The Reading List: Yayoi Kusama

When it comes to beautiful books, 2012 has been the year of Vogue and the year of Yayoi Kusama.  Both have long, complex histories, illustrious collaborators, stretches of pure creativity and artistic stagnancy and, in the later periods of their respective lives, worldwide respect and more than a smidge of personal triumph.

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The only difference is that Vogue is a publication based on the work of thousands of people, while Yayoi Kusama is but one very enigmatic person.  This Rizzoli monograph attempts to cover effectively the work of an artist whose career has spanned seven decades and skimmed the best of Pop, Op and conceptual art, working with conventional techniques and installation, both obscure and popular (especially with her collaboration with Louis Vuitton) all with one unifying thread; the polka dot.

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It is a valiant attempt.  The book is sumptuously designed, the paper dense and almost porous, the type blending seamlessly with layout.  No blank white spaces here, instead colour abounds; even the monochromatic pictures of Kusama’s 60’s ‘happenings’ seem to burst forth, even if only from a grainy newspaper cutting.  This is more than a straight retrospective. As the nature of Kusama’s work is to involve the viewer, we also get the reactions people had to her work in the form of press clippings and quotes, which are scattered in with pictures of her work instead of shunted to the back in a neglected appendix.

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The first few pages are full-scale, bleeding-out-of-the-pages Kusama patterns.  One after the other they are revealed, page flick after page flick.  It is seductive, hypnotic.  The patterns of dots and sinuous lines reel you in, which sets the stage for the rest of the book as well as the real meat – the essays.

Ten different contributors tackle ten different aspects of Kusama’s career.  While it may seem like slight overload, it is interesting to read a fresh perspective, to get a fresh pair of eyes to look over things for you that you may have missed previously – of note is the essay ‘Love Forever’ by Olivier Zahm, the founder of Purple Prose who is not particularly shy about free love himself.

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All images from Yayoi Kusama, edited by Louise Neri and Takaya Goto.  The book is published by Rizzoli and is out now.

Licentiate Column 29/11/12: Vouchers for All, and to All a Good Night

Vouchers don’t always provoke this response, you know.

It is now the last week of November, so we have reached the third stage in the hellish Advent calendar titled ‘The Run-up to Christmas’. This is the part where you start to feel guilty about not having bought any presents yet – surprisingly, this is a good place to be. We still have another three stages to go, the final one culminating in fighting with panicked Secret Santa-ers over the last Ted Baker sock set in TK Maxx.

I am duty-bound to tell you what kind of party clothes to wear (sparkly over sheer) and what kind of lingerie to buy for your significant other (sheer over sparkly) but, in truth, the best Christmas present to buy pretty much anyone is a voucher (my preference is Amazon, being mercifully bereft of sheer or sparkly stuff).

It is hard to wrap a voucher – or surprisingly easy, depending on your outlook. On asking my sister for an Amazon voucher, she instead asked for a list of books that I wanted so she could wrap them herself. It seemed like an awful lot of effort to me when I could have just bought them myself with my voucher. Then again, I probably just need a Christmas special to warm my cold, dead heart.

They may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but I love getting vouchers as gifts. I am such a persnickety, contrary person that it’s often hard for loved ones to choose something for me. I also suffer from a condition known as ‘Weird Boob and Leg-itis’ which means that I’m such a strange shape that clothes rarely fit the way they should. If you need help with which vouchers to buy for who, I’m here for you.

The Cover All Bases Person – The Secret Santa person, the person who has eclectic but decidedly mainstream tastes, the vaguely trendy male cousins, the friend who is so worryingly preoccupied with her dress size that you are now scared to ask what it is – get an ASOS voucher. For those not in the know, ASOS is a global shopping platform with its own mainline range as well as a glut of other retailers. You can also support vintage sellers and just-got-started designers in their Marketplace section.

The Person Who’s Always Banging on About Needing Thermal Underwear – Marks and Spencer. People who think about thermals also think quite frequently about comfort food (I am one of these people) and Marks has an admirable selection of both.

The College Student – Topshop. Is an explanation necessary?

