In Conversation With...Silk & Rope Vintage

White Line Projects had the privilege to interview vintage gurus, Silk & Rope, making a visit to their appointment-only showroom in Hackney Downs. Originally from Barcelona, husband and wife team, Enric and Estefi, started selling vintage on Brick Lane 8 years ago, before moving onto the more formal markets at Spitalfields and Portobello where they still have stalls. In conjunction, their Hackney Downs showroom with an extraordinary collection of vintage garments, provide inspiration to designers in both fashion and film. We talk about the world of vintage dealing, sustainability and the magic of old garments. 

 Image: Silk and Rope Instagram

Image: Silk and Rope Instagram

Which period does your archive cover?

I like to think that we cover everything from the Victorian era through to the 1950s. And lately, we have started to collect more from the 1960s and 1970s. Personally, we are starting to love items from this particular era. 

And we noticed that you have a lot of military and surplus garments, as well as workwear…

We like to think about these types of garments as ‘utility’ clothes because there are some military clothes which weren’t used for battle, which we are particularly interested in. 

And what is it exactly that you like about ‘utility’ clothing?

The simple designs, strong fabrics...some of the pieces that we have from the 1920s are still in almost perfect condition. Can you imagine a piece made nowadays that lasts you more than two years?

 Image: Silk and Rope Instagram

Image: Silk and Rope Instagram

In terms of the history of your collection, when did you start acquiring pieces? Did you start off as a vintage seller and then evolve into a collector from there?

The thing with Estefi and myself is that we always loved vintage since we were young. I grew up next to a famous flea market called Els Encants in Barcelona, so I always loved antiques and vintage. And my background is advertising; so back in Barcelona, before I moved to London, I worked in a big agency. And Estefi’s background is in television. 

After a couple years working in Barcelona following our degrees, we moved to London and have been here for eight years. We started off by selling vintage in the markets back in the days when East London used to be more relaxed and cooler. We were selling on the street in Brick Lane for free, and just in one day, we made more money than the two of us working for two weeks in Barcelona. 

How did you progress to selling at Spitalfields Market?

We started to do really well selling in Brick Lane and then we realised that we could do other markets, so started doing Spitalfields market on Thursdays, which we still do today. And then we started to do Portobello on a Friday and eventually on Saturdays as well. And now, we also do Clerkenwell Vintage Fair. Twice a year, we visit the US to a heritage trade show called ‘Inspiration’; there is one in LA and NYC. We coincide this with private appointments as well. 

What kind of people attend these trade shows?

At Inspiration, it’s mostly people from the industry as well as collectors. It’s really crazy; there are things I’ve seen at Inspiration which you only ever see in books. 

So do you also have collectors buying from your showroom?

Yes, definitely. They will approach us and ask for particular items from a specific year for us to source. But collectors sometimes are difficult in the sense that their motivation is not the money. For example, someone who has collected British army stuff for the past 35 years doesn’t care about the money as he or she knows that those pieces are so special. There isn’t really a price you can set for some pieces as they are one of a kind. 

Do you have pieces like that? Do you tend to rent them out or try to sell them?

Sometimes we do. For example, we have a couple Hell’s Angels waistcoats which are pretty collectable but we don’t really want to sell them. 

 Image: Silk and Rope Instagram

Image: Silk and Rope Instagram

Do you ever get museums approaching you for pieces to include in exhibitions?

Not that I know of…. sometimes you get people in the markets who are looking for specific pieces and they don’t want to tell you who they are. This is probably for a good reason. Some traders may want to charge you more if they know that you are from somewhere like the Victoria & Albert Museum. 

Can you describe your transition from selling vintage to becoming a showroom for the industry?

It was a pretty organic shift, you see a piece you really like, you buy it. But then you think of not selling it, just renting. Designers started to ask us if we rent items. Most of the time, designers like the garment but they don’t have the budget or see the need to actually own it for themselves. So it makes more sense for them to rent say… four garments for the price of buying just one. 

And do you rent out to stylists as well?

