Picasso, Woman Writing, 1934

Due to some incredibly unforeseen circumstances, I have had to hit the pause button on this blog for a few weeks.

The reason why will have to remain cloudy, but I will return – get me, I’m sooooo mysterious.

There are lots of great books winging their way to me in February for review, a big pile of films to see, a week’s worth of couture to look through and a few outfit posts still in the planning stages, so it’ll be full steam ahead in no time at all.

If, for some reason you’re now stuck for something to read, here are a few of my favourite blogs.

Miss Moss

Honestly WTF

She’s In Vogue

How to be a Retronaut

Daiquiris and Denial 

Love Aesthetics

See you sometime after Valentine’s Day.

Licentiate Column 27/01/12: Fashion and Film

The parallel worlds of fashion and film have much in common, not least the threads of glamour, escapism, artifice and unreality. It’s a place that we aspire to be despite no chance of ever getting there.

Why then, when these fantastic twin universes overlap, do we react so badly to it?

Fashion designers have often had bad luck in Hollywood. In the 1930s, Coco Chanel signed a lucrative contract with Samuel Goldwyn to design costumes and everyday outfits for his biggest female stars. Her costumes were met with indifference and stars would refuse to don her outfits – being told what to wear in a film is one thing and being told what to wear on your days off is completely another.

Films about the fashion industry tend to be poorly received. Robert Altman’s Pret a Porter was filmed on location at various fashion weeks and lest we forget, The Devil wears Prada starred a formidable Meryl Streep. Neither films set the world alight in terms of accuracy or sympathy.

In every film about fashion there will be a kindly (gay, so therefore not sexually threatening) man who consoles the female protagonist with a pair of Louboutins pilfered from a fashion cupboard. This is not so in real life. Fashion may not be the most cerebral of industries, but these tired tropes just insult everyone’s intelligence.

So, with the exception of a few brief shining moments, fashion designers left the arena of film altogether. Designers may contribute outfits, but the last word always went to the costume designer, the curator of the film’s image.
It’s often very easy to link fashion with film, but the link may be tenuous at best. For example, Gucci previewed their Spring/Summer collection last September with an array of dazzling, elaborate beaded flapper dresses in Art Deco shades of black and gold. The press at large has christened these dresses as part of a Great Gatsby ‘trend’ – not in relation to the book but rather the film. Don’t be worried if you haven’t heard of it – it hasn’t even been finished yet.

It could just have easily been called the ‘The Artist trend’, another modern film, this time set in 1920’s Hollywood. The film has an amazing wardrobe and cast, but the real star is a small dog called Uggie. Perhaps that should tell us something.

Film is a convenient smokescreen for fashion journalists when they’re short a new fashion craze of two to write about. It’s not really a trend. No-one will wear these dresses on the high street. They are terminally unflattering and prohibitively expensive to produce.

The themed cocktail parties, cocaine binges and defensive pursuit of youth have mutated from the twenties flapper to something else much more modern and sinister. Something that, if captured on camera, has nothing to do with fashion, and even less to do with Deco-esque beaded flapper dresses, however beautiful they are.

It’s just hiding behind the glamour.

What I did in London, told by the books I bought.

Saturday – a stroll down Portobello Road, a rummage in the market stalls, dinner at El Camion and a root through Oxfam Books for some bedside reading.

Sunday – to Leicester Square Theatre for Stewart Lee’s Carpet Remnant World (Couldn’t wait for him to come to Ireland in May).

Monday – A trip to the National Portrait Gallery, then to Chinatown for Dim Sum…

…then some shopping in Covent Garden. Go to Magma Books. Just do it.

Licentiate Column 19/01/12: Pajama Girls

Fashion is a reflection of the times we live in. Hemlines go up and down with the stock market, colours go from bright to sombre depending on the national mood. And nothing, nothing could be more proof that the world will end in 2012 than the newest trend to hit the streets running.


Not lounge pajamas. Not bedtime pajamas. Not even, ‘teenage girls and exhausted young mothers go to Tesco in their pajamas’ pajamas. We’re talking about pub pajamas. Business meeting pajamas. Perhaps in the not too distant future, wedding pajamas.

In the earlier part of the twentieth century, owning a pair of swanky pajamas denoted a leisure class. Too rich to don business suits to work, a moneyed woman would often entertain in a pair of wide-legged silk slip-on trousers and matching jacket, often with heels and copious amounts of jewellery.

