Yep, Cork has a fashion week. Pretty good it is too. Here are some pictures of the Fashion at Christchurch event. Photos courtesy of Margaret – more on her blog!
From Culture to Catwalk: How World Cultures Influence Fashion’ is the second offering from blogger Kristin Knox (she of The Clothes Whisperer) and possibly the first book on the subject that is accessible outside of a university syllabus or fashion professional’s bookshelf.
This book isn’t an authoritative source of world cultures, nor does it pretend to be. Knox makes explicit that the book is an adaptation of The Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion. As it stands, the Berg encyclopedia is at ten volumes and counting, so this book, with a not-insubsantial 256 A4 pages will only serve ultimately as an introduction to world dress and not a comprehensive survey (to be fair, this is also something that Knox makes clear).
The book covers Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America, effectively cutting off the influence of the Western world, the native and folk dresses of which countries are no less important in terms of design. Still, the interest in exoticism lies in the broadly-termed East, so that’s where the subject matter is.
Each brief synopsis is illuatrated with full-colour photos, both from the catwalks and the traditional dress of the countries, with a smattering of vintage photographs. Personally, I would have loved to have seen more older photographs and illustration – it really gives a better account of how these forms of dress have grown and evolved into what we see today.
Knox’s prose is crisp, sharp and engaging and the book, as a whole, is well-researched and full of interesting tidbits, whether it be African bloggers, or the death of the Israeli fashion industry. On the whole, the tone is one of eternal optimism; all the developing countries fashion weeks are set towards a bright future.
Quibbles with the text have to be with the pictures and captions, which are, on rare occasions, slightly muddled. A Nickolas Muray photo of Frida Kahlo is incorrectly identified as a ‘Frida Kahlo painting’ and a photo of a woman’s resplendant chest decorated with an elaborated beaded collar is captioned as ‘thousands of Zulu maidens gather for annual Reed Dance’ – which makes no sense due to the number of maidens and notable lack of either reeds or dancing.
If you’re interested in world cultures and fashion then this serves as an excellent introduction. However, if you already know your stuff, then give it a skip. The greater impact of co-opting world cultures to fit in a designer’s collection is a big issue that deserves tackling – in this book it would have made a proper impact. Unfortunately it isn’t touched on here.
Knox hopes that this book will inspire lovers of fashion to look in places other than London, Paris, Milan and New York for inspiration and that it will be a jumping of point for more books on the subject. It’s a noble hope, and after reading this book, one can conclude that it’s not a misguided one.
‘Fashion – Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking with Style‘ is hard to pin down. On one hand, it’s an exhortation to people to think more about the implications of what they and the world at large wears. One the other hand, it’s also about several splinter topics, all of which would make compelling books in themselves; the impact a Barbie doll has on a persons sartorial sensibilities, the singular influence of perfume and an incredibly logical line of thinking about what exactly makes something fashionable (an unexpectedly sticky question).
The book is part of the Philosophy for Everyone series, fashion being the newest addition. Previous instalments include books on Mad Men, beer and college sex, only one of which I believe merits further thinking about (go on, guess which). Nevertheless, anything that encourages a person to deeper examine their life gets a big thumbs up from me. After all, examination and dissemination is at the root of all philosophy and really should be at the root of all our lives.
It’s not philosophy as the vast majority of us would have it either. No lofty proclamations, no plinths, no togas, no latin, no ghost of Sartre blowing Gitanes smoke from Les Deux Magots. It’s philosophy in its purest form – just having a good, long think. This form of reflection is something that the fashion industry is running woefully low on.
It’s not an authoritative source on fashion and some essays stand out more than others. Luke Russell’s essay on tryhards and effortless cool is entertaining, funny and thought-provoking while, in the same section, Nick Zangwill’s piece on fashion, illusion and alienation is a spare five pages and at that, just as messy as his conjecture. Likewise, the reader might find some sections more interesting than others. The latter section on how to be ethical and fashionable exposes philosophy (and consumerism) at its worst, at one of those rare moments when to think too much about something is to waste time because action really has to be taken.
All in all, this is a valuable text not just because of the marriage of the academic with the everyday, but because of the diverse issues that it touches on. It’s a well-rounded effort and even the most jaded fashion person will find something new between its covers.
The negatives are few. If this book is indeed philosophy for everyone, then the tone should be treated as such. Even after studying philosophy in university, I found a few of the essays to be loaded with dense academic terminology. Also, fashion is a visual medium and should be treated as such. It’s almost impossible to illustrate a point in fashion without a picture, although valiant efforts are made. Pictures would make the text much more accessible and (dare I say it?) enjoyable to read.
Nevertheless, if you want to truly think about fashion, this book would be a glad addition to your bookshelf.
Fashion – Philosophy for Everyone: Thinking with Style is published by Wiley-Blackwell and is out now.
The film ‘The Night Porter’ changed the face of sexy forever. Up until then, sexy was about apple-cheeked roundness, a gust of wind blowing up a skirt, the painted-on pout, wearing pink to make the boys wink and wearing a bikini to make them turn slightly pinker.
For those not in the know, 1974’s The Night Porter is a film in which Charlotte Rampling plays a concentration camp survivor who, several years after the end of World War Two, falls back into a sadomasochistic relationship with a Nazi guard.
Until The Night Porter, the particular strain of sexiness that involved leather, restriction, sharpness and severity had been regarded as deviant, risky, even evil. Sexuality suddenly took a turn from being reasonable, if unspoken, to something almost pathological. The norms of what was sexy took a turn away from centre-field. Sexy is now a fetish.
