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The Reading List: The Vogue Factor…

… by Kirstie Clements.

Clements, the Vogue Australia editor who was unceremoniously sacked in 2012, says something in her book that will really hit home with fashion journalists; a newspaper mentality is one that criticises negatively by printing negative reviews, but a magazine mentality is one that criticises negatively by omission. Kirstie Clements has a definite magazine mentality.

For from being the hatchet job that most people were expecting, The Vogue Factor is not a vicious exposé (though the less said about Australia’s Next Top Model, the better), but an informative read through the procedures and practises of a lesser-known Vogue. It’s also a timely reminder that, no matter how high you rise in the editorial ranks, there will always be some kind of invisible pecking order. The Australian fashion industry is beset with problems that are particular to a country that is relatively hard to get to, that relatively few people get to visit, with a relatively small fashion industry (According to Clements Australia has a fair amount of ‘surfies’ and ‘bogans’ – according to a judicious Wikipedia sweep, my new favourite word is ‘usually pejorative or self-deprecating, for a person with an unsophisticated background, or whose speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplify a lack of manners and education). Unique problems means that there has to be a set of unique solutions, and Clements has obviously become, throughout her tenure at Vogue, an incredibly astute problem solver.

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So; not a tell-all. It’s a tell-a-little. There are no juicy anecdotes, no backwards swipes. no secrets spilled like so much Chanel nail varnish. The only sharks here are in the ocean.

Clements is at her writerly best when she’s talking about how hard it is to get tickets for Paris RTW shows, the worrying expectations put on models or the tricky art of negotiating honest content between the PR and the page. It’s very solid, and Clements comes across as a thoroughly likeable person who has no time for slug-a-beds and the unmannerly. A disproportionate amount of the book is dedicated to describing lavish press days and parties in France and New York, which can be a bit discomfiting. Is she promoting the PRs’ products all over again?

Those who want a job in the fashion industry should pick up a copy of this book. If you put down this book feeling disillusioned after finishing, that’s fine. The Vogue Factor, apart from the press day chapters, is free of the filtered, rearranged, idealised bullshit that most magazines are at pains to project to their audiences. It’s an honest look at an industry that deals quite often with fantasy and artifice. Just don’t bank on any tidbits about Anna Wintour.

Andre the Giant – some man for one man (via)

Things to Read #15

“No other human has ever matched Andre as a drinker. He is the zenith. He is the Mount Everest of inebriation.” Andre the Giant, the greatest drunk on Earth. Modern Drunkard Magazine, a site dedicated to getting soused, raises all kinds of weird conflicted feelings deep in my gin-soaked brain. But mostly, those feelings are good feelings.

Warren G. Harding (The corrupt, weirdly charismatic Prohibition-era U.S president) and his saucy letters to his mistress. Hardly topical, I know, but who can resist gems like this?

I hurt with the insatiate longing, until I feel that there will never be any relief untilI take a long, deep, wild draught on your lips and then bury my face on your pillowing breasts. Oh, Carrie! I want the solace you only can give. It is awful to hunger so and be so wholly denied. . . .

Oh Mr. Harding, you do go on…

Direct provision laws in Ireland mean that many asylum seekers in Ireland are stuck in hostels and caravan parks for years instead of months, denied basic needs and entitlements, and given an allowance of €19.10 a week. The UN is not amused. Lives in Limbo chronicles the lives of some of these asylum seekers.

Jefferson Hack cagily talks Dazed and has a very hipster-y lunch with the FT.

Woman asks a question about tampons on Twitter and all hell breaks loose.

The perils of being a man and writing about feminism. STEP FORWARD, ROBERT WEBB. “To persist with our chainsaw-juggling metaphor, someone like Rod Liddle sits at his desk and saws his head off before doing anything else. You don’t read our Rod and wait for un-PC accidents. The accident has already happened. No, for a proper feminist high-wire act, you need a real liberal. Or a real idiot.”

