The Reading List: Deborah Turbeville, The Fashion Pictures

Deborah Turbeville is an enigmatic woman who doesn’t fit well within the typical jobbing fashion photographer mould.  Her photographs are heavy in their sombreness, atmospherically frayed and aged and often following a narrative that only Turbeville, as a consummate storyteller, understands.

In this impressively cultivated Rizzoli book lies the very best of Turbeville’s fashion photography, edited by the woman herself.  All words are hers, except for a glowing foreward by Vogue Italia editrix Franca Sozzani, who describes Turbeville as a ‘poet of photography’ (and rightly so).  You’d be forgiven for not having heard of Turbeville, but to ignore her would be foolish.  Although her particular brand of sinister anxiety and brooding may have fallen out of fashion, the quality and originality of her work means that she just hasn’t been appreciated properly – although this may change with the release of this book and the recent work she executed for the Valentino campaigns.

Turbeville is at heart a deconstructivist storyteller – she is constantly disseminating images or provoking said dissemination in others.  Her works are “little open-ended stories that led you on but yet were incomplete, a bit like silent films… Thus I began a pattern I would follow all my life… a sort of work in progress”.  It’s Turbeville’s ‘work-in-progress’ ethic that lets her work evolve into something totally unexpected and alien from it’s original starting point.

Hers are snapshots without explanation – they are open-ended in the eye of the beholder.  For Turbeville, atmosphere dictates the picture.  Photographs seem almost DIY, but still refined.  They are scratched, worn or burned, but all the more beautiful for that.  Her bathhouse series is still as disturbing today as it was when it first appeared.  Ostensibly a swimwear shoot in an early 20th century bathhouse, the photographs have an air of foreboding despite its total lack of obscenity.  The impact is in what it doesn’t say. Is her Woman in the Woods series about World War 2 collaborators?  The models are lined up in woodlands or against bales of hay as if for a firing squad, passively miserable faces on each one.  Turbeville remains enigmatic on the subject.

The book covers highlights from Turbeville’s career from 1970 to the present, all varied, all beautiful, but all products of a broken, post-apocalyptic world. The haute couture is a reflection of a world gone by, the woman all waiting for some hallowed time to come again – all to no avail.  Her photos of Russian ballet dancers are what I imagine a Degas painting would look like if it was a photograph – wistful, beautiful, elegant, snatches of a moment.  Turbeville’s scrapbook style, photographs piled in on one another organically, sometimes scratched or blurred almost beyond recognition, go well with the handwritten titles and typewriter fonts.  It’s like a luxurious, hardback zine, the product of one utterly original and painfully personal vision.

At the end, Turbeville lets us in and tells us a story of tragedy and intrigue.  And on the very last page, she shuts the door on us again.

Deborah Turbeville: The Fashion Pictures is published by Rizzoli and is out now.

Licentiate Column 29/03/12: Fashion for Hypochondriacs

This morning I woke up with terrible stomach cramps. Terrible. Let me tell you, it was like an army of indigestion imps had pitched camp on my large intestine,lit a monster bonfire and started throwing cans of Lynx into the heart of the flames. Agony. Utter agony.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m such an utter trooper, I’d probably be dead by now. You see, I have a mysterious condition which makes all illnesses much worse than on regular people. I have hypochondria. Hold your tears, please. Your silent reverence is all I need.

Atfer this morning’s bout of quite-possibly-deadly mild indigestion, I cancelled the hair appointment that I was looking forward to and swiftly returned to bed, pausing only to pop on a ratty jumper in a ultra-flattering shade of greige. As a glamourpuss of Miss Piggy proportions, I thought it only right, dahling.

Whatever happened to all the glamourously sick people? Madame Bovary reclining on the chaise after imbibing poison, a slick spittle of vomit merely accentuating her credit-bought dresses. Ophelia floating through the reeds as imagined by Millais, in diaphanous green and gold. Tallulah Bankhead in silk pajamas demanding the narcotic release of codeine. Penney’s PJ’s have a lot to answer for.

I suppose the question is not what to wear when you’re sick, but what to wear when you’re such a notorious attention seeker that even death has to make you look the fabulous side of pallid. All the deaths described above were self inflicted, with Bankhead’s death a possible suicide by hardcore living. The other two are fictional, dreamed up by authors to fulfill tropes of high drama.

