Social Fabric

A Q&A with Atelier E.B’s Beca Lipscombe and Lucy McKenzie, Laura Gardner – Flash Art Online, January, 2017 (in full)

What is seductive about fashion as creative material for you?

L: Fashion operates at such an accelerated pace, all the ideas and all the craft flash by and the manic consumer cycle obscures its dept. But when you freezeframe, unpack it slowly and give it the attention it warrants it is incredibly rich. On closer look, you discover how much can be expressed within the restrictions of the business, how it reflects and transforms it’s time, and that it operates as a kind of double agent for women’s suppression and emancipation.

Part of what makes it rewarding to use as creative material is that its potential is still by and large unrecognised – the surface look of fashion is so distracting. And the critical discourse around it is relatively poor – you have the fashion world which operates with almost zero honest self-reflection, or the art world which tries to impose an inappropriate structure of value on to it from outside.

Beside that you have the experience of wearing something on your body and personally integrating it into your life and identity.

Atelier E.B work from inside both fashion and art contexts, we wear the clothes we make, and we take the time to think about them before and after they are made, more time that most designers would ever be able to do because of commercial pressure. And because of this we recognise fashion’s potential and can work in an area that is still enjoyably undefined. Fashion’s tendency towards reinvention is useful to us too.

B: I prefer the verb ‘to fashion, manufacture, fabricate’ over the ‘latest fashion craze or trend’.  Atelier E.B fashion garments that we believe are perennial, transcending the latest fad.  When designing, I am initially led by the textile.  Lucy and I grew up in a textile nation – granted this climate has drastically changed in our short lifetime however we absorbed the tail end and I believe this is present in our work together.  For now, Atelier E.B utilise the expertise and knowledge that we have left in the Scottish textiles industry mixed with that of the Belgian industry to create no nonsense garments for ourselves, our friends and our customers.

No (one) individual owns the basic blocks to fashion design therefore this creates a very open ecology of creativity.

Atelier EB often put research methods into practice, what is your working process in putting together a collection or exhibition? And why is it important for you to document these projects in publications?

L: Can we narrow this question down to either collection or exhibition? I’ll deal with collection here.

Our working process: for the last collection, there were certain subjects that we found interesting either together or separately. We worked apart (in Brussels and Edinburgh), developing our ideas on these themes into one to one scale paper mock-ups – rather like the clothes burned to honour Chinese ancestors. These we put them together and looked at them as a group, and from there start to build the cohesive character of the collection, interconnecting the ideas through different components with different levels of quality. The initial paper mock-ups are especially useful in planning intarsia knitwear and to Beca as a printmaker. By incorporating them into our work we show that the process is real and idiosyncratic, not just the obligatory ‘back story’ that products need today to sell in niche markets to micro-connoisseurs for inflated prices. We see the research, the production, and the dissemination of a collection as interconnected, and each is a pretext for the other. Expressing how we arrived at certain ideas is just as important as the finished designs, which are in themselves conventional, there is no extravagant silhouettes or subversion of rules. But that is not to say that what informs them is not conceptual, and presenting the ideas behind them in other forms like books keeps the clothes as simple as we like them to be.

B: Studying design at art school we were never encouraged to write about our work – we were taught that our portfolio spoke for itself. When I worked in education and my design students took joint crits with fine art students it was very apparent that the experience traumatized the designers.  Fine art students are expected to write about their work, they could support their work with words even if it was bullshit.  Observing Lucy’s solo work has taught me the importance of writing and evidencing what we do. Even though I still feel insecure about my writing – it can be emancipating.

Our publications allow us transparency, to acknowledge and rightfully credit those whom we have been influenced by and the teams of individuals we work with – this is not standard practice in the fashion industry.  The books allow for a wider audience to see and read about our work. Our research, collections and events live on through print.

L: Good point Beca – we also know that fashion serves on so many levels and some people prefer to read about and look at clothes rather than wear them themselves, something we totally understand.

What is the methodology behind how and when you disseminate your collections?

L: When – there is no timetable, but we work slowly because we let things develop at the pace it needs around our other work and lives.

How – we have the clothes photographed or drawn for either a specific publication or to post online. Nothing is fixed, and with each new collection we try something new – working with different graphic design, photographers, models and mannequins. I sometimes write a piece of fiction inspired by the final atmosphere of the collection. The ‘Inventors of Tradition’ collections I and II both had exhibitions connected to them and books documenting the complete projects with primary research and interviews. Again, the clothes are something of a pretext to do other things we like to do together and with collaborators.

I also often make drawings of the clothes because of my interest in fashion illustration. I believe that a drawing can convey the same amount of information that a fashion photograph can, to both the public and industry, and that we have just lost the ability to read them in the way they were before being superceeded by photography.

B: The methodology behind how and when we disseminate each of our collections is always shifting, there is no set formula other than not to set a formula.  The recent experience of showing our portfolio on Instagram has been interesting as nor I or Lucy had previously taken part in social media.

I often act as the ‘stylist’ enlisting photographers and graphic designers to allow me to create my vision parallel to their invaluable contribution.  In our most recent publication I came up with concepts for visual stories that related to areas of our research within the book, then handed them over to another team to create, giving me the opportunity to see it through someone else’s eyes.  We not only styled our new collection, I also styled the collection’s research into a 14 page shoot.

L: I’d also like to mention that Beca’s approach to styling has had a big influence on my own practice – for recent shows I’ve been thinking about how, like curators, stylists are power-brokers now, as well as the idea of ‘styling’ my paintings by making elaborate scenographies to show them in.

What does it mean to exhibit in a gallery space for fashion objects? What does art’s critical framework offer Atelier EB?

