Licentiate Column: The Soft Line

Usually, trends are easy to predict. Florals in spring, sombre patterns in autumn, pastels for sun, dark colours for sleet and rain. It’s a formula for prediction for Mystic Meg would snort derisively at.

There are trends that come out of left field, seemingly for no good reason other than a designer’s well-intentioned need to break us little people out of our fashion funk. That is why we have leggings. It may also be why we had such marvels of engineering as the crinoline and the bustle.

Cartoon by George Cruikshank

‘I know’, said the worlds foremost 19th century couturiers. ‘Why don’t we make women look like gigantic lacy bells instead of bipedal creatures? They’re just dying for a change in style. Or perhaps we should make them wear several pounds of horsehair padding on their behinds? Would their bums look big in this? I should bloody well hope so!’

When designers feel like breaking from the norm, they usually do it not in terms of fabric or pattern, but silhouette. This can have an unexpectedly gorgeous outcome (think beaded flapper dresses or block bright Mary Quant minis), but when the trend involves making a woman look unnatural or like she’s been stuffed into a lifesize sausage casing, then we have a problem.

The newest unwearable silhouette change has been dubbed by as ‘The New Soft Line’. This is probably because it will make you look like the squishy-soft Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.

Stella McCartney A/W '11-'12

Vogue describes the trend as ‘soft, curvy and rounded – it may not sound like high fashion, but the new soft line is the silhouette for autumn/winter ‘11’. This, also, does not tell us very much.

A quick run through of the designers that espouse the soft line trend reveal a motley crew; Chanel and Moschino Cheap and Chic, Jil Sander and Burberry Prorsum. Stella McCartney leads the way, with a collection of pillowy garments.
All these designers and the soft line can be boiled down to this – it’s supposed to make you look like you have no joints. Wear a cocoon coat and presto! Your hips have disappeared! Bell-shaped sleeves? No elbows for you today.

It’s an unfortunate trend because it’s beautiful. It really does have soft lines, waving, undulating, alluring. The problem is that the human body, while in possession of such lines, also has angles, points, edges and relative straightness (ironically, mostly found on the slim models wearing such clothes). It makes a person wonder whether the human body is the best canvas for such an artistic endeavour.

Burberry Prorsum A/W '11-'12

Burberry’s winter coats have huge, exaggerated, cropped cape-like sleeves that could house a couple looking to get their first step on the property ladder. It’s rather unfortunate that on a cold winter’s eve this coat would be about as insulating as as Tesco Value toilet paper, despite the heft of the wool or the meticulousness of craftsmanship.

Stella McCartney A/W '11-'12

Stella MacCartney’s jumper dresses are a bit of a misnomer. You would expect a woolly dress to be comfortable, but here the fabric is stiffened, almost like card. This preserves the silhouette.

The sacrifice of comfort for a soft line is bordering on Victorian – full of restriction, austerity, exploitation and diminished mobility. It sometimes seems that we’ve already gone back there economically. Is that a time we want to go back to sartorially?

Licentiate Column 06/10/11: We Are The Mods

It’s all about the sixties this season. Sharp lines, unisex tailoring, retro-futuristic metallics and insouciant glares. Summer of love this isn’t. A discordant chant of ‘We are the Mods’ subliminally floats over the rails of every high-street shop, which is manifested in the slim suit trousers, car coats, peter pan collars and penny loafers within.

Fashion hasn’t always been so self-referential. We look to the past for inspiration, reworking old looks for new. Nostalgia has become a byword in fashion that has only really come to the fore in the past decade. Miu Miu goes forties, Gucci is seventies and Christopher Kane has revamped nineties clubwear tack. When did it all get so bloody postmodern?

Old Mod (via Modculture)

It’s something we can trace back to the original Mod movement which, in 2011, must be going through it’s fourth fashion revival. The slim fitting suits worn by the token rebellious youth were reminiscent of the original trouser-toting style setter: Beau Brummell.

Beau Brummell, the original dandy, set the Regency fashion world on fire by wearing tight-fitting trousers which were considered an indecent departure from the knee breeches that were the norm in the time of George IV. Soon though, everyone was wearing trousers.

