Yes, you’re right! I am a fashion designer, but this book isn’t about fashion. Ok, if it is, then only a little. Instead, my book tells the story of how at the age of 38 I discovered that what I had always wanted to do in life didn’t match what I was doing at all, and how I then decided to change the course of things and start at the beginning again. I became a student once more, but this time at the most famous fashion school in the world – Central Saint Martins in London, where I studied under the legendary and feared fashion professor Louise Wilson. What could be better than being on the road towards reaching your life’s dream? At the same time, I lived in the most inspiring and creative city in the world, and here I share with you its smaller and greater daily wonders.
Then Louise said something that became a classic quote of hers, “We don’t know what we want, but we know exactly what we DON’T want! However, the thing we DON’T want – that’s something we only recognise once we SEE IT!” That sounded intimidating. Soon enough Louise took off and left us in care of Patric, who was our main instructor during that first semester. Louise had her hands full with the last year master’s students, who were supposed to graduate already in February. That first semester we saw Louise on rare occasions – she appeared like a goddess, thundered, struck lightning bolts here and there, and then disappeared. At times she would order someone to appear at her office downstairs.
I had decided to be in school as much as possible, so that I wouldn’t miss anything important. Some of the best lessons I learned were probably when I observed what my peers were doing. At first, it was all a big mystery for me – why is Alex from Scotland, whom I couldn’t understand at all on account of his accent, messing around with that dressform, draping fabric around it, and then taking pictures? Some other people were also doing the same thing. Jade Leong, who now works for Marc Jacobs as a knitwear designer, brought a huge bag of secondhand sweaters to school, a good part of them with huge awful patterns and loud colour combinations. She proceeded to cut them up and then put them together in a strange collage. She would start at the beginning of a sleeve and then move along until she had a whole new sweater that looked so unusual that the devil himself couldn’t have figured out how it was put together. It was all so exciting!
Since the box problem had been resolved, Louise swiftly moved on to other topics. “Show me your boots,” she ordered. I had gone to a designer sale and found a pair of knee-high Eley Kishimoto boots with wooden soles for a super cheap price. They had a line of snaps up the side. “Why are you wearing them like that? That’s not cool at all! Come here, let me show you.” I went to the desk and stood next to Louise’s chair, as per her order. She grabbed my foot, put it in her lap, ripped open the whole row of snaps and fastened them back up, only this time not one was in line with the right mate, so the boots now slouched and slacked carelessly down my leg. She did the same with the other boot and then sat back to admire her handiwork. “Much better! You see, that’s so much more interesting! You’re too much into order, I keep telling you that!”
While we’re on the topic of celebrities and pubs, Madonna’s ex Guy Ritchie, the movie director, has his very own pub. The Punch Bowl is one of the oldest pubs in the west London district of Mayfair, and its famous owner attracts other celebrities, pop stars, film actors and other beautiful people. If all these famous people can’t fit in the pub, they flow over onto the street and to the quiet side street that is home to the Punch Bowl, where they obstruct traffic, break glasses and relieve themselves in completely inappropriate places. It’s no wonder that the neighbours of the Punch Bowl have submitted countless complaints to the local government office, and that it has repeatedly been under threat of closure. Maybe the locals are miffed because the celebrities came and invaded their corner bar. How can you have a quiet pint with Jude Law, Robert Downey, Jr., and Justin Timberlake staring at you from the next table?
Daisuke was full-figured and since she loved to wear a bow on the top of her head and blouses that looked like dresses, she really did look like someone’s eccentric aunt. What she did was just as unique as her appearance. I was sure that after graduating Saint Martins this genius would be snapped up to work for Rei Kawabubo. However, Japan’s most famous and progressive fashion creator told Daisuke to start her own company instead. Easy for her to say! With what money though? While others were making 8-10 outfits for their collections, Daisuke’s collections had well over 20. She just kept producing them non-stop. For each item, she would sew 3-4 test samples, all perfectly executed, but made of the cheapest off-white cotton fabric, and even the inseams had ribbon-edge hems. At the end of the course, Daisuke gave me one of her “test coats” that was perfectly polished inside and out. I have worn it now for years and people still keep coming up to me on the street to ask where I got it. When the course ended, she stuffed the rest of her test material into a bin, but we collectively pulled it all out again and kept the things we liked, with her permission, of course. I own seven Daisuke Okuyama pieces and for me they are priceless. Sometimes I show them to my students, who are always completely dumbfounded by these creations.