Pajamas became the casual clothes of the Hollywood elite, with stars such as Ida Lupino pictured in publicity photographs, resplendent in pajamas, gold slippers, turban and intimidatingly long cigarette holder. Pajamas became a frippery to covet for the adoring fans, like a domesticated pet leopard or a mink-lined silver Bentley. It was just so ostentatious, the idea of day pajamas, that a simple item became a total luxury.

A trend will be resurrected every few years by designers, but this is the first time in several decades that it has trickled down to the high street. Not since the dreaded 70’s leisure suit has the high street seen such an influx of patterned trousers and shirts in slouchy cuts and super-comfortable jersey and airy silks.

River Island, Topshop and even Penneys will be introducing pajama-style suits in the coming months. To cement the pajama as a definite craze for spring, e-tailing giant ASOS are marketing them as a top trend, with cut-out collages and flashy graphics of willowy models in clothes that are more sleepy than sexy.

I love it. As the kind of person who routinely pops to the shops in, um, shall we say off-centre outfits, it would be extremely hypocritical of me not to.

I’m not for a second suggesting that anyone needs to dust off their brushed cotton Rainbow Brite PJs for a night on the tiles (although if you tried it, I wouldn’t stop you).

Wearing pajamas in public is generally taken to be a sign of laziness, of an unwillingness to take care of oneself and definite rebelliousness. A person who proudly wears pajamas will not care one jot about what other people think of them. The pajama trend is not as complicated.

Think of a normal women’s trouser suit. Tailored, possibly even a little bit boring. Now, loosen it up a smidge (only a smidge, mind), get rid of all zips. Make it in a comfortable fabric and add a pretty pattern. Spots, stripes, florals – anything goes. That’s the pajama trend. It’s a suit, but not as we know it.

Float my Boat

Women’s mug shots via How to be a Retronaut.

Nail wraps by NCLA.

Custom stamped men’s leather cuff by The Bead Girl.

Neon clutch at Love Aesthetics

This photo and the amazing family story that goes with it at The Sartorialist.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

SOPA must be stopped.  I’m no pirate.

I am a Camera

One of the first lines in Alone in Berlin, Christopher Isherwood’s Weimar-era novella, reads;

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking

With that slightly depressing line in mind, let’s look at British Vogue’s ‘I am a Camera’ shoot for it’s February issue.

This editorial takes the idea of the front row fashion blogger and turn it on its head.  It’s interesting, considering how much inspiration that bloggers get from magazines, that a magazine should draw inspiration from bloggers so late in the game.

Still, bloggers are outsiders in the fashion world.  ‘I am a Camera’ seems to suggest that bloggers are passive observers of fashion – they never mould or guide what fashion is to become.  Maybe I’m reading into it wrong, but that’s what it looks like to me.

It’s utter bollocks, of course.  Bloggers do help to accelerate and even kick-start trends (um, Susie Bubble anyone? Tavi?) I’ve met quite a few front row bloggers and they spend more of their time editing photos and doing 40+ hours of work in other jobs and less time than you’d think prancing around gritty urban settings/stately homes in the new Prada flame heels and taking pictures of themselves picking their teeth in fabulous hotel suites.

This shoot is still pretty great.  A really original concept, great styling and lovely pictures.  I especially love the photos where the clothes are lovingly organised on the suitcase and the bed – accessorised with a half-devoured room service breakfast.  But of course.

I am a Camera, British Vogue Fab 2012.  Tati Cotliar by Raymond Meier.  Styled by Charlotte Pilcher.  Images via Hey Crazy (http://heycrazy.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/i-am-a-camera/)

Licentiate Column 12/01/12: On Inspiration

Last week, I was asked one of those questions that people struggle to answer truthfully. The answer is not always a by-product of wishing to conceal the correct answer, but because the answer will almost always raise another set of perplexing question. That question is, ‘where do you get your ideas?’

Easy answer; my brain. More in-depth, less flippant (and rude) answer: from everywhere. From the people I talk to and the things I see. People’s ideas are often borne of the world around them.

More books are published now than ever before. More art is being produced. There are now more than seven billion people to potentially talk to on this planet and no two of them will hold identical values and opinions about the world around them.

