Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

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.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

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.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography

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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Art, Fashion, Inspiration, Subculture, The Reading List

Nonconformist Fashion Tips, with a Personal Introduction

Hi everyone.  Hi there.

For a little while back there, I fell out of love with blogging.  What happened was this:  I applied for (and got into) the MA in Fashion course at Central Saint Martins, which I had been working towards for… Hmm.  About two years.  That two years was punctuated with a lot of frustration, hard work and heartbreak in both my personal and professional life.  A lot.

One thing kept me going when I split up with my long-term boyfriend, quit a job that was not quite what it advertised itself to be and moved back in with my parents in a small town that was, and is, slowly dying due mostly to drugs and emigration.  It was the thought of getting out, moving to London and doing my dream course that stopped me from melting into a big fat puddle of self-pity, Ovaltine and Take A Break magazines.

In May, I found out that I was moving to London.  I had the course.

In May, I lost the urge to work altogether.  Everything seemed entirely pointless.

So, from May to September, I had what can tastefully be termed a lost summer.  I made so many brilliant new friends, who I miss immensely now that I’ve moved over, had some brand new experiences and learned a lot of valuable things (not least how to throw a successful club night, but that’s a different post altogether).

I stopped blogging.  In fact, I stopped writing altogether bar what was required of me for work.  My attention span was shot.  I barely read more than ten pages at a time.  I finished approximately zero books over the summer.  I did however, for the first time in almost twenty years, get a tan – the evidence of which is still fading around my shoulders.

Over the course of a few months, I became a different person. I joined a band of amazing artists and renegades and explored the Irish countryside – and if you’re imagining this through a Sofia Coppola-ish, slightly twee filter, that’s EXACTLY how it was.  It was the very best summer of my life, though not untouched by spots of drama.

But here I am.  I live in London now, a city so rich with people and ideas and beautiful things that I feel that my brain might burst if I don’t type everything out through my fingers.  At the very least, I can start writing posts again, instead of just putting up my weekly Cork Independent columns.

This isn’t a particularly personal blog.  But this is a personal post.  Being personal makes me uncomfortable – slightly ironic as in real life I have a definite tendency to overshare.  The short version is this – I’m back to blog another day.

Ahem.

And now for something completely different.

London is full of nonconformists.  In fact, it’s so full of nonconformists that they all sort of blend into each other.  A massive nonconforming mass. I love it. I fall in love on the Tube at least twice a day.

London style is such that this 1968 gem, How to be a Nonconformist, by Elissa Jane Karg, still holds some very relevant fashion tips, not least the one about not wearing socks.

You can see the rest of this book over on Brainpickings.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns, Subculture

Licentiate Column 15/08/13: Hindsight 1 – 0 The Zodiac

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- No no no, not THAT Zodiac…

It’s amazing what a bit of hindsight can do. That relationship that’s just not working out, the shoes you couldn’t walk in, that one drink that’s one drink too many… All are the result of foolish personal decisions that only come to light in your head after the foolishness has ended.

Still, it’s nice to look backwards, especially in terms of fashion and beauty. The bad advice of others is a million times more enjoyable than the bad advice you give yourself. It’s especially more enjoyable when that bad advice is recorded for posterity in print.

A friend of mine runs a vintage shop and amongst her stock is a massive pile of Irish women’s magazine from the early and mid-seventies. Mostly, the problem pages are a hotbed of extreme sadness; women who can’t leave their abusive husbands or women who have had seven children and physically can’t handle any more. Sometimes the problems are funny (‘Why do policemen’s helmets have to hide their lovely hair?’ was one particularly enjoyable one’).

The best features, however, are the zodiac-themed ones. What’s with Irish women and the zodiac? Did it just become a ‘thing’ in the Seventies? Anyway, the plethora of oddly specific life advice that stems exclusively from your date of birth is really a thing of beauty. It’s perfect in its kitschy inaccuracy.

I am a Taurus. According to one article, which was focused on the beauty regimes of the various star signs, Taureans are obsessed with being pretty. Not only are they obsessed with being pretty, they are so duplicitous that they can easily fool people into thinking that they are good-looking even when they’re ugly as sin. Barbra Streisland was cited as an example – poor Babs always got the bum rap. The only accurate part of the piece (which also talked about my ‘lovely full neck’ – do Taureans suffer from glandular problems?) was the part that said we’d try anything beauty wise – although I might forgo the suggestion of mauve eyeshadow.