Books, books and more books. A reading list that steps out of the usual book club comfort zone. The list includes Women in Clothes, the collaborative effort of more than 600 women including Molly Ringwald (!) and Miranda July (!!).

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.

The Reading List: Diana Vreeland, Empress of Style

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Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion is the first full-length biography of the legendary Vogue editor and self-mythologiser where words and facts take precedence over pictures and unverified if exciting anecdotes.  How did Diana Vreeland go from a well to-do housewife to one of the most powerful people in fashion?  And how did her remarkable mind and creative disregard for beauty over truth develop?  This book, by biographer Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, attempts to answer those questions.

Vreeland, ‘the High Druidess of fashion, the Supreme Pontiff, Perpetual Curate and Archpresbyter of elegance, the Vicaress of style’ did not start out in life commanding the religious reverence that the previous quote implies, but instead had a difficult childhood, forever in the shadow of a beautiful younger sister and treated badly by a capricious, adventurous mother who (as these things often go no matter how much pink hair dye we put on) Diana resembled more in personality and outlook the older she became.

This book counters the obvious beautiful lies that Diana told as she invented herself.  Diana was born in Paris, but did not grow up there as she had claimed.  However, a more outlandish tale, that of Buffalo Bill teaching Diana and her sister to ride horses, may actually be true.  Mackenzie Stuart assesses Diana’s claims on its individual merits, not treating each one with scepticism but with a calm researcher’s eye.

This book is heavy on the fascinating details of Diana’s career, especially on how she came to win her jobs as editor of American Vogue and at the Costume Institute.  Grace Mirabella, Diana’s successor at Vogue, appears as a conflicted figure in the text but there is still a little meat missing from the controversial and quite sad story of how Diana came to fall from Grace at Vogue.

Diana’s personal life, especially that with her two sons, is not examined in great depth, though her relationship with husband Reed (who appears in the book as a bit of a well-dressed enigma) is given more space on paper.  The two sons do not appear as voices in the book – it’s a shame because, as the documentary The Eye Has to Travel shows, both have a great deal of interesting and often painful things to say about their mother.

The book is well-written, accessible, entertaining and nicely-paced.  With a life as unsure and clouded with half-truths as Diana Vreeland’s, the temptation to insert your own take on her life must be immense.  However, this biography does justice to the great lady’s legacy.

Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion is published by Thames and Hudson and is out in hardback now.

The Reading List: Katharine Hepburn – Rebel Chic

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I’ve read a few bummer style books recently, so I was relieved to find that Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic was, like the woman herself, just delightful – a breath of fresh air during a brisk walk through the professional and personal costumes of a legendary actress and bona fide tomboyish style icon.
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It’s an all-angles approach that permeates this deceptively small book – essays cover Hepburn’s attitude to clothing, her tomboy style (with reference to the blog of the same name), how she was active in the design of her stage and film costumes and an exploration of her relationships with various costume designers.

The pictures selected for the book are divided quite evenly between off-duty Hepburn and her more polished onscreen characters. The latter third of the book is devoted to her costumes, many of which she kept after filming had ended. Hepburn even recycled costumes – wearing a dress from the 1939 stage version of The Philadelphia Story some thirty five years later in The Glass Menagerie (it only had to be let out by two inches, fact fans).
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Katherine Hepburn’s personal style has been the subject of urban myth, which this book busts, but quite gently. The essays are informative but not speculative. It’s not a biography – there are no references to scandalous affairs or scurrilous rumours – it’s just about clothing as pure self expression. Whether to conceal or reveal, Hepburn was adept at using her clothes to convey a message. This book is evidence of that.

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Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Style is published by Skira Rizzoli and is out now.

Snoopy Around The World

In the course of developing this little website, I’ve also developed an increasingly soft spot for pop culture in all its forms, especially if it’s tied in with fashion in any way.  On seeing these photos on the AnOther website, my soft spot immediately became as squishy and vulnerable as an overripe avocado.