Information gets passed down an ever-growing chain of people and ideas grow and evolve a little more as it passes through the chain – like a cerebral version of Chinese Whispers.

As George Bernard Shaw said, “If you have an idea and I have an idea, and we exchange those ideas, then each of us shall have two ideas”. I got that quote from Kanye West’s twitter feed (see what I mean about a chain?).

It makes sense that the most popular question to ask creative or stylish people revolves what inspires their personal style. Fashion feeds on ideas. It takes from all aspects of life and interprets it into clothing. Sometimes parasitic, sometimes reactionary, sometime ridiculous; almost always entertaining.

How do people create their own distinct image? How does Alexa Chung look so damn pretty in clunky brogues? Where did Lady Gaga’s meat dress come from? Why did Katharine Hepburn insist on wearing masculine suits in an era of Hollywood glamour? And how do you get dressed in the morning?

Where do you get your inspiration from? Take a second and think it over.

When you enter a shop and pick something up, thinking ‘that’s nice’, why do you do so? It it the colour? The pattern? The shape? And if so, why that colour, that pattern, that shape?

Some people have a particular image and use that as a template for their wardrobe. Rihanna’s is clown/dominatrix. Grace Kelly’s was an aura of refinement. Diana Vreeland had red to accent everything. My mother looks like a 60’s beatnik who discovered the joys of baking. My friend Dawn is eternally girly and groomed.

Most of us don’t have the safety net of a clearly defined sense of style. We bounce around collecting weird and wonderful things without ever thinking too much about it.

My most recent acquisition? A pair of silver patent-robo boots. Where it’ll fit in with my neon green schoolboy satchel and the seventies Foxy-Brown style faux fur trench coat, I may never know. I just like different things. Sometimes it’s a disaster. Most of the time though, it isn’t (I hope).

A sense of style, for some people, will come from everywhere. Just like some of the best ideas.

2011 is, like, so over.

This is my 2011 fashion round-up.  It’s more vitriolic than my usual fare, but let’s all be nice to each other, eh?

1. John Galliano, the world’s foremost fascist fantasist – whoops, sorry, I meant FASHION fantasist (Freudian slip of the hand there) has not had a good year. He lost his coveted job at Dior, became essentially unemployable and for what? Telling a woman that she had a ‘dirty Jewish face’. Is that such a crime? Oh wait, he was in France and anti-semitism is actually a crime there. Galliano’s excuse in court was that he was an addict, which makes perfect sense and is in no way a pathetic, facile excuse for inciting hatred.

2. Speaking of borderline Nazism, Marc Jacobs took inspiration from seminal sado-masochistic film ‘The Night Porter’ (in which a Jewish woman develops a master-slave relationship with her former camp commandant) for his Autumn/Winter Louis Vuitton show. The show is highly praised for it’s daring inventiveness, which is largely due to Jacobs essentially ’discovering’ the high-heeled welly. A generation of woman sigh and ignore the fetish trend entirely because it is totally useless – much like the aforementioned wellies. I’m fairly sure that we won’t be seeing businesswomen in latex suits and moms dropping off their tots to Montessori school in full bridle, harness and SS cap gear but, unless your mother is Daphne Guinness, I could be wrong.

3. The Donatella Versace for H&M collection went on sale in November amidst months of hype and an opening party that included a performance from Prince. The party had an exclusive pop-up shop, which resulted in many fashion editors sporting bruises the next day (slim elbows are sharp elbows, people). The essential downfall of this high-street collaboration is, while Versace is great at making expensive clothes look cheap, this just made cheap clothes look even cheaper. Proof that the perfect designer/high street collaboration is as elusive as the Sasquatch – the pictures look moderately convincing but the reality is always disappointingly pedestrian.

4. The delicate balance of the animal print equilibrium was disturbed when Carine Roitfeld, editrix of Vogue Paris, declared that snake print is so much more chic than leopard, the normal jazzy print of choice for hipsters and sexually repressed administrative assistants. Soon after, Roitfeld was sacked – coincidence, I think not. Topshop also turned the trend on its head with a slew of clothes that featured dalmatian print – this is the closest the fashion world will ever get to a lightbulb moment. If you’re forced to choose, dalmatian print is a safe bet. It says ‘I’m cute AND I remind you of a non-threatening Disney movie’, while snakeskin says (amongst other things) ‘I may be a high-class prostitute’. And we womenfolk wouldn’t want to be threatening, now would we?

