Fashion, Licentiate Columns

The Last Licentiate Column (For Now)

The view of the Lee from my old flat on North Main Street. Sigh. I wonder where that jacket is?

The view of the Lee from my old flat on North Main Street. Sigh. I wonder where that jacket is?

Alright Stevie G, you’re taking the piss. Just when I sat down to write this, my very last column, the veteran broadcaster, DJ and general nurturer of Cork’s creative talent, tells us that he’s leaving us. I didn’t have any thunder to steal, but if I did, I’d be rummaging through Stevie’s record bag trying to find it.

Cork has changed, lads, I can see it from all the way over here in London. It’s not the way it was when I first started writing for this fine paper in 2009. We were deep in the throes of a recession, the novelty only starting to wear off. Off in the distance was the cultural revitalising of a truly brilliant city; one I was immensely proud to call my home for more than six years. While Cork is perhaps better known in recent years for the flood of musical talent pouring out of The Pavilion, you can’t deny the creative output in other areas; film, art and, lest we forget, fashion.

When the Cork Independent’s editor Deirdre first suggested that I write a fashion column, I had my doubts. I knew that I loved clothes, but the problem was that I didn’t know very much about trends and definitely didn’t care about adhering to them. I still highly suspect that she only gave me the column to stop my aunt, confusingly also called Deirdre, from mentioning her fab writer niece every ten seconds in conversation. To both Deirdres, I will always be grateful. You gave me my first real leg up into the world of journalism. Without both of you, I don’t know where I’d be. Working on a building site in New South Wales, probably.

The Cork Independent is pretty unusual, in that it’s a free sheet that isn’t total crap. I was allowed to talk about pretty much anything I wanted, which is almost unheard of in print these days, doubly so for a writer with relatively little writing experience. I was allowed to be an honest voice, even if that honest voice was only talking about a nice hat that the writer saw on a woman on North Main Street.

I have been writing this column for four years, more or less. I have changed as the city changed and, while there is no way that I could outgrow such a unique place, there were unique opportunities presented to me as I learned more about my chosen subject and (hopefully) became a better writer. I would have been a fool not to pick them up. So, pick them up I did. I left. I moved to London, where I’m now doing stuff that I would never have thought of back in the days when staring at a blank screen, wondering how to talk about pink, was a weekly ritual.

I love Cork, I do. I still get sad when I think that I can’t just walk down the road and call into Miss Daisy Blue (still one of my favourite vintage shops ever) or order an Eggs Benedict at Liberty Grill. Sometimes I get so maudlin I even get nostalgic over avoiding the unsuitable boys I kissed, now almost a decade ago (!) in the Brog.

We change though, we get older. Cities change like people. Sometimes, the city you loved isn’t the city that exists anymore. It’s time to give up my corner of the newspaper, and by extension Cork itself. Thank you all for reading. It’s been quite a trip.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 23/01/14: Breasts, Beauty and Wearing a Cure

Better living through chemistry

Wearable technology is really the new buzz-phrase that will seriously affect women in 2014 over all trends. not just because it can make life a little easier, but because one day it could  well save them.

The development of new, wearable technology may be a reprieve for the thousands of breast cancer sufferers who, due to side effects, cannot take the potentially life-saving drug Tamoxifen. A new study, undertaken by Central Saint Martins student Sarah da Costa, suggests that wearing clothing impregnated with the drug may be a viable alternative to taking the drug orally.

Tamoxifen, which has been roundly hailed as a miracle cure, is a hormone treatment that effectively binds itself to cancer cells and prevents further tumour growth. It also leads to a host of unwelcome side effects ranging from menopause-like symptoms such as hot flushes and the cessation of periods to an advanced risk of endometrial cancer. Like it or not, breasts have become a sign of an essential part of womanhood. We obsess over size and shape, we pop them on a shelf and we strap them fast to our ribs when a trip to the gym is involved. The irony of a life (and breast) saving drug that also mimics the menopause is that it may make a women feel like less of one while essentially saving her.

What if, instead of taking the drug, you could just wear it? Da Costa has been heavily involved in research of biopolymers, naturally occurring molecules that could easily facilitate absorption of medication through the skin. She hopes that, through technological development of these biopolymers, that Tamoxifen could be embedded in a bra and administered on a constant low-dose basis, which would attack tumours at source and lessen the unwanted side-effects.