So far, I’ve blogged about the curious case of the Theatre de la Mode fashion dolls, the out-there wackiness of a Disney fashion editorial (Alber Elbaz as a distant cousin of Donald Duck, anyone?) and the unashamed kitschiness of Barbie in the best of 80’s designers.  This is up there. It’s one of the hits.  One of the good ones.

This is Snoopy and his sister Belle, dressed by different designers as they travel around the world.  Taken from the book ‘Snoopy Around the World: Dressed by Fashion Designers’ – Snoopy isn’t one for obscure titles, we can see – it’s cute and weird and of course I immediately bought a second-hand copy from Amazon.

Can the constant buying of books be defined as a substance addiction?

Photos by Alberto Rizzo.  You can see more over on the AnOther website.

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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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.

Edith Wharton in Vogue

These pictures are a few months old (and therefore ancient in fashion/internet terms) but I still want to share this Annie Leibovitz spread for American Vogue.  Styled by Grace Coddington, Natalia Vodianova is novelist Edith Wharton on her Massachusetts estate, The Mount.  Flanking her is novelist Jeffrey Eugenides as Henry James, Boardwalk Empire actor Jack Huston as her mercurial lover William Morton Fullerton and an interesting cast of supporting characters including Elijah Wood as her chauffeur (!) and James Corden as Teddy Roosevelt (!?!).

The editorial is rather static and dreamy and Old World-ish, and there are cameos from American men of letters like Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz (no women, unfortunately).  It’s also accompanied by a rather lovely piece by Colm Toibin, which you can read here.  I suppose the only bone to pick is that Wharton was supposed to be about 45 at this time, while Vodianova is… not.  Kristen McMenamy might have made a better Wharton or, as one of the original commenters suggested, perhaps a female novelist would have been best.

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The Reading List: Masters of Fashion Illustration

Antonio Lopez

For those who missed out on buying the hardback edition of David Downton’s Masters of Fashion Illustration, fear not – Laurence King have just released a paperback edition that is ever bit as well-appointed as its predecessor.

Masters of Fashion Illustration is not a comprehensive history or even a comprehensive list of famous fashion illustrators – Rene Gruau is conspicuous in his absence. However, it doesn’t pretend to be one. The selection of illustrators profiled is entirely up to Downton (one of the best contemporary illustrators living today), who selects his personal favourites as opposed to a line up of the usual suspects. The first illustrator profiled is well-known 19th century social portraitist Giovanni Boldini, which will give you an idea of Downton’s inclination to colour outside of the lines (sorry, bad pun) when it comes to selecting his Masters.

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Not that this is a bad thing, of course. Delve through the book and you’ll see that Downton has impeccable, elegant taste. His selection is a mix of the well-known and relatively obscure – many of the images have been reproduced here for the first time since their original publication. There are some lovely pictures of Andy Warhol’s whimsical, feminine illustrations of shoes and Schiaparelli perfume (why do we always forget that before Warhol was an artist he was an illustrator?) and Bob Peak’s work is the stuff that Mad Men art directors dream of.

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The final part of the book is a 36 page portfolio of Downton’s work, accompanied by an interview conducted by Tony Glenville. The interview isn’t as much about Downton’s career (although he does talk about it) as much as it’s about the selection process for what goes in the book – which is extra interesting, if you’re a publishing nerd like me. Downton’s work is pretty mermerising and masterful – some lines are really Impressionistic but others are so sure and deft that they are almost photoreal – it’s astounding that he doesn’t do his work digitally.

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If you’re looking for a comprehensive overview of fashion illustration, you may be better off buying 100 Years of Fashion Illustration by Cally Blackman, which is more timeline based. However, if you want to be reintroduced to some old faces and become acquainted with the new master, then this beautifully laid out book is worth buying.

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Masters of Fashion Illustration (paperback) by David Downton is published by Laurence King and is out now.