Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 31/01/13: Monochrome and How to Wear it

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l-r ASOS, Marc Jacobs, Zooey Deschanel in vintage

Sometimes a person will look at a trend as it materialises on a runway, and have a distinctly maternal reaction to it. By maternal, I don’t mean the urge to comfort and coddle whatever stern-looking tween is wearing said trend (as much as she might need it). That’s a bit creepy.

This is maternal in the Irish Mammies sense, which is the unwanted thought explosion of “Mother of Jesus, she’ll get a cold in her kidneys/I wouldn’t let any daughter of mine wear THAT at the table/My Jimmy had a pair of dungarees like that when he was small, didn’t he?”. The Irish Mammies reaction is one borne out of incredulity – and there’s enough of that going around for all of us these days without even touching on the Prada flipflop/sock/wedge combo that Elle Fanning is so enamoured with.

One trend which may not put the scares up your mammy is monochrome. Black and white, worn together, in one item or in separates. It’s just that simple. “Sure, Father O’Reilly down the way has been wearing that kind of stuff for years and I always said what a distinguished looking man he was” should be a typical Mammy reaction – either that or “You’re looking a bit pale, you’d want to get a bit of colour into you”. Any owner of an Irish Mammy, whether real or as the voice of reason in your head, knows that once the ‘looking pale’ card gets whipped out, all bets are off and you have automatically lost whatever argument is to be had.

Ignore her. She does not know that monochrome is for all skin types. It is especially suited to very pale or very dark skin, giving a slightly unnerving checkerboard look if done correctly.

The easiest way to wear monochrome is a combo of black trousers and white shirt. Unfortunately, you may have to deflect unwanted male attention. Don’t worry – it’s not unwanted sexual advances you’ll be dodging, it’s orders for a rare steak and a bottle of Pinot P’lonk, thanks. Because, of course, you look like a waiter. Reclaiming the look from the service industry is made easier with the application of heels, liberal amounts of jewellery and a kick-ass black jacket that says, “I take no (food or drink) orders from no man”.

Of course, you may not want to wear what looks like a sombre suit, and that’s more than ok. Thanks to Marc Jacobs and Chanel, whose Spring/Summer 2013 shows were chock-a-block with monochromatic dresses in stripes, zig zags, chevrons and trippy Op-Art inspired prints, there is a monochrome tone for everyone. If you have an urge of go all Gallic and channel Brigitte Bardot in a horizontally striped tee, you can. If you want to make the maximum impact and look like a living magic eye picture, you can do that too.

It’s a trend that is brilliantly versatile in its simplicity. Pick two neutral colours, and wear them however you like. It could not be easier. If only we could see all other aspects of our lives in such black and white terms.

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Inspiration, Photography, Subculture

The Reading List: Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom…

… Pinup Photography’s Golden Era.

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The gentle art of pinup photography has been interpreted in a few different ways, first as enjoyable smut, then as kitsch, finally as a postfeminist emancipation proclamation. Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom aims to be all three as well as a fairly enjoyable look back at the career of a very modern woman – both as subject and photographer, usually at the same time.

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Pinup fans will know Bunny Yeager as the woman who partnered with the legendarily versatile, befringed model Bettie Page in the short-lived, but very productive series of pictures that made both their professional reputations. As well as a jobbing photographer, Yeager herself was a model. She would often take self portraits in the pinup style. You can see her looking demure in a bikini, auburn pigtails on each shoulder. A few years later she’s buxom and brazen in black negligee, platinum blonde hair solidifying the contrast. Her ability to transform herself for the camera is remarkable. It’s not hard to agree with the theory that Cindy Sherman was influenced by Yeager’s self portraits.  Here’s a fun fact – Yeager reportedly took those famous photographs of Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in Dr.No. No better woman for the job.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABunny Yeager has had a greater impact on the world at large than just nude photographs (of which there are absolute truckloads in this book).  In the forward, Dita von Teese hit the pro-sex nail on the head when she says “By her (Bunny’s) actions, she is challenging what it actually means to be feminist, to let the last taboos about sexuality and nudity go and at the same time to be in control of it all.  This is what it means to be truly liberated”.