The Person Who has Recently Decided to Dress Like a Grown-Up - There is a crossroads in a woman’s life at the intersection of ‘Good Quality’ and ‘But I don’t Have Any Money’ and Cos is the recently-constructed bypass. The Swedish label sells its wares in Brown Thomas, so buy a BT voucher and point her in the right direction come January sales time.

For everyone else – a book token. Fashion can’t be the solution to every problem (but God knows at least I’m trying).

Sarah SMASH! A Christmas Wishlist

I am having one of those days where everything irritates me, so much so that I want to do a Dr Bruce Banner and ‘Hulk SMASH’ every minor obstacle.

I can’t believe that I burned ANOTHER batch of peanut butter blondies! AAAAAAAGH SMASH!

PRs not getting back to me? SMASH!

Finding out a horrible thing about an ex on Twitter, of all places? Oversharing SMASH!

Wireless keyboard breaking down mid-post and having to use the mother’s dinky laptop instead? DOUBLE SMASH!

Chris Brown’s latest tirade of misogynistic abuse against a woman he’s never met, again on Twitter? SMASH! SMASH ALL OF THE THINGS!

I knew I was getting a bit too worked up when I read about F. Scott Fitzgerald lifting parts from his wife’s diary (in the excellent ‘Zelda’ by Nancy Milford) and spent a good fifteen minutes wishing to SMASH! Sarah SMASH! Fitzgerald’s plagiarism and flagrant disrespect of his wife’s privacy! SMASH! To be honest though, I think Scott and Zelda probably put each other through enough without me ripping off my stretchy vest Hulk Hogan-style and demanding to be tag teamed into one of their brawls.

When I get worked up like this, I am at least thankful that I’m not passive aggressive. Not like SOME people I could mention…*

When I’m done congratulating myself on that, I like to look at pictures of nice, usually unattainable things. This is my calming, life-saving fantasy Christmas wishlist.

Mape Petite Black jacket from Acne

But I’ll settle for… A copy of Acne Paper

The ‘Edie’ gift set from Nars’ Andy Warhol Collection.  It comes in a film canister!

But I’ll settle for… Kate Moss for Rimmel Matte Lipstick in 113 (an Edie-ish nude shade)

A trip to Thailand to hang out with my friend Nicola

But I’ll settle for… A Thai green curry and a well-timed Facebook chat.

*joke.

Licentiate Column 22/11/12: The Menace of the Floordrobe

A few confessions. I have never used fake tan before. Never. I have never had eyelash or hair extensions. I own precious few bodycon dresses – they are all stretched from years of collegiate afterparty exertions. Ridiculous heels have been tossed aside for sturdier, grown up boots. The clothes I own do all the work for me. High impact? Go with sequins? Everyday schlub? Denim is always within reach.

No racking my brains for interesting outfit combinations, not I. I have become set in my ways, low maintenance in only one aspect of my life. I think this is pretty good going for a person in her twenties who has not yet succumbed to the fantasy that she is a character in ‘Girls’ based entirely on her own lack of personal direction.

The low maintenance me separates clothes into two piles; occasion wear, which stays in the wardrobe because that is the place it is least likely to leave, and everyday wear, which is the essential nucleus of the single-cell organism that is the floordrobe.

Floordrobes are what happens when a certain set of conditions (stress, a packed schedule, lack of space) meets a human being with a particular personality type (scattered, usually). It’s not necessarily a bad thing. My best friend has a floordrobe and a chairdrobe, but with a newborn baby, who could quibble with that?

Floordrobes don’t have to be on your floor either. they can be anywhere as long as it’s not a space designated for storage – much too logical. On top of an appliance, usually a heater, is a popular choice, as is the back of the desk chair. My floordrobe space is my bed, a solitary messy island floating on a sea of pristine, untouched carpet (save for the empty Snax packets that have come to rest behind the bedside locker).

The floordrobe aficionado is either blissfully unaware of the negative impact it has on her wellbeing or stingingly cogent, but somehow powerless to clean it up. It’s as if the September Issue melded with Poltergeist – you think you have all your clothes organised and neatly in place, but let your eye stray from its original point and presto, everything has rearranged itself back on the bed. Somewhere, Anna Wintour is tutting and she’s not quite sure why.

