Wednesday, 25 November 2009

It’s a Tweed thing

Most readers of my ramblings will be aware that I have an obsession with Harris Tweed and that we have recently been endorsed by Harris Tweed Hebrides and are working in collaboration with them. So last week I took a plane, and then another plane and then a drive all the way to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides to visit the only existing mill producing Harris Tweed.

The purpose of my trip was for me to see the tweed designs that we are working on for AW10, check the colours and finalise the last of the development. I also wanted to take the chance to spend some time in the mill. I have a real attraction to the processes side of design as I believe that good design comes from understanding the boundaries and I always feel a better understanding of what can be done if I can see it for my self. I love the smells and noise of industry, handling the raw materials before they are transformed and the energy of true craft. This may sound dramatic but the reason we are so committed to the use of Harris Tweed is because we believe that craft is luxury and Harris Tweed epitomises this. Let me explain a little about this iconic cloth and why we place so much value on it.

Harris Tweed is probably the most famous textile in the world. It is the only cloth that is protected by an act of parliament and it can only be produced on the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The Harris Tweed Act 1993 states that Harris Tweed must be hand woven by the islanders at their own homes from pure virgin wool, spun, dyed, and finished on the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Only cloth that fully conforms to this definition is entitled to bear the world famous “ORB” trademark which was granted to the islanders in 1910.

The origins of the cloth are centuries old. It was first made by the inhabitants of the isles from the wool from their own sheep and made into practical garments to protect them from the harsh element of the Outer Hebrides. All processes were done by hand with each and every member of the household having their particular role to play.The wool would first have to be washed and then dyed, using natural materials such as the crotal, scraped off the rocks on the shore. Various plant materials were also used and the dyes were set using urine which would be collected and stored for this purpose.

The dyed wool was then carded by hand, using two flat combs. The spinning was done on a wooden spinning wheel and the yarn was then warped in preparation for weaving. The weaving was done on a wooden loom which was used for many years until the arrival of the Hattersley domestic handloom in the 1920s. The woven cloth was then washed and it was during this process that the famous "waulking" of the cloth took place. Several people, almost always women, would work the wet cloth back and forward across a table, usually accompanied by Gaelic song allowing a whole genre of music to develop around this activity. After drying, the cloth was ready for use or sale.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Isle of Harris was owned by the Earl of Dunmore and it was his wife, lady Dunmore, who first saw the potential of selling this fabric, produced by her tenants, to her aquaintances in London. Thus Harris Tweed was first marketed and, as the reputation of the fabric grew. The success of the fabric also led to imitations and it became necessary to seek protection for the genuine article. This led to the formation of the Harris Tweed Association in 1909 and the granting of the trademark in 1910. The Association became the Harris Tweed Authority with the Act of 1993.

(Guess what colour we're channeling for AW10!)

Harris Tweed is the only handwoven fabric produced in commercial quantities. The yarn production process uses specially blended yarns produced to secret recipes and then warped up to exclusive designs before being sent to weaver's homes to be handwoven by weavers using skills handed down from generation to generation. The cloth is then returned to the mill to be finished in a new finishing plant to a very high standard. The final process is examination by the independent Harris Tweed Authority, before application of the famous "ORB" trademark which is ironed on to the fabric as the ultimate seal of approval.

See below for photos of me at Harris Tweed Hebrides! I am actually weaving our very own Sara Berman Harris Tweeds! It was a great privilege to spend time at the Harris Tweed Hebrides mill and I would like to thank all the team for making me feel so welcome and for all their hard work and enthusiasm. It was a real highlight for me.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Win A Bailey With Grazia!

We're running a competition with Grazia Magazine this week (on sale today!) to win a Bailey Tote with a Mia and Vertity bracelet as well as Molton Brown goodies and an Accurist watch. So, for your chance to win, run out and buy Grazia and skip straight to the back page to the Grazia Giveaway.

Good luck everyone!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

As Seen In...

Today I thought I would do a quick post about my favourite press pieces. The Zip Frill bags (and the Jeane in particular) have been well received this month featuring in the likes of Grazia and You Magazine while the Sally Square Clutch is still going strong two bag collections on, proving what a timeless classic she is and just perfect for Party Season.

