Oh, Amy.

Isabeli Fontana as Amy Winehouse for French Vogue, February 2008.
Styled by Emmanuelle Alt, shot by Peter Lindbergh.

This shoot was part of Vogue’s Bad Girls issue and was published at the zenith of Winehouse’s bloodstained ballet shoe tabloid breakdown. I wonder if it’s done in bad taste, but I also know that French Vogue love their bad girls and especially love women who just don’t give a fuck (something Amy once shouted during Bono’s Grammy acceptance speech) – the same issue has another shoot of Natasha Poly as Anna Nicole Smith (!) so the tongue is plainly planted well in cheek.

I’m not very good at commemorating people, terrible at commemorating people I didn’t even know – so there’s nothing really for me to say except that I was a huge Winehouse fan. I’m sad that she’s gone and every time I listen to one of her songs now and feel that her voice could be my voice, that she’s singing out everyone’s primordial cry of loss, that her songs relate to everyone’s hurt, I’m tinged that little bit more with sadness.

Here is a much better article about Amy Winehouse, written by Alexis Petridis for The Guardian. Click to read.

Licentiate column 28/07/11: To Die For

There’s an immense pressure on anyone with a discretionary income to be aware of the repercussions of their shopping habits.  Buying high street?  That cotton tee may be killing the environment.  Brand name sneakers?  Quite possibly stitched together by a prepubescent child for pennies a day.  Surely that high-end piece is manufactured ethically?  Beware; the ‘Made In Italy’ tag may be the only Italian aspect to those new shoes.

A new book, ‘To Die For’, by environmental journalist Lucy Siegle examines the ever-growing shopping habits of women from developed or rapidly-developing countries.  The picture she paints is both compelling and terrifying.

Over the course of the past two or three generations, while the Western world expanded economically, we were quietly nurturing new hobbies.  Among the foremost of these new interests, which include eating out and seeing how big a television we can fit into our sitting rooms, shopping has become of of the most contentious.

Buying clothing has evolved from a necessity to a fine art.  We scour online for our personal poison, whether it be the best in bargains, luxury accessories, esoteric labels, handcrafted garments from stay-at-home unsung heroes or exclusive, small-run produced goods.

The instant gratification one feels when making a purchase takes on a new significance when the amount of lives that are denigrated, humiliated and corroded are uncovered are factored into the equation.

One by one, a slow drip-drip-drip of faces pass you by.  Here, the children forced out of school into the cotton fields to reach shipping quotas.  There, a town forced to relocate because the local tannery is dumping chemical-laden waste water at an alarming rate into the nearest river.

It’s not just the human cost that adds up.  The environment hasn’t exactly been helped along by the shady, sometime illegal methods of processing fabrics.  As a card-carrying carnivore and (second-hand) fur wearer, even I was disgusted to read about the methods employed in processing python skin for handbags (‘forcing hosepipes into their mouth, blowing them up with water to loosen the skin and then impaling them through the head before the skin was ripped off’).  Oh, did you know that the python is an endangered species?  I didn’t.  Not until now anyway.

It’s a devastating read both in terms of content and impact.  The blinkers aren’t so much removed from our eyes as they are ripped off, then fashioned into an especially stinging whip.  A necessary tactic, this book forces the reader to evaluate their shopping habits, often with incredibly depressing results.

Before opening it I had a more than a pinch of personal smugness for buying second-hand and managing to avoid Penneys.  That feeling had evaporated completely by page two.

If you’re concerned about ethical fashion, it is all to easy to be dismissed as a hair-shirt wearing polemicists getting her soapbox, goddam hippy kicks.  In reality, this is an issue that affects everyone.  With a positive review from no less a source than Vogue it seems that the ethical fashion tackled in ‘To Die For’ is, ironically, the newest trend.  And not a hair shirt in sight.

Licentiate Column 21/07/11: Shopping is an endurance test.

