The Lost Explorer: Tim Walker’s flight of fancy – The Telegraph Magazine

The Lost Explorer: Tim Walker’s flight of fancy


The Vogue fashion photographer Tim Walker has made a dark film, The Lost Explorer, that features 300 canaries

The Telegraph Magazine | 12 Aug 2010

By Marion Hume

My lemon-curd-and-honey vision just got darker,’ Tim Walker, the fashion-photographer-turned-filmmaker says of his first short film, The Lost Explorer. You may know Walker as the creator of Vogue shoots featuring white rabbits, powder-pink Persian kittens or stately homes covered in balloons. Yet for his first film he was drawn to an unsettling story in the 1989 collection Blood and Water and Other Tales by Patrick McGrath, whom Walker calls ‘the apocalyptic Roald Dahl’. The story begins with a child, Evelyn, played by 14-year-old Olympia Campbell, stumbling on a tent among brambles at the bottom of her garden. Inside, an explorer is dying of malaria and clutching a revolver.
The story the adventurer then whispers to Evelyn comes not from McGrath’s book but from Walker’s memory. ‘Ages ago someone told me how, in Victorian times, there were canary clouds over the Atlantic,’ he says, referring to the days when a taste for exotic birds meant that clippers sailed back from Africa loaded with cages. Halfway home, they would release the birds, which would soar over the sea, until, too tiny to reach land, they would drop back down to the ship and a life of captivity.
Walker was determined to capture this on film. ‘It was the toughest scene,’ he says. ‘We could afford only 300 canaries, and at the end, the animal wrangler retrieved 287. He put down nuts and seeds and five more appeared, then another seven. By the time the last one came down, it was dusty brown from being up in the rafters.’
According to Robbie Ryan, the Irish cinematographer who worked on Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, whom Walker employed as director of photography, ‘300 canaries can look like three on film.’ He jokes that he had to pay them double to fly round twice. ‘Tim’s a breath of fresh air, though,’ he adds. ‘He’s so open and he was sponging it all up, because his day job is nothing compared to being on a film set.’
While a normal day for Walker might involve staging a shoot in an art deco mansion in India that hasn’t been used since the days of the Raj, the challenges of film proved much greater. ‘I’ve always been about building the story through the visuals, and I had to learn to sacrifice some visuals to tell the story.’ As for his decision to hire someone else to hold the camera, he told me, ‘That was weird, but I knew I needed to see the whole picture. Robbie’s about realism, and when you mix that with the way I view the world, you get magical realism, and we both were so excited by that. My photography can be so sweet and it needed someone to push things the other way.’
Making the 20-minute film seemed like an epic in itself: ‘I wanted to launch straight into a feature film, but friends said, “No, you’ll get drowned,” ‘ Walker says. ‘I was thinking, “I can do big epic fashion shoots, what’s the difference?” But they were so right, in every way.’ The shoot lasted eight days with a cast of six and a crew of more than 40.
The story is simple: disgusted yet fascinated by the Lost Explorer, played by a craggy, dirty-looking Richard Bremmer (Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), Evelyn befriends him, keeping his existence, death and burial a secret from her parents. It is a fairy tale with a gently shocking end but it is filled with elements of Walker’s imagination, from shadows of moths fluttering against the tent to close-ups of Evelyn dreamily playing among the sheets on the washing-line. And, of course, there is the ghost-ship scene with the canaries.
Shona Heath, who has created the sets for many of Walker’s fashion fantasies, worked as his costume and production designer. This meant finding authentic pre-First World War tent canvas, and liberally applying coffee, honey and Marmite to age props. The key difference between working on the film and on a fashion set was, she says, ‘a lot less Sellotape and glue. You can’t improvise on film. There was one job I did with Tim where I made hats out of cakes, which he took on the plane to Ireland, and not one survived, so I made some paper clover hats instead. But being true to a story means you can’t walk too far off the path, so suddenly a kind of discipline appeared while normally in Tim’s photography the crazier the better.’
