LFW Craft 1/3 – Claire Barrow

London Fashion Week’s international reputation is that of risk-taking and unclipped creativity, but I think the real theme, especially with younger designers, is that of craft. Not crappy felt-and-PVA craft or horrible faux-naif stuff, but real craft. The kind of stuff that gets your hands dirty with paint, or slightly sticky, or smelling of interesting chemicals.

London has a slightly subversive edge due to the underground-ness of many of its presentations. For Claire Barrow, it was a soon-to-be demolished basement, once the home of the BBC Orchestra. A black void, painted empty space and loose wires. Also, free Jack Daniels.

Barrow’s hand painted visions of nightmarish, anthropomorphic characters are standing at the edge at the end of the world. Stupidly, I was reminded of kid’s TV show Adventure Time, where the world as we know it has blown up and the passing of a thousand years allows magic to grow back again. But much, much more nihilistic. No Bubblegum Princesses this time. Only darkness, with a sheer sliver of hope.

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Photos by Kim Rehnstedt and edited by yours truly.

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Things to Read #16

Any excuse to lob up this Harper’s Bazaar editorial. ANY EXCUSE.

Yipes. I forgot to post last week, but the Rose of Tralee festival was on and I was there and so nothing was done. But I did write this thing on the festival for the Irish Times so, you know, silver linings and all that.

For those with nothing better to do on a Sunday, here’s Rolling Stone’s list of the 150 best Simpsons‘ episodes. A must for anyone who still knows all the lyrics to See My Vest.

“So, why write about Slimane now? Here’s why: If you accept that fashion reflects the times — and I do — then you have to concede that in this respect Slimane has been impressive, even prescient. His Saint Laurent collections perfectly capture the mood and values of the present. The need for simple messages. The triumph of branding. The shortening of horizons due to economic factors. The lack of prejudice toward old ideas, especially among young consumers.” Kathy Horyn resurfaces at the Times to tell us how, and why, high fashion is changing.

Dirty, dangerous ravers. The history of the DiY collective.

The man who found Lauren Bacall, mentored Calvin Klein and went sockless before everybody else, Baron Niki de Gunzburg is the subject of a lengthy piece for Vanity Fair.

“I think of the warmth and generosity of evenings in Azzedine Alaïa’s kitchen in Paris, which often ended after midnight with the first glimpse of a new design. How much I learned about Azzedine—and from him too. And I remember a drive I made in Belgium in 2005 with a nearly unknown Raf Simons, the door panels of his Volvo stuffed with empty cigarette boxes. So much for glitz, I thought.” Another piece by Kathy Horyn, this time about friendships in the fashion industry. On a personal note – though I’ve got many good and trusted friends in the industry, my GOD it’s still a murky body of water to swim in.

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Things to Read #14

The 28th of July marked the centenary of the start of WWI. Much of the past few weeks has been eaten up with research into my great-great grandfather,  a career soldier who served at Gallipolli and died at the Battle of Verdun. A lot of Irish people don’t talk about family members who served in the British army during that time period. I suspect that, until now, it’s been a source of shame for a nation whose identity is so ingrained in rebelling against the British and the colonial system. Seeing the minutiae of a soldier’s life humanises the conflict. These men were not traitors. My great-great grandfather was my age when he died. He had four kids.

“His eyes, the one part of his original face still intact, dart like anyone’s eyes, and I find myself chasing them, the only reliable clue as to what might really be going on in there.” An excellent (and very long) look at Richard Norris and his exceptional face.

Fashion advertising – where has the controversy gone?

The curious, sexist world of the Irish model.

‘Beauty as Duty: Patriotism, Patriarchy and Personal Style during WWII’ – excerpted from the rather good Worn Archive book.

The Believer talks to Joan Didion.

Advertising without Photoshop. It’s art.

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Things to Read #12

This week has been a bonanza of utterly terrible, heart-wrenching, soul-doubting stuff. A plane shot out of the sky, soldiers on several continents killing children and calling it justice, and all the rest of us screaming our outrage and helplessness into the ether.

An obsessive nature and insane fear of flying has led to days of pure MH17 research, tallying nationalities, cataloguing coincidences and fears. There are many links to share, but I think my heart would explode if I shared everything here. Sabrina Tavernese of the New York Times was one of the first journalists on the scene of the crash in the Ukraine. This is what she saw.

Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe, bottle blondes and why there’s no good writing on fashion. A collection of articles by the late, great fashion writer Anne Hollander.

The New Inquiry did a supplement on Lana del Rey and FINALLY I get it now.

“I have chosen to focus on girls, not (that) the boys (where present) were any less stylish, but because girls in “subcultures” have been largely ignored or when referred to, only as male appendages.” Anita Corbin’s Visible Girls: Pictures of Women from British Subcultures.

They blame the lack of political education in schools. Whether they like or dislike Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair, they distrust both the political industry and the related media. ‘Intellectual people chatting in bathrooms,’ comments Mel B.’We are society,’ exclaims Geri, ‘so really …’ ‘We should be running it,’ Mel B finishes the statement. From the Vogue Archives – Kathy Acker interviews the Spice Girls.

I would like everything from this Bonham’s jewellery auction please and thank you.

An encounter with the late Elaine Stritch in Central Park. Note – Jack Donaghy’s mother is the elderly lady I aspire to be.

The real Larry from Orange is the New Black tells his side of the story.

Alyssa Mastromonaco was deputy White House chief of staff for operations from 2011 to 2014. And then, she took a job at Marie ClaireHere, she argues that being stylish and being smart are not mutually exclusive things for women.

Documentary series This is Modern Art is up on Youtube in its entirety.

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Things to Read #11

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Ben Giles’ new collage series, All in My Head, is super.

How do you solve a problem like the Monty Python reunion? This is a great article.

“With visibility is supposed to come admiration, respect, access, affluence – and for most of such men, it delivers. Yet for the rest of us, with visibility comes harassment, stalking, threats, loss of career opportunity and mobility, constant public humiliation, emotional and sometimes physical violence.” How being internet famous (or just visible to other people) can make women a target for online violence.

“Even today, several generations removed from the devastating critique of their triviality that was at the heart of first-wave feminism, Marie Claire and other women’s magazines remain obsessed with the appearance of female public figures, an obsession that still extends far beyond them into leading news publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. You can take the woman out of the woman’s magazine, but the style of coverage—and it is all about style—remains the same.”

The London Review of Books goes to London Collections: Men.

Diane von Furstenburg talks Warhol and Studio 54 and some more stuff that she’s perennially associated with.

On being a Times Square Elmo (it’s never as much fun as it sounds, is it?)

This Nabokov essay from 1972 is a must for anyone who struggles with writing inspiration.

 

Things to Read #6

Yum.

Yum.

Avocado toast seven ways. Avocado toast is SO GOOD. Seriously.

Literary Mothers is a new Tumblr favourite, but instead of cat GIFs, it’s essays about female literary influence (though if anyone makes a Flannery O’Connor GIF, I might cry with joy).

This woman is the reason we’re all checking our privilege these days.

10+ new essays re-examining seminal feminist texts, and why women need to look backward to go forward.

Street style at Frieze.

Looking for cracks in the fashion publishing machine.

And finally, Sarah Mower remembers Louise Wilson, the late head of the MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins. One of the most remarkable and terrifying women I’ve ever met.

 

Licentiate Column 23/01/14: Breasts, Beauty and Wearing a Cure

Better living through chemistry

Wearable technology is really the new buzz-phrase that will seriously affect women in 2014 over all trends. not just because it can make life a little easier, but because one day it could  well save them.

The development of new, wearable technology may be a reprieve for the thousands of breast cancer sufferers who, due to side effects, cannot take the potentially life-saving drug Tamoxifen. A new study, undertaken by Central Saint Martins student Sarah da Costa, suggests that wearing clothing impregnated with the drug may be a viable alternative to taking the drug orally.

Tamoxifen, which has been roundly hailed as a miracle cure, is a hormone treatment that effectively binds itself to cancer cells and prevents further tumour growth. It also leads to a host of unwelcome side effects ranging from menopause-like symptoms such as hot flushes and the cessation of periods to an advanced risk of endometrial cancer. Like it or not, breasts have become a sign of an essential part of womanhood. We obsess over size and shape, we pop them on a shelf and we strap them fast to our ribs when a trip to the gym is involved. The irony of a life (and breast) saving drug that also mimics the menopause is that it may make a women feel like less of one while essentially saving her.

