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.


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: Antonio Lopez…

…Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco by Roger and Mauricio Padilha.

Brought to you by the brother team behind the Stephen Sprouse book, Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco is heavy on the fashion and art, profligate with the sex and mercifully sparing with any disco tendencies.  As a luxe retrospective of the man who changed fashion illustration into a fairly straightforward representation of clothing into a glamorous, high-burning lifestyle to aspire to, it is comprehensive, but not bleatingly sympathetic.

The book charts Lopez’ work, as it goes from black and white Bridget Riley’esque Op Art illustrations for WWD, to the louche lines and Toulouse-Lautrec inspired saturated colour arrangements of Maxime de la Falaise, to his own hyper-sexualised clean drawings, which would become one of the most obvious signifiers of his era.  His style totally typified the 80’s – stark, one coloured, androgynous faces of many races, most with contrasting slashes of blusher and deep, dark eyeshadow.

The book is not just illustration;  Lopez used his Instamatic without thought for the prohibitive price of film – his photos make the viewer feel voyeuristic, so sexual are they.  The sheer volume of exposed supermodel breast on show makes the reader feel as if they’ve gone through a secret cache of private photos on a famous person’s phone. Such is the power of instant film and the Lopez clique.

With those are many, many photos of Lopez and his partner, Juan Ramos, out and about, enjoying beach holidays with Karl Lagerfeld and horsing around with Jerry Hall.  The mix of biography and retrospective is hardly surprising – The work of Lopez was radically intertwined with all other aspects of his life.  He socialised with his muses (even becoming briefly engaged to Jerry Hall) and stayed with Ramos as an artistic and business partner long after their romantic relationship had waned.

Perhaps the best part of the book is the selection of pages from his diary – mostly sketches, some photos, scraps and a smattering of words.  The breadth of his talent was ever-expansive. Through these diary pages we see a distilled essence of what shines through the whole book – love.  It is pure, unabashed love which powered Lopez’ work –  love of life, of colour, of form, of the fulfillment brought through work and taking advantage of every available opportunity.

Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco, by Roger and Mauricio Padilha, is published by Rizzoli and is out now.

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.

Monvel and Brissaud

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.


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.

David Downton

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.


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

The Reading List: The Vintage Fashion Journal

Illustrated by Niki Pilkington, this journal is designed to be the perfect accompaniment to the whimsical vintage girl, who spends time in flea markets, art galleries and old-fashioned tearooms.  There are a lot of these Manic Pixie Dream Girls floating around the place; some more dedicated than others, some only being Manic Pixies on a part-time basis (old-fashioned tearooms are the only places I can get my sugar high on, I swear). I can easily imagine Zooey Deschanel using this notebook to dream up more perplexing questions for Siri, then sighing over her Darjeeling and looking through her fringe into the middle distance.

The first impression you get holding this notebook is that it is pretty – very, very pretty. It is designed to shoot a laser beam right at the weak spot in every person who goes slightly squishy over cute things. The cloth-bound (!) hardback (!!) is illustrated with overtly whimsical vintage accessories(!?!!**!?! *faints*). A 35mm camera here, a quilted purse there. A perfume bottle spritzes dangerously close to a lace collar. It is all tied up with a pretty red ribbon.

There’s a little bit of everything for a stationary lover; pages are ruled, crossed, left blank or covered with Pilkington’s dreamy dreamy dream girls. If there’s one aspect of the notebook that hits a bum note, it’s the inclusion of ‘inspirational’ quotes from the likes of Chanel and Schiaparelli, which are a tad contrived (but also quite sparse in number).

The illustrations, however, are gorgeous. If Pilkington’s romantic but bright designs look familiar, it might be because you’ve seen them in the likes of Topshop, Ted Baker, Elle and Nylon.  According to her blog, she’s also working on a collaboration with DIY Nails guru Tammy – now that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

If you’re a vintage lover looking for a notebook that elevates list making from mundanity to, um, FUNdanity, then this is a good ‘un.  It would also make a lovely Christmas gift (am I allowed to start thinking about Christmas now?).

The Vintage Fashion Journal is published by Laurence King and will be available in September.

The Reading List: Beaton in Vogue


This is the first review to go live on this blog in over a month, and what better way to blow away the fashion fatigue cobwebs than flick through the reissued Vogue portfolio of iconic photographer, illustrator and raconteur Cecil Beaton?


In a career spanning five decades, Beaton came to be more than just a society photographer. Known for his relentless social climbing skills and ambition and, to a lesser extent, his devastating personal critiques, this book paints a picture of the professional traveller and journalist, with precious few glimpses into his personal life. In his tenure with Vogue, Beaton amassed an astonishing body of work, a sampling of which is lovingly showcased in a lavish and tactile paperback (don’t you love when books use more than one type of paper? Books – 1, Kindle – nada).


The book is split into several sections, dealing with society, royalty, travel, war, celebrity and fashion. Essays are grouped together on matt cream paper, while Beaton’s whimsical doodles of heavy-lidded doyennes and waltzing couples cavort in the margins. As a writer, Beaton is acutely observational. Unexpectedly, this is most obvious in his war reportage, which captures the small things that personalise an otherwise homogenous mass of people fighting for a common cause.


