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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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 29/08/13: The Night of the Short Shorts

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- Courtney Stodden, age 19. Courtney, I salute you as a sartorial inspiration to teens everywhere. I really do. Pic via a website called ‘Hawt Celebs’ – yes, really.

There’s a lot to be said for female permissiveness these days. Actually, wait, there’s a lot to be said ABOUT female permissiveness these days, the loudest bleatings often coming from men and women who still think that society at large is the boss of the female body and not the female herself. Similarly, parents can and will police what their children wear, with varying degrees of success.

I’m from Tralee, a fact that I don’t shout about in this column because a) It’s not Cork and b) It’s really not Cork. Everyone knows the Rose of Tralee. It is the original version of Father Ted’s Lovely Girls competition, except with drinking on the street, a blanket bar exemption and an overpriced, oversubscribed funfair in a carpark.

I’m an old hand at the Rose and don’t really partake in the festivities anymore. Still, I like to wander around the town and indulge in a spot of people watching. Observing people opens your mind to a lot of new ideas. One walk around the funfair and all I came away thinking was, “How the hell do all those teenage girls get through the parental barrier and out the door in those shorts?’

Hot pants. Proper bum-baring, arse-out, hello-world-this-is-my derriere short shorts. All the kids are wearing them. I’ve never felt so out of touch in my life, except maybe for the time I tried to engage a friend’s daughter in a conversation about my favourite member of One Direction (It’s Liam, by the way. So underrated).

I felt a little disconcerted and not a little bit scandalised, in a sort of conservative, reactionary Daily Mail sort of a way. They’re so young! Why aren’t they gambolling through verdant green fields instead, like sheep?

It’s hard to be a teenager. Your brain goes all fuzzy and you can’t do what you want and the slow dawning realisation that no-one truly understands you makes choosing what to wear a matter of little consequence. You wear something because your friends are wearing it, despite how uncomfortable it might make other people feel.

But really, it’s not the fault of these girls that we feel so uncomfortable. It’s our own fault. We’re so, so uncomfortable as a society with the notion of young women wearing provocative clothes and maybe, just maybe (deep breath) becoming sexually active (employ the smelling salts) that we push logic to the back of our minds and say that they’re scandalous, they’re slutty, they’re going to get themselves into big trouble if they go out dressed like that.

That’s ridiculous, really. Women don’t get into trouble because of their clothes, except in practical situations – you wouldn’t wear a bikini to work in a coal mine. Young women are especially vulnerable to criticisms so, in the future, if you see a child of yours going out the door dressed like THAT, maybe just tell her that she’ll get a cold in her kidneys.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 08/08/13: Talking Shit About My Ex

From time to time – specifically when I’ve run out of ideas – I’ll ask people what I should write about for this column. Sometimes, I put a call out on Twitter, sometimes I ask strangers, sometimes I ask friends. In fairness, a lot of people have total gems to offer; a seed of an idea that can easily be developed into something I never would have thought of. Last year, I wrote a three-parter on dressing for pregnancy – as a happily unpregnant person, this had, rather selfishly I might add, never occurred to me before

I talk to my ex on Viber quite often (for the uninitiated, it’s an app that allows you to talk to people for free via your internet service). It’s great.

Unfortunately, when you chat via text, you can rarely interpret tone correctly, especially sarcasm (and as both a naturally sarcastic and defensive person, that can be a volatile mix for me).

So, when I asked him what I should write about this week, I was greatly taken aback to see the following pop up on the phone screen. “How the f**k should I know? For f**k sake Sarah, it’s not my goddam motherf**king column, go wrote about horses**t for all I care! Jesus f**king Christ!”

He was joking.

However, his subsequent suggestion (some guff about Fred Perry tops and sports brands in mainstream fashion) was incredibly boring, so I’m going to talk about the mythical hidden contrasts in men’s attitudes to fashion through the men I’ve spent some, um, quality time with.

1) Being into style somehow makes men gay. Surprisingly, I have only ever had one ex (that I know of) who showed same-sex tendencies and he was quite well-dressed in a homogenous, Topman kind of a way. However, this is because, at first, it was me who was dressing him.

Unenlightened menfolk, homosexuality is definitely not about clothes; and you definitely don’t have to compensate for being stylish by being aggressively hetero towards women – that’s aimed at you, Stylish Guy who referred to me, nauseatingly, as ‘intellectual pussy’.

