port eliot 2017 - where fantasy meets reality
What a difference a year makes….! Just reread my last post and had to LOL. Remembering how jubilant I was at the prospect of 4 days in a tent with my young family. Naively I pictured a repeat of last year's bohemian weekend in the sun, only better. This year I was so prepared to embrace my spirit animal, wearing only glitter and crochet. So what happens when expectations don’t meet reality?
Preparation is everything
Half the fun of the fair is dressing up for the circus, non? A festival is the time and place for dress-up. A whimsical weekend in costume; change your character with every kaftan and kimono. My previous post was firmly tongue-in-cheek but as with all comedy, it stems from truth.
So excited to be playing the leading role in my “festival film”, I had all of my outfits planned. The best one, a dreamy long, white Edwardian cotton dress. Its tiny buttons undone top and bottom revealing a little slip and my golden tanned skin beneath. Accessorised with an old Tibetan bag, a hand embroidered belt, black cowboy boots and lashings of multi coloured friendship bracelets adorning my wrists. Every detail calculated and stunningly set against the scenic backdrop of Port Elliot. I was ready. Even the babies were ready. The day before we left, I sewed gorgeous Indian printed fabrics from Cloth House to cover cushions and make a canopy for their festival wagon. The finishing touches of fairy lights and bunting added in situ.
You can’t handle the truth
This summer, as every year, the scenic grounds of the St German’s estate in Cornwall were drenched with fashionable revellers of all ages. Eagerly anticipating a weekend of ideas and inspiration across art, literature, music, food, well-being and fashion. Except this year everything was drenched by a three-day downpour. My burning anticipation for this event (as not only an opportunity to peacock my colourful wares but get up close to the most inspirational and creative set) was heavily doused by reality that the weather had a different event in store for us. Totally unprepared; I hadn’t any wellies or waterproofs (what kind of mother am I?!) Instead of wafting between tutorials, music recitals, yoga sessions and lolling on the grass, I spent 3 days yelling “don’t run in the mud!” at my twins (that kind of mother). A command they rarely obeyed, quickly diminishing our limited clothing stocks. The beautiful wagon rendered redundant as the wheels couldn’t make it through the quagmire. And the once exemplary portable sanitary facilities fell short in the dank conditions. Hard work with a young family. Never the less we stoically waded through as though I were wearing a duck feather cape.
Making the moist out of it
In case of flood, retreat to higher ground. And in doing so happen upon the most idyllic spot of the estate… The walled garden which had been dressed to hold the aptly named “wardrobe department”. It was really all the entertainment I wanted. Sarah Mower ensured an A-list fashion cast this year with the theme of protest fashion. Dame Zandra Rhodes, Richard Quinn, Stephen Jones, Ashish, Giles Deacon, Luella Bartley, Molly Goddard and Rottingdean Bazaar displayed their oeuvre, held tutorials and gave insight into their artistic minds. I’m as obsessed with listening to designers talk, as I am at enrolling on courses. Praying that they will impart their secret to greatness. Unfortunately, in most cases they say it “just sort of happened”; they put the work out there and it is “somehow” picked up by Vogue. What?! Obviously, a sign of true genius and I will be left forever crying on the periphery, still asking… how? How?
This was the case for Zandra Rhodes. Her career took off when Diana Vreeland invited her over to the US. However, it is easy to see how she has had such a sustained and illustrious career. Not only does she create the most beautiful frocks she is also the most open of people. She shared a shopping list of stories, of famous faces and bodies she had dressed. From Diana Ross who nearly set her security team on her if she stepped any closer to Princess Margret, whom she described as a very strong character. Always smiling and head-to-toe in fuchsia. She apologised if we could see the patch of colour she missed on her head and that she never took her make-up off. Finally! A beauty routine I can stick to… if it’s good enough for Dame Zandra….
The Orangery (as pretty as it sounds) was our haven. Flat whites and avocado on toast with poached eggs good enough to make you forget you slept in a tent. Adorning the walls were fabulous illustrations hosted by SHOWstudio. Gill Button, Jennifer Corker and Fiona Gourlay to name a few. In the garden, rather fantastically, a life-drawing class had been set up and throughout the weekend you could just grab some paper, pastels and easel and draw! And the tutors? Priceless. The *pinch me* moment came when I discovered Giles Deacon holding an illustration class. A very warm, insightful and surprisingly humorous man, he invited a show and tell of our sketches of Rosanna Falconer wearing a Rhodes’ dress. As it happened Zandra herself came by, stopped and pulled out her sketch pad to be then joined by Stephen Jones!!! Taking a lesson with fashion legends. I was beside myself. The only irk, dear old Stephen sat right in front of me. How rude! I made the most of my view and drew the back of his head onto my sketch. Ha.
Protest is best
An honourable and timely theme. The jury is still out for me whether clothing can really effect the political conscious. It often however reflects the mood of the moment and offers a bellwether on our political and social climate. Like wearable art, it can enable the donor and purveyor to set a dialogue for change. Mower invited new-age-Suffragette’s Amy Cartwright, Hannah Monkley, and Amy Towl to recreate their viral Women’s March image “same shit, different century” for starters. Stephen Jones and Sandy Powell followed with a powerful re-enactment of Margaret Atwood’s red-robed handmaids for main. Through glitter, colour, and print its clear to see people are angry! If the message is too subtle, slogans are the Tee du jour. Ashish led a sequin charge brandishing his pertinent messages in paillettes; Immigration, Planned Parenthood and Don’t Give Up the Daydream (not that President Trump needs incentives!!). I missed Richard Quinn so I can’t tell you what his beef was but he did create the most wonderful printed stage . If you prefer the medium of craft for protest, between the interviews you could make your very own protest pom-poms with the vibrant Katy Jones. Or screen print slogan Tees with Plymouth College of Art. I would have loved to have seen Vivienne Westwood complete the stellar line-up. I adore Zandra Rhodes, but I wouldn’t say her work is confrontational, her protest is only against grey. But I guess that Matchesfashion.com didn’t have a capsule collection of Viv’s to promote ;-)
The moment to resonate came on the last day. Susie Lau's interview of Molly Goddard and Rottingdean Bazaar will hopefully have a very positive change to my work but more about that another time. I should also add that this was only the tip of the paintbrush in terms of events on offer. The weather sadly meant steering Ava and Rose out of the mud was a two-man job and I only saw a glimpse of the action. This year's Port Elliot was challenging. But I am in no way deterred for 2018. In fact, I’ll be on the early bird ticket list and setting up my own fashion bus down there. However, few notes-to-self below…
1. Invest in Hunter Poncho
2. Need a hat
3. Take extra phone charger
4. Leave kids at home
5. Buy program, organise time
6. More sequins/glitter/colour
7. Stay in yurt
Please leave your comments and questions if you wish to know more.