The G Spot..
I was pretty intrigued when my friend Andre e-mailed me info about Vanessa G's fashion debut. For one, the show venue was the Whitehall Banqueting house (FYI the venue is typically reserved for large-scale media awards ceremonies), so I knew from the get go, that this was to be no run of the mill event. A lot of fashion brands would usually pick a miniscule venue off the beaten track in the depths of Shoreditch to showcase their premier collection.
There was no way anyone in the media was going to miss out on this spectacle. Firstly, the PR's sent out an e-invite, followed by a postal reminder, which in turn was followed by a rather large red perspex invitation, together with two "admit one" perspex cards. My fashion spidey senses were well and truly tingling. Who on earth is Vanessa G and what is this all about?
My attempts to find a website were to no avail (her website has now launched), all I could find were blog articles buzzing about the forthcoming event.
According to her Press bio, Vanessa G (aka Vanessa Gounden, pictured at the top, in one of her own signature floral print trench coats) is a "formidable entrepeneur, with business interests spanning Africa, Europe, and the Asian subcontinent. She is arguably one of the most successful businesswomen in the mining sector on the African continent, and her other interests include Healthcare Services, Financial Services and Lifestyle and Leisure". Already, it's clear to see that this is no ordinary fashion debut, but the plot thickens. On reading the paragraph above, it's easy to assume that this is just another trustafarian or rich divorcee creating a little fashion diversion with which to amuse herself, but her life has not always been one of privilege.
In the late 1800's, Vanessa's grandparents left India for the shores of Africa to work as indentured labourers on the sugarcane plantations of South Africa. Her early childhood memories include helping her family, on their small holding, cutting and preparing roses for sale to the florists in the district.
As the dreaded apartheid state swept Africa in the 1960's, and segregation by race was tragically enforced, Vanessa and her family were removed from their home and livelihood, and forced to reside in a dormitory township with minimal facilities. This hideous chapter in Vanessa's life sparked her political awareness, so it is no wonder that in the years preceding South Africa's first democratic election, Vanessa played a pivotal role in the country's Trade Union agreement, thereafter serving in Nelson Mandela's administration in 1994.
Her experience of working with Mandela galvanized her business acumen, inspiring her to commence her own commercial activities, from the humble surroundings of her bedroom desk (I wonder if Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin's "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves was written about Vanessa), it would be a fitting theme tune none the less.
Vanessa's extensive travels exposed her to various forms of art, be it community based or the work of young emerging talent. This, together with her belief that dress sense should reflect one's inner beauty and confidence, led to her venture in the world of fashion.
I don't know about you folks, but am I the only one sensing Hollywood film material here (or at the very least a New York Times best selling book). Calling Frieda Pinto!!
At this point, I have to add that Vanessa walked past me at her launch on Wednesday evening, looking petite and radiant in a pewter coloured sheath. I wasn't sure if it was her at first, but the impossibly tall security guard with the discrete ear piece who was escorting her kind of gave it away! Furthermore, she was resolutely devoid of attitude, flashing me a lovely genuine smile as she passed (and for the record, she looks far more beautiful in person, the Press shot of her does her little justice). Naturally, when she took her turn on stage at the end of her show, my earlier suspicions were put to rest. The lady herself, had in fact glided right past me before her show. How fabulous!
There's something about Vanessa's story that immediately resonated with me. Though I haven't experienced apartheid per se, racism is something that I most definitely lived through for a large part of my childhood and adolescence. My father is Scottish, while my mother is half Ethiopian and half Eritrean (Vanessa and I share the African connection). At the age of five, I relocated with my parents from Oman (my birth place), leaving my international school and settling with my parents in rural Northumberland, attending a private school there. Given that we were literally in the sticks, my mother and I were, without doubt, fishes out of water. It took me a great deal of time before I was able to make friends, with our neighbours calling me a "Paki", not bothering to find out what my ethnic origin actually was. Later, when I was sent to boarding school at 9, I was called a "nigger" on my first day at school. I recall my headmaster telling the boy who'd hurled the insult at me, that it wasn't a very nice thing to say, and that was that.
