Deborah Bowness
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'FUR: AN ISSUE OF LIFE AND DEATH' EXHIBIT OPENS

Fur. The mere mention of the word makes many cringe. In western urban culture, it's a contentious topic that divides us into two groups: those who deem fur fashion READ MORE...
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RED HOT: EXHIBIT OF GINGER MEN IS NOW A BOOK

Earlier this week, I was in the comments section of a blog I frequent, and someone had posted a photo of a shirtless, young guy with red hair sticking his tongue out cheekily READ MORE...
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A MODERN CHRISTMAS AT THE SLEEPER HOUSE

The Sculptured House, also known as the Sleeper House since 1973 when it featured in Woody Allen's sci-fi comedy, Sleeper, is so cool it's painful. An elliptical curiosity in concrete and glass perched on Colorado's READ MORE...
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FASHION FILMS TO FEATURE AT ASFF

The BAFTA qualifying Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) has teamed up with London College of Fashion to establish a new fashion film strand at this year’s event, showcasing READ MORE...
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'KNITTING FOR JULIET' COMPETITION LAUNCHES IN ITALY

Knitwear designers studying in Italy are invited to enter the Knitting for Juliet competition launched by Fashion Ground Academy of Italian Design READ MORE...
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NICHOLAS ROSE'S FULL COLOUR LIVING

It was not possible to walk past Nicholas Rose's luminous, contoured lamp shades at 100% Design the other week, I felt like a moth drawn to a flame. READ MORE...
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#UNLOCK ART FILM SERIES ENDS ON A HUMOROUS NOTE

The film series, #UnlockArt, produced by Tate and supported by Le Meridien, concluded with the release of the last of eight films, What's So Funny?, decided by an online poll READ MORE...
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November 20, 2014

SpY in Paris: "I'm Not a Real Artist"

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Spanish artist, SpY, has transformed the façade of a building in Paris with the phrase "I'm Not a Real Artist", as part of Nuit Blanche, the city's annual arts festival that runs from dusk 'til dawn. 

The letters were applied with phosphorescent paint that is replenished throughout the day by the sun and topped up by spotlights placed in front of the building. Once the paint is charged, the letters shine through the night. The artist hasn't explained the meaning behind his latest project, though he is known for playing with irony and using humour in a positive sense, so maybe his intention was to unite thousands of Parisians and tourists who were simultaneously thinking "Me neither."

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November 19, 2014

A Christmas Tree for the Ultimate Minimalist

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A tree for Christmas doesn't get more minimalist than this. (Well, I guess it could, if it were just a line drawing of a tree done right on the wall. But that wouldn't be very festive.) Deborah Bowness is not just any wallpaper designer; she plays with illusion to create unique trompe l'oeil effects for the home, from garments to furniture to whole walls of books, or at least it looks that way. Her 'Trees for Life' are aptly named as they don't die like real evergreens, and they don't suck the life out of you every December like the artificial ones when you have to dislodge the giant box from the dusty, sooty attic (what is all that black stuff up there in these British houses?!) and negotiate a safe journey down the ladder. And then back up again. (I have almost sold myself on buying one of her flat paper pines.) Ok, the trees, while realistic, are not really trompe l'oeil unless they make you believe you're looking out a window into a Scandinavian forest. But they're still a neat alternative to the full-on glittery celebration if that's where your head's at. And you can still decorate them if you want to by pinning the bauble loops through them. 

The rest of Bowness' collection really does trick the eye. But the twist is two-fold. Take this design from 'Illusions of Grandeur':

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What I love about this particular collection is how each design appears to be a simple wallcovering in a traditional pattern (complete with skirting boards from the era), but it feels a bit unsettled. Look again and you can see the patterns are intentionally askew (both in the design itself and the way the drops are hung), the effect a kind of irreverent nod to the past, taking the old and stuffy and slapping a sense of humour into it. (In my paranoid mind I would be worried guests would think I hadn't put the drops on the wall properly and failed to notice, and then I would have to explain to each person who saw it for the first time that it was meant to look that way. And then awkward smiles would follow. Then lots of wine to forget.) 

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Bowness' wallpapers are great for adding texture, colour, dimension, and well, things you just may not have the space for, or aren't practical or affordable to do, such as tiling a wall, like with the 'Tube Station' tile design, above. (I don't think anything in that photo is real, it's all paper. Even the cabinet and the teapot, and the floor is a wallpaper, too. Imagine an entire room done this way...it would feel a bit eerie, wouldn't it? Like some kind of fun house where nothing is as it seems.)