The reader may agree or disagree with this sentiment.  However, it is difficult for the reader to spot anything unsavoury about Yeager’s work – all her subjects are ridiculously fresh and healthy looking, whether sunbathing or riding horses or monkeying around (in some cases literally; Yeager loved using animals in pictures).  No-one is inflicting or in pain.  No-one is uncomfortably contorted. In fact, no-one is engaging in anything particularly sexual.  It is all very innocent.

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The photographs, which are split into categories (cheesecake, self-portraits, photo stories and so on) are accompanied with either analysis by Petra Mason or excerpts from the many photography books that Yeager published in her lifetime. Carefully chosen, these snippets are all about women celebrating and not subjecting themselves.  It’s interesting that, over the fifty to sixty years since these photos were taken, pinups have gone from fodder for titillation to a legitimate (if not highbrow) art form. Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom reflects that change, as it is a book primarily written by women for women – although like-minded men will certainly enjoy it too.

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Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom by Petra Mason is published by Rizzoli and is out now.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography

I’m in Stereo and You’re So Monotone

I am loving the monochrome trend, I really am.  As a journo, you tend to look at things with an analytical eye, but I really do just want to run off with a pile of black-and-white patterned clothes and play dress up until my little heart bursts.

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1. Nina Leen 2. Lisa Larsen 3. The Shrimp and Ossie Clark by David Bailey 4. Seeberger Freres 5. Vulok Vulovak 6. Bridget Riley 8. Unknown 9. Jodie Kidd by Fridemann Hauss 9. Unknown

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 24/01/12: Me Dress Sexy One Day

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The search phrase ‘dress sexy’ brought up too many depressing options so here’s a picture of a kitten that looks like Ed Sheeran instead.

I’ve been single for almost a year. For a serial monogamist like myself, it’s an interesting, if slightly alien feeling. I feel as if I should throw a party – but, then again, ‘party of one’ has been the leitmotif of my 2012. There’s no point in dragging it out into 2013.

It also seems pointless to divide progress and setbacks in as arbitrary a timeframe as a year. Why should the last day in December mark the end of one regimen and the start of another? And why (I shout at no-one in particular) should the start of a new regimen be marked by the coldest month of the year?

It’s bloody freezing. I want nothing more than to stay in bed, slurping Ovaltine and developing an insulating layer of blubber while the vibrations caused by my younger sister as she pounds on the treadmill directly below send me to a reassuring sleepytime.

Being single is a positive thing. It has taught me the wonder of mid-heeled shoes and t-shirt dresses as well as the wonder of sleeping smack bang in the middle of a king-sized bed, surrounded by books yet to be read.

However, like my secondary school math skills, both my flirting and sexy dressing skills have atrophied. Gone are the plunging v-necks and pencil skirts. The last time I wore a pair of high heels was in May. As I type this, I am disturbed by that discovery. I love heels and pencil skirts and plunging v-necks. I make no bones about this love or how ridiculous it is to reduce women to ‘slutty’ stereotypes on the basis of how much skin they choose to reveal, bobble-fleshed, into the cruel January air. It’s all a matter of choice and consent.

I suppose I started really thinking about sexy dressing today, when I described a denim shirt with pictures of Bart Simpson all over it as a ‘man magnet’ on my Facebook profile. Of course, the only men who would be attracted to such a shirt would be either ten years old or still living in the nineties, which would make me either a time traveller or a paedo. I am neither, by the way.

So, why, if I love sexy stuff, did I stop wearing it? When did I stop with the sexy? It’s a question a lot of women ask themselves as a new regime begins – it’s also a question women ask as we commence the rather annoying march towards Valentines Day. Bring on Lent, I say.

