I dyed my hair no less than four times last week.
My subconscious might be trying to tell me something.
Paul Smith doesn’t want the journalists reviewing his new exhibition, ‘Hello, My Name is Paul Smith,’ to get cold feet – so much so that he brings multiple pairs of socks to distribute at the press preview. He also has designer notebooks for the unprepared writer. It doesn’t matter that no-one is even slightly unprepared for Smith’s kaleidoscopic, cluttered, not-quite-a-retrospective at the Design Museum in London. He runs out of notebooks within minutes.
The aura of approachability surrounding legendary British designer Paul Smith has very little to do with his fashion empire and almost everything to do with his attitude towards it. This is hardly unexpected when you discover that his heroes are his wife Pauline (who taught him how to design clothes and remains a source of support and inspiration after several decades together) and his local road sweeper (who, presumably, has done neither of these things). Wisely, Smith has chosen to dedicate the exhibition to Pauline.
One enters the exhibition, as in life, by passing through a small pink box. This is where it all starts. At three metres by three metres, it is the size of Smith’s first shop. It contains only a mirror and a small case containing a few pictures, advertisements and sketches, with captions handwritten by Smith himself. Dominating the case is a photograph of Smith’s Afghan hound, Homer, who had a layered, flicked-out haircut and an aquiline profile not unlike his owner’s in that period. The caption reads, “He was my first manager (1970). I was his assistant!”
‘Hello, My Name is Paul Smith’ is drawn from Paul Smith’s archives, but it’s not so much a reflection on the man as it is a celebration of a hugely successful global brand. Smith’s success, it can be argued, it just as dependent on his personality as it is on his eye for detail or unwavering dedication to structured tailoring. A sense of humour both simple and sophisticated is also vital. It can be seen in his approach to brand collaborations – amongst the striped teapots and bottles of mineral water, a boxed bottle of Paul Smith HP brown sauce (also striped, in varying shades of brown) is put proudly on display.
It is a feat of organised chaos. We see a recreation of Smith’s cluttered office and workrooms, a wall is plastered, seemingly arbitrarily, with buttons. More walls are lined floor to ceiling with personal photographs, fan letters (One from Japan reads, “I like your cloth design, spilit (sic) and your face. I love you”) and award-winning, tongue-in-cheek advertisements.
It makes you wonder. Specifically, it makes you wonder when such a broad retrospective will happen to an Irish designer. Just this week, both Simone Rocha and J.W Anderson won highly sought-after gongs at the British Fashion Awards. In thirty years, will we be wandering through a reconstruction of the Rocha office? Will Anderson’s already numerous collaborations take pride of place in some hallowed hall? Will the cult of personality surrounding Smith be replicated in Irish form?
Let’s hope so.
So, here we are again. Together we stand on the cusp of Christmas party season, facing bravely into the bitter wind that is trying to find the perfect party dress in a world that is jaded and blind to our sequin-wearing ways.
One of the things that pains me most at the moment is Party Dress Guilt, in which you go to find the perfect shiny/sparkly attire and find yourself buying nothing because it just so happens that clothes cost money, and money is something that you feel you should be spending on something more worthwhile than clothes. Like the electricity bill. Or gin.
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re rich or poor, whether the party dress is Penneys or Proenza. The festive season has always had the tendency to remind the more neurotic people amongst us that the time period from early December to January is based on spending money on the Worst Thing Ever. Fun.
You go home, and you don’t buy the dress, and still you feel bad for even thinking about buying the dress, because there are people suffering in other places. Your best friend lost her job, your brother’s dole was cut, you’ve lost your medical card and there’s a new government levy on wine. It doesn’t matter that you give money to charity. It doesn’t matter that you can easily afford the dress (or in my case, a sequinned, on-sale pair of Topshop jeans), what matters is the frivolity. Frivolity is bad. Enjoying yourself? BAD.
I never really understood Catholic guilt until my first financially independent Christmas. You feel absolutely terrible for buying a crushed velvet minidress with a ridiculously low cost-per-wear when you’ve only budgeted ten euro for family gifts. Maybe you settle, and buy something cheap and cheerful and wearable. Then, you are subtly shamed when the family member with the good job buys you a present at five times your budget. Christmas is a minefield littered with good intentions and expensive eyeshadow palettes.
We feel like this for a good reason. We should feel a bit guilty. Christmas and the New Year is the time period for conspicuous consumption. Whether that consumption takes the form of food or clothing or slightly more illicit substances, it doesn’t really matter. It all boils down to money anyway. At least the clothes consumption won’t give you a heart attack, but ask me that again when I get my next credit card bill.
On the flip side, we need to slough some of the guilt off. If, like me, you’re feeling guilty despite not actually buying anything, a reality check might be in order. Can you afford it? Good for you. Maybe you should buy what you want without feeling bad. Your money is yours. However you decide to spread it around , at least make sure that this Christmas it’s money well spent.
