Licentiate Column 21/06/12: Au Revoir Cork

I left Cork for what may be the last time today.  The Lee was unusually brown after two days of heavy, unbroken rain.  As the bus pulled away from the grey, drizzly city and left behind a panorama of houses muddled together over hills and valleys, rising spires punching holes in the horizon, I felt more than sad.  I might have even cried a little bit.

I love Cork.  Love it.

I hate the fact that I have to leave.  I am deeply annoyed that nowhere else in Ireland can I get a good brunch at 2pm on a weekday but in the Liberty Grill.  I am aggrieved that I can no longer just walk down the road to Freakscene on a Thursday, my go-to for general debauchment and devilry for the past seven years.  And I am deeply regretful of that fact that I can no longer wake up in the flat I once shared with someone very special, open my balcony doors and have breakfast watching the same panorama that passed me by just as I left it today.

One of the best things about Cork, or indeed any city with a steady stream of creative, industrious inhabitants, is its ability to reinvent itself.  I know I’ll come back in a few months, or even weeks, and there will be a new place to go, a new business sprung from the not so-fertile ground and a new event that, once it takes hold, we can’t imagine our weekend without it.

In my few years spent in Cork, and especially in my tenure as a writer for this very fine newspaper, I have seen the fashion industry in Cork evolve into something totally different (and much better) than it was before.

There is probably a core group of thirty to forty people in the city who are making an active effort to advocate for Cork fashion, and I would like to salute a randomly-selected cross section of this very diverse bunch of creatives.  The people selected reflect a little bit of the best in Cork without any semblance of hierarchy; no-one is more or less important than other people I have omitted to mention.

Belinda O’Sullivan is one of Cork’s most talented dressmakers.  She has an understanding of fabric and skill with tailoring that is that magic, elusive mix of talent, instinct and learned skills.  A dress from Belinda is one that you will treasure forever (and she’s a ridiculously lovely person to boot).

Cathy O’ Donoghue of vintage store Turquoise Flamingo has transformed her bolthole in Washington Street into a concept as well as a retail space.  Not contented with just selling her careful edit of clothing (she’ll always have something special in the back, just ask very nicely) she also hosts vintage nights in-store and stocks incredibly cool jewellery and reworked vintage clothing from small local business, which have built up a cult following.

And finally, Emer O’Sullivan and Vivienne Kelly, who may well be the catalyst for the turning point of the no-longer still world that is Cork fashion.  By promoting and nurturing Cork Fashion Week, they have given the industry in the city a legitimacy that it was somewhat running low on before.

For these people, the ones I didn’t mention and the ones who follow them, I say thank you.  Thank you for making this city one I was proud to live in, and one I am still very proud to write for.

Licentiate Column 14/06/12: Free Gifts in Magazines (and what they say about you).

June the first is a momentous day. Yes, it’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I know how much we all care about that. Yes, Forbidden Fruit is about to kick off the Irish Festival circuit and thus the official start of Irish Summer. And yes, these are all excellent excuses for total inebriation.

June the first is also an important day for frugal women the country over, for June the first is the day that Glamour UK comes out in Ireland – complete with free Benefit cosmetics. Every June Glamour will give away Benefit swag, newsagents will get incredibly annoyed at the amount of punctured plastic pockets and stolen face primers and beauty junkies will buy copies in bulk and leave the surplus paper in their local recycling bins. People will claim their luxury sample size primers, have a flick through a magazine which makes you worry if everyone is kinkier than you (short answer – probably not, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re happy) and hopefully not file it away for future reference.

Today I bought four, count ‘em, FOUR copies of Glamour. This is not reverting to type. I love magazines, but my shopping list usually consists of luxury biannual tomes, thick as the Book of Kells, usually full of Cindy Sherman pictures and chimpanzees in Prada (it’s conceptual, dahling). These magazines are usually called something like Blorft or Zip! and will invariably have a cover image of a supermodel or obese person in the nip or a slightly obscure but actually incredibly mainstream person like Bjork swaddled in cotton wool, diamonds and a smattering of neon pigeon shit.

I also buy hard-to-get foreign magazines where the editorials are populated entirely by beautiful transsexual women or frosty Scandinavians. The covers are clean, severe and as close to blank as a brand new A4 drawing pad as possible. The title will have a lot of umlauts or dashes through the letter ‘O’ and the contents will sometimes scare me so much that I’m glad that I can’t understand the text.

Sometimes I will just buy a magazine because it looks like it could be a prop in a Wes Anderson film (The Gentlewoman), or Sophia Coppola’s latest effort (Lula). Sometimes I will buy a magazine because it seems smart, but it is always just pretentious and a little bit sad. Once, I bought a fashion magazine that was about… drum roll.. people who write for fashion magazines. Proof that the fashion industry will one day eat itself. But the magazines really do tie the room together when you fan them out of a coffee table. Martha Stewart taught me that.

In a way, buying these magazines isn’t a measure in the pretension mentioned above, because they are often heavy and unwieldy, and so are totally unsuitable for reading on public transport. If no-one sees you being pretentious, then you’re not pretentious. You’re just being you, which altogether may be a much more depressing prospect.

The Reading List: DIY Couture

I love sewing, I really do. I have a sewing machine. Using it for an hour or so is the equivalent of a day of yogic breathing, it is just that calming (providing a needle doesn’t snap and jab me in the face). My trouble is that, when it comes to making clothes, my measuring tapes will go the way of my kirby grips and one sock in every pair and disappear into some kind of limbo, never to be seen again.

This is the first thing that I noticed about ‘DIY Couture’ by Rosie Martin. No need for a tape measure, no patterns to cut out, no dreaded toiles. And yet, these are no sad sack dress DIYs; you can make real, wearable clothes with simple variations in almost no time at all. It’s the wave of the future.