L: It can be part of broader discourse around showing design objects in a gallery or museum, where hierarchies of status dictate how it should be read. Designer brands advertise in art magazines and court the art world to elevate their products to the rank of art, and are often marketed as ‘limited edition’, to create more value.

Our clothes and objects are extremely limited edition but we have never marketed them as such, and what interests us about showing in galleries is being able to tap into the art worlds strong social network and taking the products directly to consumers with as little mediation (and overheads) as possible. Through showing in galleries we get financial and moral support to bring our work to potential customers without having to submit to the pressure and self-interest of the fashion industry, with all its gatekeeps in the form of editors, buyers, and stylists. The art rather than fashion scene offers a degree of flexibility that we need, to not be a real brand (while still making clothes that people want).

What can contemporary fashion learn from dress history? And how do you engage with this history and tradition as conceptual basis of your work?

L: Just because I’m interested in, for instance, the interwar period, it does not mean I have a mood board covered in Great Gatsby film stills and flappers in tennis dresses. Rather, the geo-politics, technology and crime fiction of the period yield more to think about and process than just lifting a certain visual look. For example, Madeleine Vionnet – I had dismissed her designs as just red carpet party gowns, until through her chronicler Betty Kirke, I discovered the originality of her methods and working practices. This act of penetrating under Vionnet’s surface was an inspiring experience, just as inspiring as when I got to know about fashion through meeting Beca in the early 200s. With Vionnet one discovers that what does not look overtly Modernist can be much more so than that which shouts about it. She offered a personal vision of emancipation that, unlike most Modernists, was not about negating femininity as backward and irrational. Fashion can learn from history not to go by appearances, and that when one works with the same old unquestioned tropes one is reinforcing hierarchies of class, race and sex.

B: I was instinctively drawn to the seminal work of Bonnie Cashin, but it was only recently that I was able to read about Cashin’s process in depth with the publication Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It by Stephaine Lake, a personal friend to Bonnie. It is uncanny the similarities between Cashin and Atelier E.B. This is not to say our designs are like that of Bonnie Cashin’s – its more in our ethos, philosophically – its inspiriting and significant to discover and uncover others that have been protagonists (vanguards) and outsiders to an industry and whom made it work for them.

There is often a feminist orientation to your work, how do you relate to dress and its history as a women’s industry?

L: Examining history from a feminist point of view is especially rich for fashion, as a field with many great female producers that are now being written about seriously. Academic writers like Elizabeth Wilson, Caroline Evans, Tag Gronberg, Mark Wigley and Beatriz Colomina all explore fashions’ inherent radicalism instead of regarding it only of interest because of its proximity to existing grand narratives. As if fashion is only relevant because male figures like Mallarmé, Benjamin, Loos or Simmel permit it. Atelier E.B want to be part of the project that uncovers lost histories and celebrates marginalised figures, especially women. But also local artists from Scotland which we feel are under-appreciated in a country that has a rather tortured relationship with style.

Does your work attempt to critique or destabilise of fashion’s market framework?

L: We don’t start from such a negative or conceptual starting point. Primarily, we make clothes for ourselves and our friends for working and that make us feel strong. That we can only go about that in a way which ignores the traditional fashion market framework is secondary. If that is read as inherently critical then it shows how entrenched those market rules are.

B: When together, Lucy and I naturally critique the fashion industry however we are more preoccupied with finding a way for Atelier E.B to flourish with our set values and ethics. This is more invigorating and empowering than critiquing.

How do you know it’s a costume

Lucy McKenzie

How do you know it’s a costume if it’s just a pair of black trousers and a white shirt?

You know because it’s made of cheap nylon, and it’s sold as a complete set in a bag, with a picture of the manga character it corresponds to on the front. The same goes for a tracksuit with JAPAN written like the FILA logo across the front, or a school uniform with a fake Harris Tweed scarf included. The closest analogy might be a novelty outfit from a sex shop, or a costume for Carnival or Halloween. But the ready-made manga looks sold in bags are different from these clearly-assigned costumes. Firstly, because they are very well-made. All the printed motifs match perfectly at the seams, and every detail, down to the faux label inside, has been carefully considered. And because of the context in which they are sold: a department store on Otome Road in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, that caters to the Fujoshi subculture of adolescent fan-girls who self-publish and consume homoerotic cartoons featuring their favourite male characters from mainstream manga. As well as the comics and outfits, wigs, make-up, and guides on how to emulate idols like The Prince of Tennis are on sale. They don’t seem to be for participation in public festivals, but for a more private universe.

When does it stop being a costume?

When it’s nice to wear. When it’s constructed from good quality fabric and the design has been refined to flatter your figure. When it’s normalised to fall on the right side of the line. And when you decide it has become something else. The romance of traditional, folk and historical dress has always exercised a strong influence on contemporary fashion. Whether they are satisfying an appetite for exoticism or simply being absorbed into streetwear, for garments to cease functioning as costume they must have their impracticalities stripped out to conform to contem­porary standards of beauty, comfort and price.

When Atelier E.B decided to produce a series of neo-classical nylon tracksuits, it was the issue of costume that preoccupied us: the elasticity of the term, and how much we wanted, like our Fujoshi sisters, to conceal the special status the garments had for us. Adolf Loos claimed that nineteenth-century English tailoring was a cloak beneath which the bourgeois gentleman should hide his individualism (and perversions) from the public eye. Now tracksuits and trainers are standard units of dress, democratic and anonymous. But for us they contain as much folkloric fantasy as any kimono, and a comparable level of sexual charge. Analogous issues arose for the elements of the collection that resemble school uniform: a mundane black skirt, grey v-neck and polo-shirt are un­spectacular, but their suggestion of a uniform titillates the subconscious. By contrast, our lingerie, made in collaboration with the Belgian company Carine Gilson, is not meant to evoke the sensuality of the boudoir. Carine Gilson epitomises master craftsmanship, and we combine it with our less refined pieces to destabilise brand consistency, as well as work with one of our heroes.