So, here we are:

Eva Cocktail Headpiece With Veiling
'Ladylike Chic', Grazia, 17th November 2009

'The Fashion Charts', Grazia, 10th October 2009

'All The Trimmings', Vogue, December

'Steel Yourself',You Magazine, October

 '10 Best Animal Instinct',

Friday, 13 November 2009

Pole Dancing

For the past few weeks there has been a palpable buzz in the SB studios. There has been whispering around the toaster, giggling over coffee and hysteria over afternoon chocolate which seemed disproportionate to any kind of sugar rush. When words such as ‘Spandex’ and ‘Orange’ started being bandied around I was forced to step in get some clarity on whatever it might be that was making our girls so excited... It turns out that after several months taming her inner sex kitten with pole dancing classes, our production manager Danielle had entered into a pole dancing competition held at the O2 Center. Once Amiee and I got wind of this we were not going to miss it for the world - it isn’t everyday you get to see your number one employee dancing around in (orange) spandex underwear!

So last night Amiee and I set off to watch the great Happening. We were meeting the girls there and had intended to get the tube as laughingly recommended by Danielle but it was dark, raining and a deeply unappealing idea so we decided to drive. We put on the Sat Nav and set off with Eve Karpfs’ dulcet tones guiding us our merry way. And we were motoring along just fine until we got to Shoreditch High St where they had closed the road. Obviously this sends Eve into tailspin-her now irritating monotone advising us to ‘in 100 yards turn right’ onto a no right turn one way system and subsequently driving us in circles around the Dickensian streets of Shoreditch in the pissing rain. In my great wisdom I had also printed off a map from Google but the stress of Eve’s ridiculously calm voice advising us to turn right had forced me to open the window to have a cigarette and the driving rain had soaked the map which was now illegible.

So we find ourselves lost in East London with no map and a confused Eve whose only advice is still to keep turning right. So we decide (with the logic of fashion designers) that if we drive a long way in what is clearly the wrong direction we will sufficiently confuse Eve to force her to find an alternative route (at what point we thought we could reason with a computerized voice I don’t know but at the time it seemed to be a good idea!). So we drove in a random direction, through a very long tunnel and eventually Eve stopped telling us to ‘please do a u turn’, shut up and obviously went to sleep. At which point we saw signs to Greenwich…

Everyone knows the Millennium Dome is in Greenwich so we figure that if we just get to Greenwich we won’t be able to miss it. The Dome is a 50ft Marshmallow with huge great lights sticking out of it which cost the country something like £800 million pounds. It must be hugely, highly, revoltingly visible. The least one would expect is a sign post. But no. Nothing. (Quick personal rant: First they spend £800 million 800!!!!! on a 50 ft marshmallow which is somehow meant to represent Great Britain and then they go and rebrand it O2 in the name of a Spanish Telecoms company! And on point of principle I will not refer to it as such.)

Not only could we somehow not see this 50ft structure but there was not one single sign. Not one! So out of pure desperation we stop the car and start asking the good residents of Greenwich if they could point us in the general direction of The Dome... Dome? They asked blankly with engaging intelligence… The Dome? Yes you know, that enormous £800 million pound marquee that is somewhere in this small district of Greenwich… Perhaps you noticed it whilst out walking the dog? Nothing. (worrying in itself I feel… Something in the water?).

And then, like a beacon of light, a mirage we spot a police station. I run in and ask the good policemen of Greenwich to help two girls find their way to a pole dancing competition. Admittedly some eyebrows were raised but once I explained that I wasn’t going to be the one up the pole they were very amenable, told me we were minutes away and gave me a whole new map. And off we went again with renewed vigour. So what if the residents of Greenwich hadn’t noticed the 50ft marshmallow? They do have a wonderfully modern police station.