Newcomer Dejan Agatonovic from Serbia has taken over the table by the door. Last year he was on academic leave, and now he’s ended up with us. From day one, Dejan felt very much at home and extended a self-evident familiarity towards everyone. It must have been the third day, when he jokingly shouted at me, “Anu! A new skirt, again!” and the same thing on the fifth and sixth day. I really did wear the same skirt to school pretty much every day. First of all because I liked the skirt, and second – it was the only one I had, because I had no money to waste on clothes and with all the schoolwork, I didn’t have time to sew a new one. Then one day, I gave Dejan a good shock. As soon as he saw me coming, he already gleefully hollered, “Anu! A new skirt!” but a moment later his jaw dropped wide open, because I really DID have a new skirt on. A friend of mine, who worked for a designer, invited me to a sample sale and since my wardrobe was in such a catastrophic state that people were taking notice, I really had no other choice than to freshen it up a bit. In general, all the fashion students dressed surprisingly modestly, because none of us had any money – second hand things, worn leather jackets, old jeans, and tennis shoes worn till they had holes in them. Honestly, we looked like a gang of orphans! But don’t forget – a fashion designers don’t have to BE fashionable, they have to MAKE fashion.
Near Tintagel there is a little village, where a tourist visiting Cornwall absolutely has to go. Unlike Tintagel, Boscastle is located at the bottom of the valley, and there is a small port here that issues little steam-puffing fishing boats to sea every morning. However, the main attraction at Boscastle is the Museum of Witchcraft. It’s a tiny house with a broom propped up next to the front door – that means the witch is in! The keepers of the museum are a married couple. The man of the house looks rather average, with his dark curly hair and beard; however, his better half is a classical witch, with long hair that has gone grey here and there. When the missus opened her mouth and started talking, a real witch’s row of teeth was revealed – sparse, yellow things that made her look like she had a rake in her mouth. I don’t remember what her nose was like, but I suspect that it HAD to be a long and crooked one with warts.
I will never forget the several hundred strong QUEUE I saw at the entrance to a gallery in East London! It was the exhibit of the famous graffiti artist Nick Walker at the Black Rat Press Gallery in Shoreditch. Nick comes from Bristol, just like the famed Banksy, and they both started their careers in the illegal art of painting graffiti on walls. While Banksy’s paintings already fetch millions and he’s represented in the top galleries around the world, Nick Walker’s star is still on the rise and many think he is poised to be number 2 after Banksy. That is why this is the right moment to buy his work and then just sit back and wait for his prices to rise into the millions as well. What an investment! Apparently these hundreds of people were thinking the same thing, because these prints that cost 3,000 euros found owners faster than the gallery worker managed to get around with red stickers to mark the sold ones. There was a counter for paying for the purchased pieces and the clients were climbing over one another to get at it. It’s so good to see an artist being recognised in his lifetime. After all, what good is money and fame if you’re dead?
This is a story of a little thing that happened while I was still living at Monfort House in Bethnal Green. As I was just about to leave my house, I opened the door to my apartment and in the hallway I noticed a small blue IKEA table and chair. It looked like one of my neighbours had put these things out there in hopes of someone taking them. I remembered that story about Dave and his armchair, so I figured I’d just leave them. I wouldn’t do anything. All of a sudden, an idea came to me. Laughing under my breath, I went back into my kitchen, found an old cracked plate, a wooden knife and fork, and set them all on the table in the hallway. Hmm… something was still missing. I also brought a somewhat wilted carrot and a few frozen peas and arranged them nicely on the plate. A healthy and delicious meal! I was so happy about my joke that as soon as I thought of it, I couldn’t stop laughing again. When I got back that evening, more things had appeared on the table. Someone had put an empty champagne bottle and a plastic cup on the table. The next day, an old coat rack appeared, then a little lamp and a few days later an old white T-shirt hung on a hanger off the rack. From time to time, whenever I heard someone in the hallway, I tried to peek at who it was bringing stuff, but I never caught anyone. It was probably all of my upstairs neighbours who took part in the action. I was very happy with the results. It was a real happening! A few weeks later, a letter appeared on the table saying, “The Montfort restaurant is closing its doors, would everyone please gather their belongings?” So I took my tableware and little by little the rest of it disappeared too. I sincerely regret not taking a single picture of that spontaneous installation.
When in Soho, I sometimes like to go to the Berwick Street market, especially at the end of the day, when all the fresh goods are sold off super cheap – about a pound for a bowl of whatever. Of course, it might be good to really think it through and consider whether you’re prepared to scarf down 10 ripe avocados or 20 bananas that very same day or the next one at the very most. But if you’re planning on making smoothies or jam or mushroom pate or guacamole for a crowd, you can definitely find good quality produce for a very low price. About ten years ago, I befriended a salesman named Norman at the market. He was a small old man with spider-like quick movements, always red in the face from running around his stand all day, packing fruits and vegetables into brown paper bags and joking with his customers in his raspy voice and cockney accent. Every time we see Norman, he greets us so exuberantly and loudly, as if we were the most important people in the world. He gives me a kiss on each cheek and tells Chris that we REALLY should get together at the end of the day and get a pint. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet.
- ISBN 978-9949-9043-3-4