The Licentiate on Red Radar

ImageWhen I was asked to write a post about something I had upcycled, I was really excited.  I’m a creative person, right?  In my mind, my wardrobe was bursting with recycled gems, old ballgowns shorn into minidresses, cutlery warmed and bent into bangles, old bookends make with driftwood from the beach. Right?  Right?

Wrong, as it turns out.

But, while I don’t have a lot of upcycled items, I have bought a lot of upcycled items.

This is a reworked silk scarf that I bought from an Irish online vintage boutique.  What was already a nice scarf has been updated with the sewing on of beads and buttons and, to top it off, a beautiful silkscreen of a girl and a deer has been lovingly sewn into one of the corners.

Read the rest of this post on the RTE Two Tube website…

Licentiate Column 24/11/11: The New Prep

Some men are just unfathomable. Not the James Dean types, because you know their brooding facial expressions are a result of a) careful practise in the mirror or b) a long rumination on what to have for tea (bacon sandwich) and whether those underpants will stand another day (Mam can always wash them over the weekend anyway).

Scratch that, you don’t have to be Jacques Cousteau to fathom Irish men – no more than any other nationality. But, in our typically Irish way, the logic with which some Irish men buy clothes is like a mirror maze, filled with wrong turns, false exits and amazing feats of self-reflexive hypocrisy.

On a night out, I spotted the highly known New Prep Male. Brendan (I think), medical student, navy Ralph Lauren tee, faded blue jeans, 80’s trainers.

You know the guy. He or one of his many replicants are everywhere. Preppy guys wear Hollister and Abercrombie hoodies that they bought on their ‘massive’ J1 in Huntington Beach or Wildwood, New Jersey. They have short hair (the longest they’ll go is a Donncha O’Callaghan-style flop), they drink Jagerbombs and pints of Bav. Their dads are members of the yacht club. Their mothers have sidelines selling handmade jewellery or organic soaps. They’re the Celtic Hangover. You know, the kind of people who think that Ross O’Carroll-Kelly books are a searing, incisive set of documentary-style modern memoirs.

This is our future. Yes it is.

The American brands that they love so much are famous for their discriminatory employment and advertising policies. In a way, what they wear denotes an almost Aryan sense of self-entitlement that has yet to be diluted by the economy. Even if none of the New Preps really feel that way, their uniform does all the talking for them.

‘AHA’, I thought on seeing this perfect specimen of prep (I think in caps lock, doesn’t everyone?), ‘NOW THIS SHOULD MAKE A GOOD COLUMN’.

Five minutes later and I am small talking like Warwick Davies at a speed dating event. I segue from chatter about Blackburn Rovers (and mentally thanking God for that copy of Four Four Two in the doctor’s office) into ‘So, where did you get that top?’ Smooth, Sarah. Real smooth.

It was his brother’s top. He often borrowed clothes from his brother. When going shopping, he just liked things that were comfortable. ‘What about colours?’ I said. Would you buy a neon yellow t-shirt with a picture of a flamingo on it’?

The response was classic. He said, ‘Well, I don’t like to judge a book by it’s cover’. I was slightly confused. Aren’t you supposed to judge the clothes you buy by their appearance?

It’s just to easy to be a New Prep. If a man doesn’t want to think too much about clothes, then there’s a uniform waiting for him. But, what if the uniform just tells other people that you’re vapid, self-absorbed and thoroughly disinterested in anyone even slightly different to you?

One preppy man I know has a huge tattoo of a space age pin up girl on his upper thigh (don’t ask me how I know). Another spends most of his time caring for his severely disabled girlfriend. Another is an accomplished musician.

But if clothes make the man, then why don’t they want to wear something else?

See what I mean? Unfathomable.

Theasons Greetings

How do you make an outfit special after spending a week in bed? Slap on some sequins and lipstick with your novelty Christmas jumper and charity shop denim jacket.

A Shocking Life – ta for the recommendation Ailbhe!  Some Occupy Cork literature.  A cup of tea from Electric.

Denim – charity shop.  Sweater – Mercury Goes Retrograde. Dress – Rare.  Boots – H&M

Photos by Margaret, who is great.

Christmas Gift Guide – Yes, I went there.

It’s, give or take a few shopping days, a month to Christmas, so I thought I’d share my top ten fashion books for people who want to start building their own fashion bookshelf.  I’m by no means an expert, but I was very flattered to be asked to write this article for my old college newspaper.  Good times…

Buy them, borrow them, steal them (but maybe send the author a donation if you do that) – just read them.  This is part one – part two to come soon.

