Art, Fashion, Film, The Reading List, Things to Read

Things to Read #1

Anatomical collages by Travis Bedel (Colossal)

Anatomical collages by Travis Bedel (Colossal)

Things have been a bit, um, stilted on the blog front recently.

Ever since I stopped writing my column, I’ve been at a bit of a loss. Should I still blog? And if so, what should I write about? One of the simplest things to remember about blogging is that you should probably love it. You should love writing or taking photos or making videos and you should love sharing your thoughts, quirks and the cool things you pick up along the way.

I’ve come to a point, after moving countries and going back to university and getting a new job and dying my hair alternately blue, green and a bruise-ish violet, where I’m at a crossroads. One point, four different directions and no real idea where I’ll end up. More to the point, no idea where this blog will end up.

The trick, really, is to find your niche.

The only thing I did with real regularity, apart from the column, was book reviews. So, Im going to keep doing that.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been getting into longreads; real, meaty articles that are the total opposite of the thoughtless, bland, soundbites that make up a huge chunk of internet journalism. Damn our goldfish memories. Every Sunday, I read Ana Kinsella’s clicks and, for half an hour or so – usually over a pot of tea and a jam donut – I get sucked into a Good Reading vortex. I highly, highly, recommend checking her Tumblr out. She’s a smashing writer too.

When I’m tootling around on the internet and I find something I know I’d like to read in real depth, I save it on Instapaper for later. So, in the spirit of sharing, and because Ana is OK with me blatantly copying her, here are some things to read. This will probably be sporadic (as soon as the Instapaper filing cabinet is full, I’ll write another post), but we’ll see how we go.

The Surrealist Ball, 1972 (So Bad, So Good)

The Surrealist Ball, 1972 (So Bad, So Good)

‘The Devil and the Art Dealer’ – Vanity Fair. “The artworks stolen from the Jews are the last prisoners of WWII. You have to be aware that every work stolen from a Jew involved at least one death.” 1,280 works of art, originally stolen by the Nazis, were recovered in an apartment in Munich a few months ago. The billion dollar hoard includes works by Picasso, Brancusi, Otto Dix, Oscar Kokoschka… pretty much every European early twentieth century painter of note, plus a few Old Masters. Because what’s an art hoard without a Canaletto?

‘Geek Love at 25: How a Freak Family Inspired Your Pop Culture Heroes’ - Wired. Geek Love is one of two books that every person I have ever lent it to, without exception, loved (the other one being ‘Rip it up and Start Again’ by Simon Reynolds). Read this, then read the book. And if you’ve already read the book, read it again.

‘Why are We Obsessed with 90′s Film Fashion?’ – Never Underdressed. An interview with Elizabeth Sankey.

‘Simone Rocha: Just a Little Bit of a Lady’ – The Telegraph. Man, she’s cool.

The Vintage Black Glamour book is one to look forward to (Miss Moss)

The Vintage Black Glamour book is one to look forward to (Miss Moss)

The Detective Wore Prada’ – The Guardian. Guardian writers share their best-dressed of the small screen.

‘Are Celebrities the New Fashion Critics?’ – Style.com. A big, fat, resounding ‘NO’ is the answer here.

‘Showgirls is a Good Movie’ – The Awl. It’s VERSAYCE! Heh. I love Showgirls, though that pool sex scene with Jessi Spano and FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper still gives me the the willies.

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel: The Amazing Backstories Behind Ten Memorable Props’ – Paper.

The Irish Boys of Central Saint Martins – The Irish Times. I interviewed three really, properly, achingly talented Irish fashion grads for this article.

‘How American Pageants are Turning Politics into a Beauty Parade’ – The New Statesmen. It seems that the average American beauty queen can easily segue into a career in politics. Hmm. A big, fat, hmm.

‘Amazing Structure: A Conversation With Ursula Franklin’ – The Atlantic. Scientist, feminist and an all-around remarkable woman.

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Art, Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 06/02/14: Couture Comedown

photo by Lea Colombo for Dazed and Confused

photo by Lea Colombo for Dazed and Confused

Couture – what does it mean, really? On a surface level, most of us know what couture is; really really expensive clothes for people with more private jets than sense. Couture shows are populated with the super-duper-uber rich, people who sneeze into hankies made of the real Turin Shroud, people who watched ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ and had several painful pangs of nostalgia.  Truly, those were the good old days. That was when all the real excess happened.

Couture has always been about exclusivity; it’s difficult to manufacture, can take thousands of hours to produce and is incredibly costly. It’s not totally out of the ordinary to see a couture wedding dress with over a quarter of a million little pieces of fabric meticulously attached. It is, however, very unusual to see more than a few produced. Like I said, it’s exclusive.

People get jaded very quickly.  What do we, the public, care for exclusivity? We could never afford these fripperies.  You could easily buy a house in today’s property market (outside of Dublin, at least) for the price of a particularly well-embellished couture gown. Why bother? That much excess verges on overstuffed, overindulged, flabby stupidity.

This season, the team behind Maison Martin Margiela’s Artisanal line have added a new layer – history. History is the new exclusivity and history, in this case, will not repeat itself. The MMM team armed themselves with what must have been epic amount of guts and searched the world for vintage materials with some sort of artistic or historical significance.

