Sunday, December 9, 2012

Old Ladies' Rebellion

We were intrigued by London-based designer Fanny Karst's line called "The Old Ladies' Rebellion" and the fact that her runway models ranged in age from 60 to 80. When we recently learned that she would be in New York City in November and December to show her collection at Bruce Cameron Clarke Bespoke Clothier on Lexington Avenue, we were thrilled. Last Saturday, we went to the workshop to meet her and her host. (Raise your hand if you thought WE were the old ladies in today's title, Old Ladies' Rebellion.)

We were lucky to meet the tall, silver and dashing Mr Clarke before he nipped off to see the Rolling Stones' 50th Anniversary tour concert that evening at Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. He was kind enough to give us the run of his shop in his absence. You can't see it, but the lining of his coat is the most gorgeous shade of violet.

Bruce's second floor store-cum-workshop has two large windows with wonderful eastern light and terrific views of Lexington Avenue.  Wish he had a website for us to link you to.

Since Fanny is extremely camera shy, we honored her wishes with no front-on photographs and snapped photos of her displaying her graphic, made-to-order clothing. Here, she's showing the airplane dress, which is made of silk pique printed with the picture of a bi-plane on the front (shot from above) and the back (shot from below).  Fanny rode in the plane herself, and took the picture from above afterward.

The dress feels like froth. The silk is as light as air and drapes beautifully.

What we Yanks call made-to-order or made-to-measure clothing, Brits call "bespoke". According to Bruce, it simply means that "a garment has been made to order. It's been spoken about." Bruce Cameron Clarke and Fanny Karst both worked on London's famous Savile Row and share many mutual friends and colleagues, which is how they connected. Bruce used to work for the famous Tommy Nutter, tailor to rock-n-roll royalty from Charlie Watts to Elton John. Three of the four Beatles are wearing Nutter suits in the Abbey Road photo.
Here is Fanny's label.  Anti-chic?  With an undercurrent of politics?  Want to see more?  To link to Fanny’s website, ="">click here
Fanny is -- like so many fashion luminaries -- a graduate of Central St. Martin's in London.  She has a lilting French accent that peeks out occasionally from under her English accent, and speaks nearly letter-perfect English.  She majored in print making, which explains the unique prints you're seeing here.  Fanny explained that when she graduated, she didn't know anything about sewing, but apprenticed on Savile Row, and learned the tailoring side of fashion design.  

In Morocco, she photographed a cafe umbrella with the print below on it, and had the digital print transferred onto silk for a great tongue-in-cheek effect.
Valerie holds up Fanny's silk tea dress.  The two gigantic letter "Ts" at the shoulders give it away...
Fanny said this print was taken from a photo in her parents' photo album when they lived in Brazil in the '70s.

The border around the tropical scene is the cardboard border like those we remember from our own parents' Kodachrome slides and is imprinted with the year it was developed (1971).

Fanny photographed a fox fur in which the fox is grasping its own tail in its mouth, and transferred that to silk.  Part of Fanny's skill as a print maker is in figuring out where the print will land on the final product.  Getting the printed fox to lie on the shoulder just as the original stole would have takes a practiced eye and an ability to imagine both the steps in the process and the finished product.

This is the only kind of fox Jean will wear.

Valerie fell in love with this eclipse print.  When we were talking about gauging where a print will fall on a garment, Jean and Valerie joked about the possibility of two eclipses serendipitously falling front and center on this jacket, but Fanny said that kind of thing was actually a serious concern when she made the print, for fear the wearer might not appreciate the "headlight" effect as much as we obviously did. (Well, we do in theory, anyway...)  Fanny makes as little as a yard and a half of the prints she designs.

This dress features a print of smoke, turned on its side.  The print is a separate panel that's been sewn onto the dress at a few strategic points.  We loved its three-dimensionality and the way the white panel was slightly longer than the rest of the dress.

Here you can see the panel from the side.  The small splash of polka dots belongs to a dress with a print of a highly enlarged single feather.

The very delicate hand stitched sleeve opening of the smoke dress illustrates Fanny's attention to detail.
Here's a full view of the feather dress.
The upstairs door to Bruce's atelier has a decidedly English flavor to it.  The ceiling has embossed tin panels.

Here's just one of the many marvelous details that adds to the charm of the shop.
Here's another.  It's hard to see, but the legend at the bottom of the frame reads Rugby Football Colours of Our Public Schools.  Years ago, New Yorker magazine periodically published amusing tidbits from English newspapers under the heading There'll Always Be an England.  And when you see pictures like this, you know there always will.
We thanked Fanny for showing us such a wonderful time and for explaining the craft behind her art and headed off down Lexington Avenue.

Many thanks to Ari Seth Cohen for alerting us to Fanny's visit! Check out this posting on Fanny and on Ari:

And check out Ari's most recent posting about Fanny and Liz Friedman:

After our marvelous visit, we only needed to cross the street to bring the day to an appropriate finish at Lumi's restaurant.  We hadn't been there for a while, but amazingly, Lumi recognized us right away.  (And we recognized her, so we clearly do retain some long term memory!)

Jean had a margarita.
Valerie had a kir imperiale (same as a kir royale elsewhere).  The crispy bread sticks (not shown) were fabulous.  They came in a tall, warm vessel with maybe an inch of olive oil at the base.  They appeared to have been rolled in bits of basil(?), and there was a hint of cheese flavor.  Take our word for it, it was a crispy, heavenly combination!

What we're wearing:

Valerie is wearing an unlabeled vintage hat, vintage celluloid earrings, a Vera scarf that she bought when she was 19 (let's see, so that makes it at least 10 years old, and maybe older...), unlabeled bolero jacket, white shirt by Jamie B, pants by Comme des Garcons, shoes by Arche.

Jean is wearing a Brigitte NYC jacket and hat; Hedari slacks; Tignanello bag; TUK shoes; black rubber earrings by Kirsten Hawthorne; 1950s black plastic gumball necklace; vintage bakelite rings; vintage gold rings.

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And don't say we didn't remind you: Wednesday is 12/12/12!


  1. Wow, you ladies look amazing. I love the designs by Fanny. Those jackets are beautiful and so unique.

  2. Fanny's prints are beautiful artworks - I would love to have the smoke dress!

  3. Okay, I stopped breathing about halfway through this post due to fabulousness! The idea of eclipse "headlights" is terribly funny, and then the Smoke and Feather dresses pretty much knocked me over.

    What a wonderful feature and lovely outing afterwards. Love the opening photo of the two of you as well!

  4. A beautifully detailed description of your visit with Fanny and of her line of exquisite clothing. The feather dress has my total attention, as do the two of you in your outfits.

    The libations sound delish!