTT — SPECIAL BAD ISSUE — SUMMER 2005

BUTT — SPECIAL BAD ISSUE — SUMMER 2005

Jonkers grew up in a conservative environment, his “father was a reverend. It was not terribly restricted, but quite controlled. I would say my parents were intellectuals, but still strict with Christian traditions,” Jonkers says. The youngest of five brothers and sisters, he recalls the busy household and being inspired by his siblings who would listen to “the kind of music I didn’t get access to yet, it was a lot of music in the house.”

His mother was a linguistics teacher whom passed away when Jonkers was seventeen and doing his exams: “my mother was sick for a long time, we were sort of saying goodbye to her and it was a very emotional time, but this whole exam thing was a second thought. It was a bit of background noise,” he remembers.  The idea of school is still “slightly traumatic” to him because he subconsciously feels like he never graduated. It took him quite a while to find the right path, admitting that he did not like school because he “was a little bit of an outcast. I was punk at the time, so I looked a little bit different from most other people. And I guess I was quite gay as a child.”

After graduating from school, he moved to Amsterdam to study Dutch grammar and literature, but ended up quitting after two years because of magazine making and being part of a band, which he refuses to disclose the name of. After a couple of years, he quit music too because of financial reasons and ended up “working for magazines as a photographer, but then I started writing more and photographing less.”

It is a sunny March morning with a spring breeze when I go to interview Jonkers at the shared Fantastic Man and The Gentlewoman office. He is running late by ten minutes because of a meeting. There is a piece of illustration hung on the vaguely white wall addressed to Penny Martin, editor of The Gentlewoman, from Alber Elbaz, and a black Chanel medicine ball in the corner of the room, which raises the question of, did Karl Lagerfeld send that over?

 DAVID BECKHAM — SPRING AND SUMMER 2011

DAVID BECKHAM — SPRING AND SUMMER 2011

The room looks like it has been ripped out of the pages of the magazines Jonkers produces, there is no San Pellegrino on the desk or the latest issues of the magazine’s competitors. It feels humbling.

Jonkers walks in greeting me and apologising for the delay in his slightly international accent which sounds mostly like a hybrid of American and British with a hint of Dutch. He is wearing a midnight navy fitted jumper paired with grey chinos and Nike running shoes in maroon and orange. “I think you should base one’s outfit on the trousers, if you’re not wearing trousers that you don’t feel like for the day, then the outfit is not going to work,” Jonkers’ take on style. Alongside Fantastic Man and The Gentlewoman, he is also the editor of the COS zine.

When Jonkers is not in London, he can be found at his other Fantastic Man office in Amsterdam. Jonkers is a man of celebration from BUTT to Fantastic Man, but like most, he finds himself annoyed with “certain politics around the world.” He lets me know that today is election day in Holland and that “it’s a very important election because they are fearing we are going to have our Trump or Brexit moment, where the right wing populists might all of a sudden be the biggest party, but I hope not.”

The men who grace the covers of Fantastic Man have fantastic qualities. I asked Jonkers what Donald Trump could do to become a fantastic man; he suggested that he “commit suicide, but then we never feature people who are not alive anymore, not as a rule, but we don’t want to do nostalgic stories… We’re interested in people who have a future, it would be super brave if Donald Trump committed suicide, but then he still wouldn’t make it onto the cover of Fantastic Man, I’m sorry.”

Hikmat Mohammed: what makes a fantastic man? Is it something universal or is it different in every continent?

Gert Jonkers: I don’t think its different in parts of the world because in a way it is different in every person, it is cliché to talk about the uniqueness of people. It is hard to say what a fantastic man is, its a gut feeling. There are no set of rules, they should be interesting, but I can’t think of specific rules, I don’t even think they need to be a man — there might be women who are amazing fantastic men and I am sure there are. We want to make a magazine about grown up men because they have experienced more and they have more to say and have more character. A 17-year-old boy is often used in photography because their skin is beautiful or they photograph really well, but it is often not so easy to write an interesting story about them because there isn’t so much to report on, yet. We are always looking for a young fantastic man in a way because we don’t want to make a magazine with only fifty-year olds or older; the magazine also characterises by an interesting balance — a diversity of people. It’s not so easy to find someone who is twenty-one and fits our gut feeling. We have a French writer in the new issue, he’s twenty-four and very interesting, it’s a great story, it’s a very a long story also, but we like long stories.

