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Fish and Chips, Twice Please?!

An exhibition at Vienna’s Quartier21 prepares to celebrate the innovation, talent and creativity of contemporary designers - such as Craig Lawrence, Piers Atkinson and Charlie Le Mindu

In a few weeks’ time, Britain’s creativity will descend upon Vienna. After the successful exhibition 50 +/- anni di moda italiana, Quartier21 is indeed hosting a new event aimed at celebrating young designers working and creating in the UK.   Entitled “Fish and Chips, Twice Please?!” and curated by designer Emma Bell and Slovenian artist Polona Dolzan, the exhibition will feature pieces by Charlie Le Mindu, Craig Lawrence, Piers Atkinson and Dashing Tweeds among the others. Bell promises the gallery space will be transformed into a big extravaganza with an aesthetically enticing and exciting atmosphere. The bold vision, playfulness and exuberance of the designers featured and the essence of the exhibition is perfectly captured in the posters for the event, featuring Laura Bell’s illustrations of Louise Gray, Scott Ramsay Kyle and Emma Bell’s designs and Nicholas Kirkwood’s footwear styled by Alexis Knox. Conceived as a platform to showcase creative talent from a wide range of artistic fields, the exhibition will also showcase films from independent filmmakers Amy Gwatkin and Margarita Louca, photographs by MEGA MEGA MEGA’s Thom Will and Matthew Brindle and a special animation from Will Adams, while independent game company Papermint will be hosting workshops for children and adults of all ages throughout the duration of the event.

Dazed Digital: In your opinion, what makes British designers so innovative?
Emma Bell: One of the main things behind the creative journey of British design is that fearless attitude that you are required to have when living and working in such a competitive and forward-thinking industry hub. Any creative has to always be 10 steps ahead and I think this fuels the passion and drive to create such innovative design development techniques and to always be thinking of different ways to present your vision, whether it be conceptual pattern cutting, constructive textiles or devising individual skills.
Polona Dolzan: For me it’s the extravaganza of their creativity and inspiration, and a kind of intentional very controlled restraint when it comes to crossing the boundaries of experimentation and focusing on implementing craftsmanship as a sign of tradition and skill.

DD: How did you come up with the title for this exhibition?
Emma Bell: Being a Northerner I have a very sentimental and nostalgic mentality when it comes to things quintessentially British! Right from the very early stages of concept development we had a vision that the aesthetics of the exhibition should represent the UK’s unique quirks and stereotypes from eating toffee apples on Brighton Pier to sitting down and drinking a nice cup of Earl Grey. It would have been only too easy to give the concept a generic title, that’s why we opted for something a bit bizarre that defies the usual rules of keeping it formal and self-explanatory. After much debate, I was standing outside a fish and chip shop and heard the endless hollers of ‘Fish and Chips, Twice Please?!’ in a Geordie accent! I knew right away that phrase was the perfect name to give the exhibition as it held so much ambiguity, it was a million miles away from a standard exhibition title and also added that taste of British humour.
Polona Dolzan: It was a very intuitive choice. We didn’t want to have a ‘serious’ theoretical title, but wanted to have fun with it. We wanted something that was unmistakably British, but that had no proper relation to the fashion world, and tried to make it sound ‘fashionable’.

DD: What fascinates you about the designers featured in this exhibition?
Emma Bell: That appreciation of a designer’s individual signature and their ability to express their own confidence and understanding of their personal aesthetic. Each and every person that we are presenting has a very defined and unique quality to their work and, although they are all incredibly different, each designer’s work complements both the concept and the other pieces that will be displayed.
Polona Dolzan: Finding that freshness in ‘new’ and ‘not-so-new’ designers and experiencing how they’ve matured through their collections is always exciting. We are trying to present the variety of talent that is literally feeding the scene: Louise Gray has grown into a strong designer with a recognisable language, she re-invented the silhouette and has put inventive uses of devore and embellishments back on the scene; Nicholas Kirkwood and his uncompromising designs that look like sculptures for the feet traces a fine line between fashion and obsession; Scott Ramsay Kyle’s focuses instead on re-thinking garments as objects with his 3D embroidery; Craig Lawrence employs materials in a humorous and poignant way; Charlie Le Mindu isn’t afraid of the ‘theatre of dress’ and continues to baffle his clients and worshippers with playful takes on what is considered ‘head-dress’ while Piers Atkinson’s collaborations, including NOKI’s balaclavas and Le Mindu’s wigs, wouldn’t be considered strange if sported at something like the Royal Ascot. I guess it’s the juxtapositions and the bravery that make these designers stand out.

DD: Which designers featured embody the tailored Vs extravagant dichotomy represented by London or its multicultural dynamics?  
Polona Dolzan: I was really taken by Dashing Tweeds, that is Kirsty McDougall and Guy Hills’ venture, using traditional, classic and stern fabric such as tweed, and adorning it with the explosion of contemporary weaves and colours, using reflective thread to make Savile Row-tailored cycling suits. Tailoring is also a staple of Louise Armstrup, a young Danish designer who pays particular attention to panelling and body encapsulating prints. Annalisa Dunn and Dorothee Hagemann’s Cooperative Designs also seem to thrive on the multi-cultural influences that London prides itself in. They cleverly combine their Bauhaus-like graphic knitwear with a urban tribe yet feminine silhouette. Working with Emma Bell’s explosion of patterns, colours and humour is a language of its own. Emma is a true maverick when it comes to pulling exaggeration off in a memorable style. Her uncompromising piercing sense of humour is so indispensable in the preparation of this exhibition.

