Clothing is playing such a key role in the assumption of character in London Spy: a debrief (pt1)

Three episodes into the BBC2 series London Spy, and clothing continues to play such a key role in character.

Or the assumption of character.

Because it’s such a male-dominated narrative, it’s a handy debrief on our present day assumptions about what clothing says about men, their personality and their background.

I should say that this will contain more spoilers than Danny’s spoiled dirty sheets that are currently being tested by the police for DNA, so if you haven’t watched any of it yet, click here for episode one on iPlayer.

First view of Danny is in the tunnel under Vauxhall station, at night, his clothes scuzzy.

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The camera shows us his dirty sneakers.

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He heads into a club, and thus his character is set before a word is spoken.

When words are spoken, they’re said into a flip phone.

Very Adele.

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First sight of Alex/Alistair is like an advert for an althleisure brand.

Neat greys, Nike sneakers.

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Notice the V-notch in his sweatshirt.

A symbol of wholesome athleticism.

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Obviously the best garment worn in the entire series ever is Danny’s disgusting work shirt he has to wear at the warehouse.

Desperate for his work shirt.

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Some more key signifiers of Danny’s character:

His grubby rucksack…

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His grubby flatmates.

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When Danny goes running to try and bump into Alex/Alistair again, his grubby old T-shirt has a presumably telling message.

In his hands is the water pouch Alex/Alistair gave him.

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Another old T-shirt, stripes of presumed innocence obviously subverted.

Smoking by the window.

Just so we get the message about when the old woman gets booted out of her flat for the spooky smoking invisible surveillance whoever-it-is.

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When Danny heads out early in the AM to try and meet Alex/Alistair one more time, it’s in an outfit of attempted respectability.

Peacoat, sweater, belted jeans.

Belt jazzy compared to Alex/Alistair’s grey.

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They go back to Edward’s flat.

Where clothing is used once again to define with precision.

While Alex/Alistair takes a shower, Danny opens the wardrobe.

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Ordered and dry cleaned grey suits.

He opens a draw.

Laundered and wrapped shirts.

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And then quite possibly the most terrifying sight in the whole series so far.

The organised sock and tie drawer.

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They head out for brunch.

What Alex/Alistair wears.

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Clothing is the key signifier that they are allegedly poles apart.

(I say allegedly because this is clearly a work involving twist and what has not yet been revealed – I’m accepting nothing at face value).

Our first encounter with Scottie, Danny’s old alleged friend.

A gay man with some role in the establishment who harks back to the post-war days of homosexual involvement in espionage.

Establishment overcoat, establishment shirt, establishment tie, establishment briefcase, establishment umbrella.

Again, clothing tells us everything before a word is spoken.

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A gorgeous seaside walk, where Alex/Alistair reveals more but not much about his life, and where they fall for each other.

Alex/Alistair in technical clothing, Danny not.

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Alex/Alistair in dark clean jeans and walking boots, Danny not.

You get the picture.

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Alex/Alistair and Danny’s last moment together.

Alex/Alistair, in crisp white shirt and trousers, turns the radio up to tell Danny that he needs to replace the computer battery.

As in, when I’m locked up dead in a trunk LOOK FOR THE COMPUTER BATTERY.

OK gratuitous arse shot.

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Danny never sees Alex/Alistair alive again.

When Danny seeks refuge with Scottie in his zhooshy house, Scottie is the picture of elder statesman innocence.

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One episode, two wardrobes.

Just like the crisp suits, this one that Danny opens in the loft above Alex/Alistair’s apartment sends out its own very clear message.

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Just like before, he opens two drawers.


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When we see him being interviewed by the police for the first time, he clothing – old plaid shirt, T-shirt – is that of a man out of his depth.

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Scottie drops him off, and asks Danny if he took anything from Alex/Alistair’s apartment.

Again, dressed as the establishment.

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Jesus we’ve only done episode one.

I’m not at all obsessed with London Spy.

Not at all.

More, imminently.