Life isn’t really like that. Sick people look sick, they don’t look like Kate Moss. I’ll bet that even La Moss has a holey, ragged Marks and Sparks tee that’s her go-to airing cupboard staple for when she has the flu.

But, what if being mildly crotchety and paranoid about illness affects your sartorial health? Too much surreptitious faking it can result in split ends, off-white duds and distinctly funky odours. What if, for whatever reason, you want to be a glam invalid?

1. Embrace your hypochondria. Take far too many vitamin supplements? Enhance your inner musicality by jumping up and down to Tito Puente rhythms. You are now a human maraca. Funky fruit hat strictly optional (but excellent for mopping up those free radicals). It will make you look dashing and accentuate a floppy neck.

2. Get crafty with those pajamas. Invest in a hot glue gun and get sticking gemstones to the hems and cuffs of your bedtime apparel. Do an Elizabeth I on it and embellish so much that your pajamas can now stand up by themselves. It’s not like we’re planning to walk around in them anyway, now were we? That would totally defeat the point of hypochondria.

3. Invest in… you guessed it – pajamas. By that I don’t mean buy several pairs of pajamas. Though they’re in vogue right now, they technically count as outerwear. I mean, literally invest in pajamas. Buy shares or start manufacturing poly-cotton blends. If you’re that dedicated to stylish sickness, the turnover will be so great that soon you’ll be reaping the dividends.

Ooh, pretty pictures…

It is far too sunny today to be cerebral, which is a shame for me because I have several pitches and a book review to write… and all I want to do is sit outside with a lemonade, painting my toenails bright pink and listening to my favourite Missed in History podcasts.  Boo.

So, expect no brainfarts on this blog today.  Here are some pretty pictures instead.

Collages by Jose Romussi on Flickr

Diet Coke x Benefit: Outfit Post

The very last Diet Coke x Benefit Get Glam event took place at Mahon Point last Saturday and I was there with the lovely Thinkhouse team to document the impossible, oh the impossible glamour of it all.

I’ll post the video (I’m praying that there won’t be a blooper reel including my incredibly feeble jokes about Special K being the Breakfast of Champions or the bit where I said ‘I’m Sarah Waldron from The Licentiate and I’m here to… completely forget what I’m talking about’) during the week, so this is just a quick outfit post.



Dress: Sister Jane, Boots: Topshop, Pendant: Penneys, Watch: Casio, Fred Perry barrel bag: filched from a friend.

Photos are courtesy of the beautiful Margaret from 4ng2.com.

Licentiate Column 22/03/12: What to expect when (you don’t want to look like) you’re expecting

I know this woman who is pregnant.  She could be a friend or a family member – she could even be a friend or family member of a friend or family member.  Let’s just keep the water as muddy as possible.  In fact, if her condition didn’t betray her gender, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned that she was a woman at all.
For undisclosed reasons, Miss X wants to conceal said pregnancy, which is proving difficult as she has pesky things such as a job and family members to see on a regular basis.  She also has a steadily growing baby bump that she can only pass off as a curry overdose for so long.
Sometimes you just have to hide a bump.  Whether it’s a conspiracy involving fudged paternity suits, evil twins and the deed to a Texan oil baron’s land or just a need to cultivate JD Salinger-style privacy, or something ultimately more personal and complicated, it’s got to be done.  Here are a few tips.
1:  Never underestimate the self-absorption of others.  I lived with a girl in college halls for a year.  We saw each other every day.  One spring evening, I came in after an exam to find out that she had gone into labour.  I had just not noticed her size, as she had often concealed herself with huge varsity hoodies.  Later, when I saw a picture of her at eight months, it was undeniable that she was so far up the duff that getting back down would require several Sherpas.  She looked like she was smuggling a space hopper under layers of UCC rugby paraphernalia.  I (and all the other flatmates) had NEVER LOOKED PROPERLY.
2:  Invest in a selection of hoodies.  See point above.  Not only to they conceal things to the point of invisibility, you could team it with a scraped back hairdo and no-make up to just not get noticed at all.  You will look so deeply desexualised that no-one, woman or man, will scrutinise your body or indeed even look at you.  It’s the silver lining to rampant, subconscious sexism.
3.  Flow is not your friend.  You may think that drapey tunics and tops that skim your bump would be ideal, but they are your worst enemy.  Tops that glide off what now goes out instead of in are incredibly flattering, but only to out and proud expectant mothers – and do you really want to be one of those schlubs?
4.  Cultivate an incredible shoe and hat collection.  The point is to distract from your middle, so draw attention to your top and bottom.  This is only an option if invisibility isn’t your thing (or you fancy starting a trend for hoodies with Nicky Minaj wigs and bejewelled Nicholas Kirkwood heels – sooo 2014, people!).  Statement necklaces, bright lipstick and colourful shoes can be a big help.
5.  Balance is key.  Make your top and bottom correspond with your middle.  Exaggerated shoulders, flared jeans and big, patterned scarves help to make a body look the same width up and down.  Dress dark around the torso, light around the top and bottom.
And remember, you may have to eventually tell people – just don’t wait until you’re in labour.