Photo via Captain Magnets

1- Fashion is about self expression, so I recommend The Cheap Date Guide to Style by superstylists Kira Joliffe and Bay Garnett.  In this slim, colourful volume you’ll find lists of wardrobe staples, endless sources of inspiration and interviews with luminaries like Karl Lagerfeld and the late, great Isabella Blow.  It’s prescriptive, but not preachy.  The focus is on your individual sense of style and all the different ways you can experiment and stand out (without looking like a hobo/Hilton).

Photo via Couture and Crumpets

2 – Honourable mention goes to Luella’s Guide to English Style, which is a prettily packaged and illustrated tour through designer Luella Bartley’s fashion sensibilities. Yes, I know it’s a guide to ENGLISH style but they’ve got Chung and who do we have? Rosanna Davidson and that girl from the Lotto ad wearing a Kilkenny strip string bikini.

Photo via Lykaorhel

3 – ‘Pictures’ by Tim Walker.  Noted for never digitally altering his photos, models are turned into candy-coloured lifesize dolls in playhouses just with props and make up – surreal, sometimes disturbing, always beautiful.

Image via Classy Messy

4 – ‘Avedon Fashion’ is a retrospective of Richard Avedon’s work for various fashion magazine spanning over fifty years.  The photos, almost all in black and white, are romantic and dramatic.  If, after a will-to-live-draining evening you should need a dab of glamour, then this is the book for you.

Photo via Une Americaine

5 – ‘Anna Piaggi’s Fashion Algebra’ is out of print, but it’s well worth scouring for a cheap copy online.  Piaggi is the genius behind Vogue Italia’s batshit crazy double page spreads, of which this book is a compendium.  Proof that magazines will never die as long as there are creative people around to keep them special.

Photo via faceduster

6 – I know it’s all about The Sartorialist at the moment but his book isn’t the best.  The photos have dated a tiny bit and in the interim between publishing it and now, Scott Schuman has become a much more accomplished photographer with a sharper style eye. If you want great street style, go to his website.  Otherwise, pick up the Facehunter book, which is miles better.

Photo via fashion slice

7 – If you pick out your friends outfits and think you could transfer those skills into real life, then read ‘Mastering Fashion Styling’ by Jo Dingemans.  Not a word of a lie – this is THE book to read if you want to be a stylist (or just more stylish) and you don’t know where to start.

Photo via Who Moved My Shoe

8 – In the 1950’s Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent were friends.  Twenty years later, they were verbally beating the tar out of each other in a nicotine and cocaine-stained discotastic Paris.  This tale of power, fame and total bitchery is told in ‘The Beautiful Fall’ by Alicia Drake.  Few pictures in this one unfortunately, but Uncle Karl’s antics are amusing enough to keep anyone occupied.

9 –‘Celia Birtwell‘ by Celia Birtwell and Dominic Lutyens.  I’ve posted about this only recently but it really is such a lovely book to have.  Written and presented in a scrapbook style, this book would be a lovely gift for lovers of vintage or pretty patterns. Celia Birtwell is an unsung fashion legend.

Photo via Ever and Wright

10 – This is a tricksy one because I haven’t read it yet (thank you Abrams UK press office for not replying to any of my emails) but Diana Vreeland – The Eye has to Travel looks like it’s going to be a good ‘un.  Made up of quotes, reminisces and seminal magazine spreads commissioned by Vreeland in her tenure as an editor for Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, the previews I’ve seen are gorgeous and a real testament to a fashion visionary.

Post originally printed in the UCC Express.  This version with additions.

Ten outfits, ten days

Or even better, ‘The Ten Faces of Sarah’ – squinty face, angry face, sunglasses face, insane face, hard boiled face, slightly groggy face, tired face, happy face, puzzled face and why the hell am I striking this stupid pose face.

Against my better judgement, I’m going to start doing intermittent outfit posts from now on.  It does seem a bit odd that even though I write about personal style, I never post any of mine up (extreme fear of identity theft, not being the owner of modelly good looks and the fact that I spent most of my time in pajamas and novelty tees are major factors).  So, with the help of photog Margaret, you may be seeing more of my mug around this here web page.