We have always said we want to be an inclusive magazine rather than exclusive, we also have never wanted to be a lifestyle magazine because lifestyle suggests that you have a specific ideal lifestyle in mind or specific style in mind for your subjects and readers. When you go to an editorial lifestyle meeting it’s like, “our man is twenty-eight, he works in the city and he has a girlfriend who works in PR; they go on holiday three times a year,” you think, Jesus Christ, its so boring to think of a magazine full of those people with travel tips and interior design for them, that is the essence of lifestyle and it is our worst nightmare, imagine every Fantastic Man has to have the same length of hair and they need to have a certain income, the horror.

 JONKERS' DESK BY HIKMAT MOHAMMED FOR FAQ

JONKERS' DESK BY HIKMAT MOHAMMED FOR FAQ

HM: What do you feel is the biggest risk you have taken with Fantastic Man?

GJ: Everything should be risky in a way. The opposite of risky is safe; it’s not nice to play it safe. Some things work out better than others, some covers look better than others, was it a big risk to put Boris Becker on the cover? Yes, I think so, did it work out? Maybe not, some people enjoyed it and some did not. What do you think is the biggest risk we have taken?

HM: I think David Beckham because looking through your covers, I think cool, cool then...

GJ: Not so cool?

HM: I never really expected that from Fantastic Man. 

GJ: It’s a risk worth taking, I’d be very disappointed if we couldn’t take risks anymore because inevitably, that happens, you could sort of say this is a typical good Fantastic man cover, okay let’s do this for the rest of our lives, how boring is that?

Maybe, I shouldn’t say this, but I’ll say it anyway, I think we should have put a different picture of him on the cover, but his management was not very easy to work with. That was a big discussion at the time because we did what we wanted, but they were very strict about the cover.

HM: It’s a great cover though.

GJ: There is one picture that I love in that series that I thought would have been an amazing cover, a more amazing cover.

HM: What kind of books do you read? Do you have any favourite books or authors?

GJ: I don’t read a lot of books I must say because I lack the concentration for it. I only read books if I have to read them because one of the magazines we make is The Happy Reader for Penguin and I always read the book of the season which we base half of the magazine on. I’m not the editor of the magazine, so I don’t need to do it, but I love being involved. I am going on holiday next week and I’ve got Jonathan Franzen’s most recent book in my suitcase and that book, it’s considered as one of the most popular book of the moment, it’s by an American woman with an Asian name. I think it’s called A Little Day or something

HM: A Little Life?

GJ: Yes that one.

HM: It’s about three brothers.

GJ: I haven’t started it yet, I hope it’s good. Otherwise, I was talking about Michel Houellebecq, a French writer this morning, who I enjoy reading because it is so fucked up; it is always this weird mix of looking at society quite philosophically, but then also pornographically, which is an interesting reflection of the male psyche to be able to think about philosophy and sex. I wish I read more, as soon as I finished Treasure Island, I wanted another one, I read it on my phone, I also had the paper copy, but I thought it was handy to have it on my phone for when I’m sitting on the bus or waiting for someone at a restaurant, I haven’t decided what the next book will be on my phone.

HM: I always stop reading books half-way through like The Virgin Suicides, have you read it?

GJ: No, but I’ve seen the film.

HM: I have been trying to watch the film for about five years now because I’ve been reading the book and I seem to stop and start over again when I get to the last chapter.   

GJ: Are you still enjoying it?

HM: It gets better and better every time I read it, probably because it is quite fucked up.

GJ: The film was pretty-errr. The soundtrack is really amazing, it’s by Air, I think, I’ve played the album absolutely to death.

HM: I’ve stayed away from anything to do with the film.

GJ: You should listen to the soundtrack

Taken from the first issue of FAQ magazine.

How to bring back the 80s without a remake

With a glossary of references, The Duffer brothers have redefined the sci-fi horror genre. I just took a quiz to find out which Stranger Things character I am — it turns out I’m the monster or better known as the Demogorgon. Run, now, for no more spoilers.  Netflix’s new original series created by the Duffer brothers is reference-packed; introducing younger viewers to a whole new world that their parents are reminiscing about on VCR.

