It has got so that I'm almost embarrassed to start blogging again after the intense working period I've just experienced. I was hired by a start-up fashion web business as a consultant a couple of days a week, who asked me to accelerate them into BETA launch mode and set the agenda on how they communicate fashion.
After a few months diverting the energy for what I would be doing here to them, I felt rather empty, despite the huge online learning curve and sense of achievement for my client. A light had gone out. Last weekend I was finally forced to admit how much it means to me to have this as an outlet. I resigned from the start-up.
Now, I'm back and taking my ickle blog to a .com in January. Only something extremely special and worthwhile will take my attention away from this again.
There is such a backlog of thoughts to share, and I have got to start somewhere. So will start in St Petersburg, Russia. I visited a couple of weeks ago with Liberatum Global the organisation that, thanks to its inspiring founder Pablo Ganguli, (a fabulous 26 year old anglo Indian man with a penchant for eyeliner - below), brings together global leaders and creatives in the arts and culture, and parachutes them into a city so they can share and educate.
Pablo Ganguli with art critic/writer/film maker/dealer Danny "Boogie Woogie" Moynihan
Last June Pablo did Istanbul/Istancool. Then in November St Peters Ball with the Corinthia Hotel group. Last week he threw a dinner for Nobel Laureate V.S Naipaul at the Langham in London. Next year he takes his cultural caravan to Rio.
Pablo is passionate and totally inspiring. “It is vital to develop greater understanding between nations through cultural dialogues. People need to speak to each other face-to-face, as opposed to solely through the net, from different continents if we are to truly, broaden our minds and gain better understanding of each other,” is the kind of monologue he launches into daily.
The program for St Petersburg was somewhat stymied when a key component of the schedule, artist Matt Collishaw was rushed to hospital with a perforated ulcer a day before he was due to leave London. However other artists, including photographer Polly Borland, the taxidermy artist Polly Morgan and musician and Razorlight frontman Johnny Borrell delivered interesting talks to the culturally engaged Russians who came to the free events.
The divine Polly Morgan
One of the most striking things about St Petersburg was, of course, the Soviet hangover that lurks in the dark corners of the city like so many ghosts. It is a stunningly beautiful city, but even 20 years after the Soviet collapse it looks and feels a bit unloved.
Imagine being a fashion designer in post-Soviet Russia?
I was fortunate to meet St Petersburg's most famous fashion designer on day two of the visit, one Tatyana Parfionova (below). In the year following the fall of communism, Parfionova was the first Russian fashion designer to do the western thing and open a fashion boutique.
Now in her late 50s the designer remembers "We were all still buying food from street markets, the old system had collapsed. There was no new system, and in this situation I opened my shop. I put my name above the door. I put my name in the tag in the back of my clothes." This many sound a perfectly ordinary thing to do to western ears, but it was revolutionary in Russia at the time, and Parfionova is an iconic figure for it.
Her designs are all handworked one-offs. The clothes have an indy folky couture element to them that harks back to the 1930s. When one of her evangelical staff informed me that "She makes one of everything, and only sells to you if she like you," I was taken back to the 1990's. Tatyana would have to change her approach drastically, if she were fighting to be recognised in the clamour of the London market.
If you want an exquisite embroidered shawl featuring a detail from a work at The Hermitage museum, Tatyana Parfionova is your woman.
Her distinctly old school work is all created by hand by her team of artisans, who specialise in embroidery. Tatyana spends much of her time painting flowers, (below).
Meeting Tatyana was an eye-opener, reminding me how lucky we are in the west to have the freedom to create without boundaries. Progress creates progress.
51 Nevsky prospekt, Admiralteysky 191025