DD: How will the pieces be exhibited?
Polona Dolzan: We really wanted to engage the visitors, so the exhibits will be placed in constructed environments. We will be screening fashion on film on an old-style ‘Punch and Judy’ proscenium arch, where visitors can sit and relax on deckchairs incorporating fabrics by Dashing Tweeds and we will also have a reading room. The accessories will be presented on a large ‘afternoon tea’ setting, where objects will take on the role of Alice in Wonderland-style foodstuff. There will also be a back garden, a little oasis for the ex-council estate flat and a typical English beach with a chip shop and rubbish-ridden beach that is as non-tropical as it gets. But that’s what makes it so much fun and really depicts the mentality of ‘let’s just get on with it’ that becomes the driving passion behind many things in design.

DD: Will you be integrating also art pieces in the exhibition and will the exhibition programme also feature fashion workshops?
Emma Bell: One of the main elements of the concept is to present fashion as being a multi-faceted industry and showing how so many other disciplines complement the vision of the industry, from film to illustration, photography, styling and music. We have an action packed schedule that includes workshops, lectures, round table discussions, collaborative club nights and launch events. We have a couple of exciting collaborative projects planned including a week in which we have teamed up with the organisation Designers Against Aids: we will be promoting AIDS/HIV awareness in the form of an interactive knitting circle, a special presentation of commissioned pieces as well as talks and presentation of a short film. Another feature of the programme is a New Designer Showcase in which we will rotate a selection of emerging talent including graduates and new start-ups such as Emma Box, Maartje De Man and Maja Mehle.
Polona Dolzan: The programme doesn’t focus only on Great Britain since we are trying to bring a lot of local creatives on board, but it’s more about the interpretation of what is British, also considering we are showcasing international talent based in the UK. We will also be hosting a round table discussion on this topic chaired by Professor Alison Clarke, a design historian from Vienna’s Hochschule fur Angewandte Kunst, and featuring as special guest Oriole Cullen from the Fashion, Furniture and Textiles Department of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

DD: How many items will be featured in the exhibition and what’s the most outlandish piece that will be exhibited?
Polona Dolzan: At the moment we’re looking at just under 50 pieces, as we want them to stand out individually and not be smothered by the sheer quantity. In terms of outlandishness, they’re all pretty out there, but Le Mindu’s head-pieces will no doubt attract a lot of attention, if not for their Gaga notoriety…

DD: And your fave piece?
Emma Bell: Such a tricky question since I like them all! I particularly love the dress by Scott Ramsay Kyle that we featured in the exhibition poster as all the detailing is really awesome and there is so much going on there! I also love the balaclavas by Piers Atkinson and Charlie Le Mindu’s pieces are also a firm fave since his work is so innovative. As a whole we have some great pieces in store and we’re ready to unleash them on Vienna!
Polona Dolzan: It’s hard to decide, since, like Emma, I love them all. I guess anything I could fit into my wardrobe!

DD: What has this exhibition taught you about creativity/young fashion designers in Britain?
Emma Bell: That the talent that derives from the UK is truly endless. I greatly admire the attitude of the designers and contributors featured in the event and the fact that such poignant pieces of work are created as a result of their fearlessness and dedication to design.
Polona Dolzan: That this is just a drop in the ocean. Louise Wilson OBE said that she witnessed many a ‘British fashion Renaissance’ and I would agree that there is always strong talents that emerge every year, the difference stands in how driven people are and what that does to their work or how that pushes their work.

DD: Emma, you are a young designer yourself: what’s the most difficult or challenging aspect of your job?
Emma Bell: I think one of the most important things is to always remember that to work as a designer is a lifestyle rather than a job and it takes 100% dedication. I think the biggest challenge is that you always have to think ahead and be constantly active in maintaining your brand profile. It is a very competitive industry in terms of so many aspects from funding to media coverage. I would say the biggest challenge is reaching the point where your work and efforts begin to get a response and from there you have to keep the momentum going. There is always going to be the odd kick in the teeth but I think growing a thick skin is one of the biggest preliminary challenges. Once you have that, it’s easier to solve and embrace difficulties rather than let them affect your work.

DD: What fascinates you about Quartier21?
Emma Bell: The Museum Quartier in Vienna has a unique approach to showcasing art and design and it is the first place in the world that I have encountered with such an active and condensed focus on the arts. Quartier21 is a great institution since it channels so many genres of creativity from fashion to visual arts, digital manifestation and contemporary concept. Their ethos to connect on an international level is amazing and their ongoing support and mission to present such engaging and forward-thinking exhibitions at the freiraum quartier21 INTERNATIONAL places them in a greatly respected position in terms of the global arts.
Polona Dolzan: I hadn’t been in Vienna for about 15 years, and then this happened and re-visiting the place was quite revelatory. There’s so much potential and the existence of this complex is so important, especially for young people. It is so exciting to be taking part in this event as the location is perfect for the project to get enough exposure. The history of the building and the community are all vital ingredients to make this hub exist in its own right, as are all the cafes and restaurants where people can meet and unwind.

“Fish and Chips, Twice Please?!” is at Vienna’s freiraum quartier21 INTERNATIONAL from 10th June until 12th September 2010. You can keep updated with the exhibition programme by following its blog, Facebook page and Tweets or Emma Bell’s blog.