Amelia’s Magazine | The Wonderful World of Prangsta Costumiers

“It was when we were awarded a giant golden penis at the Erotic Awards, pilule that has to be my best moment here so far. It was a fashion show that went really well and everything came to plan.” Holly Jade picked up, cure with grinning pride, a huge, winged and golden figurine of male genitalia. As manager of a successful London business, you might expect a more contained answer from Holly, who sits adorned with silver chains, ripped tights and purple streaked hair. Wait a second. Scrap that.

Prangsta Costumiers is far from conventional. “We don’t try and be something that we’re not.” And quite rightly so. Why play the fashion game when their concept already oozes the type of London decadence, imagination and crisp tailoring that one would expect from the likes of Westwood? Seem like an overstatement? Well, yes. But don’t knock this place until you’ve seen it.

I first came across Prangsta when strolling through the streets of New Cross with my mum (as you do). We stopped outside the barred up, clouded shop window and strained our eyes through the metal, trying to fathom what this place was. Despite my mum’s adamance that it was a brothel, she confidently ducked under the corrugated iron and called out for any possible inhabitants. A French lady emerged. She beckoned us inside, casually wearing a riding helmet (as one also does).

An Aladdin’s cave still is the only way to describe it. Trunks and dressers spilling with jewels, brooches, elaborate belts, crowns and masks; dishevelled bustiers heaped with wigs and mad fabric; a trapeze swinging from the ceiling. There was no order. It was undisputed beautiful chaos.

The best part? Every costume is hand-made and tailored by the tight-nit Prangsta team. “We try to purchase as little material as possible so we go to a lot of vintage markets and also get a lot of materials donated to us. We take apart old costumes and old fabrics and then restore them and make them into our own Prangsta designs.” This kind of eco-awareness has been a core principle of Prangsta ever since Melanie Wilson founded the company in 1998. “She studied fashion at Central Saint Martins and really hated how wasteful the fashion industry was portrayed to her.”

Theatrical and period costume dominates Prangsta’s extensive mish-mash gallery of stunning work. A Victorian suited wolf, a burlesque fox or perhaps a two of diamonds playing card? (The shop does have an astonishingly brilliant Alice in Wonderland collection). Simply enter their hidden world and you could transform into characters you barely knew of. Hell, you could make up your own! Or at least leave the imagination to Holly herself, who styles her clients’ costumes rather than creating the pieces in their 1500 square foot studio in Deptford.

I of course guided the conversation onto that 21st birthday party of one Daisy Lowe. Daisy, her mother Pearl and several members of the star-studded guestlist were dressed by Holly and her talented team. Daisy, in particular, wore floor-skimming jaw-dropping ‘Ice Queen’-esque attire. “It was great… They are rock n’ roll royalty. Daisy is a lovely girl and a pleasure to dress.”  ? ?And their impressive list of clients doesn’t end there. Prangsta have also dressed The Noisettes (Shingai, the lead singer, used to work for the company), the Moulettes, the White Stripes, the BBC2 comedy drama ‘Psychoville’ and, get this, have even dressed Florence & The Machine.

Holly insists, however, that dressing such high-flying stars aren’t considered amongst Prangsta’s greatest achievements. I know. ‘You what?’ was my reaction too. But she continued… “I think it’s more of an achievement that we’ve been going like this for 12 years. We’ve made everything ourselves and we’re a London-based local business. Everyone works really hard. We work long hours, sometimes 12 hour days, and keeping the business running I think is more of an achievement.”

And she’s right. The Prangsta team do seem to work incessantly hard. They don’t just simply lend beautiful costumes to individuals. They tour all different festivals throughout the summer. They organize community nights for local performers and artists. They scour markets and thrift stores for the beautiful trinkets and treasures you’ll see placed around their shop. They even run their own dressmaking classes which take place in their Deptford studio. “Classes are taught by Mel and two of her seamstresses,” she says. I then of course comment on the advantage to the class members by being taught by Melanie, being an ex-Saint Martin’s student and pioneer of this mad palace. Holly even mentioned to me how Melanie began squatting in the building that we were sitting in. “Mel started out completely alone, from nothing.”How’s that for a success story?

