Amelia’s Magazine | A Review of 50 Fabulous Frocks at the Fashion Museum, Bath

Fashion Museum, Bath, 50FF Review
Illustration of 1900s champagne fancy dress costume, unknown maker, by Freddy Thorn.

Like any good birthday bash, it begins with champagne; a bottle of 1904 Veuve Clicquot to be exact, taking the form of an elaborate Edwardian fancy dress ensemble.

Recently listed by CNN as one of the top ten fashion museums in the world, Bath’s Fashion Museum has come a long way since its creation by Doris Langley Moore and the Bath City Council in 1963. This is a varied exhibition, featuring 50 of the fashion museums ‘greatest hits’ with dresses spanning across the ages, from one of the oldest dresses in any UK museum (a 1660 piece affectionately known as the ‘Silver Tissue Dress’) to a fresh-off-the-catwalk 2012 Louis Vuitton piece. Eveningwear sits comfortably by poolside attire, sportswear next to corsets; each dress a snapshot of fashion history.

5 dresses at 50 Fabulous Frocks exhibition, Fashion Museum, Bath
Illustration of 5 of the 50 dresses by May Van Milllingen.

There are plenty of ‘celebrity’ frocks here: a Christian Dior dress from the 1950s, a Chanel from the 1960s and a Jean-Paul Gaultier from the 1990s just a few of the gems in this collection. With dresses that have graced the pages of Vogue alongside cages and crinolines, these pieces form a dynamic exhibit exploring dresses across the centuries.

Black lace Rocha dress now part of 50 Fabulous Frocks Exhibition
Red lace Erdem Dress on Catwalk
Photos of red and navy lace Erdem and black Rocha dress by Chris Moore.

An ostrich feather 1960s Yves Saint Laurent concoction made for ballerina Margot Fonteyn catches my eye as does a Dame Vivienne Westwood regency style dress nestled among the kinds of dresses it’s emulating. A 1940s pink Mickey Mouse aertex dress sits next to a polka-dot housecoat lined with gingham and there’s even a wedding dress from the 1890s among the ranks. These clothes are famous; there’s a red mini dress worn by Ernestine Carter, a former Fashion Editor of The Sunday Times, as well as an Ossie Clark dress literally taken straight out of a David Hockney, Tate painting.

Dress by Poiret part of 50 Fabulous Frocks Exhibition.
Alexander McQueen dress from 50 Fabulous Frocks exhibition
50 Fabulous Frocks  cream silk dress
Photos of Poirot dress, Alexander McQueen dress and cream silk ball gown provided by Fashion Museum, Bath & North East Somerset Council.

I go to the exhibit twice, once with my friends on a sunny Saturday and we whizz through it in true tourist fashion (pun intentional) as I snap a few photos. We amble through the corsets and cages, pantsuits and Burberry raincoats, quickly and hungrily. We notice a group of young female museum-goers all wearing the same outfit in alternate colours, each one clad in a pair of converse paired with brightly coloured jeans. I note that in this exhibit, the tables have turned, and the dresses, behind the security of their glass cases, are the audience for our own catwalk as we prance back and forth.

3 dresses at Fashion Museum, Bath
A Vivienne Westwood dress (centre) alongside two dresses from the late 1800s, illustration by Karolina Burdon.

The second time I go by myself on a rainy Sunday and I listen to every single commentary for each dress, writing notes as I go. The other gallery-folk are, like the dresses, a melting pot: families with young children; a few fashion students drawing the dresses in their sketchbooks. Amongst the chatter I can hear loud, excited French. Thirty or so people come and go while I examine the collection.

Bath Fashion Museum, Georgian
Wall text at Fashion Museum, Bath
50 Fabulous Frocks Dresses Bath Fashion Museum
50 Fabulous Frocks
50FF Dresses, 50 Fabulous Frocks Dresses Bath Fashion Museum
50 Fabulous Frocks Exhibition, Fashion Museum, Bath
All photography by Jessica Cook.

While I sit on the floor sucking the end of my pen and agonising over the spelling of ‘Vuitton’, there is a mother and her two children in the museum providing an alternative narrative to the info handsets. “Mummy, what is it?” says child no1. The mother pauses for a second as though thrown off balance by the question, “It’s dresses from the last 50 years,” she says, which is wrong, and I feel the same wince I had as a kid when I first realised that parents aren’t infallible. The exhibition is a celebration that the Fashion Museum is 50 years young, but the dresses themselves span across the ages as far back as the 1600s. Her mistake is understandable, as the date underneath the sign does read 1963- 2013 after all.

