Friday, 13 September 2013

'Send Us Your Snaps' Competition!

Our lovely customers often send us photographs documenting the weird and wonderful ways in which they display our hand-embroidered pieces.  Some of these are so cute, showing their babies and dogs snuggling down with our cushions and throws.  Some, on the other hand, are a little more risqué – it might compromise our reputation if we publish them!

Jan and Jo, demonstrating an alternative function for our tea cosies...

Above is quite a silly one showing Jan and Jo on a photo shoot last week, wearing the bespoke Fortnum & Mason tea cosies we created for the store's 'Mad for Tea' exhibition.  Below are a few of our favourite images sent in by customers in the past – we’re sure you’ll agree with us on how beautiful they are!

… And because we enjoy receiving your pictures so much, we’ve decided to offer the fantastic prize of £300 of Jan Constantine textiles to one lucky photographer!

This is Baby Freya, our friend Dean's baby daughter, surrounded by Love.

Image sent to us by Jo Welch

So, if you have a particularly lovely, interesting (and not quite so risqué) photo that you'd like to enter, please email it to info@janconstantine.com with your name and – if possible – a short descriptive paragraph by 30th September 2013.


Image contributed by Pinar Ozbey-Trottier - www.narinukimages.com 

All entries will be displayed in the 'Send us Your Snaps’ gallery with the entrant's name and brief description.  The winning entry will be chosen for its content, beauty and authenticity (note: it is not expected to be a professional photograph – even a mobile upload will do!) and the winner will be contacted via email or telephone.  The winning image will be announced via email newsletter during October.

Get out that camera, and good luck! 

Friday, 12 July 2013

Royal Babymania... Win Royal Cushions!


The Royal Baby – or ‘Baby Cambridge’ – is due to be born on July 13th.  After months of making headlines, the baby is likely to generate still more media attention this summer.  Journalists and photographers have already begun congregating outside St. Mary’s Hospital, London, where the birth is expected to take place; the baby's arrival will be officially announced to the public via a notice attached to the palace gate.

Diana and Charles with baby William outside St. Mary's.
(img src The Telegraph)

The media hype will reach its peak over the next couple of days, as the date approaches.  There have already been instances of Royal Babymania, however…

Babymania:

* The Royal Baby made it onto The Times New Power List earlier this year, coming in at number 10 under the title ‘The Duchess of Cambridge’s Child’. 

*An online shop, The Royal Nursery (
www.royalbaby.com) professes to sell items for ‘the baby that deserves everything’, including a $1499 solid gold feeding spoon. 

"Not All Babies Are Born With a Silver Spoon in Their Mouth"
- The Royal Nursery

* The Royal Nappy, a new book by Nicholas Allan, proposes to tell the history of the royal nappy from Henry VIII to the present, through the story of Nanny and the ‘Royal nappy cabinet’, and tells of the advantages of different nappies for different occasions (“parachuting nappies” and “shiny nappies for palace floors – whee!” are examples, according to The Guardian). 

Front cover of The Royal Nappy, by Nicholas Allan

* The Royal Baby has been tweeting from three different parodic Twitter accounts, and already has a Wikipedia page, having been referred to by The Washington Post as “the world’s most famous baby”. 

* Betting shops are expecting baby-related bets to reach £300k by the time the baby is born.  At the moment, the most popular possible names are Alexandra and Victoria (the majority of bets are expecting a girl), or George if the child is male.

*A recent Vogue
article described the Duchess of Cambridge on a skiing trip, teaching a child to toboggan; the description ends with the ridiculous statement “after that she went inside and ate a bowl of pasta for tea”.


So why is there such a hilarious fuss about the Royal Baby?  Apart from the obvious – everybody loves babies, and the British public have an endless fascination with the lifestyles of the monarchy - there is perhaps another reason.

The Duke and Duchess of York with their daughter, later to become
Queen Elizabeth II.
(img src The Mirror)

Following the Succession to the Crown Bill, male heirs will no longer take precedence over women in line to the throne.  According to Francesca Rice in Marie Claire, the birth of a female child could be “a seminal moment in the fight for female equality”, in that whether the child is female or male, it will become third in line to the throne.  Rice also points out that the Equality (Titles) Bill, which would allow female heirs to inherit hereditary titles, is scheduled a second reading in parliament – if the Royal Baby should turn out to be a girl, a huge overhaul of tradition is a possibility, hugely affecting the lineage of the British aristocracy.