I also just HAD to ask about that haunting but quirky shop-front that had my mum so convinced we were about to come across prostitutes. Holly laughed when I told of her of this.  ?“We do what we can. We’re in New Cross, not in Soho. And I guess we’re quite an urban team. We’re quite subversive, eccentric characters. It is quite dilapidated but we’re a small business in a rundown area.” But no excuses were necessary. I really and truly loved the subversive exterior. And, well, the mysterious look of Prangsta is certainly parallel with the mysterious Melanie, who apparently prefers not to do interviews (damn, eh?).  ? ?Prangsta sure has got a good thing going, but they’re not stopping there. They have pretty big plans for future expansion. “One day we will have an online shop. People will be able to click on, say, a little hat and will be able to request one to be made for them. Within the next five years I’d say we’d like to be working on expanding our costume collection and maybe pump out a fashion collection aswell. We’d like to break through this wall to next door so that we can have an exhibition space and put a lot of costumes up on the walls like a bit of a gallery, have some music playing with a DJ, have some chai on the go. Above all, we want to provide a really quality service by restoring and recycling aswell as contributing to the community.”

After seeing the place for the second time, and speaking to Holly, it appears that not only Prangsta’s enchanting costumes, but also it’s intriguing story and extensive achievement is a true example of what those young, fun, London minds are made of.

Prangsta can be found at 304, New Cross Road, London. ?Costumes are between £80-100 to rent for 5 days and are also sold at individual prices. ?Their next dressmaking classes begin on Wednesday 22nd September from 7 – 9.30pm and cost £200. There is a maximum class size of 10 (so get in there quick if you’re interested!).

Categories ,Aladdin, ,Alice in Wonderland, ,BBC2, ,Costume, ,daisy lowe, ,Dress, ,fashion, ,Florence & the Machine, ,Holly Jade, ,london, ,New Cross, ,Pearl Lowe, ,Prangsta, ,the Noisettes, ,Victoriana, ,Vivienne Westwood

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Amelia’s Magazine | Festival Preview: Latitude

Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Viveka Goyanes
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Kim Seoghee
All photography by Amelia Gregory.

Kim Seoghee may not be Flemish (I’m gonna bet he isn’t) but his work sure as hell feels the touch of Belgium. With a team of skinny stoney faced pretty boy models and ethereal girls, visit web Kim showed us a classic example of the sulky European genre. Eyes emphasised with kohl, visit this the models lined up to show Another 7th Day, prescription a pick ‘n’ mix collection in black, grey and cream. Amongst the upbeat surroundings of Alternative Fashion Week their cool collective attitude stood right out, but they’d fit right in at Paris or London fashion weeks proper.

Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Kim Seoghee
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Kim Seoghee
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Kim Seoghee
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Kim Seoghee
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Kim
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Kim Seoghee
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Kim Seoghee
Kim Seoghee with his models.

Laura Panter showed a clever collection – ‘This collection cries adolescent’ – God knows what being a teenager had to do with it though. The clothes were a curve enhancing mix of pastel chiffon and wool with bondage inspired straps and belt features.

Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Laura Panter
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Laura Panter
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Laura Panter
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Laura Panter
Laura Panter.

She was followed swiftly by the work of another Laura. Laura Fox had put together a cute series of outfits inspired by ‘British Heritage, Harris Tweed and Oilskin’ – with the aim of promoting manufacturing in the UK. Her love for classic British designers such as Christopher Bailey for Burberry were clear in what I thought was a sweet and mature collection, and that was before I discovered that Laura is wheelchair bound. She has a good web presence with a Carbonmade website and a twitter feed so she clearly hasn’t let a little thing like a disability stop her from keeping busy. And my friends over at Creative Boom have also blogged on her here. Dead impressed.

Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Laura Fox
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Laura Fox
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Laura Fox
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Laura Fox
Alternative Fashion Week Day 5 2010 Laura Fox
Laura Fox had business cards to hand: the way it should be done!