The photography is an eclectic mix; Coco Chanel rubs shoulders with Loelia Ponsonby, the first wife of her lover, the Duke of Westminister. Gertrude Stein, Mae West, Queen Elizabeth and Marissa Berenson all occupy the pages with ease.

There is little of Beaton’s work post-1960 on show, and the photographs lack the elegance, stillness and perfection of his earlier work. Perhaps Beaton’s heart was no longer in fashion photography. Perhaps technology had overtaken his preferred method of taking photos. The harsh lighting, cold exposure and permawaved 70’s models do his style no favours. However, the last portfolio of his world travels, some from the later period of his life, all display the vitality and vision of his earlier fashion work.


If you don’t know much about Cecil Beaton’s work, then this is the best place to start. A must for vintage photography lovers and magazine fiends alike – just don’t expect a scandalous biography.


‘Beaton In Vogue’ is edited by Josephine Ross and published by Thames and Hudson.

Inspiration: French Women

Is it just me or is November a little, well, flumpish?  You know, it gets dark at six and it’s cold and rainy and it seems that nothing is very inspiring.

I bet French women don’t have that problem.

Lou Doillon

Francoise Hardy

Sonia Rykiel

Francoise Sagan

Emmanuelle Seigner

All illustrations by Isaac Bonan for Milk Magazine.

The Reading List: My Even More Wonderful World of Fashion

It feels like forever since I’ve written a book review, which is a pity because I have a mountain of fashion tomes to get through and share with you nice readers.

Top of the pile is Nina Chakrabarti’s new colouring book, ‘My Even More Wonderful World of Fashion‘.  Yep. Colouring book. Note the beautiful foil cover and spine.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Chakrabarti’s work.  I’ve blogged about her work before, I own (and love) her first ‘Wonderful World…’ book and regularly pop onto her website to see what new drawing she has uploaded.

It’s far too early to talk about Christmas presents, but this book would be an ideal stocking filler for the fashion conscious little (or not so little)’un in your life.  Drawing fashion for children involves treading some very thin lines; it’s important that the drawings celebrate beauty and craftsmanship and not crass, blind consumerism, anorexia or a developmental state of status anxiety – something that’s surprisingly hard to get right.  This book is ideal for children.

For adults, it has just the right amount of fashion nerdery and tongue-in cheek humour to indulge in.  Judith Lieber bags! Cousin It hair! Style Icon Princess Leia! Judy Blame charm necklaces! The book ties together craftmanship techniques from around the world, important moments in fashion history and pictures of style icons virtually seamlessly with ever looking like it’s trying too hard to be all things to all people.

As usual, the book is packed full of illustrations on paper so nice to the touch that it’s almost a shame to draw on.  The paper isn’t really built to withstand vigorous felt-tip rubbings.  There will definitely be a bit of bleed to the other side of the page – but really, watercolours are just so much more genteel, aren’t they?

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look on it) I can’t bring myself to besmirch the book.  Photocopying a page will preserve the integrity of the book for much longer (and it’ll last longer when you eventually run out of doodle room).

My quibbles with the book are few.  Some of the themes that run through the book itself fall a tiny bit flat. The fashion flashback pages, which illustrate the clothing of the 1950’s onwards are a tad predictable, though beautifully presented.  The same illustrations are repeated at random intervals throughout the book, which can be  deflating.  None of this is stuff that a child would find fault with but as an adult, it can be disappointing.

There also seems to be more blank pages when compared to Chakrabarti’s earlier work.  I was greeted with this page, for example – something that occurred more frequently as I flipped through it.

Despite my nerdy problems, I will cherish this book.  It is something special and rare – a book that can be enjoyed by all people with an interest in fashion with an agenda that is celebratory and positive but as far removed from preachy as can be humanly possible. Chakrabarti’s illustrations are expertly rendered.  I only wish that I had more of them to enjoy.

My Even More Wonderful World of Fashion is published by Laurence King and will be released on the 26th of September.

In context: Rene Gruau and John Galliano

I’ve blogged about Rene Gruau before and was delighted to see that John Galliano had sifted through the archive to draw inspiration from a man who helped to mould the Dior image with his illustrations throughout the 50’s and 60’s.

I have much love for Gruau’s work but his books are all out of print and sell for serious money on eBay – the closest thing I have to a print is a card I received for my university graduation, which has lasted through several house moves and now has pride of place on my fridge.

Gruau’s work is painterly, spontaneous, cheeky, seductive, inimitable and just a tiny bit risqué – all words that you could also use to describe Galliano’s work.

Gruau’l illustrations for Dior


This illustration was used for Dior Cherie and was also a promotional image for the recent Gruau/Dior exhibition at Somerset house




It’s great to see that Galliano hasn’t used the clichéd 50’s silhouettes that are being done to death.  His subversive eye tallies more with translating Gruau’s often abstract paintmarks and translating them into dresses.  A Philip Treacy headpiece looks like a brush stroke and an exclamation point to top off an outfit.  A bow mutates into a shimmering tulle overlay on a ballgown.  A train folds and is tucked so it becomes a whole with a dress.  All the dresses have a fluidity that is synonymous with Gruau’s work.  More brush strokes are transposed onto the skirts themselves.  Gruau’s trademark love of opera gloves is evident.  And the make-up!  Ah, the make-up… No shading – just black, white and red.

What do you think of Galliano’s couture?