Friday, 30 May 2008

A Close-knit Family

Easily my joint most exciting invitation of the week was to Thursday night's launch party for Sibling, my very dear friend Sid's new and uber-luxe knitwear label. A joint business venture with his partner Joe and friend Coz, Sibling finally sees Sid designing a collection in his own right after many (extremely successful) years designing knitwear for such fashion big-hitters as Bella Freud, Lanvin, Alexander McQueen and Giles. The trio really are the ultimate dream team: Sid's technical wizardry when it comes to knitwear innovation is the stuff of fashion legend; Joe (Bates), ex of Dave & Joe and now a lecturer in fashion design is a creative force to be reckoned with; and Coz (Cozette McCreery) is one of the best PRs and best connected people in the industry, as well as an idol to a generation of clubkids as one of the team behind BoomBox.

The venue was Cordy House, an event space on Curtain Road, so given the Hoxditch location I erred on the sartorial side of caution and decked myself out in a variation on the usual fash-bash uniform: rolled up indigo jeans, paint splat Converse and my black Jens Laugesen t-shirt. I accessorised with a bit of sparkle (my diamante cuff) and a yellow belt and topped the whole look off with the gorgeous black cashmere and fox scarf which Sid - the angel - made me years ago as a gift to cheer me up when I was going through a bad patch. (NB: that's a true friend!)

Arriving not too long after the 7.00 start time (I'd got side-tracked by a slightly surreal cider tasting involving a Jill Tyrell lookalike - don't ask), it was encouraging to see that there was already quite a crowd gathered. When fashion people, whose relationship with punctuality is as notoriously ambivalent as it is with food, are on time for something, you know that you've hit on something big. I did a fair bit of mingling throughout the evening and was encouraged to find that many of the crowd were press, buyers, bloggers (!) etc who can hopefully provide the oxygen of publicity that a fledgling label needs. There were also a few old faces who I was over the moon to see, not least the designers and all-round lovely chaps Tristan Webber and Markus Lupfer (who I still have a huge crush on, even after seven or eight years of acquaintance) and Guy, a long-time friend of Sid's (and I like to think, mine) who has modelled for the collection.

The collection, of course, is what the evening was all about, and boy is menswear about to get a kick up the arse (which, according to the press release, is Sibling's avowed intent). The complete collection was on display, partly modelled by Sid, Coz and Joe and partly in a video installation which can be seen on the website, and it's incredible. Sibling has taken knit- and men's-wear staples and reworked them in luxury fabrics embellished with the most intricately artisanal beading and embroidery. So, a classic Breton sweater (also available as a vest and cardigan) has its navy and cream stripes laid out in tiny mother of pearl panels. A perfectly tailored grey prep school blazer is tipped in fluoro orange and carries Sibling's own house crest. The carousel pony adorning the full front of a heavy-gauge sweater has a mane of real horse hair; and my absolute favourites, the dove grey cashmere 'Ratus Ratus' sloppy joe of which the entire shoulders and breast plate are covered with crawling pink rats, and the twin-sets with leopard spots in a variety of candy colours, all formed of bugle beads.

The inspiration, craftsmanship and sheer extravagance of Sibling's first collection is quite genuinely unlike anything I have ever seen in menswear. Sid, Coz and Joe have not just created something beautiful, but also something truly unique, and I find that enormously exciting considering the general stagnation of men's fashion over the last few years. Of course, given the immense complexity of the vast majority of pieces, I can only imagine that prices are going to be absolutely eye-watering, but these are real investment pieces which I can easily envisage cropping up in the permanent collection of the V & A in years to come. The beauty of any Sibling knit is that it will never just be part of an outfit, it will be the outfit, the entire focal point not just of your look but of any room you may happen to enter wearing it.

Sibling is certainly not for the faint hearted - it takes a lot of chutzpah to carry off a ski sweater adorned with a skull and crossbones pattern in neon mink - but for those who love making a statement with their clothing and want to support some all too rare creative artistry, this is a label to be reckoned with. I for one already love it like, well, a sibling, and I think we'll make for a very happy family together.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Liza, with a 'gee!'

Sometimes an invitation comes along that's so fantastic, you wonder what saintly good deeds you could have possibly done in a past life to have accrued so much positive karma. I seem to get a lot of these and so I'm beginning to wonder if, in my last incarnation, I may in fact have been Gandhi. The surest evidence of this came this Monday, when Alyn and I were the highly delighted recipients of two free tickets - best seats too, don't ya know - to see Liza Minelli, in concert, at the London Coliseum.