Fast forward a decade or three and the gates of sexy dressing have opened wide. Anything goes, as long as there’s less of it. That is why Marc Jacob’s obvious homage to The Night Porter for Louis Vuitton is a breath of Gitanes and musk-soaked air (this is a good thing).
The ability of a woman to be sexy is something we could argue over for years, because there are as many types of sexy as there are moments in a year. One’s mans dominatrix is another man’s poison. But, and this is a big but, there will always be a proscribed way of dressing sexily.
Today’s acceptable kind of sexy is the Italian ‘molto sexy’ of Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana, all loud prints, dark tans and large everything; big lips, big hair, big breasts, long legs and big diamonds. This can look good on a speedboat at the Venice Film Festival, not so much on the girls from The Only Way Is Essex.
The fetish look is anathema to the Italians. It’ll be no surprise that The Night Porter was censored in Italy on release.
On the catwalk, the fetish look translated to sheer, brazen chiffon shirts, mannish suspenders, spike heels, gold handcuff bangles, leather trenchcoats with little on underneath and alarmingly SS-ish officers caps
Is this trend going to catch on? The ‘molto sexy’ look is easy to opt into – the alternative is adopting the fetish look a little too wholeheartedly and resembling a) a dominatrix b) a masochist or c) a fascist or d) a bit of an eejit.
It’s hard to adopt a trend that is essentially taboo. So far, it hasn’t been picked up by the high street despite the best efforts of several magazines. However, certain elements of the fetish look have been adopted – leather pencil skirts and mannish tailoring for example.
Are we all just prudes? I don’t think so. You can love a film and yet not want to wear it’s costumes, just as you can love a catwalk collection and still not want to wear it yourself. Fashion trends are all about how your wear them and with fetish, there’s no real wiggle room for an individual slant. With fetish, you go hard or go home. Home is where i’ll be, with a cup of tea and a biscuit, watching The Night Porter and NOT worrying about how I’m going to fit into that rubber dress tomorrow.
So, I started a tumblr. It’s http://www.thelicentiate.tumblr.com. Imaginative, yes? There are nice photos and quotes and videos and all kinds of bitty stuff that isn’t strictly for the blog. Things like old colourised photos of a bulldog in a bonnet. Or Blade Runner polaroids. Or Dali leaping around the gaff. You like?
Presented for your consideration (if WordPress will let me embed videos… sod paying for a video upgrade), Storm in a Teacup, which was shown as part of the Dublin Film Festival this month.
Directed by Paul Mahon and with costumes by Zoe Wong of Horse and June, this film is two connected vignettes, the first as atmospheric and intensely wrought as the next.
Somewhat oddly for a fashion film, the costumes were designed to fit the theme of the film rather than the other way around, which can lead to mind-numbingly boring montages of leggy women jigging around on a beach or an abandoned warehouse to a molar-rattling dubstep drone. It’s a good thing. A very good thing. Sonya Goulding’s post about Zoe Wong’s beautiful costumes has more details on the creative processes – click to read.
This is more carefully considered than the average – it’s a fashion film made of itself rather than the clothing in it. It’s also much, much more than a fashion film in terms of concept and execution, but that’s a post for a different website.
One of my absolute, hands-down, all-time favourite aspects of fabric is pattern. It’s not the colour, it’s not the tactility. It’s not the miracle that is puffs of cotton bolls and sheep fuzz getting woven from fibre into twine into material into clothing (even though the human race wouldn’t have survived without twine – think about it).
What amazes me about pattern in fabric isn’t so much the final appearance as how it’s made. With pattern on paper, you know that those polka dots are just a few daubs carefully placed on one surface. With woven fabric, threads of different colours have to be carefully synchronised to make a harmonious whole.
There’s a method to it, but I don’t want to know. I’m like a mother in denial that her daughter is a pole dancer and not an award-winning architect.
Printed fabrics just don’t measure up. Digital printing has come in leaps and bounds and, while some prints are truly remarkable, they lack the depth of woven materials.
That’s why I’m so happy that checks are making a reappearance. Tartan, Prince of Wales check and houndstooth; welcome back to the fold. We’ve missed you so much.
I’m especially excited about tartan, inasmuch as a person can get excited about a pattern. It’s deceptively versatile. Wearing tartan can be a nod to a rich heritage, a dedication to a designer brand or an homage to punk – or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a mixture of all three. It’s one of those rare patterns that can say absolutely anything, unlike say, vertical stripes, which bears the exclusive trademark of prisoners in old-timey silent films.
While last year we did double denim, this year we’ll be doing double tartan, layering the same patterns in different colours. A shirt with miniscule print would look great buttoned up to the collar insider a larger tartan sweater.
Tartan is also allying itself with the nascent 60’s trend. Bold primary colours are demarcated with the familiar black lines of check, which has an unexpected, but totally serendipitous Op Art effect.
Even more 60’s is the resurgence of houndstooth. When small, it can shift and blur into gray. When the check is large, it can look abstract and jarring. Mostly though, it looks chic. Houndstooth is one of those patterns that is so terminally under-appreciated that it never really goes out of fashion, so if you love it already, stock up joyfully. You can legitimately play with that monochrome print for years to come.
Prince of Wales check will be even less appreciated due to it’s relatively complicated manufacturing process, but that doesn’t make it any less lovable. It’s a shame that this won’t appear in more high-street stores, but keep an eye out for when it does. Because of the way it’s woven, Prince of Wales checks will usually drape really well, which is an extra bonus.
All of these patterns are classic, so will pop up in your wardrobe seamlessly regardless of trends. There’s no shame in investing in it – let’s talk about checks.