Fashion, The Reading List

The Reading List: Man Repeller – Seeking Love, Finding Overalls

Who hasn't gone out to find love and come home with a pair of overalls?

Who hasn’t gone out to find love and come home with a pair of overalls?

Leandra Medine, a.k.a the Man Repeller, has gained a large and rabid online following the success of her blog, which promotes self-love through layering, harem pants and the wearing of generally unsexy things.

On paper (or onscreen, I suppose) it sounds a bit odd. In practise though, it’s unsurprising that Man Repeller became as successful as it did in such a short time. What sane women would turn down a free pass to experiment with her own sense of style, free from the Cosmo-lite rhetoric of fashion magazines that encourage us to dress so our boyfriends won’t leave us for other, much better-dressed, pert-bottomed women. I’ve given my opinions on the MP before (link to the Irish Times article here*) so here’s the tl;dr version (sorry, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Reddit recently) – Man Repeller is genius. Guilt-free love of self and love of fashion; style dictated for ourselves, by ourselves. If Medine didn’t come up with it, someone else would have had to.

Business in the front, party in the back.

Business in the front, party in the back.

Man Repeller: Seeking Love, Finding Overalls is Medine’s first book of essays, and it trades heavily on her existing internet fame. She’s brutally honest, self-effacing, funny and that special type of brave that is reserved for people who write about their lives and the lives of their friends and families with no regard for any personal fallout that might occur. While many bloggers present an idealised version of themselves, with only best best bits on show, it seems that Medine was self-aware enough to realise that growing up in a wealthy, loving family in Manhattan with an enviable wardrobe was already enough life-envy for most people to process without pretending that her personal life was something out of a Disney film. She gains weight, she loses weight, she loses her virginity to a guy who isn’t that into her and she has an unfortunate vomit-y mishap with a precious family heirloom. She’s insecure, she doubts herself, she makes bad decisions and she discovers the joys of reading Joan Didion.

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That being said, Medine is no Joan Didion. She has a strong, strident, easy to read style, but ultimately it’s honesty that makes Man Repeller a page-turner, not writing.

In terms of fashion, clothes are woven into the fabric of Medine’s life. She constructs outfits for different social situations, worries what people will think of her outfits and devises her harem pants as a dating filter, weeding out the posers from the pure at heart. It’s a slim, small book that starts at infancy and ends with marriage, but it’s a style evolution that’s secondary to her own life. It’s a quick, easy and enjoyable biography of the original Man Repeller, not an analysis or step-by-step guide to man repelling.

 

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*To answer Irish Times commenter Tommy, who asked, “Who reads this shit?” I’m not sure if you’re referring to the article or to Man Repeller, but the answer to both, conveniently, is lots. Lots and lots.

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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, Photography, Subculture

The Wild Girl Gangs of Marrakech

Kesh Angels, the work of Moroccan-born, UK-based photographer Hassan Hajjaj is a hallucinatory look into a young subculture that most people aren’t privy to – the Moroccan motorcycle girl gang. Women on scooters with Nike djellabas, knockoff designer slippers, heart-shaped shades and a flagrant disregard for perceived speed limits. They’re got the attitude and unblinking, unwavering stares of Russ Meyer film heroines, but the only killing these ladies are doing are with their threads.

It’s only a matter of time before this gets co-opted into an M.I.A music video – or maybe that’s kinda happened already

P.S – If you like this, you might like this old post on the Hell’s Angels and the women who rode with them.

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Kesh Angels is running at the Taymour Grahne Gallery in New York until March 8th

More photos at The Guardian.

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Fashion, Photography

Karen Walker, Visible

Karen Walker is well-known for the originality of their eyewear campaigns, but this one is that little bit extra special.

The Visible eyewear range will be available from February 10th and is partly made in Kenya with a group of artisans under the UN’s ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative. The stars are the people who worked to make special beaded glasses pouches; assistants, screenprinters and specialist Maasai beaders.

A lot of campaigns pay scant lip service to ethical and sustainable fashion initiatives in Africa, so it’s nice to see a company doing slightly more than photographing a wistful celebrity in an arid, vaguely desert-like environment to hawk terrible, deliberately faux-naive looking stuff. “Look how desperate it is here!” the celebrity’s eyes say. “You must buy this bag out of a misguided sense of guilt. Oh, go on.”