2) Being into style means that men have unnecessarily inflated egos. We Irish people love to use the phrase ‘Oh, he loves himself’ as an insult. It is patently not an insult – you’re supposed to love yourself.

However, this horrible attitude means that men who takes any pride in their appearance are seen somehow as more selfish and self-absorbed than others, so in an effort not to appear that way, a man must look like he doesn’t care that much, even if he does. This can easily be seen in the scores of exes who would happily wear their jeans out well after the hem had ripped, not stopping until one rainy day, when an accident happens and a sodden pants leg is ripped up to the back of the knee.

I called those days ‘good days’.

*At this point I should tell you that my ex is a very nice person and almost never comes across as a total dipshit.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 18/07/13: Me, Topless

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Ladies and gentlemen, I pose to you a very important question. Why is it OK for men to take their tops off on a crowded thoroughfare on a hot day and not OK for women to do the same?

The short answer, I suppose, is boobs – but really, are all women to be blamed for their glandular failings?

Kerry, where I live at the moment, has a lot of lovely beaches on miles of unspoiled coastline. Like Cork, it’s beautiful and peaceful – and full of dunes to hide in if you’d like to go without bathing suit and save yourself the bother of tanlines. A friend of mine decided to do such a thing last week – and someone called the police.

Of course, by the time the police got there she had popped her bikini top back on, leaving a pair of befuddled (and slightly hopeful) gardai to wander the beaches asking people if they happened to see a woman with no top on.

Is this really the best way to use our tax money and resources? Policing women’s bodies? Actually, wait a minute, the government has been doing nothing in regards to women’s bodies but police them. We can’t get abortions, we can’t hold seats in the Dail without being pulled onto a drunk colleagues lap (like most jobs, really) and now we can’t even bloody sunbathe without the police breathing down our necks – literally.

For the record, public nudity is illegal in Ireland. Sunbathing topless, however, is not technically nudity. The general law that comes into play when dealing with the sticky, sandy subject of toplessness is the Criminal Justice Act that prohibits offensive behaviour – offensive behaviour being “any unreasonable behaviour which, having regard to all the circumstances, is likely to cause serious offence or serious annoyance to any person who is, or might reasonably be expected to be, aware of such behaviour.”

Breasts are not offensive. Not a bit. Anyone who thinks that breasts are offensive needs to have their head checked. Drug-taking, violence and Crocs are offensive – my mammaries are not. I find it so odd that people worry specifically about young children seeing naked breasts; they spend so much time attached to their mother’s baps that the sight of an areola must be second nature to them.

And weirdly, Ireland is the only country in the whole EU that doesn’t have any designated space for nudity or topless sunbathing. As with a lot of women’s issues, we are desperately behind the rest of the continent on this one.

We wouldn’t like a law that tells us what to wear. Why are we so tolerant of a law that tells us what we can’t wear?

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 23/05/13: Alligators in the Canaries

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It is a rather balmy 22 degrees in Mogan, Gran Canaria and I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty hot where I am – conveniently and blessedly, I actually am in Mogan at the moment. The sun is shining, my shoulders have gone a stingy shade of emerging candy floss pink and I’m typing this column out on an iPhone, hoping that I’ll catch the autocorrect function when it substitutes the word ‘aunt’ for a different word mid-column.

I have been wearing the same t-shirt dress for three days (Christopher Kane for Topshop’s alligator design in case you’re curious). It’s pretty good. Great, in fact. I haven’t been on a sun holiday in almost five years.

In my family, I am known for being the lightest packer. One swimsuit, two dresses, a few t-shirts, a pair of shorts, a toothbrush, sunblock and six books compliment whatever I wore on the plane. The rest is incidental. Going on holidays is an opportunity to get away from everything, so it’s easy to make the choice to get away from clothes, which occupy a worrying amount of my daily thoughts. It’s also an opportunity to get away from the physical stuff – the sheer volume of the absolute shit we accumulate on a daily basis.

People buy multiples of the same types of clothes all the time. I have many, many grey Topman t-shirts. They fit really well. I also have rails of beautiful vintage dresses that I almost never wear. They are just too pretty and nice and impractical. It’s fashion, but for display purposes only.