There are two ways to view the new Eames show at the Barbican: nerd-out, or as idealised model for living 

The Barbican is previewing its new exhibition today, The World of Charles and Ray Eames.

There’s two ways of viewing it: as a total design nerd-out, or an idealised model for living.

Let’s start with the nerd-out.

An experimental three-legged chair from 1945.

Another experiment with three legs from 1945, this time the other way round.

Pre-production DCM (Dining Chair Metal) from 1946.

LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) from 1946.

Experimental Lounge Chair from 1944.

Cross-hatch textile by Ray Eames, designed 1945.

This experimental prototype for a fibreglass chair shell was manufactured by John Wills, a Californian fibreglass fabricator. He produced two, and tested them by setting them on a metal bin. Charles Eames could only afford to buy one of the prototypes, so Wills kept the other, and used it as is.


Prototype for a rocking chair, 1948.

Fibreglass chair shells, 1959-68.

Lounge Armchair with a drawing by Saul Steinberg.

Another chair, another drawing.

PAC – Pivot Armchair Cast base, 1969.

Low Table Rod base, 1950.

And so I could continue.

Concurrent is their attitude to life and living.

One feeds the other.

A letter proposing marriage from Charles to Ray.

Close up of a 1:20 scale model of Case Study House No.8 – their home.

A page of a letter from Ray to Charles.


Their way of working prompted similar in others: a page of a letter to the Eames from  Deborah Sussman, who worked at Herman Miller.

In that room about Herman Miller, American furniture designers, there are photographs of their showroom.

The Eames Office designed them, and organised the display.

Often borrowing work from galleries.

Here’s an image of the showroom with a Giacometti.

It is a sculpture of a man – we know this because only men were allowed to walk in Giacometti’s work.

It was extraordinary for me to see.

Giacometti has been on my mind all week, since the opening of the new show at the National Portrait Gallery.

In a show where his attitude to women is implied, but not explicitly discussed.

He subjected women – his wife Annette, his model Caroline, many prostitutes – to psychological attack.

His was not a life of equality.

However extraordinary the work, he was not modern. At a time of change.

Giacometti was a contemporary of Charles and Ray Eames.

This show confirms that then, there was already another world.

Go go go.

It opens tomorrow, runs until 14 February.

A sneak peek at Frieze jolliness: Mark Leckey, Wolfgang Tillmans, Eddie Peake, Camille Henrot etcetc

Frieze London is previewing today.

Here’s a look at what’s what and stuff.

Mark Leckey on Galerie Buchholz.

Also on Galerie Buchholz, that amazing Wolfgang Tillmans crotch moment.

On the amazing Mary Mary from Glasgow, the amazing Emily Mae Smith.

Also on Mary Mary, the amazing Jesse Wine.

(I’m going to stop saying things are amazing. If I’m posting it, take it as a given I think it’s amazing)


The amazing Eddie Peake on Lorcan O’Neill.


Up close.

A Tamagotchi.

OMG the amazing Vittorio Brodmann on Freedman Fitzpatrick.


Ed Fornieles jolliness on Carlos/Ishikawa.

More body bits.

Oh no!
The Sunday Painter has two tonnes of water by Samara Scott.


Close-up on some submerged bread.


Aaron Angell on Rob Tufnell!!!!



So so good.

Some Camille Henrot majorness on Galerie Kamel Mennour.

I mean major.


Part of Jeremy Deller’s work on Modern Institute.


And for true jolliness, John Baldesarri on I-can’t-remember-where.


The new Frank Auerbach show at Tate Britain is about work, and the worth of work as a way of living

At Tate Britain this morning, there was a preview of the new Frank Auerbach show.

It takes a while to understand how to look at it.

The guise is that of a retrospective, with paintings and sketches from each decade from 1950s-2000s.

But Auerbach is a curiosity of an artist.

He is known for his painting style, rather than actual paintings.

His friend Lucien Freud created imagery meant to be individually remembered – the audacity, for example, of painting Leigh Bowery naked.

