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!”
No justice no fashion. How many people does it take to do a Mary Martin London fashion shoot? Counting. A host. A fashion designer. A fashion photographer. A fashion photographer’s assistant. A set photographer. A videographer. A lighting technician. A stylist. Two makeup artists. Two hairdressers. One headdress stylist. Four models. A ballerina. A chauffeur. A muse. That’ll be 20. Oh plus five security. Make that 25. Big wigs plus fashion’s finest. Everyone authentically leading their best London lives up a level. Forgetting fiction, correcting the truth. A September Sunday. No just as fashion.
On location at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Westminster. By 9am the collective creative energy is palpable. Ballerina Omozefe is practising her moves while classical music reverberates off the marble Durbar Court. “I’m dazzled by this space. It’s amazing!” She shares, “I started learning ballet aged four. I’m five foot six inches but I’ve an unusually long inside leg measurement of 33 inches. Resilience is so important for the amount of training you need to do to be successful. You need the ability to endure pain. It’s constant training – like being an athlete. Odette and Odile in Swan Lake is every ballet dancer’s dream role!”
“This is like a film set! The lighting is lovely!” exclaims leading photographer Monika Schaible upon seeing the Grand Staircase. More exclamations follow when half Lebanese half Sierra Leonean model Yasmin Jamaal surprises in a regal black and crimson extravaganza. “TC! Totally couture!” Yasmin responds, “I feel like a queen.” Cecil Beaton said of Tallulah Bankhead, “Her entrance is always dramatic.” Yasmin, anyone? Not content with setting the catwalks alight, Yasmin has hit the silver screen. She appears in the new James Bond film No Time To Die. Her summary is: “It’s a really exciting movie. There are a lot of stunts. Working with Daniel Craig was so interesting.”
Leila Samati is another international model. Originally from the Algarve in Portugal, she came to study International Business in London. “My favourite models are Naomi Campbell and Adriana Lima who modelled for Victoria’s Secret.” Leila can add the “super” prefix to her job title: she’s been crowned Miss World, Miss Africa Great Britain and Miss Guinea-Bissau. “Mary’s dresses have amazing details,” she observes. “You can tell the hard work that goes into pieces she produces. They’re so elegant.”
The third female model on today’s shoot is Londoner Kiki Busari. “This is my first shoot with Mary. She’s so creative. I’m loving the whole period theme. It’s like an historic costume drama!” Kiki adds, “Mary is the hardest working designer I know.” She can’t wait to show her young sons Saint and Angel the stills. Freelance stylist Joel Kerroy is here “to make everyone and everything camera ready”. When not perfecting shoots, Joel puts together look books for the likes of Jeff Banks and Burberry. He thinks, “Mary’s clothes are so elegant and extravagant. They’re eleganza!”
Mary reveals, “The Georgian fashion shoot that my muse Stuart Blakley modelled in last year filled me with inspiration for the period theme. The Return Collection is Marie Antoinette meets tribal meets avant garde.” Unbelievably the outfits showcasing the collection at this shoot were all designed and made by the fashion artist in just under three weeks. By early afternoon, the shoot is in full swing. There’s nowhere grander or more entrenched with story than the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and there are no grander clothes more entrenched with story than Mary Martin London.
Memorable fashion moments are fleetingly created and permanently captured. Omozefe’s tippy toed croisé, plié and grand jeté. Yasmin working a dress of straw. Leila balancing a gargantuan Georgian wig on her head. Hassan strutting his stuff. Kiki taking a selfie with a Victorian bust. And the final memorable scene: the alternative royal family proudly descending the Grand Staircase illuminated by late afternoon sunlight. It’s as if Armand Constant Milicourt-Lefebre’s portraits of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie have sprung to life and – joined by two Dauphines – been augmented by greater beauty, exquisiteness, relevance, and contemporaneity. High above in the golden coffered dome an inscription glitters: “Praise Thee O God Yea Let All The People Praise Thee O Let The Nations Rejoice And Be Glad”. Far below, everyone is present. Everyone is on point. Everyone is in awe. By 5pm it’s a wrap. Time to party.
“What an anointing to be filled with God’s joy!” rejoices Mary. “It gives me great pleasure to create. It’s emotional. I’ve done fashion shows and shoots all over the world. I’ve been to Ghana, South Africa, south of France, you name it, I’ve been to a lot of places. I express myself in my clothes with my moods: happy, sad, crazy, kooky, whatever it is you know I just express it on my clothes. It’s just a natural thing for me. A lot of people seem to love the eccentric clothes I make and you know I love showing the clothes and I love the catwalk. But I’ve never shown at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before. What a privilege. This is a first! It’s all exciting for me! I’m on point!” Cecil Beaton said of Tallulah Bankhead, “Her vitality is dynamic; she can sustain fever pitch ad finitum.” Mary, anyone? At the wrap party everyone agrees this is the start of something big. Really big. First comes the Black History Month exhibition in Foreign and Commonwealth Office. And there’s more, much more to come. Justice fashion.