Why are you more likely to see a glamour model in a football strip than a professional woman athlete?

Because the Football Association effectively banned women’s football for 50 years. Migration in fashion reflects cultural change: masculine attire being assimilated by women, the influence of outsiders on the majority, and sportswear’s never-ceasing stylistic expansion in all directions. The lack of support for women’s football is an example of a silent norm, and this irrationality is increasingly transparent. Like the Breton shirts and yellow waxed cagoules that would be useless if one was actually sailing, Atelier E.B’s sportswear is not for use at the gym. We sponsor Leith Athletic Ladies All Ages Team, and their uniform, like any other football shirt, has a remarkable effect on the opposite sex. It works better than a push-up bra.

Did you get permission to make Charles Rennie Mackintosh jewellery?

No we didn’t, but neither did the companies who originally produced ‘Mockintosh’ in the 1980s and 90s. Mockintosh jewellery was well-designed and well-made, kept the local silversmithing industry alive, and is genuinely specific to Glasgow. It re­presents an alternative narrative in Scottish design, but because it was consumed mainly by women, and because its authenticity is questionable, it has never been designated as a legitimate represen­tation of Glasgow’s famed local culture.

What is Scottish style?

In the heightened political awareness provoked by the vote for Scottish independence in 2014, this seemed an issue that was worth exploring inde­pend­ently of the hierarchies and institutions that usually shape its definition. The loyalists waving Union Jacks made Rangers Football Club strips even more unfashionable. The Scotsman newspaper went the way of the Paisley shawl. The Royal Bank of Scotland’s ‘RBS’ logo on Scottish rugby shirts became an icon of hypocrisy at a time when the company was threatening to move its headquarters abroad if Scotland chose independence. A viable future felt like one that did not pander to romantic clichés from either the left or the right. Scottish style should remain uncommodifiable, but to ignore it would be wrong. There is Scottish heraldry in The Inventors of Tradition II, but it is rendered in pixels, like a hieroglyph on the threshold of offence.

To Whom It May Concern

Edinburgh, 17.9.2015

In the short space of time researching and exhibiting our apparel collection for The Inventors of Tradition II, so much has changed. Atelier E.B has witnessed the jewel in Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s crown reduced to ashes, the passing of the pioneering Scottish footballer Edna Neillis, Pop Art’s Gerald Laing and the textile and fine artist Bernat Klein of High Sunderland. Eduardo Paolozzi’s Tottenham Court Road tube station mosaics are to be re-housed at Edinburgh University and The Scotsman newspaper has downsized, its building leased to the makers of Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar North, illustrating the changing nature of the media. Scotland was asked to reflect on its identity; did I mention that The Scotsman backed a ‘No’ vote in the referendum on Scottish Independence in September 2014?

Both partners in Atelier E.B grew up in Scotland. We come from completely different style backgrounds and cities. We discuss common ground together yet appreciate our differences. I often liken my and Lucy’s accord to that of Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. Did you know that we graduated in 1999 the same year Glasgow was designated UK City of Architecture and Design however neither of us studied at Glasgow School of Art? We both have Jack Vettriano modelling stories, we both really fancied the Czechoslovakian tennis player Ivan Lendl in our teens and we both enjoy sharing beauty and scent tips with one another.

Atelier E.B works with local companies in Scotland and Belgium that produce ethically, and our clothes have more to do with referencing, re-contextualising and refining existing style languages than innovation. The radicality of the label is not in the cut; it’s in our approach, facilitated through art, and our independence from a fashion system we find fatigued and conventional.

We continue to live in different cities, me in Edinburgh, Lucy in Brussels. We research and design separately for Atelier E.B, coming together for intense bursts of show-and-tell. It was decided when designing the collection on this occasion that we would create our garment ideas in life-size paper cut-outs, Henri Matisse-like, aiding an overall view of the collection, now documented as the papier decoupes in Lucy’s jumbo pin board trompe l’oeil oil painting Quodlibet XXXV.

To assist the design process we looked to the work of Scottish filmmaker, writer and exhibition curator Murray Grigor. His documentary films often champion forgotten truths in Scottish history and culture; they capture the smell, sound, losses and looks of a time past. Grigor began his filmmaking career in the late 1960s, focusing on the life of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The first of his films I stumbled across was Space and Light Revisited, which documents the rise and demise of St Peter’s Seminary designed by the architects Gillespie, Kidd & Coia. You can imagine my delight when I subsequently came across the list of his endless filmography. How to get my hands on his films? I viewed what is available through the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive but eventually realised I would have to contact Murray personally. His film narratives combine ideas, vox-pop interviews, humour, artefacts, stills, animation, fact, style and texture; he is a master weaver of documentary filmmaking. Although he’s revered internationally, believe it or not it is difficult to view Grigor’s works. Where are the box sets?

Finally, Atelier E.B have created our own fabric label to be sewn into garments in the collection in tandem with the producer’s label. A few garments in the collection have the label applied to the outside of the piece, a gentle nod to British and European brands from the 1980s* that introduced us to the high quality textiles and construction methods that we aspire to attain in our own collections.

Yours faithfully,

Beca Lipscombe

* Atelier E.B explores this trend further through Paravent VII Jumbo labels / Show fantasy escalate

Ost End Girls

This is a short story about fashion; a set of clothes with a fabricated back story. But it’s also about two people, one of whom loves the other and gets murdered. It’s a crime story so you feel at ease. If it’s not a crime story then it’s just literature, and it should not be that, it should be advertorial for clothes, and murder. Thus the theme will carry it along and make you feel in safe hands, which you are, I know enough about the clothes to pull it off.

