Art, Fashion, Inspiration, The Reading List

Things to Read #11

ben giles

Ben Giles’ new collage series, All in My Head, is super.

How do you solve a problem like the Monty Python reunion? This is a great article.

“With visibility is supposed to come admiration, respect, access, affluence – and for most of such men, it delivers. Yet for the rest of us, with visibility comes harassment, stalking, threats, loss of career opportunity and mobility, constant public humiliation, emotional and sometimes physical violence.” How being internet famous (or just visible to other people) can make women a target for online violence.

“Even today, several generations removed from the devastating critique of their triviality that was at the heart of first-wave feminism, Marie Claire and other women’s magazines remain obsessed with the appearance of female public figures, an obsession that still extends far beyond them into leading news publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. You can take the woman out of the woman’s magazine, but the style of coverage—and it is all about style—remains the same.”

The London Review of Books goes to London Collections: Men.

Diane von Furstenburg talks Warhol and Studio 54 and some more stuff that she’s perennially associated with.

On being a Times Square Elmo (it’s never as much fun as it sounds, is it?)

This Nabokov essay from 1972 is a must for anyone who struggles with writing inspiration.

 

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 09/05/13: Bill Cunningham New York – What a Lovely Fella

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Photo by The Sartorialist.

There are days when you feel restless and annoyed, unsure of yourself and bored with everything. Nothing is right. Everything is limp. The brain feels overstretched and chewed over, like a discarded piece of chewing gum stuck to the sole of your shoe. I call those days ‘Sundays’.

Sundays are made for couples – providing, of course, that they both have the same opinion on football. If you’re single, Sundays are usually made for the television.

In moments of laziness and indecision, it’s often a good idea to pop the TV on. The Spurs match not being entirely enticing, I flicked onto the hard drive to see what treasures were stored there. A Beyonce documentary (nah), Gone With The Wind (tempting, but too long) and three BBC4 documentaries about women’s issues (that I doubt I’d process very well after a glass or two of wine). As you can tell, I live in a very pro-woman household – that or someone spontaneously deleted all my brother’s carefully recorded episodes of Family Guy and American Dad again.

Whoops.

I ended up watching ‘Bill Cunningham New York’, a lovely feelgood documentary about the well-respected New York Times street style photographer. It’s a study in integrity, passion and the insane capacity for knowledge that a love of fashion – indeed any art or craft – can inspire. If you have not watched it, I beg you to go and do so. Even if the thought of fashion trends makes you want to vomit, watch it. Even if you’re only using this page to clear up dog poop (I applaud you for recycling, I really do) and this sentence manages to catch your eye, watch it. You will not regret it. Put the paper in the bin first though. Or frame it. Whatever, I’m not bothered.

Bill Cunningham is one of those rare important people in the fashion industry who simply reports style instead of dictating it. Every day, he puts on his cheap blue smock, loads his camera with film and cycles the street of new York on his Schwinn, looking for something beautiful to photograph.
In ‘Bill on Bill’, a rare autobiographical piece that Cunningham wrote in 2002, he said, “Back in the 60′s, I remember that Eleanor Nangle and I were sitting at one of Oscar de la Renta’s first shows in New York when she heard antiwar protesters down in the street. She said: “Come on, Bill, we’re leaving. The action isn’t here.”” We got up and skipped out of the show. I knew from photographing people on the streets that the news was not in the showrooms. It was on the streets.”

This was written a full ten years before street style blew up – some might say right in our faces. And yet, whether you are aware of street style or not, Bill Cunningham remains, unchanging. He’s one of the most important chroniclers of our time, and has been for several decades. He’s a burst of warm sunshine – the perfect person to get to know on a self-conscious Sunday.

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Art, Inspiration, Photography, Subculture, The Reading List

The Reading List – Muses: Women Who Inspire

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Muses: Women Who Inspire is a lavish coffee table book, published by Flammarion, all about the romantic muse. ‘Romance’ is definitely the watchword – almost all of the muses in this book were engaged sexually with their masters (for want of a much better word). The modern muse is disregarded – Edie Sedgewick for her drug use, Grace Jones for her perceived lack of longevity and Kate Miss for, well, just being Kate Moss. The woman in this book cover a period of roughly 100 years, from about 1850 to 1950, from the Countess Castiglioni (who, both hearteningly and pathetically, was her own muse) to Giulietta Masina, the sprite-like wife of Federico Fellini.
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This rather large hardback is stuffed to the gills with women, some you have heard of, some who are a whisker away from relegation to the purgatory of obscurity. The selections are wide-ranging from art to literature to film to photography and often quite illuminating, but the treatment of said muses is interesting.