50 FF 3 of 50 Fabulous Frocks, Fashion Museum
Red wool mini dress by André Courrèges, black Ossie Clark gown and 1930s evening dress, illustration by Gareth A Hopkins.

Wow!” says child no2 as he reaches a dress from the 1800s. “Isn’t it amazing?” says the mother, her eyes alight. “Just like mummy used to wear,” she says pointing at a short, red little number. The children press their faces against the glass as though they are looking into the past.

Woman in champagne dress
Photo of champagne bottle dress provided by Fashion Museum, Bath & North East Somerset Council.

The 50 Fabulous Frocks exhibition at the Fashion Museum, Bath is open from 2 February 2013 to the 31st December 2013. Entry is £2.

Categories ,50 Fabulous Frocks, ,Alexander McQueen, ,Bath, ,Bath City Council, ,Birthday, ,celebration, ,Champagne, ,Christian Dior, ,CNN, ,corset, ,David Hockney, ,Doris Langley Moore, ,Dresses, ,Edwardian, ,Erdem, ,Ernestine Carter, ,Eveningwear, ,exhibit, ,fashion, ,Fashion Museum, ,Freddy Thorn, ,Gareth A Hopkins, ,history, ,Jean Paul Gaultier, ,Karolina Burdon, ,Louis Vuitton, ,Margot Fonteyn, ,May van Millingen, ,Mickey Mouse, ,museum, ,Ossie Clark, ,Silver Tissue Dress, ,Tate, ,The Sunday Times, ,Veuve Clicquot, ,Vivienne Westwood, ,vogue, ,Wedding Dress, ,Yves Saint Laurent

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Amelia’s Magazine | Pick Me Up 2012 Special: An interview with fashion illustrator Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

As a self-proclaimed lover of illustrating and in particular illustrating fashion, I eagerly made my way to this year’s Pick Me Up Contemporary Graphic Art Fair at Somerset House. Pick Me Up is a massively important date for anyone interested or involved in Illustration and Graphic Design, and was excellently reviewed by fellow Amelia’s Magazine illustrator Emma Block this year, most definitely worth a read, here as well as of course by Amelia herself.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum All photography by Alia Gargum

It was it a perfectly sunny London day, and I had an extra little spring in my step as Fashion Illustrator legend Jason Brooks was going to be illustrating live alongside the other guest artists and designers. You might not immediately recognise Jason Brook‘s name but you will surely know his slick, feminine style. He now has an impressive and growing client list, including Virgin Atlantic, L’Oréal, Vogue, Elle, and The Sunday Times Style Magazine, where I first remember seeing his work in print.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

I immediately approached the friendly-looking Jason Brooks who was chatting to visitors while illustrating, hanging up his work to create a makeshift gallery. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting him to be so open and easy to speak to, willing to give his time and simply chat. While we talked favourite materials to use and the loveliness of ink, I noticed that he was looking at me very carefully, which is when he confessed that he was illustrating me. Moments later, a beautiful ink illustrated version of me was produced, created on a page from an old french dictionary. He had been illustrating visitors all day, drawing inspiration from them and selling the portraits to those who wished to take an original Jason Brooks portrait home. I cannot thank him enough for the long chat, and the questions he answered so well, the best of which are written here.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

You’re one of the first modern-day Fashion Illustrators I remember seeing in print just as illustration made it’s massive (and continuing) comeback. What was your first big commission?

My first big commission arrived when I was in my early twenties studying Graphic Design at Central St Martin’s, which at the time was in Longacre in Covent Garden. It was an exciting place to be and every day there had an almost party-like atmosphere, buzzing with creative energy, conversation and ideas. One day a message arrived from Vogue (before e-mail) for me to come in with my portfolio as I’d recently won an illustration competition they were running. I was immediately commissioned by Vogue to illustrate a story about New Orleans which ran over about six pages and included a whole double page spread. I remember buying a copy from a newsstand as soon as it came out, feeling on top of the world. I used coloured oil pastels on black card for this first important commission, giving the work a very direct and vibrant look. I then became a regular contributor to Vogue under the wonderful art direction of Paul Eustace. I used it as an opportunity to experiment with different media and styles in print, including some early computer illustrations, so I was the first to use a computer to illustrate for Vogue back at the very beginning of the nineties.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

You’ve drawn at Paris Couture shows for The Independent, which led to more catwalk illustrating for a range of publications like Elle and Visionaire magazine. What do you love most about drawing at the shows?