Have in mind a painting by Giorgio de Chirico – receding arcade, long shadows, and a fleeing girl. But imagine he did this one to order for a vulgar Miami collector, to go with a South Beach décor, so it’s done in pistachio, gold and mauve. Regard the dark silhouette of a man sitting at a café table to the left; he’s looking at the beach over a Standaard newspaper. This is a painting of the promenade in Oostende (the quiet end near the hippodrome, directly in front of the Thermae Palace hotel where the protagonists are staying). Because of the time of day the shadow of the pillar falls over his face. The other version of the painting, owned by the same collector but on loan to The Wolfsonian as part of a show called ‘The Inventors of Tradition II’, has exactly the same scene, but the shadows fall in the opposite direction because it’s morning rather than evening. In this version the body has been dragged up the beach from the boat whose owner found the drowned girl and brought her ashore. The shadow of the pillar cuts across her body, neatly bisecting her midriff, between her bikini briefs and top.
De Chirico used the same cartoon to transfer the architectural structures that underpin the composition of both paintings, the geometry of which is deceptively sophisticated. From left to right: the hotel with the arcade which extends far beyond the boundaries of its terrace café; the boardwalk promenade; the beach huts that are accessed by a little jump down into the sand. Then the beach itself, furrowed and churned by hundreds of late summer visitors, the rough brushwork rendering the ridges and shadows in the sand. Seen from a distance, say from the entrance to the living room, hung over the Collectors couch, it becomes four stripes; it’s a very simple composition.
The man’s silhouette is purple brown. The only other figures, two girls on the beach, are in the full evening glow of the sun. The man’s notebook is hidden to all but him behind his newspaper. It contains a drawing of an Egyptian symbol on the open page, quickly sketched in shorthand that he can interpret and refine later. Because the girls loll and fidget it has taken a while to get the details right. But now he has it’s confirmed that indeed the symbol is the Eye of Horus. That means they are who he thinks they are. He’s drawing an arm twist over a chest; a neck crane round and a brow furrow in a compulsive act of fingernail gnawing.
“Don’t go swimming tonight.” Chatty Cathy spits out the ragged nail, aiming into the sand but it sticks wetly to the black and white picnic blanket. Trendy Wendy squints at the horizon. There is no reason why she shouldn’t go swimming; Cathy just needs to feel like she has control over her. Four weeks of daily swims, striking out for a distant point like a buoy or an anchored boat, have made Trendy Wendy brown and elastic, the perfect corrective to the cloistered indoor life at school, where they are hidden away from the stink of Cairo and the danger of assault or kidnapping.
“But think about it; ninety-five percent water, no brain or nervous system.” Her eyes glaze over when she thinks about the jellyfish. It gets her in the mood for a swim, life simplified to propelling movement, daydreaming and avoiding tentacles. Cathy normally comes out with her a short way, then at the sight of one of the red stingers shrieks and splashes to the shore in a panic. They are hunkered down this evening, their tracksuits on now the summer is cooling off. Chatty Cathy lights a Parliament cigarette. She is irritated by Wendy’s ease in the sea, around the monstrous jellyfish.
The Eye of Horus on their polo shirts, the essential component of a uniform that they wear even when away from the Swiss School of Cairo, is a controlling device. It reminds them that their behaviour must be kept in check as representatives of their elite boarding school. Their form mistress Miss Badru knows how to instil and manipulate loyalty. Their uniforms, when worn outside the school, are a badge of honour, their specific meaning and design a strict secret. The castle battlements on their rugby shirts echo the fortress architecture of the main building (nestling between four ornamental lakes, one for each of the dead children of the founders), the embellishment on their winter sport jumpers encapsulate the neo-geo design of the great hall, which is kept cool and gloomy in contrast to the heat outside. The outfits differentiate the pupils, who are the progeny of multi-national business and diplomatic titans, from the local Cairo teenagers. The man has sketches of the curve of a brown downy leg and the Greek Key waistband on their shorts. It’s a false boxer short, he glimpsed a popper-stud before a pink tracksuit went on over it. This detail, Greek Key waistband, was a request when the painting was commissioned, by the way, to go with the collector’s décor.

The generic di Chirico figure of the fleeing child with the long outflung shadow races up the central stripe, along the promenade. Her long dress billows behind her as if she hurtles along, but she’s static. You look at another detail of the painting, the Running Dog ornament on a bikini suit bisected by purple shadow on the corpse. The museum glass has ultraviolet in it and it’s hard to see without your own reflection interfering. But you can see that the elasticated band is silkscreened and that the motif has degenerated from the stretch across the young girl’s hips and breasts and from sea salt. The bottom of her breasts poke out under the bandeau. When she walks from the hotel to the sea, tiny muscles undulate over her ribcage. You look back to the fleeing girl; she has not moved a millimetre.
Cathy and Wendy’s classmate Layla hops down from the promenade to the beach, leaving a companion by the entrance to the hotel. Her steps are small, her long dress hampers her progress over the choppy sand. The girls on the picnic blanket make room for her and she sits.
“Can I use your room Wendy? Would you just sleep with Cathy tonight?”  Wendy and Cathy appraising the boy hovering by the hotel entrance.
“Of course, just move my things.” Wendy extracts a key-card from her beach-bag and hands it over. Layla smiles politely and pockets it, she does not invite any question as to why she does not want to sleep in her usual room in her parent’s suite. She returns to the hotel and as she comes to his side the boy attempts to clasp her hand and she swerves adeptly away from him.
The man on the terrace is writing in his notebook. The last time he saw Layla she was cascading down the screen and he had clicked to the last page of her blog. Like now, in that digital photo she wears a long cream coloured djellaba, with a cashmere headscarf round her face. Over the dress her waist and hips are encased in a black knee-length pencil skirt; she is a short, shapely, graphic vase. He knows that this cream smock is actually her art class painting attire, and that she has modified it and made it her own by the way she wears it. Her blog, modestmisscairo, has thousands of followers across Europe and the Middle East (exactly the market his company are hoping to expand into). The influence of the Swiss School’s uniform, with its idiosyncrasy, its austerity and symbolism, has reached the chicer corners of Egyptian street culture. Gangs have started mimicking different aspects of the uniform, white work coats worn with knotted cashmere sweaters, the gymnastic ensemble of polo shirt, baseball cap and white shorts all in various off-whites. Their school satchel resembles the ticket collector’s bags from the Cairo tram network and several of these have been stolen at knifepoint by youths wanting to replicate the look. Wendy had been robbed at a cash machine when she was in the city centre. She had her bike between her legs, credit card in one hand, cash in the other, but they had only taken her blue leather bag and Cleopatra baseball cap.