The human body is capable of remarkable feats.  Every organ is a cog in a finely tuned machine that is designed to be in not-quite-perpetual motion.  Skin is conveniently waterproof. The liver kindly takes on the task of filtering out all the nasty things that we foolishly ingest, accidentally or on purpose.  The cranium can take more than it’s fair share of hard knocks.
Besides being remarkable in it’s ordinariness, the human body can push itself further when under great stress.  World record holders can pull trucks with their hair, adrenal mothers can lift car wrecks with small children trapped inside and the human body can continue to exist on a drastically reduced, simplified diet – especially if shopping is involved.
You see something in a magazine.  You love it.  You want it.  You need it.  Of course, no one really needs a pair of Louboutins or an Alexander McQueen clutch bag.  We just convince ourselves that we do.  That studded snakeskin, box shaped, miniscule container that fits only keys, money and a lipstick will transform your life dramatically.  You will instantly become more confident, assertive and poised.  Your hidden potential will be realised and you will be recognised for the fabulous person that you are.  That must be why it’s so expensive.
I had a similar moment a few weeks ago.  It was a pair of Nicholas Kirkwood for Erdem catwalk shoes.  They had five inch heels.  They were festooned with hightly impractial, ropelike silk floral ribbons that could be twined around the ankles like pointe ballet slippers.  They were also 50% off – and still very, very expensive.
It’s vulgar to talk about money, I know, but I like to think it’s slightly less so when you have none. I’m poor as all hell and not ashamed of it.
A diet of beans tastes slightly sweeter when you know that the light at the end of the tunnel is the headlights of a FedEx van containing a little something special just for you.  The feeling of accomplishment is deceptively real.  You, who are the kind of person who never buys designer, you who has no money, has achieved the superhuman feat of buying something expensive without incurring the wrath of the credit card debt deities.
In this way, the struggle to buy what you love has a greater significance than if you had the money already folded snugly in your pocket.  It’s two fingers up to the fashion establishment, who keep prices high so that only the rich can be seen with their goods.
It’s a slightly counter-productive up yours, because in buying their goods, you’re still pumping cash into the veins of the company. You’re defying the company, but still buying into it.
Then again, this might be the delirious raving of a person who has eaten more kidney beans in three weeks than most people would care to eat in three years.
I say, if you want something, work for it. Earn it so you can buy it.  Even if you end up smelling of beans, your feet will be coming up roses.

On the lookout…

We at The Licentiate (that’s just me then) are preparing for a big ol’ giveaway.  This is a special giveaway, because it marks both a year of blogging and a move to a dot com – both milestones that deserves a few spot prizes!

Studio 54 erupts at the prospect of free nail products

We’re reaching out to any designers/PRs/crafters/retailers who might want to participate in this giveaway.  People who come to this blog usually love these products:

  • Nail products
  • Satchels (very specific, I know)
  • Fashionable books and films
  • Contemporary Irish designers
  • Vintage clothing

If you want to promote anything that fits in the above bracket (or even in the general periphery), this website is a great place to start.  If you want more information on page views, Klout ratings etc and what this website could do for you, then please send me an email at and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.  As a journalist as well as a blogger, there’s a larger potential reach than just out of the website.

And if you’re a fellow blogger or social networking nut, please feel more than free to pass this post along.  It’s good karma (and I’ll give you sweeties)*.

Grace Jones is unamused that there are no sparkly Venetian masks on offer. Next time Grace, next time.

*There may not be sweeties.

Related #10: But is it art?

Haute couture is a higly protected term.  It’s not haute couture unless

  • Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
  • Have an atelier in Paris that employs at least fifteen people full-time.
  • Each season present a collection to the Paris press, comprising at least thirty-five runs/exits with outfits for both daytime wear and evening wear.

Ah Wikipedia.  You always have the answers…

Everyone’s been gushing about Riccardo Tisci’s outing with Givenchy (and rightly so) but Alaia was another highlight of the season.

People love Azzedine Alaia because he’s a fashion maverick. He speaks his mind, often to his detriment. He hates the fashion grind, which causes designers to take on too hefty a workload. He’s not a slave to trends or to money or to retailers.

I love this collection. Alaia really knows his way around a woman’s body.  The silhouettes, the details and the pure love that is poured into all of his designs are evident.

But is it art?  What do you think?

P.S.  Whenever I hear the word ‘Alaia’, I think about that scene in Clueless.

CHER:  Oh, no, you don’t understand. This is an Alaia.

MUGGER:  An Awhatta?

CHER:  It’s like a totally important designer.

MUGGER:  And I will totally shoot you in the head. Get down!

Licentiate Column 14/07/11: But is is art?