Backstage is the most interesting place to draw at a fashion show. Not only is everything much closer, but the variety of poses and activities going on provides a whole range of Degas-like subjects. Models sitting in front of mirrors being carefully made up, impromptu fashion shoots going on, camera crews, interviews and striking people are everywhere as subjects. Drawing directly from the catwalk is more difficult to do well because outfits are only visible for a limited time, but nowadays it’s easy to take lots of digital photographs and work up drawings later. I love the drama and art front of the catwalk at fashion shows too, the crowd is always fascinating. The fact that every catwalk show is a one off performance, with high stakes for those involved as well as ever-increasing production values can create really intense theatre, so I love that too.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

What advice would you give to a graduate who wants to get some experience in illustrating from the catwalk?

I started off by working for magazines who would give me accreditation and passes to go to shows as a photographer, after a little prompting from me. I would then simply take my sketchbook instead of a camera. I think when you are starting out it’s all about first of all putting together a portfolio that you feel confident to show people, and then making appointments and really pushing your work out there. I would speculatively arrange lots of ‘go sees’ and then jump on a plane to New York or Paris and try to get work, but perhaps business was more often conducted in a face-to-face way at that time. Going to the Paris couture shows with the Independent began because their editor Marion Hume approached me after I left the Royal College of Art. Luckily, I had work and sketchbooks from travelling to different places that I was able to show, so I would also say that travel drawing is a great foundation for drawing fashion. As a graduate, or anyone for that matter, some catwalk shows are much easier to get access to than others, so if you are interested in drawing at shows it might be best to start with more accessible fringe and off-schedule designers at fashion week and then work up from there.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

Thanks to the rise of digital design, a lot of Fashion Illustration has a slick, smooth, and sharp look to it. You were doing this long before it became popular. What drew you to this technique?

I was striving to create a look from using areas of flat colour for a long time before I started using computers on a regular basis. As with my Vogue commission, I used oil pastels to try to achieve this but I also really liked collage, cutting up books and magazines and experimenting with very flat gouache paint. Computers first came to my attention as a way of making pictures in the late 80′s and early 90′s, and once scanning drawings became an option I was able to combine my familiar drawing on paper with computer colouring techniques, and that particular look was born.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

Your style is undoubtedly feminine and luxurious. Has this always been the case or did it develop gradually?

The luxurious aspect perhaps is just from my idea of drawing things that are well designed and have an aesthetic appeal to me, so it was never a grand plan, just something that has happened quite by accident. I suppose it has developed over time to a certain extent because my taste has changed as I’ve learned more about architecture, fashion, design, film and so on. Looking back, I think my work has also been a reflection of a glamorous time for the western world where mid-century modernism has really come back and been reinvented through magazines like Wallpaper and through the activities of a whole generation of tastemakers in all areas of design. I happen to love drawing women because I think they can create powerful images, so in all it has been fun for me to reflect our culture’s interest in luxury and design through my illustrations.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

What are your favourite materials to work in and which digital techniques do you find yourself using again and again?

I love good old pen and paper. Biros are actually very subtle drawing tools, but I also use 4B pencils to draw out ideas and sketches which I then scan into my computer. I mainly use Photoshop and Illustrator to create my pictures digitally so I definitely still combine very basic old school technology – the dip pen, the pencil, etc. with the latest computer programmes. They are however all just tools, and I would be equally happy working in clay or building a sculpture out of sand on a beach.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

This year was your first as a guest artist at graphic design fair PIck Me Up at Somerset House. What did you enjoy and what surprised you about the whole experience?

It was a great chance to simply play with inks and coloured pencils. I made about 30 pictures or so, scribbling in an old french dictionary and on pieces of coloured paper throughout the day, which made me really enjoy the experience creatively. What surprised me was meeting so many new people who were interested in what I was doing, it was really rewarding to have direct contact and chat to them about their creativity too.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

You’ve had an impressive career so far, what do you think has been the reason(s) for your success?

