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Mary Martin London + The Broadway Theatre Catford + The Tabernacle Notting Hill + Mark Elie + Portobello Dance School London + Classically British + Africa Fashion Week London 2021 + Black History

The City Doesn’t Sleep Tonight

Tales of the new Jazz Age: It’s not every fashion shoot where the British Prime Minister is working in the adjoining meeting room. But then as we all well know by now Mary Martin London isn’t just any fashion designer or artist or fashion artist. The Return Collection preview at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was exactly one year ago. Fast forward 12 months and Mary’s just finished a stint as Bollywood’s inhouse designer. She’s back in (London) town now.

Forget Bond Street window displays. There’s real glamour on Catford Road. To celebrate the start of Black History Month, six of Mary’s dresses are displayed in the pavement level windows of The Broadway Theatre in Catford. “My dresses are theatrical so they are at home there!” she smiles. “There’s so much history to the theatre: jazz stars like Dizzy Gillespie and Chick Corea and Motown singers like Gladys Knight all performed there.” The Broadway Theatre was designed in 1926 by Bradshaw Gass + Hope (a practice from Bolton responsible for many municipal buildings) and is a striking blend of Art Deco and Gothic Revival to reflect the architecture of the once adjoining Gothic Town Hall.

A few minutes away an afternoon launch is underway at Place, Britain’s first pop up village which opened in 2016. The great and the good from Lewisham Council are gathering to officially launch Black History Month and celebrate Mary Martin London fashion art. The theme is “B:L 365. More than just a month.” Councillor Andre Bourne, Cabinet Member for Culture is a fan: “I love Mary’s work. She is the ultimate creative!” So is the Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan: “We have discovered the new Alexander McQueen!” Like her predecessor, Mary is “the genius of a generation”.

Next stop The Tabernacle Notting Hill. This red brick and terracotta church, designed in 1883 by Habershon + Fawkner (a practice specialising in ecclesiastical buildings and responsible for many chapels in Newport), became a community arts centre in the 1970s. A plaque in the hallway commemorates the life of Claudia Jones (1915 to 1964) publisher, political activist and mother of the Notting Hill Carnival. She organised the first Caribbean Carnival in Britain in 1958. A ‘Carnival Line’ sign over a pair of London Underground Tube seats contains the following station stops: Sound Systems, Community, Friends, Dance, Inclusivity, Happiness, Joy, Unity, Steel Pan, Calypso, Live Stages.

Tonight is a Black History event: Classically British. It combines dance and fashion art. What’s not to love? The star talents are Mark Elie, Founder, CEO and Artistic Director of the Mark Elie Dance Foundation and Portobello Dance School, and… Mary Martin London! The lady and her entourage really are back in town. Mark’s dressed by his friend the designer Suzanka Fraey. “Mark’s costume,” explains Suzy, “is somewhere between Georgian and Dickensian.” She reminisces, “I grew up in Portobello. I remember Christine Keeler and Lucky Gordon hanging out round here.”

Dancers Arkasee Aslan, Anna-Maria de Freitas, Nathan Geering, Jasiah Marshal, Laila Wright and Stanley Young élancer, étendre, glisser, plier, relever, sauter and tourner in impossibly serene pirouettes and arabesques to an enraptured audience including Gerard Hargraves Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Sitting in the front row next to him is Rianna Scipio. She was Britain’s first black weather presenter and hosts prominent television programmes such as Watchdog and Newsroom Southeast. She states, “I am a multi-passionate entrepreneur, international keynote speaker and radical self love ambassador.”

Rianna elaborates, “Mary and I started up business in fashion together many decades ago as teens and I transitioned into television – I’m still a dedicated lover of style. Mary followed her passion undaunted and is now reaping the rewards of her labour. I’m so proud of her! The ballet performance, a collaboration between Mary and the Mark Elie Dance Foundation, is simply breathtaking. I am transfixed.” Distinguished broadcaster Jasmine Dotiwala agrees: “It really is a spellbinding performance.”

From The Tabernacle Notting Hill to Freemasons’ Hall Covent Garden. Now there’s a leap of imagination and thought. Upstairs, it’s all the usual mayhem and madness backstage at Africa Fashion Week London 2021. Makeup! Hair! Change! Makeup! Hair! Change! Downstairs, a lively bazaar of African and African diaspora fashion includes Biblical inspired tops by Ileri. Owner Abiola Egbeye believes, “My fashion is my ministry. It’s important to love God.”

