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Lesson #2 – Petite is Powerful – tips for a great fit.

If you are like me, considered a petite size, then your proportions are slightly shorter from the shoulders to the waist than a standard size, and you all know what I think about ‘standard’ sizes. But being ‘petite’ may also reflect that you may perhaps be relatively shorter in stature than most of your contemporaries in North America. Not at all if you are in most parts of Asia and in some parts of Europe.

Wearing off-the-rack and ready-made garments always seem to appear slightly ‘off’ because, petite manufactured garments are mostly only adjusted for the above mentioned variance, or worse – adjusted for shorter arm and leg length as well which may not apply at all to you (or to me). These adjusted variances may greatly reduce the choice in ready-made or off-the-rack for you to look amazing.

If you want to look your perfect-size ‘perfect’, then every component needs to be made in proportion to the whole. That doesn’t mean a petite cannot wear a large pattern print, or conversely that being tall you cannot wear small prints. Only that the proportions must be adjusted accordingly as is true to haute couture and bespoke tailoring.

In this example, notice that in her riding jacket all the components – lapel size and stance, buttoning, pockets, sleeve length (and armhole circumference), waist cinch, and jacket length are all relative to proportion. The trousers again are the right length and leg width. Any one of these elements out of proportion will throw the whole look ‘off’.

A petite can look positively overwhelmed or underwhelmed because of the lack of choice. Remember that in garment manufacturing, realistically it can only serve a small section of the market offering a limited range of ‘sizes’ to be profitable. That pretty much excludes the other 90% of the population. It is not you, you are a perfect size.

Cheers! J

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday March 31st, 2015 – Back to class

We’ve just left two weeks of Spring break behind us. Well, it wasn’t so much a break as quiet work-time to catch up for most of us here, and part one of the final Certificate exam is being written today. The programs are pretty intense, and if you do get behind even for one or two days, the work piles up incredibly quickly. Students all work very long hours for the duration of the programs, and as an administrator as well as instructor, my job doesn’t end at the close of class either. It usually runs late into the evenings and into weekends replying to emails and keeping up with necessary paperwork. It didn’t get any easier when Ecole Holt Couture became a designated Private Vocational Training institution licensed by the Alberta government of Advanced Innovation and Education department.

We often get questions about EHC’s programs and the equivalency of its certificate awards to other degrees. So here it goes.

Both Ecole Holt Couture programs are recognized by the Advanced Innovation and Advanced Education government department of Alberta, Canada.

EHC’s Dressmaking Certificate program is designed for self directed employment as well as the prerequisite program to enter the EHC Couturier/Tailoring Diploma program. The Diploma program is designed for self directed employment or free lance work, as well as entry level positions for apprenticeships. As such, there is no equivalent to our Certificate and Diploma programs. The entire curriculum is unique and original, written by the Founder, based on her education and 60 plus years of professional experience in the trade of couture and tailoring in Europe and Canada.

The reason that Ecole Holt Couture was established and its sole existence is to preserve and pass on traditional practical skills with its related professional technical knowledge not currently being taught in fashion or design institutions. As we’ve ventured to more modern approaches, focusing on off-shore manufacturing and marketing, the nature of educational programs have evolved to meet the demands of the fashion industry.

What is being left out is formalized training in couture and tailoring. Expert mentoring, the transference of knowledge and sharing of experience, not least of which is teaching the fundamental skills for a couture and tailoring career alternative – not typically included in the ‘industry’ statistics today.

So where are the statistics for couturiers and tailors to be found then, if not in the fashion industry? In our research, we have found them to be placed squarely in the arts and culture sector as craftsmen and artisans. see Cultural Human Resources Council

At EHC we do not teach quick and easy step by step do-at-home projects, that follow trendy designs adapting ready made patterns for sewing enthusiasts nor do we teach how to manipulate CAD programs. This training is meant for the serious career-minded individual to gain the expertise to take an original design idea and craft it into a fully formed product, by your own hands. What then is the exact degree equivalent, remains a good question. Cheers! J

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in College degrees

 

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Form │ Structure │ Design – EHC Couture

EHC trademark

EHC trademark

It is said that Balenciaga (couturier and designer) enjoyed traveling by train inspired by what he saw from the window, to generate ideas for new forms, silhouettes and creations. Pumpkins in the field inspired his balloon skirt, a canvas tent his tent dress, sunbeam pleated skirts from the rays of the sun. Inspiration came to me for the sculptural figure you will see displayed at the bottom of the stairway entrance to the School. One first recognizes its form or shape, then its structure and then the design of the fabric draped around it. These three elements are the basis of what Ecole Holt Couture teaches: form, structure and design.