Sarina Hosking showed a couple of pieces titled Beauty and the Beast. I have to say I’m not surprised by the title – during a week when titles often bore abstract relevance to the collections they were attached to (at best), this did exactly what it said on the tin. The girl that really got all the photographers salivating was a sexy grown-up version of Little Red Riding Hood, complete with red lacy veil. An elegant gent in wolf mask looked on. They were a distraction from the rest of the collection but heck, why not mix and match your fairytale references? According to her myspace Sarina is principally a theatrical designer, so it all begins to make sense.

Transform by Elizabeth Wilcox was described as ‘Sportswear creating capsule wardrobe’. It was certainly sporty but I am not sure I was feeling the marl grey highlighted with neon sculptural thing.

Viveka Goyanes put together cutesy cream printed shirts with carefully styled black and white tailoring to present a mature collection called Brummella the Dandella. I particularly loved all the little touches, like the ripped and accessorised socks. It always pays to look down!

The first festival I ever had the fortune to attend was Latitude 2007. Still a fresher at university, page still fresh-faced and just a little naïve; a small hatchback, viagra order four friends, and every nook and cranny jammed with our camping equipment. We were green, and we didn’t know that you wouldn’t need six sets of clothes, nor a full foldable mattress, nor (as one of our group, bizarrely, thought) a full set of crockery. It was only due to our general keenness that left us arriving early and managing to snag a camping spot both close to the site entrance and (crucially) within 600 yards of the car park. That was, I discovered, exactly the limit of my stamina for being able to carry my own weight in paperbacks and camping stoves (three!) and several pairs of shoes. Oh, idle youth! These days I can take five nights of living in muddy squalor like a medieval serf in my stride, but that’s only down to training myself; I had to ween myself off such modern luxuries as soap, razors, and fresh underwear.

But I digress – this is meant to be a preview of Latitude 2010. The background: Latitude occurs every year in July in Southwold in Suffolk, and operates under the banner of Festival Republic (formerly Mean Fiddler), that gargantuan promotions company with fingers in many pies and still perhaps best know for the carnival of the damned that is the Reading and Leeds Weekender. Latitude is something of a pet project for Festival Republic, who felt that British festivals had lost track of what made them so culturally important in the first place – not just the bands but the atmosphere, the vibe, the performers on stilts and the chance meetings in the dark under the boughs of some off-to-the-side willow. Glastonbury has become something of a behemoth, but it used to be a small and intimate affair; Latitude’s raison d’être is to mimic what Glastonbury is suppose to once have been. My verdict, taking my experiences of 2007 into account, is that they have succeeded admirably, though it would be churlish to say that it’s exactly as the same. Many of those ideals that the hippies celebrated at the solstice three decades ago – appreciation of the earth, appreciation of humanity – have arguably seeped into the larger (regular) festival-going public, but these days we’re much, much better at recycling.

Capacity is relatively small, as far as festivals go these days, capped at 25000 since 2008, and the wondrous thing about Latitude is that you can go the whole weekend without seeing a single band. There’s a strong lineup of comedy acts, theatre performances, literature talks and other cultural oddities that mark it out as unique in the British festival scene. I’ll run through some of the things to look forward to this year, for those that are going, and if you’re not then be quick, because it’ll sell out soon.

There are several music stages scattered about the site. The largest is the main Obelisk Arena, this year headlined by Florence & the Machine, Belle & Sebastian, and Vampire Weekend. Other artists worth seeing include folkster Laura Marling, indie legends Spoon, insanely talented Mexican acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, gorgeous melody act Dirty Projectors, and even a recently-reformed James. They’ll probably sing that song about sitting.

