bespoke-london

Bespoke London

It was in 2014 that I had the pleasure of meeting bespoke tailor Joshua Kane. I had seen a larger than life image of him skateboarding at an exhibit hosted by the Somerset House, eventually making my way to his showroom to purchase one of his signature necklaces called “The Shear”. Since then, I’ve followed the daring designer’s career, as he moved from his old showroom to the new Fitzrovia location, launched a women’s line of bespoke suits, and most recently, breaking records at London’s Fashion Week with his well-attended show “Journey” at the iconic London Palladium.

Joshua Kane’s journey weaves design schooling at Kingston University, where he graduated with Honours, formal fashion experience at varied design houses like Burberry, Jaeger, and Paul Smith, and an entrepreneurial spirit that had him designing bespoke suits out of his small flat not long ago. Fully enveloping the motto, “Blood, Sweat, and Shears”, Joshua’s path is his ethos. His undying passion is evident as he shares what “bespoke” means to him. “Bespoke comes from Latin, ‘to speak for’, and that’s what we’re doing here. Each conversation, as well as each product, needs to be personal to our clients.”

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As with all serendipitous journeys, Joshua’s recent Autumn/Winter show broke fashion week records, showcasing a joint men’s and women’s collection. The show entranced the audience with an opening fit for the opera house. As a pair of ballet dancers twirled and swayed across the stage, a string quartet playing Adagio for Strings enveloped the crowd. Drawn in by the duo’s symphonic energy, Joshua’s show began and his perfectly tailored looks were shown to all. It was a show like no other. It wasn’t just a catwalk of the latest fashions; it was an absolute sensory journey.bespoke7
His bespoke fittings follow suit. “After the client walks away from showroom, I want them to love it because of the experience they’ve had”, the designer imparted. As we moved through his showroom, I asked Joshua what inspires him. “Skateboarding, because when you think about it, the movement, it’s quite like a dance, really.” Just like the dance that closed the show at Fashion Week – inspiring to all of us who sat there in awe.

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One of my favorite things about traveling is partaking in local customs and learning a bit about the culture in the process. The art of afternoon tea is definitely one of those British customs you’ll have to enjoy while in London. But don’t settle for just any tea service. The high tea at The Berkeley is high fashion and a nod to tailor-made design.
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The Berkeley’s “Prêt-a-Portea” experience changes seasons, just like the fashions on the runway. Executive Pastry Chef Mourad Khiat draws upon the latest season’s designs to inspire his menu of bakes and biscuits. Baking expertise runs in Khiat’s family, where he learned this difficult art from his father, also a pastry chef. Eventually honing his skills at culinary school and abroad, Chef Khiat finally brought his eye for delicious and delicate detail to The Berkeley.

Having just celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 2016, The Berkeley compiled a cookbook featuring Khiat’s signature recipes. The perfect souvenir for any baker, confectioner, or aspiring pastry chef, this recipe book is filled with encouraging quotes from Khiat, “Showcase your icing and styling skills with this chocolate butterfly fascinator”, exquisite photos, and of course, templates for you to attempt these beauties at home.

Browsing through the book, I sampled on sumptuous tea sandwiches, a bite size spinach and feta muffin, and my favorite – scorched tuna in a horseradish beurre blanc. Absolutely mouthwatering! Sitting in a room flooded with natural light, I perused the selection of teas that would accompany my sweets still yet to come.
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Before heading to London, I came across the beautiful and beguiling Instagram of Luna Mae London. Luckily, I secured an appointment with founder and bespoke lingerie designer Claudia Lambeth, given that her calendar was full with Valentine’s Day and Fashion Week related deadlines. Claudia’s infectious energy was a pleasant surprise as I arrived at her showroom. Eager to share the story behind her exclusive brand, Claudia welcomed me to her Mayfair location, where she conducts private bespoke fittings.

While catching up on all things underpinnings, Claudia shared a bit of her design philosophy. “At Luna Mae London, ‘Bespoke’ means two things. Firstly, we pride ourselves on the fact that each Bespoke piece is made to measure and handcrafted in Britain, supporting British craftsmanship. Secondly, alongside the beautifully made bespoke garments we create a truly bespoke customer service, whereby a client is guided through each step of the bespoke process and their unique needs and desires are catered to.”

It’s evident from first touch that her pieces are not only unique, but crafted from the highest quality material. Her silk, a triple A grade satin silk, is sourced from Como, Italy, while the Italian macramé embroidering and beaded detailing is exclusively designed for Luna Mae London. No detail is left to chance: solid eighteen carat gold fittings are individually hand-cast in London’s Hatton Garden and beautiful monogramming is applied to each bespoke piece. As she showed me some of her bespoke lingerie, which has over 40 structured pieces, as compared to the average 5 that a mass-produced bra entails, Claudia talked about her artistic muses. “Alexander McQueen is a major inspiration to me. I am also greatly inspired by beautiful photography. In particular, I admire the work of Helmut Newton and Sam Haskins.”