My expectations were, I have to confess, pretty low; not for want of loving Liza, for love her I do, but because based on recent form I just didn't think she'd be up to much. The last time I'd seen her perform was on a chat show, where she had sung - or rather, half-sung, half-spoken - while seated; a far cry from her high-kicking, high-notes Sally Bowles heyday. Throw in the hip surgery, yo-yo dieting and all too well-publicised messy, acrimonious divorce, and it doesn't bode well. Boy was I surprised then, when out on stage walked a very svelte, very steady Ms Minelli, who proceeded to wow us for the next ninety minutes with full-on, all out razzle dazzle that would put a woman half her age to shame.

Boldly eschewing much of her back catalogue, in the first half Liza - in astoundingly good voice - belted out a variety of punchy Broadway numbers, Kander and Ebb staples and smoky torch songs, mostly from atop a high bar stool placed centre-stage. Alyn was thrilled that she included his personal favourite, Maybe This Time from Cabaret, and I was ecstatic (as indeed was the entire audience) when she wrapped up Act One with the film's title number. Liza sang the line 'Well that's what comes from too much pills and liquor' with a knowing smile and roll of the eyes which suggested that she was rightly proud of having overcome her own very public battles with drugs and booze. Good on ya girl.

If Act One was fairly static and sedate, it was only because Liza was saving her energies for Act Two - an homage to the '50s stage shows of her godmother, Kay Thompson, and her backing singers The Williams Brothers (Andy and his three siblings). This was a real treat; while many of the numbers were unfamiliar, it was pure entertainment seeing Liza and the boys singing, dancing and hand-clapping like their lives depended on it. The energy was sky-high and by the time Liza wrapped up the proceedings with an all-out belting of New York, New York, the capacity crowd, we two included, had been whipped up into a Minelli-loving frenzy which could only be expressed through a five minute standing ovation and a good half dozen curtain calls.

The songs aside, there was so much else to love about this show. The outfits for a start were pure showbiz royalty glam; think sequins, bugle beads, one shoulder smocks, headbands and heels. The final, red ensemble included ruby slippers that were surely conceived as a nod to the most famous of 'Momma's' roles, emphasising Liza's status as the ultimate friend of Dorothy's. Which leads to another, delicious aspect of the evening: the endless, shameless name-dropping that only someone of Liza's stellar celebrity and lineage could get away with. As well as a few (and in fairness, judicious) references to 'Momma', we were also regaled with tales of 'my godmother, Kay Thompson', 'my godson, Ira Gershwin', 'my friend Stephen Sondheim', 'my dears John Kander and Fred Ebb' and even - when asserting New York, New York as being her signature song - to 'my Uncle Frank [Sinatra]'. Invariably these names cropped up in one of a succession of high camp anecdotes from Liza's five decade career. My absolute favourite came early on when Liza told us about the time she volunteered to stand in for the actress playing Roxie Hart in the original Broadway production of Chicago when the latter was invalided out after swallowing...a feather. Alyn and I agreed that this was quite possibly the gayest thing we'd ever heard, and laughed ourselves hoarse.

It wasn't all brilliant however; a lot of the banter between songs seemed clunky and unspontaneous (although there wasn't, as far as I could see, an autocue, as used by Ms Barbra Streisand...!) and the interminable introductions to and thanking of her various band members, crew and co-performers added about ten minutes to the show when we would much rather have had a couple of extra numbers instead. Also, it was somewhat disappointing that there was absolutely no merchandise to be had, not even programmes; while on the one hand it was refreshing to not be assaulted with over-priced tat for a change, on the other it would have been nice to be able to take away a rather more durable reminder of this momentous evening than just one's ticket stub. Finally, if perhaps uncharitably, I do think that for a top whack of £95 (notwithstanding that we didn't pay a cent for our tickets!) Liza could perhaps have stretched out the evening rather longer - even with a decent interval, we were still out on the pavement of St Martin's Lane well before 10pm. But these are all minor quibbles; this was a truly unforgettable evening and an emotional one too, as we witnessed what can only be described as a triumphant return to form for this most revered of gay icons.

And speaking of gay icons, my evening with Liza almost completes my 'royal flush': I've now seen live in concert Madonna, Barbra, Kylie, Shirley and Liza. Just Celine to go now and I'll have seen them all!

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