Thank you, although I really don’t see myself as being successful yet. I guess any success I’ve had so far could be because I started at a very young age and have put a lot of effort and practice into my illustration because I enjoy it so much. I was fortunate in a way to have had a childhood without the modern phenomena of ‘screen time’ so I was able to immerse myself in my imagination through drawing worlds of my own instead of exploring ones created by other people. This lead on to college when creating work on paper was still very important, giving me the benefit of a ‘traditional’ academic art college experience with very little modern technology available unless I sought it out. I’ve always loved experimenting with all kinds of art forms and media, so when the digital revolution arrived in illustration and art I was very open to it and in a lucky position to be able to ride that particular wave from the beginning.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

What can we next expect from Jason Brooks?

I’m just finishing my first book called ‘A Paris Sketchbook’, which is due out in 2013. It is an eclectic collection of my own drawings and illustrations and a homage to a city which I love, published by Laurence King. My dream is that it will be the first in a series of travel sketchbooks covering different iconic cities. Aside from this I’m involved in a number of commissions with different companies and brands around the world, which is a part of my work that I really enjoy because it gives me the chance to collaborate with so many interesting people, adding a sometimes unexpected variety to what I do. I’ve also just signed with a new agency in New York called Traffic, so that’s exciting. Recently, I’ve completed a new collection of artwork for sale on my website called ‘The Gelato Series’ – all about girls eating ice cream in retro, sexy colours.

Jason Brooks Pick Me Up 2012 by Alia Gargum

It’s fascinating to hear from someone who has managed to carve such an astonishing career in fashion illustration. What a lovely guy. Be inspired! See more of Jason Brooks’ work online hereAmelia

Jason Brooks portrait

Categories ,2012, ,80s, ,90s, ,Alia Gargum, ,Amelia’s Magazine, ,catwalk, ,Central St Martins, ,collage, ,couture, ,Covent Garden, ,Creativity, ,Degas, ,Digital Art, ,Elle Magazine, ,Emma Block, ,fashion, ,Fashion Illustration, ,Feminine, ,gouache, ,illustrator, ,Jason Brooks, ,L’Oreal, ,Luxury, ,Marion Hume, ,New Orleans, ,new york, ,paris, ,Paul Eustace, ,Photoshop, ,Pick Me Up, ,portrait, ,Royal College of Art, ,Somerset House, ,The Independent, ,The Sunday Times, ,travel, ,vogue, ,Wallpaper

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Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with cake designer and alternative baker Lily Vanilli, a.k.a. Lily Jones

Photography courtesy of Michael Clements

I first heard of Lily Vanilli last year when I read an article in The Observer Magazine about the candidates who made the shortlist for Courvoisier The Future 500 (2009). The graphic designer-turned-bespoke cake designer was listed in the top five and cited as one of the rising stars to watch for her innovative approach to cake baking.

Turning the cupcake business on its head, Lily’s delicious cakes are the antithesis of the conventional, cutesy cupcake with their unusual and macabre themes. Her fabulous creations are essentially mini edible sculptures (e.g marzipan beetles, morbid meringue bones, etc), an aesthetic delight, which are all crafted by hand in Lily’s kitchen in East London. This, combined with unusual ingredients such as bacon and avocado and a killer melt-in-the mouth sponge recipe, makes for a thrilling culinary experience. Speaking as a dessert fiend and as someone who has sampled Lily’s gourmet cakes, I have never been happier to move over to the dark side of cake!

Lily’s imaginative style to cake baking and kooky creations have earned her somewhat of a cult status within the industry and her decadent cupcakes, which are tailored specifically for each occasion, have featured at parties for Elton John, Henry Holland, Sadie Frost, Hello Kitty, Downing Street, Saatchi Gallery, Levi’s and The Sunday Times. Not bad for someone who only started baking as a hobby.


Photography courtesy of Cico Books

Last month saw the launch of Lily’s first ever book, ‘A Zombie Ate My Cupcake’, in which she shares her secret recipes for the first time ever. Guaranteed to be unlike any cake baking book you already own, ‘A Zombie Ate My Cupcake!’ is a graphic horror novel/cookbook comic featuring 25 gory recipes ranging from Sweeney Todd’s Surprise, a chocolate cupcake which looks like a pie with a severed bloodied finger poking out of it, to Bleeding Hearts, which, well, looks like squashed bleeding hearts with arteries and veins attached ‘n’ all.