The guise of the retrospective makes you expect to see a string of bangers.

But Auerbach is not that kind of artist.

He paints every single day, seven days a week.

And five evenings of the week too.

His subjects are often the same: certain friends, the view from studio.

This is a show about work and the work itself.

Rather than the celebrity of an artist, or the fame of an image.

Here’s an early self-portrait, from 1958.



But first time I went round and took pictures in my usual way, it didn’t feel right.

Like I wasn’t showing anything.

It was only when I went round a second time, and got to E.O.W’s Reclining Head II that I started concentrating not on image, but on work.

Here’s that painting.


From the side.


When really the way you want to look at it is like this.


And this.


And this.


And this.


Auerbach has to be seen in close-up as much as in totality.

You need to look at the actual work.

The actual brush strokes, the actual collisions and build-ups of paint.

It’s something the Tate seem to have realised – the front of the catalogue is a close-up.

Across the room is Studio with Figure on Bed II from 1966.


But you don’t want to look at it like that.

You want to look at it like this.


And so it continues.

This is Looking Towards Mornington Crescent Station, from 72-74.


And this is it close up.


It’s when you get close up that the work becomes so energising, and inspiring.

Inspiring as in, I need to do more work.

Because work as an activity is good.


This is Primrose Hill, Summer, from 1968.


Close up.


Head of J.Y.M. II, from 1984-5.


Amazing to see the black, the white, and everything else involved up close.


Head of Julia – Profile, 89-90.


Close up.


Reclining Head of Julia, 1996.


Ohmygod that top left corner.


It’s like individual segments act like works in themselves.

William Feaver Seated, 2011.


That patch in the middle.


Top left.


I mean beyond.

Head of William Feaver, 2003.


The eyes.


That splodge of what I guess is the hair.


To The Studios, 1993-4.


Seen like this, you don’t get all that’s happening bottom left, do you?

Here’s bottom left.


J.Y.M. Seated in the Studio VI, from 1988.


That bit bottom left-ish.


The vivacity of his recent work is incredible.

This is Hampstead Road, High Summer, 2010.

It’s like some kid doing graffiti.

Which I mean as the biggest compliment.


Up close.




And another.


Like I said, a total inspiration.

Work, work, work.



The show opens at Tate Britain on 9 October, runs till 13 March 2016, click here etcetcetc.

Go go go.

And look close close close.

Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent: why is he accused of not being a designer? And what is “design” in fashion today?

I was late to the Saint Laurent show in Paris last night.

Traffic was terrible, and the show started super efficiently at 8.15pm.

But one of the advantages of being tall is that there’s no problem standing at the back.

I was able to see that halfway through, creative director Hedi Slimane sent out a great pair of jeans.





(And apologies for the shonkiness of the image, it’s nicked from obvs)

The jeans were cut a little looser on the leg, but still with a low waist.

Many cuts of denim rely on skin-tightness to hold them up.

This new cut of jean from Saint Laurent is the work of actual design.

It’s interesting, because a debate about design is brewing around Saint Laurent.

It is often now said that Saint Laurent is not design.

That Slimane is not a designer, but a stylist, or marketeer.

You hear it so often, and it’s the central thrust of the review by Tim Blanks for Business of Fashion.

It raises the question: what actually is design?

I don’t go to that many womenswear shows.

When I do, or when I look at them online, I so often think: wouldn’t it have been great if, instead of all this decoration and pointless novelty in womenswear, the design team had spent the past six months on the cut and fit of garments?

A sleeve of a sweater that sits just so. The perfect pair of pants.

A great new pair of jeans.

To me, that would be the most radical show.

It’s why I’m so excited to see the upcoming Charles and Ray Eames retrospective at the Barbican.

Enlightened design with clarity, and purpose. Beauty that comes from practicality.

So often with fashion, and womenswear in particular, design means something else entirely.

“Design” frequently stands for the creation of drama, whether it be frou-frou, aggressive, confrontational or allegedly pioneering.

