See Balenciaga’s first virtual show, a video game set in 2031 with avatars driving Polestars


Balenciaga has been rethinking the unsustainable pace of fashion. The luxury house has been looking at how it can progressively evolve the way in which it presents its collections to the post-pandemic world. Balenciaga isn’t of course alone in challenging a system steeped in tradition which relies on a fixed and ecologically wasteful number of collections, and shows that are increasingly out-of-touch with the consumer habits of a young global audience.

Now the marque has said it will show just four key ready-to-wear gender-inclusive collections with a separate haute couture line annually. What’s probably more exciting is that starting with the autumn/winter 2021 collection, the shows will be performed to an exclusive list in digital format and through virtual runways via headsets, while animated and interactive video games will aim for a wider audience.

The first of the series was revealed over the weekend. ‘Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow’ is an augmented-reality interactive video game set in an imaginary 2031, with Balenciaga’s avatars wearing designs made from upcycled materials and created through advanced techniques to signify fashion as enduring and sustainable. And they are driving Polestar’s visionary concept vehicles.

See the full story here and take a look at Afterworld here.

Enter photographer Tim Walker’s fantastical world at the V&A

Image maker, explorer, wanderer, dreamer – Tim Walker’s photography is about elaborate staging and romantic motifs. He creates fairy-tale worlds, magical sets, then turns them on their heads. Spanning some 25 years, his is a fascinating body of work captured in an enchanting exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Tim Walker V&A (C) Design Talking
Tim Walker at the V&A (c) Design Talking

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things’ is as much about Walker’s work as his relation to the gallery hosting this exhibition – for he has formed an intimate conversation with the V&A. Walker once called the museum ‘a place for dreams’, noting that the eclectic collection here has long resonated with him. ‘The V&A is the most inspiring place in the world,’ says one of the most successful fashion photographers of his generation.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things (c) V&A

For 25 years Walker has photographed models, celebrities and artists. His work appears in Vogue, W, i-D, AnOther and LOVE. He certainly has some favourite muses – Tilda Swinton features frequently and the photographs of the actress are some of his most powerful.

This is the largest-ever exhibition of Walker, though don’t expect a straightforward retrospective. There are plenty of his well-known photos here, but more exciting are the new works informed by the V&A’s collection. In preparation, Walker spent a year exploring the archives, rummaged through the maze of the V&A’s 145 galleries. He scaled the roof of the west London site, and the labyrinth of Victorian passages below in search of arts, ideas and objects to inspire a new body of work.

Tim Walker, 'Tilda Swinton', Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire, 2018 (c) Tim Walker Studio
Tim Walker, ‘Tilda Swinton’, Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire, 2018 (c) Tim Walker Studio

Amongst his finds are stained-glass windows, vivid Indian miniature paintings, jewelled snuffboxes, erotic illustrations, golden shoes, and a 65-metre-long photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry. This curious collection, also on display, have informed his narrative to form ten of the main installations in the exhibition.

Walker believes what happens in his artificial, staged worlds have to seem as real as possible for the photograph to be believable, and to resonate with us on a visceral level. His is, therefore, a very human brand of fantasy. Yet these are grand ideas and the complex production requires creative help. For the V&A, Walker worked with one of his frequent collaborators, the set designer Shona Heath, to form these ethereal settings.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things (c) V&A

‘Each new shoot is a love letter to an object from the V&A collection, and an attempt to capture my encounter with the sublime,’ says Walker. ‘For me, beauty is everything. I’m interested in breaking down the boundaries that society has created, to enable more varied types of beauty and the wonderful diversity of humanity to be celebrated.’ Preparing for this exhibition, he admits, has pushed him into new territories. ‘It is very exciting, and I’m at a stage in my life where I feel brave enough to do that.’

Access to a decent smartphone and an Instagram account has made photographers out of many of us. And we need talents like Tim Walker to remind us all that great image-making isn’t a matter of a good lens and photoshop skills. Timeless photographs – from Man Ray to Lee Miller to Cecil Beaton (whose work inspired Walker) and Richard Avedon (for whom he was an assistant) are about constructing images, choreographing a stage, narrating a story. These are moving images captured in a still moment.

Ultimately, ‘Tim Walker: Wonderful Things’ is a meditation on the beauty of the imagination. And much like the V&A, each room unravels a new and wondrous world.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things is on at the V&A from 21 September 2019 – 8 March 2020

Design Museum presents the rebel couturier Azzedine Alaïa

‘I make clothes, women make fashion,’ said Azzedine Alaïa famously. He was the fashion world’s outsider, the rebel couturier, some would argue the last real couturier for he made everything himself and to perfection. Alaïa oversaw the construction of each and every one of his commissioned garments. He was highly skilled as a designer and technician, and he would almost always allow the material, often advanced technical fabrics, to speak out and dictate design. His work seldom followed trends – instead these are sculptural designs, wearable timeless works of art that embraced the female figure, hugging its curves and accentuating its beauty.