After an initial introduction showing you the (very) basic skills you’ll have to master, Martin shows you how to make ten different items, from a simple a-line skirt to more complicated garments.  We can also see eight different variations of each item, which have been helpfully split into collections.  Above is the delightfully whimsical tea picnic collection, but there’s also a clean monochromatic collection, a disco colour-clash collection that wouldn’t look out of place in American Apparel and a classic neutral collection, amongst others.

The layout and design is simple and faultless.  Instructions are clear, concise and amply illustrated – none of this ‘attach section c to subsection a and did we mention you need an serger?  No? Well, tough’ stuff that can so often pop up in so-called step-by-step sewing books.

What’s also great about this book is the room for manoeuvre.  If you’re a creative person who has little to no training and wants to make her own clothes while putting her own creative stamp on things, this is a great place to start.  If you’re an experienced seamstress (and the vast majority of us are not), this book may not be for you.

DIY Couture: Create Your Own Fashion Collection‘ is by Rosie Martin and published by Laurence King.  It is out now.

Licentiate Column 07/06/12: How to Dress for a Job Interview

I’m a bit late posting last week’s Licentiate column because, oddly enough, I was at a job interview!  Life imitating art and all that…

The world of work is changing. It grows, it evolves. In Ireland, it mutates at a pace that would surprise Professor X. In a country as small as ours, you have to have a diverse skillset to get ahead (or be able to hold your potential boss’ child to ransom with your laser-beam vision). And why would we have it any other way?

In a country where nearly a third of people my age are unemployed, it’s good to know that at least Mick Wallace can wear pink sporting jerseys to the Dail and develop a poor Billy Connelly impression while humming and hawing over paying his taxes. He’s a multi-tasker, that man of ours.

The typical nine to five no longer exists for the entry level worker. My sister works in finance from seven am to six pm most days, apparently because she’s on Paris time (this is unfortunately, very different from actually being in Paris). Another sister is a teacher. Several of my friends are journalists and editors. I’ve worked out, on a sliding scale, that the higher their pay is, the more casual the workplace dresscode is. No wonder pajamas were originally worn by super-rich people and that Mark Zuckerberg wears that hoodie all the time. It makes sense now.

The trouble is not so much in what you wear when you get the job, but what you wear when you’re still trying to get hired. If an interviewer is undecided about you, then how you present yourself may prove to be the tipping point.

I remember chatting with a group of London bankers in a pub in Cork. One of them told me that he would never hire a candidate wearing a pinstripe suit, because ‘pinstripes are for senior management’. I doubt very much that he was trying to shock or impress me with a) his sartorial nous or b) that fact that he could hire and fire people. ‘Pinstripes are for senior management’ is such a banal statement that it just might be true.

Imagine being that poor schmoe in the pinstripe suit and not getting a job because you had the extreme audacity to rock a white vertical stripe. It’s hard to imagine not getting a job because of your clothes. Then again, it’s hard to imagine getting a job almost anywhere if you turn up in a tracksuit, with soverign ring bling accessories and the whiff of Marlboro Lights clinging to your person.

It’s equally hard to sort out an outfit for a smart-casual workplace. Heel or no heels? Are bright colours acceptable? Hair – up or down?

It’s probably best to sort out your outfit only after you’ve sorted out your portfolio, memorised your CV and found the perfect answer to the tricky ‘so, what are your weaknesses?’ questions. Then, you can pick the shoes.

The only piece of advice I have to offer is this – dress to fit the role you’re applying for. It’s the only way to win. Secondly, dress to fit yourself. You don’t want to rip a hole in your best too-small vintage dress when you’re trying to make an energetic point. Trust me. I’ve been there.

Dublin – The Instagram Edition

I just got back from a weekend in Dublin, which was fun. However, it was punctuated with a bout of food poisoning, which was not fun. Nor fun at all. The aim was to go to Forbidden Fruit in Sunday, catch Grimes’ set, meet some friends and eat some nice food. I managed all of those (kinda) so, in conclusion, a good weekend.

20120605-110732.jpg

The weather forecast was not on my side from the outset.

20120605-110855.jpg

This is what distracted me on the train ride down. The woman sitting next to me put on a pair of medical gloves to read her newspaper and handle food, which was pretty interesting if you consider that a packed train carriage might not be the best place for a germophobe.

20120605-111308.jpg

I accidentally-on-purpose ordered a massive pork burrito at Cafe Azteca.

20120605-111630.jpg

I ate it ALL. And that was my downfall. I woke up the next day feeling incredibly rough but I had to get to Grimes. HAD. TO. I dragged myself on the Luas and got to see the final half of her set. She was amazing. Totally worth it.

20120605-112109.jpg

Photo by Sean Smyth – you you check out his Flickr for some great Forbidden Fruit photos that have not been processed with crappy instagram filters.

20120605-112348.jpg

I managed a chat with Sinead and her lovely friend Laura before I slowly deflated like a sad balloon animal and had to leave. They are both really well-dressed.

20120605-112709.jpg

This is what I wore, which had to be slightly modified because of the cold. And by that I mean I put my spare pair of socks on my hands to warm them up and I don’t care who knows it.

20120605-113100.jpg

After a sixteen hour power nap I was feeling a bit better and ready for brunch and black tea with a friend in Sixty6.

20120605-113246.jpg

20120605-113333.jpg

I had a rummage through the second hand book section in Chapters. It’s the best place for affordable books in the city, even if they do put the fashion books next to those on the occult and witchcraft…

20120605-113619.jpg

This is what kept me sane on the train ride home. And so a weekend away has chewed me up and spat me out again.