Walker was born in 1970 on the Devon-Dorset border, ‘among hedgerows and cliff paths, in the world Cath Kidston has channelled into her empire’. His mother is the cookery writer Lorna Walker (Clever with Cream, The Complete Bread Book), who, together with his late father, Colin Walker, renovated old houses, and he and his older brother Rupert grew up baking, making camps and building dams and tunnels. (Rupert is currently the programme sponsor for Network Rail’s multimillion pound refurbishment of Reading station.)
Walker’s early ambition was to make films, ‘but at art school,’ he says, ‘everyone else was making funny, tight little shorts and I made this 20-minute film and everyone laughed when they weren’t meant to.’ He began his career as a photo­grapher after coming third in a photography competition for the Independent. He then spent a year immersed in the Cecil Beaton archive during an internship at the Cond Nast library and completed a photography degree at Exeter University before spending another year assisting Richard Avedon in New York. His first fashion commission, for the Independent, was joyfully radical. In an era when every young snapper wanted to find another waif-like Kate Moss, he chose a silver-haired senior clad in Oxfam finds.
He shot his first story for British Vogue 15 years ago, at the age of 25, and has since become a regular fixture in the American and Italian editions, too. His fashion photographs have a sense of theatre and magic about them, and he gleefully goes against the grain of all those images of skinny girls looking glum. The pictures always have a sense of narrative.
Walker’s fashion images, collected in the 2008 book Pictures, speak of a world of enchantment & watching the bee tapping against the window, the smell of mothballs in the wardrobe, going through it to Narnia,’ as he puts it. He loves rambling country piles ‘where you can trample on the roses, and inside there’s ticking mattresses stacked up and up and up and the dusty badminton set by the door. In London we know where stuff is because we have so little space, but when I shoot in houses in Northumberland, in Suffolk, people say, “I haven’t been in this room for five years…” ‘
Walker’s own home is over several floors of an industrial building in Shoreditch, east London. Inside, the urban edge is softened with gingham and bunting. Every inch is adorned on the bare brick walls posters of John and Yoko rub shoulders with advertisements for village fêtes, geraniums jostle on window sills with pottery toadstools, and puppets hang from joists.
Walker began filming The Lost Explorer in February and has been editing it with Valerio Bonelli, who worked on Ricky Gervais’s Cemetery Junction; he is also collecting a series of film stills for a new edition of the story. While the budget for a one-day advertising shoot can easily top £100,000, that’s chump change for a film, despite the fact that everyone, even actors of the calibre of Toby Stephens and Dexter Fletcher, who have supporting roles, worked for free. ‘But that was the amount I needed,’ Walker says. ‘I went round to people I’ve worked with for years and begged, “Can you help?” and Mulberry was brilliant.’
The quintessentially British brand will host a London Fashion Week screening of The Lost Explorer in September; it made its debut in Locarno, Switzerland, this week, and will be screened on the international film festival circuit. Gela Nash, one half of the Juicy Couture partnership (Walker shoots its advertising campaigns), also gets honourable mention for her support.
Walker’s next plan is for the feature film he dreams of making. Currently in his sights is Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory. ‘It has been in and out of being optioned. I don’t know where it’s at now. But that would be the dream project,’ he says.