Da Costa’s prototype of the Tamoxifen bra insert looks a little like the prosaic ‘chicken fillet’, a rubbery, clear gel pad that sits inside the bra cup. However, the unintended cosmetic effects are incidental – the drug inserts are slim, flexible and virtually unnoticeable when worn.

Whether the technology can be practically applied is a totally different matter.  It’s not yet know how effective this could be, if at all. Still, it’s nice to dream of a better world. A world where you can wear your medicine, where being gravely ill doesn’t automatically mean death.

Fashion trades so much on physical beauty, which, as a short, slightly dumpy woman, can get me down. We need to trade in our definition of beauty for a new one. Just to be alive is to be beautiful. To feel the heartbeat of a loved one when you hug them, to feel the cold on a winter evening and know it’s not just the temperature, but the blood coursing through our veins; it is a beautiful miracle.

Clothing doesn’t have to just make you conventionally beautiful. When (and I truly hope that day does come) garments helps the sick to stay alive, fashion will be truly beautiful.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 09/01/14: New Year, New Nothin’

We all turn to self-examination when the New Year rolls around. Photo of Lena Horne by Teenie Harris

We all turn to self-examination when the New Year rolls around. Photo of Lena Horne by Teenie Harris

It’s the second of January as I write this. It might not be the second of January as you read it.  A few days always elapse between thinking something up, committing it to paper and watching the (sometimes not very well considered) thoughts as they are processed and printed.

Maybe, just maybe, the world will blow up between thinking and printing and no-one will ever get to read this.  Why, I could say whatever I wanted! Um, Kim Kardashian is a waste of space.  I can’t afford to pay my broadband bill. I’m absolutely terrified of the future and what it holds due mostly to lingering anxiety and an inability to trust people – even the nice people who buy me Kinder Eggs on a whim.

It’s not just reduced price tags, sample sales and enforced jollity that makes people go a bit mad with clothes shopping over Christmas and New Year. It’s also about the fear of change, the attempt to buy insurance for a future that may not yet exist.  Here we are, in the first week of the New Year, looking out on to a sea of endless possibilities. Maybe the possibilities aren’t endless.  Maybe there are only a few.  A puddle of possibilities.

Either way, you will probably feel the urge to buy a rake of new workout gear, but maybe not a new gym membership.  Maybe you, like I, will buy all your new clothes in a size too small, and still forget to buy a gym membership. Those two options rarely pay off.

There, however, are two options that are much more likely to bear fruit. The first is to buy clothes for a job you don’t yet have. It’s quite simple.  If you already own a Ghostbusters shellsuit, you’re much more likely to get a ride in Ecto-1. If you look the part, you just might get the part.

Working in fashion, there is an expectation to buy clothes that make you stand out. Often, these clothes can be quite expensive. You don’t have to do this, of course, but it’s a supremely stylish, single-minded and probably incredibly tall and slim person who refuses to literally buy in to this way of thinking.

The second option is to buy clothes for the relationship you don’t yet have. This is a tricky one. Not everyone differentiates between dressing as a single person or dressing as a person in a happy relationship – clothes can only do so much.

A lot of people do differentiate between these two. Some people devalue themselves, considering themselves only worthy of nice things (including clothes) when they’re feeling loved. Nice clothes for a nice relationship.

When I recommend that you buy clothes for a relationship you may not have, I’m really recommending that you do that for the most important relationship you’ll ever have; the relationship, romantic or otherwise, that you have with yourself.

At the New Year, it’s easy to think that you are in need of a physical and mental overhaul. Realistically, you probably don’t. Love yourself and treat yourself. In this case, having something nice to wear is a necessary New Year evil.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 21/11/13: Lived-in.

IssyMirror_0

Isabella in the mirror. Photo by Rebecca Lewis.

The Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore exhibition opened this week at Somerset House in London and a few days ago I had the opportunity to go down, check it out and make a total tit of myself in front of a room full of journalists.

For those not in the know, Isabella Blow was the stylist who effectively discovered Alexander McQueen and Ireland’s own Philip Treacy, amongst others. She nurtured these designers, becoming a patron, a friend and a source of moral support. She was known as an eccentric, a visionary and a hat lover in possession of one of the world’s finest wardrobes. I say was because, in 2007, Isabella Blow killed herself by drinking Paraquat weedkiller – a terrible, painful death that is terrible and painful to think about.

I cried. Exiting the exhibition, I cried. Isabella Blow’s legacy was her wardrobe. It made me think of all the little bits and pieces I own that once belonged to people I loved, people I can’t talk to ever again.

