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Fashion, Inspiration

African Wax Fabrics

My first proper boyfriend lived in Ghana for a year.  In our emails back and forth he would tell me about the food, the nightlife and the time he drunkenly passed out at a party at the Irish Consulate in Accra.

Reading back over his emails from five years ago, it’s clear that Ghana is an incredible country with Everest-type highs and supertrough lows.  Floods, typhoid and the odd Internet cafe going on fire are recurring motifs in the emails.  But then again, so are friendly, welcoming people, sporting tradition and the merits of river boiled kenki.

He never told me about the fabric though.


Wax fabric is predominantly made in Ghana and is responsible for some of the trippiest, brightest, graphic prints available in the world today.  The prints can be abstract, but are usually full of signs and symbols denoting a persons social status, political affiliations or general likes.

African art has a tendency towards the literal and these prints follow on from that.  With the popularisation of wax printing, more and more prints are devoted to technology and commerce.  You can buy Pop Art-ish yards of fabrics stamped with lipsticks, batteries, car mufflers, chickens and irons.


I love the pure, flat joy of these prints.  It’s only a matter of time before a label like Proenza Schouler or Erdem picks these brights up and works them into a Spring/Summer collection (fingers crossed).

There are already Western designers that work with these fabrics, but I’m yet to see a top or dress that justifies the fabric and brings out the best in it.  Is it just me or is a lot of this clothing, I don’t know, a little bit… patronising?  Or self-congratulatory?  People need to get out of the mindset that Africa is synonymous with charity – then we’ll stop treating their indigenous goods like another person’s cast-offs and give it the shape and beauty these prints deserve.

To see more, go to the African Fabric Flickr pool

Photos 1-4 from here.  Photos 5-8 from here.

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Photography, The Reading List

Cecil Beaton Book Covers


I found these while combing through the internet for an out-of-print book. If you’re looking for something that’s that bit to hard to find, ABE Books is the place to go. On their homepage was a feature on the books and illustrations of Cecil Beaton.

If you’re like me and know close to nothing about Beaton, then this post by The Selvedge Yard is an excellent place to start.

I just love these covers. Now I just need a spare two and a half thousand dollars to buy a clean copy of Cecil Beaton’s New York and see what’s inside the beautiful watercolour dustjacket.


All pictures from ABE Books (this isn’t a sponsored post, by the way)

P.S How great a title is ‘My Bolivian Aunt’?
P.P.S You’d be surprised where you’d find copies of these books.  Check your local library – you might be surprised.

Fashion, Photography, Subculture

Related #3: Do it like a Dude

Yesterday’s post dealt with women who dress like men, or don’t (Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, I’m a-looking at you) to assert their power.

But where there are Queens, there are Kings…

And where there is power, there is also subservience…

So, to veer insanely from one end of a spectrum to another, here are some pictures of women who dress like men to show their love for a man.  Like a king.  The King, in fact.

These photos were taken by Grey Villet in 1957 for TIME Magazine.  They show a day in the life of Susan Hull, who has decided to take the plunge and get an Elvis-style pompadour, joining the thousand strong ranks of girls and women in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who love Elvis so much that they want to look like him.

If you want to put it in a modern context, imagine thousands of femme Justin Beiber fans, all with the same, super feathery, peekaboo, come-hither (but not too close, I’m a good Christian) hair*.  Just for the love of the Biebs.  Have you shuddered?  Has an icy cold finger of revulsion crawled down your back?  Good, let’s look at the pictures.

All captions from the original article (because they’re hilarious)

Susan Hull looks apprehensive as beautician prepare to form lock into Presley sidecurl
IN NEW GLORY: Nancy Hull happily shows off Presley cut.  Beautician who created style stresses convenience for girls who like swimming without caps.
CONFRONTING FATHER outside the beauty shop.  Susan Hull (left) and her sister Nancy, 20, display haircuts.  He was noncommital about new style.
COMFORTING MOTHER, Susan promises not to have her brown hair dyed black.  After showing cut to family, she gave ponytail to 4-year old brother.
CONVINCING SWEETHEART, Susan explains her coiffure to her beau Lew Potter in Motorcycle shop.  At first he threatened to break their next date.
CLIPPED GALLERY sits for a group portrait in Didgson’s beauty shop.  The sideburns are standard but the number of stray locks on foreheads is optional

Read the original article here.

*Lesbians who look like Justin Beiber notwithstanding.  The Lesbiebers are awesome.

Licentiate Columns, Subculture

Licentiate Column 26/05/11: Do it Like a Dude

>It’s not often that you’ll picture The Queen (of Great Britain, natch) and Jessie J in the same room, let alone the same thought, but lately I’ve had the two on the brain. One is a monarch, the other one is not. But they both do it like a dude.

Elizabeth II is one of only eight disputed premier queens to ascend to the throne since 1066 and has somehow managed not to be overthrown, arrested after nine days, dominated by her husband or die of dropsy – which is no mean feat in itself. Jessie J is not that important when it comes to explaining myself, but her song is.

