“I’ve been here before but I had to come back to see these paintings.” Pointing to a double portrait of a couple half emerged in water, fashion artist Mary Martin London continues, “This picture is like being born again, like being baptised and emerging out of the water.” The artist Sol (short for Solomon) Golden Sato explains, “When I was a child I went to about four or five churches to get baptised. I loved the whole thing. So when I saw the photograph of this couple coming from church I was listening to Kanye West’s Sunday Service and he’s got a song called Water and it just got me thinking.”
Sol paints from photographs but rather than simply reproducing them on canvas, he combines several to form one complete picture telling a new story. He says, “I’m inspired by interesting journalism… stories from tenements in Harlem and the Deep South. I play around with history in my paintings. I enjoy reading Toni Morrison and Edna O’Brien.” The artist creates domestic scenes with universal messages. Originally from Malawi, Sol has spent the last six years painting in London. He’s self taught.
The artist came to the public’s attention when he painted a vast mural on the blank street front of King’s Road Fire Station. His latest community art project was a 38 metre long tarpaulin canvas laid out on a street in Portobello. “The idea was to bring joy to the community,” Sol comments. “Leyland sponsored the paint and I guided local children to use their hands and feet as brushes to create a large painting.”
London’s glossiest posse gathered at Southbank for a Saturday evening fashion show on the Riverside Terrace along the Thames. It was the catwalk of the summer. But first there was a round of turmeric iced lattés, the boisson du jour before the hard work began. Makeup artist Karen Messam explained, “It’s going to be a graphic bold story. We’re highlighting bold, glossy lips.” Karen was assisted by fellow mistress of maquillage Jade Almojera.
Sierra Leonean-Lebanese model Yasmin Jamaal commanded the catwalk, rocked the runway, walked the wave of cheers, stormed the storm parading in Mary’s Gold Coast Dress. Multitalented Yasmin has launched an Afro-Middle East plant based food company, Jamaal Cuisine. She recently was invited to cook for a high society private dinner. When Yasmin arrived the hostess confessed, “I didn’t expect the model off the website to turn up!” Yasmin had to explain, “I’m the model and also your chef for the evening!” The admiring crowd included lots of well known faces from the arts world like the principal actor from the 2022 film Django, Vivienne Rochester, and Eric’s mum in the Netflix series Sex Education, Doreen Blackstock.
Star of the fashion show was… Mary Martin London. Earlier in the day she beamed, “John Fairbrother Dolls have just made The Mary Martin London Dress! I’m wearing my epic Union Jack Dress! Or rather the miniature me is wearing it!” Now there’s a tribute. Mary showed dresses from her previous award winning collections as well as new ones such as The Eccentric Peacock Dress and The Grace Jones Dress. “Grace is such an inspiration,” she recorded. Mary is of course famous for designing dresses for singers and musicians like Heather Small. “If there aren’t high vibrations forget it!” she exclaimed. Thanks to DJ Biggy C there were plenty of high vibrations. The tune maker let it be known, “That’s me playing now!”
The Eagle Soars at Your Command and Builds its Nest on High
She chooses to conceal her identity. She is strong, powerful, well defined. She is a bird of prey. She is the woman who dares to wear The Golden Nest Dress by avant garde fashion artist Mary Martin London. Sewing metal? All in a day’s work. There are undeniable historical references yet this costume is as resolutely contemporary as the brutalist backdrop of the shoot. Enigma. Mystery. Luxury. And drama. Wherever there’s Mary there’s drama!
“Your writing brings my events alive – it’s like being there. You do with your writing what I do with my fashion. You bring things alive! Everyone keeps asking who is this talented writer who writes so movingly and wittily about your shows Mary. I just loved your piece ‘The City Doesn’t Sleep Tonight’. Everyone does! Everyone in Ghana was asking who is doing all this wonderful writing? And I say, it’s you! Lavender’s Blue!” Mary Martin 2022.
“The Pink Coat is really heavy; it’s like an old fashioned military coat. It’s the opposite of throwaway fashion; this coat is designed to last and last. My clothes are all so sustainable. There’s faux fur running down the back of it to keep you warm when you sit down! Janice, with her red hair, looks great in it.” Mary Martin 2022.
Hoo’s Who. Seriously. It’s that good. The revivification of Countess Markievicz. Luton is the new Paris. Katie Ice swapped a (not so plain) runway for the (plane) runway. The revolution has begun. Game on. As for that legendary niche leap…. the model as ballerina! The hotel’s all it’s cracked up to be and more. Postcard home material. Luton Hoo is to Luton what Versailles is to Paris. Luton Hoo. The country house that looks like a French hotel and is now a Frenchified hotel. Just when things couldn’t get more glamorous, they do. Katie pulls up in a chauffeur escorted Bentley. She looks, as ever, as if she has just stepped off a Parisian photoshoot. Turns out she has. Lady in red and fuchsia pink. Louis Roederer Brut Premier filled volutes in hand, with a lust for living and a gusto of giving it our all, we breeze through the French doors and begin dancing like dervishes across the lawn, spinning in wonder at the infinite beauty of the place and life itself. Is it a lawn? No, it’s a dancefloor this evening. Is that a path? No, a catwalk. A niche? Podium. Pleasure Gardens? Pleasure Gardens. Luton Hoo is a playground for the beautiful and restless.