The everyday floordrobe is in a state or organised chaos. I say ‘organised’ because every item of clothing tends to be the same colour, which makes it look a little more tidy and a little less like the vomit of a much-loved Sesame Street character. Unfortunately, this makes finding specific things very difficult. I have to wade through several pairs of black jeans and tops to get to one of my two blacks skirts. I am a blind person, trying to identify items of clothing through touch alone. The only item I can locate with ease in my floordrobe is, ironically, camouflage print.

As I type this, I realise that I spend far too much time in my easy-to-locate pajamas. I may have to leave the land of flannel and fuzzy leopard print and go back to black. Wish me luck.

Innocent Knit Up at The Pavilion, Cork

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll know that I got involved in the Innocent Irish Big Knit this year. It’s as easy as pie; knit a pile of teeny, tiny hats, send them to Innocent, they put the hats on bottle of smoothie for sale, and with every hatted bottle sold, Innocent donate 25 cent to Age Action, which supports elderly people all over the country.

If you know me well, you know that I have a phobia of knitting, bought on mostly by my third class teacher Mrs O’Keeffe, who had zero patience for nine year-old girls with two left thumbs. That year, we had to knit a cushion made out of six different knitted patches. My friend Collette’s looked perfect as she’d been knitting with her nan for years. A hobo would have scoffed in disdain at mine. It was so crap and misshapen and embarrassingly small that even the filling got sick of it and tried to jump ship in between burst seams and dropped stitches.

So, when it came to re-learning knitting for the Big Knit, I turned to Collette and not Mrs O’Keeffe. And this time around, I found out that not only do I love knitting, I am actually kinda good at it. My mother, who is the Simon Cowell of the knitted garment, was borderline impressed.

I knitted these ALL BY MYSELF!

With a little help from James and the ever-accommodating Aisling at The Pavilion, Cork, I somehow managed to host a Knit Up, attended by total novices, tiny hat maestros and the occasional person who just wanted a free smoothie and a pattern leaflet. It was most excellent fun and I did by far the most constructive thing I’ve done so far this winter by teaching my friend Hayret how to knit. Her little purple hat is a source of great pride to me (and, I hope, to her as well).  We had a tiny pile of hats after a few hours.  Banter, smoothies and knitting – it was pretty good going.

The Force compels you to knit more tiny hats. Yoda says so.

Innocent and Age Action are accepting hats until the 30th of November, so get them in at your local Age Action shop or send them to Innocent Towers at 120/121 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2.

Licentiate Column 15/11/12: Ugly vs. Ugg-ly

Look guys, bridal Uggs! I think the most diplomatic way to describe these things would be to say that they’re really… something.

Finally, the moment is upon us. Ugg boots are no longer a thing. The death knell rang for me not when news came of the Australian shoe company’s 31% drop in sales, but when my youngest sister came home from college for the weekend and forgot to bring her much-punished booties back with her. They were nothing but an afterthought, relegated to the post-secondary school detritus of dirty clothes, old economics notes and blurry, printed out pictures of friends from that fifth year trip to New York.

To that I say ‘good’. And then, I say ‘good riddance’. Uggs are not for Irish people. They are not built for our weather, as rain and slush will soak and degrade natural fibres, not is it good for our little legs. Skinny jeans tucked into calf-length moon boots? This is a look that suits no-one (even Kate Moss couldn’t pull it off convincingly).

What is unusual is that, in Australia, the Ugg is not a fashion item. They’re worn as slippers and by surfers who need to warm up after a vigorous wrestle with the waves. According to the Ugg Wikipedia page (only the most reputable sources for this column), the Ugg is considered ‘daggy’ and part of the ‘bogan’ culture. I read it, nodded sagely, them immediately looked both words up – they both approximate to ‘unfashionable and scruffy’. If the Australians, who are famed for their earthiness and lack of pretension, think that the Ugg is vulgar then it really must be vulgar. Uggs are ugg-ly. To paraphrase Regina George, they’re fugg-ly.

