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Cool Cymru; How Welsh landscape is being used to sell high street fashion.

Byline: GARETH BICKNELL

THE ultra-trendy denim says urban, cosmopolitan and cutting edge - but the azure sky yawning over the heath and the mist rolling down through the valley say life's about breathing in the air and seeing what's out there. For so long a tourist destination for city types eager to escape the smog and the gridlock, Wales is being reinvented as a mecca for the country's top fashion designers to show off their super-cool clothes against some of the most striking rural backdrops.

More Tywi Forest than urban jungle, Topman's latest jeans range hits the high street with the full inspiring force of the Welsh countryside behind it, as the publicity shots to launch Denim Not Denim were taken in the wilds of the Elan Valley near Rhayader.

From decadent pinstripe-and-trilby rat pack glamour finding a new identity in the industrial wasteland of an abandoned slate quarry, to street-wise chav cool going back to nature in a mid Wales forest, the end result is a series of attention grabbing images.

When Topman, the purveyors of modern male style, asked photographer Ed Sykes and stylist Jamie Stewart to find them a rustic location to launch their latest line, the duo knew where they wanted to do it.

``The setting for denim launches is usually the concrete jungle and spray-can graffitti walls, '' says Stewart. ``But the designer wanted to get away from that.

``Topman showed us images from a shoot by a label in Australia, and we thought Wales was the next best, closest and cheapest thing to Ayres Rock. Wales is such an inspiring place, and a great source of creative stimulation. It worked for us - the contrast of urban denim and countryside backdrop is really effective. ''

The label's Kelly Reed agrees: ``We had an exhibition in London to launch the collection where the photographs were blown up to about three metres by two metres, and they looked absolutely stunning.

``We wanted to do something totally different to any other denim brand at themoment. Most brands choose the urban route, or use sex as a selling point, but we didn't want it to be that obvious.

``The range focuses on premium quality denims with attention to detail and they really are beautifully constructed, so we wanted the pictures to reflect that. We decided to shoot them so that they formed part of a landscape setting, and it was important to have a landscape with varied environments so that the pictures each had a point of difference. We found the location in mid Wales was able to do just that. ''

It was Sykes who first came up with the idea to take Topman's brief to the Elan Valley.

``Coming from London it's great to get away from the big smoke and out into the fresh air, '' he says. ``I've been to Wales on holiday, but at the same time I'm always on the look-out for places to do shoots in the future.

``One place that struck me was this disused slate mine in the Elan Valley, so Jamie and I did a recce and found a few more places and took shots of them back to Topman. I like to produce pictures that make people look twice, and I think the contrast between urban and the countryside is part of the appeal. ''

But while contemporary chic is normally seen as the preserve of city dwellers, Sykes says the shots are also about taking jeans back to their agrarian roots.

``The main thing with denim and wearing jeans is its associated with people living in towns and cities, but traditionally denim comes from the countryside, '' he says. ``You might think of cowboys wearing jeans. And being a premium denim, it's associating itself with things that are not throw-away. Things that last and have a history to them. ''

A flick through the fashion magazines shows designers and photographers are increasingly looking to move their shoots further away from the urban setting.

So the next time the latest trends shout ``buy me'' from a glossy page or from a poster outside a high-street style haven, it could be Llanddwyn's golden sands, Clocaenog Forest or even the slate-strewn shores of a lake high in the peaks of Snowdonia.

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Some of the stunning publicity shots taken in the Elan Valley near Rhayader for Topman's new range of denim clothing
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 9, 2005
Words:725
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