Both being women who travel quite a bit, we compared notes on what’s always in our carry-on. Whether it’s to visit international clients or to promote the Luna Mae London brand, Claudia always takes her Luna Mae London loungewear: a silk slip, kimono, and eye mask. “The eye mask in particular is a lovely essential that I always use on the flight,” she added as I mentioned my nagging jet lag. As I wrapped up my appointment, Claudia and I talked about changing trends in lingerie, some of our favorite hosiery brands, and what else to see in London.
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Leaving the Luna Mae studio, I made my way to the pop-up shop for Fine Cell Work. This London-based organization offers rehabilitation programs to prisoners, who are trained in the art of fine needlepoint and embroidery. Marveling at the elaborate designs, I learned a bit about the organization’s origins from Dr. Katy Emck, Fine Cell Work’s Founding Director. “Our founder, Lady Anne Tree, the daughter of the former owner of Colefax & Fowler, Nancy Lancaster, was a regular visitor to HMP Holloway women’s prison in the 1960s, and our first needlework commissions were sewn for the Colefaxes in the 1970s, by life-serving prisoners at that prison. These were two large intricate needlepoint carpets, drawn up by the Royal School of Needlework and sold for £10,000 apiece.”

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Surrounded by everything from lavender sachets, decorative pillows, and holiday ornaments, Dr. Emck continued with the founder’s story. “Early on, Lady Anne had the idea that prisoners would make beautiful things at the highest level they could be truly proud of, and have the chance to earn and save a nest egg for their release, so they could escape the cycle of poverty and crime.” As with most worthwhile ventures, there was a bit of a challenge to this model since prisoners weren’t legally able to be paid for work which they were completing in their cells. But Lady Anne persisted, lobbied, and eventually the law changed, and in 1995 Fine Cell Work was officially registered as a charity.

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As I walked through the shop, at Pimlico Road until early July, I thought about the fine tailoring of Joshua’s bespoke suits, Claudia’s intricate stitching on her bespoke lingerie, and was grateful that this organization gave citizens a chance to contribute their own handmadbespoke-londone pieces of art. When I asked Dr. Emck how she defined “bespoke”, her response seemed to embody what is truly special about commissioned pieces. “Hand stitching is inherently unique, as each item differs from the other slightly depending on the stitcher. Many, often hundreds, of hours of work have gone into the pieces. The pleasure of understanding the provenance of the piece, as well the joy of knowing it was made especially for you, and only one exists in time, is endless.”

Purchasing a few souvenirs for friends and family back home, I looked at the special designs and bespoke pieces on the shelves. Thinking about this calming past-time, I wondered how many of the prisoners transferred this skill to life outside. Dr. Emck enlightened me, sharing some of the success stories and recent commissions by the V&A Museum, Kensington Palace, and Kew Gardens. “The sense of pride in hand-crafting a stunning piece of work, which you then get paid for and that somebody wants to buy and put in their home is a significant achievement for our stitchers. It gives them work skills and it gives them experience of success. It also enables them to be part of a community that is not about crime.”

Upon parting, Dr. Emck and I traded stories of our experiences on boards for non-profits, the value of helping those in your local community, and the trend in pop-up shops. Grateful for such a meaningful visit, I wandered up the street, feeling lucky for the freedom to experience the multi-faceted city that is London.

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London Calling

I knew my money was well spent on the London Rock Walk tour when our British guide made the controversial statement about how rock ‘n’ roll started in the U.S. Before leaving our meeting spot near Tottenham Station, our guide, Richard, proceeded to tell us the story of Vince Taylor and the Playboys, his move to California, his move back to London, all while weaving in stories of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the Comets, and other rock ‘n’ roll forefathers. Richard, who I imagined could probably weave a good ghost story around the campfire, kept us on the edge of our seats while we wandered through London’s musical landmarks to his soundtrack of storybook snippets about the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, Elton John, The Who, and other musical greats.

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Guitar shop along Tin Pan Alley

Passing through Tin Pan Alley, our group eagerly listened as Richard deftly told how the war, the end of compulsory military service, and school regulations had shaped music history and the bands that had come out of Britain during that era. Circling back to his opening character, Vince Taylor, Richard told the tragic tale of Taylor’s demise into drugs and alcohol, and his relationship with David Bowie. By far it was my favorite anecdote, probably because the main character shares my father’s name, but also because I was nearly in tears as Richard shared how their friendship inspired the famous song “Ziggy Stardust”.