Featuring other sweet treats aptly named ‘Eerie Eyeballs’, ‘Shattered Glass’ and ‘Marzipan Beetles’, the book is a visual feast, fusing the worlds of art and cuisine. With quirky detailed comic illustrations provided by up-and-coming illustrator Paul Parker, ‘A Zombie Ate My Cupcake!’ is a must for any cupcake enthusiast who is ready to take on the challenge of some slightly more sinister baking.

To celebrate the launch of Lily’s new book and her cupcake range at Harrods, Amelia’s Magazine caught up with the alternative cake designer and baker to talk about experimental food movements, taking on the cupcake world and crowd surfing with Nick Griffin’s head…

Photography courtesy of Cico Books

Your background is as a graphic designer – do you think the skills you picked up during your training have helped you in your cake baking career at all?
I was a self-taught designer and I’m a self-taught baker so I never had any training for either! I definitely think there are transferable skills though and it’s valuable to learn how to apply yourself and your creativity to different things; design skills are always useful these days.

What excites you most about being in the cake baking industry?
I think it is a really exciting time for food in the UK; take a look at the Experimental Food Society of which I am a member. There are lots of young and creative people pushing boundaries in food. I think this is just the beginning and it’s going to get really fun. 

What sparked off the idea of going against the conventional cutesy cupcake?
It was a backlash. I was accidentally thrust into the world of the ‘cupcake’ which was never my intention as a baker, and I found it saturated with style-over-substance, overly sweet cakes, iced in glitter and sprinkles and sold at inflated prices. I wanted to bring it back to quality and play with preconceptions of appearance, for example, baking things that were ugly to look at but using quality ingredients.


Photography courtesy of Cico Books

How did you come up with the ideas for the different recipes in your book?
It didn’t take much! I love horror and the macabre and I always had a fascination with things like insects and dark stories like Sweeney Todd. I just played around for a few hours and that was it.

On average, how long does it take you to perfect a recipe including the design?
Most of my recipes are works-in-progress that I have been developing for years. It starts with a flavour or an idea about a perfect cake – texture, smell, flavour, etc – and then I develop it from there. None of my recipes are ever finished. I’m always tweaking and improving things, or adding a new twist. I have one cake, it was the first one I developed, which I have been working on for years – it always gets better. It’s a very wintry cake so I’ll be making it again soon. I can’t wait!

How did you end up working with Paul Parker on the illustrations in your book?
I originally got in touch with an artist I really admire called Richard ‘French’ Sayer. He makes these very beautiful dark and twisted black and white drawings, we had a few meetings about the project and he loved the idea, but once we got started it turned out it wasn’t a perfect fit for the book so he recommended Paul and straight away he completely nailed it. Paul’s work is much more colourful and the comic book/graphic horror novel style was exactly what I wanted. Everything I described to him he produced perfectly. He’s really young and just getting started but I think he’s going to do great things!

Photography courtesy of Cico Books

Have you had any cake baking disasters?
I once made a sculpture of Nick Griffin’s head for an event called ‘ The British Internationalists Party’. I spent about eight hours on it but it died (due to structural issues). We used it anyway and it crowd surfed at a gig, completely deformed by then. People were biting chunks out of it on the sweaty dance floor and marzipan ears were flying around – it was all pretty crazy! The worst part of it was that I had to look at images of Nick Griffin for a full day.

What’s the best cupcake you’ve ever had?
Definitely the best cupcake I’ve ever had is my vanilla with passionfruit, coconut & toasted almond. It really is just the perfect cake – so light and fluffy with a slight chewy texture at the top and beautiful vanilla flavours with gentle creamy buttercream and the sharpness and flavour of the passionfruit balances any sweetness. I made it the perfect cupcake for me, so I definitely say that’s the best one I’ve had…

Who do you most admire in the cake baking industry and why?
There are some really talented cake sculptors, such as Michelle Wibowo and Louise from Love to Cake, but the really exciting people for me in food are people like Bompas & Parr who bring art and science into food creation and push boundaries with everything they do.