As with any new language one must first learn to recognize its alphabet, in music for instance. Before writing music, not least a complex symphony, one must first learn to recognize the notes and their position on the staff lines, time signatures, and get a feel for rhythm. To perform music from written score, one must first learn how to play the instrument. And before any instrument can be played, it must indeed, first be created.

Before anyone can create couture, they must learn the basic stitches and their applications, details and combinations of details. Then how to use the tools, and also how to make certain tools. That is what the EHC Sampler resource library is for, so that each student can first learn professional couture sewing basics. In the process, students build their own personal resource library for future reference.

In Terms one and two, the 9 projects required must be wearable unlined garments of pure cotton and pure linen fibers, each project introduces increasing complexity. In Term three, students are already creating a four piece business suit including a blazer, skirt, trousers and vest, each fully lined. The suit must be made of 100% pure wool and natural fiber linings and interlinings.

Term 4, 5 and 6, the projects in the second year are all made of 100% pure wool, silk fabrics and including high quality lace. All these projects are fully lined and structured. Each project throughout the curriculum has been carefully selected as a classic garment with an identifiable origin. Students learn to recognize style from trend, and understand how styles cycle and recycle through time. They learn how to build a client-specific (which is not the same as a ‘targeted market’) wardrobe, and design a collection that is appropriate to a specific individual, thereby applying their own creativity.

In year three, Terms 7, 8 and 9, students learn the skills of hand knitting, and how to work with pliable leather. They learn how to tailor both ladies and men’s garments in the haute couture and bespoke methods traditional to each profession. The techniques for mens’ and ladies tailoring are not the same.

In the fourth year and final three Terms, students create a formal tailored tuxedo outfitting either a man or lady, complete with cummerbund, bow tie and tuxedo shirt. They learn how to work with fur, handle velvet, how to embroider, create cutwork and hollow work, bead work, and smocking techniques. Students create accessory items such as hats, and detachable collars. They practice different methods of pattern making to flat pattern drafting in the previous years, such as body draping and transformational pattern making.

At the end of four years, the graduating student must create a fully structured Ball gown or Wedding gown as their ‘master piece’ without the help from an instructor. When successfully completed, graduates are entitled to refer to themselves as professional couturiers and tailors with the skills to begin their career journey. Formally trained couturiers and tailors are artisans as well as craftsmen who continue to experiment and gain experience throughout their careers, each year becoming more proficient and more highly sought after.

Instruction time at Ecole Holt Couture

Ecole Holt Couture School of Sewing and Design is where students come to learn on a full-time basis earning an EHC Dressmaking Certificate and EHC Couturier/Tailor Diploma. Each student must maintain an 80% minimum grade level assessed every 10 weeks to continue on into the next term. There are three terms each school year. Each Program is two years in duration, totaling 12 terms or four years. Only successful graduates holding an EHC Certificate Dressmaking Award may enroll in the EHC Diploma program, having acquired the required skills to enter the Couturier/Tailor program.

At the beginning of each class day we assemble for a short meeting, after which the day is spent covering EHC course material relevant to the schedule. Rather than assigning reading material as homework, we engage the entire class (of six people maximum) so that questions that come up can be addressed immediately for everyone’s benefit. This normally consumes about 20 to 25 percent of the class day. The remaining 75 percent of the day is entirely supervised hands-on work.

Every project initially begins as a working sketch drawn by hand within imaginary box outlines, according to a ‘client’s’ proportions, and later progress to freehand drawn realistic illustrations with student designed garments in contextual backgrounds, and finally to fashion magazine type figures with more artistic expression.