Furthermore, when I was given my first taste of Scottish bonfire night (and the subsequent joke telling around the fire as our marsmallows melted), I was treated to the lovely experience of having quite a few kids from the school take their turn in standing around the fire, and uttering such comical gems as "What do you call two Ethiopians in a body bag? A Kit-Kat", which was soon followed by "How do you get a million Ethiopians to jump off a cliff? Throw a can of baked beans over it". My response was to cry. I didn't hear any children stand up and make jokes about white people, and being the only child of colour at the school, I felt targeted. Oddly enough, we're talking about the late 80's here, at least 20 years after apartheid, yet clearly, racism in Britain was still strong. When I asked my headmaster how it was acceptable for people to say things like this, he turned to me and said "it would be no different if you were fat or ginger". Nice!
Later, in the 90's, when I attended another prominent Scottish school on the outskirts of Edinburgh, my peers would often force me to eat my meals alone, moving along the benches at the dining room tables, proclaiming that there was no space for me (though magically creating space when children of their own ethnicity needed a seat). And so it came to be, that in a dining room filled with over a thousand students and teachers, I would sit at a table alone, crying into my food, wondering what on earth was wrong with me. Progress? I wonder? Thank goodness then for people like Vanessa.
The Advance Press Shots
I've copied a selection of my favourite advance Press shots of her garments below, I feel they represent the essence of Vanessa G.
The sheath dresses were some of the standout winners from the collection. Channelling Hitchcock femme fatale chic (think Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren), with elements of Erdem and Peter Pilotto (digital prints / draping / sculptural silhouettes), of all the pieces on show, these were the ones that are destined to sell in their droves.
The blouses were also very on point, immaculately tailored in sensual, fluid silk, whether rendered in metallic neutrals or digital florals, they are the perfect addition to any stylish woman's wardrobe. Team with one of Vanessa's knockout high waisted trousers or pencils skirts, or dress them down with a skinny or high waisted 70's flared jean in a dark indigo wash (teamed with skyscraper heels naturally).
What woman could live without her go-to LBD? Putting the "Result" into result dressing, sharply cut, chic numbers like this are simply a wardrobe staple. I especially love the sculpted torso, flattering pleat details and opulent detailing (after all, who says black has to be boring). From cocktails, to dinner, to parties or the red carpet, an LBD will work hard so you don't have to. Black takes statement jewellery especially well, so channel Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and go OTT with the bijoux.
The Champagne Reception
The Hors d'oeuvre were insanely delicious, I couldn't keep away from the smoked salmon (with champagne flowing so freely, protein was essential). I especially loved the waitress serving delicacies from an ornate birdcage (doesn't everyone?)
The attention to detail was impressive, note the floral print carpet runner (clearly, red carpets are passe)
The champagne reception was buzzing with news of the celebrities in attendance. I was rather chuffed that I'd positioned myself in an ideal spot to not only observe everyone in the room, but also to get photos of the celebrity guests as they passed (whom I have to add, were all incredibly gracious and forthcoming about having their photograph taken).
My first (and possibly most exciting) encounter of the night, was with Jade Jagger. What a supremely cool woman, she literally slinked towards me like a seductive panther (with no entourage may I add), and when I asked politely if I could take her picture, she flashed the kind of smile that would literally turn a gay man straight (trust me, she exudes a palpable sexual charisma), and posed without a second thought. She remained within my vicinity for about five minutes, chatting happily away with friends, then flashed me yet another smile as she departed. Love her!
Getting a photo of Emila Fox was a little trickier. I'd spied her minder flanking her all evening (a lovely PR lady, wearing some rather funky geek chic glasses). I'd seen her PR before, helping Emilia navigate the red carpet at the BAFTA's (actresses of Emilia's calibre invariably need protection from over-zealous journalists and paparazzi). So when it happened that the PR and I headed to the cloak room at the same time to get our bags after the show, I politely enquired as to whether she was looking after Emilia that evening, and whether it would be possible for me to take a photograph of her client for my blog. It's amazing how helpful people can be if you ask them something politely. After enquiring what the name of my blog was (and responding "cute" on hearing the name Diary of a Fashion Mister), I was able to follow her to Emilia, the PR worked her magic, and low and behold, her photograph is now on my blog. How glad am I that my grandmother forever drilled into me at a young age that "manners maketh man".
Sophie Ellis Bextor was so shy when I asked her for a photograph. Poor thing, I'd imagine navigating her way down the hall must have been an experience akin to dodging all the beauty sales people spraying perfumes in a department store, yet again, after just a moment's hesitation, she politely obliged, posing for the shot above (thanks again Sophie, it is much appreciated). She looked stunning in this metallic Vanessa G sheath (bonus points for the statement jewellery and neon clutch), punctuated with minimal make-up and a slash of her signature liquid liner (her twinkling feline eyes are divine). Sophie and her husband Richard Jones (of The Feeling) were on the decks at the after show party (at least they were according to the Evening Standard, I didn't stick around as I had four beauty launches to attend the next day and needed my beauty sleep).