Eventually, Brummel’s uniform mutated into what we now know as the suit. Brummel, however, had run up massive bills on pants (amongst other things) and died penniless in 1840 after a severe mental breakdown, probably unaware of just how big an impact he had on the fashion world.

The Mods harken back to that – well-groomed at all costs, tight tailoring to make grannies faint in the street, flying in the face on convention only to be absorbed into the mainstream.

It’s not just the rebellion we co-opt when we draw inspiration from the Mods, it’s also how damn cool they looked.

That’s why the Mod look has been recycled for this autumn/winter, but with an invincibly modern twist. The suits are still slim, but this time the girls that are wearing them too. French brand The Kooples, which recently found an Irish home in Brown Thomas, has enlisted Saville Row tailors to give their clothes a look of Quadrophenia on the Canal Saint-Martin – slim, leather accented and very cool.

New Mod (via Topshop)

Chelsea boots, brogues and loafers, designer and high street, have been updated with high-tech materials and loud finishes; platform soles, neon trim, leopard print, metallic leather.

Topshop have debuted their New Mod look – an orgiastic mish-mash of sixties Mod with a measure of fifties Teddy Boy and seventies punk – think Mod tailoring and foundation with animal prints, cat’s eye glasses, Elvis coifs, grandad knits, black lipstick, Dalmatian print and brothel creepers. It’s a trend that, admittedly, looks much better in real life than it does on paper. It’s also great fun to wear.

All decades have their own individual, recognisable stamp. When we look back on 2011-2020, what will be its symbol? It’s looking ever more likely that this is the revival generation, who reworks history for our own sartorial satisfaction. It sounds slightly sinister, but it’s clothing, not revisionism.

So, don those skinny grey flannel trousers happily. Oh, and hold on to them. I predict another revival in about ten years.

Licentiate Column 22/09/11: The New Sexy

The film ‘The Night Porter’ changed the face of sexy forever.  Up until then, sexy was about apple-cheeked roundness, a gust of wind blowing up a skirt, the painted-on pout, wearing pink to make the boys wink and wearing a bikini to make them turn slightly pinker.

For those not in the know, 1974’s The Night Porter is a film in which Charlotte Rampling plays a concentration camp survivor who, several years after the end of World War Two, falls back into a sadomasochistic relationship with a Nazi guard.

Until The Night Porter, the particular strain of sexiness that involved leather, restriction, sharpness and severity had been regarded as deviant, risky, even evil.  Sexuality suddenly took a turn from being reasonable, if unspoken, to something almost pathological.  The norms of what was sexy took a turn away from centre-field.  Sexy is now a fetish.

Poster mock-up from Movie Goods

Fast forward a decade or three and the gates of sexy dressing have opened wide.  Anything goes, as long as there’s less of it.  That is why Marc Jacob’s obvious homage to The Night Porter for Louis Vuitton is a breath of Gitanes and musk-soaked air (this is a good thing).

The ability of a woman to be sexy is something we could argue over for years, because there are as many types of sexy as there are moments in a year.  One’s mans dominatrix is another man’s poison.  But, and this is a big but, there will always be a proscribed way of dressing sexily.

Today’s acceptable kind of sexy is the Italian ‘molto sexy’ of Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana, all loud prints, dark tans and large everything; big lips, big hair, big breasts, long legs and big diamonds.  This can look good on a speedboat at the Venice Film Festival, not so much on the girls from The Only Way Is Essex.

The fetish look is anathema to the Italians.  It’ll be no surprise that The Night Porter was censored in Italy on release.

Thandie Newton in Louis Vuitton A/W '12 for Louis Vuitton Double Exposure via

On the catwalk, the fetish look translated to sheer, brazen chiffon shirts, mannish suspenders, spike heels, gold handcuff bangles, leather trenchcoats with little on underneath and alarmingly SS-ish officers caps

Is this trend going to catch on?  The ‘molto sexy’ look is easy to opt into – the alternative is adopting the fetish look a little too wholeheartedly and resembling a) a dominatrix b) a masochist or c) a fascist or d) a bit of an eejit.