The Design Museum in London sets out to celebrate him with Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier (10 May – 07 October 2018). Alaïa was closely involved with the organisation and curation of the exhibition prior to his death in November. He worked closely with chief curator of the Groninger Museum Mark Wilson in choosing the 60 outstanding examples of his craft over the course of his career. These include the famous zipped dress, bandage dress, corset belt, stretch body and perforated leather.

The outfits look exquisite here in the main exhibition space at the Design Museum where they are presented simply on mannequins, and displayed alongside screens of various technical material to reveal Alaïa’s love of process. They help divide the periods of his life too, and the play of light explores the drama of these garments. This is a stylish exhibition that stays true to Alaïa’s wish for a narrative that explores his ethos, his life’s work.

Nargess Banks

Image portrait Azzedine Alaïa © Peter Lindbergh
Image Naomi Campbell and Azzedine Alaia, Paris, 1986 © Arthur Elgort
Image Tina Turner & Azzedine Alaia under the Eiffel Tower by Peter Lindbergh, 1989 © Peter Lindbergh, Paris
All other imges are from the exhibition © Design Talks

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Writers, their styles and what their clothes say

I have fully immersed myself in the brilliant world of the original punk poet Patti Smith. Having devoured Smith’s biographical M Train, I immediately moved onto her first novel Just Kids, consumed to the soundtrack of the 1975 debut album Horses. In both, Patti references her beatnik look, a look she has maintained with just a few modifications.

Smith took to writing after reading Little Women and, like many of us, Louisa May Alcott’s tomboy heroine Jo became her hero. The young Pattie was a lost soul in Camden, New Jersey, the small-minded town of her childhood – her boyish style standing out like a sore thumb. ‘Everything awaited me,’ she writes in Just Kids of the moment she boarded a bus to New York in 1967 at the age of twenty dressed in a black turtleneck, dungarees and large raincoat.

Joan Didion on the cover of Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore published by HarperCollins © Alamy Picture Agency

Joan Didion on the cover of Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore

Her dear friend and one-time lover, the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, shot the cover of Horses capturing Smith in an oversized man’s white shirt, her black jacket slung over her shoulders. It’s a powerful image: Smith’s piercing gaze penetrating the camera, combined with her androgynous style. It immortalised her look.

Which takes us to William Burroughs, the godfather of beat who famously disdained fashion and always wore a three-piece-suit replete with his signature fedora hat. Certain accessories can also define a writer – Zadie Smith’s exotic head-piece, James Joyce’s wire-framed glasses, Samuel Beckett’s Wallabees.

This is the premise of Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore, recently published by Harper Design. The author Terry Newman, former editor of fashion magazines i-D and Attitude, has selected 50 of her literary icons and delved into their wardrobes to unravel the sartorial stories they tell. The illustrated profiles of prominent men and women of letter, highlights their key works and signature fashion moments, what it says about the author and its impact on the wider world of fashion.

Colette in Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore published by HarperCollins © Alamy Picture Agency

Colette, Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore © Alamy Picture Agency

Some are more obvious choices than others. Oscar Wilde was clearly a writer with a huge appetite for clothes, an obsession he extended to his fictional characters. ‘Fashion is what one wears oneself,’ he famously wrote in 1895 in An Ideal Husband. ‘What is unfashionable is what other people wear.’

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were huge style celebrities. What they wore and how they chose to live, their fast lifestyle, all morphed into their personal lives and the characters they created through fiction. He wore a three-piece tweed suits, a pocket handkerchief and tie; she, a southern belle having been styled by him, took to championing an effortlessly chic wardrobe by day and party dresses trimmed in sequins and fur by night.

Joan Didion in Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore published by HarperCollins © Alamy Picture Agency

Didion, Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore © Alamy Picture Agency

Possibly one of the most stylish authors here is Joan Didion, who wrote for and was a regular on the pages of Vogue. ‘Her writing is infused with descriptive analysis of clothing as cultural consideration,’ writes Newman of the American writer. Didion’s essential wardrobe packing list was immortalised in her 1979 collection of essays The White Album – a list that, for years, she kept taped inside her closet door. And as a testimony to her powerful image, Juergen Teller photographed her at 81, still looking fabulous for the Céline spring 2015 fashion campaign.