Yes, we also rent garments out for shoots. I think that London is one of the best places in the world for this kind of thing. And we have been to many of the big cities around the world, such as LA, New York, Tokyo but I would say that London is one of the best places for a regular customer to find good vintage. For instance, if you go to Portobello on a Friday, you can find anything from Victorian pieces to 1980s Moschino and super high-end designer stuff. I don’t think people in London realise how lucky they are to have a market like Portobello. And unfortunately, because people don’t realise the importance of this market, if they are not careful, it's going to die. 

In terms of online vintage culture, such as blogs, eBay etc, how does this affect your business and how do you participate in it?

Well, we do Instagram but that’s kind of it. We haven’t been doing this for that long but when you talk to people who have been in the business for say, 25 years, they say that even 10 years ago, there used to be only one place for buying vintage, and that was Portobello. Now, there are so many other markets, such as Spitalfields and also vintage fairs, plus you have eBay and countless online stores. You know, they say that before a certain time, you had done all your business, but now its much longer hours and difficult to sell as there is so much more choice for the consumer. 

Do you talk with other people in your field?

I really like to talk with my peers but there are some vendors who take it very seriously and do not like to share their knowledge. I guess we could work together to make the business a much nicer environment, to build a community. But this is probably more of a Southern European idea.
In general, where do you mainly source your garments from?

We buy in lots of different places from mainland Europe like France and Spain. We are actually one of the only people that source in Spain. If you think places like the US, they have a very big vintage supply system as the general population have preserved a lot of garments for a long time. In the UK, rationing took hold in WWII preventing people from keeping their garments in the same condition and forcing them to recycle. In Spain, old clothes are linked with bad memories from the civil war, so it wasn’t common for people to keep clothing from the past. It’s the same case in Japan, Americana vintage is the most collectable; it's only in the past ten years that ‘boro’ clothing has become more popular. Unlike in the UK where British made or heritage wear is hugely appreciated. 

Going back to the subject of workwear, could you describe what type of things your collection covers? What would the oldest piece be?

I would say that we do a lot of utility, unbranded clothing. I guess one of the oldest pieces we have is a natural indigo smock shirt from the 1890s which is French. We also have British pieces. 

 Image: Silk and Rope Instagram

Image: Silk and Rope Instagram

So when you collect, what type of information do you try find out about the garment? How much of this is important to the designer?

Usually after we buy something, we try to do as much research as we can so that we can date the garment, know about the fabric etc. But it's really nice when you work with designers who get really excited about the little details on the garment such as the stitching, lining etc. They might not know about the historic context of the piece but they will appreciate the technical aspects of the garment. It’s an ongoing learning and knowledge sharing process.

And do you have any sportswear?

Unfortunately, no. I have tried to find it but it's very difficult to source good quality sportswear. 

And how about lingerie?

Yes, Estefi collects lingerie mainly from the 1920s and 1930s and rents them out to designers. 

  Image: Silk and Rope Instagram

Image: Silk and Rope Instagram

How many pieces do you currently have in the showroom?

At the moment, we have around 500 pieces, which we are trying to grow to 1,000. But we are taking it step by step. We would rather have a limited collection with good pieces.

And how long have you had the rental business for?

We have just been here since last July so not that long, but before that we were based over in Hackney Wick warehouse space. Being here in Hackney Downs is a step forward for us. 

Do you also have fashion students coming to the showroom?

We have them a lot at Portobello Market but the showroom is by appointment only and mainly for the industry and collectors.  

Do you get designers visiting from outside of London, internationally?

Sure, we get a lot of people from the US. It's quite fascinating to see the process of how designers and brands get inspired by vintage to create new collections.

How do designers find out about your showroom?

Through the market stall at Spitalfields or Portobello, then also through word of mouth. Designers often change companies so will introduce new people to the showroom each time. And then just Instagram. We want to stay quite bespoke and exclusive as a business.

Have you considered producing any collections yourself?

We have a couple of projects going on at the moment. We don’t know what’s going to happen but we’re trying. It’s very early days yet. For us, we have been used to handling so many beautiful old fabrics and now if you try to source the same thing, its very difficult. But there are some really small but good manufacturers still producing in Spain near Barcelona along the coast. There are lots of companies who realise now that manufacturing in China is not sustainable so there is more activity now happening in Turkey, Portugal or Spain. And now even in the UK. Consumers are realising that it's better to say, have two good jumpers rather than twenty cheap ones. My wife’s grandmother used to say ‘we are too poor to buy cheap clothes’.