Usually it’s the work of gay male designers imposing on women an irrelevant or offensive view of how they should dress.

One of the best pieces of writing of the season came from Alexandra Jacobs of the New York Times, in her review of the show by J.W. Anderson.

She wrote: “It felt like a “hostile mob,” to borrow the Minecraft term — a boy playing pixelated video games with women’s bodies.”

Such actions are seen as “design”.

Also viewed as valid “design” is the blatant copying of others work.

Many actually see it as a positive when a designer clearly lifts ideas from Margiela, Kawakubo, Yamamoto or whoever it is they’re so clearly referencing.

And then, so much “design” in fashion is making clothes that really have no reason to exist.

Polite tinkering with garments, creating an impression of newness for those at the catwalk show, but really doing nothing of any value.

Stores don’t want to stock work from the catwalk, customers don’t want to buy it. They’d rather have something from the commercial collection.

Of course, Hedi Slimane is perfectly capable of creating “design”.

You just have to look back at his menswear from Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche in the late 90s (everyone forgets his strong links to the house), or at Dior Homme in the early 21st century, to see work of flamboyancy and drama.

His shows were pleasing to critics. It was rapture all round.

It was also work founded in true design.

He made his name with skinny jeans and slender suits which were feats of tailoring. The jeans in particular rode close to the leg, then somehow at the hips and waist went outwards, accommodating true bodies while still seeming slight.

I write this as someone who veers between a 34″ and 36″ waist: his skinny jeans fit over Northamptonshire-born hips.

I’m almost 42, getting broader, and I can still wear my Dior Homme tux.

True pieces of design.

Following Slimane’s break from fashion, and his move to LA, he clearly found reason to turn down the volume on “design”.

It’s why so many find his catwalk shows confounding. After four weeks spent dominated by brands offering unnecessary “design”, it’s a shock to find a catwalk from a major label not playing that game.

Not speaking that old fashion language.

I’m not going to review the show here. From the back of the bleachers I could only see so much, and it’s not my field.

But I do think this debate about design is important.

Particularly because it seems like such a personal attack on Slimane himself.

He’s a designer. Get over it.

Slimane sent out some great jeans. They clearly took work. As did the rest of the collection – you just have to look. Women will want to wear it. And the world still turns.

Prem Sahib is about to open his first institutional show at the ICA. It’s amazing. A preview

Prem Sahib is about to open his first institutional show at the ICA.

It’s called Side On, and is made up of mostly new work.

It’s amazing, dealing with encounters, environments, situations.

Some padded jackets sculptures.

I find them so intimate.


Those are eggs balancing on them.

There are three of them, called Taken By Your Equivocal Stance.

A mingling of figures.

I think it’s Called Out.

They are overlooked by a Watch Queen.


I love how the lighting of the ICA looks like it’s Prem’s work.

Those who have frequented the establishment Chariots Roman Spa in Shoreditch may recognise this area for activity.


It’s all one work, called Looking For One.

Obsessed with the laptop.

And the popcorn is cast in jesmonite.

The window is a work in itself – a light box in the dimensions of the window from a now demolished cottage.


On the walkway are three breathing neons, separate works which are sometimes in pace with each other…

…and sometimes are off.

Upstairs, the entrance to the galleries are darkened, with posters for imagined or real nights lit by cast concrete torches.

BUMP was the name of Prem’s one off party at Southard Reid that informed his last show there a couple of years ago.

END UP is for his next show at Southard Reid, opening in a couple of weeks.

The 10th Floor was an imagined night on Stromboli a couple of years ago, after the super pretentious NY gay party of the same name.


I love how the work upstairs talks with each other.

The chalk trapped under glass is a reference to The Loft.

Apparently they used to throw chalk on the dancefloor there.


One of Prem’s sweat panels.

Those individually applied beads of sweat.


Prem’s forehead print in MAC on a super slim-fit shirt from Zara.