In quite a lot of the profiles, we don’t learn how the women directly influenced the artists – unless it is quite obvious (Salvador Dali using his wife Gala as a model, for example). The women are related to in terms of their influence and not their personality, which is unfortunate. Photographer Lee Miller’s life after her affair with Man Ray is referred to only in a cursory way, which is surprising as that period of her life was the one in which she would make the biggest impact on the world. Rather worryingly, Lewis Carroll’s disputed paedophilia is treated in almost apologetic terms in Alice Liddell’s profile, saying in one breath that his behaviour was dubious and in the next that “one should steer clear of judging a personality that was undeniably complex, paradoxical and disarming”.

The real strength of this book is the layout as well as the selection of muses. A rich and diverse amount of photographs and artworks as well as a rich and diverse group of women are masterfully showcased. The scandals, the heartbreaks, the subtle manipulation – it’s all here. If you like a shot of scandal with your history, you’ll enjoy this book.

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Muses: Women Who Inspire is published by Flammarion and is available in all good bookshops.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 07/02/13: What’s a Muse?

Lady Amanda Harlech and Daphne Guinness swap identities and duke out their general muse-iness, as shot by Karl Lagerfeld for V Magazine

In fashion, words tend to lose their meaning – often to the point of crass offensiveness. Only in fashion are we supposed to call prints ‘ethnic’. If we called people ‘ethnic’, a blanket term that just means ‘not white’, we’d be in a lot of trouble. Likewise, nude is a no-go word, because all it really means is ‘skin coloured, but only if you’re a pinkish-looking person’.

Still, these terms get used, often out of an ignorance that is either innocent or willful. Each is just as harmful as the other. I know I’ve used both, definitely before thinking about what they actually meant. Words are powerful. In fashion, people tend to forget that words can be just as powerful as images. Fashion people are slaves to appearances. Why shouldn’t they be? The whole fashion industry boils down to making nice-looking things that people will foolishly spend pots of money on.

The meaninglessness of certain words and the preference for what the eye can see is self-evident in the words ‘muse’ and ‘icon’. There are so many muses and icons floating around in the atmosphere these days that they should be branded as a new element – the super-inert gas. Models can be muses, high-born ladies with bottomless wallets can be muses and (I shudder while typing this) even baseless harridans like the Kardashians can be muses.

What’s the difference between a muse and an icon, really? An icon is there to be unquestioningly worshipped while a muse provides inspiration, feedback and criticism. It is impossible for Alexa Chung to be your style muse – unless you’re creating something new and you have Her Stylishness on your Skype contacts list for a good old collaborative critique session.

In the book Muses: Women Who Inspire by Farid Abdelouahab, fashion muses are nowhere to be seen. The book focuses instead on artist’s and writer’s muses as, the author says, it focuses on an altogether more romantic era. Where is romance in the 21st century? It disappeared, along with the dodo and and the chance that Ireland will legalise abortion on a par with our EU brethren. A shame, really, as the likes of Dora Maar and Alice Liddell could have shaken fashion as much as they did art and literature.

Who are the modern muses? The late Isabella Blow certainly was one. Her eccentricities, jolie laide face and PR abilities helped to propel Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy to great heights. Lady Amanda Harlech is a modern muse in a very old-fashioned sense. She joins Karl Lagerfeld at every fitting, reacting to his ideas, constantly offering feedback. In modern parlance, she’s a consultant as well as a source of inspiration, but ‘fashion consultant’ is far too clinical a term even for Kaiser Karl.

What’s quite sad about the relationship between fashion designers and their muses is that the muses, almost always women, are inspiring more than they are inspired. It makes almost no sense. All these beautiful, smart, creative women are eclipsed by the men who draw from their talents. Lee Miller, a model, artist, writer, Cordon Bleu cook, world traveller and photographer is overshadowed by Surrealist photographer Man Ray.