These ten outfits are part of the Fashion Diary that I was kindly asked to do for U Magazine a few months.  Full outfit credits to follow.
Mac – Uniqlo, Shirt worn as a dress – ASOS, Jeans – Topshop, Shoes – Nicholas Kirkwood (can’t walk in them, don’t care).
MAc – Uniqlo, Top – Gap, Jeans – Zara, Shoes – Converse, Bag – Cambridge Satchel Company
Sunglasses – Ray Bans, everything else – vintage
Bomber – Laura Lees Label, Tee – c/o Plain White T Shite, Cargo pants – Penneys, Customised Nike Air Max
Dress and shoes – vintage (dress is from Old Age on Etsy – seriously one of the best shops for sixties dresses online, hands down)
Shirt – Penneys, Dress – Sonia Rykiel for H&M (best collab ever), Shoes – Irregular Choice, Bracelet – shop in Sicily
Shirt – boyfriend’s, slip worn as a top – vintage, Jeans – Topshop, Necklace – Girlprops in NY
Jacket and trousers – Penneys, Fur collar – vintage, SHeep top – Vero Moda, Shoes – River Island
Tux jacket – Topshop, Dress – vintage, from Miss Daisy Blue, Shoes – Aldo
Sweater – Calvin Klein Men, Maxi dress – Rare, Shoes – Terry de Havilland

Licentiate Column 17/11/11: Versace for H&M

Another year has almost passed, and we all know what that means. I’m not referring to the inevitable feeling of time passing or the inexorability of our impending deaths. Nor, come to think of it, am I talking about the new John Lewis ad, which may as well be the same thing.

November is slowly coming to pass as the marker for the next big high street collaboration. Last year it was Lanvin. This year it’s Versace.

Unlike last year’s collaboration, it seems like a lot more time and thought has gone into the design and presentation of the collection this year (forgive me, Alber Elbaz).

Donatella Versace has delved deep into the Versace archives and emerged with masses of studs, buckles, strapping, fringe, leather, palm trees, lovehearts and garish sunsets than can be seen at an all day S&M rave on Ipanema beach.

The hype is deserved. The collection is dense, in terms of both design and execution. Donatella has rolled out womenswear, menswear accessories and homeware. The launch party in New York included performances by Prince and Nicki Minaj as models dressed like Donatella/Axel Rose hybrids stalked down the catwalk in all the traditional Versace tropes; bondage, cutouts, metal hardware, self-assured sexiness and pure glee at the unashamed tackiness of it all.

‘Tackiness’ is Versace’s watchword. Not ‘craftsmanship’, not ‘heritage’, definitely not ‘classic’. Versace is tacky. Tacky, tacky, tacky. Tacky like glue that just won’t dry, tacky like a sweaty PVC sofa, blacklighting and a faux-tigerskin rug. So tacky, in fact, that Paul Verhoeven’s so bad-it’s-good classic film Showgirls is practically raining the stuff, along with breast implants and curlicues of acrylic nails.

People must be bonkers for wearing Versace in the first place, yes?

Well, no. Not so much.

The reason that Versace (or any designer-high street collaboration) doesn’t sit well with many people is easily explained. Jane Alexandra Kenny, a blogger and designer explains, ‘Even a simple black coat will always have massive hardware or some detail designed to make the world know that the wearer is really really really ridiculously wealthy’. Without the super-heavy embellishment, it almost loses it’s meaning.

‘It’s like the kind of tacky all other tacky aspires to be. The kind of tacky that only works when it is made of the finest of everything, when the studs are expensive and heavy and firmly secured. The kind of tacky that cannot ever be reproduced on the high street’, says Jane. ‘So, what you get is more like a parody of Versace’.

The world of Versace is already steeped in parody. So, if you make a parody of a parody, what do you get? The magic is inevitably diluted.

As with last year’s collaboration, the faults are the same. Despite bringing fashion to the masses, anyone who wants to buy has to join a queue. A long one. According to the Evening Herald, the euro prices will be at least 38 percent more expensive than sterling. And, after all that, you still feel like trundling down to your local store, the collection may not even be there. It opens today at nine am in three Irish stores; two in Dublin, one in Belfast.

What Would Isabella Blow Do?

After last night’s Isabella Blow post, I picked up the copy of ‘Isabella Blow: A Life In Fashion‘ that I had bought and immediately put on my bookshelf to gather dust and started to read. And read.  Until 7am, when I finished the book and fell into a nice, long comasleep.  It’s the best Blow biography I’ve read – almost surprising that she died a handful of years ago and already three biographies of her have been released, with a major exhibition of her wardrobe in the works.

This is a rather roundabout way of saying that I’ve had the superstylist on the brain lately.  It’s odd, because I only ever pick up a book on her when I’m sick, the last time when I had food poisoning over Christmas (fun for everyone involved) and now, a weeklong stint in bed with a knee ailment (annoying, but still nowhere near as bad as food poisoning), doing that RICE thing.

And this is an even more roundabout way of saying that I saw these editorials today and I think that she would have liked them – if you’ll allow me to make some conjecture about a woman I never met and will never know.

Medieval ostentation and a highland fling shot by Chris Nicholls and styled by Fiona Green for Flare. (via)

Bright colours and unharmonic dischord by Steven Meisel (styled by Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele) for Vogue Italia. (via)