Architect in Planning,
Sculptor in Form,
Painter in Colour,
Musician in Harmony,
Philosopher in Entirety.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) Cristobal Balenciaga at Work, Paris 1968.
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
I’ve been a supporter of the Victoria and Albert Museum for many years. They are a wonderful museum and a phenomenal resource, often giving me access to their archives during my years studying at London School of Fashion. The exhibitions there are guaranteed to be astounding, with the Galliano being a particular past favourite (although my staff beg to differ with me on that one, as they preferred the McQueen show).
Thus I’m beside myself with excitement about the upcoming Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion exhibition at The Victoria and Albert Museum. With appellations such as the ‘King of Fashion’ and the ‘Inventor of Couture’, to his work and ability to inspire, Cristobel Balenciaga is pure legend.
Richard Avendon (1904-2004) Elsie Daniels with street performers suit by Balenciaga, Cafe des Deux Magots, Paris 1955.
© The Richard Avendon Foundation
The mire of copyright legalities regarding images can be a horror to negotiate and I’ve generally avoided it by getting creative and taking my own photographs. In this particular instance however I would have felt very restricted if I couldn't use specific and related pictures.
With this in mind I contacted the V&A and asked if I could write a blog about the exhibition and was totally overjoyed when they said I could reference them in my blog AND use some of their images. I’ve decided that I have to do a series of features on this wonderful man, as one blog simply won’t cover it!
I’ll be looking at Cristobal Balenciaga and his Spanish heritage, then move onto his Parisian days…and of course write up the exhibition.
Richard Avendon (1923-2004) Dovima with Sacha, cloche and suit by Balenciaga, Cafe des Deux Magots, Paris, 1955.© The Richard Avendon Foundation.
It will be fascinating to weave the relevant inspirations together, especially as the designers in my shop have both direct and indirect links with Balenciaga’s heritage. Things to look forward to now I'm back from my much needed break in Bali!
Irving Penn (1917-2009) Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn wearing coat by Cristobal Balenciaga, 1950.
© Conde Nast/Irving Penn Foundation
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, sponsored by American Express, at the V&A from 27 May 2017 – 18 February 2018. vam.ac.uk/balenciaga
I have always been surrounded by stimulus. From the colours and atmosphere of Caracas in Venezuela to working within the fashion industry and eventually moving onto my own cornucopia of a shop, my life has been a constant overflow of vibrant light, textures and patterns.
I also appreciate order and felt that ‘Alexandrea May’ had become a bit chaotic and lost its way over the years, bohemian and wonderful as it was.
One of the things about progress is it’s often necessary to take risks to move forward. I explored various options for refurbishment of the shop and at the same time, slowly (and with great difficulty I might add!) I stopped buying stock except, ahem, the most necessary of fabulous jewellery.
I had a sale for several months and after Christmas had cleared out all remnants of the old-look stock, I shut for several months.
Then the shop became a building site. I alternated said building site supervision with a stock take and had many sleepless nights filled with colour swatches and online furniture shopping. I also spent hours organising printing and framing of my holographic factual images of jewellery, while trying to get used to being adornment and make up free and figuring out a way to remove the ingrained dust from the pleats in my Issey Miyake clothing!
As expected there were delays and dramas but with support of my amazing staff and beloved ever patient husband, I manage to avoid my blood pressure taking the roof of the building off.
The builders were incredible and managed to calmly take down 200 lb mirrors, move them an inch to the left, rehang them, take them down again and move just an inch to the right... until they were perfectly placed.
Fulfilling a vision takes work, there is no two ways about it
Although I was able to purchase cabinets online and had workmen to do many of the necessary tasks, some things I designed and had built bespoke, such as the boxes in the side window. The back of the front window display cabinet I made myself and required many hours of patient measurement, cutting with a blade then carefully sticking the pieces to the frame (only occasionally losing them amidst the empty coffee cups, paint pots, carpet and wood flooring scraps and wrapping paper).
I needed to delay the opening a few times until I realised that I had to let go, take the risk, and welcome in my customers again (rather than have them trying to peer through the cracks of the brown paper that I’d put over the windows to keep the process of change hidden and make the end result even more magical!)
I finally reopened two weeks ago. The shop was decorated with opulent flowers that I had been given, and old customers and new started to drift in.
I’m still tweaking and adjusting, something I suspect will be an ongoing thing, but I’m so, so happy.
Taking risks is frightening but well worth it!
Now I’m going to have a few weeks recovery time in beautiful Bali, before I return to my jewellery wonderland. 'Alexandra May' is still open though, so do come in and check out my beautiful reimagined and reinvented shop
Now that the dust has settled, the shop refurb completed and Spring weather is finally showing her glory, I can start to look at how the fashion world is celebrating the 2017 change of seasons.
As one gets older it’s easy to feel a tad jaded about the reinvention of some trends but also to welcome the return of others, as you know that they are both flattering and fantastic.
We’ve been stocking Cressida Bell scarves for over three years and her creative colourful interpretation of her family artistic heritage (potter and art historian Duncan Bell was her father and the Bloomsbury Group and Charleston House are part of her family history), education at St Martins (where her contemporaries included the milliner Stephen Jones and designer John Galliano), and her personal genius enable the cross over from art to design, which makes her scarves and shawls a delight to wear.
In hand printed silk georgette Cressida’s scarves can tick this season’s trend boxes by being worn as a bohemian belt, turban or trailing choker. The fabulous patterning makes a Dolce and Gabbana type statement when mixed with our Ayala Bar or Heidi Bennett earrings or a more modernist look is created when mixed with the strong mineral stones from our Trousseau range.
As you probably know, scarves are another abiding passion for me. I’ve discovered that using one of our chunky Konplott statement rings as a scarf tie creates a unique and striking statement which demonstrates what fashion should be all about; feeling good, looking great, and enjoying playing with colours, shapes and styles to effect.