The Reading List: Colour Forecasting in Fashion

Colour is often something that people blithely breeze through without thinking too much about it. Yet colour, or the lack of it, has a profound impact on peoiple’s lives. Why do colours influence our moods? How do colour trends get started? How do these trends end up in the shops and who decides what colours we’ll be wearing in advance? One books that answers the hows but not the why is Colour Forecasting in Fashion.

The answer is in the largely intuitive but often misunderstood craft of colour forecasting a cycle of which is done two years in advance of appearing on the high street. This book, primarily aimed at fashion students building their portfolios, charts the history, theory, impact and inner workings of the colour forecasting industry, which acts as the originator of almost every fashion trend and also acts as a mirror of the state of the globe in general.

The book is large-format, free of jargon and thankfully abundant in illustrations. Split into seven distinct and unique chapters, the aim is to give the student a general overview of the techniques of colour forecasting as well as charting it’s evolution. Chapter Three, The Language of Colour, goes through the applications and history of the colour wheel and colour scheme. For someone who wonders what colours go together or how to construct a striking scheme without looking too much like an escaped mental patient gone paintballing (such as myself), it’s almost a revelation of common sense.

Colour Forecasting in Fashion is largely a practical book – for all its advice on application, the psychology of colour is barely covered. As intuition is one of the building blocks of psychology, a few pages on what colour influences which mood may have rounded out the book a little more.

If you’re a student finishing off a portfolio, a home-made mood board lover, looking to redecorate your house or revamp your wardrobe, this book will also be useful. It’s not just a resource for fashion and textile students – it’s also an ample source of inspiration for anyone who wants a little more colour in their lives.

Colour Forecasting in Fashion is by Kate Scully and Debra Johnston-Cobb. It is published by Laurence King.

Some thoughts on H&M x Marni

On the 8th of March, I joined the queue for the newly released Marni x H&M collection. I managed to get a proper look-see three hours later, once the queue had abated.

Only I wasn’t at one of the two Dublin stores that offered the collection. I was on the H&M website – I wasn’t even buying. I just wanted to see the clothes. In shopping terms, it’s like waiting in line for three hours just to look at the window display.

The hype surrounding designer high-street collaborations is, in my incredibly biased opinion, ridiculous. The recent Mary Katrantzou collection for Topshop collection sold out within hours of being posted online. The most recent H&M collection, this time with Versace, was hyped-up more than the Royal Wedding and Beckham Baby combined. As with most hype, the result is uniformly disappointing.

Yet, the Marni collaboration seemed different. A distillation of the ideas of the slightly eccentric Consuelo Castiglioni, the emphasis was on texture and print and not obvious emblems or signifiers. Unlike other H&M collaborations, which look slightly outdated after a matter of weeks (have you seen anyone in a Lanvin x H&M number lately? Or, come to think of that, EVER?), the Marni collection is a mixed bag in terms of wearability.

The Womenswear collection is full of obvious winners, like the tan and grey wool/patent leather top, or the silk metallic brocade suit, or the patent leather zip-up jacket with knitted sleeves and an incongruous slight v-neck. Others, however, lack the weight, precision or consideration of the mainline Marni collection and have the busy, buzzy patterns of something my mother would pick up as a beach-to-dinner sun holiday number in a Wallis bargain bin.

Both the bad and good things about hype are the pomp and circumstance awarded to what will inevitably be privately judged as a lesser product. The promotional shots were taken by Sofia Coppola, who also directed the accompanying video. Shot in Morocco and starring Coppola lookalike Imogen Poots, it’s a hazy, Roxy Music-tinged film (or in layman’s terms, an ‘advert’) about a sultry-eyed girl who is lonely (or something) and kisses some dude in a pool, even though he may or may not have a girlfriend. You just don’t know. Maybe the the subtle nuances will be ironed out in the director’s cut.