London Collections Men - AW16

Now in its fourth year, London Collections Men, is an indication of the rising success of menswear within the industry and popular culture. It would seem that men have been given the OK to make public, their desire to dress well.

Perhaps the next step in evolution from the emphasis of heritage and craftsmanship in menswear in the last decade, is the rise of durable sports and streetwear, as well as the blurring of lines between gendered clothing.

With the recent announcement of Burberry combining their menswear and womenswear to produce just two shows per year (allowing them to sell online sooner); as well as a the ongoing discussion over the unsustainable pressure for designers to create up to 6 collections per year, a convergence between the segregation of gendered fashion systems is inevitable.

The following is an overview of shows we caught at the last LCM AW16:

Inspired by the clothing of factory workers, Nigel Cabourn created a collection of beautiful and resilient materials wonderfully produced with refined detailing. Established in 1927, Lybro became one of the most important work wear brands in the UK making garments for everyday workers throughout the decades until its demise.  Breathing new life into this important heritage brand, Nigel Cabourn has introduced a new range of hard wearing vintage inspired work wear clothes, which are manufactured using the best British and Japanese fabrics and trims.

 Image: Nigel Cabourne Instagram

Image: Nigel Cabourne Instagram

 Image: White Line Projects 

Image: White Line Projects 

 Image: White Line Projects 

Image: White Line Projects 

James Long's AW16 captured the spirit of combi-gendered dressing with its Gaucho inspired knits and harness boots designed by Christian Louboutin, together with glam rock and punk elements, such as Nick Cave styled hair and glitter sweaters.

Choosing 'Local Heroes' as  the collection's theme, James Long describes: ‘It’s about the people we know and that we love, the fun people who inspire what we do everyday. It’s about the pieces we all wear – tracksuits, track pants, sweatshirts, fun things"

James Long
 Image: White Line Projects

Image: White Line Projects

 Image: White Line Projects

Image: White Line Projects

For their AW16 collection, designers at Maharishi evolved it's brand DNA citing influences from two key themes. The first being religious clothing from around the world contrasted with subcultures who shared  "devotional and ritualistic observances, a uniform, a moral code, and set of beliefs between members", connecting religion with group behaviours within the military.  The results were a collection of strong print design with clever sportswear silhouettes and cuts.

 Image: The Upcoming

Image: The Upcoming

 Image: The Upcoming

Image: The Upcoming

Belstaff took an immersive approach to presenting their AW16 collection by re-creating the very environment that inspired it. Produced by My Beautiful City, elements from northern terrains were taken to transform a South London Victorian railway arch into a harsh, stoney landscape. Based on a desire to create clothing that could withstand these conditions, a key theme was Adaptability with designs for clothing sensitive to the change in the body's temperature and levels of moisture, such as modular hoods and linings. 

 Image: My Beautiful City

Image: My Beautiful City

 Image: White Line Projects

Image: White Line Projects

DR. MARTENS Collaborations: Art of Rebellion

In this era of collaborations, there are countless juxtapositions created every season, some better than others. Dr. Martens seasonal collaborations are strong examples of how art can work strongly within the context of fashion. Their recent set of collaborations over the last few seasons are part of a larger trend in which British designers are inspired by the historic art of rebellious and progressive historic figures.

In particular, Alexander McQueen, who was renowned for his subversion of historic references, brought a dark modernity to his collections and in turn used them as a benchmark to build the narratives for his extravagant shows. His posthumous collection, Angels and Demons, shown just after his death in 2010, featured glimpses of printed fabric with the triptych painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Dutch Late 15th century master, Hieronymus Bosch. Depicting a medieval perspective on heaven, hell and everything in between, McQueen literally drew from its strong narrative, rich colours to create a collection which celebrated both the light and the dark elements of the painting. 

