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Things to Read #16

Any excuse to lob up this Harper’s Bazaar editorial. ANY EXCUSE.

Yipes. I forgot to post last week, but the Rose of Tralee festival was on and I was there and so nothing was done. But I did write this thing on the festival for the Irish Times so, you know, silver linings and all that.

For those with nothing better to do on a Sunday, here’s Rolling Stone’s list of the 150 best Simpsons‘ episodes. A must for anyone who still knows all the lyrics to See My Vest.

“So, why write about Slimane now? Here’s why: If you accept that fashion reflects the times — and I do — then you have to concede that in this respect Slimane has been impressive, even prescient. His Saint Laurent collections perfectly capture the mood and values of the present. The need for simple messages. The triumph of branding. The shortening of horizons due to economic factors. The lack of prejudice toward old ideas, especially among young consumers.” Kathy Horyn resurfaces at the Times to tell us how, and why, high fashion is changing.

Dirty, dangerous ravers. The history of the DiY collective.

The man who found Lauren Bacall, mentored Calvin Klein and went sockless before everybody else, Baron Niki de Gunzburg is the subject of a lengthy piece for Vanity Fair.

“I think of the warmth and generosity of evenings in Azzedine Alaïa’s kitchen in Paris, which often ended after midnight with the first glimpse of a new design. How much I learned about Azzedine—and from him too. And I remember a drive I made in Belgium in 2005 with a nearly unknown Raf Simons, the door panels of his Volvo stuffed with empty cigarette boxes. So much for glitz, I thought.” Another piece by Kathy Horyn, this time about friendships in the fashion industry. On a personal note – though I’ve got many good and trusted friends in the industry, my GOD it’s still a murky body of water to swim in.

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The Reading List: The Vogue Factor…

… by Kirstie Clements.

Clements, the Vogue Australia editor who was unceremoniously sacked in 2012, says something in her book that will really hit home with fashion journalists; a newspaper mentality is one that criticises negatively by printing negative reviews, but a magazine mentality is one that criticises negatively by omission. Kirstie Clements has a definite magazine mentality.

For from being the hatchet job that most people were expecting, The Vogue Factor is not a vicious exposé (though the less said about Australia’s Next Top Model, the better), but an informative read through the procedures and practises of a lesser-known Vogue. It’s also a timely reminder that, no matter how high you rise in the editorial ranks, there will always be some kind of invisible pecking order. The Australian fashion industry is beset with problems that are particular to a country that is relatively hard to get to, that relatively few people get to visit, with a relatively small fashion industry (According to Clements Australia has a fair amount of ‘surfies’ and ‘bogans’ – according to a judicious Wikipedia sweep, my new favourite word is ‘usually pejorative or self-deprecating, for a person with an unsophisticated background, or whose speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplify a lack of manners and education). Unique problems means that there has to be a set of unique solutions, and Clements has obviously become, throughout her tenure at Vogue, an incredibly astute problem solver.

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So; not a tell-all. It’s a tell-a-little. There are no juicy anecdotes, no backwards swipes. no secrets spilled like so much Chanel nail varnish. The only sharks here are in the ocean.

Clements is at her writerly best when she’s talking about how hard it is to get tickets for Paris RTW shows, the worrying expectations put on models or the tricky art of negotiating honest content between the PR and the page. It’s very solid, and Clements comes across as a thoroughly likeable person who has no time for slug-a-beds and the unmannerly. A disproportionate amount of the book is dedicated to describing lavish press days and parties in France and New York, which can be a bit discomfiting. Is she promoting the PRs’ products all over again?

Those who want a job in the fashion industry should pick up a copy of this book. If you put down this book feeling disillusioned after finishing, that’s fine. The Vogue Factor, apart from the press day chapters, is free of the filtered, rearranged, idealised bullshit that most magazines are at pains to project to their audiences. It’s an honest look at an industry that deals quite often with fantasy and artifice. Just don’t bank on any tidbits about Anna Wintour.

Things to Read #11

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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.

 

Things to Read #6

Yum.

Yum.

Avocado toast seven ways. Avocado toast is SO GOOD. Seriously.

Literary Mothers is a new Tumblr favourite, but instead of cat GIFs, it’s essays about female literary influence (though if anyone makes a Flannery O’Connor GIF, I might cry with joy).

This woman is the reason we’re all checking our privilege these days.

10+ new essays re-examining seminal feminist texts, and why women need to look backward to go forward.

Street style at Frieze.

Looking for cracks in the fashion publishing machine.