There are many reasons we do this, and none of them have anything to do with ‘letting go’ or whatever new phrase glossy magazines have invented to make women feel bad about themselves. They are the following: 1) It’s too cold. 2) I’m not very interested in looking sexy at the moment. 3) I deliberately dress like this to deflect unwanted attention. 4) Binding clothes are uncomfortable. 5) High heels are sore. 6) I’m doing a Sarah Silverman and am only slovenly in order to properly wow people with my designer clobber at awards ceremonies.

I’m going with reason No.6.

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Art, Inspiration, Photography

Nick Knight’s Flora: No Words, Just Pictures

Actually, a few words.

I’m so frazzled that I absentmindedly tried to drink from a candle this evening – and a lit, lavender-smelling one at that.

With that in mind, I present to you Nick Knight’s Flora series. Photographs of pretty flowers, but not as we know it.

You can find out more over on the SHOWSTUDIO website.

Pictures by Nick Knight via Honestly WTF and Trendland

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography

Five Inspiring Fashion TED Talks

It’s cold outside where I am. Really, really cold. Right now, I just want to spend my evenings at home, drinking custard and watching videos in bed. And so, that is what I am doing right now. Even the ‘drinking custard’ bit. I am drinking custard in bed. I answer to no mans.

Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of tv shows on my phone, because there’s no television where the bed is. This means a lot of Father Ted on 4OD and a lot of TED talks. Ted and TED. I just got that now, I swear.

TED is a nonprofit organisation dedicated to spreading worthwhile ideas. Two conferences are held per year and there are many offshoots. The videos are often illuminating, interesting, funny and quite often make me feel guilty about the amount of cartoons I watch when I could be flexing my brain a little bit harder.

Here are a few picks of the non-conventional fashion variety. Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell talks about why modelling isn’t a viable career choice, Isaac Mizrahi proves that the creative process isn’t necessarily logical or linear, former fashion photographer Rick Guidotti talks about the beauty in albinism and other genetic syndromes, Jessi Arrington talks thrift shopping in a very sweet video and Aimee Mullins, the Dazed and Confused cover girl (amongst MANY other things), talks about turning disability into ability and what it’s like to own a pair of custom-designer Alexander McQueen legs.

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Fashion, Photography, The Reading List

The Reading List – Tim Walker: Storyteller

Tim Walker is known for his fantastical, props-based, Photoshop-free fashion photography and portraiture. In the publishing world, he’s known for arm-achingly heavy coffee table books. Tim Walker: Storyteller is no exception.

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The book accompanies an exhibition of Walker’s work held in Somerset House. The exhibition closes on the 27th of January and if you’re in London at all, it is well worth a look. Original props and video are on display alongside photographs, which gives more context to essentially context-free photographs. It’s a visual feast, with photographs on display in packing cases, artfully arranged. It’s fashion photography at its best.

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The book is a continuation of the ideas presented in the exhibition, in gargantuan form. It is huge, tome-ish even, and printed on glossy paper. I left the book open in a room for a few hours and, on re-entering, was struck by the fragrance of paper and ink. This is an important aspect of reading for any self-respecting bibliophile or book fetishist.

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The book is low in words. In fact, save for Kate Bush’s short forward and a sprinkling of Walker quotes, the book is all gorgeous pictures. Walker is a bit like fashion Marmite, except in this case you either love him or you REALLY love him. Paired with the pictures are pages from personal scrapbooks, not unlike those found in his earlier book, Tim Walker: Pictures. Photos are culled mostly from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar fashion shoots as well as Walker’s stock of portraits; here Helena Bonham Carter and Polly Mellen (wrapped in a bin liner) rub shoulders with anonymous and interesting people picked off the street.

High quality but a little bit style over substance, this is still an ideal book for a Tim Walker fan.

Tim Walker: Storyteller is published by Thames & Hudson and is out now.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 17/01/12: Why the Government Isn’t Helping the Fashion Industry. At all.

Green ties are now offensive for a whole new reason.  Although this person wears it quite well (via).

What would you do with an extra €25,000? Would you pay off debts? Would you give it to the needy? Or would you just blow it on clothes?