Walker’s next plan is for the feature film he dreams of making. Currently in his sights is Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory. ‘It has been in and out of being optioned. I don’t know where it’s at now. But that would be the dream project,’ he says.

Africa’s influence in the fashion industry – Financial Times

A long way from the World Cup epicentres of Johannesburg and Durban, catwalkers in New York and Paris are already marching to an African beat. And why not? If global business will have its eye on all things African this month, chiming with the prevailing mood makes economic as well as sartorial sense.

The work of Nigerian-born, London-based Duro Olowu, for instance, combines vintage couture fabrics and silhouettes with African prints (Princess Caroline of Monaco wore an Olowu evening gown at the Bal de la Rose – an annual event in Monaco attended by the royal family – in March). “What’s interesting,” Olowu says, “is the level of sophistication, which reflects the way African people have always combined European fabrics with indigenous culture. For a long time, there was a sense that this was limited to Africa but now it has become global. Combined with an awareness of social responsibility, it makes for a powerful statement.”

Fashion’s big hitters are interested. Diane von Furstenberg has created a “tribal tattoo desert sugar” wrap dress for summer; Dries Van Noten has used Ikat fabrics from Lamu and Zanzibar with abandon; and Alber Elbaz showed fierce feather and bead neckpieces at Lanvin’s autumn/winter 2010 show in March.

But there is more going on here than simple visual pillaging for mood board inspiration. Elbaz’s work, for example, was inspired by a meeting with United Nations officials to discuss potential projects for the brand in sub-Saharan Africa. As for von Furstenberg, back in March she co-hosted the “Women in the World” summit in New York, which included Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep and female micro-financing collectives from Nigeria to Liberia.

Increasingly, fashion professionals are making efforts to merge authentic African techniques with high fashion. As Olowu says, “Certain techniques, whether it’s block printing or beading, can’t be faked, and using the real thing gives a garment an integrity recognised by designers and consumers alike.”

One well-known Africa-involved ethical brand is Edun. Its new designer Sharon Wauchob has just returned from her first trip to east Africa. She was struck by “the freshness as far as our industry is concerned. We’ve tried other countries like India for so many trends, but here are crafts that have not been explored in terms of [western] fashion.”

Wauchob hints that the collection to be shown in New York next September will include “metal and beads but something beyond ‘Let’s put these Maasai beads on a T-shirt.’” Meanwhile Edun has launched a mini World Cup line, which includes African-produced T-shirts with a football motif. All proceeds will go to the Conservation Cotton Initiative in Uganda.

Stephanie Hogg, founder of Sierra Leone-based NearFar, believes that “it is possible to create sustainable emplyoment through fusing African creativity with western demand for fashion.” NearFar creates printed playsuits and mini-skirts so enticing that they have been snapped up by cult chain Anthropologie.

Holly Hikido, a former Barneys New York fashion buyer, now commutes between Italy and Addis Ababa to collaborate on a line of featherweight scarves labelled “Sammy Made in Ethiopia”. Her former colleague Julie Gilhart, senior vice-president and fashion director of Barneys, says they are “bestsellers” across the US.

Max Osterweis, who along with ex-Gap designer Erin Beatty runs New York-based, Kenyan-made Suno, agrees. “The idea with Suno is to make clothing covetable enough internationally to provide our tailors in Kenya with long-term employment,” he says.

Michelle Obama is a customer and Carol Lim, of New York’s Opening Ceremony store, is also a fan. “I love Suno because of how the bright colours make me feel,” she says. “It’s kind of like an energy boost.” When customers hear the brand’s made-in-Nairobi story, “it makes the purchase all the more meaningful”, she says.

Helping connect such projects with bigger brands is the Ethical Fashion Programme of the ITC (The International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations). Run by Simone Cipriani, a veteran of the Italian fashion world, the programme aims to provide long-term employment under certified fair labour processes for artisans working in impoverished areas.

While the catwalk names getting involved remain under wraps, there are already repeat customers, such as Luisa Laudi, creative director of MAX&Co, a brand of the Max Mara Group aimed at younger customers. “Working with Kenyan craftswomen in the slums is complicated and not like producing accessories in Italy,” she says, “but this is not charity. The accessories are great and in line with our production standards.”

But, Cipriani warns: “If fashion companies don’t fulfil their promises, the damage is severe. There are cases of micro-producers abandoning their own cottage industries to work with outsiders and then it stops and they are also deprived of the little they had before. The result is brutal. They starve.”

The ITC’s long-term projects are designed to mitigate against the damage of Africa going in and then out of fashion. Olowu says: “The world, including the fashion world, is becoming ever-more global. I think the African influence is more than a trend. Now it’s part of the melting pot.”

What to wear between seasons – Financial Times

In the past fortnight, the following shows have taken place in New York: Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg, Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney, Pucci, Céline and Lanvin. A few weeks before that, the latest Chanel and Dior collections were unveiled in St Tropez and Shanghai, respectively.

None of the events was connected to the industry’s biannual fashion weeks – the collections were cruise shows, a between-seasons niche that industry insiders estimate has grown to account for 70 per cent of designers’ annual clothing sales.