I'm starting to look around the room and wondering how a corner of 'Genuine Fake Books' might look:

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Have a look around Deborah Bowness' website to see the rest of her range, it's all really exciting. Her work comes with an unusual presence you can feel simply by looking at the photos, so imagine what it's like actually living with these sly strips of art.

November 17, 2014

'Fur - An Issue of Life and Death' Exhibition Opens in Denmark

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Fur. The mere mention of the word makes many cringe. In western urban culture, it's a contentious topic that divides us into two groups: those who deem fur fashion to be gratuitous and cruel, and fur consumers who don't care how their luxury items are procured, or just don't want to know. Now, the National Museum of Denmark puts the ethical debate on the agenda with its special exhibition, ‘Fur – An Issue of Life and Death’. For the first time, the Museum is displaying 60 of its 2,000 unique fur garments from the indigenous people of the Artic, alongside contemporary fur designs, drawing historical links from the garments of the past to those of the present, and addressing industrial fur farming and modern hunting in the Arctic. The historical use of fur is thus located in a contemporary context, where people still wear fur and when wearing fur is about much more than simply keeping warm. The exhibition runs until February 22nd, 2015.

In the program section ‘Voices in the Debate’, visitors meet around 50 supporters and opponents of fur farming and hunting. They are invited to try on real, fake and even ‘blood spattered’ furs. Together with designers, politicians, public figures, experts and people on the street, they are given the opportunity to present their opinions on fur farming, hunting and sustainability in both statements and videos, as well as through selfies and text messages, all of which are incorporated into the exhibition itself.

Fur as a Social Symbol

The historic fur garments were collected from around 1850 to 1950 in Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Siberia and the Sami areas of Scandinavia. There was a time when fur was essential for survival. But fur also served functions beyond protecting against the cold. Fur garments signalled their owners’ gender and status in society, as well as identifying which ethnic group people belonged to.

In the exhibition, visitors to the museum can also experience around 30 modern creations made of fur, sealskin and artificial fur, which The National Museum has on loan from a range of designers including Bendikte Utzon and Nikoline Liv Andersen from Denmark, as well as Greenlandic designs like those by Nicki Isaksen, and the creations of international designers and fashion houses like Yves Saint Laurent, Sonia Rykiel, Oscar de la Renta, and Jean Paul Gaultier. The contemporary garments give visitors the opportunity to see the design of historical fur garments reflected in modern designs, forging links between the past and the present.

I'm very curious what the designers have to say in the 'Voices in the Debate' section, and whether their views are influenced by the culture they come from, and how they justify using fur as a textile, creating demand for furs through their collections. And I'm also very interested in the overall tone of the program and the content of the Museum's guides and printed materials, and ultimately, what comes of this ethical debate. I'm guessing that 'FUR - HARMLESS FUN FOR EVERYONE!' won't be the overriding message. 

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November 16, 2014

Review: Pieminister's Christmas Range

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When I first arrived in England nine years ago (to the day, actually), just as the holiday season hit full swing, I noticed lots of references to pies. "Ooh I love Christmas, I get to gorge on pies for a week" was the kind of thing I was hearing. I wasn't aware of the British pie scene just yet and didn't realise they're a beloved part of the culture. (I didn't watch Corrie back in Canada, maybe that would have helped.) Back home, my French Canadian grandmother makes a huge batch of meat pies at Christmastime and we call them exactly that. Meat pie. It's different from tourtiere, probably because she's actually Acadian, from New Brunswick, not Quebecois. But that was more a regional tradition she brought along to Ontario; we don't generally tie pies into Canadian culture. Today, I know that pork and steak pies are a British pub favourite, and mince pies are synonymous with Christmas. And they tend to be a small and individual sized. But to be honest, I hadn't really had a pie that made me crave another one (or even want to finish the one I started in some cases), so I've kind of been on the periphery of the pie love. But I was open to being converted if the right one came along. 

Last week, Pieminister sent me their Christmas range of four different kinds of pies to try. I had high hopes after hearing that they only use British free-range meat and seeing what unexpected treats are found in their pies. (Prosciutto and Long Clawson Stilton to name a couple.) The Bristol-based company - all of their pies are made on site - has been steadily collecting awards for their outstanding product and business practices, including  Gold in the Great Taste Awards 2013, and recognition for their commitment to high animal welfare standards, which is something I look for when I buy meat products. (If Compassion in World Farming says you're a good guy, you're a good guy.)