It’s hard to adopt a trend that is essentially taboo.  So far, it hasn’t been picked up by the high street despite the best efforts of several magazines. However, certain elements of the fetish look have been adopted – leather pencil skirts and mannish tailoring for example.

Are we all just prudes?  I don’t think so.  You can love a film and yet not want to wear it’s costumes, just as you can love a catwalk collection and still not want to wear it yourself.  Fashion trends are all about how your wear them and with fetish, there’s no real wiggle room for an individual slant.  With fetish, you go hard or go home.  Home is where i’ll be, with a cup of tea and a biscuit, watching The Night Porter and NOT worrying about how I’m going to fit into that rubber dress tomorrow.

Licentiate Column 15/09/11: Let’s Talk About Checks

One of my absolute, hands-down, all-time favourite aspects of fabric is pattern.  It’s not the colour, it’s not the tactility.  It’s not the miracle that is puffs of cotton bolls and sheep fuzz getting woven from fibre into twine into material into clothing (even though the human race wouldn’t have survived without twine – think about it).

What amazes me about pattern in fabric isn’t so much the final appearance as how it’s made.  With pattern on paper, you know that those polka dots are just a few daubs carefully placed on one surface.  With woven fabric, threads of different colours have to be carefully synchronised to make a harmonious whole.

There’s a method to it, but I don’t want to know.  I’m like a mother in denial that her daughter is a pole dancer and not an award-winning architect.

Printed fabrics just don’t measure up.  Digital printing has come in leaps and bounds and, while some prints are truly remarkable, they lack the depth of woven materials.

Not sure about the shoes though... photo by Nina Leen for Life Magazine, 1946

That’s why I’m so happy that checks are making a reappearance. Tartan, Prince of Wales check and houndstooth; welcome back to the fold.  We’ve missed you so much.

I’m especially excited about tartan, inasmuch as a person can get excited about a pattern.  It’s deceptively versatile.  Wearing tartan can be a nod to a rich heritage, a dedication to a designer brand or an homage to punk – or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a mixture of all three.  It’s one of those rare patterns that can say absolutely anything, unlike say, vertical stripes, which bears the exclusive trademark of prisoners in old-timey silent films.

Thakoons take on the new plaid - via

While last year we did double denim, this year we’ll be doing double tartan, layering the same patterns in different colours.  A shirt with miniscule print would look great buttoned up to the collar insider a larger tartan sweater.

Tartan is also allying itself with the nascent 60’s trend.  Bold primary colours are demarcated with the familiar black lines of check, which has an unexpected, but totally serendipitous Op Art effect.

Even more 60’s is the resurgence of houndstooth.  When small, it can shift and blur into gray.  When the check is large, it can look abstract and jarring.  Mostly though, it looks chic.  Houndstooth is one of those patterns that is so terminally under-appreciated that it never really goes out of fashion, so if you love it already, stock up joyfully.  You can legitimately play with that monochrome print for years to come.

Even Wallace is getting in on the Prince of Wales action for a Harvey Nicks store opening in 2008

Prince of Wales check will be even less appreciated due to it’s relatively complicated manufacturing process, but that doesn’t make it any less lovable.  It’s a shame that this won’t appear in more high-street stores, but keep an eye out for when it does.  Because of the way it’s woven, Prince of Wales checks will usually drape really well, which is an extra bonus.

All of these patterns are classic, so will pop up in your wardrobe seamlessly regardless of trends.  There’s no shame in investing in it – let’s talk about checks.

Licentiate Column 08/09/11: Autumn Colours

It’s Autumn.  We finally made it.  We can officially start updating our wardrobes.  It was a long road, but we got there.  Give yourself a pat on the back, if you can feel it through the woolly mittens and thick coat that you’re wearing (and if by some miracle it’s sunny and warm at time of publication and we have an Indian Summer without actually indulging in the preliminary Summer, feel free to write me an angry letter).