5. 2011 has been the year of the inexplicable style icon. Internationally, we have Sarah Lund, the detective in cult tv series the ‘The Killing’ (favours a good festive jumper), Rooney Mara (multiple facial piercings and a look that is a cross between stealth bomber and Nine Inch Nails superfan) and Wallis Simpson (Nazi sympathiser who said ‘you can never be too rich or too thin’). Closer to home we’ve got Paul Galvin, a GAA footballer who left teaching and was almost immediately offered a fashion column in a national newspaper. Media integrity eh? You can’t beat it. Previously, Galvin was famous for attempting to fish hook a rival on the pitch and successfully tugging jeggings on his well-developed thighs, but not at the same time.

Little/Woman’s Christmas

Today is the sixth of January, Little Christmas or Woman’s Christmas in many parts of the world.  In Cork, it has mutated into Little Woman’s Christmas, which is totally wrong, but when you imagine the womenfolk in your neighbourhood selling their hair for wigs or exchanging pickled limes it can make a fun mental image (a prize for the first person to get those references).

Women traditionally get together to have dinner, share their Christmas experiences and talk about how successful a haul they had, gift-wise.  You know, the TRUE spirit of Christmas stuff.  None of that religion guff.

Here are some of my presents.


A bottle of Chanel No.5

Gareth Pugh x Mac Nail Polish

A beautiful Vogue print

Some inspiring books and magazines (Dad, I really hope that ‘Classy’ was a joke.  I’m the perfect little lady *belches*).

A pair of out-of-this-world moon boots

A vintage brooch

An incredibly warm fuzzy festive feeling.

And a partridge in a pear tree. No, sorry, that’s an Illamasqua lipgloss

So, to my very generous family and friends, I say thank you.  You guys are the best.

Licentiate Column 05/01/12: My retail hell – or not

I’ve been a writer for a few years now, and I love it. I really do. Unfortunately, it’s not the best-paid profession (at least until I become the first woman to win the Booker for a chick-lit novel). Such was the dearth of paying work and worrying was the close relationship I developed with a nice lady at Bank of Ireland Credit Card Services I applied for, and got, a job as a Christmas temp in a very large fashion retail store.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons at my time at that shop. 1) If you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice to you back 2) What a ‘gondola’ is when it’s not being manned by an Italian in a stripy top and 3) That management probably won’t keep you on beyond your contract if you inexplicably develop arthritis after three weeks and can do most, but not all, of the (surprisingly physical) work you’re supposed to do.

Now that I’m finished, management will come to regret the day they willingly employed a journalist. Oh, yes. I am about to blow the lid off this retail chain with possibly the most shocking secret ever revealed… Only joking. No secrets here.

It was a new experience, a new phase. I was the better for having done it. It gave me a routine I now sorely miss and an outlet to talk to people face-to-face about clothes and not have them roll their eyes in boredom or run away in abject terror (this has happened).

When people talk about shopping effectively, they talk about getting the best possible in terms of status or quality, for the least amount of money, in the least amount of time, with the least amount of people buying the same thing. No-one ever talks about how to interact with people who are in the shop to help little ol’ you.

Let me burst a bubble. Retail work can be fun. The people you work with make up a large part of the pleasure you get from working. But it can also be demoralising – incredibly so. Customers routinely treat you like dirt, expect the impossible, get irrationally angry when they can’t find what they want, even more so when it’s no longer in stock, demand returns outside of the original policy agreement and, on occasion, spit, swear and physically threaten you. Christmas shopping is no joke, folks.

The majority of people are nice. It’s just common sense. But some people regard retail workers as a new subspecies of lower being, here to be treated without emotion or warmth. They’re the kind of people who won’t queue for a drink in a nightclub but will instead wave money in a bartender’s face and scream out an order. Taxi drivers are not worth wasting a few words on. Waiting staff are often treated with derision and high-handed contempt. And these people often wonder why they get bad service. The mind boggles.

You get what you put in. Retail workers are people. They react well to friendliness and badly to rudeness. It’s common sense. Be nice, polite and compassionate and that person in the shop will often go out of their way to help you. And please, please put clothes back on the hanger when you’re done. It’s a mark of disrespect if you don’t.

That’s the way to shop properly.