A lot of my jewellery once belonged to my grandmothers. I have a 1950s US military ID bracelet that a visiting soldier gave to my maternal grandmother as a token of his affection. A Christian Dior necklace that a Texan gave to my paternal grandmother late in her life when she decided, almost on a whim, to spend some time in America after the death of my grandfather. Rings and bracelets. Rosary beads. For some reason, both had slightly different insect-shaped brooches in amber and crystals.

It’s a terribly morbid question to ask, but what will you leave behind? Isabella Blow left her clothes. She also left an immense amount of love and several books worth of memories, most of which are happy, all of which are remarkable at least in some small way.

My grandmother’s (and now my) ID bracelet is covered in dings and scratches. It was well-worn before it was put in a drawer for the best part of fifty years. Isabella Blow’s clothes are well-worn too. Hems are slightly muddy, heels are broken, delicate satin shoes are stained with water and puddly remnants. Clothes are a sign that a person has lived. Wearing out clothes is a sign that you are living properly. You are living a life filled with activity instead of passivity, not sitting around waiting to be noticed or admired.

There may be a mathematical equation here – the speed at which you wear out your clothes may be directly proportionate to the speed at which you accumulate experience and memories. Whether this holds water or not, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is living well, giving life everything you have and not being afraid to wear a massive hat when the occasion calls for it.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns, Subculture

Licentiate Column 25/4/13: Thinking About Tattoos

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about various things. This is good because a) if I didn’t, then the space where this column usually goes would be occupied by a picture of me shrugging and b) if I didn’t have any brain activity, I would most likely be a dead person – and I’ve heard that’s not much fun.

This week’s thought space has been disproportionately concerned with tattoos. Tattoos have been around for thousands of years, existing in almost as many social contexts. Only recently has the tattoo been floated as a fashion statement, despite that fact that only clothes and tattoos are specifically designed to be worn on the body.

Is a tattoo a valid fashion statement? My first reaction is no. When it comes down to it, fashion is fleeting and temporary; it exists in a series of moments, preserved only when there is a pen or a camera around to capture it. A tattoo is much more personal – and much more permanent.

I’ve been thinking about getting one particular tattoo for about five years. It’s a book illustration, very small and very personal. I know where I want it to go. I know who I want to do it.

I can never find the motivation to book it.

People wear clothes to express who they are, but tattoos express the essence of a person. While an outfit says a lot about a person’s occupation, values, likes, dislikes and social status, the tattoo tells a story often burdened with feeling (I am now remembering, shamefully, asking a man I had just met what his tattoo meant, only to have him dissolve into tears over the death of a loved one).

A tattoo is a personal statement, not a fashion statement. It’s a shame that the underlying reason people give for not liking the tattoos on other people is because ‘it looks cheap’. It’s an amazing world we live in, when we are raised not to judge people on how they naturally look, but make blithe assumptions of a lack of class when we consider a change in look that a person has planned his or herself.

A tattoo is ownership. It is a person assuming autonomy over her body. Because tattoos are so personal, they transcend notions of class or taste. A tattoo belongs only to the person whose skin bear its marks. A person who passes judgement on the tattoos of others passes it in an invalid way. It won’t hold up in court.

A good friend of mine has been itching to get a tattoo on her chest. On first telling me this, my face immediately scrunched up into confusion and distaste. ‘Why would anyone want to do that?’ I wondered.

Then, of course, I realised that it didn’t really matter. Not my chest, not my place to stick my oar in. Ink will not change a person. The mark that can do that, you can’t see on the skin.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 21/03/13: Blogging, Why Bother?

It was July 2011. I just returned from a holiday with my family on the Amalfi coast, which was amazing, and suffered a bout of (not so amazing) food poisoning. The aforementioned food poisoning precipitated the kind of existential crisis that can only happen when you stare life right in the toilet bowl and hug the cool, blue Mediterranean tiles that you wish you had in your own bathroom.

My second existential crisis that week came about as we flew home, going through the kind of severe turbulence that makes an otherwise sturdy machine seem about as fortified as an empty can of Pepsi.

The first patch of turbulence was scary. The second was stomach-bubbling, I-wish-I-had-a-bible terrifying.

So, as the plane rolled around in patches of grey cloud, I alternated between praying (no atheists in foxholes and all that) and coming to terms with the fact that I had no direction whatsoever career-wise. This is unfortunate, because I had wanted to be a journalist since seeing April O’Neal prance around and be generally inept in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a wee one.