I love the posh packaging which hints to the quality of what's inside:

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Let's peak inside at the Mistlemoo pie, made with British beef steak, free range British prosciutto, Long Clawson Stilton and chestnut mushrooms in a rich red wine and port sauce:

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And after cooking all of the pies for about 25 minutes....

PIE FEAST!!!

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I served them on a board with some Italian salad leaves with cherry tomatoes, and it proved to be an ideal complement. Although this would make a great lunch, we had them for dinner, and two pies each was more than enough for the adults who are not known for being delicate about portions. 

Let's cut one open:

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As you can see, the pastry - a suet lid and all-butter shortcrust base - is perfect. It's very light and flakey, and if you heat the pies a few minutes longer than you need to (which I think I did) you don't get punished with a hard crust. I've had that happen with another high end pie range which had a heavy crust to begin with, and it wasn't nearly as nice. (Who wants a dense crust?)

If the Mistleoo filling sounded to die for, I am happy to say that it was. Very rich without leaving you feeling regretful afterward (and that's a state I know well), with the perfect ratio of ingredients to gravy. (That's another complaint I've had with some pies which should have been sold as 'gravy pies, maybe some meat'.) The others were equally delicious. Deer Santa is made with British venison, dry cured free-range bacon, red wine and puy lentils, which blend together beautifully. Merry Berry, I admit, was the one I was expecting not to love, thinking it might be a bit sugary. But the cranberries added the slightest shade of sweetness to the free-range British turkey, bacon, and chestnut mushroom filling, with a little red wine to punctuate the flavours. And there was a vegetarian option, the Christingle, with honey roast parsnip, locally sourced West Country cheddar, and chestnuts, which made a nice complement to the more savoury pies.

The verdict? The three people in this house unanimously voted Pieminister pies the best we've ever had (by far). They are very high quality, super tasty, responsibly sourced, and I think we'll be treating ourselves to more in the future - I am now too curious about all of the other flavours! (The Matador, with steak, olives, butter beans and chorizo - also free range and produced in Wales - is at the top of my list.)

Pieminister Pies are available to order through their website, and you can also find them at restaurants, pie pubs, festivals and farmer's markets around the country. And in my fridge. 

'Red Hot': Exhibit that Rebranded the Ginger Male is Now a Book

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Earlier this week, I was in the comments section of a blog I frequent, and someone had posted a photo of a shirtless, young guy with red hair sticking his tongue out cheekily. People were asking who he was, but no one knew. Then a press release for a new book lands in my inbox, and there he is on the cover. RED HOT 100 is a coffee table book following on an exhibition of stills and video celebrating red-haired male beauty, with the hopes of rebranding the image of the male ginger, which often comes with negative stereotypes attached. I thought it might be nice for the man behind the concept, Thomas Knights, a natural redhead himself, to know that the posting of his cover model on that blog inspired other readers - men and women - to contribute photos of their own favourite hot, red-haired men. (Hello....Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor? Yes, both natural gingers.) When I left the thread it was about a dozen deep, and all of the comments were positive. 

ThomasknightsKnights (pictured right), a fashion photographer and music video director with an accomplished portfolio featuring work in Vogue Italia, Dazed and Confused and Marie Claire, experienced these negative perceptions growing up, and with no red-haired male public role models to persuade him otherwise, he felt ashamed of his red roots. He devised his video and photography concept to redefine the image of the red-headed male. Knight explains, "We have been conditioned to think ginger men are ugly and weak. I wanted to flip this on its head and present the redheaded male as the ultimate alpha male."

The book's press release refers to Western culture's tendency to put the ginger female on a pedestal (we're all familiar with the fantasy of the foxy redhead), leaving their male counterparts out of the limelight. No other hair colour experiences a gender inequality in the same way. Just a couple of years ago, not a single London agency had a red-haired male model on their books, and red-haired actors were extremely underrepresented in TV and film. However, with the popularity of the RED HOT campaign and celebrity ambassadors like Prince Harry, Damian Lewis and Eddie Redmayne, public opinion does seem to be changing. (Let's hope so. Back in 2008 I wrote a piece in response to a rise in 'gingerism', you can read it here.) 

RED HOT 100 is available to buy in hardback for £49.99 at redhot100.com, as well as Conran Shop and Amazon.

RED HOT is proud to work with the Anti-Bullying Alliance which works to reduce bullying and create safer environments in which children and young people can grow, play, and learn; and The Diana Award, a charity set up as a legacy to Princess Diana to encourage, empower and engage young people from all walks of life. 

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