Another English designer synonymous with balancing cultural subversion with luxury, Giles Deacon most recently referenced his favourite painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, by early 19th century French romantic painter, Paul Delaroche. 

Lady Jane Grey was a 16th-century claimant to the English throne who has left an abiding impression in English literature. She was queen for nine days before being found guilty for treason and beheaded. The painting, which lives in the National Gallery, London, is the most visited painting in the museum, particularly by younger generations. Deacon describes how “she was a really progressive woman of her time. She fought for common farmers land rights and was very unpopular in polite society for that reason.

Throughout the history of Dr. Martens, the brand has been adopted and subverted by countless rebellious characters, subcultures and tribes. For the first of this set of collaborations, the brand, like McQueen, drew inspiration from Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights to design a capsule collection of combat boots, oxfords and satchel bags that beautifully display the triptych’s iconic depiction of heaven and hell.

For AW’15, Dr. Martins focused on the early Renaissance artist, d’Antonio. Born Biagio d’Antonio Tucci, the Italian renaissance painter is one of the lesser known of the masters from this period, which makes it an interesting choice for such a well known brand. The painting, Triumph of Camillus depicts an event from relatively early on in Rome’s history, concerning the siege of the city from its captors, The Gauls. Despite being offered a surrender as well as compensation, the painting’s protagonist Camillus reacts with the powerful rhetoric stating that “With iron, and not with gold, Rome buys her freedom”.  

Dr. Martens were perhaps inspired by this subject matter because it represents an act of rebellion and protest, aligning with their ethos and history. Similar to their Bosch collection, the brand designed a combination of a Pascal 8 eye boot, a 1461 shoe, then rounded off with an 11” satchel for a complete set. 

Similar to Bosch’s painting, A Rake’s Progress, acts as a cautionary tale on the perils of life’s temptations. Created by 18th Century painter and printmaker, William Hogarth, the series of satirical prints is not only the quintessential the original comedy of errors, but a unique piece of social observation into urban life at the time. The series follows the misdemeanours of Tom Rakewell, who squanders an inheritance on the pitfalls of London debaucheries, before ending his days in an asylum. 

Although extreme in its narrative, the imagery still holds a modern relevance in its depiction of reality, which make them a perfect fit for the brand. Collaborating with the John Soane Museum for AW ‘15, Dr. Martens translated the paintings’ combination of dark, rich colours with faded tones onto both footwear and accessories. 

In Conversation With.... Paula Alaszkiewicz

In conversation with Paula Alaszkiewicz, a historical and curatorial consultant specialising in fashion based in Paris. She talks to WLP about her latest projects as well as her insights on her experience as an emerging curator.

  Paula Alaszkiewicz. Photo courtesy of   Paula Alaszkiewicz

Paula Alaszkiewicz. Photo courtesy of Paula Alaszkiewicz

Born in Canada, she studied art history at McGill University before completing a Master of Arts in History and Culture of Fashion at London College of Fashion. Paula's research focuses on theories of fashion museology and nineteenth-century sites of commodity display. Her writing has appeared in academic and popular press, including Fashion, Style & Popular Culture, Bias: Journal of Dress Practice, and Numero Russia.

Paula is currently working as a curatorial assistant to exhibition-maker Judith Clark. Alongside Clark, she was the assistant curator of the inaugural exhibition at the Galerie Louis Vuitton in Asnières-sur-Seine.

How was your experience working on the Louis Vuitton exhibition?

It was amazing. I only graduated from my Master’s one year ago. I submitted my dissertation on a Friday and the following Monday I started working full time on the project with Judith.

In terms of a first big project, it was fantastic. Louis Vuitton has an incredible history that is so well documented and well preserved. I think for any cultural historian or fashion historian, to be able to see the type of material that they’ve kept is quite the opportunity, both for the material itself and how it relates to such an exciting moment. Louis Vuitton was founded in Paris in the 1850s. It’s the moment of modernity and throughout their existence, the company has remained very modern. I did not anticipate that their history would grab me in the way that it did.

It’s a privilege to access the heart of a successful brand like Louis Vuitton. To be able to read handwritten notes and cards, to flip through sketchbooks -it humanises the company. We are reminded that they were founded and run by a family (the Vuitton’s).

