I traveled to Reigate in the UK (located about 40 minutes south of London), in October and was able to squeeze in a 2-day expedition to the city. I had such a good time and so much to tell you about that I actually have to squeeze it into three blog posts. Here's my first installment.
#1 Victoria & Albert Museum
Gorgeous museum with a vast collection of art from around the globe. I caught a special exhibit on the history of underwear called "Undressed" but I was most impressed by their permanent fashion history collection. I can't get this Western take on the kimono out of my head and this Lanvin dress was clearly ahead of its time. Gentle folds of creamy chiffon plus avant-garde rectangular shaped gold leather appliqués spread like confetti? Yes.
This black sequin jumpsuit also reminded me of the current Gucci collection of trompe l'oeil fame. The underwear collection was cool, but I could have used a cliff notes version. I can't believe that folks were actually out here getting their organs crushed in pursuit of an 18" waist using those corsets. Um, no. The contemporary collection of lingerie inspired looks tied it all together. Special shoutout to this gorgeous Lanvin "pajama" set (teal robe) and seeing an Alexander McQueen dress (ocean of gathers) up close and personal. And the gift shop?? It was chock full of inspiration. Totes, scarves, quirky toys and in gorgeous Indian block prints. I was so enamoured, I went to V&A twice to finishing exploring the shop and to take care of all my souvenir shopping, natch.
#2 Borough Market - Best. Food. Market. Ever.
Overwhelming in the best way possible. Street food heaven. Those are the best words I can come up with to capture how cool this spot was. Stop by there to see the world buzzing around you in one big, happy kitchen. Fresh, gorgeous produce, food trucks and fragrant baked goods abound. I met up with Laurene and her two handsome boys and we sat down for a lovely lunch at fish!. She told me tales of finding the perfect dance class and a great squad in Monrovia, Liberia (our shared hometown). I wrapped up with a chocolate chip cookie the size of a personal pan pizza and wish I could have stayed longer. I'll be baaack.
#3 Shoreditch Neighborhood
I stayed there because it was highlighted as the hipster neighborhood of London and it was close to my Saturday stops. Shoreditch did not disappoint and felt like an expanded, glossier version of the Little Five Points neighborhood in Atlanta. I stayed at the Hoxton, which looks like a jaunty bachelor pad, complete with a respectable book collection in each guest room. The wall art scene in Shoreditch was impressive and I would have explored more if I wasn't so tired from walking 10 miles from Borough Market to the hotel (really girl?). I feasted on Peruvian food for dinner at Andina and saw the magic happen from a barstool seat near the open kitchen. Uber zipped me back to the Hoxton, but there was lots of nightlife left for the taking. Speaking of, why was the hotel lobby lit like a club? Uber driver was like, "Oh, you staying at that club hotel!" Right! Fun times in the city.
#4 Harrods (Honorable Mention)
#5 Pop Brixton
Suakoko Betty at African Fashion Week 2011, use of Ankara fabric in contemporary collections/styles.
I’ll admit it. I’ll even type it down. When I was younger I had a love/hate relationship with the “African” section of my mother’s closet. At times I thought the styles to be too traditional, limited to the three piece outfit that I was accustomed to seeing my mother dolled up in.
I remember the strong “football shouldered” blouse, the “mermaid” wrapped skirt, the head tie –which added at a bare minimum another foot to her small 5’2 frame, and her accompanying shawl which she threw over her shoulder, as if she weren’t already wearing enough fabric.
At twelve it was a bit overwhelming, but despite the excessive cloth and what my sister and I would tease as her “Coming to America” getup, the one thing that always kept me in awe was the eccentric designs and color schemes displayed in the fabrics she wore. Beyond the traditional styles, it was the one aspect that never skimped on excitement.
To me, the textiles she wore not only explored the marriage between art and fashion but also highlighted the rich aesthetic of various African nations and cultures. In addition, the cloths introduced the amazing artistic vision and creativity of African weavers, designers, dyers and artists, and their ability to transform art into clothing.
One of many art based cloths I saw was the Adire fabric. Originated by the people of southwestern Nigeria, the cloth displays hand painted art and highlights the regions use of plant based dying techniques to cultivate simple yet unique canvases. Prior to dying the cloth, local African designers use a cassava starch paste to hand paint or stencil various pictures and designs onto the fabric. Once developed, the unique designs and practice attracted buyers and fashion enthusiasts from all over Africa.
The popular Nigerian Aso Oke fabric, which my mother wore often, was more elaborate with color and usually designed into eccentric blouses, wrap skirts, head wraps and shawls for women in West Africa. The embellished fabric, bright colors and detailed embroidering was worn in celebration of unions, festivals and funerals. Original Aso oke textiles were comprised of three different cloths –the etu, sanyan, and alaari and woven with a narrow-strip loom weaving technique.
Woman dressed in Nigerian Aso Oke fabric and Gele Headtie
Of the various African textiles –the Ankara fabric, I later uncovered, was my favorite to revel in. Unlike other materials I stumbled across in my mother’s closet, it was much lighter in weight and the color schemes along with the patterns produced one of the most versatile African textiles. The wax-resist dye cotton fabric was originally produced in Holland using a print process that applies wax and dyes in layers to mimic the hand-dyed batik process. Ankara is now produced in Nigeria and Ghana and is not only innovative with its geometric designs and colorful patterns but also because of its ability to relay African tales and proverbs and pay homage to various West African tribes.
Today African textiles have evolved from the classic three piece suit and into more contemporary blouses, pencil skirts, minidresses, trousers, jumpsuits, and blazers worn by celebrities like Beyonce, Solange, Alicia Keys, and Kelis.
Mom, dressed in adire (indigo dyed) fabric.
While the styles continue to evolve one thing that has yet to be compromised is the beautiful craft of the textiles, the artistic use of colors, and the weaving –making it so much more than just my mama’s old dress, it makes for a rich and vibrant history…Thanks Mom.