Licentiate Column 06/12/12: Buy Irish (and Make a Better Christmas)

Even though I’m writing this column a week in advance, I think that I can predict with eerie, Nostradamus-like skills that it is cold, it is wet and it is utterly miserable outside. As temperatures drop and shoes made of natural fibres begin to degrade due to extreme schlepping through slush, it becomes more and more convenient to shop online.

I don’t need to extoll the many advantages of shopping online; if you have an internet connection and a credit card, then you’ll know what they are. However, buying presents from the safety of a small screen poses one quite distinct problem.

Buying online usually means not buying Irish. Not pumping money into the local economy means less money for everyone. I’ve skipped a few logical steps there, but this is not an economics column and I am not John Maynard Keynes.

Buy Irish, if you can. This is easy when it comes to fresh produce; we’re very lucky in Ireland in that respect. When it comes to fashion though, we literally are floating out on an island on our own.

But, and this labours the metaphor further, there are a limited number of life preservers to grab on to.

Craft fairs. One of the unexpectedly great things about a recession is seeing the reserve of strength and creativity being mined by an ever-increasing amount of people in Ireland. Stalls at craft fairs are no longer loaded with tat and fake-turquoise necklaces; now we can buy jewellery that isn’t self-consciously ‘crafty’ or homespun-looking but slickly executed. The democratisation of fashion makes professional techniques and materials more accessible, so your crafts are going to be of a better quality. Many designers and vintage sellers can be found at craft fairs. I quite like the The Fair Alternative, which is held in the old Unitarian Church near the English Market (next date – 8th of December).

Shop locally – online. I know, I know I said earlier that shopping online was the devil, but there’s always a loophole when Beelzebub is involved. Etsy ( is a global marketplace but you can search for shops based in Ireland.  The new kid on the block, Prowlster ( is an online magazine-cum-boutique that sell the best of Irish designers, including jeweller Merle O’Grady and designer Emma Manley. If you can’t choose just one thing, Prowlster also offer gift vouchers.

Local boutiques. If you have to buy that British-label dress, think about buying it in a local shop instead of online. While it’s important to shop for the best price, don’t immediately expect things to be cheaper online – you may be pleasantly surprised. You’d also be surprised at how many boutique owners are willing to haggle, which is more than can be said for online high-street retailers (trust me, I’ve tried).

Buying Irish this year isn’t just an easy way to give something unique to the person you love. It’s also a way for use to sew a tiny thread of confidence back into a country that has been torn, socially and economically, into shreds. If everyone does this, we make the first step towards mending ourselves.

Christmas Gift Guide – Yes, I went there.

It’s, give or take a few shopping days, a month to Christmas, so I thought I’d share my top ten fashion books for people who want to start building their own fashion bookshelf.  I’m by no means an expert, but I was very flattered to be asked to write this article for my old college newspaper.  Good times…

Buy them, borrow them, steal them (but maybe send the author a donation if you do that) – just read them.  This is part one – part two to come soon.

Photo via Captain Magnets

1- Fashion is about self expression, so I recommend The Cheap Date Guide to Style by superstylists Kira Joliffe and Bay Garnett.  In this slim, colourful volume you’ll find lists of wardrobe staples, endless sources of inspiration and interviews with luminaries like Karl Lagerfeld and the late, great Isabella Blow.  It’s prescriptive, but not preachy.  The focus is on your individual sense of style and all the different ways you can experiment and stand out (without looking like a hobo/Hilton).

Photo via Couture and Crumpets

2 – Honourable mention goes to Luella’s Guide to English Style, which is a prettily packaged and illustrated tour through designer Luella Bartley’s fashion sensibilities. Yes, I know it’s a guide to ENGLISH style but they’ve got Chung and who do we have? Rosanna Davidson and that girl from the Lotto ad wearing a Kilkenny strip string bikini.

Photo via Lykaorhel

3 – ‘Pictures’ by Tim Walker.  Noted for never digitally altering his photos, models are turned into candy-coloured lifesize dolls in playhouses just with props and make up – surreal, sometimes disturbing, always beautiful.

Image via Classy Messy

4 – ‘Avedon Fashion’ is a retrospective of Richard Avedon’s work for various fashion magazine spanning over fifty years.  The photos, almost all in black and white, are romantic and dramatic.  If, after a will-to-live-draining evening you should need a dab of glamour, then this is the book for you.

Photo via Une Americaine

5 – ‘Anna Piaggi’s Fashion Algebra’ is out of print, but it’s well worth scouring for a cheap copy online.  Piaggi is the genius behind Vogue Italia’s batshit crazy double page spreads, of which this book is a compendium.  Proof that magazines will never die as long as there are creative people around to keep them special.

Photo via faceduster

6 – I know it’s all about The Sartorialist at the moment but his book isn’t the best.  The photos have dated a tiny bit and in the interim between publishing it and now, Scott Schuman has become a much more accomplished photographer with a sharper style eye. If you want great street style, go to his website.  Otherwise, pick up the Facehunter book, which is miles better.

Photo via fashion slice

7 – If you pick out your friends outfits and think you could transfer those skills into real life, then read ‘Mastering Fashion Styling’ by Jo Dingemans.  Not a word of a lie – this is THE book to read if you want to be a stylist (or just more stylish) and you don’t know where to start.

Photo via Who Moved My Shoe

8 – In the 1950’s Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent were friends.  Twenty years later, they were verbally beating the tar out of each other in a nicotine and cocaine-stained discotastic Paris.  This tale of power, fame and total bitchery is told in ‘The Beautiful Fall’ by Alicia Drake.  Few pictures in this one unfortunately, but Uncle Karl’s antics are amusing enough to keep anyone occupied.

9 –‘Celia Birtwell‘ by Celia Birtwell and Dominic Lutyens.  I’ve posted about this only recently but it really is such a lovely book to have.  Written and presented in a scrapbook style, this book would be a lovely gift for lovers of vintage or pretty patterns. Celia Birtwell is an unsung fashion legend.

Photo via Ever and Wright

10 – This is a tricksy one because I haven’t read it yet (thank you Abrams UK press office for not replying to any of my emails) but Diana Vreeland – The Eye has to Travel looks like it’s going to be a good ‘un.  Made up of quotes, reminisces and seminal magazine spreads commissioned by Vreeland in her tenure as an editor for Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, the previews I’ve seen are gorgeous and a real testament to a fashion visionary.

Post originally printed in the UCC Express.  This version with additions.