Chatting with an ex online (there’s free wireless here and I get bored easily, OK?), he told me that his fairly extensive vintage football jersey collection was another example of such a ‘display only’ mindset. Clearly, these clothes, the jerseys and dresses, are meant to be worn. But we mean to keep them locked away, with the motivation of exclusivity or nostalgia. We love them. We are attached to them and we in return imagine that they are attached to us, becoming a part of our identities on the rare occasion that we put them on.

People buy multiples for two reasons. 1). The love of the item. 2). Because it suits them. My best friend has many floral a-line dresses because they look good on her and many many pairs of impractical shoes because she loves shoes. She doesn’t think these shoes constitute a ‘collection’ but they do, oh they do. Beyond the pleasure/pain of wearing them, she no doubt gets pleasure from just looking at them or having them on display in her room.

How attached are we to our clothes, really? Recently, an opportunity arose for me to sell my vintage collection – not just the dresses, everything. If you knew that your collection would go to a place where it would actually be worn as well as loved – as it was meant to be in the first place – would you let go? I’ve deferred for the moment, but the money would be helpful – and at least now on holidays I know I can live easily with a diminished wardrobe.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns, Subculture

Licentiate Column 11/04/13: The Music Muse

It’s an interesting – but not that interesting – thing to note that most people’s style icons are women and men who don’t actually work in the fashion industry. Think about it – who admires the personal style of fashion designers? Do women want to emulate Vivienne Westwood’s ‘tights with no knickers’ sartorial approach? Or Donatella Versace’s ‘platinum blonde hair atop a chain smoking leathery visage’ look? We don’t admire their style. We admire their talent.

The creative industry most conducive to admiration and copycat-ism is the music industry. To want to look like a writer is to want to look like you fell headfirst into a skip. To want to look like a film star is to want to look totally homogenous and inoffensive. To look like a musician is also to look like you fell into a skip to an extent, but a skip out the back of The Coolest Store In The World.

Musicians; they just get it. Successful musicians know, and are sometimes saddened by this, that image plays the most vital part in getting yourself noticed. Image is everything. It is sadly most definitely the case with the majority of young female singers. However, it is nice to see how many female artists now subvert the conventional cute’n’sexy kitten look for something garish, weird, intimidating or slightly smelly – all of which, not encouragingly, can still translate to short, tight and sparkly under a different guise.

It’s with this in mind that we turn to Saint Laurent Paris. The rebranded French fashion house, once called Yves Saint Laurent, is now headed by designer Hedi Slimane. Slimane has a habit of using musicians as muses. His first advertising campaign is no different but still manages to buck the trend for the marriage of fashion and music – the campaign features Marilyn Manson, not-a-household-name Ariel Pink, Courtney Love and Kim Gordon, bassist and guitarist for Sonic Youth.

Both the women featured in the campaign are of a certain age (in Gordon’s case, over fifty) and they look great. They look even better than the average model despite – or in my opinion, because of – their age. Grunge fans will know Love for more than just her ripped babydolls and smeared makeup aesthetic, while as well as a musician Gordon has become the understated style icon for fans of understated cool (Chloe Sevigny and Sofia Coppola both modeled for her clothing line, X-Girl, when it debuted in the early Nineties).

From MIA to The Dumdum Girls to Florence to Kim Gordon, what makes musicians so cool? I don’t think it’s the music; I think that it’s because they don’t care too much. Musicians who have the weight of stylists and record companies behind them never look too well. We just need to watch an episode of The Big Reunion to remember that.

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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 14/03/12: Who Run The World?

Beyonce KNOWS.

At time of writing this column (March 8th 2013 – fast fashion doesn’t apply in journalism, you know) it is International Women’s Day. For those who are opposed to such a thing, take a deep breath, then exhale. By the time you read this, International Men’s Year will have safely resumed and we women will go back to listening to Beyonce songs in private, like the Dutch and Belgians listening to the BBC World Service in their attics circa 1943.

The fashion industry can puzzle the most staunch of feminists. It’s a mind-boggler, a bamboozler. It’s an industry led overwhelmingly by women in all its facets, but that barely seems to count. A smart, stylish and very enlightened colleague of mine recently referred to the fashion and beauty section of every magazine or newspaper as the pink ghetto – it’s a place where smart women’s writing is dumped when editor’s can’t think of a better place to put it. In some magazines, that’s a definite reality. But, a ghetto? Really? Do I work in the ghetto? Does what I do disenfranchise women?

I don’t even like pink. Even that’s a bit disingenuous though – I am typing this while wearing pink pajama bottoms as I wait for my black shorts to dry on the radiator.

