Illustrated People

Walking through the capital on a glorious day like today, it is instantly apparent that the logo or printed tee is the summer uniform for the style savvy. London has never looked so good. Whether it is the Chelsea kids in Serge DeNimes or the fashion pack in Boy London, streetwear t-shirts are more popular than ever. However, unlike much of the rest, Illustrated People is not another ubiquitous streetwear label.

Launched almost a decade ago, initially as hand-printed tees for men, Illustrated People has steadily expanded into a brand with a massive fan base, with concessions in Topshop and ASOS, as well as sales across the seas.

I gatecrashed their Brick Lane studio and hung out with the talented team, discussing their vision and future plans and had a sneaky glimpse at the new collections.

The illustrations are created in-house by young artists and everything, from the designing, styling of campaigns to the marketing is done by the small but extremely dynamic collective. I rooted around their research and moodboard walls, had a peek in the print screens room but was most excited by the ‘unveiling’ of the A/W women’s collection – without spoiling the surprise, expect luxury textures and a covetable cropped polo neck that I’ve already shotgunned. Their collection ranges from vests, tees and crops in fine jersey and embellished knitwear, beanies and scarves, to the menswear line, relaunching this month.

While the statement tee fad may be a passing trend, Illustrated People is here to stay. You heard it here first.

Streetwear has always been prevalent on the London fashion scene but now it seems to be dominating the mainstream with global superstars such as Rita Ora, Jessie J and Rihanna repping cool logo tees and a street vibe. Does this excite and inspire you?
Yes. We think it’s great that people in the public eye are wearing more streetwear! We love the fact that people can afford things that great role models like Jessie J are wearing, this is what Illustrated People are about too. Streetwear is more accessible than ever, which we think is really strong, Illustrated People wants to be affordable to its customer, yet luxurious and unique. People like Rihanna are strong role models, with a message and a voice and a worldwide fan base, so it can only be a good thing for them to be supporting London labels and streetwear.

Which other designers or clothing brands do you like and admire?
Anyone that is doing something different and unique. At the moment London is such a great place to be in with new and exciting things going on, whether in clothing, music or events so we are constantly inspired by the city which we love. We are based in East London, so all the great vintage shops around here are great inspiration rather than looking to particular brands. At the start of every project we are in such a good position as we can just walk around the East End and be inspired; Blitz is one of our favorite places to source inspiration, for both shapes and print ideas.

You sell at Topshop and ASOS; it seems that the British high street is at the forefront of fashion at the moment, do you agree?
Yes we would agree, but we think that is such a positive thing, because it means that great clothes are available to everyone, all ages and sizes. The high street has also become a lot more excited about young creatives and more open to different new designers, which we really respect.

Being ‘Illustrated People’ who are your favourite artists and illustrators?
One of our favourite things to do is go to the summer college shows and exhibitions, because there is always such good new talent coming out of London. We also spend time in different libraries throughout the city, which gives us a massive source of inspiration. As for specific artists or illustrators, we find inspiration in pretty much everything.

What next? What does 2012 and beyond hold for IP?
This summer is all about London, with the Jubilee and Olympics, so we are so excited, we think it’s great that it’s being held in our capital. Our high summer prints reflect this with strong London inspired pieces. Our menswear is also launching which we have been perfecting for a while. It concentrates on the perfect fit and quality with strong bold graphics to match our womenswear collections. We can’t wait for this to launch along with our new summer collection on our e-commerce website! Our A/W knitwear is also arriving this September which we think is our best knitwear collection to date, with so really original shapes and prints, in luxurious yet affordable knits.

You seem to really listen to the needs and desires of the consumer, with great quality, fit and design….
Illustrated People’s focus is to make every new collection better than the last. We are growing on our own e-commerce site and through social networking we want to be as interactive with our customers as possible. Showing them what life in the studio is like through photos on Facebook and Twitter and creating competitions and giveaways to involve our followers as much as possible in our day to day business. Being personal with our customers and followers and involving them is very important to us. We think this makes us unique and sets us apart from most brands.