As it gets even cloudier and duller, the colours we wear can often reflect that.  The day is darker and so are we.  Is that true this year?  Well, yes and no.

The vast majority of people tend not to be into zingy, bright colours.  It offends our sensibilities, which have been fine-tuned by a comfort blanket of low-lying cloud and a particularly Irish notion that anyone who stands out is a noxious breed of showoff.  ‘Getting above yourself’ is the worst insult to be heaped on an Irish person, unless you’re a banker or a priest.

But this season we’ll be pairing our brights with autumnal hues.  The bubblegum pink belt can go with the essential burgundy dress, toning it down – hiding your brights under a bushel.

A possible exception to the bright rule is orange. Maybe it’s the patriotic element, maybe it’s just because it’s autumnal and shops tend to get lazy like that, but it’s everywhere.  Do not be enthralled by it.  Sure, it looks nice on the tanned model.

Everything looks nice on the tanned model.  In reality, orange is a horrifying minefield, so tread carefully.  It’s not for nothing that it’s the official colour of Hallowe’en.

Come September, berry colours are ubiquitous.  Grape, burgundy (which is made from grapes, so is a berry colour by technical default) and navy blue(berry) will all have their moments, and deservedly so.  These colours are almost universally flattering and almost reassuring in their ability to resurface every autumn without fail, so investing in a berry shade is unusually sound.

These colours are given a new depth and multi-hued dimension when worn as part of rich, textured fabrics like velvet and satin and even (gulp) fur.  It might sound a bit like a Dynasty Christmas Special, but look to the Gucci catwalk for inspiration – it’s more more Studio 54-era Anjelica Huston than Alexis Carrington.

Neutrals are just as big as they’re ever been, black and grey remaining staid as camel slips a nanometre by the wayside and navy blue slips into a surprising lead.  If you bought a camel coat last year, keep it.  It still looks good, just be a bit more creative with how you accessorise it – attach a new collar or cuffs or be creative with your scarves.

The likelihood is that most of us will be gravitating towards darker colours this winter, as we do every winter.  It’s not necessarily a symptom of an underlying international malaise.  The vast majority of people wear these shades because they are easy to keep clean.  That’s the anticlimactic, boring truth.  Still, we’ll always have nail varnish.  Bubblegum pink, anyone?

Distilled: Paris Fashion Week A/W ’11

This is the last in the series.  Paris, following on from New York, London and Milan, is probably the most-hyped fashion week, with a record number of high-profile designers showing collections (and a lot of monotonous flicking through photographs on for me).

Here are some Parisian picks, arranged by trend – I use the word ‘trend’ in the loosest possible terms, because I’ve just made most of them up.

all photos


Row 1 – Anne Demeulemeester, Cacharel, Haider Ackerman
Row 2 – Chanel, Maison Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen
Row 3 – Jean Paul Gaultier, Miu Miu, Tsumori Chisato
Row 4 – Loewe, Louis Vuitton, Valentino
Row 5 – Carven, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Sonia Rykiel
Row 6 – Chloe, Christian Dior, Lanvin
  • Row 1 – Absolutes – Make outfit statements in one colour (or two) – emphasis is on texture and silhouette.
  • Row 2 – Come together, fall apart – Deconstructed, zipped and ripped apart outfits.  I shouldn’t love this because these are oriented towards the willowy of body, but I do anyway.
  • Rpw 3 – Little old ladies – Pour talcum powder in your ‘do, amp up the boxy silhouette and invest in a furry shopping trolley, as seen at Gaultier.
  • Row 4 – Night porter – Leather trenches with very little little on underneath for the dominatrix vibe.  Christian Dior jokes optional.
  • Row 5 – Plaid – pensive plaid at Carven, Playful plaid at Castelbajac and Sonia Rykiel – it’s all good.
  • Row 6 – Textures with pattern – wooly snakeskin at Chloe and flower print gazar fabric at Lanvin.
  • None – though when it comes to Paris, I have rose-tinted specs.  Perhaps there was an overabundance of fur, but that seems to have been an overarching trend covering all four weeks.
What are your PFW picks?