Mary is headlining this year’s Africa Fashion Week London. The Return Collection takes the catwalk by storm. Model Yasmin Jamaal shimmers in her final ensemble. The Gold Coast Dress. This couture art is a metaphor for our times: all that glitters isn’t gold; it’s woven plastic brocade. Ghana was once known as the Gold Coast. “I love Ghana,” says Mary, “and I’ve had many shows there. This winter I am going to Ghana to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.” Yasmin notes, “The dress looks even better in real life than pictures. I love the drama. That’s so Mary! It’s the perfect dress. It is pure creativity. Onlooking model Hassan Reese exclaims, “That dress is special, very special!”

The Gold Coast Dress girl is going to drama town,” Mary reckons, “to meet her husband, her Prince Regent! She’s the new Queen Charlotte.” There’s rapturous applause and a standing ovation as Mary takes her famous runway bow closing the show. Mary ends, “I have to thank God for making my hands! Thank God for such a blessing. Nobody’s getting my crown! Bye!”

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Fenchurch Restaurant + Sky Garden Walkie Talkie Building London

My Fair Lady

20 Fenchurch Street Walkie Talkie Building London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Marvellous. We’re off to London’s most controversial building. Or at least the most talked (pun) about. Greedily grasping more airspace than footprint thanks to a bulbous form, 20 Fenchurch Street initially had a few ‘teething issues’. Quibbles over compliance with planning faded (taking a pun) when the building’s reflection melted a Jaguar parked on the street below. Rafael Viñoly simply added architecture’s answer to shades: a brise soleil. Easy as. Jaguar drivers can now park peacefully on Eastcheap, and the Walkie Talkie, as Number 20 is known to all and sundry (slight pun), can bask in its own reflected glory. Lavender’s Blue give it the thumbs up (even slighter pun: check out the building’s outline, smile and move on).

Walkie Talkie Roof © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Views. They’re what make London dining so exhilarating. The Leadenhall Building and Duck + Waffle are the Walkie Talkie’s sky high competing neighbours. But canny operators like The Culpeper know that even a judiciously placed third floor roof terrace can enjoy a panorama between the cloudscrapers. At a recent reception we graced in Church House, the view couldn’t have been more different: the centuries old Dean’s Yard dwarfed by Westminster Abbey. “This is the most progressive city in the world,” proclaimed then Mayor-in-Waiting Sadiq Khan. “We are the most diverse; we even have Yorkshire men and women living in London!” The capital’s progressiveness is on 360 display looking out of Fenchurch, the restaurant on the 37th storey of the Walkie Talkie. A 21st century layering of geometric prowess is in full view – a new and bold topography. First class bankers replace the east London world of penny dreadfuls. Hodiernal* over Hogarthian. Not every restaurant needs a view. Brasserie Zédel, a palatial piece of Paris under Piccadilly, otherwise known as our Friday lunchtime office (gorging on goujonettes one week; devouring vol-au-vent aux fruits de mer the next), is 37 – yes, 37 – steps below ground.

Walkie Talkie Sky Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Splendid. A five course vegetarian tasting menu 37 floors above ground followed by a private view(ing) of Pretty Woman is our most anticipated event since the release of Daphne Guinness’s majestic music album Optimist in White. The heiress who put the muse into music. Daphne was last seen strutting across Mount Street Gardens, clad (antlers hatted) head to (armadillo shoed) toe in Alexander McQueen, like a reindeer on hind legs. Working zoomorphic zaniness. Ilk of elk. En route to Scott’s naturally. Optimist in White. A Gesamtkunstwerk of an album. Fenchurch. A Gesamtkunstwerk of an evening. Entering the Sky Garden is like drinking the potion that made Alice in Wonderful shrink. It swallows up the top three storeys of the Walkie Talkie. Horizontal planes of galleries and terraces merge and emerge between the foliage of this hangar-like space. A silvery mauve twilight is killed off by a violently red sunset drenching the Sky Garden and the capital all around in a bloody glow.