Another friend is a Capricorn. Apparently, Capricorns suffer from the burden of ageless beauty. Marlene Dietrich was the example there – apparently the zodiac doesn’t account for facelifts and seclusion. Capricorns should also try to think outside the box with their clothes as they tend to stick with classic style – said friend looked unimpressed with that advice, but that might have been the (very stylish) ensemble of leopard-print pencil skirt and green vintage athletic top that she was wearing at the time.

Similarly, a Sagittarean friend was not cool with the advice that she should accentuate her ‘large but attractive teeth’ with a good toothpaste and a smudge of red lipstick. She was even less impressed with the suggestion that she spent most of her days ‘whinging balls about’. That’s a direct quote, by the way. Whanging balls.

So, if there’s anything to be learned from the zodiac, it might be to ignore it altogether – or maybe just keep making foolish decisions. Just hope that the stars will end up aligning.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 01/08/13: A Real Risk-Taker

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- Now THAT’S some fine fashion risk-taking

News time everyone – I’m moving to London. I’m not quite sure when I’m moving but there’s a date I have to be there by and also a date by which I have to accumulate an enormous amount of money for university fees. I’m a-goin’ back to college.

I’m excited and happy and proud of myself for getting into this particular course. I am also apprehensive, nervous, sad, slightly queasy, numbed, stunned, confused, unwilling to move and about this close to making a mess of myself with the sheer volume of abject fear that is heaped upon me on a daily basis. I am bloody terrified.

Change terrifies me. But mostly, it’s the idea of taking a risk. Risks carry the ever-present possibility of you falling on your face or being exposed as foolish or wrong. That’s another thing I’m terrified of by the way – being wrong. Also, all my teeth falling out at once, like a deleted scene in a Cronenberg film.

Ironically, the knowledge that I’m moving away has made me take more risks than I have ever thought of taking – most of them very foolish indeed and not really worth talking about (suffice to say it’s never a good idea to proposition someone without all synapses firing at 5am on a Sunday morning). It’s very odd. I judder about in between feeling incredibly empowered and paralysed with uncertainty. People normally oscillate between caring and not caring, but this is happening on a much more frequent and concentrated basis than normal. At this point I have enough material to write a Channel 4 comedy-drama six-parter (one series, not recommissioned due to lack of interest). It’s driving me mad – but that’s life, isn’t it?

And, just like life, I find everything is reflected in my appearance. As I type (but hopefully not as you read, because there’s a week in between writing and publication) I am wearing purple lipstick. It’s not much of a risk, I know, but at least I’m telling you about it. It doesn’t really go with the tan and I keep getting thick, crayon-y blooms of blackberry colour on my drinking glass, but at least that’s one risk taken and worked through today.

Yesterday, I wore my friend’s Batman t-shirt. It was a big step for me. No really, it was. I also bought a pair of boots on a whim last week. I mean, I had a voucher, but it was still an impulse purchase – of a pair of sturdy black boots.

Sigh. I just can’t seem to get this ‘taking risks’ thing right. Between this paragraph and the last one, I took off the purple lipstick. It didn’t feel right.

One would presume, mistakenly, that as a fashion writer I’m an adventurous dresser, but really I just make a lot of educated guesses. The risk is fairly minimal. Unfortunately, the payoff is too.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns, Subculture

Licentiate Column 04/07/13: Why Fashion is Not as Embarrassing as Vomiting at Mass

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- eep! Via Getty images

I think that even the most ardent and unswerving fans of fashion will agree that it can get a bit weird sometimes.
From streakers on the Dolce and Gabbana catwalk (unfortunately, a rather cynical and calculated gambit to draw attention towards a German fashion blog) to the apparent ease with which we consumers can wear cheap clothes made, hopefully not literally, out of the blood, sweat and tears of sweatshop-bound children, it’s an industry chock full of uneasy dichotomies. Maybe that’s why so many people working in it look so anxious and thin. Maybe.

Fashion is one of those things that people just get into, like a tick burrowing industriously towards the spinal cord of your obsessions. Once you’re in, you’re in. You’re committed, you’re absorbed and you’re only vaguely aware that such an obsession is a foolish choice.

You can love fashion like a fairweather fan of football or music – pick a favourite team and stick to it, only get a sense of the big leagues and know nothing about the rising stars. Or, you could become impossibly embroiled in all the small subgenres of fashion, wanting to know more and more, realising all the time that what you know is never, ever enough. I had such a moment the other day when, moaning about a not great zombie flick starring a man whos name rhymes with Schmad Schmidt, a friend revealed that he had several hundred similar filmson a hard drive. How many had I seen in my entire life, maybe fifty or sixty? I was but a zombie dilettante. And I really love zombie films too. It was such a personal disappointment.