Distilled: Milan Fashion Week A/W ’11

First there was New York and London, then there was Milan…

Soon, there will be Paris and I can stop annoying my boyfriend into making me more of these photocollages.

L-R (in convenient alphabetical order)
Row 1 – Alberta Ferretti, Blumarine, Bottega Veneta
Row 2 – D&G, Dolce & Gabanna, Etro
Row 3 – Fendi, Gucci, Marni
Row 4 – Missoni, Moschino, Versus


  • Milan didn’t let us down on the glamour front; colours are richer, pants are shinier and a sense of humour is always apparent.
  • Mixing textures – leather with tweed, wool with silk, hand-knits with aforementioned shiny-pants material.
  • Intense colour pops – from crayola brights at Blumarine to cloying candy colours at Missoni.


  • Milan’s glam does have a flip side – and that’s it’s (debatable) overuse of fur and snakeskin, evident on the Gucci catwalk.  I’ve stated before that I’m fairly ambivalent towards fur, but seeing this much is a bit like eating too much rich chocolate cake; you feel a bit of disgust at the overindulgence.
  • A distinct lack of trousers.  Case in point: no pants at Prada.

Pic 4 – Can’t you picture MIA wearing every single item from the D&G show?
Pic 8 – Apart from the whole ‘fur-discomfort’ thing, the Gucci show was beautiful.  Drawing inspiration from 70’s era Angelican Huston and Helmot Newton = WIN.
Pic 9 – Marni was my favourite show, which came as a bit of a surprise.  Pattern mix-and-matching from the masters.

What are your thoughts on Milan?

Licentiate Column 17/02/11 Colour Blocking: A Guide

Colour blocking is a little bit like nuclear fusion. We all have a vague idea of what it is, but only people with specialist knowledge can explain it coherently or know how to work it properly. Colour blocking isn’t the driving force behind the most powerful explosive men has ever known, but still, if you make one wrong move, everything is very liable to blow up in your face.
This particular trend has been all over the catwalks and in shops for several seasons now, but it has been hovering around the fringes of decorating, graphic design, home interiors, visual merchandising and art for much, much longer. If someone wants to draw your eye to something, be it a window display or a bathroom wall, colour blocking is one of the most effective ways to do it.
And yet, it is damnably hard to explain in simple, linear terms. I’ve spent a solid week researching and trying to write synopses, but the only one-line answer to colour blocking that I can come up with is this: If you look like a Fruit Pastille ice pop, then you’re doing it right.
Colour blocking should be easy. In it’s most basic term, it’s the wearing a few contrasting colours in one outfit. Yep, it really should be easy – but it isn’t. It’s the sartorial equivalent of a sixteen year old trying to unhook his girlfriends bra. The swaggering confidence as the task begins soon turns, first to frustration, then crushing disappointment, insecurity and finally, an unsatisfactory conclusion for everyone involved.
There are a hundred and one simple rules for working colour blocking like a pro, but I only get five hundred words per column. I’ve wasted two hundred of them already joking about how difficult it is, so I’ll just give you the basics. This is the fruit of reading about a hundred articles and embarking on some terrible wardrobe experiments, one of which resulted me going shopping in town resembling a human rubiks cube.
1) Only wear two or three colours at any one time. See rubiks cube statement above.
2) Pretend that you’re colour blind. Remember ‘blue and green must never be seen’? Rejoice, for the restraining order between cerulean and emerald has been lifted. A detente has been reached and the good news is ringing out all over your wardrobe. Red and pink are similarly jarring bedfellows.
3) The Clash is more than just an band. Red with blue? Yes please! Purple and green? Don’t mind if I do! Yellow and teal? Why, I’ll have a double portion. Please sir, I want some more!
4) Patterns are not your friends. Red and green is fine, if a little festive. Red and green stripes are a no-no. You’re not Bosco, but wear that combo and you’ll be sent back in your box. Patterns are generally eye-catching anyway, so they tend to have an America’s Next Top Model-worthy fight for attention with contrasting trends. Remember, colour blocking = blocks of colour. That means no patterns allowed. No exceptions.
5) Neutrals are a welcome relief. If your multi-tonal antics are on the verge of inducing seizure, break up the colour party by introducing a neutral shade. Grey works well with cool blues and greens, tan and beige colours can look unexpectedly striking with warm tones. It makes an on-trend twist to all the boring basics.
So now you know the rules. Go forth and block your colours like there’s no tomorrow. And if you find yourself looking longingly at stripes, just think to yourself – what would Bosco do?