  Louis Vuitton exhibition, 2015. Paris. Image: Grégoire Vieille / Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton exhibition, 2015. Paris. Image: Grégoire Vieille / Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

You did work mainly as a researcher. Were you also involved in other aspects of the exhibition?

I was the assistant curator and so I was involved in many areas.

It is great to see the whole process when doing an exhibition and not focusing in only one aspect.

It is and it is such a collaborative effort. Between Louis Vuitton’s archive department and events team, and the Centre for Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion, it was very collaborative. Simply from being bilingual I did a lot of back and forth between teams!

Did you have any input with the design of the exhibition?

No, that is really Judith’s role. The whole exhibition design was inspired by an object that we found in the archive, which had corresponding sketches and lovely advertisements.

Louis Vuitton is your first big project that you’ve been involved in. Any previous projects that you have worked in?

Less directly on the curatorial side but I had worked with the Fashion Space Gallery and with the Barbican Art Gallery in London.

What did you do at the Barbican?

I developed private educational tours for the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition.

  Jean Paul Gaultier, 2014. Barbican, London. Image: Jitesh Patel Studio

Jean Paul Gaultier, 2014. Barbican, London. Image: Jitesh Patel Studio

How was the experience?

Great! That exhibition launched in Montreal while I was living there. It was in the Fine Art Museum in Montreal, which is a neoclassical building, and seeing it in the Barbican totally changed the experience.

In which way?

It highlighted how important a venue is and how a venue can completely change your perception of the content of the exhibition. The Barbican fits so well with Gaultier! There is something to be said for the contrast between Gaultier -the "enfant terrible" of fashion- and a neoclassical setting. The Barbican is such a fantastic but such an ugly building! I love the Barbican, it’s my favourite building in London. I love Brutalism. But that is the beauty of it.  

Are you working on a new project that you can tell us about?

Judith has a new project coming up at the Barbican next year, it's an exhibition called The Vulgar. It’s a collaboration with the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and is simultaneously new research that he is preparing and Judith’s curatorial work. It will run from October 2016 until February 2017.

  The Vulgar,  2016. Barbican, London . Walter Van Beirendonck FW 2010/2011    Image:  Ronald Stoops   / Courtesy of Barbican.

The Vulgar, 2016. Barbican, London. Walter Van Beirendonck FW 2010/2011 Image: Ronald Stoops / Courtesy of Barbican.

Judith also has an exhibition series called Fashion Project in Miami at Bal Harbour Shops. That’s what we have been working on as of late.

So you have also been involved in the Miami Project? Also doing the research?

Yes, exactly. Academic and archival research, visual research – which I specifically adore. Writing, and more research.

 Fashion Project, 2015. Bal Harbour Shops, Miami. Image: London College of Fashion

Fashion Project, 2015. Bal Harbour Shops, Miami. Image: London College of Fashion

I am also contributing research to a forthcoming exhibition on Expo ’67 and Fashion in Montreal in the 1960s, which will show at the McCord Museum in 2017. It’s an exciting project and it dovetails very nicely with my own academic work on fashion and the international exhibition. My first museum internship was with the McCord’s Costume and Textiles Department so it is a pleasure to be collaborating with them again.

During your Masters at London College of Fashion, did you have the chance to do internships?

Yes. I did a short internship with the V&A for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. I also worked with Bloomsbury on the fashion photography archive. I authored some of the designer biographies that will be launching with the incredible database that they are creating.

 Savage Beauty, 2015. Victoria and Albert Museum London. Image: Vogue /  Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

Savage Beauty, 2015. Victoria and Albert Museum London. Image: Vogue / Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

Your role within the Savage Beauty exhibition, was it also research based?

It was in their research department. A lot of the research had already been completed. I was organising, categorising, and so on. It was fascinating to see all the work that goes on behind the scenes for a major exhibition.

And then your work with Acne…

Acne launched an office in Paris for their creative side in April of 2015. To celebrate this, I consulted with Acne and their event planner on an installation of stills and photographs from advertisements that they’ve produced. It involved going through various campaigns and choosing imagery and coming up with a layout to suit the venue, which was the Swedish Institute in Paris.