Elite Hotels acquired Luton Hoo in 1999 and following a restoration and rejuvenation of the house and estate, opened it nine years later to paying guests. The greatest change to the main house was raising the roof from single pitches to mansards – how terribly French! This allowed the insertion of dormer windowed guest rooms on the second floor. In addition to the 38 bedroom suites in the main house, architect Andrew Clague designed a standalone neo Georgian block hidden in the woodlands to provide another 38 suites. Further guest accommodation was created in the converted stables. The Aurora Group bought the hotel and estate in 2021.
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.
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!”
Zelda Blakley is the latest top model to don Mary Martin London haute couture. So what does Zelda have to say about her new outfit? “This ballgown is simply purrfect! I’m feline very elegant. I’m like the cat that got the cream!”
“Seriously though,” Zelda purrs, “In the words of my favourite French philosopher Roland Barthes, ‘Fashion the myth… at the very moment it produces… attempts to substitute its artifice, that is, its culture, for the false nature of things; it does not suppress meaning; it points to it with its finger.’ Or rather, claw.”
“My heart will always be in Brixton,” Olive Morris, a heroine on the Wall of Fame, once said. Born in Jamaica in 1915, she came to the UK aged nine. Her first home was off Wandsworth Road and she went to Lavender Hill Girls’ School. As an adult living in Brixton, her activism took off. Olive was involved in many campaigns including the scrapping of Suspected Person Laws which permitted police to stop and search anyone suspected of loitering but was used indiscriminately against black people. She died in 1979.
A showcase of some of the dresses of the UK’s leading black fashion designer Mary Martin London is on display on the mezzanine level of this exhibition at 12 Waterloo Place. “I’m thrilled to have been asked to be part of this important event,” Mary confirmed. The designer is providing demonstrations each day on how her clothes are actually made: the sewing machine is clearly on overtime. Pointing to one of her pieces she exclaims, “It’s called the Death of a Queen as it nearly killed me making that dress!” Attendance has been lively. Westminster Councillors were at the opening and the flow has been constant ever since – the exhibition lasts five weeks. Heather Small, the Voice of M People, and soprano Nadine Benjamin are two of many well known supporters to enjoy it so far.
“We have seen that a Fashion utterance involves at least two systems of information: a specifically linguistic system, which is a language (such as French or English) and a ‘vestimentary’ system, according to which the garment signifies the world or Fashion. These two systems are not separate: the vestimentary system seems to be taken over by the linguistic system.” So wrote our favourite philosopher Roland Barthes in his 1967 revelation The Fashion System.
Musical model Funmi Olagunju literally rocks up strumming her guitar. Lavender coloured clothes clad, she sings, “I only wanted to see you, laughing in the purple rain, purple rain purple rain…” Funmi shares, “Mary’s clothes are so crazy! They’re elegant and theatrical. They’re regal. She thinks outside the box!” Beautiful Natasha Lloyd bursts across our vision in a radiance of red. Crimson is the new black. She next models the Queen of Africa dress. Over to Mary, “I’d just won African Fashion Designer of the Year and I felt like I was the Queen of Africa! The colourway in this dress represents brown for earth, green for grass and yellow for the sun.”
While getting ready, model Sienna Kinley advises on confidence, “You forget who you are. You go into fear mode. The mindset is to remind yourself who you are. Who you are is everything you need to be in this life. Everything you’ve been given is enough for you in this world. Sometimes you can forget that’s enough. Confidence is recognising who you are: you are a perfect being. All the gifts and talent you have are enough.” Makeup artist Sofia Mahmood adds, “Be creative. You need great patience to be a makeup artist. Patience with creativity.”
This Old Street London warehouse is rocking with a carnival atmosphere and a festival of talent. All of us are in front and to the side and behind the cameras as filming continues… yes, that film. In the midst of the mayhem and madness and fashion miscellanea, Mary emerges, as ever a human whirlwind of orders and changes and directions and laughter. “I don’t like ordinary,” she understates. Natasha reappears modelling The Hidden Queens Collection dress with its socially distancing crinoline.
The dresses of The Collections flow onto the film set amidst falling roses and oversized poppies. World class ballerina Omozefe (“just call me ‘Sue’”) performs pirouettes and shows photograph of herself with Margot Fontaine. “It was her last performance ever at the Royal Opera House! I have met Rudolf Nureyev twice. I love dancing to The Nutcracker, Carmen and of course Swan Lake.” Soon Sue is teaching model Hassan Reese some Pilates moves. “Pilates is similar to ballet – it’s about micro movements stretching muscles. You can’t get up on point unless your core being is very strong.”
Cleopatra, brought to life by model Natasha Lloyd, struts her stuff. Three times Taekwondo World Champion Carol Hudson, modelling herbaceous headgear, says with some understatement, “Mary’s clothes aren’t for the fainthearted!” Photographer Monika Schaibel agrees, “Mary has a vision and is always true to her vision. Amazing eye to detail. Her fashion shows are pure theatre – they’re art happenings.” Kiki Busari, modelling The Red Dress, adds, “I love the opulence. These dresses take you to a fantasy world. A world where you are empowered and strong.”
It’s like the creativity of King Jotham with the boldness of Queen Vashti and the power of King Xerxes. “Never try to explain your work,” once said our fav photographer of all time, Deborah Turbeville. So we won’t say we are a muse or the bridge between the bright lights or something else far more mesmeric and fantastic. Let the wrap party begin! To paraphrase Marilyn Monroe, we all just want to be wonderful. “Fashion dissolves the myth of innocent signifies,” ends Roland Barthes, “at the very moment it produces them.” Super supermodel Katie Ice has left the building.