After an evening’s swim Wendy changes into a Hieroglyphic t-shirt dress and backless violet jumper. She walks into the town centre of Oostende to the Lafayette to find Cathy as arranged. It is the first evening of autumn; the wind blowing in from the sea feels sharper. The bay is filling for the regatta that will take place at the end of the week. They’ll be back in Egypt and back at school by then. Cathy and Layla’s parents have taken a trip to the Antwerp Opera and may or may not be back tonight. They are business partners, an American lawyer and Syrian film producer.
She finds Cathy at the back of the crowded bar in a familiar pose; staring down her nose aggressively at a local girl who sips Kreik and yaks with a friend. Cathy has hiked one loafered foot on to the bar stool beside the girl, and hams up her expression of judgemental disapproval, occasionally rearranging her chin so that she glowers at the girl through her fringe, then again down her nose, and turns up the collar of her long black coat. This is Cathy’s chat up technique. The young girl and her friend roll their eyes and giggle.
Last summer Cathy got so drunk in the Histoires d’Eau bar that she had beat up a cigarette machine thinking it was a jukebox: there had been a rock band playing downstairs. Wendy does not want to deal with Cathy when she’s in this kind of mood; maybe she could go and look for Layla and that boy she’s picked up? But she can’t, she’s Cathy’s guest, and wants to see that her friend is ok. Wendy has no family of her own. She tugs on Cathy’s sleeve, Cathy gives her a glower and returns to the girls. Wendy edges to the back lit bar.
“Hey miss,” a voice somewhere above her. A hand encircle her wrist and she looks up a checked shirt into a black face.
“Hey miss, buy you a drink?”
“No thanks” she turns away. The hand slackens, but it stays close as she worms towards the bar. It grips her wrist again with snake pressure.
“Here with those friends of yours tonight? The Arab girl? Did you know this was Marvin Gaye’s favourite bar?” Wendy pushed the hand off her wrist. She recognises ths man from the last few days at the beach, she had clocked him watching them. She doesn’t like unwanted male attention. She feels him finger the neck band of her backless jumper and she wriggles free.
“Hey! Is that why you’re here? You think you can touch up girls because you look like Marvin Gaye?” she tries to cover her anxiety by being provocative.
“No way, that’s not my style. Lemme buy you a drink. You and your friends – your clothes are cool. It’s nice to see different girls dressed so smart. Is it like a uniform or something?”
Ms Badru would not like her talking to a stranger about their clothes, which she considered as secularly magical as monarchy. This is where Ms Badru’s self-defence classes would have come in useful, but she had not been allowed to participate in case it brought on one of her fits. She spots Cathy, doing a slow drunken serenade to the giggling girls. She shoots the man a scowl and yanks herself through dancing tourists. She hovers by Cathy’s side and the man keeps watching her. After ten minutes of being ignored by Cathy and eyed by the stranger she leaves.
She lies in Cathy’s bed drifting in and out of sleep, trying to stay awake for her return. But she’s exhausted from her swim, to De Haan and back along the coast. The sea had been full of sea lice. In the month in Ostende she had observed the life cycle of the jelly fish and their pumping alien babies were being born.
From the room below, her room, a series of noises indicated Layla was there with her guest. Drifting in and out of consciousness it sounded like pieces of furniture being moved around and knocked over, strange bumps that would sometimes become regular, reach a feverish pounding and then suddenly stop. Once or twice she heard a guttural cackle. As she glided off again she heard what sounded like someone rummaging through an extremely disorganised toolbox.
By coincidence this exact noise had been imagined by the man and his boyfriend back in New York earlier in the summer. They were walking round the Egyptian wing of the Met Museum when he had said out of nowhere:
“I think I know the sound I’ll hear when I lose my mind. The sound of someone digging through a fucked-up toolbox. Screws leaking out of shitty boxes, drill bits all over the deck, cables and hammers and electrical tape all jumbled together in a tangled-up cable-salad. Someone looking for a hook at the bottom, churning through it, upending it all on the floor. That’s what I’ll hear when I lose it.” His boyfriend had absentmindedly picked his nose and thought about coffee.
Wendy comes awake to the sound of the extractor fan in the bathroom. She opens her eyes and sees Cathy’s shoes on the floor, lit by the light under the door of the bathroom. One shoe is behind the other where she has used it to ease off her loafers, the stance exactly how Cathy stands when in front of the blackboard back at school, thighs crossed as she writes in her terrible scrawl the answer to a problem under Ms Badru’s feline gaze. She dips back into sleep, thinking about the tool box rummage sound, which in her mind has now transformed into a kind of high, empty plastic rattle, echoing round an empty room. Cathy gets into bed and elbows her awake. Wendy pats her hair in greeting.
“Layla and that boy have been really going for it. How did you get on with those girls?”
“This big black dude kept hassling us and they left. Did I see you talking to him?”
“He was bugging me about our uniforms.”
“You didn’t tell him anything? He was the same with me, asking about Layla, it was really creepy. Ms Badru wouldn’t like it. She’d blame me you know, if something happened. She always blames me.’
“Not true Cath. Go to sleep.” But it was true, Wendy was her favourite, and it’s common for abusive teachers to bully girls who are abused by a parent, as Wendy is. They’re trapped. This is why Wendy loves her so much.