Does fashion empower women? It’s a tricky one. It’s a bit like asking if books empower women. The right books will, but the wrong ones can make idiots of the best of us. It’s really up to the consumer to decide for herself.

Now that corsets are no longer de rigeur, the empowering effects of fashion are much more apparent – and manipulable. As long as people have opinions and the ability to create, it will never be perfect. Nothing is ever perfect, save for art and the math equations you learned for the Junior Cert. Fashion will never be fully feminist or misogynist as long as there are two people around to disagree on the subject.

Let’s look at the figures, shall we? The majority of fashion designer are women. That’s pretty good, isn’t it? It’s rare than women will lead the way in a creative path in any industry. The majority of garment workers are women. That’s pretty cool as well. Ah. Wait, no, it isn’t very cool really. An awful lot of garment workers actually work in sweatshops, in subhuman conditions for long hours with very little pay. The majority of CEOs, well, that’s an interesting one. The majority of fashion CEOs are men.

Women in first world countries often forget that women are actually not equal to men in personal, economic or social terms. Due to the ongoing debates about abortion rights, Ireland has been in the unusual position of being a developed country that is also a birthplace to a new boom in feminism and activism. The debate will rage on. Let’s hope that, for the sake of women everywhere, it spreads further out than from the confines of my pink ghetto.

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Fashion, Film, Subculture

The Face of Modern Street Style

TAKE MY PICTURE from GARAGE Magazine on Vimeo.

Have you seen Take My Picture yet? If not, take nine minutes out of your evening and watch it – it’s very illuminating.

Featuring Tim Blanks, Tommy Ton and Susie Bubble, this Garage Magazine-commissioned mini-doc explores the street style phenomenon as it exists today.

Regardless of whether you think street style is the modern runway or a load of old hooey (or, like me, you think it’s a bit of both) there’s a new insight to be gleaned after watching this.

And at least if you don’t learn anything, you’ll get to see Anna Dello Russo briskly walking in circles for Tommy Ton’s benefit. More entertaining than it sounds, I promise.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 07/03/13: Model Worship and My Big Fat Head

The 90′s supers are even less amused with the size zeros than I am. Pic by Roxanne Lowit.

Does anyone here remember the first wave of Model Mania? It’s the early nineties and Naomi, Cindy, Christy, Linda and the other one are rolling around in a tastefully lit, tastelessly draped room, lip synching to George Michael’s ‘Freedom’. Naomi and Mike Tyson, as a new and weird power couple, do a shoot for American Vogue in front of hundreds of people. Cindy brings out a make-up manual. Christy develops emphysema and, as a consequence, gets into yoga. She brings out a line of yoga and pilates workout clothes. Naomi will continue to throw phones at her assistants’ heads and accept blood diamonds from dictators long after it stops being stylish to do so.

What’s the difference between that wave and the current one? The models are much, much slimmer now. Where models were then expected to be a size eight or even *gasp* a ten (just the tall ones though), many models now are expected to be a six or even a four. For a bit of context, a size four, the fabled US size zero, means that your waist must have a circumference of no more than twenty-two inches.

My head has a circumference of twenty-two and a half inches, and no Superbrain am I. I am, however, smart enough to know that such a measurement is not healthy if you are a woman standing more than five feet ten inches in bare feet, nor is it a particularly achievable thing to look up to. I’m also getting a bit worried about whether I have a fat head or not.

From Cara D to Lea T, women are worshipping models. And why not? They’re all so beautiful and oddly-proportioned; they look like they’ve been manufactured by a group of mad scientists, possibly in the region of Doctor Moreau’s island (I hear that it’s also a great place to get a tan).

In models of this generation, the weird quirk is celebrated. We love eyebrows with no arches, gaps in teeth and protruding eyes. They’re still beautiful, but their beauty encourages more of a fascinated, museum-appropriate stare. People look at models like specimens rather than people. Perhaps this is the natural progression. If so, you wouldn’t be castigated for losing a little more faith in the human race.

The quirkiness and the slimness – that causes worry for women who remember models before heroin chic became, well, chic. It’s far too easy to put the blame squarely for the skyrocketing incidences of eating disorders on the modern model. The psychologies of anorexia and bulimia are much more nuanced and sinister than that. It’s a subject that bears further scrutiny despite the large amount of research that has already been done.

Even my (actually, normal-sized head) can comprehend that.

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