A trip to Beyond the Valley, a tucked-away, fertile, fashion laboratory off Carnaby Street always fills me with a mix of wonder and enchantment. Part shop and ever-changing gallery space, and with a decadent red Chesterfield for the curious to hang out on and admire the spectacle – this is one of the highlights of fashionable London.
If you want to find out what is really happening in an industry that is constantly in a state of reinvention and flux – and find the dress or accessory of your wildest imaginings, this is the place to gravitate to. Long before the word ‘ethical’ even started to prick the conscience of the beau monde and most of the international fashion pack; BTV was quietly and confidently getting on with it – providing a much needed arena for incendiary new designers. As Style Director Eran Leon says, “We don’t have to look for ethical designers; they come to us, and their ideas are great.” The ones to look out for instore include: Ada Zanditon, Goodone, Kapow! Wow!, Julia Smith, cleverly reworked vintage by Dream and Awake and compelling, beautifully designed T-shirts by Partimi and Something Else. Whoever thought that waste and other peoples cast off clothes could be this sexy?
Now that winter has suddenly turned to summer and a girl just has to have a new dress to loose her heart to – I would make a pilgrimage to Beyond The Valley and snap up one of Julia Smith’s tailored, ladylike summer dresses in a batik print which tells the story of Africa. Buy a dress and you help to pay for a child to go to school in Accra, it’s that simple. You had better be quick though, as they are flying off the shelves. With a return to thrift and saving up for treasures, I love the fact that Julia’s wonderful Made in Africa Collection of dresses all retail for £50 or less, and yet look as if they cost three times as much. The Audrey halter neck dress – homage to the evergreen icon Audrey Hepburn – is that longed for, go anywhere summer frock; and just perfect in painterly shades of blue and sugar almond pink. It exudes a charming, carefree fifties allure. Not only is this fashion that makes you look good; you will be doing good too.
If you are the type who loves to invest in startling statement pieces by a future fashion superstar – then go for an oversized, twinkling pendant, cuff, or ring by rising fashion princess Ada Zanditon from her much admired and thought-provoking Colony Collection, inspired by the plight of the bee. Ada articulates the beauty, vulnerability and industry of the bee with bold, golden Colony jewels cast in resin and suspended with tiny particles of old bank notes in a daisy chain of giant hexagons. How clever and mesmerizing – I just have to have one. My only disappointment, that the shop doesn’t carry her sculpted, sexy, tactile and intelligently executed womenswear line just yet.
If you simply have to have a one of the kind dress then you will like Dream and Awake – a fashion label based in Sweden that sources interesting vintage pieces and cleverly restyles them for a savvy contemporary audience. I admire a forties tea dress in glorious, old-fashioned pink, the colour of a woman’s blushes and marvel at the unusual print of lightening bolts. “Reworked vintage is very popular because it gives people the opportunity to own something quite unique and unusual that no one else can have,” says Stephanie Barker, who has been looking after press at BTV for six months and is off to work for Alberta Feretti.
When it comes to accessories, my hot tip would be the colourful, exuberant, touch me pieces by Mia Morikawno for her cult label Kapow! Wow! Mia graduated from St Martin’s and is now based in Lisbon. She makes big, vibrant, shiny necklaces from recycled scraps, fabrics and off cuts and the end result is thoroughly delicious. This is raiding the dress up box style. She also makes leggings with a whole lot of fringe detail. But a word of warning – this is only a good look on skinny as a reed super models and the youthful. You’ve been warned.
Now something for the boys – while ethical fashion for men seriously lags behind the multitude of offerings for women, BTV does have some the best T-shirts I have seen so far. Of course, they come with some kind of eco or sustainable message, and that’s great when they are this good. I couldn’t resist designer Eleanor Dorrien-Smiths Man Fishing for a boot for Partimi – an image that injects humour into the campaign to save our oceans and reverse dwindling fish stocks – and the organic cotton feels as soft as silk. Even better, 50p from every sale goes to support the work of endoftheline.com and 50p to Green peace too. I also liked Natalie Wood’s ‘extinction sucks’ T-shirt for label Something Else. His Majesty refuses to wear T-shirts as outerwear as he does not consider this proper dress for a gentleman, but he has relaxed his own rules and is happily wearing them for training sessions at Central London Fencing Club!
Monday – Saturday: 11am – 7pm
Sunday: 12:30pm – 6pm