Fashion over adversity. This season is all about silhouette. Nobody – and we mean nobody – does silhouette better than Mary Martin London. Especially when montaged against the shape of history. This lady’s for turning – heads. Form doesn’t always follow function when it’s following a flight of fancy. Headdresses are a necessary accessory when it comes to haute – and we mean haute – couture. University of fashion.
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.
“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” croons Lisa-Marie Presley. You ain’t. And you won’t. Not yet. For Mary Martin London is busy sewing up a storm for her forthcoming fashion feat: The Return Collection. This comes hot and heavy on the haute heels of her last extravaganza Blood Sweat and Tears. This time it really is all about power dressing. And the corridors of power are about to be torn up by the thrust and throttle no room for boondoggle of a Mary Martin London show. “If our myths and truths are only another exotic blossoming, the free play of possibility,” writes Marilynne Robinson in The Death of Adam, “then they are fully as real and as worthy of respect as anything else.”
Show. Not merely catwalk, for Mary will as ever be mixing decks in between directing the lighting, sound, photography, choreography, and always, laughter. There is really only one space that can hold its own for her solo show. Enter Durbar Court. “I like that the heads of the East India Company leaders will be looking down on my catwalk!” Mary howls laughing. “History and all that!” The Court was first used in 1867 for a reception of the Sultan of Turkey. King Edward VII threw his Coronation party here in 1902. Ms Robinson again, “At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment.” More recently, President Trump gave a speech here; Victoria Beckham showed last summer; Vivienne Westwood before that; but this is a first: a black female designer holding court in Durbar Court.
There’s so much art and sculpture and history layered with meaning and misapprehension in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. En processional route to Durbar Court is the Muses’ Stair. An octagonal glass lantern lighting the Portland stone staircase is decorated by Canephorae, Roman goddesses of plenty, floating over cherubs representing Roman virtues. Portraits of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie hang between red Devonshire marble and grey Derbyshire marble Corinthian columns.
“Dare to be you!” Reverend Andy Rider preached in his last sermon as Rector of Christ Church Spitalfields. Over 100 years ago Lady Sybil Grant wrote in her self hagiography, “Provided that we are a star we should not trouble about the relative importance of our position in the heavens.” Fastforward a century or so and Mary is confident of her place in the firmament. And daring to be Mary Martin London. The creation of Eve. “We should be thankful that our cinematographic life in London still affords the quality of mystery and unexpectedness,” proclaimed Lady Sybil. Big statement.
Big statement architecture requires big statement fashion. Another interjection from Marilynne Robinson, “It all comes down to the mystery of the relationship between the mind and the cosmos.” First there was The Black Dress: “I see through a dark cloud of black mist.” Then The Red Dress: “The tainted bride is no longer a virgin.” Next came The White Dress: “I dream of memories when I was a Queen.” There’s only one dress left. The Rainbow Dress: “It’s finally coming – the biggest and the best! The Rainbow Dress will open The Return Collection!” the fashion artist declares. “A world champion ballerina will combine Tai quan dao and African dance on the catwalk. I’m bringing it in a bit different! People haven’t been out so I’m going to give them an amazing show. The Return to Africa. I’m out of the box!” Out of the box and into the Court. “Just A Dream” mourns Lisa-Marie Presley. Not for Mary Martin London. She is all about turning dreams into fantasies into realities into myths and truths. An uncommon wealth of talent.