Elizabeth II is one of those rare breeds of women – the women of the old guard who don’t have to resort to trousers to assert their power. The royal wardrobe has always been sleek, tailored, severe – but never masculine. It’s all kitten heels and handbags at dawn, the contents of which are often disputed. I’m thinking a paisley-upholstered hipflask of scotch, some menthol cigarillos and a filofax with the nasty details and unlisted numbers of every PM, baron and magnate alive today. And a lipstick.

When most women look to protect themselves, whether it’s protecting your interests in business or your modesty on a blustery day, a woman will wear trousers. If not trousers, a suit of some kind. Lines are sharp, shades are assertive in their boldness. No pastels for the bright women warriors of today, for she is strong and deserves a strong colour. Also, light colours stain so easily don’t they?

Dressing in the conventional masculine sense is spread over a broad spectrum. On one end, you have a pair of jeans. A person almost forgets that jeans were worn by men before they were assimilated into the murky genderless, unisex realm. On the other end are the unashamed, unabashed, totally admirable drag kings, who stuff tube socks down their trousers (not unlike some men, the Loose Women-watching part of me wants to add) and dot stubble and goatees on their faces with the precision of a Renaissance master.

Somewhere in the middle is my favourite kind of androgyne – Marlene Dietrich in a tux.  Masculine tailoring meets a feminine figure, with perfected painted eyes, coiffed hair and heeled shoes. With the coming of YSL’s Le Smoking suit in 1966, it was official: Suits are sexy.

Women dress in the male/female dichotomy for a multitude of reasons. Some do it for fashion, some for function, some for self-expression. Many women are not aware of the gender implications of buttoning up a shirt.

Some wear masculine tailoring as a type of armour. It says, “I am powerful. I mean business”. On the flipside, it also highlights our own vulnerabilities. Are we so afraid of being powerless that we refuse to be feminine?

The Queen knows better. After almost sixty years as a titular head of stare, she knows that power is not necessarily in the way that you dress. Clothes do not necessarily maketh the (wo)man. Sometimes trousers are good for nothing but outdoor pursuits.

A queenly caveat, though – if there’s a dress code, you’d better stick to it. Watch your step,
Kate Middleton.

Fashion, Photography, The Reading List

Théâtre de la Mode

>I saw these on How To Be A Retronaut and they were too good not to share.

The Théâtre de la Mode was brought about at the liberation of Paris in 1944. Parisian fashion houses were only just starting to re-open their doors after several years of limited or non-production.

The purported story is that there wasn’t enough fabric to make full-scale dresses, so two feet tall wire models were kitted out with the finest in couture and displayed, first in Paris, then around Europe and North America until their acquisition by the Maryhill Museum of Art in Washington.

More than likely, it was a more cost-effective way to remind the world that Paris was still the epicentre of fashion, despite living through occupation, starvation, oppression and war. While fabric was rationed and still at a premium (especially silk, which was used for parachutes), Parisian women defied the Germans in any way they could, usually by flouting stringent material rationing and wearing dresses and skirts made with yards and yards of whatever they could get their hands on.

Breaking the law and looking chic at the same time – those Parisian women knew their stuff.

The first five photographs were taken by David Seidner in 1990. He deliberately set the dolls in a recognisably French, warlike background. At first, I thought that these photos were taken in the 1940’s. In actuality, all 237 (!) dolls were put on display in 1944 as part of a number of scenarios designed by artists like Jean Cocteau, amongst others.

David Seidner, Lucien Lelong, 1990

David Seidner, Balenciaga, 1990

David Seidner, Marcel Dhorme, 1990

David Seidner, Madame Gres, 1990

David Seidner, Robert Piguet, Raphaël, Pierre Balmain, 1990

Jean Cocteau’s 1944 setting, Ma Femme  est une Sorcière (source)

For more info, read Theatre de la Mode

Fashion, Inspiration, Subculture

Related #2: What’s Your Time Period?

If I had to pick a time period, I’d pick the 60’s and be a mod.  Typical of people who always want that they can’t have, I don’t have the legs for micro minis and am deathly afraid of scooters (or any two-wheeled transport).  I would be a terrible mod.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about my dad and the punk movement in Dublin.  Any street style phenomenon that predates digital cameras in Ireland is usually woefully underdocumented.  Maybe it’s because Ireland is such a small country, maybe it’s because we’re all really lazy – who knows?

On top of that, Mod culture is also woefully underdocumented (at least in comparison with other subcultures like punk) so there’s not a lot to go on.  But here are a few Mod Links…

Mods go wild in Margate after a clash with rockers (source)

For all things Mod, Modculture is the go-to place.

Polka dot mod mini from Nod to Mod Vintage (could there be a more appropriate name for this shop?)

Do you want to organise your very own Mod Club Night?  Click here.

Richard Nicoll’s collection for Fred Perry has more than a whiff of Mod to it.

Listen to the Modcast – more music oriented, but worth a listen.  Guests have included Matt Berry.  Oh Matt.  I love your dulcet tones.

Minidress from Hellhound Vintage
From Dave’s Mod Photos

Recollections of a Mod life (lots more pics here)

Jumper Dress from Novella Bleu