The next room is domesticity. 

A carpet.

And this table.

I think those are casts of Prem’s feet.

Obsessed with this dolphin on a pillow.

It’s called Day Timer.

Like I said, domestic.


So major how he manipulates the ICA space. Such control.

It’s not reduction, it’s specifics of message.

Such intent.

Go go go!

It on from tomorrow, until November, click here etcetc 

The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern: Brilliantly diverse, brilliantly representative of female artists

Tate Modern’s autumn show The World Goes Pop is super good for many reasons, some clear, some unspoken.

It shows what should be obvious: art movements and moments exist beyond the known and celebrated.

Most of the work is unknown, at least not to my eyes. Its curators have been bold in not including any of the obvious.

Unspoken in any of the wall texts is that the show gives natural space to women artists.

I bumped into someone from the Tate who said it was pretty much a 50/50 split.

Much of the best work is by women.

If only all group shows were as natural in their selection.

Here’s some of the works.

Without Rebellion by Jerzy Ryszard ‘Jurry’ Zieliński.

It is from 1970. 

About repression and censorship in Poland.

Accident at the Game by Antonio Dias.

From 1964, the early years of military dictatorship in Brazil.

Office (Ethnography) by Eulália Grau.

Chicks and Cops (Ethnography) by Eulália Grau.

Her work used photomontage to show how during Franco’s dictatorship, capitalism and consumption was meant to be fulfilling and liberating.


Vacuum Cleaner (Ethnography) by Eulália Grau.

The big revelation of the show for me is the work of Marta Minujín.

She is totally new to me.

In Argentina, she is rightly celebrated.

This work is called Mattress.

It’s next to two other amazing works by female artists relating to the body.

Woman Sofa by Nicola L from 1968.


Man Chair by Ruth Francken, from 1971.

Across the gallery, Dorothée Selz was stood in front of her work.


The works are from 1973.

She said it was her in one of the images.

Top right.


“Do I want to be a pin-up,” she said, “or do I reject the image?”

She said she liked the contradiction.

“I have all my clothes on today.”

Next to her work was Hanging by Kiki Kogelnik.

From 1970.


Little TV Woman by Nicola L.

Made in 1969, it was first displayed in the window of jeweller Alfred Van Cleef.

Breathing Out by Ángela García, from 1973.

The Great Vagina by Mari Choardà, 1966, addressing the oppression of women in Spanish society.


A whole room dedicated to Kandarya-Mahadeva by Jana Zelibska, from 1969.

One of the two works I know is Concentration by Equipo Cronica.

I have no idea why I know this work.

But I do.

It is about the possibility of mass crowds solidifying as resistance to Franco’s regime.


The other works I know are three car hoods by Judy Chicago. Judy was there being interviewed in front of one them. 

Here’s the other two.

Flight Hood and Birth Hood.


You get the picture right?

Super rewarding.

Much to discover.

So much that is unknown, the question throughout is both: what is the work, and do I like the work?

Even when the answer to the latter is no, it is always interesting.

One more.

Study for Gates 4 by Chryssa Vardea.

She was one of the first artists to appropriate neon.


The show opens Thursday – click here for more info etcetcetcetc

Facebook and Instagram don’t like our Chapter 10/Anal House Meltdown images, so here they are…

We’re so excited by our next CHAPTER 10 party.

It’s going to be in collaboration with ANAL HOUSE MELTDOWN.

ie the most amazing people in London EVER.

It’s going to be on the Saturday of Frieze – October 17.

At Corsica Studios in Elephant and Castle.

Two rooms, 10pm-6am.

We can’t wait.

And so we’ve made some teasers.

Using imagery created by the collective of Anal House Meltdown.

Eddie Peake

George Henry Longly

Prem Sahib

and their friends.

But oh no!

Facebook doesn’t like them.

Instagram doesn’t like them (well it’s still letting me post a photo of a poster of the butts, but I’m not holding my breath).

So here they are!


Ticket details and stuff soon!