As personal disappointments go, it wasn’t on a par with vomiting in Mass, but it was ever-so-slightly rattling.
People are snobs. One of the great things about an obsession (and this includes a fashion obsession) is that it’s the glue in the bonding experience with like-minded people. However, it only works if you’re on the same level of knowledge as your peers. One misstep, one admission of doubt, can make you feel inferior and insecure – and that’s without delving into the bottomless abyss of the fashion and body image debate.

Obsession is both isolating and inclusive – it’s no different with fashion. But without obsession, there is no fashion, no art, no music – at least, nothing good anyway. The urge to collect and compile tidbits of information, to squirrel trivia away like a, eh, squirrel at a pub quiz is but one small part of human nature.

An obsessive nature can be useful. Obviously it’s not useful when it comes to things like washing your hands, or doing everything in even numbers, but it’s vital with your work and interests. In fashion, it’s no different – except maybe it’s a little more stylish.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 06/06/13: Irish Style – Curly Wigs, Bootcut Jeans and Simone Rocha’s Shoes

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– From wig.ie

In the past ten years or so, Irish people have done their best to up things in the style stakes. Designers such as Simone Rocha are making waves over the smallest pond and homegrown talent is finally finding a foothold – funnily, in the time period where Irish people have less disposable income than ever before.

Like a lot of young nations (style-wise, at least) we have yet to find a national fashion identity. Culturally and socially, we can’t be beaten. On the street, however, the Irish woman is not particularly easy to pick out. Simply put, she could easily be British (save the boos, you in the back).

We’ll leave the normal Irish males out of the equation. At this stage, even the Brits have grown out of bootcut jeans with brown loafers, paired with a short sleeved check shirt.

Why don’t we have a national style identity? With a sharp eye, it’s easy to spot a Parisian or a Londoner or a New Yorker. Why not us? Our heritage is rich enough.

This heritage is something that we as people should be tapping into. Post World War Two, Dublin was the fashion capital of the world thanks in no small part to our politically dubious neutrality. Lace, wool and linen were in high demand. Then came the resurgence of French couture and the inevitable Irish relegation.

It’s not like we should be traipsing around in Irish dancing costumes (and frankly my head is too big and my neck too small to carry one of those Curly Sue wigs anyway), but there’s a rich array of jumping off points. Brogues, for example. What was functional in the bog is now carrying a three to four figure price tag when designed by the aforementioned Simone Rocha. J.W Anderson has totally subverted the Aran knit, making the straight-up-and-down plaits a little more skew-whiff.
In 1909, there was a man called Albert Kahn. Unlike the rest of his incredibly rich peers, Kahn didn’t spend all his money on saucy music-hall shows and ridiculously big hats (my knowledge of the Edwardian era is slim to nil, as you can see). He wanted to create a photographic record of the world – in colour, which was then incredibly rare and tricky to produce.

The photographs he had taken by his teams of workers are remarkable. The process by which the photos were developed make colours even more lush and bright.

A photo taken of a woman outside a shebeen is the one that sticks in the mind when considering Irish dressing.
No shoes. A red petticoat and a white overskirt. A red cape lifted over her head and a scarf of many colours wrapped over her shoulders. She looks serene and unflappable, like most Irish women before the first G&T.

Ok, she’s not wearing shoes, but we can’t have everything. Even so, we should maybe be a bit more like her – shebeen and all.

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Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 30/05/13: Why I Shouldn’t Hit on Guys by Telling Them I’ll Write About Them – But Mostly, Waxing

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Last week I – drunkenly – promised a man who I met in the pub that I’d write a column about him. Then, today, I was sent an email from our much esteemed editor Deirdre asking me to write something about beauty bootcamps instead. I read it with relief and uttered a silent prayer of thanks to Karl himself.

It would have taken far more than five hundred words to explain to everyone – and unfortunately, to myself – why I’ve suddenly become (and out of nowhere too) so attracted to men with multiple facial piercings. Multiple.

So, instead, I’ll push that thought temporarily to the back of my mind and plough forward with a beauty bootcamp, whatever that is.