Move across to the second stage and you’ll find the Word Arena, headlined by the National, the xx, and Grizzly Bear. The first is one of the best bands in the world, without question, and if you go you’ll probably find me there too, undergoing some kind of trembling transcendental spasm attack. I love that band. Oh god how I do. The xx are an interesting choice of headliner as their music, so heavy with meaning and yet so utterly minimal, might struggle to hold a headlining slot on a festival stage. I’ve seen them live before and they were bloody fantastic, so I’m sure they’ll be fine; I won’t be seeing them at Latitude, though. My reasons involve a broken heart, a worn mixtape, and shattered promises – I won’t burden you any further than that, but know that it was horrid. Grizzly Bear are sick, and will absolutely suit the beautiful site that Latitude is situated within. Also playing the Word Arena are Wild Beasts, Richard Hawley, the Horrors, and Yeasayer, etc. etc..

Then you’ve got your Lake Stage, which is (no surprises here) situated next to a lake, as well as the Sunrise Arena deep in the woods on the edge of the site. Exactly who shall be playing where on these stages hasn’t been announced yet, but what is know is that artists and bands such as the Big Pink, Black Mountain, Girls, These New Puritans, Tokyo Police Club, and a bunch of others. I’ve been looking back through past years and Latitude 2010 looks like being potentially the best ever with regards to the music acts (though 2009 was also pretty sick – Nick Cave!). But it’s not all about the music, of course, otherwise it wouldn’t be quite as sweetly unique as it is.

In the Comedy tent there are sets from Richard Herring, Emo Philips, Rich Hall, Phill Jupitus, Mark Watson, but also many smaller acts such as Mark Oliver and Doc Brown. In previous years this tent has had a propensity towards overcrowding when the bigger names have appeared, but hopefully they’ll have ironed out the creases there. We’ve already covered the Literature tent on Amelia’s Magazine, somewhat, but I’ll add that Jon McGregor is also giving a talk. He’s the author of If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things, a novel that is in itself extraordinarily remarkable and one of the finest examples of prose-poetry I’ve read in the past decade. Also of note here is that Dan Kitson, who probably blushes when he gets described as, “perhaps the finest standup comic of his generation,” all time, will be telling a story for an hour every night at midnight on the Waterfront Stage. His work is rarely available on video as he doesn’t like the idea of his shows being pirated, so please take this opportunity to see him in the flesh.

John Cooper Clarke is in the Poetry tent – one of the towering figures of modern performance poetry in this country should be reason enough to raise some curiosity there, but there are also appearances from important figures on the British poetry scene like Luke Wright and John Stammers. Eddie Argos, of Art Brut fame, will also be doing a set – if you’re familiar with the man then you’ll know that’s an intriguing prospect.

I’ve barely scratched the surface here – there’s a Cabaret tent that parties on into the early hours of the morning, there’s the Film & Music Arena showcasing some unique new audiovisual shows (as well as more irreverent stuff from the likes of Adam Buxton and the Modern Toss crew), and there’s also a chance to wander into the woods to find both the opera performances and the In The Woods area, a woodland clearing set up for late night raving. There are numerous plays put on at the Theatre Arena, including performances from the Royal Shakespeare Company and Everyman Playhouse. There’s a huge childrens’ area that’s almost like a playground.

Hell, the whole thing is like some gaudy carnival from the middle ages transported through time for our enjoyment. There’s a parade at some point, there’s giant painting projects, you can row boats in the lake, you can watch a jazz band play all day on a floating stage on the lake, and so on, and so on. The beauty of the site just completes the package, and thankfully the Latitude team are very good at maintaining it. They’ve got a well-developed set of environmentally-friendly policies that have managed to recycle most of the waste from past festivals, including designated recycling bins, bags handed out to campers for sorting their recycling, and everything you can buy on site is sourced so that it won’t damage the environment both getting there and if it’s thrown away. Sorted.

So that’s Latitude 2010. Three days almost doesn’t seem enough, does it?