Babies or children in important positions are no anomaly historically (Edward VI is an example from English history, having ascended to the throne at the age of nine), and apart from the Royal Baby, there are possibilities of similar changes to tradition elsewhere in coming years – the Dalai Lama has recently suggested that, for the first time in history, his selected successor may be female.

Painting of Edward VI as Prince Edward in 1539,
by Hans Holbein the Younger.

All members of the royal family were, of course, babies at one stage.  An exhibition at the Museum of London, ‘A Royal Arrival’, presents a collection of baby clothes to the public – baby clothes owned by the monarchs of the past.  Items include a cap worn by Charles I, a vest and mitten worn by George III and a nursing apron thought to have belonged to Queen Victoria. 



And so, in the spirit of royal textiles and Royal Babymania… we would like to announce the arrival of our Royal Baby cushion, to be released upon the birth of the Royal Baby.

Also, we are now running a competition with a fantastic prize – your choice of Royal cushions, to the value of up to £150!  All you have to do to win is send in your guess of the Royal Baby’s name.  We’ve already received a few unofficial guesses in comments on our Facebook page, but in order to enter the competition, please go to the competition page on our website and enter your choice of baby name and required details (one entry per person only; no entries will be accepted following the public announcement of the baby's name).

Good luck… and enjoy the excitement! 

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Mysterious Land of Lanterns: Jan Constantine in Japan


#JaninJapan



A few weeks ago, Jan and (her design assistant) Jo took a trip to Japan for several days to meet with buyers.  The photographs below were all taken during their time there, and are accompanied by some of Jan’s comments on the trip and the people encountered along the way; it was, according to her, “a magical time” for them both.  They were given an incredibly warm welcome everywhere they went, from the British Embassy to the shopping malls and restaurants, and Jan is already excited to be visiting again in October.

 Jan: "This lovely baby, Nene, was fast asleep in
the shopping mall, still clutching her biscuit."

On the Japanese people she encountered, Jan stated that “The biggest impression I had while we were there was how overwhelmingly lovely the people were.  They were so humble, shy, charming and helpful… in fact, they went out of their way to be helpful.  If we ever got lost, they would actually take us to where we wanted to go. They are also very precise and orderly, in the nicest way.”

 Jan: “This is Mayumi, our beautiful interpreter.  She lived
in Britain for several years as a garden designer and
 loves Britain – as you can tell from her sleeve!”
“They all seemed to really love the British, and they say this is partly because of our similarities: we are both islands; we have our Queen, and they have their Emperor; we are reserved people (most of us are, anyway!).”

Jan and Jo with beautiful graduates in Tokyo on graduation day (their graduation attire is much more interesting and colourful than our simple black robe). 

*




One of the most interesting aspects of the Japanese aesthetic is the concept of ‘wabi-sabi’.   Founded on Buddhist ideas of transience and impermanence, this could be summarised as the belief that there is great beauty and perfection to be found in imperfection.  Intrinsic to wabi-sabi are appreciation of natural objects and the natural world, modesty in style, irregularity and asymmetry; these are combined with sabi‘s connotations of beauty gained with age.  In terms of aesthetics in manufacture, wabi-sabi might refer to the beautiful inconsistencies of certain production methods; the hand-embroidered cushions for which Jan Constantine has become known are all sewn individually, and all have their own tiny unique flaws and idiosyncrasies as a result.  In this sense, they could certainly be said to exhibit the qualities of the Japanese aesthetic.

Kimono from Jan and Jo’s retail tour in Ginza, Tokyo.
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s extended essay, In Praise of Shadows*, discusses briefly the Japanese appreciation of “the elegance of age” (p. 19), something that can be easily likened to the British love of history and high culture.  Tanizaki writes that “we do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or in an artefact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity” (19-20).  Bright lights, video games and J-pop, though important to (stereotypical) modern Japanese culture, do not epitomise the ideals at its heart any more than fish and chips, the Grand National and Britpop epitomise the oldest values of the British: the real heart of Japanese culture is a love of the natural order and a patina of quiet dignity on all aspects of life.