What if, instead of taking the drug, you could just wear it? Da Costa has been heavily involved in research of biopolymers, naturally occurring molecules that could easily facilitate absorption of medication through the skin. She hopes that, through technological development of these biopolymers, that Tamoxifen could be embedded in a bra and administered on a constant low-dose basis, which would attack tumours at source and lessen the unwanted side-effects.

Da Costa’s prototype of the Tamoxifen bra insert looks a little like the prosaic ‘chicken fillet’, a rubbery, clear gel pad that sits inside the bra cup. However, the unintended cosmetic effects are incidental – the drug inserts are slim, flexible and virtually unnoticeable when worn.

Whether the technology can be practically applied is a totally different matter.  It’s not yet know how effective this could be, if at all. Still, it’s nice to dream of a better world. A world where you can wear your medicine, where being gravely ill doesn’t automatically mean death.

Fashion trades so much on physical beauty, which, as a short, slightly dumpy woman, can get me down. We need to trade in our definition of beauty for a new one. Just to be alive is to be beautiful. To feel the heartbeat of a loved one when you hug them, to feel the cold on a winter evening and know it’s not just the temperature, but the blood coursing through our veins; it is a beautiful miracle.

Clothing doesn’t have to just make you conventionally beautiful. When (and I truly hope that day does come) garments helps the sick to stay alive, fashion will be truly beautiful.

Licentiate Column 21/11/13: Lived-in.

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Isabella in the mirror. Photo by Rebecca Lewis.

The Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore exhibition opened this week at Somerset House in London and a few days ago I had the opportunity to go down, check it out and make a total tit of myself in front of a room full of journalists.

For those not in the know, Isabella Blow was the stylist who effectively discovered Alexander McQueen and Ireland’s own Philip Treacy, amongst others. She nurtured these designers, becoming a patron, a friend and a source of moral support. She was known as an eccentric, a visionary and a hat lover in possession of one of the world’s finest wardrobes. I say was because, in 2007, Isabella Blow killed herself by drinking Paraquat weedkiller – a terrible, painful death that is terrible and painful to think about.

I cried. Exiting the exhibition, I cried. Isabella Blow’s legacy was her wardrobe. It made me think of all the little bits and pieces I own that once belonged to people I loved, people I can’t talk to ever again.

A lot of my jewellery once belonged to my grandmothers. I have a 1950s US military ID bracelet that a visiting soldier gave to my maternal grandmother as a token of his affection. A Christian Dior necklace that a Texan gave to my paternal grandmother late in her life when she decided, almost on a whim, to spend some time in America after the death of my grandfather. Rings and bracelets. Rosary beads. For some reason, both had slightly different insect-shaped brooches in amber and crystals.

It’s a terribly morbid question to ask, but what will you leave behind? Isabella Blow left her clothes. She also left an immense amount of love and several books worth of memories, most of which are happy, all of which are remarkable at least in some small way.

My grandmother’s (and now my) ID bracelet is covered in dings and scratches. It was well-worn before it was put in a drawer for the best part of fifty years. Isabella Blow’s clothes are well-worn too. Hems are slightly muddy, heels are broken, delicate satin shoes are stained with water and puddly remnants. Clothes are a sign that a person has lived. Wearing out clothes is a sign that you are living properly. You are living a life filled with activity instead of passivity, not sitting around waiting to be noticed or admired.

There may be a mathematical equation here – the speed at which you wear out your clothes may be directly proportionate to the speed at which you accumulate experience and memories. Whether this holds water or not, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is living well, giving life everything you have and not being afraid to wear a massive hat when the occasion calls for it.

Nina Leen: Feet Focus

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I’ve posted a fair bit on Life photographer Nina Leen – about 1234 times.

In her day, Leen was better known as a photographer of animals. Perhaps it’s her ability to capture the small, unusual, honest details which make what should be slightly humdrum shots of feet so very special. Some of these pictures are posed, some are not. None of them look stiff or forced.

Only one of them makes me want to stash a comb in my socks or, at the very least, start to wear socks.

It’s getting cold out there, kids.

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