Categories ,2010, ,Adam Buxton, ,Art Brut, ,Arts, ,Belle & Sebastian, ,Black Mountain, ,Cabaret, ,comedy, ,Dan Kitson, ,dirty projectors, ,Doc Brown, ,Eddie Argos, ,Emo Philips, ,environment, ,Everyman Playhouse, ,festival, ,film, ,Florence & the Machine, ,girls, ,glastonbury, ,grizzly bear, ,ian steadman, ,James, ,John Cooper Clarke, ,John Stammers, ,Jon McGregor, ,latitude, ,Latitude Festival, ,Laura Marling, ,leeds, ,Luke Wright, ,Mark Oliver, ,Mark Watson, ,Modern Toss, ,music, ,Nick Cave, ,opera, ,Phill Jupitus, ,rave, ,Reading, ,Rich Hall, ,richard hawley, ,Richard Herring, ,rodrigo y gabriela, ,Royal Shakespeare Company, ,Spoon, ,Standup, ,the big pink, ,the horrors, ,The National, ,The XX, ,These New Puritans, ,Tokyo Police Club, ,Vampire Weekend, ,Wild Beasts, ,Yeasayer

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Amelia’s Magazine | David Byrne & Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love – Album Review

There are certain musicians who do what they like. These are the frontline soldiers of the music scene, sales ed venturing into the unknown; fearless of the landmines that could blow their careers into smithereens. Just ask Britney, it’s a dangerous world out there.

David Byrne, on the other hand, appears to be made of vibranium. The former Talking Heads frontman has the uncanny ability to cut artistic diamonds out of pretty much everything he turns his hand to, and his latest project is no exception. In an unlikely collaboration, Byrne has teamed up with club DJ and dance-music producer Fatboy Slim (Norman Cook) to compose a disco opera about the life of Imelda Marcos, who, along with her dictator husband Ferdinand, ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. Confused? Well, I’m not surprised.

Five years in the making, Here Lies Love is a song cycle paying homage to the “Iron Butterfly” (as she was known), which tells the story of Imelda’s rise and fall through a sequence of songs written by Byrne, with Fatboy Slim providing the infectious beats. The impressive and eclectic name-check of female vocalists, including girl-of-the-moment Florence Welch, Martha Wainwright, Tori Amos, Cyndi Lauper, and French chanteuse Camille, reaffirms the faith that Byrne’s fellow artists have in him in pulling off a potentially bonkers project such as this. Steve Earle and Byrne himself also make appearances on the record, where the twenty-two singers take us on a journey of Imelda’s life, from her humble origins to fleeing the country in exile. The roles of the former First Lady and those she was closest to are played out over the 89-minute song cycle, with the most notable character being Estrella Cumpus, Imelda’s childhood servant and friend, who was cast aside as Imelda began to occupy the upper echelons of Filipino society.

The record opens with a catchy, upbeat number from Florence Welch sung in a theatrical style, with a soaring chorus (no surprise there) to orchestral arrangements and squelchy electro. The title track details Imelda’s poverty-stricken childhood, her dreams for a better life and is amusingly also how she would like to be remembered when she dies: “When I am called by God above, don’t have my name carved into the stone, just say, Here Lies Love.”

The story arc continues with Imelda’s early hunger for fame and all things beautiful, captured by Martha Wainwright’s ballad-paced ‘The Rose of Tacloban’: “Elegant women on a magazine page…cutting out their faces, and replacing them with my own,” to her courtship and whirlwind romance with Ferdinand Marcos on ‘Eleven Days’, sung by Cyndi Lauper, who embodies Imelda’s excitement at the prospect of a diamond-dusted future. Over catchy bass lines and retro grooves, Lauper sings: “He gave me—two roses, one is open, one is closed, one is the future, and—one is my love.”

As Imelda makes the transition from simple country gal to fully-fledged member of the Filipino elite, Estrella’s gradual abandonment is highlighted in ‘How Are You?’ by Nellie McKay, in an imagined letter from Estrella to Imelda punctuated by a lively Latin-inspired chorus, and ‘When She Passed By’, which takes on a country-dance slant as Estrella only gets to admire Imelda from afar: “Did you see me outside? Did you see me? When you passed by in your car? Ah well, that’s okay.”

