Hundreds of festive shoppers have been passing through Asia House’s doors snapping up exquisite unique gifts made in or inspired by Asia at its first ever Winter Fair.
Everything from handbags made from antique textiles in Uzbekistan, to vintage kimono jackets to necklaces made by impoverished women in Pakistan to yak wool jackets and Kazakhstan felt slippers are on sale at Asia House’s first ever Winter Fair, which runs until Sunday, 8 December.
Speaking at the opening of the Fair on Thursday, 5 December, Nixi Cura Course Director, Arts of China, at Christie’s Education in London, said there were marvellous objects being sold, all of which were “contemporary art.”
She said they were “beautiful things made to enrich our lives, in the same way that 2,000 years ago these objects came on East India Company merchant ships to enrich the daily lives of people in Great Britain.”
Apart from getting hold of one-of-a-kind items, one of the attractions of the Fair, which has transformed Asia House into a bustling souk this weekend, was speaking to stall holders about the origin of their wares.
Textile designer and researcher Seher Mirza, who founded London-based retailer Sjo, was selling brightly coloured cotton handcrafted accessories including earrings, necklaces, cushions and charms, made by women in villages in southern Pakistan.
“We pay them a living wage so they can afford food, shelter and clothing and can pay their children’s school fees,” she explained. The accessories, made of cotton, metallic thread and beads are sold with cards naming the village and artisan’s name on them. Mirza has recently started working with male weavers in Pakistan.
Craftsmanship by artisans in Kazakhstan was also on display at the London-based Kazakhstan For You stall. Their wares included unusual handmade Kazakhstan felt pointed slippers, felt coats and jackets, Christmas tree decorations, and stunning hand-made felt and silk scarves. “Felt is a Kazakhstan tradition. It is very warm, the Kazakh people are traditionally nomadic and can survive in very harsh weather,” said Alma Farmer, the owner.
Asia House Winter Fair
Jordan-based Louisa Harris Halabi was selling a wide selection of handbags made in Jordan, some made from antique textiles of Uzbekistan and some with the beading work done by Palestinian refugees in Jordan. The B Bags are a token of respect to Central Asian village women and girls who for centuries have come together and hand stitched embroidered and decorative textiles known as Suzani for their marriage dowries. Popular design motifs include the moon, which the women used to worship, as well as flowers, leaves and fruits.
“These bags are not about wearing a designer brand name. The idea of a B Bag is to be yourself. They are for a rather sophisticated well-travelled lady,” Harris said.
Fitzroy Square-based Suwada was selling nail nippers, Bonsai and garden tools, hand-made by master craftsmen in Niigata Japan, using the highest quality metals. “The quality of our nail nippers is completely different,” branch manager Kazuhiko Yuki said. “If you buy them in a regular chemist they might be £10 and after six months you can’t cut anymore because it is made from cheap metal, whereas ours are made from high quality metal, so if you use it carefully, it lasts forever,” he added. His nail nippers cost anywhere from £59 to £171 and include nail nippers for pets. “We sell to the barber shop that the British Royal Family use,” he added.
Elspeth Walker, founder of Highgate Village-based Sweet Lime, was selling limited edition jewellery she had designed using pendants, gemstones and tassels she personally sourced from across Asia. Some of the collection she made, others she designed, but they were made in Jaipur, India. “I collect stones, tassels, pendants as I travel and then I use them to make something unique,” she said pointing at a necklace made from Afghan tassels, one made from Thai mini pom poms and unique vintage tribal silver earrings she bought from the Miao tribe in China.
The stall Still Ethical had jackets and coats made by the nomadic Bhutia tribe in India out of hand spun, hand loom yak wool on display. Owner Sophie Mason was also selling hand-woven silk shirts, hand-woven Kashmir shawls, blouses hand embroidered by Indian women and hand-quilted jackets and bags.
“I design these and go to India and work with the women there who are very talented craftspeople but often on low incomes,” she said.
Stunning viscose and silk wall hangings inspired by Indian architectire adorned the walls of the Mehraj stall, owned by Sba Shaikh. Apart from that she was selling air-brushed T shirts of Bollywood actress Rekha, designed by her, as well as hand-made scarves inspired by the fretwork of Mughal architecture. A huge variety of multi-coloured scarves tie-dyed by a cooperative in Bhuj, Gujarat and embroidered by men in Mumbai slums, designed by Shaikh, were also on sale.
Organic cotton baby grows and children’s T shirts screen printed with words written in Punjabi (and instructions on how to pronounce them) were on sale at Ily Life. “The idea was to celebrate world cultures and different scripts and languages,” explained director Tejinder Nanra. “We are selling them to people of all nationalities.” Nanra, who was born in Uganda and is of Indian origin, said. The stall was also selling notepads made of elephant dung.
Asia House Winter Fair
North Yorkshire-based Katie Chaplin had travelled to London to showcase her vintage kimono haori jackets, kanzashi flower brooches made in the style of Japanese hair ornaments, as well as a range of DIY kits such as make-your-own Japanese fabric bags and kusudami origami kits. She even had pendants made from vintage kimono fabric and kimono fabric greeting cards. “The kimono fabric is too beautiful to waste so this is my way of recycling,” she explained.
A raffle with prizes donated by various stalls raised money for the Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan Appeal on the Preview night.