While one ugly shoe whimpers and dies, other ugly shoes are going from strength to unfortunate strength. Jeffrey Campbell Litas, which look nothing short of what a horse might wear to a Berlin sex club, continue to be bafflingly popular with the young ‘uns. At least they are ugly in the name of fashion and not ugly in the name of bland, inoffensive comfort. They are interestingly ugly, possibly even majestically ugly. Litas are sculptural. Uggs are the visual equivalent of accidentally stepping in a large blob of mashed potato, all squashed and starchy.

It’s rather interesting, this leaning towards the ugly shoes. As recently as ten years ago, the prevailing trend was for spike or kitten heels with pointed toes, fripperies designed to be sexy – they were womens shoes made almost exclusively for men. For those who disagree, please try cramming your foot into a pointed shoe. Your feet don’t resemble triangles for a good reason.

It’s an ordeal that reminds one of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, who have no toes and force themselves into such contraptions instead of comfy, orthopedic shoes to throw unsuspecting children off the scent.

While the ugly shoe is visually offensive, I am forever thankful that the option exists to wear them. Shoes are designed to be more than aesthetically appealing (or unappealing). Because of shoes, we can walk safely, exercise without destroying our arches, gain a height advantage in tricky situations and choose whether we want to be sexy or ugly on any particular day. That’s a concrete achievement for something that only goes on your feet.

Diet Coke Fashion Friday: Fashion Books Aren’t Just For Christmas (Part I)

I KNOW, I KNOW.  It’s far too early to be thinking about Christmas lists.

Actually no, it’s not really.  August is early. November is OK (but maybe a little bit questionable).  Now is the time where the start of gift lists and wish lists are starting to form in your mind, where an idea or a spark hopes to develop itself into THE BEST GIFT EVER GIVEN.

If you can’t think of the best gift that has yet to be given, let me suggest a book.  Books are great.  Unlike electronics, they don’t crash or freeze, they are incredibly tactile and the feeling of looking at a picture on a page is far superior to looking at one on a screen (it’s the glossiness, I think).

I’ve got some fashion book choices for the various people in your life.  Well, the people in your life who like fashion.  For everyone else, I’d suggest a book token.

1.  For the fashion connoisseur, the friend who knows everything there is to know, who can out-Lagerfeld Lagerfeld and scare Colin McDowell with their knowledge of industry trivia, it’s perfectly acceptable to pull out the big guns.  The out of print, highly covetable (and quite expensive) Antonio’s Girls by Antonio Lopez will mean you get free styling advice for years to come.  A compendium of sketches and photographs of muses including Jerry Hall and Tina Chow, this beautiful book by the late Lopez is something of a collectors item.

Honourable mention - Karl Lagerfeld’s Illustrated Fashion Journal of Anna Piaggi

Photo via Captain Magnets

2.  For the down-in-the-dumps friends, there’s nothing better than a flick through The Cheap Date Guide to Style for to restore you to your normal fashion equilibrium.  2012 has not been a great year for a lot of people (myself included) – the economy, the weather and the ever-looming tiny chance of apocalypse have a tendency to make a person feel less sure of themselves.  Cheap Date is a great book to make a person feel good and refine their style in a totally non-judgemental, self-celebratory way.  It’s amazing what a tiny change can make in a person’s outlook and this book reflects that.

Honourable mention – Style Statement: Live by Your Own Design by Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte

3. For the non-fiction friend who just can’t stop reading biographies, the life of September Issue breakout star and creative director of American Vogue Grace Coddington is a prudent gift choice.  I haven’t read Grace: A Memoir yet (it’s not out until November 22nd) but Vogue have already published an excerpt with suitably scandalous tidbits online – if a woman can mistake a condom for a chocolate mint then you know her outlook on life is going to be interesting.  The book will be accompanied with sketches from Coddington’s own hand.  They are all incredibly cute.

Honourable mention - D.V by Diana Vreeland

4. For the modeliser friend – the friend who has a slightly unhealthy obsession with models, I present to you Kate: The Kate Moss Book.  Published by powerhouse Rizzoli Books, it has eight, count ‘em, eight different covers.  It is the definitive collection of images of the ever-chameleonic Moss. I don’t get the model-worship thing – even after just researching an article on Moss and her career I still don’t gt it – but I do get that model-worshippers will love this ridiculously heavy slab of a book.

