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Things to Read #33

No round up last week, because I was finishing the final project for my MA (yep, I did one of those), the cover of which you can see here. It took a very long time and a lot of effort and a surprising amount of crying – but that is what happens when you choose to write a personal essays about your dead nan. I always knew that going to Central Saint Martins would be an experience – never more so than when your course director dies suddenly and you see Kanye West at her memorial. And now it’s almost over.

In this week’s Irish Times, I talk about Alexander McQueen’s enduring life and legacy, and a little bit about ’70s platforms. The Irish Times now has a soft paywall, so you may not be able to see it.

Genitalia is a catwalk statement now. The effort it takes not to pun about this is almost insurmountable.

The life of a model can be harsh and unfair. Not ‘just like the rest of us’ unfair, ‘indentured servitude’ unfair.

Experimentation and excess are still the watchwords of London Fashion Week.

Amy Odell is one smart lady when it comes to tech, and she has a huge picture of a cat on her office wall.

Kim Gordon has great taste in books. *pops memoir on to wishlist*

Welcome to the graveyard of good ideas.

Just when you think Kim Kardashian has no problems, you find out that she has psoriasis. Human after all Kim, human after all.

Visual inspiration for novelists-at-work – includes family photos and faces drawn on oranges.

Teenage Bedrooms on Screen is my new favourite Tumblr.

The London Review of Books has unlocked an unsettling Angela Carter story.

“This is part of a larger phenomenon – the tendency for Gen X-ers and those who came after them to be “spiritual but not religious”. Rather than converting to one set mythology, younger people tend to pull spiritual ideas and practices from any source that works.” I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of covens –symbolic and otherwise – this week, and I’m not the only one.

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Things to Read #30

“It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for those internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”

– from the diary of Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin, among the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen.

In this week’s Irish Times – the link between happiness and getting dressed, and I answer a question about underwear.

“I treated them contemptuously because I marveled at their ability to be so naked in their assertion that what they looked like was something that demanded time and money and attention, and because I was afraid that kindness would mark me as a fellow soldier in the fight against physical imperfection, when all I wanted was to be so naturally beautiful I’d never have to ask someone to help me look better.” What’s it’s like to be the meanie behind the cosmetics counter.

Alexander Fury’s wrath is always fun to read (though I did enjoy Gods and Kings, the McQueen/Galliano book that he eviscerates in this article).

“When I heard this story I thought about all the women I know today who falter when it comes to pitching, the writers who have trouble selling their voices in professional settings against established male writers. To know Ager was so ballsy, so aggressively hungry, in the year Nineteen Thirty-Fucking-Three makes me want to step up my game currently.”

The past, present and future of Tumblr book clubs.

What one week of harassment on Twitter looks like.

Ask not for whom the bell trolls; Lindy West’s experience with the troll who impersonated her dead father, and what happened afterwards.

A look inside The Onion.

And things to watch: firstly, a Sundance panel talk with Lena Dunham, Jenji Kohan, Mindy Kaling and Kirsten Wiig (<3) and secondly, a Vice interview with surviving Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Luz.

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Things to Read #23

A history of the New York Time Styles section, in which it is confirmed that every subject I write about is seen by the general public as totally inane and useless. Yay?

Before Kim K and her oily full-frontals by Jean Paul Goude, there was Saartje Baartman.

Hipster problems.

Taylor Swift must be exhausted after filming her new video. So many paradigms to shift, so little time.

One man and a forty year search to find his bully (spoiler alert; the bully turns out to be an utter shit).

Self-care: What it is, why it’s important and how one woman does it.

A recently unlocked profile on Madeline L’Engle, whose book, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ bamboozled the hell out of me as a kid.

Are you stealing your partner’s personality? I’ll get worried when I start playing Grand Theft Auto.

Everybody sexts, apparently. NSFW, but it’s Sunday right now, so appreciate the saucy illustrations at your leisure.

Dubbing films in French is very complicated.

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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.