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.
It’s fitting that today is the late, great Isabella Blow’s birthday and the preview day for Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore which officially opens at Somerset House tomorrow morning. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue is something of a family affair, albeit one where the matriarch is noticeably absent.
Curator Alastair O’Neill says that the exhibition is centred around the wardrobe more so than the woman, which is probably wise given the temptation to sensationalise and mythologise Blow’s life and death.
What. A. Wardrobe.
Isabella Blow owned very little couture, but a lot of her clothing had couture detail. She had a brilliant eye for colour and silhouette and, most importantly, she wore her clothes. Really wore them. An embroidered wedding kimono has a grubby hem from careless use. Satin shoes are stained with spots of rain. Shoes for the real girl. Dresses for a women with her head in the clouds and her feet in a puddle.
Fashion Galore is expertly and lovingly curated. I found myself crying a little bit as I exited through the gift shop. Then I cheered up on discovering a Nars counter with stacks of Isabella-style lipsticks alongside the postcards and exhibition catalogues.
That’s the point of Fashion Galore. It’s the wardrobe. It’s not life, it’s not death. It’s material, cold and pliable and, in Blow’s hands, it’s the stuff that dreams and handmade realities are really made of.
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! exhibition at Somerset House, presented in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins. The show features over 100 garments from designers such as Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy. Selected from the personal collection of the late British patron of fashion and art, the exhibition runs from November 20, 2013 to March 2, 2014.
- From Vogue Russia, October 2013
Punk has become very glossy, hasn’t it? It’s been appropriated and bastardised and distorted and machine-gunned and laquered beyond all comprehension. And yet…
I rather like this editorial. It pulls together as-yet unmined aspects of punk (like how feminine it could be – in an intrusive, slightly threatening way) and is still incredibly high-end and glossy, albeit with a slightly slimy edge. It might be the massive Mint Aero that I’ve just eaten, but I feel a little queasy looking at it.
It reminds me a little of this don’t-care photo of two punks on the Kings Road, as shot by Steve Johnston.
Johnston also talks to Nick Knight of Showstudio about shooting these particular punks (with a camera, I assume).
If that floats your boat, Showstudio have much more up online as part of their Punk: Photography Exhibition.
– A variation on the Emergency Outfit consisting mainly of a huge fun fur coat.
There is no internet in my house, it’s deadline day and I still don’t know what I’m going to write about.
Technically that’s not true. I did know that I was going to at least start off by stating that I had nothing to write about, but now I’ve done that and I’m left with very little to work with. It’s panic stations. Code Orange. And I’ve just found out that there’s no milk in the fridge. Better make it a Code Red.
We all have Code Red days, which usually kick in with the judicious application of a snooze button or the removal of one small element – like a ruptured internet connection or a forgotten ATM card.
Some women may not admit to this, but whole days have been ruined by just forgetting to put on a bra before going to work. It’s a very fragile structure. One wobble can essentially remove the support system (and we’re not just talking about the bra thing here).
Cue the Emergency Outfit. Emergency outfits are comprised almost entirely of functional clothing, with one optional or non-functional piece. The functional clothing gets you out of the house, keeps you moving, keeps you sane. The non-functional piece at best gives you a needed confidence boost and at worst reminds you that you’re a human being so maybe you should refrain from anxiously gnawing your fist in public. It’s not good for you. And it’s sore.
My Emergency Outfit is this – one big black jumper for its security blanket-type features and reassuring neutrality. It also needs to be slouchy and thick enough to disguise a no-bra day. One pair of high waisted Topshop skinny jeans. High waist = no muffin top and no fear of the jeans settling somewhere between hips and pudendum while running for the bus. One pair of Adidas trainers in black, in case I actually ever need to run for the bus (and I almost never do). A big, big coat with a monochromatic or animal print pattern – this will scare off predators. The non-essential item is red lipstick. It’s a shot of confidence as well as a physical reminder not to paw at my face lest things go horribly wrong.
That’s the outdoor Emergency Outfit. The indoor emergency outfit usually consists of pyjamas, a hair scrunchie and a sense of impending doom. This is true of all women, except maybe those sultry types who only own nighties. A woman who only wears nighties has her shit together. She has no need for the Emergency Outfit.
Of course, all women are different. One Emergency Outfit may be completely utilitarian, with multiple pockets to carry pens, money, tickets, keys and anything that could conceivably be accidental forgotten. Another outfit may forsake pockets for a well-loved, well-worn bag. The security of the jumper could easily be swapped for the comfort of a huge, blankety scarf. Trainers can be substituted for loafers, especially if you accidentally dropp a huge blob of natural yoghurt on your kicks (I am speaking from bitter experience).
The important thing, of course, is that you’re comfortable. And next time, remember to buy milk the day before.