What’s next for Lily Vanilli?
I’m launching at Harrods at the moment! This is a huge step for me as they are my first supplier. We will keep it seasonal and creative with new flavours each month. This month sees a special ‘Bonfire night’ cupcake. It’s a warm, wintery spiced cake, with a light lemon frosting and a popping candy chocolate disk with caremelised biscuit. It explodes in your mouth and tastes delicious! I think it’s a real sign of progress for foods in the UK that one of the worlds most visited and prestigious food halls would take a chance on an artisan baker from East London… I’m very excited!

Lily’s new book ‘A Zombie Ate My Cupcake!’ is published by Cico Books and can be purchased here. 

Categories ,A Zombie Ate My Cupcake, ,Bompas & Parr, ,Downing Street, ,Elton John, ,Experimental Food Society, ,Harrods, ,Hello Kitty, ,Henry Holland, ,Kat Phan, ,Levi’s, ,Lily Jones, ,Lily Vanilli, ,Michelle Wibowo, ,Nick Griffin, ,Paul Parker, ,Richard ‘French’ Sayer, ,Saatchi Gallery, ,Sadie Frost, ,Sweeney Todd, ,The Courvoisier Future 500, ,The Observer Magazine, ,The Sunday Times

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Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with cake designer and alternative baker Lily Vanilli, a.k.a. Lily Jones

Photography courtesy of Michael Clements

I first heard of Lily Vanilli last year when I read an article in The Observer Magazine about the candidates who made the shortlist for Courvoisier The Future 500 (2009). The graphic designer-turned-bespoke cake designer was listed in the top five and cited as one of the rising stars to watch for her innovative approach to cake baking.

Turning the cupcake business on its head, try Lily’s delicious cakes are the antithesis of the conventional, story cutesy cupcake with their unusual and macabre themes. Her fabulous creations are essentially mini edible sculptures (e.g marzipan beetles, decease morbid meringue bones, etc), an aesthetic delight, which are all crafted by hand in Lily’s kitchen in East London. This, combined with unusual ingredients such as bacon and avocado and a killer melt-in-the mouth sponge recipe, makes for a thrilling culinary experience. Speaking as a dessert fiend and as someone who has sampled Lily’s gourmet cakes, I have never been happier to move over to the dark side of cake!

Lily’s imaginative style to cake baking and kooky creations have earned her somewhat of a cult status within the industry and her decadent cupcakes, which are tailored specifically for each occasion, have featured at parties for Elton John, Henry Holland, Sadie Frost, Hello Kitty, Downing Street, Saatchi Gallery, Levi’s and The Sunday Times. Not bad for someone who only started baking as a hobby.


Photography courtesy of Cico Books

Last month saw the launch of Lily’s first ever book, ‘A Zombie Ate My Cupcake’, in which she shares her secret recipes for the first time ever. Guaranteed to be unlike any cake baking book you already own, ‘A Zombie Ate My Cupcake!’ is a graphic horror novel/cookbook comic featuring 25 gory recipes ranging from Sweeney Todd’s Surprise, a chocolate cupcake which looks like a pie with a severed bloodied finger poking out of it, to Bleeding Hearts, which, well, looks like squashed bleeding hearts with arteries and veins attached ‘n’ all.

Featuring other sweet treats aptly named ‘Eerie Eyeballs’, ‘Shattered Glass’ and ‘Marzipan Beetles’, the book is a visual feast, fusing the worlds of art and cuisine. With quirky detailed comic illustrations provided by up-and-coming illustrator Paul Parker, ‘A Zombie Ate My Cupcake!’ is a must for any cupcake enthusiast who is ready to take on the challenge of some slightly more sinister baking.

To celebrate the launch of Lily’s new book and her cupcake range at Harrods, Amelia’s Magazine caught up with the alternative cake designer and baker to talk about experimental food movements, taking on the cupcake world and crowd surfing with Nick Griffin’s head…

Photography courtesy of Cico Books

Your background is as a graphic designer – do you think the skills you picked up during your training have helped you in your cake baking career at all?
I was a self-taught designer and I’m a self-taught baker so I never had any training for either! I definitely think there are transferable skills though and it’s valuable to learn how to apply yourself and your creativity to different things; design skills are always useful these days.