  Acne.  Image:  Sofia Nebiolo / Courtesy of ACNE

Acne. Image: Sofia Nebiolo / Courtesy of ACNE

So you have been very busy, from one project to the other!

Yes, very! And that's along with writing, applying to conferences and developing my own work!

So how did you come across the MA at LCF?

My undergraduate is in art history and European history. Within a year or two years of studies (in Canada an undergraduate takes four years) I began using art history as a way to talk about fashion and its visual culture. I started investigating how dress is used to convey identity in portraiture and looking at collaborations between artists and designers. It all came very organically and I realised that it was my fascination.

During that time I also noticed how neglected fashion can be by the academy. My professors and classmates were supportive, but in the context of a traditional art history department there were certain restrictions. I started researching specific fashion history programs offered at the graduate level. Instead of using art history and history as an entry point, I wanted to be fully immersed in fashion studies. 

Fashion is often seen as frivolous, rather than the very complex cultural system that it is. I actually find this to be exciting rather than limiting. I am dedicated to fashion studies and am optimistic about its future - there is room for many conversations and voices on the subject.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

I am going to answer with a general reflection. My highlight is feeling like I am doing something what is the natural progression of everything I have previously done and studied, despite not necessarily knowing then that this path existed, let alone was the one I would take. It goes back to childhood. For example, watching Fashion Television and looking through my mother’s magazines, I didn’t know then that I was building a vocabulary of references and images that have stayed with me and proven to be very valuable. Or going to French school when I was young, I had no idea how important being bilingual would be to my work. At the time you don’t know how well that will serve you, because it’s natural.

Fashion has always been my visual inspiration and has held a fascination over me, but I did not want to work in the fashion industry. I wanted to work with and alongside fashion without being directly inside of it. To be able to look back at a childhood love of museums and fashion imagery, followed by studies in art history and history, where I am now seems like a very logical place and one that is tailored to myself.

Do you have any thoughts on how you would like to continue your career?

Yes. I’m in the process of submitting my proposal for a PhD.

I would also like to do my own exhibitions. I have some project ideas that I’m very enthusiastic about it and am exploring opportunities to realise them. I’d like it to be a natural progression of my experience and ability. I believe very strongly in learning through experience and that experience is invaluable. I feel confident having done the Vuitton project, in my ability and in my point of view as a ‘curator’. It is a very nice feeling; it fuels my ambition.

I don’t know if you had any thoughts on... if you prefer to be an independent curator or if you prefer to work within an institution.

If I had to choose I would say independent, largely because of my interest in sites of fashion display. In any future projects I do, I would be very interested in moving outside of the museum but referencing the museum language and playing with its systems and visual codes. It would be a cross-pollination between various sites of fashion display; a museum institution quoting department story style display or a department store having a museum style.

Are there any aspects as a curator that you would like to develop further? We find interesting the differences of terminology between a fashion curator or exhibition maker, for instance I’m thinking about Judith Clark who calls herself an exhibition maker. It feels that exhibition maker encompasses more roles.  

Yes, I agree. Esentially, I believe very strongly in a holistic approach. I don’tthink I would feel comfortable hiring a set designer or a builder and not having any input. That’s also my endless curiosity speaking!

As for developing a role or an area… everything! I am very curious by nature. Everything leads to something else, which is lovely because it means that no experience or skill is wasted.

What aspects do you think are more challenging during the process of putting together an exhibition?

Working alongside Judith has highlighted for me how important collaboration and trusting your collaborators is. Graphic designers, set builders, and prop makers are integral to the show. Having a trusted team of collaborators is crucial! This isn’t a challenge in itself but it requires time, trust, and following your intuition.

Books, journals, magazines that you are reading or inspired.

Fashion at the Edge by Caroline Evans; and Techniques of the Observer and Suspensions of Perception, both by Jonathan Crary. I get chills every time I open the first page and read it again.

The magazine Flaneur. They pick one street in a city per issue and the whole issue is about that street. I know about them because they did one on a street from my neighbourhood in Montreal, it was the perfect nostalgia.