The man watches Chatty Cathy and Trendy Wendy as they saunter out of the hotel entrance and down to the sea. Wendy has bikini, bathing cap, waterproof mp3 player, snorkel and waterproof SLR camera round her neck on a strap and a big grin. Cathy, awkward when not fully covered, the insidiousness of the authority of their Arab lives back home, waits till reaching the sea before taking off her bathrobe. He enters the hotel lobby unobtrusively.
He is using this moment to break into their hotel room. He had discreetly followed Cathy home from the Lafayette the night before, shadowed her up the central staircase of the hotel and observed her enter her room. Taking the same stairs now two at a time, on the 4th floor he spots Layla. She’s talking in a baby voice into an iphone which is held in place over her ear by her headscarf, her free hands stuffing sheets into an abandoned laundry trolley. She ends the call and he follows her back to her room, and as she enters he flicks out a foot and stops the door from closing. In panic she tries to close it on him but she’s too late; he shoves her back into the room. The room is in disarray, the mattress half off the bed, heaps of clothes everywhere.
“Modest Miss Cairo” he states. She edges into the corner of the room.
“Don’t be scared, I just want to ask you something.” He looks round the wrecked room. “You wouldn’t like the people knowing that a student of the Swiss School of Cairo parties like this? In her uniform?” Lalya looks crestfallen.
“Look, I just want to know where your uniform is made.”
“We’re not allowed to tell people. Other girls copy us and the school doesn’t like it.”
“What about your blog? What do they think of that?”
“They don’t know, please don’t tell them. Who are you?”
“I won’t, I like it. So do lots of other people. I work for the company Get-Up Division – we want to make a line inspired by your streetstyle, and what easier way to make knockoffs than in the factory where they are made? You know that’s what Ralph Lauren do don’t you?” She perches on the bed and puts her head in her hands. He goes to the wardrobe and extracts a grey cashmere coat, touches the label on the inside lapel. It has Wendy’s name embroidered, the name of the school, and the name of an Alexandrian manufacturer. He writes down the details and leaves. “Thanks for the tips; we’re going to make a lot of money off you girls.”

In the sea Cathy has turned back early as usual, walked back up the beach and to her room. She thinks about knocking on Layla, but decides against it, hearing a male voice and knowing how much her Muslim friend would not wish to be visited until all traces of the night before are eradicated, and the folds of her headscarf perfectly arranged again. She steps out of her swimming costume and hangs it on the handle of the window, which is open to let in the breeze, even though this room looks over the smelly back service entrance. Her parent would be back today. She wonders if Wendy is dead yet.
She’s not, but nearly. She has aimed for a distant point, but today there are many more boats in the bay, and choppy sea distracts her. Her snorkel has been steaming up more than usual. The waves ebb and the boats rock; their sails and masts are dark against the overcast sky. Wendy realises she is being pushed out to sea by a current and should turn back, and then she notices the long tentacles. The change in temperature has brought from the bottom of the sea many more dying jellyfish. She knew it was this time of their bloom, but she had wanted one more swim before going back to the heat and dust so badly. She is surrounded; swimming in any direction means swimming into criss-crossing, poison-filled threads. She gets her first serious sting of the summer. The 2nd is stronger, wrapping around her left arm and thigh in a Celtic band of welts. She feels nauseous and panicked, and must try to get back to the coast in extreme physical pain. But she can’t really see because the sun has suddenly emerged and she’s swimming into it against the shifting current. Then a familiar sensation starts to scrape out the inside of her brain. The incongruous odour of her dead mother’s basement, the familiar sign that it’s about to happen and she should avoid hard surfaces and corners. The masts waving in front of the sun produce a flicker like a dream-machine and the epileptic fit overwhelms her.
The man exits the hotel, his book still open at his notes. As he passed discreetly through the service entrance a water droplet from Wendy’s swim suit (barely wrung out) detaches itself from the gusset and lands perfectly on the name of the factory, blurring the ink and obliterating it. He does not notice. He boards his train to Brussels airport then his flight to Philadelphia where his company is based and he works as a freelance fashion forecaster.
Wendy towels herself off and gazed into the mirror, glaring down her nose. Now she can be Ms Badru’s favourite. She unscrews the cap of Wendy’s epilepsy medicine, shakes out the pills into her hand, plastic rattle echoing round the bathroom. She takes out the vitamin C bottle from her wash bag and empties the capsules into the other palm, looks at the two sets of identical pills. She deposited the vitamins back into their container and replaces the medicine into its original bottle.
Back in Cairo Ms Badru is preparing the syllabus for the new term next week. She thinks they should have more self-defence classes. She does it on her own initiative, it is important for young girls to feel confident in a city where so much effluence wants to overtake them.
“My girls,” she stretches, leaning back in her chair. Her white workcoat strains over her hairy chest and she yawns. She eases off one white slipper, helping it with the toe of the other foot. She stretches each toe, each claws carefully manicured. Slowly and gracefully she lifts the foot and sniffs it, then her rough tongue licks leisurely around the pads.  She replaces the shoe and packs up to go home for the day. As she exits the classroom her bushy tail strokes the door and disappears with a flourish.

