April is the month when fashionistas decamp to Bath, just as they did 200 years ago when the elegant spa town was one of the most modish places in Britain. Over the past seven years, the annual week-long Bath in Fashion festival has been returning the city to its historic pre-eminence in style, with the highly regarded Fashion Museum and award-winning students of the Bath Spa University fashion courses acting as a springboard, and a packed programme of talks, events and shows that grows bigger each year.
This year’s event kicks off on April 18 and speakers include top couturiers and designers (Nicholas Oakwell, Erdem, Julien Macdonald, Zandra Rhodes), artists (illustrator David Downton and Susan Kay-Williams of the Royal School of Needlework), representatives of both big business (Belinda Earl of Marks & Spencer) and ethical fashion (Livia Firth), and historian Sir Roy Strong. Mostly they are in conversation with equally interesting people such as innovative fashion photographer Tim Walker or author and style commentator Colin McDowell – discussions should be stimulating. In addition, there are shows, exhibitions and hands-on workshops covering everything from millinery to wearable technology; event prices run from £10 to £50.
Such an event needs some sparkling opportunities for retail therapy. Apart from more than its fair share of upmarket stores, lively independent boutiques and vintage shops, Bath has a number of locally based designers providing something unique for the week. Rising young talent and Bath native Joe Richards (also a speaker at the festival) has collaborated with independent store Square to create a special window for the week, featuring exclusive designs for the shop and key items from his current spring collection.
Although known for his modern, clean-lined shapes, for this season Richards explored the work of the pre-Raphaelite William Morris, whose art and ethics he has long admired. Richards had access to the archives of the textile company Morris founded, as well as its print-factory sister company, to create a collection he calls Minimalist Morris – its prints are based on the woodcuts made for the Kelmscott Chaucer that Morris’s own press published. Blown-up designs are handprinted onto soft viscose jersey to create dramatic yet easy-to-wear dresses (example first picture, £490), tunics and trousers (example second picture, £410); and printed and embroidered onto T-shirts (example third picture, £150) or tasselled woven cotton scarves (example fourth picture, £110) – only at Square. Sign up now for a few fashion days away from the rat race.