Fenchurch Restaurant View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Fenchurch Restaurant © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Fenchurch Private Dining Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Politics. As ever armed with a cacoethes* of the camera, it helps that our lawyer hostess is also a whizz behind the lens. This may be a business dinner, but forget the pyrotic* company poor Julia Roberts’ looker hooker tart with a heart has to endure in Pretty Woman. Our meritocratic table comprises law’s finest. The female contingent is out in force. Either it’s the lure of our company or the film choice. Then again the day started over pre House breakfast with a leading female politician: Roberta Blackman-Woods. Now Shadow Housing and Planning Minister, Professor Blackman-Woods first introduced us to Parliament at a University of Ulster Alumni reception. “There has never been such a concentration on planning before,” she observed, noting the move towards an American style zonal system. But right now our heads in the clouds (we’re having lots of pun) as YBC (Young British Chef) Zac Whittle’s vegetarian tasting menu arrives. And yes, the last courselet is deconstructed banoffee:

Fenchurch Restaurant Pea Soup © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Fenchurch Restaurant Banoffee © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

*Country Life words of the week

Fenchurch Restaurant Sunset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Architects Architecture Art Design People Restaurants

Reverend Andy Rider + Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt London

Cool Lud | Kingdom Come

Christ Church Spitalfields Spire © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“And your Church in the Spittle-Fields, is it near complete?” Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd. “Carl Lentz of Hillsong in New York City, Phil Williams of East London’s Christ Church Spitalfields, Reverend Sally Hitchiner, Senior Chaplain at Brunel University… a raft of hip young Christians is credited with breathing new life into the church,” read Vogue as edited by Kate Moss. The model had been to Christ Church Spitalfields – not for a service but for an Alexander McQueen fashion event (the church building must earn its earthly keep to serve its heavenly purpose).

Christ Church Spitalfields Serlian Window © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Turns out Kate was particularly interested in the historical plaques of this 18th century marvel. Church really shouldn’t be about people watching but at candlelit Christmas Eve Midnight Mass there’s a good chance you may be singing carols next to Vivienne Westwood or Bianca Jagger. Or one or two of the newsworthy neighbours on Fournier Street be it Tracey Emin, Jeanette Winterston or Gilbert + George. An Evening Standard spread of Phil Williams and his fellow Anglican Pastor Darren Wolf as bearded and tattooed Christian poster boys of our time has only widened Christ Church’s appeal.

Christ Church Spitalfields Finial © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s hard to believe that not much more than a decade ago Christ Church lay derelict, the congregation meeting round the corner in Hanbury Hall (where Charles Dickens once performed readings). The timely arrival of Reverend Andy Rider in autumn 2003 more or less coincided with the restoration of the church. At least from ground upwards. Christ Church the building was reborn. Then came the congregations. Plural. Now there’s an 8.30am Book of Common Prayer service for early risers (everyone heads to Spitalfields Market for breakfast afterwards), two hours later a family service, a Bengali service at 4pm and The Five for late risers. “It’s used a bit like a cathedral,” Andy observes.

Rector of Christ Church Spitalfields Reverend Andy Rider © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The services become livelier, younger and better attended as Sunday progresses, culminating in a congregation of several hundred mainly 20 to 30 somethings by the evening. A lunchtime service for city workers is held every Tuesday. Diverse in worship and worshippers yes, but there’s a common thread: theologically sound, intelligent, life changing sermons. One service it might be Andy on “A Joyride through Philippians”. The next, Darren on “The Holy Spirit of Promise” (Ephesians) or Antje a German born lay preacher on “Sent to Make the Deaf Here” (Mark) or Pieter-bas a Dutch born lay preacher on “Sent to Change Hearts” (more Mark). In between Sunday afternoon services, the nave is open to the public. Described in the Evening Standard as “the best building in London”; breathlessly praised by historian Harry Goodhart-Rendel “it remains doubtful whether of its date and kind there is any finer church in Europe”; and haled by all as Hawksmoor’s masterpiece, it’s unsurprising this horizon piercing Grade I landmark is an international visitor attraction.

Architects Alun Jones + Biba Dow © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christ Church has only taken three centuries to complete (usual build period of a contemporary London development rarely tops 24 months). Wren’s student Hawksmoor laid the cornerstone in 1714 but the builders focused on completing the above ground work. Below, throughout the passage of time the crypt remained a sculpted unfinished shell, a ribbed skeleton in need of fleshing out and dressing up. The guardianship of Reverend Rider and his accompanying holystic vision changed all that. Meanwhile, above the crypt, Europe’s finest baroque organ (once played by Handel) recently thundered one fine Sunday morning, notes marching ‘cross the aisle, filling the nave, floating up through the clerestory, ending four decades of silence after a multimillion pound restoration by the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Plaques © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The biggest challenge of the crypt project was having no obvious financial provision during the first seven years of my ministry here,” says Andy. Over £3 million was needed. “We still appointed architects and moved the concept towards design. It was when the finance became available through the generosity of The Monument Trust that our biggest challenge was overcome.” Nothing is incidental or accidental; minutiae were agonised over by Andy and the property team. Midnight oil burned in the Fournier Street Rectory while taps were chosen, lights selected and rugs argued over. “Above all,” he states, “I am proud of the church family members who gave themselves to the property team who I believe God deliberately brought to Christ Church for this chapter of its history.”