Come to think of it, the back of my mind is also where I normally push beauty-related thoughts. I have two make-up looks and, after a decade of trying, have finally mastered the eyeliner flick and a smoky eye that, more or less, makes me look like some sort of semi-sexy, come-to-bed-eyed raccoon.

However, the normal beauty routines go out of the window when it comes to preparing for foreign holidays. Herein lies the beauty bootcamp, the kind of intensive hair-removing, self-tanning, fringe-trimming palaver undertaken, I imagine, by the kinds of women who call each other ‘chick’ on Facebook but not in real life.

I’m not talking about regimented beauty bootcamps, where you pay a professional to help you with your hair and make-up. Those can be constructive. You can learn real skills. I’m talking about the kind of bootcamp where you are your own Ubersturmbahnfuhrer, torturing yourself with botched moustache waxes and biscuity-smelling fake tan. If a professional beauty bootcamp is like a personal training session, an at-home dealie is accidentally kicking your mirror over in a too-cramped bedroom to a dusty Tae Bo VHS. It only works if you’re very very careful – and don’t overstretch yourself.

As you read this, I will be on an actual sun holiday. A real one. I’ll probably bring a razor with me. That’s it. No fake tan (I like being pale), no bikini wax (recoil in horror if you want, but it’s a family holiday and waxing is EXPENSIVE and, y’know, I’m a woman, not a bloody Barbie and it’s not much of an issue anyway and just leave me alone about not getting a bloody bikini wax, will you?), no fringe trimming (fringes and seawater don’t mix). Just a rake of t-shirts and shorts and books and antihistamines. I might not even bring my contact lenses.

Of course, this is just what I’m comfortable with. If this overly worthy rant should teach you anything (and already the family members reading this have learned far too much about my new turn-ons and thoughts on pubic hair), it’s to do what you want.

Holidays are about relaxing. Do you need to have your hair ripped out at the follicles to relax? Maybe call a dominatrix. If not, a nice pre-holiday wax might do the trick.

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Art, Fashion, Inspiration, Subculture

Licentiate Column 16/05/13: Punk and the Mantis Shrimp

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This week, I’ve been thinking about authenticity and the cultural relevance of clothes. Well, some of the time. Before I fool myself into thinking that I’m an intellectual powerhouse, I have to admit to that more time has been spent thinking about Facebook, the lifespan of a pair of dirty socks or how I’m possibly going to avoid That Guy at That Party next month.

Sometimes, I think about nothing in particular. This morning I was up at 5am thinking about the Peacock Mantis Shrimp, which is as flamboyant and aquarium glass-crackingly terrifying as it sounds. The Mantis Shrimp has such advanced eyes that it see colours that we can only dream about perceiving. Imagine that – one shrimp can see more than any human ever will. At 8am, I put a picture on Facebook.

This week, The Great Gatsby arrives in cinemas. A Baz Luhrmann extravaganza, a riot of sound and colour and a confusion of costumes that aren’t quite Roaring Twenties will hit the screens – but not literally. In the meantime, the 2013 costume exhibition ‘Punk: From Chaos to Couture’ has opened up at The Metropolitan Museum in New York. At the opening gala, the Met Ball, famous attendees were invited to interpret the theme in their own outfits – which they either didn’t bother doing or liberally misinterpreted. The most punk thing that happened that night was Jennifer Lawrence lampooning celebrity culture by photobombing Sarah Jessica Parker.

When it comes to the past, interpretation isn’t always open. But, for Gatsby, the inauthenticity works, while at The Met, it does not. Why is that?

Careful planning for one. Not being a vacuous clotheshorse with very little to say for herself might also be a factor. But really, the Roaring Twenties was about putting on a show. East and West Egg (where The Great Gatsby is set), a facsimile of Long Island Sound, is full of replicas of Tudor houses and Normandy villas. Nothing is real, everything is fantasy. It makes sense that elements of the costume include the Thirties as well as the decades preceding it. The characters of The Great Gatsby are staring into the sun of a brand new era – one that is not nearly as bright as it seems.

Punk, however, is all about realness and a lack of intellectual fakery or political sleight of hand, as well as anger, aggression and Vivienne Westwood. The ersatz costumes at the Met Ball, as well as the dialogue created by the exhibition within, would have caused derisive snorts from even the most casual weekend punk of the King’s Road.

The Mantis Shrimp, which sees all, probably knows more about authenticity than we do. I’d like to think that it sees the faults that humanity is blind to – that’s why it’s such a violent creature. The reality though, is that it’s batshit crazy. If you had that kind of sight, wouldn’t you be?

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