EHC’s goal is to train the mind, hands and eyes to work in harmonic synergy producing a finished product. Taking appropriate measurements, documenting them, and then applying those measurements creating an original pattern according to the design. First fittings on the client are performed with a ‘toile’ created from that pattern. Then the actual garment is prepared from the toile. More fittings and continuous structuring, with a 50/50% ratio of sewing/pressing. One secret of success to professional results lies in pressing at the right time using the right methods.

The entire couture process is 80% hand worked, sometimes more and sometimes a bit less.The final product must be as finished and as beautiful, on the inside, and in between the layers as on the outside.Couturier and tailoring students bring their designs to reality.

In professional practice, before the final owner of the garment takes possession of it, they must try it on one more time to make final inspection of themselves in the mirror. Only then can it be allowed to leave the couturier or tailors studio. It is the couturier’s ultimate level of gratification to see a client’s eyes light up. To hear them proclaim its true comfort and fit, beautiful finish and flattering style, is the true confirmation of success.

Many do try to ‘copy’ original (haute) couture creations, but they cannot ever be truly duplicated.

created by Elfriede

created by Elfriede

What struck me as a good comparison to this was inspired by a documentary shown on PBS TV about one Stradivari violin made in the 17th century and how truly unique it is. The “Stradivarius” has become associated with excellence; to be called “the Stradivari” of any field is to be deemed the finest there is. Looking deeper uncovered certain experts had analyzed the Stradivarius violin, along with one Guarneri violin also made in the 17th century. From the outside they both looked so similar, almost identical. Each one was of the highest quality and wonderfully crafted, but each had very distinct sounds. But what made them so distinctly different?

The wood used to make both violins had a very particular quality and density.The Stradivarius was crafted to perfection on the outside, inside, in every groove and chiseled stroke. The varnish recipe used for the finish, also believed to be part of the reason for its unique sound died with the maker at the end of his 70 year career, and is still a mystery to this day. The other violin was also crafted to perfection on the outside, but the inside – was left in a somewhat less state of perfection.

Expert comments suggested that the Guarneri violin was somewhat easier to play, more forgiving, and had a larger range of tone. But it didn’t have the fineness of tune of the Stradivarius. The Stradivarius was more difficult to play requiring a very precise touch of the bow. It is said to be very unforgiving, so that only the most accomplished violinists can bring life to it producing such an exquisite sound that has never yet been replicated. The Stradivarius is still being played today, 300 years later, sounding as excellent and as unique as was at its first debut.

Expertly made, well fitted haute couture and bespoke tailored garment cannot be identically copied. The secrets lay within the mind, the soul and in the skilled hands of the creator, and is proven by the workmanship on the outside, inside and in between layers of every piece.

Elfriede Holtkamp
Ecole Holt Couture, Founder

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Couturier ‘String Theory’ – not just a Fable!

Most of the Students at Ecole Holt Couture have heard me tell a similar version of this Fable….

Once upon a time there was a very rich man and his wife spending some quality time together on their private south pacific island. Even with its remoteness it had every modern convenience. Solar panels for electricity, running water, and even 4G Internet access. Everything you could possibly need was there. A beautiful house, airstrip, dock, boat house, deep-sea fishing boat, and several guest cottages on its beaches.

He arrived following several strenuous business trips with his wife, who had completed a major shopping spree from Paris, Milan, London, to Tokyo. There was nothing that the couple could not buy. His wife had just procured lengths of the most elaborately hand-embroidered French silk, the softest Kashmir wool, the most luxurious Italian silk velvet, and the finest English worsted. The best that could be made, very expensive and all quite unique.

Because this man was also very generous he regularly invited friends and relatives to his island, but he also invited strangers from time to time to share in his good fortune. This time he invited three young, and very promising, fashion designers to the island as a reward for their contribution to one of the many charities he supported.

Each of the three individuals saw this opportunity differently. One was very ambitious and viewed each day as potential for new business and so brought an iPhone, laptop, latest look-book, and a few new design ideas to present, just in case. The other viewed this as a good time to get on with a project or two without distractions, and so managed to pack a compact sewing machine, sewing kit (thread, pins and scissors), and some new patterns but decided to investigate locally made materials on the island to experiment with. The third accepted this, as a time to relax and not worry about anything. To absorb, and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.

While on the island, which was very tiny indeed, it became apparent just how remote it was from civilization. The owners of the island were very hospitable and made time to visit with each of their guests, making sure that everyone was quite comfortable. One night they invited the three young people to dinner at the big house. Nothing but the finest was offered, the freshest fish caught just hours earlier, the best quality vegetables and most exotic fruit flown in from the nearest islands, and the finest wines.

The conversation turned to each guest to find out what their hopes and aspirations were for the future. One was confident that someday they would become world famous, so that everyone would want to own one of their designs. The other was hopeful, that with experience and some help, they would be able to manufacture highly popular collections selling around the world. The third confessed to wanting to be creative every day, to being content, and wanting to make other people happy. The others all sniggered at the third’s response, and privately thought how impractical and unrealistic that would be.

Curiously, the rich man’s wife asked more questions about why this would be a considered career choice. After all, doesn’t one need a lot of money to be able to have everything one’s heart desires? “For instance, we have everything one could possibly want, a good income, good health, and access to the best of everything. This doesn’t come without hard work and sacrifice of course”. All had to agree, and continued to enjoy a pleasant evening of good food, conversation and exchange of ideas.

Later, the rich man’s wife was delighted to show the three young people her exquisite fabric finds, knowing they would share in her excitement. As expected, all three were indeed thrilled. Also, as an almost instant reaction, they offered to design something for her using these fabrics. “Oh, but, I couldn’t just let anyone touch these precious fabrics, only someone with considerable experience”. They asked who she knew, that had such experience. “Well, I don’t really. I’m a bit hesitant about asking anyone!”

The first young designer offered to create the most fashion-forward designs, and would start on it straight away. The second, began to research the latest trends to present. Meanwhile, the third asked questions about what the rich man’s wife dreamed for herself, what were her requirements for the coming year, and what type of things she loves to wear. “This is all wonderful, but it still leaves the dilemma of who will make these amazing designs for me?”

Not to worry the first designer said, “I have some really good people behind me who will get it done right”, the second designer remarked, “I will make it myself, it won’t take long. I can usually run things up in a few hours, a couple of days at most!” The third’s reply was “I would love to make it for you, it will take some time. I want to make sure everything fits just right, and makes you look marvelous. Your fabrics will deserve the utmost attention, for the most part they will be hand-sewn”.

That night a tropical storm knocked out the 4G Internet access, the docks were damaged, and the airstrip was littered with debris from broken branches. Fuel supplies were so low that the generators couldn’t be run for more than just the bare essentials – such as pumping fresh water. Repairs would take some time.

The first designer conceded, “Well that pretty much finishes my plans, without the internet I can’t communicate with my team, my laptop battery is low and in need of recharging, but I can’t do it without electricity”. The second designer complained that without power the sewing machine was useless, and it was too late to order patterns on-line. The third said, “No problem. Let’s get started”.

In wonderment, the rich man’s wife asked how this is possible without any equipment! “I have my hands, I never travel without my emergency sewing kit, and if you have a ball of string somewhere, that’s all I need.” And so proceeded to take her measurements with the ball of string, sketched some ideas on paper for her approval, and drafted the patterns on old bed sheets. After assembling the mock-up designs, they were fitted exactly to her figure. Then used as the pattern to cut her prized fabrics.

During the following days, the rich man’s wife witnessed how the garments were being created piece by piece, all with the greatest care and attention to detail. Every pattern was skillfully matched at each seam. The garments were fitted a few times making sure they were comfortable and flattering to her figure. Then – one day the clothes were complete! “Oh my, I have never in my life seen such craftsmanship, such beauty, but mostly I have not felt so comfortable in my clothes, and felt so good about the way they make me look! I could see your joy while you worked, and why you love creating such wonderful things! How can I thank you enough for what you have done for me?” The young Couturier replied, “The opportunity you’ve given me has been priceless! Here is a detailed invoice of what you have received in exchange for my expertise.” The rich man’s wife never again wanted what everyone else could buy! Do you?

(Not The End) Just The Beginning – Cheers J

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Ecole Holt Couture Fashion Show 2014

following our love affair with silk

following our love affair with silk

What is couture and haute couture all about really? We love addressing this question, and try to share as much insight as we have time for during the couture runway show at Ecole Holt Couture’s annual fashion event.

Now in the middle of preparing for its annual fashion event fundraiser for Making Changes Association Calgary, according to the event website, there is one month and 10 days left to Sunday, November 16th show time.

We began planning this next event the day following the last one, and set this date last November to secure the venue for 2014. Right after, we debriefed to identify the successes and malfunctions while everything was fresh in our minds, which then determined the changes in structure for this year.

Our themed photo shoot for the posters and banners took place three months ago. The EHC fashion event website is active, and tickets available for sale. As we sat around the table with our students, we noted some brilliant ideas for next year’s event while we brainstormed ideas to promote this show.

You might say that it would be a bit of challenge to keep track of last year, our current year and next year’s plans, while we are so focused on the present school term, and you would be entirely correct. This is entirely an extra-curricular activity. We depend on our community partners and volunteers to pull this event off every year, hoping that everyone had a positive experience and offers to help out again.

If it were not for the countless individuals who are incredibly supportive, and the great number of volunteer hours, we would not be able to continue the event each year. As a matter of principle, we do compensate professional services we receive, and appreciate that those services might perhaps be at a special rate for this cause.

All the proceeds from the event are passed on to Making Changes Association.

To say thank you to everyone is only a fraction of the gratitude we feel for your support, so we find it very easy to be appreciative to all of you, and thank you once more!

If you would like to become involved with the fundraising event, or sponsor the event please have a look . We do promote our event sponsors through social media (Facebook and Twitter) and recognize special donations.

 

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“My Studio is open for business!”

photo credit: thechicadvisor.com

photo credit: thechicadvisor.com

A couturier, tailoring, or any artisan studio requires you to personalize it at the same time make it feel comfortable for your clients, in addition to room for working and storage. An important part of your branding or marketing is how your client sees you in your workspace, and is a reflection upon you personally.

The minute a client comes through the door they should feel connected, easily get their bearings, view your displays, and get an overall impression of who you are. The space shouldn’t be confusing in its design or message.

A bit of background info: Retailers calculate every centimeter of floor space as potential [profit = sales dollars / costs / sq. foot]. Include moving-around-space between the displays (tables, racks, and shelving), and just the right amount of attention given to the design of the entrance, flooring, wall area, ceiling/lighting, smell and sound, they all act as the canvass and give context to the product for sale.

Basically, boutiques with wide aisles and ample space between products on display, and less product out on the floor equates to higher-end product for sale. The profit margin on these products is usually much higher per unit. A lot of attention is given to staging – lighting effects, sounds (music) and smell (fragrances) even if the customer is consciously unaware of the effort behind it.

Shops with narrow aisles, jamb packed shelves and racks, only general lighting and small behind the scenes storage space for inventory indicates a less expensive product on offer. Profit margins per unit are much smaller and therefore rely on a higher volume of sales with quicker turn over.

This is only a general guide and not definitive, but illustrates the importance of conscious design in the space. And neither scenario indicates or guarantees the actually quality of the product itself.

Studios are frequently open by appointment only or open limited hours to the general public. They may be one single open plan area. Clients love to see artisans at work dissolving the mystery of how things are created, but clearly appreciate defined parameters so they know where they, as the client, fit in.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Making your client feel comfortable during a visit to your studio is extremely important. Whether it simply means offering them a place to hang their coat, a clean sturdy wooden stool off to the side of your workbench and a place to set down their freshly brewed organic coffee served up in a perfectly clean mug, or a lush upholstered sofa with your quality printed portfolio splayed out neatly in front, freshly cut flowers and cold Perrier served in Waterford crystal on a unique coffee table. It means you have considered your client’s experience.

Every studio needs some storage space for stock and deliveries. In my opinion, it is best left behind screens or in closed off rooms. No matter how on top of things you may be, clients make judgements about you based on your timeliness and tidiness or lack of it. Sample fabrics on display is not considered inventory – you get the idea.

Make sure the entry to your studio is inviting whether it’s wide open or intimately private and make sure it speaks of the entire space. And the mind loves to make order out of confusion – so the less confusion the better. Your client’s attention will ready and not hung up about confused messages in your studio.

If one element is unseen, this one is no less important than all of them put together. That is to keep the air in your studio fresh. There are few things worse than being assaulted by the smell of stale food or other unpleasant odors. Masking malodour with fragrances or room deodorizers doesn’t work; it only makes matters worse, a definite turn-off.

Natural light and lighting is essential to a studio for more than just working in. It creates desired mood very effectively – just be aware of the fact that people have different reactions to lighting just as they do to colour. However, this topic will be better explored separately in another blog. Have a look at the following for some ideas of the better and the could-be-better – you be the judge. Cheers! J.

Levis Tailor Shop

Levis Tailor Shop

 

At Ecole Holt Couture School

At Ecole Holt Couture School

Anderson & Sheppard

Anderson & Sheppard

Spiro Creations

Spiro Creations

Tonbogirl Verbua Leather Craft

Tonbogirl Verbua Leather Craft

Make

Make

 

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Fast forward >> the personal touch

what you wantThe future >> what you want with the personal touch. People are becoming excited about little changes to the fabric of their lives – in their food, their environment and local culture.

We care that we are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable and the reason I love doing this work so much. It is exceptionally satisfying both as a couturier/tailor and educator. However, fashion industry people would argue that if everyone in the industry would still carry on as we do; we’d still be living in the dark ages. That might be true, but on the other hand – maybe not!

Case in point, the growing shift going-back-to-basics in organic farming and selling locally. We yearn for healthy wholesome nutritional foods, rediscovering real ‘taste’ and knowing where our food comes from! We love the personal touch.

Land and Building development is en route to greening-up by reclaiming, replanting, recycling and reusing perfectly good brick, lumber, stone, metals, and etc. products. Toxic chemicals are finally being removed from building products to provide healthier environments. Traditional crafts men/women and trades people are in high demand to achieve quality and reflect our personality in homes and gardens.

Connecting-with-nature programs are re-focusing our attention on the value of all living things from tiny bugs to preserving forests, from saving the whales to natural water sheds. We have come to realize, everything on earth belongs here. People need to be actively engaged in safeguarding our planet; we cannot  be timid or remain ignorant of the urgency in making at least small changes in our current habits.

Psychologists and sociologists are proving that our increasing dependency on social media may actually be making us more isolated, even though we depend on it for keeping in touch. We cannot do without the internet to conduct business today. All the same we still need personal engagement with our immediate community to make our work meaningful. Do you know or care if your customers are truly happy or satisfied with your product? How are you connected?

The fashion industry as a whole has been guilty as charged of being rather deceptive in capturing our attention. No one should believe magazine photos because they are all touched up to create an illusion of idealized perfection. Labeling doesn’t give you the true story in part or in full. We don’t know anything at all about a garment’s journey, who made them and where they actually come from. Yet fantasy continues to influence our desires and attitudes about everything from what we drive to what we wear.  It is no surprise then that consumers are slow in making better choices to curb this insatiable addiction to an illusion of impossible glamor, and at a terrible cost.

Consumers have become irresistibly accustomed to cheap fashion paying next to nothing in our western society, in effect undervaluing all creative labor, totally unaware that quality and social welfare is sacrificed every time in achieving this. We have become entirely detached. So it is no wonder that we are  somewhat slow to adopt a more sustainable approach to style. The popular saying goes: “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”, we all need to take another look and reassess our contribution to the well being of our own community as well as global communities.

However, positive changes are on the horizon and the alternatives are numerous! Sharing, Recycling, upcycling, redesigning and zero waste, to name a few. In practice couturiers and tailors do not waste materials, find creative ways of incorporating your cherished valuables, and are not just in the exclusive domain of the wealthy patron either.

As local artisans and crafts people we can effectively service clients in our own communities giving them exactly what they want and need and at a much higher quality – with a personal touch. If you don’t believe it, just think about  hand knit sweaters or your most valuable handmade possession which you really love and cherish – I’ll guess you still own them and loathe letting them go! Cheers! J photo shoot workshop

shopping tag

 

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