Christ Church Spitalfields Vault © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Doors © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Chapel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Bar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dow Jones Architects were tasked with lending the labyrinth meaning, cracking the carapace, unleashing the dust of myriad wooden voices, listening to Andy and the property team. Wearing her erudition ever lightly, Biba Dow expounds on the challenge: “We began by stripping out all the partitions so that we were left with just Hawksmoor’s structure. We revealed the stone piers and beams. The brickwork vaults were limewashed to dematerialise the existing structure into light while retaining the form and texture of the material. Then we inserted a series of oak rooms into Hawksmoor’s space. We wanted to maintain a sense of the scale of the crypt. This is apparent when you walk down the ramp into the crypt and see along its length and then arrive in the café and see its width. We also wanted the windows to light the public spaces and connect them to the city outside. The oak rooms have an outer set of glazed doors and an inner side of oak doors. This allows them to be used in different ways… The oak walls to the main spaces have staggered boards – a contemporary version of plank and muntin panelling. The back of house spaces have narrower tongue and grooved oak walls.”

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Materials © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Another paragraph worthy quote from Biba, “Our concept came from the position of Spitalfields within the mythos of London. It’s a transitional zone, culturally and physically, beyond the city walls. Hawksmoor stacked two triumphal arches on top of each other to form the church’s west front. The city gate is an architectural type that reconciles the centre with the edge. Hawksmoor’s façade explicitly expresses this marginal condition. It’s a juxtaposition which has brought and continues to bring an extraordinary cultural dynamic to the neighbourhood. We wanted the crypt to be part of Spitalfields. The wide ramp entrance brings the York stone pavement down into the space to make a public place. Our idea for the oak panelling was to make something which defines the place in between the edge and centre. The oak sits within the structure of the church building, making a place of habitation. We wanted the new fabric to be clearly contemporary and reversible so that you understand the primacy of Hawksmoor’s space.” Metalwork is bronze. Fabric is from Bute.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Ramp © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Criss crossed cryptic Christian chrysalis. A northern light, a southern kirk, an eastern revivification, a western Gesamtkunstwerk. Take the chapel door. Leading glass artist Nikki Cass was commissioned to create an artwork of fired coloured collaged glass to be inserted into the door of this thin place. “Your grace abounds in deepest waters,” goes the Hillsong hit Oceans. Biblical verses delivered divine inspiration as blues and greens and reds and yellows flowed. “The river of the water of life as crystal flowing from the throne of God” (Revelations). “Whosoever believes in the stream of living water will flow from within him” (John). “No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and spirit” (John again). Nikki’s artwork has even spawned an accompanying book. Then there’s the kitchen – a stainless steel work of art worthy of a double Michelin starred restaurant (Comme Chez Soi, anyone?).

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Window © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rest unassured, life as an urban Anglican rector isn’t quite all afternoon tea in the garden (although Christ Church Rectory does boast a walled oasis of tranquillity the envy of the neighbourhood). Count preacher, teacher, theologian, author, property developer, landlord, host and agony uncle among Andy’s demanding roles. He’s also Area Dean of Tower Hamlets and Honorary Chaplain to Langley House Trust. No room for boredom then which is as well as the Anglican retirement age is pushing three score and 10. As guardian of a portfolio of properties, mostly listed, inevitably Andy has faced both triumphs and travails. A long drawn out and unnecessary legal action by misguided individuals against the new school and community building adjoining the church garden was definitely one of his less rosy moments. Right now, he’s on a hallelujah high with the rebirth of the crypt.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Landing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We cannot leave Christ Church without mentioning the curious detail of the windows (which is echoed in the street-facing wall of Truman’s Brewery, Brick Lane) – the pull that is set up by the sequence of small circular portholes above tall narrow lower windows. This is the symbol at the heart of Munch’s iconography – and relates to a whole chain of meanings and resonances – the grail-cup above the lance – the cauldron and the sword – female and male – the setting sun and the molten light over the waters – the pill about to be dropped into the test-tube – stylisation of the phallus and generative spurt – volatile/active – demanding the leap of energies – repeated symbols of the unconsummated – invitation.” Lud Heat by Iain Sinclair.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Nikki Cass Art © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley