Fashion, Licentiate Columns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fashion, Outfit Posts

Me In Various Vintage Coats

It’s just that easy, really.

This is me doing a spot of modelling for a friend’s vintage shop – and I use the word ‘modelling’ in the loosest terms possible. In fact, it it was much looser it would fall right off.

I love a nice winter coat, I do. Bonus points if it’s fuzzy. Extra super bonus points if it’s fuzzy and furry and an animalistic monstrosity like the wolfish looking one in the picture below. Be still, my gaping wallet.

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Art, Fashion, Inspiration, Subculture, The Reading List

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.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns, Subculture

Licentiate Column 15/08/13: Hindsight 1 – 0 The Zodiac

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- No no no, not THAT Zodiac…

It’s amazing what a bit of hindsight can do. That relationship that’s just not working out, the shoes you couldn’t walk in, that one drink that’s one drink too many… All are the result of foolish personal decisions that only come to light in your head after the foolishness has ended.

Still, it’s nice to look backwards, especially in terms of fashion and beauty. The bad advice of others is a million times more enjoyable than the bad advice you give yourself. It’s especially more enjoyable when that bad advice is recorded for posterity in print.

A friend of mine runs a vintage shop and amongst her stock is a massive pile of Irish women’s magazine from the early and mid-seventies. Mostly, the problem pages are a hotbed of extreme sadness; women who can’t leave their abusive husbands or women who have had seven children and physically can’t handle any more. Sometimes the problems are funny (‘Why do policemen’s helmets have to hide their lovely hair?’ was one particularly enjoyable one’).

The best features, however, are the zodiac-themed ones. What’s with Irish women and the zodiac? Did it just become a ‘thing’ in the Seventies? Anyway, the plethora of oddly specific life advice that stems exclusively from your date of birth is really a thing of beauty. It’s perfect in its kitschy inaccuracy.

I am a Taurus. According to one article, which was focused on the beauty regimes of the various star signs, Taureans are obsessed with being pretty. Not only are they obsessed with being pretty, they are so duplicitous that they can easily fool people into thinking that they are good-looking even when they’re ugly as sin. Barbra Streisland was cited as an example – poor Babs always got the bum rap. The only accurate part of the piece (which also talked about my ‘lovely full neck’ – do Taureans suffer from glandular problems?) was the part that said we’d try anything beauty wise – although I might forgo the suggestion of mauve eyeshadow.

Another friend is a Capricorn. Apparently, Capricorns suffer from the burden of ageless beauty. Marlene Dietrich was the example there – apparently the zodiac doesn’t account for facelifts and seclusion. Capricorns should also try to think outside the box with their clothes as they tend to stick with classic style – said friend looked unimpressed with that advice, but that might have been the (very stylish) ensemble of leopard-print pencil skirt and green vintage athletic top that she was wearing at the time.

Similarly, a Sagittarean friend was not cool with the advice that she should accentuate her ‘large but attractive teeth’ with a good toothpaste and a smudge of red lipstick. She was even less impressed with the suggestion that she spent most of her days ‘whinging balls about’. That’s a direct quote, by the way. Whanging balls.

So, if there’s anything to be learned from the zodiac, it might be to ignore it altogether – or maybe just keep making foolish decisions. Just hope that the stars will end up aligning.

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Art, Fashion, Inspiration, Subculture, The Reading List

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.

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Fashion

Pause Play Vintage, Tralee

Tralee is a small place, so it came as no surprise to me to find out that I already knew the proprietor of Pause Play Vintage in Tralee – Dominique Barry (from Leaving Cert art classes).

Tralee is the kind of town that, due in part to recession and a dwindling youth population, just doesn’t get to have Nice Things. The whitewashed Pause Play Vintage, tucked away on Milk Market Lane, is such a very nice thing. The space is spread out over two floors with a carefully-thought out selection of vintage clothes, accessories and bric a brac over two floors.

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Art, Fashion

Kelly Reemtsen – Pretty Dresses, Power Tools

Do you listen to podcasts?

I definitely do. I don’t listen to fashion podcasts. If such a thing existed, I would, but fashion is so visually powerful that podcasting seldom does it justice*. I listen to history podcasts instead. Judge me if you like. Go on, go full pelt with the slings and arrows.

Since I started writing for a woman’s website and exploring what it really means to be a woman with all those funny chest lumps and diminished human rights in Ireland today (“Yeah, it’s funny how you become more feminist when you break up with a boyfriend”, says my sister to me – either totally missing the point or cutting dangerously close to the truth), I’ve started listening to the great Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast.

Are you interested in women’s thingies? You should listen to that, so.

