Look at the image on this page and you’d be forgiven for thinking Halloween had come early. It’s actually a picture of me dressed exactly as I’d like to dress all the time if I could afford it: head-to-toe in Comme des Garçons.
Comme’s founder and enduring creative head, Rei Kawakubo, has been smashing through conventional notions of fashion, technology and beauty since she started making clothes in 1973. If you’re looking for icons in fashion, Kawakubo is definitely one. Her influence continues to shake some of the greatest minds in fashion today.
And so here I am, very happy in a black Comme padded jacket with delicately notched lapels and two disturbing flap pockets held away from the body by tiers of cream ruffles. This stands over a mid-length straight skirt sewn over a maxi skirt with ruffled hem. Because they’re both made of crinkly polyester, your mum will want to give them a good ironing. Don’t let her.
MAIN PIC: Bel wears… jacket, £1,250, and skirt, £645, both Comme des Garçons. Platform heels, £1,270, Yohji Yamamoto. All from Hostem. www.hostem.co.uk
There’s no earthly reason why I like dressing like a crumpled Victorian widow. Certainly, nothing in my Hong Kong upbringing prepared me for such a taste in the gothic (although I spent a lot of time reading Dickens in furious South-East Asian heat). But I adore it. And this is where fashion is at its most visceral. Is it something about the cuts, often based on highly feminine, very flattering silhouettes? Or the drama? Or something else?
Comme excites me because it makes me think of Manga comics, Japanese workwear, 19th-century England – sometimes in a single piece. It makes me think of people who don’t run with the herd. And I do quite like all of those things.
The outfit comes courtesy of London’s most exciting store, Hostem in east London’s Redchurch Street. I don’t normally write about stockists but Hostem is special. Founded as a menswear retailer in 2010, it offers a unique proposition: artisanal, non-seasonal, challenging but beautiful clothing for people with a special take on what they wear. Last December, in its light-filled rooftop atrium, Hostem launched womenswear.
‘It was a logical step for us,’ says founder James Brown. ‘A significant number of women were coming into store and buying menswear in smaller sizes. But we didn’t want to simply replicate the men’s offer on the ground floor. Hostem womenswear is a curated selection of individual pieces we identify with, from the designers we work with.’
Emerging talent mixes with more established names. Yohji Yamamoto, Rick Owens and Meadham Kirchhoff hang next to Egg, Arts & Sciences, MA+, the woven pieces of Amy Revier and, of course, Comme.
Putting the Get The Look box together wasn’t easy because handcrafted detail of the type you get at Hostem is tricky to find in a mass retail environment. What is possible, however, is playing with shape and texture. Kawakubo once said she designed in three shades of black, allowing her to focus on form. Matt against shiny, silk against sheer: suddenly, the possibilities are endless.
When I showed Hostem’s PR this picture of me, he emailed back: ‘Great image. I didn’t recognise you.’ Which I’ll take – for now – as an acknowledgement of the transformation that happens when you finally wear what you really, really like.