The following is a haiku penned by Jack Kerouac (not a British writer, but nonetheless a great example of a meeting of Eastern and Western culture).  Again, the transience and imperfection of wabi-sabi is in evidence here:

“Snap your finger
stop the world –
rain falls harder.”

Jan loved this stylishly understated black kimono.
All of these ideas go some way toward explaning the subdued grace of the Japanese artisan.   We British will always adore our cloisters, cathedrals and the smell of cold stone – much like the Japanese, “we love the colours and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them” (Tanizaki, 20).

A workshop in Tokyo.
Jan Constantine’s products come bearing the tagline “hand-embroidered heirlooms of the future”.  It is easy to understand how this might also relate to the Japanese love of antiquity and tradition.  All in all, the British and Japanese concepts of vintage heirlooms and wabi-sabi are quite similar, in their modern meaning.

More happy graduates.

Jan found her visit to Japan absolutely fascinating – as should be clear from her comments on the visit! – and compared the experience to her first visit to New York in her early twenties.  She was so excited that jet lag didn’t effect her in the slightest, though she found it difficult to go to bed (never mind go to sleep!)

Jan and Jo beneath the Thunder Gate lantern.
Next week, Jan Constantine’s agents will be showing her products at Hotel Okura in Tokyo in an event lasting for at least five days.

Jan and Jo at the British Embassy in Tokyo

*Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows (Vintage, London, 2001; English translation first published by Leete's Island Books, Inc. 1977; Japanese original published 1933).

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The Great British Sewing Bee - Jan Constantine Interview


Tonight on BBC2 at 8pm will be the first airing of new competition show The Great British Sewing Bee – a spin-off of The Great British Bake Off, hosted by Mary Martin and Patrick Grant, in which contestants aim to create their own clothing.

Jan is very excited about the show and the effect it might have on the British public, so we decided to ask her some questions about her own Sewing Bee (her past) and what she thinks the future might be for sewing.

Contestants and hosts on the show.  Photo copyright the BBC

Interview


Q) Who first introduced you to sewing?  At what age did you start?

A) My mother and Grandma Constantine introduced me to sewing when I was around 4 years old.  There was always sewing going on in the house – my mother made everything we ever wore and Grandma was always visiting, bringing her knitting with her, making clothes and working on her projects.  Whenever I visited grandma she would show me how to do things.  After a while I started making dolls’ clothes, and I was given a red sewing machine for children, one that actually worked.  From there, I made my first skirt for myself when I was about 10 – it was in a dog tooth check with a zip in the back and a pleat in the front, and I wore it often.  Slowly I started to make more and more clothes; I went every Saturday to the Bury market to a stall called Ada’s where they sold fabric remnants, which I would buy to make something new to wear to the discoteque each week.  I absolutely loved it and couldn’t wait to start my next garment.

This satin and lace shirt - created by Jan for a  college
prize night when she was 17 - is still a feature
in her wardrobe.

Q) Do you think The Great British Sewing Bee is likely to be as successful as The Great British Bake Off?

A) I think the Sewing Bee is going to be incredibly successful and is likely to kick-start an array of new sewing programmes.  I think it might be even more successful than the Bake Off, because of what it’s going to start – it’s definitely time for a sewing revolution.  Also, there are a lot of cooking programmes on television already, and many famous television chefs… so it’s a welcome relief to see a hands-on show that’s focussing on something different.  This is the kind of programme that’s been long-awaited, really: in the olden days sewing was very high on the list of pastimes/tasks along with cooking, and every woman used to sew, but this is rarely the case now.

Q) Going on from that question – there are a number of male contestants in the Great British Sewing Bee.  What do you think of that?

A) I think that’s fantastic.  More men should be encouraged to get stuck in and make their own clothing.

Q) Why?  Do you think there’s maybe something lacking in men’s fashion currently?

A) I do, actually, and I think there has been for a long time.  I think it’s time the peacock returned.  Maybe the Bowie exhibition at the V&A will give some inspiration to the male population – male fashion has been sober for far too long.  It's been sober since the seventies, basically!

Q) What about fashion generally?  Do you think there’s more room for originality in today’s clothing?

A) Yes.  To make your own clothes is to make an individual, one-off garment – a lot of people are seeking that kind of originality by wearing vintage at the moment but they might find more kudos in wearing something completely of their own.  Really, who wants to go to a wedding or a party and see somebody else wearing the same high-street dress?!