Couture week has come and gone for the second time this year.  Held in the run up to Fashion Weeks, the couture shows are not just populated with editors and stylists, but loyal, extra-special customers.  These customers are special because they are rich.  Not just entry-level rich, but Daddy Warbucks rich.
Couture is what wealthy people aspire to buy.  While we lovingly paw the virtual rails of Net A Porter, wondering if next week’s paycheck will cover both the rent and t
he on-sale Proenza Schouler tee, the wealthy person is wondering how much equity they can release on the holiday home to cover the six figures it will take to snaffle a pure white Givenchy couture gown.
These gowns are special – there’s no debating that.  Some are totally unique, all take hundreds to thousands of hours of specialist construction, employing artisan seamstresses, beadmakers, plumassiers and fabric makers.  This fashion army is only employed after the silhouette is painstakingly drawn out by the designer, who is him or herself siphoning off a personal list of carefully chosen influences and distilling itself into a singular, original vision.  Juicy Couture it is not.
With that in mind, I posed a personal question on my facebook and twitter and facebook account.  What is couture?  Is it art? Is it craft?  Is it commerce or is it total, wasteful irrelevance?  I was both heartened and disappointed to see that everyone without exception thought that couture was a legitimate artform, with several declaring it both art and craft.
Heartened because everyone without exception believed in the importance and vital, transformative power of clothing.  Disappointed, because the was no wiggle room for debate.
The Wikipedia definition of art (it IS a legitimate research resource, okay?) is ‘the process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions and intellect’. If that is true, the
n haute couture clothing is definitely art.
Then again, under that criteria, a well-timed squeaky fart in a room full of prepubescent boys is also art, as it stimulates both the senses (smell being but one) and emotions (either annoyance, shame or deep amusement), if not the intellect.
Art is not so easy to define.  A fart is not art.
I studied Art History in college, and one of my old buddies believes that couture is de
finitely art.  It’s takes specialist skill to complete, it’s aspirational, i’s open only to the very wealthiest people, it’s the product of a person’s creative vision.
But, she argued, high street clothing could also evolve into art, because if Andy Warhol could do it with his mass produced screen prints, then why can’t Topshop. Create a covetable design, release a large (yet limited) release, then watch the crowds scramble over themselves to get a copy.  This brings to mind the recent Lanvin/H&M collaboration, where people queued for hours to get their hands on a small slice of relative exclusivity.
Jo Dingemans, a lecturer at the London College of Fashion, believes that fashion cannot be art but ‘high craft’, because it is impossible to wear a concept.  On the hanger, maybe it’s a work of art.  But on you, the meaning of the garment is changed; something that never happens with painting, sculpture, music, literature or film.
The true meaning of art is tricky and elusive; it can be subjective because it is incredibly personal.  Until an ironclad definition is found, then couture can be both art and craft, commerce or spiritual communing.  You’re wrong and you’re right.  Sometimes the middle is the best place to be.


DOCUMERICA: Lyntha Scott Eiler

DOCUMERICA was a program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” in the United States of America from about 1972 to 1977.

The images were made by approximately 70 well-known photographers contracted by the EPA for this project. Photographers included Danny Lyon, Gene Daniels, Marc St. Gil, Bill Strode, Charles O’Rear, Jack Corn, Tomas Sennett, Yoichi Okamote, Ken Hayman, and John H. White.

Like the early Federal photographic project of the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, some of the DOCUMERICA photographers interpreted their mission rather broadly, and sometimes artistically. Many preserve a distinct visual record of time and place.

via wikipedia.

It’s the distinct snapshot of a place and time that I especially love about Lyntha Scott Eiler’s photographs of the motorists of Hamilton County, Ohio as they struggle to comply with the new emission laws brought in 1975.  Eiler took hundred of photos of car drivers as their cars were inspected and summarily passed or failed their tests.  It’s this crystallisation of the style and of a dying era in America that makes these photos so cool.

These photos remind me more than a little bit of The Virgin Suicides.  The mood, while not as hazy, is still reminiscent of a fug that people had to walk through, whether it was born of mass consumption, the end of Vietnam War or the slow realisation that the world was environmentally ailing.

It’s a freeze frame of time – and a stylish one.  There’s just something about cars and Americana, isn’t there?

You can search the thousands of DOCUMERICA photos by photographer at the U.S National Archives website here.
Visit Lyntha Scott Eiler’s DOCUMERICA flickr album here.

The Joy of Books

These books came in the post for me last week, with more to come. If there’s a Great Boyfriend Lotto, I’ve got a winning ticket.

Posting will be a little bit slow this week as said Great Boyfriend is otherwise occupied and probably won’t be able to edit photos.  You can probably tell that this was not taken by him.  D’oh.  I’ve got an interesting project coming up (more on that in a few weeks – mysterious, wha?) so I really should learn how to use my DSLR properly instead of using at as an expensive, fragile paperweight.

Above are a slew of fashion books, some on Lee Miller photography, a history of glamour, Frida Kahlo’s Diary, The Annotated Lolita (so I don’t miss any Nabokov jokes) a book on tattooed ladies, a history of the Bright Young Things and a guide to tying scarves.  Do you approve?

Expect lots of book-centric posts over the next few weeks.  Lots of ’em. Lots and lots.


Related #9: Colourised Photography

This only slightly related to yesterday’s post about coloured jeans. If you read it, then you’ll know why there’s a big pile of inspired, reader-submitted colourised (colorized to visitors from The US) photographs below from Go on, read it. I’ll wait.

And just in case you’re wondering where to go for coloured jeans, Zara’s my shop of choice. Just don’t pop your pink jeans into a white wash by mistake.  I did that. Big oops. Now would really be the time to make a bad pun about not being a ‘jeanius’ but…

Captain Thomas Longworth Dames in 1855 during the Crimean War – 1855

Thisbe  – 1902

The Leitrim Young Men’s Association football team – 1914

Bathing beauty parade – 1919

Miss Elizabeth Zolnay and her dog – 1922

Swimming and golf  – 1926

pictures – 1939

Signs of spring – 1939

dancers  – date unknown (tiny bit overboard with the blusher, perhaps?)

Cheers – 1940

Tuskegee Airmen – 1945

Have a great weekend, everyone.