It wasn't difficult spotting the Burberry model Poppy Delevigne, with her coltish legs, flowing blonde locks and honeyed skin, she doesn't exactly blend in! Naturally, I zoomed in and asked for a photograph, to which she happily obliged. (FYI she was wearing a Vanessa G pewter sheath (in the same fabric as Sophie's), accessorised with a Burberry Prorsum SS11 leather jacket and ankle boots).
Noelle Reno is one of those girls who are difficult to label without slashes. The model / socialite / Zandra Rhodes business collaborator / professional girlfriend of the uber-rich deserved a photo because she is supremely gorgeous (bonus points for the immaculate make-up / blowdry and nude patent Louboutins, which offset her minutely proportioned digitally printed shift dress to perfection).
What launch would be complete without Henry Conway? He and his father have had a terrible time with the mainstream Press, but for the record, he is a lovely chap with such an effervescent personality. It's no wonder he has party invites coming out of his ears, he'd be a welcome addition to any soiree and was delightful to converse with, all be it briefly. He even went so far as to politely excuse himself when he wanted to disappear outside for some air (what a gent).
Konnie Huq looked lovely in this mustard chiffon blouse and indigo skinny jeans with nude patent platforms and tan leather Mulberry Alexa bag. She did make me giggle though, when I asked her if I could take her photo for my blog, she assumed I wanted a photo WITH her, so there was a brief awkward moment where I had to explain that, although I was definitely a fan of her outfit, the love affair ended there! However, Fashion Mister isn't a meanie, so Konnie gets bonus points for being such a sweetheart.
The other celebrity guests of note, were models Jasmine Guinness and Jade Parfitt, actress Naomie Harris and legendary 80's club promoter Philip Salon (while uber-editors Shelly Vella and Hershey Pascual led the media posse).
Whoever art directed the show was clearly a genius, as the theatre created by the set and sountrack was phenomenal, the perfect backdrop to the film noire showcase. There was little doubt that the natural world was a huge source of inspiration for the delectable prints and textiles, as the laser projections displayed rivers, forests, iris blooms and the sky (amongst many other wonders of the natural world).
Fashion Mister Loved
I loved the feminine draping and sculpted shoulder detail in this digital floral print top. The printed pencil skirt balances the look perfectly.
The craftmanship in the top is more evident in this close up. Heaven! Note the retro beehive (with that of-the-moment frizzy texture), punctuated with Cleopatra eyes (all the more poignant given Elizabeth Taylor's sad death), and the deep pink/red matte lip.
There were some beautifully tailored pieces in the show. On the left, a floral print blouse/trouser combo looks super feminine, while on the right, the pewter 3/4 length jacket, blouse and trouser combo is the sort of thing power women the world over would love to rock up to the boardroom in (if Vanessa G had been around in the 80's, you just know it would have been Sigourney Weaver's go-to wardrobe option in Working Girl).
How cute is this blouse? It's a shame the collection was AW11 as I think a fair few women would want to rock this piece NOW!
This dress is like something out of The Stepford Wives or Valley of the Dolls, I love the retro 50's shape and gorgeous print.
"All right Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my close up"
Love this shift dress, the sleeve length is infinitely more forgiving than the the cap-sleeved styles on show (which realistically couldn't be worn by many women, other than perhaps Anna Wintour, Victoria Beckham and Mary-Kate Olsen). The draping across the torso and clever use of volume on the hips means that this piece would flatter a more voluptuous figure, while adding curves to a slimmer frame. Genius! Gorgeous print too, just so, so pretty.
This piece would work especially well on the typically pear shaped British woman, the A-line bell shape of the skirt would skim fuller hips, nipping in the waist to create a beautiful silhouette. Note the embellished hosiery (a must-have from the show, I hope they go into production).
Some of the skirts veered dangerously into granny territory (low points were the A-line mid calf length skirts teamed with cropped jackets, far too Driving Miss Daisy for my liking). The printed skirt above however, is borderline sexy and vaguely reminiscent of Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary. Hot (in a Prada governess kind of way).
Another sizzling shift dress from the show. I love the exposed zip at the back. It would be a life saver when explaining the Vanessa G credit card bill to your partner. I can imagine women turning to their husbands/lovers and seductively asking mid-argument "darling, could you unzip me". Problem solved!