Honourable Mention – Vogue Model: The Faces of Fashion (which, surprise surprise, also has Kate Moss on the over)

6. For the friend who wants to break into fashion media, this is the book to buy.  Granted, it might be a little bit dry to give a friend an academic textbook for Christmas, but they’ll thank you later.  This book goes through all aspects of fashion writing, from journalism to PR and everything in between.  No stone unturned – no angle unexamined, Writing For The Fashion Business will teach the reader exactly what it promises on the cover. It’s pricey, but well worth it.

Honourable mention - Mastering Fashion Styling

Licentiate Column 08/11/12: Christmas and Glitter and Sparkles, Oh My!

Last year’s Christmas Boots ad. Hopefully they’ll top it this year by with a combi gift box/snowball fight set to a bangin’ dubstep remix of ‘Here Comes The Girls’.

Hey girlfriend! Christmas party season is just around the corner and… um, sorry, I think I might have had a bit of a brainstorm there. All the Boots ads have got to me. Looking at the Brown Thomas Christmas window displays has flash-frozen my brain. The scent of the Plasti-Kote trees in Woodies have given me leave of my senses, like a modern shaman on a voyage of hallucinogenic, sequin-studded discovery.

I look down at a piece I’m supposed to be writing and I realise that it has somehow turned from five hundred words on fashion to a festive gift guide. You want, inexplicably, to buy fashion books for everyone in your family? Then I’ve got the list for you, friend. I don’t care if all Uncle Kevin knows is home brew and rearing greyhounds, he’s just going to love the new Carine Roitfeld fashion book. Tres chic!

It is far, far too early to think about the Christmas season. It seems as if it’s timed to coincide with the weather; when it gets incredibly dark and grey we think of hurling ourselves into a bath filled with spangles and all the inventive things we could do with leftover turkey, only a handful of which actually involve eating it.

Over the past few years, I have talked about how to dress for Christmas parties, how to dress for Christmas Day, how to dress for New Year’s Eve. The truth is that there is only one crucial difference between Christmas dressing and everyday dressing, regardless of occasion. That difference is this – more glitter.

The next two months shall henceforth be known as The Spangling (also an excellent name for a horror movie/Rob Schneider vehicle). Drifts of discarded tinsel and hexagonal foil shapes will shore up outside The Savoy each weekend. Eyelids will droop languorously with the weight of all the sparkly stuff.

I will be among these soiled, droopy doves. If there is a season in which one can look like Coco the Clown in Studio 54, it is Christmas – who am I to argue with that? It is much too cold to go out baring legs and breasts; a woman has to manufacture her own personal glamour somehow – that somehow is sparkle.

Without sparkle, clubs and parties would be full of wannabe Captain Oates’, men and women not wearing enough clothes and solemnly intoning, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time’ whenever a cheeky fag is in order. We will then find them frozen solid, Silk Cut Silvers glued to their frozen lips, or perhaps not at all (probably because they’ve got sick of the cold and went to get a Burger King before hailing a taxi home).

I salute these brave, glamourous people. if it was not for the people who celebrated Christmas too early, what would we have? A gloomy, grey few months without any sparkle.

The Reading List: Antonio Lopez…

…Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco by Roger and Mauricio Padilha.

Brought to you by the brother team behind the Stephen Sprouse book, Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco is heavy on the fashion and art, profligate with the sex and mercifully sparing with any disco tendencies.  As a luxe retrospective of the man who changed fashion illustration into a fairly straightforward representation of clothing into a glamorous, high-burning lifestyle to aspire to, it is comprehensive, but not bleatingly sympathetic.

The book charts Lopez’ work, as it goes from black and white Bridget Riley’esque Op Art illustrations for WWD, to the louche lines and Toulouse-Lautrec inspired saturated colour arrangements of Maxime de la Falaise, to his own hyper-sexualised clean drawings, which would become one of the most obvious signifiers of his era.  His style totally typified the 80’s – stark, one coloured, androgynous faces of many races, most with contrasting slashes of blusher and deep, dark eyeshadow.