It’s time for a role reversal. We need more male muses for female fashion designers and writers. I’d like to announce that I’m on the market for a muse. Any takers? You can find me at the usual address.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography

I’m in Stereo and You’re So Monotone

I am loving the monochrome trend, I really am.  As a journo, you tend to look at things with an analytical eye, but I really do just want to run off with a pile of black-and-white patterned clothes and play dress up until my little heart bursts.

monochrome 2 - nine leen monochrome 3 - lisa larsen monochrome 4 - david bailey monochrome 5 - the-seeberger-brothers4 monochrome 5 - vulok vulovak monochrome 7 - bridget riley monochrome 8 - unknown monochrome 9 - Friedemann hausse monochrome1

1. Nina Leen 2. Lisa Larsen 3. The Shrimp and Ossie Clark by David Bailey 4. Seeberger Freres 5. Vulok Vulovak 6. Bridget Riley 8. Unknown 9. Jodie Kidd by Fridemann Hauss 9. Unknown

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography, The Reading List

The Reading List – Vogue: The Editor’s Eye

I went for breakfast with a good friend of mine last Sunday.  She’s a writer at a (really great) magazine and together we talked about the merits of freebies – non-editorial speak for ‘products for review’.

I was talking about getting a PDF of a book for review.  This is new.  I’ve never been given a PDF to review before, so one has to refine what it is about a book that makes it special.  You’re more focused on the contents, not on the weight and heft or how tactile the experience can be.  She said, Oh yeah, sometimes I’ll go into the beauty desk, see the YSL and think, ‘Tch, where’s the Tom Ford?’

There was a slight pause, then she said to me, “We really are snobby a**holes, aren’t we?”.

And we really are.  It was a humbling moment.

While the feel factor of a coffee table book is the thing that keeps the publishing industry alive, it’s the contents that are really important.  It’s what’s inside the file (or the lipstick tube) that counts.  I can’t believe how lucky I have been this year in regard to getting books for review.  I’ve loved reading everything and am incredibly grateful to the PRs who deem my sphere of work important enough to read their books.

So, with that earnest anecdote aside, this is a review of Vogue: The Editor’s Eye, which, onscreen, looks like this:

editors eye cover

…but in bookshops, looks a little like this.

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Before reading the book, I took a trip to my local Eason’s to get a look at the book proper.  I found it (rather disingenuously in the ‘Health’ section), wrapped in cellophane, a tome not to be desecrated with my grubby hands.  It is huge.  Monumentally so.  It is the kind of huge that could easily cover an entire coffee table.  It has the kind of weight that potentially says ‘I Am a Very Important Book’.

The Editor’s Eye charts not only the careers of Vogue’s best fashion editors, but also plots an overarching route through the magazine’s general images, from the mid twentieth century to present day.  How did the world’s most popular fashion magazine go from this…

January 1, 1950.  Whiling away an afternoon, in dresses from the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.   © Irving Penn/Condé Nast Archive

January 1, 1950. Whiling away an afternoon, in dresses from the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. © Irving Penn/Condé Nast Archive

..to this?

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November 1988. The novel combination of a Christian Lacroix couture jacket with jeans, worn by Michaela Bercu on the cover of Anna Wintour’s first issue of Vogue. © Peter Lindbergh

How did it go through these changes so seamlessly? The truth is that these changes weren’t so seamless, but the fact that Vogue went through seismic shifts, multiple firings and the odd acrimonious dispute is one that the book cheerfully ignores. It’s not a tell-all; rather it is a show-all.  The focus is rightfully on the specific editors’ careers and not focused on what the editor-in-chief was (or wasn’t) doing at the time.

As an introduction to the various fashion editors who captured the zeitgeist and made American Vogue the magazine panopticon of style that it is today, it is seamless.  Each editor is introduced with an essay and a selection of photographs from Vogue’s archives.  I especially enjoyed the essay on Babs Simpson who, at 99 years old and still telling anecdotes about how she accidentally told Carmel Snow to ‘F**k off’, is the woman who transformed models from static pedestal-dwellers to real (albeit ridiculously good-looking) women engaging with the real world.

The selections of images for each editor is entirely appropriate, bringing together a vital thread or theme that runs through each editor’s work (Grace Coddington – romantic, Tonne Goodman – the healthy body, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele – the beginnings of high-low and street style).  Layouts are sparse – one collage per editor, then pages of one-photo spreads.  It is high-impact and very effectively done. We also get to see pictures of the editor’s themselves, their homes, their childhoods and can learn about their personal lives and motivations through each essay.