Letter to the Scotsman newspaper

April 2013

To Whom It May Concern

I am compelled to write this letter knowing that it will not change the fate of Caelee Mills (formerly Ballantyne Cashmere), which very sadly went into administration last week, shuting down production 225 years after it first opened. However, I publically wish to voice my great concern and dismay at the way in which another valuable asset to Scotland’s historical and cultural fabric has been allowed to disappear without a trace – leaving a gaping hole in our ever-vanishing textile industry and impacting negatively on yet another Scottish community. This is a community I have had the honour of knowing in my capacity as a director of a small-scale fashion label that produces in Scotland and sells internationally.This is happening at a time when Scots and the world in general are scrutinising our ability to survive independently. In this debate, the Scottish textiles industry can be seen as symbolic of the Scottish economy as a whole. In the textile industry I see a deleterious lack of government support.Scotland was and is a nation famed for its production of high-end knitted and woven textiles. We have produced, and continue to this day to produce, for all the major luxury fashion houses in the world, although this is often done anonymously. These high-end companies come to Scotland because our textiles embody a skill, an understanding and a quality that they wish to see in the fibre from which their products are made. We are not a fashion nation – we leave that to London, Paris and Milan. However, Scotland does have a role in the continued production of quality textiles; this is what we understand and what we do best.China is in the middle of an industrial revolution. Our industrial revolution happened so long ago that the Scottish textile industry finds itself housed in buildings that are not appropriate for business today; they are too costly to heat and run, and have no apprenticeships schemes to offer and so lack programmes of modernisation or long-term investment. I appreciate that we as consumers are at fault for wanting to buy clothing cheap. But if we saw the skilled process that a jumper goes through to be created we would not think its premium cost unjustified. The quality of our textiles transcends fashion. Fashion comes and goes, but a beautifully crafted jumper will always be needed and ours are renowned.Caerlee Mills was the last mill in Europe predominately to employ the specialist knitwear process of hand intarsia*. Some of the staff had worked there for over 40 years; we cannot buy, replace or pass on their knowledge once it has gone. I understand that the closure of Caerlee Mills has come about because of many factors. It should be emphasised, however, that they had substantial orders on their books. Tragically, they were unable to produce these orders as they could not afford to buy the yarn up front. That, coupled with an antiquated building that was too costly to run, equals redundancies and devastation in Scottish communities.A very different – and much more positive – story is the case of Chanel buying Barrie knitwear. Chanel have been taking over their French ateliers, famed for creating shoes, braiding and so on, because of their fear that once these businesses have gone there will be no-one skilled and experienced enough to do the job. Chanel understands the importance of investment in a skilled artisan workforce. As a Scot, I realise that we do not always appreciate and value our strengths until they have gone, to be appreciated elsewhere, if at all. So I salute the last standing textile companies – you know who you are! As world commerce and consumer patterns change one thing is for sure: unless government invests in and supports our struggling textile industries, very few will remain standing. China may have might, but we have history, skill and legacy.This is a sad time! There is no one person to blame here but a succession of unfortunate events: Beeching taking out the rail networks that serviced Dumfries and Galloway, the rise in yarn prices, antiquated buildings, a cash flow crisis, pension schemes not paying out, consumer patterns, competing industries worldwide, aviation … the list goes on. I don’t claim to have the answers, I only observe from the outside. My company, Atelier E.B., has done extensive research into the post-1930s Scottish textiles industry, and we have seen for ourselves the tragic scale of what has been lost – Singer, Pringle, Ballantyne to name a only few of the great companies that went to the wall – and in the short time we have been collaborating with Scottish textiles companies we have witnessed much negative change. It all hangs on such a fine thread.

Yours faithfully

Beca Lipscombe, Atelier E.B

*Intarsia is the Italian word to describe inlaid patterns in wood. It was Ballantyne that developed this same idea but in knitting, at first using simple Argyll diamonds then growing more bold, depicting everything from the blossom of a cottage garden to the pattern on a Persian carpet. One inlaid panel of an intarsia sweater takes a highly skilled craftsman up to eight hours as each thread must be laid over the needles by hand to form the intricate pattern. The design is built up following the directions on a chart, constantly changing from colour to colour, laying the yarn into the needles with great care and precision.

Rodchenko’s Worker’s Suit Had No Fly

Lucy McKenzie

Unlike wool, which is ‘born’ rather than ‘made’, traditions, as opposed to customs, can be as constructed as the patchwork of folk paganism in the 1970s horror film, The Wicker Man. Hugh Trevor-Roper’s 1983 essay ‘The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland’ outlines the apocryphal origins of clan tartan. Trevor-Roper proposes that they stem not from an indigenous nobility but from a combination of Walter Scott’s Romantic personal vision and eighteenth-century English militarism. Despite the disparaging tone in which it is written, and its obvious contempt for such inauthentic heritage, the essay contains insights that invite further examination.

The designer Beca Lipscombe and I, working under the name Atelier, present our first fashion collection, encompassing high-quality wovens, knitwear, raincoats, workwear and accessories. This collection is part of the project, The Inventors of Tradition, which also included an exhibition, a film screening and this publication. We wanted to discover what lies behind the public image of ‘Scottish style’, what industry has survived the shift to the Far East, and if the claim that symbolic value has vastly overtaken actual productive and creative might is correct. In so doing we continue Trevor-Roper’s analysis of myth, but in a new climate and without his prejudices.