A bag and a shoe

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be in the presence of two globally recognisable icons – the Hermès bag and the Louboutin shoe. What a pleasure to spend the day learning about the creativity, craft and history of two of the most coveted and esteemed accessories brands in the world.

Hermès celebrates 175 years of producing fine luxury, leather product with the chic Leather Forever, at 6 Burlington Gardens. Then across London, from Mayfair to the Southbank’s Design Museum, is Christian Louboutin’s world – an exhibition marking Louboutin’s 20 years of contribution to the shoe industry, a celebration of how one man changed the face, or rather feet, of fashion.

The Hermès exhibition has been exquisitely curated, an insightful and interactive journey through, not only the brands transgenerational history, but through the craft of the bag, from concept and design to the finished product. It begins in the Library of Skins in which you are hit with the intense smell of leather, immediately evoking the sense of luxury, travel and privilege.

After being privy to an extensive range of colourful leathers, we enter the Artisan’s Studio in which the instantly identifiable orange boxes are stacked around a video installation of the creation and construction of the bags. Two craftsmen demonstrate stages of production, meticulously and delicately handling the leather and demonstrating procedures that can take 15 or more hours. What struck me, when watching these live demonstrations, in a time of mass production and fast fashion, was the emphasis and consideration of quality and permanence.

Few brands can boast a heritage and history like Hermès. Founded in 1837 as a saddle studio, the House expanded into luggage, diaries, footwear and became a pioneer of the ‘It bag’. Yet though these bags may be the hottest armcandy, such as The Kelly (c. 1930) and The Birkin (c. 1983), they have stood the test of time and remain favourites and certainly will for the foreseeable future.

Compared to Hermès’s six generations of skill and expertise, Louboutin is still in its relative infancy, celebrating just two decades. Although, the same level of artistry, considered craft and permanence can be said for the famous red-soled shoes.

The popularity of the red sole shoe transcends trend and the exhibition heralds Louboutin’s desire to create shoes that universally empower and enhance women. Whilst Hermès and the exhibition evoke discreet luxury and quiet sophistication, Louboutin evokes exuberance and sensual glamour that verges on brash.

Photographed by Luke Hayes.

The exhibition is heavily themed and focuses on Louboutin’s idea that ‘every woman wants to be a showgirl’. Whether this is the case or not, we enter through an arched entrance, emblazoned with a neon Entrée sign, into a world that is swathed in red velvet, adorned with bulbs and mirrors with a cabaret atmosphere where the female and her sexuality is ready to take centre stage. An extensive display of Louboutin’s diverse designs stretches around the room from studded slippers, trainers, brogues and boots to the classic stiletto. He has been heavily influenced by his travels and this is manifested in the wild variety and creativity of his shoes. An extremely lifelike hologram of Dita von Teese performs a burlesque dance and finally transforms into a diamond encrusted stiletto.

In a dark side room there is a screening of three short movies, one an animation of Louboutin’s life, the second a Charlie’s Angel’s spoof entitled ‘Loubi’s Angels’ which emphasises the power of his shoes, and the last, a silent film in which the designer himself performs a comical dance routine.

Photographed by Luke Hayes.

Whilst the Hermès exhibition is perhaps more reverent, understated and elegant, the Louboutin experience is certainly somewhat more light-hearted and embodies the designer’s love of theatricality. Regardless of the polar tones of the exhibitions, both successfully convey the signature of the Houses and how they have phenomenally expanded yet maintained integrity, quality and ingenuity. Hotfoot it (in your finest footwear) over to both exhibitions as soon as you can.

Leather Forever runs from 8 – 27 May at 6 Burlington Gardens, W1
The Christian Louboutin exhibition runs from 1 May – 9 July at the Design Museum

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