Not wanting the tour to end, our group wrapped up with a lively question and answer session at Carnaby Street. At nearby Camellia’s Tea House, a few of us enjoyed that English tradition of afternoon tea and compared notes on all that we had heard on the Rock Walk tour. Sipping on a pot of handmade “Dancing Rose and Violet” tea, I enjoyed buttery scones, with a medley of clotted cream, lemon curd, and the most perfectly sweet raspberry jam.

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Head this way to the rock ‘n’ roll landmark

After wandering through the shops on Carnaby Street, I took the tube over to Camden. Coming up to the street, I was met with rows of stores selling rock-inspired clothes, pins, signs, and vintage wares. Not knowing which direction to go, I wandered towards The Regent’s Park and dipped into No Hit Records. Searching for a portable souvenir for my brother, I spent some time flipping through their extensive punk collection and left with a couple of records based on the clerk’s recommendations. Not wanting to leave this gem of a music shop, I asked him where to go that night and he recommended checking out the Melbourne Ska Orchestra that was playing nearby at The Forge.

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Treasures at Alfie’s Antiques

Inspired by the previous day’s rock ‘n’ roll history lesson, I made my way over to Abbey Road. Getting a bit lost in the neighborhood, I wandered down a side street where I came upon an antique mall. Hoping to get directions from one of the antique dealers, I wandered through countless booths of art, jewelry, and enough treasures to make me wish I had brought another suitcase. My favorite shop was a second floor room full of light fixtures; enough to make any interior designer swoon.

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Crystal blue skies at the Rooftop Cafe

Weaving along, I learned that this marvelous place I had stumbled upon was known as Alfie’s Antiques. I had a chance to talk with one of the antique dealers who pointed me towards the famous music landmark with his parting words: “don’t get hit by a car!” Thanking him for his guidance and his tips on what else to see in the area, I realized I had spent over an hour browsing through the booths, so I took a break at the rooftop cafe. A gorgeous summer sky greeted me, as I enjoyed a refreshingly chilled pea soup and crunchy housemade bread.

Eager to reach my destination, I followed the store owner’s directions and headed up the street til I saw throngs of people dodging car horns. Watching groups of families and friends reenact the famous Beatles’ cover for the eponymous album, I snapped some pictures of Abbey Road studio and waited my turn. Nearly getting hit a couple of times, I quickly made my way across the street and inspected the pictures taken by my newfound friends. After returning the favor, I spliced together a few of my photos for an amateur replica of the world famous record cover.

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Fine Cell Work boutique

My next stop was Fine Cell Work, a non-profit organization that trains prisoners in skilled needlework and handicrafts. After learning about their “trunk show” from Time Out London, I knew that I had to stop by for a peek at their boutique in Victoria. Once inside their small showroom, I had a chance to browse through hand-embroidered quilts, needlepoint pillows, and even some larger pieces like custom ottomans. Dominic, one of Fine Cell’s volunteer staff, shared some of the history of Fine Cell, how their program has helped over 400 incarcerated men and women learn a new skill, and anecdotes from their volunteers who conduct on-site needlework classes at prisons all over England and Wales. While we compared ideas on everything from prison reform to the lost art of handicrafts, Dominic helped me choose a pillow with the Union Jack emblem-a quintessential British souvenir.

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Detail of Rude Boy exhibit featuring Joshua Kane

Leaving the Fine Cell boutique, I wandered up the street and did the obligatory walk by the popular British landmarks Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, all while marveling at the lush greenery of the parks in between. My next stop was The Old Spitalfields Market to visit the studio of Joshua Kane Bespoke. I first learned of this gifted menswear designer while viewing the Rude Boy exhibit at Somerset House earlier in the week. Finding his site on Instagram, it turned out Joshua’s flagship store was right near where I was staying. Beckoned by the signature brass necklace I saw on his site, I paid a visit to his shop and luckily had a chance to meet Joshua right before he was closing for the night. An animated mix of dandy and dapper, Joshua was a true gentleman and showed me around his studio, while giving me a little history on his career as a designer and tailor. Boxing up my necklace, he offered tips on where to go in London that night and some must-see spots for my next visit.

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Transported in time, and cuisine, to Bombay

Making my way to dinner, I stopped in Rough Trade Records, because one can never visit enough record stores! In absolute bliss, I paced through rows of vinyl, read some staff recommendations, and heard a sneak peek of Led Zeppelin’s highly anticipated release of their reissue campaign. I eventually reunited with friends for a farewell dinner at Dishoom in Shoreditch. Having already enjoyed lunch here earlier in the week, I knew what to expect from this mouthwatering Bombay inspired cuisine. Taking some recommendations from our server, we dined on the most exquisitely assembled dinner, perfectly presented for sharing. Of course my favorite was the Black Dahl, their signature dish that’s simmered for over 24 hours and had me wishing I lived nearby. Relishing each bite of this spicy and savory cuisine, my friends and I shared stories from the day and ideas on how to get me across the pond for another visit.

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Namesake near Rough Trade Records