The term “cruise” entered fashion vocabulary in the late 1970s, when designers created ready-to-wear holiday wardrobes for wealthy customers who would spend the winter months in the Mediterranean, Florida, or on board cruise ships.

Three decades on, cruise has become such a big money-spinner that there were rumours of Milan and New York vying to claim the concept and stage a “cruise week” in May to rival the ready-to-wear calendar. But last year’s recession hit and it all went quiet. Had the cruise ship sailed?

Not entirely. But it is increasingly clear that cruise shows are entering new territory. Unlike the classic women’s wear shows, which are tied to specific cities, cruise has no such restrictions. A show can be staged where the money is, and in a way best suited to make that money respond.

Take Chanel. It recently held a cruise extravaganza in St Tropez, following shows in Santa Monica and Miami. According to Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion: “Travelling is a way to feed the imagination around a brand, and to renew its vision.”

Sidney Toledano, Dior’s chief executive, agrees that holding shows away from conventional venues can be beneficial. “These days, we need to show outside Paris. We needed to do something in China, which is obviously a key market. May is the one month in the year when our teams can travel together, and this presents the perfect opportunity to do a show abroad.” Hence Dior’s lavish show held last month on the Bund in Shanghai, which saw John Galliano tote a vast entourage including a hair and make-up team, models, film stars Marion Cotillard and Charlize Theron, and hatter Stephen Jones, all the way to China.

The Dior collection featured simple day dresses, jaunty stripes, skinny pants and pretty cocktail frocks, all shown with distinctly wearable mid-heel shoes – in other words, clothes that the still-new-to-French-fashion smart Shanghainese could immediately imagine wearing themselves. As Stephen Jones puts it: “People said to me: ‘Are you taking really extraordinary hats?’ but I told them no. Cruise is about hats to take away on holiday. It’s about freshness and simplicity.” And increasing sales of merchandise, from November right through to the following July.

Cruise shows also reveal a company’s strategic direction. Hence brands that have staged big productions in the past, such as Gucci, might choose to go quiet for a season or two. Alternatively, a brand might work on its relationship with its customers – as Valerie Hermann, chief executive of Yves Saint Laurent, which staged a small cruise show in a salon at the French consulate in New   York, explains. “We felt it was time to be a little humble,” she says. “Also it was time to be close to the viewers, not up on a pedestal.”

Some in the industry argue that keeping cruise collections off the catwalk altogether can be more advantageous. Tom Chapman, co-owner of Matches, which has 14 stores across London stocking cruise lines from labels such as Stella McCartney and Céline, says: “Because cruise isn’t so exposed, it fills the need for products that are fresh. Think about it. The customer sees Emma Watson walking around in a dress just off the runway that they can’t have for six months. The whole internet frenzy, the fact that fashion images are everywhere, means that consumers have seen ready-to-wear so often, they can lose interest.”

Holli Rogers, buying director at Net-a-Porter, agrees that the attraction of cruise is its newness. “Cruise serves as an indication of next season’s catwalk trends, but in a much more accessible form,” she says.

Indeed, smaller designers, far from lamenting that they can’t afford to stage cruise shows, are relieved to create primarily for their customer rather than catwalk scrutiny. “It’s certainly a calmer process,” says fashion designer Jonathan Saunders. Giles Deacon, who shows his mainline collections in Paris, says that creating his cruise line, which he presents via appointments and a look-book, is “really good fun” and the source of “nice new ideas”.

“In terms of business, it’s the most important season,” says Australian designer Richard Nicoll. “It also allows me to experiment with techniques and themes and to test-drive them from a sales perspective before the ideas for the next show become crystallised. In essence, it reduces my commercial risk.”

According to international brand strategist Pierre Rougier, whose clients include Narciso Rodriguez, Proenza Schouler and Raf Simons, only the biggest fashion houses such as Dior and Chanel can afford really lavish cruise shows. “Few other [brands] have the resources,” he says. “That said, it creates excitement, which is good for the industry as a whole.”

Fashion Journalist and Ethical Consultant