Stranger Things is the sci-fi horror version of Finding Nemo. Dungeons and Dragons obsessed teenagers-to-be are chasing their friend Will Byers’ last steps, which happens to be near a government facility; everything strange always starts with the government — whether 9/11 or Area 51. On their quest to find Byers, they find a bald-headed mute girl in the rain to help them.

The 80s in film: neon glow title trims like the one from Richard Donner’s Superman accompanied by transparent bold block letters. Stranger Things is no different with it’s Mulholland Drive-like instrumental playing over Winona Ryder’s name in neon red. To pitch the concept of Stranger Things, the Duffer brothers put together a mock-trailer using clips from more than 25 of era-defining films from E.T. to The Fog.

The tale of teenagers snooping is a famous one: Scooby Doo, Stand by Me and Super 8. It is still relevant in the lives of teenagers today, finding things they shouldn’t, but in the comfort of their own home by scrolling through the ‘following’ tab to find out that their boyfriend/girlfriend has commented a heart on an ex’s photo. “We auditioned 906 boys and 307 girls,” revealed the Duffer brothers in a blog-post on Entertainment Weekly.

A hybrid of Magneto’s powers and LUH 3417’s look from THX 1138 — Eleven, is the ultimate tom-boy next door experiment; the character cues all the right references in her traumatic flashbacks; paying homage to scenes from: D.A.R.Y.L., Flight of the Navigator and Firestarter — the attached EEG cap with a bundle of white plastic wires.

Tell a girl she will look like Charlize Theron in Mad Max with a buzz-cut, she will never say no; Millie Bobby Brown in an interview with Indie Wire revealed that they, “did this sort of split-screen of her and me, and the resemblance was amazing! I thought, ‘Wow, that’s such an amazing way to put it, you know?’ It was the best decision I’ve ever, ever made.” I have to admit, that when I first saw Eleven, I thought of that i-D cover with Lina Hoss, but then I also thought about Justin Bieber’s recent buzz-cut and also the infamous Britney-buzz.
Another fashion icon in Indiana is Barb, she embodies the current Gucci girl with her red Elizabeth Siddal hair, Kam Dhillon glasses and soft wallpaper coloured blouses. Rest in peace, Barb

The unfriendly family sci-fi horror series is the new ‘coming together’ for people to watch things together again. It’s a bit like the The Simpsons Halloween episodes mixed with Coraline. The Netflix original is a fight between good and bad, this reality vs the other; the technique of every fairy-tale: Shrek, Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia.

And if you look closer, the series does not just focus on CGI and some flashing lights, it deals with issues of the 80s: being a single mother, the minority (Lucas being the only black character and family in the neighbourhood) and homophobia. Netflix as a company and brand has produced original series which sets them apart from your normal cable TV; it has given black, Hispanic and Oriental actors a platform in shows such as Orange is the new Black and Marco Polo.

The Middle East is confusing as its politics

One question I hate answering is, “where is Kurdistan? I can’t see it on the map.” Kurds (the people) are from four different regions: Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, which initially makes one land when put together, but the governments of the four sectors refuse to recognise Kurds. But it does exist, it’s not a place made up by George R. R. Martin.

This summer, I visited Iraqi-Kurdistan, landing in Erbil, the capital (not to be mixed with the capital of Iraq, Baghdad). 

As much as I always love to prove everyone wrong about the Middle East, it has not changed in mannerisms and tradition. But there is something about the marble houses placed in sandpits. The herds of white cars and washed-off-yellow taxis. The 2006 wardrobes of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie roaming the streets. Iraqi-Kurdistan, is an anthology of references.

 Photographs by Hikmat Mohammed

Photographs by Hikmat Mohammed

Somewhat of the country felt like a parody. The most memorable moment I can recall was when I was in a taxi and as any tourist would, I was taking photos, only I was told to stop snapping by the taxi driver because it was, “government area,” and we could potentially get sniped. For a country who lives off on democracy, or they say so, I almost felt like I was under Kim Jong-un’s laws.