The book is not just illustration;  Lopez used his Instamatic without thought for the prohibitive price of film – his photos make the viewer feel voyeuristic, so sexual are they.  The sheer volume of exposed supermodel breast on show makes the reader feel as if they’ve gone through a secret cache of private photos on a famous person’s phone. Such is the power of instant film and the Lopez clique.

With those are many, many photos of Lopez and his partner, Juan Ramos, out and about, enjoying beach holidays with Karl Lagerfeld and horsing around with Jerry Hall.  The mix of biography and retrospective is hardly surprising – The work of Lopez was radically intertwined with all other aspects of his life.  He socialised with his muses (even becoming briefly engaged to Jerry Hall) and stayed with Ramos as an artistic and business partner long after their romantic relationship had waned.

Perhaps the best part of the book is the selection of pages from his diary – mostly sketches, some photos, scraps and a smattering of words.  The breadth of his talent was ever-expansive. Through these diary pages we see a distilled essence of what shines through the whole book – love.  It is pure, unabashed love which powered Lopez’ work –  love of life, of colour, of form, of the fulfillment brought through work and taking advantage of every available opportunity.

Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco, by Roger and Mauricio Padilha, is published by Rizzoli and is out now.

Licentiate Column 01/11/12: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

What I think I look like in pajamas. The reality is more heffalumpish. Pic by Nina Leen for LIFE

Are you cold? I’m cold. I’m bloody freezing. My toes have turned to icy nubs that jolt me awake in chilly shock whenever I shift about in my sleep. Two hot water bottles and the occasional hot port have no alleviating effect. The fuzzy pink Penney’s pajamas I discovered in the airing cupboard make me a little warmer, not that that’s any consolation to the people in hot countries who slave away (in some cases literally) to make us our cut-price winter warmers.

I have taken to working in bed. The pajamas stay. I lump on brightly coloured shawls, hats and jewellery – the jewellery is a smokescreen to make me believe that I am making some kind of effort. It’s like aspirin – I don’t know quite how it works, but it really does. I look like a person who has gone on a gap year to Peru and decided that the locals know where it’s at, wardrobe-wise.

I think that this is perfectly acceptable. I still get my work done, I get to stay warm and no-one sees me looking like an ersatz bag lady/Olsen twin. It’s not my priority to look nice, or even presentable, when I’m at home by myself – the priority is to be cozy or, as a friend of mine who lives in Copenhagen says, hygge. ‘Hygge’ is a great word. It may even be a cozier word than ‘cozy’.

When I step outside the house, though, I am less ‘hygge’ than ‘hyggledy piggeldy’. I have yet to master the gentle art of layering that comes so easily to tall, sylphette women and less to to shortish, vaguely lumpish ones with, y’know, curves n’stuff.

Still, we shall struggle valiantly on, trying to strike that balance between beguiling and well-swaddled. Until the average person’s social life revolves around wearing pjs and never, ever going outside, we will have to spend our time socialising, running errands and attempting to have some semblance of a romantic life wrapped in several layers of fuzzy fibres, making a person look like a less jolly Sta Puft man.

It’s not a lot to ask to want to look both presentable and be warm during the wintertime. Here are a few tips.

1) Take care of your bod. Your face is the one part of your body that will repeatedly be exposed – and the elements we are exposed to are harsh ones. Take your multivitamins, change to a richer moisturiser as the weather will dry out your skin and invest in a few hot oil treatments for your hair. A healthy, glowy person wrapped in a soiled blanket will look better than an unhealthy sniffling one in Burberry.

2) Embrace technology. More specifically, embrace the new generation of thermal underwear, which adds no bulk but is still soft, breathable and snuggly warm. Best of all – it’s available in most high-street stores.

3) Proportions are key. Wearing a lot on top? Keep it slim on the bottom. Skinny jeans (with thermal leggings underneath) tucked into mid-heeled ankle boots will nicely balance out whatever millefeuille duvet-like concoctions we can come up with.