But then we realise that despite the map we had gone wrong again and had no idea, once again where we were. So we pull into a petrol station. I need more cigarettes and maybe a new map. But guess what? Closed. And here is where I lose my temper. I turn around to the two young men who are walking across the forecourt towards the shop and start screaming at them about the inadequacies of the Greenwich petrol station and to be honest I was fully expecting them to look at me blankly uttering ‘petrol station?’ But they didn’t. And although they clearly thought I was a raving loon they stopped to ask if they could help. Once I explained that we were on our way to a pole dancing competition at The Dome they perked up considerably and offered to hop in the car and take us there. Honestly speaking I would be a little disingenuous if I pretend not to realise that these two lovely young men had clearly just thought they had pulled big time but needs must. They were so excited that they left their friend (who they later told us was waiting at home for them to bring back supplies for their evening on the Playstation!) and hopped in the car with a promise to take us to The Dome. Their disappointment on encountering the baby seat in the back was palpable but they handled it with good grace and chatted drunkenly with us all the way to The Dome. It turned out that Dave and Gareth were older than we first thought at 26 (worryingly I thought they were about 21 compared to my worldly ways!). They turned out to be charming, good looking and very sweet boys and we were delivering them straight into the hands of our girls! That is what team building is all about!

And they were good to their word. Thank you Gareth and Dave. We got there seamlessly (we never, ever would have made it without them). The girls were thrilled to meet Gareth and Dave and Gareth and Dave were thrilled to be there. And most importantly we got there in time for the big moment...

And then there was Danielle… The epic journey was worth it as she was amazing. Hundreds of people, a huge stage, long slippery pole. She worked that body (clad in orange spandex) and was utterly brilliant. Less stripper- more gymnast. Worryingly as her boss, it was one my proudest moments in her career to date!

Unfortunately I can't get hold of the video to post for all to see but here's the picture of Danielle that graced the front page of The Muswell Hill Journal...

And here's the latest move to be perfected by our genious gymnast!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Look Books and Birkenstocks...

Good morning girls and boys. It’s been a while I know but I was so busy sunning my fashionable self in Tel Aviv that I didn’t have a second to write to you and fill you in on the intimate ins and outs of my fascinating endeavours. Actually we had torrential rain for 3 of 6 days and Handsome D (don't worry my forgetful friends the glossary is right here) was diagnosed with diabetes but it’s nothing a spray tan and sugar-free diet can’t fix. Never fear Handsome - Beauty and the Beach do a fabulous ‘Dark & Lovely’ for only £20.

View from the apartment in Tel Aviv

Apart from that we had a great time. Tel Aviv is an amazing city-utterly urban and modern with the bonus of being on the sea which really gives the best of both worlds. I have a fabulous pink bicycle out there and cycle all over-to the beach, the restaurants, the galleries, the shops, for coffee, up to Jaffa, down to Hyarkon Park…Basically my Birkenstocked feet don’t hit the ground. Yes you read correctly-Birkenstocks. And before you mock please understand that I LOVE my Birkenstocks. They-along with my fat John Travolta T-shirt (he was normal John Travolta but age, multitude washings and the effects of my growing bust between the ages of 13 and 17 have disfigured him somewhat but I will never, ever give him away) are mainstay of my Tel Aviv wardrobe. Tel Aviv has an amazing design culture but fashion is relatively slow to catch up. This is beginning to change and I can see the ‘green shoots’ of £350 + handbags emerging but it is far from being a fashion Mecca and I must confess that I adore the freedom to make like a fashion icon in a pair of Birkenstocks and fat John T-shirt.

Actually I left London on a high and have been so excited to write this entry that I got a little overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start… Just before I packed my Giant Bailey and set off for supposedly sunnier climes we shot our SS10 look book. The shoot started off as a very neat idea of Grandfathers -our fabulous stylist and muse (because she is very a-muse-ing) the basis being that we wanted to go back to the roots of what we do as a very British brand with an ingrained English Eccentric philosophy and shoot the streets of London alive with Sara Berman. So we asked our girlfriends to spare a mo of their time and simply come as they are and pose with one of our new bags, jackets or jumpers in exactly the way they would wear them. Given that most of our motley crew wears SB anyway-this wasn’t an enormous stretch and the results are so fantastically cool, such an amazing point in history of all the relationships that make a life and define an era. The whole thing spiralled utterly out of control with friends bringing friends and friend’s friends bringing more friends! We ended up having to shoot over 4 days in 5 locations with 35 models. And what amazing models they were! Never have our clothes and bags looked so exactly and wonderfully perfect and fabulously cool. It must be said-our girls rock! A big thank you to all concerned.

A sneak peek at the SS10 Look Book