The plane landed, obviously, I got off and kissed the tarmac. Washing bits of sticky black grit out of the burnt pockmarks in my face in the airport bathroom, I decided to pay proper attention to my fashion blog. It was, at that time, about the only good thing I had going for me. I also realised that I could have dedicated more time to world peace, but there’s not very much I can do about that now. The airport can make a person go funny.

I’ve had no regrets. Starting a blog has given me so much, made me learn more about fashion as well as web design, pr and marketing and has led to every good job opportunity I have ever had – including this one.

Do you love fashion? Do you want to work in the fashion industry? Do you want to make friends with the same interests as you? Start a blog.

Why blog? Well, if you must ask:

  1. Experience doesn’t matter. All you need is a bit of enthusiasm and a Photobucket account. Which is nice.
  2. You’ll meet new people Blogging encourages community feeling and a discourse between people with mutual hobbies and interests. It’s like going to summer camp to make friends, except the DIY bracelets are cooler and you can keep your pajamas on all day if you like.
  3. Blogs are immediate. Think of fashion blog aggregate sites like Bloglovin’ as the ticker on Sky Sports, but with shoes instead of ash clouds.
  4. Blogging involves a lot of writing, but it’s nothing like journalism. Good journalism is based on getting your point across in the quickest, most entertaining way possible. Blogging, not so much. You can ramble on and talk about whatever you want, which is great. Throw in the odd spelling mistake if you like. You’re worth it.
  5. You get to share what you love and find out what other people love too – like a creepy fashion voyeur.
  6. Reading other people’s blogs and blogging yourself will help to draw inspiration, to really think about personal style or what style means to you. It’s something worth thinking about.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 01/11/12: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

What I think I look like in pajamas. The reality is more heffalumpish. Pic by Nina Leen for LIFE

Are you cold? I’m cold. I’m bloody freezing. My toes have turned to icy nubs that jolt me awake in chilly shock whenever I shift about in my sleep. Two hot water bottles and the occasional hot port have no alleviating effect. The fuzzy pink Penney’s pajamas I discovered in the airing cupboard make me a little warmer, not that that’s any consolation to the people in hot countries who slave away (in some cases literally) to make us our cut-price winter warmers.

I have taken to working in bed. The pajamas stay. I lump on brightly coloured shawls, hats and jewellery – the jewellery is a smokescreen to make me believe that I am making some kind of effort. It’s like aspirin – I don’t know quite how it works, but it really does. I look like a person who has gone on a gap year to Peru and decided that the locals know where it’s at, wardrobe-wise.

I think that this is perfectly acceptable. I still get my work done, I get to stay warm and no-one sees me looking like an ersatz bag lady/Olsen twin. It’s not my priority to look nice, or even presentable, when I’m at home by myself – the priority is to be cozy or, as a friend of mine who lives in Copenhagen says, hygge. ‘Hygge’ is a great word. It may even be a cozier word than ‘cozy’.

When I step outside the house, though, I am less ‘hygge’ than ‘hyggledy piggeldy’. I have yet to master the gentle art of layering that comes so easily to tall, sylphette women and less to to shortish, vaguely lumpish ones with, y’know, curves n’stuff.

Still, we shall struggle valiantly on, trying to strike that balance between beguiling and well-swaddled. Until the average person’s social life revolves around wearing pjs and never, ever going outside, we will have to spend our time socialising, running errands and attempting to have some semblance of a romantic life wrapped in several layers of fuzzy fibres, making a person look like a less jolly Sta Puft man.

It’s not a lot to ask to want to look both presentable and be warm during the wintertime. Here are a few tips.

1) Take care of your bod. Your face is the one part of your body that will repeatedly be exposed – and the elements we are exposed to are harsh ones. Take your multivitamins, change to a richer moisturiser as the weather will dry out your skin and invest in a few hot oil treatments for your hair. A healthy, glowy person wrapped in a soiled blanket will look better than an unhealthy sniffling one in Burberry.

2) Embrace technology. More specifically, embrace the new generation of thermal underwear, which adds no bulk but is still soft, breathable and snuggly warm. Best of all – it’s available in most high-street stores.

3) Proportions are key. Wearing a lot on top? Keep it slim on the bottom. Skinny jeans (with thermal leggings underneath) tucked into mid-heeled ankle boots will nicely balance out whatever millefeuille duvet-like concoctions we can come up with.

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