Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Carl in Robin Hood Gardens

When I asked Carl to pose for me in his favourite London spot, he immediately thought of Robin Hood Gardens.  We were in the middle of a long conversation regarding the vision that inspired architects, such as the Smithsons in the 60's, to build the future through large scale housing developments and the way the public engaged with that vision. Apparently, their option of the future was not received well, since forty years later the experiment is denounced as a failure and one of the two examples of the famous architects' brutalist style in London, is soon going to be demolished.

Carl in Robin Hood Gardens

Walking around and inside the imposing two buildings of the complex was quite an experience. Jimmy the maintenance man, helped us in and gave us an idea of how it feels to be living there (he was a resident from the day the estate was first introduced to the public). He talked about lack of maintenance but also, of major failures during the construction. He said he liked the sense of community and the beautiful garden in between the two buildings. While the media cultivated exaggerated fears about criminality in the complex, he insists he enjoyed a peaceful leaving there.

But did he like the style? He said he did, but I still don't think that he and the other residents we talked with, understand the importance of the building, what made Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid to support the action of saving it from destruction.

Carl in Robin Hood Gardens

 To Carl there was always a certain romanticism involved in the idea of the estate; his early memories of the big city were based on images of the large scale complexes, that featured in popular TV science fiction series, such as Doctor Who, and mostly of the material they were build from;  the council estates had been there for a long time but concrete was something new in the 80's, when he was growing up.

 "There is something wrapped up in the early '80's, the cold war, the atomic bomb; all this destruction and isolation is reflected in the material. If concrete had a sound it would be the cold sound of the synthesizer". He links his fascination of this retro future world with his own music "for me this era was always a source of inspiration" he says, unlike today where the new buildings that replace the old ones lack of style and character. "At the time the Brutalist style was much talked about, hence the demolishment of the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth which was voted the ugliest building in UK. I never show it physically, I wish I did, but it was a building really fought out and that's the thing. The new buildings are just blunt, responding to the people's style. Brutalism is not in vogue now, they are going to keep some examples of it and sadly this is not going to be one of them".

Carl in Robin Hood Gardens Carl in Robin Hood Gardens

After going up and down the 8 and 6 storey buildings several times, we decided that it was time to take a break, so we went near Carl's old house to his fav chinese street food place. The conversation switched to fashion and since Carl was working for 15 years for a famous fashion store, he had plenty to say.

"When working for a fashion label you have to make sure that you project the image of the company. I was working for Paul Smith and I loved the brand, was wearing it a lot, especially the suits because they fit me very well. But I started having to many clothes; when you work for fashion it is very easy to be to much into it, spending your wages back into it."

It seems that over the years Carl has managed to built up a great wardrobe and gain a vast knowledge in the field; he mentions designer names and outfits he has worn, describing details that cannot be seen by the untrained eye. " There used to be this great, independent fashion shop in Floral street, Jonas, and I would buy clothes from the Miu Miu, Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela collections they had. Back then, in 2000, these labels were much cooler than now that they are established. The staff I had bought from Vivienne Westwood in the nineties were of unique style and quality; they had taken care of every detail. The label was nice and you had a picture of her inside the jacket. But if you have been a customer for a long time you will notice that the shape of shoes will change, the trousers and the shirt shape will go narrower but in general I would say for some items that I've got something like that from 10 years ago, not the same but a similar idea. The people who are making it obviously come in cycles and if you look at certain brands for a decade you get to see the same staff again. Obviously you cannot reinvent the wheel and it is not going to be dramatically different overtime. Martin Margiela, for example, has left the company and sold out to Diesel. Although I still like his staff, I wouldn't get crazy about them. I did like his H&M's collaboration because they were going through Margiela's archives; they actually redesigned his clothes using probably cheaper material. I preferred this concept than if he was designing something from scratch."

I suppose there is a point in most people's lives, especially when living in a big city that you get excited about fashion. But what happens after that period? "I used to get excited but not any more. I would go to Harvey Nichols, where they have all the brands under one roof, and shop everything that attracted my attention; I had no restraints. Now, I feel it was wrong the amount of clothes I had. But I enjoyed wearing a new outfit everyday. Once I bought a turquoise two pieces outfit from Miu Miu that looked like a hospital uniform. Or I would wear a Paul Smith purple cricket jacket with crazy checked wool trousers and beige loafers.  I liked making fashion statements. It was kind of like Diana Ross going through costume changes. When you grow up in a small place and you have a certain mentality and then you come to the big city and realise that you don't have to be caged by this mentality then you just go for it; particularly when you work in a fashion environment where you are inclined to do so.

Now, I wear this Van's everyday. I love the design of them, I also like the colour; I have a blue, red and white pair. My trousers are from Vivienne Westwood, I bought them in the sales, in Selfridges. My friend spotted them and suggested that I should try them on; it was something different from what I was used to. In 2010, I went to visit my friend Marian who is working in a wholesale in Kingsland road; she showed me around all the brands that she is selling and I found this nice cotton hoodie which was from this brand called Silence. I had never heard of them but a couple of years later and while the brand became more successful I found out that this was actually by Damir Doma, who is at the moment a very trendy designer. I didn't know this when I got the top; it was just something I liked a lot.

I am very happy now to go vintage shops, such as Beyond retro in London or Beacon's closet in Brooklyn and buy mostly t-shirts. But, I repeat, I wouldn't buy a full price item anymore. On the contrary, I started shelling some of my clothes and it was quite a relieving experience. I have kept some items but still when I wear them I wonder why, since I have changed a lot from the time I had bought them. Do I want to wear something I wore when I was 20 something, do I identify myself when I am wearing it? "

We kept talking about clothes until the sun set and then we separated. When I returned back home, I put on Carl's inspiring music and while listening to his calm voice from the recorder, I thought of Robin Hoods Garden with a feeling of nostalgia. Soon it will be gone, I said to myself.

Carl in Robin Hood Gardens

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