Q) The Great British Sewing Bee appears to be primarily a tailoring/dressmaking contest.  Do you think there’s room for a revival of other sewing projects, too?

A) Absolutely.  This is only the start – everything will be looked at differently once people realise that it only takes a little time-investment to make these things themselves.

Items from Jan's haberdashery collection.

Q) Do you think there is a revival of hands-on creativity generally at the moment, and why?

A) Yes, I do.  Possibly because everything vintage is very popular at the moment, and as is the ‘make do and mend’ ethos – because of the recession that we’re in, people want to find a way to save money while also creating their very own wonderful projects.

Q) Considering cuts to arts funding and the pressure on young people today to take a ‘financially viable’ route into work – resulting in declining numbers of young people studying subjects like art, textiles and design – what do you think the future is for creative endeavours like these?  How do you think young people might be encouraged to continue on a path like this?  And how could somebody who was really passionate about sewing find a way to make a career from it?

A) There has always been a future for art and design, and there always will be.  I believe that if you’re strong and willing enough, and you love it enough, then you will find a way of doing it.  When I was at school, I remember being advised not to take the route I wanted; but I went on and did it anyway, and it’s turned out to be a very fulfilling career, right through from being a fashion designer in London to interior styling and design to now, running my own company.

I think more programmes like this might be encouraging, for a start.  Following the careers of flourishing creatives might also encourage young people, as perhaps what’s lacking at the moment is belief in the possibility of success in this area.  It’s a shame, because as a nation we are incredibly creative; even London Fashion Week this year has surpassed those of Milan and Paris.  This country is a huge creative force to be reckoned with and this should be nurtured and promoted.

Somebody who wanted to make a career of it could take the route of studying their craft at school or university, or alternatively, they might start their own project and pursue it alone, by perhaps hiring a market stall and then going on from there.  Everybody has to start somewhere and the chances are, if you have the talent, the passion and the enthusiasm, you should win through: once you set your mind on something and you aim for quality, it can happen.

Q) What tips do you have for people who might be interested in starting to sew?

A) Find a mentor!  Somebody who can sew… and get some books out of the library.  Programmes like this are great, as I’ve already said.  But I’d also recommend getting together with a friend or a circle of friends with a similar passion, because it’s always more fun to work on projects with others.  There are sewing courses available in every part of the country if you care to look – if you’re interested, maybe just find one in your area.  You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it!



Tune in to The Great British Sewing Bee each Tuesday (BBC 2, 8pm)!  And if this sounded interesting to you, perhaps check out Jan’s books Heirloom Embroidery and Love Stitching, within which you’ll find instructions and guidance on how to make wonderful sewing projects all of your own.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Little Windows of Venice


“But love is blind, and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit…”
            - William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (Act II Scene VI, 41-2)


Venetian paper theatres

Venice is a city in love with its own history – a city of doges and dungeons, gondolas and gondoliers, mystique, intrigue and celebration.  But it is also a city with a history of lovers, and as the birthplace of Giacomo Casanova, its reputation as Italy’s lovers’ hub can hardly be doubted.

Jan visited Venice a few weeks ago.  While she was there, she was struck by the constant presence of a certain motif around the city: the heart.  Decorating bridges, door handles and hundreds of windows, the heart proved itself to be as intrinsic to the character of Venice as it is to Jan’s work.


Other beautiful patterns also featured, but the heart was certainly the city's most prominent icon. 

Scroll heart bridge
Even the door handle surround is
embellished with hearts.




Venice is its own heart afloat on the past; 
its ventricles, atriums are hewn in centuries 
of sand and muscled with water, its streets 
and bridges strung with heartbeats.












One of Jan's favourite images from the trip: the colourful biscuits
 - bottom left - resemble the masks of the Venetian harlequin.

Speaking of the visit, Jan commented:

“It was the windows of Venice that fascinated me.  The wrought iron grilles on the ground floor windows in Venice are there for security as well as being beautiful and romantic – many of them incorporate hearts within the design. I was particularly attracted to them as I've just finished a new collection that looks as though it's been inspired by them.”


Leaving Venice

If you liked the impressions of Venice in this post, keep an eye out for Jan’s new collection, arriving Summer 2013!