The essays are not of the same exacting quality.  While most are excellent, Michael Roberts’ essay on Coddington is rather fawning (‘best stylist in the world’ gets bandied around more than once) and reveals little about the enigmatic Grace that we don’t already know. Hilton Als’ profile of Camilla Nickerson starts as charming but evolves into a slightly heavy-handed dissection of photography and the female gaze.  On the other hand, de Dudzeele leaps out of the page with sheer personality and brio, while Phyllis Posnick’s story gives hope to aspiring stylists without suitably colourful origin myths.

The story of Vogue is reaching its zenith.  Through this book, casual fans of the magazine’s editorial team can now look at others who may have been overlooked due to time, trends or circumstance.  An excellent buy for Voguettes, wannabe stylists or those who just love beautiful fashion photography.

Vogue: The Editor’s Eye is published by Abrams and is out now.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography, The Reading List

The Seeberger Brothers and Real Street Style

Elegance: The Seeberger Brothers and the Birth of Fashion Photography is one of those books that I’ve wanted forever but couldn’t really afford.  It is out of print and second hand copies cost fifty euros and upwards.  The steep sort of upwards.

With photographs as good as these, the prohibitive price tag may be justified.  Caution – this is a very image-heavy post.  To find out more about the Seeberger brothers, click here.

Images via here, here, here and here

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 25/10/12: Better Remarkable Than Attractive

My new do – it’s the latest thing in Man Repelling, don’tcha know?

Working in the fashion industry has a few advantages, the most underrated of which is the ability (or expectation) to dress like a loon at the office without the negative judgement of others. It’s ok to be a bit weird. It may even be par for the course.

In fashion the opposite to good taste in clothes is not bad taste; it is MOR, sheeplike indifference. Dress like everyone else and your ability to work may be called into question – ironic, when you consider that the opposite is true in many other industries.

In school, I was that person who had different coloured hair every month. I’ve been blue, purple, pink – one golden autumn I was (due to a bleaching mishap) blonde, brown, pink and ginger all at the same time. The only colours I haven’t yet gone are green and grey, and since grey is inevitable at some stage, I’ve decided to give green a proper go after years of natural, if slightly mousy, brown.

By the time this column goes to print, I will have petrol green streaks in my hair. It sounds horrific. Just typing that I shudder a tiny bit, half out of anticipation and half out of fear. On telling my mother about my incipient She-Hulk hair plans, her response was, “But aren’t you concerned about being attractive?”

That question stuck with me. I wrote it on a Post It and stuck it to my computer. Am I worried about being conventionally attractive? No, I really am not. I am more concerned about being remarkable, about being smart, about bringing in a balanced budget.

I’m not looking for a boyfriend. I have no obligations to be anyone but myself. Having green streaks will not deplete my already very low charisma and mystery levels. If anything, I am concerned about being ugly. Ugly is remarkable. I would rather be remarkable over attractive any day.

I have a noticeably large nose. It has been broken several times and is home to more than a few lumps. I like it. It gives my side profile a bit of a witchy appearance, but it is what it is – I might as well embrace the oddness. Serge Gainsbourg, owner of a sizable conk himself, once said that ‘ugliness is in a way superior to beauty because it lasts’. Looks fade, what is considered beautiful often changes and looking weird is, at the very least, consistent.

We should all embrace who we are. Facially speaking, flaws should be accentuated just as much as the better attributes. What working in fashion has taught me is that, if you carry anything with confidence (yep, even warts) and make it look deliberate, you will be all the better for it. This advice may be coming from a woman with a big hooter and green hair, but her common-sense is as finely-tuned as the next person’s.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography, Subculture

Teenager on the Telephone

Remember being on the landline at home, having a chat, and being constantly interrupted by your mother going “Are you on a mobile? PSST! Are you on a mobile?”

That still happens to me.

The jeans/white socks/easy-off loafers may just be the perfect combination for a lazy afternoon reliving teenage angstiness.

Photos by Nina Leen for LIFE Magazine, 1944 – click the link if you’re a vintage lover and have a few minutes to spare

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