Further along in the song cycle, the record takes a more sinister turn, with angrier, edgier vocals deployed in the form of Alice Russell as Imelda acknowledges her husband’s infidelity: “You play around with that woman, Didn’t you know I cared?…If you prefer that slut—okay.” The last few songs paint a not-so-pretty-picture of martial law, with delicate vocals aptly provided by Natalie Merchant, and also the assassination of Marcos’ rival, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino (who dated Imelda in her youth, but rejected her because she was “too tall”), and then Imelda and Ferdinand being airlifted out of the Malacanang Palace (the White House of Manila) by U.S. marines (there is no mention of the infamous 3,000 pairs of shoes left behind – Byrne never likes to make reference to the obvious).

Among those making an appearance on Here Lies Love, stand out tracks include Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Eleven Days’, who captures the courtship thrill with a sexy and sassy deliverance; Roisin Murphy’s ‘Don’t you Agree’, with her husky tone perfectly pitched against Moloko’s signature staccato sleaze-horns (although hearing Murphy sing “Now, who stood up to the Japanese? Who cares about the Philippines?” pitched against this backdrop does throw you a bit); and Sharon Jones’ ‘Dancing Together’, whose muscular vocals finely complement the attitude-laden funk rhythms. Byrne shines in ‘American Troglodyte’, a song about American excess and the Filipino peoples’ fascination of it, employing a distinctive Talking Heads sound with sexy riffs and swirling synths. All in all, as diverse as the artists may sound on the roll call, the vocalists manage to meld their sequences together to seamless effect, without compromising their own unique style.

Despite the various themes, the record takes on a definitely 1970s and early 1980s disco theme, to honour Imelda’s love of the club scene (she was a regular at Studio 54). There are several moments on the album, such as in Theresa Andersson’s ‘Ladies in Blue’, where you can visualise the former First Lady throwing shapes around her New York townhouse (she had a dance floor and a mirror ball installed for entertaining and pleasure).

Here Lies Love is available in a deluxe hard-bound 120-page book, containing a DVD of news footage, but I got the poor woman’s version which has a double CD presented in a foldable cardboard case and pretty pictures of Imelda’s mother, Remedios, “Ninoy”, the Marcos’s in various poses and Estrella who appears as a blacked out smidge on the sleeve, presumably to illustrate a woman has clearly been left in the shadow.

As far as an analysis of the final piece goes, rather than painting Imelda as a monster, Byrne presents her as a sympathetic and tragic figure, one who lived in her own “bubble world” with an unashamed love of luxury. The record is more about human empathy than politics. Byrne is not proclaiming that Imelda has been misunderstood nor is he asking that we forgive her, but he artfully attempts to make us try to understand what drove her to behave in the way that she did; he considers how her inferiority complex about coming from humble origins may have motored her greed at the expense of her people; and how her gradual dissociation to Estrella may have been the caused by her wanting to rid herself of any association to her difficult past. The record in its entirety is a tribute to Imelda as Byrne tries to demystify such a well-known figure who people know so little about beyond the designer shoes and Swiss bank accounts.

It is inevitable that the musical-influenced style of the record will draw comparisons to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, but as Byrne has stated in previous interviews, the similarities end beyond both women being dictators’ wives. Here Lies Love is an adventurous project delivered by Byrne and although not every track is an instant classic, it’s definitely worth exploring for the innovation. It is a record that manages to be creative and intelligent yet highly entertaining. Somehow, David Byrne has managed to defy the odds and make his way safely back to the trenches to come up trumps again.

Categories ,album, ,Alice Russell, ,Camille, ,Concept Album, ,Cyndi Lauper, ,dance, ,david byrne, ,disco, ,electro, ,Estrella Cumpus, ,Fatboy Slim, ,Florence & the Machine, ,Florence Welch, ,Here Lies Love, ,Imelda Marcos, ,Kat Phan, ,Martha Wainwright, ,Moloko, ,Natalie Merchant, ,Nellie McKay, ,Norman Cook, ,review, ,Roison Murphy, ,Sharon Jones, ,Song Cycle, ,Steve Earle, ,Studio 54, ,Talking Heads, ,Tori Amos, ,Vibranium

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