Licentiate Column 13/01/11

I’d like to thank everyone who has voted for me so far as one of Ireland’s most influential bloggers .  The competition is ending tomorrow at 6pm Irish time, so I’m going to make a final (very annoying) push for more votes.  If you’ve voted before you can vote again (it’s every 24 hours).  The instructions for voting are on the page.  I’m just about creaking into the top ten and I’d love to stay there but I’m neck and neck with another blog – so I really really do need them votes.  Click here – I’m number 42!

*Public Service Announcement over – on to this week’s column…*

Today I picked up a nice, shiny magazine. You know, the kind of nice, shiny magazine full of nice, shiny clothes with nice, shiny prices. The kind of magazine that issues the most hallowed and anticipated of all biannual supplements (barring Heat Magazine’s soul-crushing celebrity swimsuit pull-outs) – the catwalk report.

We’ll just call this magazine a generic, vaguely evocative French word. Let’s call it Haute. I love Haute because it is cover-to-cover with beautiful people, fairytale settings and clothes you and I can never afford. It is pure escapism. It inhabits a world totally inaccessible and separate to our own, albeit one that we can peer into just by briefly licking our thumbs and flicking a page corner, like a version of Alice and the Looking-Glass for shopping addicts.

Magazines like Haute publish the catwalk reports as a way of imposing themselves into our world. Haute has picked up the Looking Glass and smashed it over Alice’s head. It’s less assimilation – more indoctrination.

The idea is to pick and choose which aspects of which collection appeal most to you and blend it into your wardrobe; simple things like (a) bold block colours or (b) simple tailoring or (c) a pair of flared jeans. You’re not really supposed to wear the catwalk look from head to toe, because if you did, you’d look a bit like (a) a lego brick, (b) an extra from Logan’s Run or (c) a Studio 54 reject for whom the party has long since ended.

This season Haute is championing the Luxe Sportswear trend. ‘Luxe’ does not mean ‘luxury’, rather ‘Luxe Sportswear’ means ‘Expensive Tracksuits… In Impractical Heels’. Popularised by designer Alexander Wang, Luxe Sportswear has been around for a few seasons and is defined by distressed shrunken leather biker jackets with leggings, oversized t-shirts, lace-up heeled boots and enough grey jersey to swaddle a million coltish-legged prepubescent models. Nothing we haven’t seen before.

Luxe Sportswear is perverse; it pairs the practical with the impractical. Waterproof neoprene, traditionally found in wetsuits, is used to construct soft, shell-like bodycon dresses. Joggerbums are worn with towering heels.

The neoprene dresses I can understand. It’s an unorthodox material and, because it’s such a stiff fabric, it can hold it’s shape and produce some unexpectedly beautiful results. The heel and tracksuit pants? Oho no.

Today I saw a woman walking down the street wearing a pair of billowing khaki jersey pants. The cuffs of said pants were tucked into spindly McQueen-esque lace-up heels of the same hue. Her gait was circumspect, possibly because every step she took would inflate a pant leg like a runaway wind sock in a wheezing gale.

Apart from that segue into the risible, Luxe Sportswear is fully representative of it’s beloved grey jersey. It’s boring.

Even the ringleader of the bland, sorry, grand circus, Alexander Wang, is getting tired of the monsters he has created. He is quoted in interviews, saying “If I see another distressed black leather motorcycle jacket, I’m going to shoot myself in the face”.

That’s a bit harsh, Mr Wang. Perhaps you should make your weapon a water pistol instead. When the time comes for that fateful splashing, pray that you’ll be wearing neoprene.