What a fucking insult to the people of Africa. Sorry, I’ve gone off on a tangent here. Hopefully this campaign will persuade people to look at little deeper into African fashion in a real, engaged way instead of just pandering to the same old stereotypical images. If Karen Walker can do it, there’s no reason why we couldn’t either.

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Rason (Maasai beader)

Rason (Maasai beader)

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Velma (Assistant)

Velma (Assistant)

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Collins (Metal Caster)

Collins (Metal Caster)

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Kappoka (Maasai beader)

Kappoka (Maasai beader)

Pics via Karen Walker

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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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Art, Fashion

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!

It’s fitting that today is the late, great Isabella Blow’s birthday and the preview day for Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore which officially opens at Somerset House tomorrow morning. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue is something of a family affair, albeit one where the matriarch is noticeably absent.

Curator Alastair O’Neill says that the exhibition is centred around the wardrobe more so than the woman, which is probably wise given the temptation to sensationalise and mythologise Blow’s life and death.

What. A. Wardrobe.

Isabella Blow owned very little couture, but a lot of her clothing had couture detail. She had a brilliant eye for colour and silhouette and, most importantly, she wore her clothes. Really wore them. An embroidered wedding kimono has a grubby hem from careless use. Satin shoes are stained with spots of rain. Shoes for the real girl. Dresses for a women with her head in the clouds and her feet in a puddle.

Fashion Galore is expertly and lovingly curated. I found myself crying a little bit as I exited through the gift shop. Then I cheered up on discovering a Nars counter with stacks of Isabella-style lipsticks alongside the postcards and exhibition catalogues.

That’s the point of Fashion Galore. It’s the wardrobe. It’s not life, it’s not death. It’s material, cold and pliable and, in Blow’s hands, it’s the stuff that dreams and handmade realities are really made of.

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Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! exhibition at Somerset House, presented in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins. The show features over 100 garments from designers such as Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy. Selected from the personal collection of the late British patron of fashion and art, the exhibition runs from November 20, 2013 to March 2, 2014.

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Fashion, Subculture

Punk, or a Facsimile of

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- From Vogue Russia, October 2013

Punk has become very glossy, hasn’t it?  It’s been appropriated and bastardised and distorted and machine-gunned and laquered beyond all comprehension.  And yet…

I rather like this editorial.  It pulls together as-yet unmined aspects of punk (like how feminine it could be – in an intrusive, slightly threatening way) and is still incredibly high-end and glossy, albeit with a slightly slimy edge.  It might be the massive Mint Aero that I’ve just eaten, but I feel a little queasy looking at it.

It reminds me a little of this don’t-care photo of two punks on the Kings Road, as shot by Steve Johnston.

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Johnston also talks to Nick Knight of Showstudio about shooting these particular punks (with a camera, I assume).


If that floats your boat, Showstudio have much more up online as part of their Punk: Photography Exhibition.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns, Outfit Posts

Licentiate Column 14/11/13: It’s the Emergency Outfit

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– A variation on the Emergency Outfit consisting mainly of a huge fun fur coat.

There is no internet in my house, it’s deadline day and I still don’t know what I’m going to write about.

Technically that’s not true. I did know that I was going to at least start off by stating that I had nothing to write about, but now I’ve done that and I’m left with very little to work with. It’s panic stations. Code Orange. And I’ve just found out that there’s no milk in the fridge. Better make it a Code Red.

We all have Code Red days, which usually kick in with the judicious application of a snooze button or the removal of one small element – like a ruptured internet connection or a forgotten ATM card.

Some women may not admit to this, but whole days have been ruined by just forgetting to put on a bra before going to work. It’s a very fragile structure. One wobble can essentially remove the support system (and we’re not just talking about the bra thing here).

Cue the Emergency Outfit. Emergency outfits are comprised almost entirely of functional clothing, with one optional or non-functional piece. The functional clothing gets you out of the house, keeps you moving, keeps you sane. The non-functional piece at best gives you a needed confidence boost and at worst reminds you that you’re a human being so maybe you should refrain from anxiously gnawing your fist in public. It’s not good for you. And it’s sore.

