Spelling bees were never really my thing; totally buggin’ – still love me some 90s Clueless classics 20.5 years down the walkway. No clueless ostrich in this time’s vestiary pastures, however, as Olivia Gurdjian is the founder and creative director of Shanghai-based Bubble Mood, a brand well-vested far from the industry rules – I’m so like whatever about those as well. No matter the buying seasons, stocks, orders or sales, Gurdjian and gang set out to create unique pieces that will inspire the various customers. Yet before we jump on the 1937-goes-2016 platform heel, a mode history morsel in honor of Bubble Mood’s SS16 collections: The kimono, this brand’s pièce de résistance for five seasons running. Non-tote-worthy-trousseau item, you say? As if!
Writing about Chinese fashion and talking about the Japanese kimono?! Brace those knee socks, dearies. The kimono (in Chinese: 日本的和服 or “Japanese kimono” – ehm…yes…anyway) is the most basic term for traditional Japanese dress; in Japanese the term 着物 literally translates as “a thing to wear”. It refers to the principal outer garment of Japanese dress, a long wide-sleeved robe created from various materials available with a multiformity of patterns. “It is generally unlined in summer, lined in autumn and spring and padded in winter,” quote V&A Museum. The earliest kimonos were heavily influenced by the traditional Han Chinese clothing, known today as hanfu (汉服), but it was only around the 8th century that Chinese wardrobe ways came into style among Japanese. (FYI: The kimono’s original silhouette was first introduced from China as an undergarment.)
When the samurai around the 17th century (give or take a century) replaced the castle-residing aristocracy who day in day out dressed to the traditional nines, clothing increasingly required some urban-meets-globe-strutting wear ‘n tear resistance and the kimono formed the foundation for these new-found trends. I’m making the samurai sound very up-to-trendy-date-and-deets here. Speaking of 2016, although the modern kimono is generally a T-shaped robe, there are still subtle variations for its different wearers on different occasions. There are actual schools in contemporary Japanese cities that to this very day still dish out the intricate instructions to tying an obi (带 or “sash”) as well as the refined restrictions to draping the kimono, walking in it, selecting and combining both colors and patterns. The frock still expresses its wearer’s finely tuned palate as well as a sense of social understanding.
Chinese or Japanese sartorial origins, the kimono for me remains one phat item and I do not stand alone here. Take Cristóbal Balenciaga — one designer toujours on the prowl for that perfect sleeve and in doing so embracing many a complicated seam — took some due duende from the vestment as well. And what’s more, he in 1955 launched that other wide-sleeved classic aka the tunic: Long, narrow, yet flexible — based on the 600 B.C. Persian original: The caftan.
From light caftans to heavy clambakes
Vogue legend has it that Diana Vreeland once described the both voluminous and heavily printed caftan as “fashionable for the beautiful people.” From the 1960s onwards, most people have tended to associate this tried and tested, but not always trending, garment with Saint Tropez – i.e. blitz beaches and Brigitte bikinis. (Pull a Rachel Zoe and throw on some heavy jewelry to take it from AM beach to PM bash.) Lest we forget, a pearl for all you history buffs out there, it was Paul Poiret, showered with silk compliments for his Empire dress in 1907, who in the earliest 20th century declared war on women’s corsets, which he replaced with supple brassieres and overall looser fits — including the caftan. “Compared with the corseted beauties of the Belle Epoque, the Poiret woman appeared outrageously agile,” quote the-Alaia-of-fashion-history Charlotte Seeling. Flimsy detail: Jeanne Paquin in 1906 actually came out with the Empire dress. Paquin also preceded Poiret with her kimono-inspired coat design. Ever-phat, indeed.
Fastforward to 2016, a caftan-collective Bubble Mood summer ahead, and we see Parisian Shanghai veteran (after one decade of Shanghai residence that term applies) Gurdjian. After working as a buyer and sourcing manager for various French brands plus meeting and marrying her creative go-to/steady rock/sturdy handyman/Baldwin husband Lucas on the side, she discovered a whole new world (how very Aladdin and whatshername), i.e. that of fashion production, manufacturing, sample-making, etc. She was fascinated, inspired and the notion of setting up shop (as in “her own brand”) slowly entered the mind. Lucas came to her aid and created the whole universe and visual identity of Bubble Mood from scratch. The couple liked the idea of developing a brand that does not play by the industry rules, produces something unique, keeps customers on their toes and supports creative input to the wiggins’. “We don’t follow trends, we follow our own inspiration, we re-invent ourselves to share not only clothes with you, but entire stories,” Gurdjian explains, “This path to ‘succeeding’ may feature a few more roadblocks than expected, but I definitely want to try and follow our original philosophy so that it can take on its full meaning.” This thinking combined with an anti-standardization of the fashion industry sentiment as well as the affinity for working with true craftsmen and northern Thai tribal skills are what makes Bubble Mood one hot fashion heavy clambake. We’re in on it.
