Thursday, 16 December 2010

A bit of Divine Decadence in Dalston

Poodle down Kingsland Road, or hop on the 149 bus and you’ll find, just past the Geffrye Museum a far less auspicious (but 100% more exciting) design archive. Packed into 199 Kingsland Road is half a decade of the most divinely decadent (to borrow a phrase from the House’s namesake – Ms Minnelli) avant garde runway treasures and street wear artifacts. Painted clean white to best show off its technicoloured stock, House of Liza is the most exciting shop to land in East London (perhaps since another grande-maison founded in the same spirit: Judy Blame et al’s House of Beauty and Culture.) The House provided the wardrobe for this issue of P&P, and after lugging back twelve garment bags crammed with 80’s and early-90’s magic-moments, we shared a pot of Earl Grey with master of the maison; Mr Gonçalo Velosa.

A BA in Fashion Design and Realisation graduate from LCF, Gonçalo has been collecting fashion for years and decided to open the shop when he saw that the collection he had amassed offered something a bit more special than the other vintage stores around London. “The selected pieces are by visionary designers who by their virtue redefined the very impetus of fashion. Each item is chosen for the exclusive quality that made them just as desirable now as in their heyday.” Flicking through the rails the labels have us quivering with excitement: Kansai Yamamoto, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Stephen Sprouse, Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier and more. There are loudly printed spandex t-shirts from cult label W&LT next to a really chic 70’s Lanvin dress (covered in a print of pixelated chickens – trust us it’s J’ADORE) and a couple of catwalk sample-only, super rare Comme Des Garcons overcoats.

So Gonçalo, what’s in the name!?

The name sort of came to me by accident. I wanted it to be a pun on the concept of Fashion House or Maison and I also wanted it to reflect my collection of record covers, especially those designed by Andy Warhol. As it happened I was staring at the wall thinking about possible names when I realised I was staring right at the face of Liza Minnelli, immortalised by Andy Warhol. It was perfect. Her bohemian and at times tragic life story, her sense of fashion and glamour… seem to encapsulate not only my collection but where the store is located too!

So you have a soft spot for the House’s home - Dalston?

Is it Dalston? Is it Hoxton? Or is it Shoreditch? To be honest with you this was the area I first lived when I moved to London some years ago. I was always fascinated by the dynamic and strong associations with a certain cheekiness and rebellion evident in the area. There is a vibrant energy that you can immediately feel so I though it would be the perfect area to have a boutique selling pieces that, in their time were forward thinking and revolutionary.

What is your history in industry? A bit of background please!

When I was doing my degree in furniture design back in Portugal I became involved with a theatre group doing costume design for different plays. Partly I became involved because I always had a thing for fashion and at the time I was developing this obsession with vintage clothing, which was not at all big in Portugal. At that time I managed to put together quite an extensive collection with very little money! It was mainly my own wardrobe but I slowly started styling people; bands and performance artists. During that period a lot of people kept asking me where I had bought my clothes so one day I decided to sell my whole wardrobe and only keep my underwear and shoes. I had to let it go so I could devote my passion to dressing other people! Soon after I opened my first shop. I ended up having 3 different shops in the same city at different periods. They were sort of Guerilla shops as I kept changing location, the shop design and the clothes on offer but always kept the same name. At that time I also had a career in exhibition design so perhaps maybe that urge to change location had to do with it. After that I also ended up doing some costume design for film, just before moving to London and enrolling at London College of Fashion to study.

We’re hooked. Pass the custard creams and tell us more.

Well I have been around. I was born in Africa and before living in London I have lived in Portugal, France and Canada. My obsession with fashion began in the 80’s when I was living in Paris. I would spend my afternoons wandering from one designer shop to another even if I couldn’t afford much at the time. I still remember being at Mugler’s shop and the sales assistant kept telling me that the men’s clothes were at the back of the shop but I just wanted to see and touch the women’s clothes. I had to pretend I couldn’t understand French so they would just leave me wondering, indulging myself. I would go to the Junior Gaultier shop on the Rue du Jour when they were having sales and buy a bunch of stuff and make them put each piece in separate bags. I just loved those bags, shaped like round, green advertising billboards so typical of Paris. I was thrilled when I saw one on display at the V&A.

So, just between us, where do you find these amazing clothes?

Now that would be telling!!!

Out of all these babies under your roof, which is your favourite family?

From the ones I stock I have to say Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Stephen Sprouse. Both these designers have always brilliantly mixed and remixed two of my passions: fashion and art.

What do you wear? Are you as extrovert as your stock?

Over the years I have became very practical. My clothes now are more concerned with practicality whilst maintaining a quiet aesthetic integrity. I used to be incredibly adventurous when I was younger and had less money. Sometimes I am actually amazed when I think of the ensembles I used to put on. Every single piece from my younger days is gone, all but one precious Gaultier jacket that I got from his shop at Rue Vivienne in Paris in ‘89. My first ever boyfriend has looked after it for me all these years.

Tell me about some of your show pieces?

There are a few that are close to my heart, like this silk tube dress by Sprouse using one of Warhol’s prints. This piece was from Sprouse’s last collection for his own label, just before he collaborated with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton. Another one is a silk and lace ensemble by Chloe which was designed by Lagerfeld and immortalized in a photograph taken by David Bailey in the late 70s. My knitted Bodymap dress is one of only two left in the world, and the other hangs in the V&A.

What would be your dream find?

My dream find would in fact be threefold! The first one, which I just found, is an early Pierre Cardin knitted dress. The other two (at the same time please!) would be a hand painted dress by Castelbajac and a silver fake snake skin jacket by Junior Gaultier, just like one I used to have in the late 80s, which unfortunately got stolen.

What are your general thoughts on vintage, and the boom for it?

To me vintage is about being able to wear something with cultural and historical heritage while looking contemporary and completely original. I think the boom for vintage started in the 90s when some people where not satisfied with the minimalistic fashion of that time. The celebrity culture also helped to expose vintage fashion to a wider audience,

Why are people willing to spend so much money on something second hand?

I do not like the term second hand… If you buy a Andy Warhol painting, for example that has been previously owned by someone else, do you see it as a second hand painting? Or you just see it as work of art?

Do you think these designers, the 80s and 90s ones you stock: do you think they were more exciting than new designers now?

To me personally they were more exciting, mainly because they were my idols when I discovered fashion and also because their work reminds me of my wild teenage years, but there are lots of really exciting designers out there today too.

Are you selling nostalgia or something new?

I would like to think that I am selling both. It actually depends on how old you are. If you take a Junior Gaultier cage jacket, for instance, it reminds many of the end of the 80s or even their first flirtation with Madonna. To some of the younger generation, well they see it as something quite new! For them it is a sort of introduction into pieces and designers that marked key points in the history of fashion. I also have had some people in my boutique asking if my pieces were really vintage while others have asked if I have designed them. These customers seem to think of the pieces as contemporary, so for them there is no nostalgia there.

House of Liza is at 199 Kingsland Road, E2 8AN. Opening times are Wednesdays and Fridays 12 – 7, and 12 – 6 on Saturdays.

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