My Emergency Outfit is this – one big black jumper for its security blanket-type features and reassuring neutrality. It also needs to be slouchy and thick enough to disguise a no-bra day. One pair of high waisted Topshop skinny jeans. High waist = no muffin top and no fear of the jeans settling somewhere between hips and pudendum while running for the bus. One pair of Adidas trainers in black, in case I actually ever need to run for the bus (and I almost never do). A big, big coat with a monochromatic or animal print pattern – this will scare off predators. The non-essential item is red lipstick. It’s a shot of confidence as well as a physical reminder not to paw at my face lest things go horribly wrong.

That’s the outdoor Emergency Outfit. The indoor emergency outfit usually consists of pyjamas, a hair scrunchie and a sense of impending doom. This is true of all women, except maybe those sultry types who only own nighties. A woman who only wears nighties has her shit together. She has no need for the Emergency Outfit.

Of course, all women are different. One Emergency Outfit may be completely utilitarian, with multiple pockets to carry pens, money, tickets, keys and anything that could conceivably be accidental forgotten. Another outfit may forsake pockets for a well-loved, well-worn bag. The security of the jumper could easily be swapped for the comfort of a huge, blankety scarf. Trainers can be substituted for loafers, especially if you accidentally dropp a huge blob of natural yoghurt on your kicks (I am speaking from bitter experience).

The important thing, of course, is that you’re comfortable. And next time, remember to buy milk the day before.

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Art, Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 07/11/13: Love the Design, Not the Designer

John Galliano as seen by Richard Avedon

John Galliano as seen by Richard Avedon

Everyone knows about John Galliano – but for the wrong reasons.

You might know that Galliano is a fashion designer. You might even know that he’s such a talented designer that his first collection was bought in its entirety by London boutique Browns (an incredibly rare occurrence).  You might know that his designs were flamboyant and brought a theatrical edge to an industry that was, in the mid-nineties, still overdosing on minimalism and Calvin Klein slip dresses.  You might be aware, even if only in a peripheral sense, that he was one of the greats; he was the man that made Christian Dior great again.

If you don’t know that, you’ll definitely know him as the man who drunkenly told people in a bar in Paris that he loved Hitler and that the forefathers of the people he was spewing anti-semitic bile at would have been ‘gassed’.  It was recorded on video and spread all over the internet.  In it, Galliano is slurring in a very pronounced way.

Perhaps he was unaware that, in France, expressing anti-semitic ideas in public is illegal, as well it should be.  Perhaps, and you could easily theorise that this was the case, he didn’t care.  He was found guilty, lost his job and for the most part, destroyed his reputation.  That was two years ago.

Galliano has steadily been building his way back up the fashion ladder, aided by powerful friends.  His efforts to atone (his words, by the way) have been applauded.  He works quietly with big name designers, without a fuss.  Rumours abound that he is to take a post teaching at one of the big fashion colleges.  This month, British Vogue is featuring a portfolio of his work photographed by the endlessly imaginative Tim Walker.  More than that, even – he is the guest fashion editor for the entire magazine.

So, what’s to be done about Galliano?  Should the public continue to shun him or should they let his designs speak for themselves?  It’s impossible to predict what will happen to any degree of accuracy.  All I can tell you is how I feel about it.

It’s a bit like this.  We are taught to hate the sin and love the sinner (perhaps the only truly useful thing that non-practising Catholics learn in religion class).  We should love the art and hate the sin – and if you must hate the sinner, at least leave his or her creative output out of it.

We need to separate the art from the artists.  Caravaggio killed a man.  Burroughs shot his wife in the head.  How many writers have killed themselves, only to have the shabbiness of their deaths woven and bastardised into a convoluted creative myth?

Even with fashion, there are those whose legacy ensures a blameless record.  Coco Chanel certainly did shady deals with the Nazis.  Her reputation is whitewashed and romanticised almost to blandness – something the woman herself may well have hated.

Don’t forget what Galliano did.  Similarly, don’t forget what else he has done, and will continue to do.  You may be pleasantly surprised.

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