Somehow, they managed to wangle yards of culturally priceless interior fabrics from the archive of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. What did they do with this fabric?  Dear reader, I shall tell you.  They wove it into t-shirts. A Twenties-era tapestry inspired by the Tahitian paintings of Paul Gauguin was made into a heavy opera coat. Scarves stripped from a 1930s brothel were sewn into skirts.

In an era where modern technology is in danger of making couture techniques of sewing and embellishment obsolete, this is the new exclusive; the heavy weight of history. It’s desirable, but in an incredibly high-minded way.  Of course, you could replicate that tapestry, but it won’t have the same story. It won’t bear the marks of the passage of time. You can mimic the Frank Lloyd Wright fabric, but it won’t really come from the man himself anymore. It would just be a facsimile; bland and boring.

The modern couture collection is high-minded in its desirability.You could also argue that it is eco-friendly, an able evolution in a couture industry that was barely limping along a few years ago. However, the question remains – is this sort of shenanigan recycling, or just desecration?

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Art, Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 05/12/13: Hello, My Name is Paul Smith

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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.

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Art, Fashion

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!

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.

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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.

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Art, Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 07/11/13: Love the Design, Not the Designer

John Galliano as seen by Richard Avedon

John Galliano as seen by Richard Avedon

Everyone knows about John Galliano – but for the wrong reasons.

You might know that Galliano is a fashion designer. You might even know that he’s such a talented designer that his first collection was bought in its entirety by London boutique Browns (an incredibly rare occurrence).  You might know that his designs were flamboyant and brought a theatrical edge to an industry that was, in the mid-nineties, still overdosing on minimalism and Calvin Klein slip dresses.  You might be aware, even if only in a peripheral sense, that he was one of the greats; he was the man that made Christian Dior great again.

If you don’t know that, you’ll definitely know him as the man who drunkenly told people in a bar in Paris that he loved Hitler and that the forefathers of the people he was spewing anti-semitic bile at would have been ‘gassed’.  It was recorded on video and spread all over the internet.  In it, Galliano is slurring in a very pronounced way.

Perhaps he was unaware that, in France, expressing anti-semitic ideas in public is illegal, as well it should be.  Perhaps, and you could easily theorise that this was the case, he didn’t care.  He was found guilty, lost his job and for the most part, destroyed his reputation.  That was two years ago.

Galliano has steadily been building his way back up the fashion ladder, aided by powerful friends.  His efforts to atone (his words, by the way) have been applauded.  He works quietly with big name designers, without a fuss.  Rumours abound that he is to take a post teaching at one of the big fashion colleges.  This month, British Vogue is featuring a portfolio of his work photographed by the endlessly imaginative Tim Walker.  More than that, even – he is the guest fashion editor for the entire magazine.

So, what’s to be done about Galliano?  Should the public continue to shun him or should they let his designs speak for themselves?  It’s impossible to predict what will happen to any degree of accuracy.  All I can tell you is how I feel about it.

It’s a bit like this.  We are taught to hate the sin and love the sinner (perhaps the only truly useful thing that non-practising Catholics learn in religion class).  We should love the art and hate the sin – and if you must hate the sinner, at least leave his or her creative output out of it.

We need to separate the art from the artists.  Caravaggio killed a man.  Burroughs shot his wife in the head.  How many writers have killed themselves, only to have the shabbiness of their deaths woven and bastardised into a convoluted creative myth?

Even with fashion, there are those whose legacy ensures a blameless record.  Coco Chanel certainly did shady deals with the Nazis.  Her reputation is whitewashed and romanticised almost to blandness – something the woman herself may well have hated.

Don’t forget what Galliano did.  Similarly, don’t forget what else he has done, and will continue to do.  You may be pleasantly surprised.

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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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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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Art, Film, Subculture

Andy Warhol at The Mac

Family trips are a rare thing. With two siblings not living in the same area as the rest of the family, it can be tricky to get together. When we do meet up, it’s usually six hours in the car, followed by food, followed by food coma. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Last weekend the family went to Belfast. Highlights included food in Made in Belfast and Alley Cat, the cheapy cheap euro to sterling rate in Topshop and the Andy Warhol retrospective in The Mac, to which I dragged my mother and little brother – in his case a little literal dragging was needed.

The Mac is a lovely arts venue, but to call this a retrospective is a bit of a misnomer – there just aren’t enough major works in too small a space to make it a real reflection of the prolific Warhol. It’s really more of a sampling. However, the exhibition is totally free, so if you’re in the area before the 28th of April, when the exhibition ends, it’s more than worth a look. They’ve got great merchandise too (she said, sipping tea from her new Warhol cow print mug).

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Art, Fashion, Photography

A Pop, Op and a Jump – Lacey for Vogue Nippon

British Photographer Lacey was an assistant to Tim Walker – and it really shows. Her inventive use of props (by design pair Craig and Karl) and collaboration with make-up artist Andrew Gallimore have made the pages of Vogue Nippon even more mind-bending this month. Styled by Beth Fenton, it’s part Pop, a little Op and a big, glam wheelbarrow of weird brilliance.

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