What excites you most about being in the cake baking industry?
I think it is a really exciting time for food in the UK; take a look at the Experimental Food Society of which I am a member. There are lots of young and creative people pushing boundaries in food. I think this is just the beginning and it’s going to get really fun. 

What sparked off the idea of going against the conventional cutesy cupcake?
It was a backlash. I was accidentally thrust into the world of the ‘cupcake’ which was never my intention as a baker, and I found it saturated with style-over-substance, overly sweet cakes, iced in glitter and sprinkles and sold at inflated prices. I wanted to bring it back to quality and play with preconceptions of appearance, for example, baking things that were ugly to look at but using quality ingredients.


Photography courtesy of Cico Books

How did you come up with the ideas for the different recipes in your book?
It didn’t take much! I love horror and the macabre and I always had a fascination with things like insects and dark stories like Sweeney Todd. I just played around for a few hours and that was it.

On average, how long does it take you to perfect a recipe including the design?
Most of my recipes are works-in-progress that I have been developing for years. It starts with a flavour or an idea about a perfect cake – texture, smell, flavour, etc – and then I develop it from there. None of my recipes are ever finished. I’m always tweaking and improving things, or adding a new twist. I have one cake, it was the first one I developed, which I have been working on for years – it always gets better. It’s a very wintry cake so I’ll be making it again soon. I can’t wait!

How did you end up working with Paul Parker on the illustrations in your book?
I originally got in touch with an artist I really admire called Richard ‘French’ Sayer. He makes these very beautiful dark and twisted black and white drawings, we had a few meetings about the project and he loved the idea, but once we got started it turned out it wasn’t a perfect fit for the book so he recommended Paul and straight away he completely nailed it. Paul’s work is much more colourful and the comic book/graphic horror novel style was exactly what I wanted. Everything I described to him he produced perfectly. He’s really young and just getting started but I think he’s going to do great things!

Photography courtesy of Cico Books

Have you had any cake baking disasters?
I once made a sculpture of Nick Griffin’s head for an event called ‘ The British Internationalists Party’. I spent about eight hours on it but it died (due to structural issues). We used it anyway and it crowd surfed at a gig, completely deformed by then. People were biting chunks out of it on the sweaty dance floor and marzipan ears were flying around – it was all pretty crazy! The worst part of it was that I had to look at images of Nick Griffin for a full day.

What’s the best cupcake you’ve ever had?
Definitely the best cupcake I’ve ever had is my vanilla with passionfruit, coconut & toasted almond. It really is just the perfect cake – so light and fluffy with a slight chewy texture at the top and beautiful vanilla flavours with gentle creamy buttercream and the sharpness and flavour of the passionfruit balances any sweetness. I made it the perfect cupcake for me, so I definitely say that’s the best one I’ve had…

Who do you most admire in the cake baking industry and why?
There are some really talented cake sculptors, such as Michelle Wibowo and Louise from Love to Cake, but the really exciting people for me in food are people like Bompas & Parr who bring art and science into food creation and push boundaries with everything they do.

What’s next for Lily Vanilli?
I’m launching at Harrods at the moment! This is a huge step for me as they are my first supplier. We will keep it seasonal and creative with new flavours each month. This month sees a special ‘Bonfire night’ cupcake. It’s a warm, wintery spiced cake, with a light lemon frosting and a popping candy chocolate disk with caremelised biscuit. It explodes in your mouth and tastes delicious! I think it’s a real sign of progress for foods in the UK that one of the worlds most visited and prestigious food halls would take a chance on an artisan baker from East London… I’m very excited!

Lily’s new book ‘A Zombie Ate My Cupcake!’ is published by Cico Books and can be purchased here. 

Categories ,A Zombie Ate My Cupcake, ,Bompas & Parr, ,Downing Street, ,Elton John, ,Experimental Food Society, ,Harrods, ,Hello Kitty, ,Henry Holland, ,Kat Phan, ,Levi’s, ,Lily Jones, ,Lily Vanilli, ,Michelle Wibowo, ,Nick Griffin, ,Paul Parker, ,Richard ‘French’ Sayer, ,Saatchi Gallery, ,Sadie Frost, ,Sweeney Todd, ,The Courvoisier Future 500, ,The Observer Magazine, ,The Sunday Times

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