And finally, Sarah Mower remembers Louise Wilson, the late head of the MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins. One of the most remarkable and terrifying women I’ve ever met.

 

The Reading List: Seven Sisters Style

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Well, I read Rebecca Tuite’s new book on the female variant of prep, Seven Sisters Style, and it is just delightful. Really and truly delightful.

I’ve written more on the subject for today’s Irish Times. If you can’t pick up a copy, you can read it right here.

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Things to read #5

This week was Met Ball week. Hooray? I wrote a dress down for the Irish Times here.

Brandon Stanton’s pictures and profiles of the attendees (Bryan Cranston and his wife Robin Dearden, that’s forever love).

Martin Filler and Colin McDowell ruminate on the life and work of Charles James, the man this year’s Met Ball was all about.

A. Boogert and the underrated art of mixing watercolours. So many pretty colours

A. Boogert and the underrated art of mixing watercolours. So many pretty colours

 

I was never a huge fan of Elizabeth Bennet anyway. Lucy Snowe, on the other hand…

“But fuck Photoshop. Photos are already lies.” Molly Crabapple’s searing piece on Photoshop and feminism.

How the celebrity profile got to be great, and how it got to be so boring.

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.

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.

Ahem.

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: Punk Press…

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Rebel Rock in the Underground Press, 1968-1980, compiled by Vincent Berniére and Marcel Primois.

Punk Press, much like punk style, doesn’t demand reading, but it does demand intense, concentrated looking. Really look at it. Get into all the cracks and crevices. Weed out the dirt and the anger. Look at how easy it can be to get something out of almost nothing.

Comprising full page facsimiles of the most noted international punk magazines and ‘zines, Punk Press is a must for anyone even remotely interested in the genuine aesthetic and NOT what everyone was wearing at the little ol’ Met Ball (mostly boring – though props go to Giovanna Battaglia and her safety pin crown).

It’s the best in punk style, music and art, with the famous (Linder Sterling’s provocative Buzzcocks collages) to the slightly obscure (Loulou Picasso’s Soviet nods for French magazine series Libération) featuring.

A friend and I spent a few hours looking through the pages and dreaming about how we could make our own ‘zine. You can take that as a good sign – I rarely get inspired to actually ‘do’ something unless pizza or red wine is the end result. Such is the impact of Punk Press, or indeed, the punk presses at large.

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Punk Press is published by Abrams and is out now.

The Reading List: Diana Vreeland, Empress of Style

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Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion is the first full-length biography of the legendary Vogue editor and self-mythologiser where words and facts take precedence over pictures and unverified if exciting anecdotes.  How did Diana Vreeland go from a well to-do housewife to one of the most powerful people in fashion?  And how did her remarkable mind and creative disregard for beauty over truth develop?  This book, by biographer Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, attempts to answer those questions.

Vreeland, ‘the High Druidess of fashion, the Supreme Pontiff, Perpetual Curate and Archpresbyter of elegance, the Vicaress of style’ did not start out in life commanding the religious reverence that the previous quote implies, but instead had a difficult childhood, forever in the shadow of a beautiful younger sister and treated badly by a capricious, adventurous mother who (as these things often go no matter how much pink hair dye we put on) Diana resembled more in personality and outlook the older she became.

This book counters the obvious beautiful lies that Diana told as she invented herself.  Diana was born in Paris, but did not grow up there as she had claimed.  However, a more outlandish tale, that of Buffalo Bill teaching Diana and her sister to ride horses, may actually be true.  Mackenzie Stuart assesses Diana’s claims on its individual merits, not treating each one with scepticism but with a calm researcher’s eye.

This book is heavy on the fascinating details of Diana’s career, especially on how she came to win her jobs as editor of American Vogue and at the Costume Institute.  Grace Mirabella, Diana’s successor at Vogue, appears as a conflicted figure in the text but there is still a little meat missing from the controversial and quite sad story of how Diana came to fall from Grace at Vogue.

Diana’s personal life, especially that with her two sons, is not examined in great depth, though her relationship with husband Reed (who appears in the book as a bit of a well-dressed enigma) is given more space on paper.  The two sons do not appear as voices in the book – it’s a shame because, as the documentary The Eye Has to Travel shows, both have a great deal of interesting and often painful things to say about their mother.

The book is well-written, accessible, entertaining and nicely-paced.  With a life as unsure and clouded with half-truths as Diana Vreeland’s, the temptation to insert your own take on her life must be immense.  However, this biography does justice to the great lady’s legacy.

Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion is published by Thames and Hudson and is out in hardback now.