Incidentally, my mother was in London and wandered into both the Oxford and Regent Street branches for a proper look-see after the queues had abated. Contrary to popular reports, there was still a good amount of stock left, albeit in exclusively extra-small and large sizes. ‘Is any of this wearable?’ she thought, referring to the favourite patent leather numbers above (‘shiny’ and ‘boxy’ were her appraisals). Everything looked ‘tatty’ and poorly made. A little bit disenfranchised, she headed to Liberty, which is known for zero-hype, fully-lauded collaborations, where she happily spent four hours browsing.

Pics via H&M

Madame Yevonde: Society Women as Goddesses

Be original or die.  There are worse lines to live by, but this was the credo of surreal, creative photographer Madame Yevonde.  These photos are from her ‘Goddesses‘ series.

Lady Anne Rhys as Flora

The Honorable Mrs Bryan Guinness as Venus

Lady Milbanke as Penthelisa, Queen of the Amazons

Mrs Richard Hart-Davis as Ariel

Baroness Gagern as Europa

Lady Bridgett Poulett as Arethusa

Lady Michael Balcon as Minerva

Images by Madame Yevonde via vintage everyday.

Licentiate Column 15/03/12: So long to Skins

Let the bells toll, don a black veil; Skins, the highly representational, painfully true-to-life documentary series on E4, has been cancelled. Ahem. The (actually incredibly unrealistic) fantasy teen drama will bow out at the end of it’s seventh season in 2013, which will possibly feature much loved characters from the first four series’.

I was too old for Skins even when Series One started, but I loved it then, just as I love it’s particular brand of sex, drugs, infidelity, teen pregnancy and A Level homework now. Every cycle of two years someone will die, someone will have a nervous breakdown and someone will experience long term social or learning disabilities. Life, eh? It’s a rich tapestry.

Even though my teens (and those of many a Guardian commenter) resembled The Inbetweeners more than the unrelenting hedonism of Skins, it remains a guilty pleasure, even more so now that the show has undeniably run out of steam.
But, this is a fashion column and not a television one (and thank goodness for that, because I know too little about BBC drama and too much about Buffy the Vampire Slayer), so let’s crack on with a by-no-means-comprehensive list of the best dressed Skins characters.

1. Effy (Seasons 1-4): Our first glimpse of Effy is of her strolling home after a massive bender, resplendent in mini skirt, bikini top, heels and smudged lipstick. After sneaking in to her house, she hurriedly pops on her school uniform. She is about fourteen or so. As she progresses through the first four series, she evolves in style from Lavigne-esque party girl to a cool, collected, enigmatic proto-Alexa Chung. Black, leather and lots of accessories, from cascades of pearls to a tux jacket covered with vintage badges were her trademarks.

2. Cassie (Season 1-2) : Cassie competes with Effy for most memorable debut in the same episode and clearly comes out tops. In a men’s tailcoat, gold lame dress, seamed stockings, watch around her ankle and (weirdly) a tiny skateboard keychain hanging in place of a fob, her slightly deranged expression and casual pharmaceutical consumption seems almost normal. Cassie is a true original, due in no small part to her enviable vintage wardrobe and the ability to wear two mismatching pairs of socks at the same time without seeming more mentally disturbed than she actually was.

3. Cook (Season 3-4): If you watched season 3 and 4, then you were either Team Cook or Team Freddie. At the end of Season 4, Freddie was beaten to death with a baseball bat, so I felt somewhat vindicated for siding with volatile, obnoxious Cook. Cook is a throwback from the 80’s but in a very good (non-Boy George) way. He’s found mostly in football yob attire; Sergio Tacchini polos, sharply creased chinos, loafers with no socks, Beckenbauer trainers and Harrington jackets.

Honourable Mentions: Graces ladylike chic and Franky’s androgyny in Season 6, Sid’s hat and glasses combo in Seasons 1-2 and Freddie’s skater boy(band) look in Seasons 3-4.

Back of the class: Jal’s unremarkable everything in Seasons 1-2 and Pandora Moon’s cheese-grater-on-the-eyes forced eccentricity in Seasons 2-4. Even sixteen year olds are too old for THOSE denim skirts.