The amusements continued everywhere. Seeing restaurants called ‘Cuban Restaurant’ that served traditional Kurdish cuisine. Getting a two-year guarantee on items I bought as gifts without getting a receipt. And the best one, being asked if I can speak English.

Whilst the Kurds have finally found peace, or the closest thing to it; there is still a battle of the races: Kurds vs Arabs. A revenge/defence strategy because of hate groups such as ISIS and also because of the massacre of Kurds in 1988 by Saddam Hussein; the Kurds are not open to the Arabs, as they once may have been pre-1988, maybe.

The identity of the country is only beginning to form now post-ten-year war that has slowly died down. However, in lifestyle, the country is doing as well as Turkey. But in terms of politics, there is a long climb to reach the same position as their fellow Arabian neighbours.

In its wholeness, the country sits somewhere between Agrabah with portable wi-fi and Lisbon family values.

 

 CONFUSION, COMPLEXITY AND COUTURE AT PFW A/W 16

It was Diorxit for Raf Simons in October last year and it has taken the French house more than six months to find a replacement. How long will it take England to find a new prime minister? Taking into consideration that: two of the runners up are against same-sex marriage and were all pro the Syria airstrikes vote.

Seeing as both parties IN and LEAVE are suffering from Brexit and the fall of the cowards: Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. It is no doubt that the next London Fashion Week will be a protest of emotions or in this case: anger. London has become an island within an island, the Midlands and Wales are what the coal mines were to Thatcher.

What is the future of LFW? Will there be one less fashion city? New York and London in recent years seem to have become all about stitching logos onto bomber jackets and sending down nepotism down runways. It’s not to say London is missing talent, but it’s lacking the fierceness of a country that’s known to have seized, nearly, every country and continent.

Not being exiled from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, Ralph & Russo will continue to be part of the official couture calendar with other EU/international fashion houses such as Versace, Elie Saab, Ulyana Sergeenko and etc. Something Britain could learn from, we are stronger together, not when we are closing ourselves to the rest of the world. Where would Givenchy be without Riccardo Tisci, an Italian? Chanel without Karl Lagerfeld, a German? Or Saint Laurent without Hedi Slimane, a French-Tunisian?

Sergeenko is lost in translation as she debuted a Russian and Parisian love affair. Fur coats, jackets, jumpers to trimmings on a cropped Harrington. Lurex jumpsuits, sweatshirts and bodysuits (like the one Julie Newmar wore as Catwoman) paired with suspenders and SSh-68 helmets shimmering the runway. A collection suited for the cast of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in Russia. 

Department stores are like pick ‘n mix candy stalls at the cinema, you’re watching one film with a selection of 10 flavours. A bit like the Vetements show held at Galeries Lafayette to showcase the house’s first couture collection in collaboration with 17 other brands.
“A shift is happening,” said Simons of his first couture collection back in 2012. Now, Demna Gvasalia of Vetements has set out to create, “a modern idea of couture.” Gvasalia has brought back the Juicy Couture tracksuits you would see on MTV and the forgotten socialites of the noughties. And the Reebok’s of the 90s that have now transgressed into music subcultures: “we get inspired by our everyday life.” Only time can tell of the success of Vetements couture, are the likes of Mouna Ayoub and Sheikha Mozah ready for zipped hoodies and velvet tracksuits?

The calm before the new creative director. Speculations have been floating that Maria Grazia Chiuri of Valentino will be joining Christian Dior filling Simons’ position. Chiuri will be the first woman at the head of Dior. For their last collection before Chiuri’s welcome, Lucie Meier and Serge Ruffieux took Dior through a monochromatic stroll reminding us what the house is best known for: bar jackets, trapeze shapes and fine embroideries of flowers in the Dior DNA. 

An invitation into the Chanel studio at the Grand Palais, Lagerfeld celebrated Coco Chanel and the team of 200 who put the collections together. Think tweed: blazers, square shoulders, wide-leg trousers and dresses with black thigh-high hugging boots under and arm-length gloves with cropped fingers. A Chanelian take on Black Widow’s outfit. 
This is Lagerfeld’s second show (not counting resort in Cuba) where the focus is on the clothes and detail. Could this be his way out? Or is there something bigger coming?