The purpose of the collection was to extend the research of The Inventors of Tradition into reality, and to do this Atelier collaborated with some of the most established manufacturers still producing in Scotland today. These include Mackintosh, Caerlee Mills, McRostie of Glasgow, Hawick Cashmere, Begg Scotland and Janette Murray Handknits. Discoveries in archives, as well as the content of film footage found at the Scottish Screen Archive, directly influence the style and ethos of the collection. After studying their archives and samples we discussed with the companies whether it would be possible with their current technology, labour force and workload to realise a small number of original designs. We tailored our ideas to these limitations: a finish that would be easily achievable, the adaptation of familiar shapes, working with the wool weight and colours already threaded on machines or fabric in stock.
The concept of the collection is a wardrobe for working women, especially artists and those in creative and artisan professions. As a painter, I understand exactly what I need in a work coat for the studio: it must be inexpensive and durable, but also rather dapper, like those worn by skilled factory workers when Scotland was an industrial power base. The act of adopting formal dress for work is in contrast to the contemporary norm of stained jeans and sweatshirts. In recent years embellishment and adornment have undergone a re-invention, and jeans can be bought pre-paint-spattered on the high street. Together with the tailor Steven Purvis, I designed a series of work coats inspired by historical models, following the example of Denise Van Der Kelen, the director of the decorative painting school I attended in Brussels.

A garment’s use is dictated by its fabric. Several of the coats are manufactured in both cotton and silk to highlight this fundamental truth; in silk the same work jacket becomes delicate and can be used as evening wear. To give the best specific silhouette the coats are cut differently for men and women, rather than unisex. The lightweight masculine models echo those worn by designers in the atelier, or men of leisure in the library.

A work coat can simultaneously suggest both drudgery and liberation. The work coat signifies the bohemian emancipation of the women who were able for the first time to enter public and private art schools at the end of the nineteenth-century. Whether this is the group of artists and designers in the circle of Charles Rennie Mackintosh at The Glasgow School of Art, known as the Glasgow Girls, or Käthe Kollwitz posing with a beer tankard in her studio, the image of the smock-wearing ‘New Woman’ is iconic. One model in the Atelier collection is designed for housework, and the combination of white over darker tones alludes to the classic uniform of the domestic servant. As with that other luxury, haute couture, it was the decline of domestic service in the 1920s that ushered in the concept of ready-to-wear. Previously, a ‘good’ outfit was only needed on the weekly afternoon off, but with their shift from sculleries into offices and factories, working women needed available and practical daywear.
Beca Lipscombe’s eponymous label manufactures exclusively in Scotland, a highly unusual undertaking where production limitations lead the design process. In this collaborative work she presents a selection of quality cashmere, pure wool knitwear and wovens to be worn with the work coats, as one inevitably does in a cold climate, by layering garments over each other. This honours a truth which is often negated in the aspirational fantasies of the fashion industry.

It is important for us, as in all our work together, that we maintain our separate identities. This creates not only a physical, but a conceptual layering. Our personal fashion histories are different. Beca, as a teenage model, was aligned with casual, expensive British and North Italian sportswear labels, hard-earned or stolen, and worn impeccably. By contrast, my adolescence was immersed in subculture, where fashion related solely to music and Siouxsie Sioux made swastika armbands okay. Gothic style is exceptionally elastic; expanding and splintering, with the enduring component of Celtic – especially pagan Celtic – images and sounds. Casual styles also evolve for each successive generation. There is no need for the result of these influences to be in conflict when no artificial unity is expected. Where we meet is in an appreciation of craftsmanship and in the wish to define our own ideas of what constitutes a personal Scottish style.

Beca shares a colour palette with her artist mother, whose trompe l’œil figurative tapestries use the macaroon, Caramac and neo-navy featured in her knitwear. These ‘local’ colours complement the shapes of her skirt and trouser suits, which are cut in the comfortable, flattering and luxurious style of classic leisure wear. Her contemporary take on the eternal Aran jumper, where the knit is loose enough to reveal naked skin underneath, typifies the sensuous flair she brings to Scottish traditions of clothing.

Some may argue, looking at Atelier’s new collection: ‘It’s just a round neck cashmere jumper with a jogging bottom pant.’ However, we challenge anyone to be able to shop for such a simple, no-nonsense garment now. We live in an over-designed world where branding, labelling and embellishment overrules quality, skill and style. To quote Jean Muir: ‘less is Muir.’ You may be able to find a round neck cashmere jumper, but we guarantee the trims on the sleeves and body will have been given the Italian finish (skinny and minimal) and there will be some form of applied symbol to reassure the customer of its status.
Beca Lipscombe, 2011

Beca’s handknits are not skimpy, but robust: the kind that, combined with a cagoule or Mackintosh, can replace a winter coat. Her Mackintosh has deep sleeves reminiscent of the kimono shapes that Muir and Bonnie Cashin devised especially to accommodate chunky knitwear underneath. It is sportswear in its original incarnation, to contrast the formal structure of everyday dress.
Our hat designs are based on recognisable shapes associated with national costume – a Spanish canotier, or the traditional headscarf and bonnet of Scotland, all produced in sombre Presbyterian style. Like the work coat, they suggest the completion of an outfit considered unnecessary today, and therefore a deliberate action.

Belgium, like Scotland, is a post-industrial, rainy country with a strong manufacturing past. Unlike in Scotland, however, innovative Belgian fashion design has flourished in the last twenty-five years into a globally recognised economic and cultural force. This has happened through support by the state, higher education and an infrastructure of skilled production. Without serious investment by people who care, our industry will die, or at best decline into something devoid of local character. Belgian fashion honours tradition while extending and re-imagining it; can we blame our lack of creativity only on a lack of resources? We know that to dress idiosyncratically in Scotland must be something undertaken with bravery.

Atelier’s take on national dress has little to do with the subversion of historicism exhibited by designers like Vivienne Westwood or Alexander McQueen. Nor do we align ourselves with the irreverent re-jigging of woollen golf wear for a younger market. Rather my antiquated shapes echo Glasgow at the turn of the twentieth century; their feminism is whimsically romantic. The Greek ornament Beca often uses, Running Dog, here unfinished on the edges of blanket skirts, is the neoclassical motif loved by Robert Adam and Alexander Thomson. We do not propose that people should be walking amalgamations of symbols, only that Scotland has the cultural and manufacturing potential to define itself away from predetermined myths.