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!”