 

 

THE NEW PLAYERS AT PFW S/S 17

New season, new designers. The first woman at Christian Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri. Alber Elbaz’s replacement, Bouchra Jarrar. And Donatella Versace’s leading man at Versus Versace, Anthony Vaccarello, now at Saint Laurent.

There is a fashion revolution-slash-evolution happening; high fashion has turned into a literal Net-a-Porter with express delivery (See Now, Buy Now) and the hop-and-drop of designers. Lasting less than a decade at a house has become a trend: Raf Simons, Stefano Pilati, Massimiliano Giornetti and Alexander Wang.

Ain’t Saint Laurent without Yves was the approach at Vaccarello’s first tenure at the Parisian house. Leather, velvet, denim, lace, sequins, lame and the Le Smoking; the Italian-Belgian designer created a collaborative compilation of Yves Saint Laurent’s work and all of those who came after, especially Hedi Slimane.

The collection was nothing but a continuity of his own DNA aesthetic from his Autumn/Winter 16 ready-to-wear collection at Versus Versace: going from camo to animal print; there is a rich admiration for nature and women that Vaccarello and Yves (Yves Saint Laurent in a leopard tie and Catherine Deneuve in a leopard dress sitting on a sofa) share — a steady first step. The revival of the YSL logo was the running style from brooches, temporary-crystal-tattoos on skin to the actual stilettos.

The birth of a new messiah at Dior: Chiuri is here. The LVMH brand known for its theatrics in the heydays of John Galliano took a step back to sub-zero in 2012 when Raf Simons entered as creative director and stripped the house off its fairy-tale like sets. Simons brought in an architectural sound deriving from DNA house pieces like the bar jacket and le pouf; gradually becoming softer like the millions of flowers used in his sets — leaving the house in a yielding position for the next designer. And nobody understands femininity like Chiuri, whom previously served as creative director of Valentino with Pierpaolo Piccioli.

Chiuri has weaved together the motif of the dancer from her Valentino days and a fencer (in the events of the recent Olympics) for her debut at Dior. As the year of the logo t-shirts sweeping the runways, it is only right that Chiuri has revived the J’adore Dior 8 t-shirt with other political messages on them: WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS and DIO(R)EVOLUTION; the iconic slogan also went to becoming key bra-skirt-straps. Swan like tulle skirts and dresses with zodiacal embroideries, leather quilted jumpers, jackets and vests, Stormtrooper fencing boots — Chiuri is fighting the war on terror.

Jarrar has been at the helm of womenswear all her life — from Balenciaga to Christian Lacroix to her own eponymous label. Jeanne Lanvin on the other hand went from menswear to sportswear then to womenswear; Jarrar’s referenced a tribute to Jeanne Lanvin (whom started from menswear to sportswear then to womenswear): long silk pyjamas, sleeveless striped blazers and pinstriped shorts — high fashion sportswear made for the likes of Edith Cummings and Patty Berg, historical golfing icons.

Her personal style also came through — reminiscent of Tom Ford at Gucci with a twist: “women who love, and women who love to be loved,” telling Business of Fashion.

 

Giles: The Elizabethan Age

London, England – “You may lead the seasons on,” said Shakespeare in his poem dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I. Giles’ SS16 collection was surrounded by an aura of royalty, a reincarnation of the Elizabethan-era and literature.

The scene at Giles’ was almost like stepping into a time machine. Present- ing in front of A-list celebrities, clients and key publications; was like everyone visiting the Queen’s court. Giles is never a disappointment in entertaining the guests; Maya Singer from Vogue Runway described his SS15 show as: “Every so often, a fashion show is really a show.” This season this was guaranteed as he booked the monarchical Banqueting House, White- hall location a year in advance.

Giles this season undertook the process of dressing Queen Elizabeth I with a twist – no corsets. His A-list cast of models with naturally lithe bodies strutted through the venue as if they were at Studio 54 – with a bonus appearance of Ana Cleveland playing the Fool from King Lear. This Elizabethan-era inspired collection weighed heavily in on the house DNA – shades of satiny Isabelline to coyote brown, enchanted forest prints, virago sleeves, ruffles and ruff collars. All fabrics and embroideries gave a regal quality to the collection.

The admiration of Queen Elizabeth I has been explored by numerous de- signer, from Giles’ fellow classmate Alexander McQueen at Central St. Mar- tins to Valentino. Giles’ interpretation of The Virgin Queen came from a motion of empowerment; Elizabeth I being an independent monarch. The collection was remotely reminiscent of Yves Saint Laurent’s power-dressing silhouettes in the 70s; Giles did his own take on the Le Smoking by elongating it in satin material with a new colour palette of efflorescent creams.

This is Giles’s most opulent and experimental season. An echo of the East was woven into the pieces. The tapestries on the trapeze shaped garments were an emulation of Scheherazade’s words: effulgent gardens, colourful birds and kaleidoscopical riches. A true embodiment of royal quality and orientalism.

His take on contemporary Elizabethan fashion was a success for his histo- ricurious clientele; combining voluminous and at shapes – the Harlequin catsuit, aristocratic feathered hats and peasant dresses. His collaboration with David Holah from Bodymap proved to be striking; Holah formed the prints on the bodysuits and caftans from a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I – giving the garments a bohemian aura, which could be seen on Jerry Hall who was sitting front row.

Save the best for last – Queen Elizabeth I rose from the dead as Karen El- son like a phoenix from its ashes; in a dark amethyst sharply laser-cut gown with a micro-laser starburst back extension resembling a peacock’s tail; complete with crimson hair and make-up. A costume appropriate for Giles’ Game of Thrones girlfriend Gwendoline Christie. 

 

 

Self-portraits exploring the archetype of masculinity

Ideologies of masculinity are universal: athleticism, strength and a Hercules-like physique. New-York-based photographer Ryan James Caruthers is challenging both himself and these archetypes in his new photo-zine, titled Tryouts.

It is a powerful and personal account of an awkward New Jersey boy living with Pectus Excavatum (a condition where the ribs and sternum of the chest grow incorrectly and instead cove inward creating a caved-in chest), overcoming the misfortunes of boyhood, while straddling masculinity, homosexuality, and athleticism.

“This condition and my skinny frame pushed me away from participating in sports and physical activity, ultimately removing me from usual signs of masculinity”, he explains. “This estrangement from athleticism further separated me from other boys in school — as this is what they were preoccupied with. I was raised in a suburban town in New Jersey, and involvement in sports was almost essential.”

Thin and tall, Caruthers was never going to be a quarterback, but he did go on to become one of Hedi Slimane’s boys at Saint Laurent. Celebrating unconventional bodies at the French fashion house – where he was creative director until recently – Slimane helped Caruthers find comfort in his own image, telling us that Slimane’s “fascination with body types like my own is due to him having a similar body type and enduring bullying because of it as well.” While their photographic work differ, there is an aura that connects both of them. Adding, “at this point, the idea of the “hyper-masculine” male model is becoming dated – which I think is a good thing. My story is somewhat relative to his (Hedi’s) own.”

Caruthers’ self-portraiture is a coming-of-age commentary, explaining his decision, he says, “I have always photographed myself from a young age as I am aware how to emote through gesture … as I would not want to use someone else’s body and image to portray how it is to live in my own.” The locations in the images are deeply symbolic of his dreams of playing sports as a boy, his choice of locations as mimicking, “fields and courts from my childhood surroundings. Some of the images feature locations that I actually would have performed on if I had played sports throughout school.”

Dealing with the complex meaning of masculinity, homosexuality, and athleticism, creating Tryouts for Caruthers was a way to “explore their connections without words”. Challenging the norms, he finds it profound that “athletics are often categorised as heterosexual”. This is a form of escapism whilst coming to terms with hardship on the way. The violence in his project references, “the awareness of violence in sports, yet also to hint at my experiences with bullying. Feeling a sense of isolation as a child was haunting as I was closeted and not comfortable with my body. Although I was segregated from athleticism at this time, I still had a dire need to be a part of it. As a male I found it difficult to be disconnected from something that almost reconfirms your gender.”

Tryouts is available to purchase here

As published on Dazed Digital

Coming-of-age in America’s bible belt

Girls smoking, sitting on yellow trucks and inhaling the spring breeze — it sounds like another Sofia Coppola film or John Green novel, but, it’s daily life amongst Louisiana’s youth, captured by photographer and cinematographer Ransom Ashley, as he goes back to his roots to reconnect and face the demons of his coming-of-age. 