Stand-offish silks and siren silhouettes
Stand-offish because silk can be cold; duh. Gurdjian is crushing on silk like a total Valley-girl. “It’s simply a fascinating fabric in what it inspires and brings. It’s cold and warm at the same time and has a beautiful drape in the way it wraps itself around the body. Silk is almost always chic. But yeah, sustainable: Not so much,” she elaborates. Bubble Mood presently has upped its cooperation with several craftsmen, using folkloric fabrics, from the north of Thailand where the brand’s production has been situated for two years now. Their know-how and artisanal skills are the essential oils in the Bubble Mood production process. It’s basically a different kind of approach to sustainability, in which a brand’s personal politics go linea recta against the general standardization of the fashion industry. As far as that final product goes, it’s all about the silhouette. “I think more in terms of silhouettes than in terms of collections or references. I like the idea of creating feminine silhouettes and the kimono designs and shapes are nearly perfect for drawing those silhouettes. I also love the idea of ‘allure’. For some reason those two terms [allure and silhouette] just go hand in hand,” Gurdjian reflects. Silk, silhouettes and sustainability: The Bubble Mood DNA.
We’re looking at a “solar” brand. The Summer Swing (SS 2015) collection was very much about birds, flamingos, feathery close-ups and a loqued out color explosions. “We are thinking about continuing in that direction with prints created from the plant and animal life. That sounds like an easy feat, but believe you me, it’s not! Recreating that amazing perfection of nature on fabric is quite the daunting undertaking. In that sense, by the way, do you know the Paul Smith book title ‘Inspiration is everywhere’? I believe it truly is. It can come from a song, a piece of architecture, a movie or a fabric, but also from the smaller everyday details such as the smell of perfume on a leather jacket, a strand of hair, a piece of furniture, a voice…. It’s all about writing the stories starting from these inspiring details,” Gurdjian glisteningly tells.
From tribal throwbacks to contempo casual
Individual inspiration is key, of course, but the execution of it definitely takes cojones. “To thine own self be true,” I believe is the proper philosophical phrase here. Bubble Mood has been imagined and developed between France and Asia, the brand strikes a pose as a bridge between these two cultures, their influences and histories. Sources of stimulation are all the Asian crafts related to textile: Flamboyant fabrics and enthralling embroideries from Japan, Korea or Thailand make up the treasured foundations of Bubble Mood. Most recently, as mentioned above (no, I don’t take you readers for a bunch of Barneys), the brand struck up a partnership with various Thai tribes for a limited edition of clutches and bags which were launched last year. These craftsmen — again, we cannot emphasize this enough –are vital to Bubble Mood’s unique tradition-meets-modernization mishmash designs. Aside from integrating these artisanal workings, Gurdjian holds a special candle for the play between light and shadows and would love to design patterns inspired by actual shadows. “Other than nature and all it entails, I am very inspired by the concept of the ‘Asian megalopolis’, the craziness and the excitement, the hustle and bustle, the neon lights, the never sleeping aspect… Sensational in every sense,” she adds. Yep, and additionally the Asian mega-city can sure make for a Twin Peaks experience.
Generally speaking, the Bubble Mood founders would like to go more “Pop Up” and “limited kimono editions” which in turn correspond with the brand’s tribal collaborations. It makes more sense that the collections follow this runway rather than the fashion industry’s sales periods or other systematic calendar events. Additionally, as we now witness the emergence of a real China fashion and designer scene paired with international renown and recognition for creators such as Masha Ma – who Gurdjian is a fan of — the brand now really feels the need to develop itself across Asia, attend Shanghai Fashion Week come September and see how people will welcome the designs. “I am very interested in exploring new markets such as Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea and, of course, China!” Gurdjian concludes. Given I find nothing toe-up about this brand whatsoever, my guess is Bubble Mood’s stock will only rise!
Boop, Draper or Rubble. Be a total Betty. I’m audi!
PS: For those currently suffering from a post-Clueless vocab bloat, you should be happy I didn’t get into “riding the crimson wave”.