That is the non-dilemma that the Irish government grappled with (all too briefly, I suspect) – like any good profligate, they chose the clothing option. If you’re going to go down with any ship, you might as well look good doing it. Back in July, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a tender for 10,000 green silk ties to be made to mark Ireland’s presidency of the EU, which starts this month. They also issued tenders for scarves and pins.

The value of this commission is not known. On the RTE website, it’s stated that tenders average out at about €25,000. If this is the case then the unit cost is €2.50 per tie. This leaves very little for a profit margin – if the ties were to be made in Ireland. In effect, the government were pumping a little money into the economy, but its very possible that it wasn’t ours.

The Irish fashion industry is growing both at home and abroad, but the manufacturing arm finds itself gradually shrinking in the face of escalating costs and fewer skilled workers. We don’t sew anymore. We work in IT. We power social networking, search engines, vital hardware components. Like the Victorian Paddies who built London roads and carved Tube tunnels into being, the Irish are now paving the streets of Silicon Valley.

We need these people. However, we also need people who can sew and cut fabric to go along with those who have a creative vision or a good business idea that needs realising.

In the grand scheme of the National Debt, this amount of money is barely pressed peanut shavings, let alone peanuts. It’s a drop in the ocean. It’s an amount brushed away easily, as if disdainfully flicked from the wrist of a Russian oligarch.

While €25,000 would not be enough to kickstart an entire industry, it would be enough money to start a small at-home fashion manufacturing business. It would be enough to set quite a few people on their way to becoming self-sufficient, making a profit, employing and training more people and hopefully going somewhere towards healing ourselves as a country. They might even make a few green silk ties in the process.

Irish fashion – made in Ireland and sold around the world? That’s what we need to think about. We have the talent, much of which is hemorrhaging across the Irish Sea every week. Now, all we need are the tools of manufacture.

I often talk about the importance of fashion in airy-fairy terms; it’s self expression, it’s a creative outlet, it’s essential to our being. It’s all materially insubstantial. It’s impossible to refute, however, what an important (and ever-growing) industry fashion manufacture is. We need to carve ourselves a bigger niche – even if all we make is 25,000 units of a certain green tie.

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Fashion

Sorcha O’Raghallaigh

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Just a little bit beautiful.  It’s always nice to see Irish designers do good, and even more so when they incorporate Irish influences into their work. O’Raghallaigh (who has designed for Lady Gaga, amongst liberally-clothed others) drew from Harry Clarke and incredibly overt, almost fanatically Catholic imagery for her latest collection.  The results are bonkers, but mostly brilliant.

The lookbook was shot by photographer Hugo Yanguela and styled by O’Raghallaigh.

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Photos from Sorcha O’Raghallaigh via Style Bubble

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography, Subculture, The Reading List

The Reading List: Where Were You?

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Oh, gosh.

Where to start?

‘Where Were You?’ is a book that charts the evolution of Irish street style from the Fifties until the turn of the century. Meticulously compiled over the past four years by the ever-diligent Garry O’Neill, this heavy book is a true rendering of what street style used to be, before Photoshop and shopping online made everyone look so bloody homogenous.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the book was funded by crowd sourcing website Fundit, it’s incredibly well-put together. The layout is good. It’s almost all pictures with very little text. The sprinkling of words that you do read add some historical contact, but that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t really matter though – the real meat is in the photographs of the (mostly) stylish Hibernians. Who knew that we Irish were stylish? It’s a little-known fact that we should probably shout about a bit more.

This review, like the book itself, is less about the blather and more about the pictures. As a chronicle of style and subculture, it has yet to be topped – although I would love to see someone try.

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NOTE – The vast majority of books on this website are review books sent to me by publishers. Not the case here – I bought this copy of ‘Where Were You?’ myself. I’m just so blatantly gushy because I love it and I think that all streetstyle/subculture gawkers should buy a copy. And, if you don’t have the money to buy a copy, you should definitely check out the Facebook page. It is published by Hi Tone Books in a limited run and is out now.

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