What we wear says a great deal about who we are. As writers, the characters we create through clothes can also then whittle their way into our fictional characters. And visa-versa. Sometimes a strong fictional character would influence a look that sticks. Virginia Woolf would use the term ‘frock consciousness’ to refer to the way she would often employ clothing to define and change her fictional characters.

The links in Legendary Authors are sometimes a little fragile, with Newman on occasion allowing the narrative to fit the subject. Yet, this is an entertaining read for the added quotes and anecdotes on each author, as well as the brilliant archival photography. It is also hugely fun delving into the wardrobes of some of my own literary idols here. What they wear provides a glimpse into the world they inhibit and their moment in time. We are what we wear and we wear what we hope to be.

Nargess Banks

Legendary Authors and The Clothes They Wore is written by Terry Newman and published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Hardback.

All images: Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore published by HarperCollins © Alamy Picture Agency 

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

‘Waste less, reuse more’, says new company Sonoma-USA

An exciting new company has launched on Kickstarter. Sonoma-USA’s mission is to turn waste into usable products, and it has captured the zeitgeist. The Californian apparel manufacturer will divert used materials from the landfill, transforming them into unique, individual and exciting products – accessories such as bags and totes. Sonoma-USA is about reuse, it is about upcycling and using the imagination to give life back to otherwise lost materials.

We caught up with Steffen Kuehr, founder and CEO of the company, to find out more.

This is a very exciting project with a hugely relevant philosophy behind it. What mission do you wish to accomplish with Sonoma-USA?

I’d like to bring more sustainable textile and apparel manufacturing back to the US, to create valuable skilled jobs here in Sonoma County and help divert materials from the landfill to make sure we don’t turn our beautiful rolling hills of Sonoma vineyards into mountains of trash. By partnering with local businesses and engaging the local community we hope to change people’s way of how they look at used materials and start rethinking waste.

You have a pretty diverse background coming to the US from Germany, having lived and worked in London, then in Silicon Valley before joining the Sonoma textile firm BPE-USA six years ago. This sounds like the perfect resume for running Sonoma-USA…

When I came to BPE I had to learn a lot of new things, but it felt very rewarding to make actual, physical products and not just work in the digital, virtual world. Having a marketing and business background certainly helped to bring in new aspects of branding, social media marketing as well as product diversification

How did you come up with the idea for Sonoma-USA? 

Over the years I have been collecting a ton of scrap materials and fabric leftovers which are a regular side product of our production process at BPE but also in other local manufacturing businesses. Materials that are already paid for, with often cool patterns that are simply too valuable to throw away – military camo nylon from our knee pad production, fleece and water repellent nylon from our dog raincoat production and a wide range of other fabrics from different contract sewing jobs for different clients.

In addition to those materials we have been experimenting with materials like reclaimed vinyl banners and billboards that usually end up in the landfill as well – and those are very durable and fun materials to work with.

Have you always had a passion for issues surrounding sustainability?

Yes, but my desire to create something better and more meaningful has developed much stronger over the last few years. The passion has grown the more I got involved in the local community and the more I got to know the apparel and textile industry.

Considering the environmental challenges we face, especially with overseas mass production but also in the US where people still live one of the most wasteful lifestyles on the planet, and raising three little kids, I think it’s just not fair to leave the next generations with piles of our trash to clean up.

How involved are you with eco groups?

Sonoma County, where we are based, is very advanced when it comes to environmental awareness and social consciousness. I’m involved in organisations and movements like the Sustainable Enterprise Conference where I was a speaker for the last two years, and we are guided by the principles of the UK-based One Planet Living movement for our manufacturing business.

Besides tracking and monitoring our environmental impact, we also monitor the social impact of our activities on our employees and our local community. To ensure all these aspirations are fully developed in our business model, we are legally structured as a Benefit Corporation and have started the one-year process to become a certified B Corp.

How do you see Sonoma-USA evolving in the future?

I have a pretty big vision of what I want to build moving forward, and the Sonoma-USA brand is only the first step… the low hanging fruit. There are tons of materials such as banners or billboard out there that we can collect from businesses in the local community and transform into unique and purposeful products.

For instance, with one of the businesses we work, Sonoma Raceway, we will take their old banners off their shoulders. They save the money it would have cost them to haul that stuff to the landfill, it frees up valuable storage space, and it contributes to their sustainability efforts since we have already helped them to keep over 2000lbs of banners out of the landfill. On top of that their customers can buy a very unique piece of Raceway history since each product will be one of a kind.

Furthermore, we will donate a percentage of our proceeds from the products made with Raceway materials back to a charity of Sonoma Raceway’s choice, so it is essentially a win-win situation for everyone.

Support the Sonoma-USA Kickstarter campaign here

Find out more about Sonoma-USA here

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©