Ashley’s upcoming project, titled, Louisiana, takes inspiration from his previous photo-series Virgins — both retrospectives to his teenage years and shown here together. While Virgins explores self-tranquility within a hostile community; the contrast of the cold and warm tones within the images depict the bittersweet gap between adolescence and adulthood. Whereas in Louisiana, Ashley returns to his poignant beginnings to rekindle a turbulent relationship with the place he calls home, revealing that his “primary objective was to create images that contained emotional narratives” that were relevant to his life.

 

The decision to name his series after such a personal place in his life, he explains, was because it was the “epicenter of an identity struggle,” for him. He confesses that growing up he always felt that he didn't fit the mould of other boys his age. "I was never interested in sports and most of my friends were girls so I was bullied very heavily for my differences while growing up," he tells us. "I just remember always being artistic and soft-hearted and all of these things were, for some reason, synonymous with being gay at my school and that is also something there is a great hostility towards where I'm from. Because of these experiences, I do associate Louisiana to a cruel close-mindedness as much as I associate it to a warm hospitality. Therein lies the confliction.”

Even now, after a move to LA, the photographer's work pays homage to his Louisiana roots. Although he does admit that leaving his hometown exposed him “to the differences of people that come from vastly different places than me and also to the beauty of culture and learning from people that may not look like you or believe like you but are similar to you in that they too are a product of their own human experience.”

Ransom Ashley is currently exhibiting as part of the 53rd Annual Juried Competition at the Masur Museum of Art, LA.

As published on Dazed Digital

This zine explores lust, narcissism and subculture

Photographer Sarah Piantadosi explores lust, narcissism and the four-thousand miles between the fleeting relationship of two people at the forefront of their city’s subcultures; New York-based performance artist Emil Bognar-Nasdor and London-based writer and publisher Reba Maybury, in her new zine The City is Abstract.

Dissecting the title of the zine – inspired by a quote Kathy Acker’s book Don Quixote – Piantadosi tells us she was “thinking about how Emil and Reba are strong creative forces in their respective cities,” adding, “Cities used to have their own distinctive character. Maybe that is less so now that big business has homogenised cities, and the internet has created access to subcultures that were previously inaccessible. So the question is, is the psychological concept of a city now abstract? And if so, how does this apply to creative and sexual partnerships?”

Shifting from fantasy to reality, The City is Abstract for Piantadosi is, “about the artists as separate unique entities, tied to their cities of origin. And secondly, as a relationship between two artists that did not end well. The images are very personal to them and it’s been difficult to put this project together in a way that I feel does justice to them both.”

Maybury met Bognar-Nasdor when she went to interview him, however it never happened, confessing they spent the night having sex instead. Driven by lust, their relationship was fleeting: “We would sporadically send each other intense emails about our feelings and would sleep together when we were in each other’s cities,” she reveals.

Whereas, Piantadosi’s previous zine Milk Jagger was about the construction of an alter-ego, The City Is Abstract was spontaneous. “It happened very last minute a few hours before he (Emil) was set to play a show. Reba and him were seeing each other at the time so she came down to the studio to hang out, though she spontaneously decided she wanted to be part of the pictures, and jumped in the frame. I know Reba well and greatly admire her fearless approach to her work.” Did she think the zine would have turned out differently if it had of been planned? “There’s a pureness in the spontaneous moment that is so different from what happens when you plan a shoot. Working in fashion we plan things out. We plan, we plan, we plan... It’s refreshing and exciting for me to make pictures in a spontaneous way which is virtually impossible in the fashion world.”

Maybury agrees, “Impulse was important because we were never in each other's company for prolonged periods of time, which heightens our dynamic on a visceral and emotional level. These photos express the romantic confusion and sexual adrenaline of our situation. Never grounded, it was always uncertain, carnal and, ultimately, it’s conclusion was savage in its dishonesty.”

The City Is Abstract is a limited edition of 250 copies, art directed by Jamie Andrew Reid, and launches tonight at Ditto Press, from 7pm–9pm. More info

As published on Dazed Digital