They also have a Tumblr. I found these paintings by Kelly Reemtsen there. They’re a deft but sinister juxtaposition of masculine vs. feminine. I quite like the flat block colours and the simple lines of the dresses. It must make braining an unsuspecting person with a huge spanner so much easier – that might just be me though.

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*That being said, there’s definitely a market for a great fashion podcast.

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Fashion, The Reading List

Snoopy Around The World

In the course of developing this little website, I’ve also developed an increasingly soft spot for pop culture in all its forms, especially if it’s tied in with fashion in any way.  On seeing these photos on the AnOther website, my soft spot immediately became as squishy and vulnerable as an overripe avocado.

So far, I’ve blogged about the curious case of the Theatre de la Mode fashion dolls, the out-there wackiness of a Disney fashion editorial (Alber Elbaz as a distant cousin of Donald Duck, anyone?) and the unashamed kitschiness of Barbie in the best of 80′s designers.  This is up there. It’s one of the hits.  One of the good ones.

This is Snoopy and his sister Belle, dressed by different designers as they travel around the world.  Taken from the book ‘Snoopy Around the World: Dressed by Fashion Designers’ – Snoopy isn’t one for obscure titles, we can see – it’s cute and weird and of course I immediately bought a second-hand copy from Amazon.

Can the constant buying of books be defined as a substance addiction?

Photos by Alberto Rizzo.  You can see more over on the AnOther website.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 31/01/13: Monochrome and How to Wear it

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l-r ASOS, Marc Jacobs, Zooey Deschanel in vintage

Sometimes a person will look at a trend as it materialises on a runway, and have a distinctly maternal reaction to it. By maternal, I don’t mean the urge to comfort and coddle whatever stern-looking tween is wearing said trend (as much as she might need it). That’s a bit creepy.

This is maternal in the Irish Mammies sense, which is the unwanted thought explosion of “Mother of Jesus, she’ll get a cold in her kidneys/I wouldn’t let any daughter of mine wear THAT at the table/My Jimmy had a pair of dungarees like that when he was small, didn’t he?”. The Irish Mammies reaction is one borne out of incredulity – and there’s enough of that going around for all of us these days without even touching on the Prada flipflop/sock/wedge combo that Elle Fanning is so enamoured with.

One trend which may not put the scares up your mammy is monochrome. Black and white, worn together, in one item or in separates. It’s just that simple. “Sure, Father O’Reilly down the way has been wearing that kind of stuff for years and I always said what a distinguished looking man he was” should be a typical Mammy reaction – either that or “You’re looking a bit pale, you’d want to get a bit of colour into you”. Any owner of an Irish Mammy, whether real or as the voice of reason in your head, knows that once the ‘looking pale’ card gets whipped out, all bets are off and you have automatically lost whatever argument is to be had.

Ignore her. She does not know that monochrome is for all skin types. It is especially suited to very pale or very dark skin, giving a slightly unnerving checkerboard look if done correctly.

The easiest way to wear monochrome is a combo of black trousers and white shirt. Unfortunately, you may have to deflect unwanted male attention. Don’t worry – it’s not unwanted sexual advances you’ll be dodging, it’s orders for a rare steak and a bottle of Pinot P’lonk, thanks. Because, of course, you look like a waiter. Reclaiming the look from the service industry is made easier with the application of heels, liberal amounts of jewellery and a kick-ass black jacket that says, “I take no (food or drink) orders from no man”.

Of course, you may not want to wear what looks like a sombre suit, and that’s more than ok. Thanks to Marc Jacobs and Chanel, whose Spring/Summer 2013 shows were chock-a-block with monochromatic dresses in stripes, zig zags, chevrons and trippy Op-Art inspired prints, there is a monochrome tone for everyone. If you have an urge of go all Gallic and channel Brigitte Bardot in a horizontally striped tee, you can. If you want to make the maximum impact and look like a living magic eye picture, you can do that too.

It’s a trend that is brilliantly versatile in its simplicity. Pick two neutral colours, and wear them however you like. It could not be easier. If only we could see all other aspects of our lives in such black and white terms.

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Inspiration, Photography, Subculture

The Reading List: Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom…

… Pinup Photography’s Golden Era.

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The gentle art of pinup photography has been interpreted in a few different ways, first as enjoyable smut, then as kitsch, finally as a postfeminist emancipation proclamation. Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom aims to be all three as well as a fairly enjoyable look back at the career of a very modern woman – both as subject and photographer, usually at the same time.

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Pinup fans will know Bunny Yeager as the woman who partnered with the legendarily versatile, befringed model Bettie Page in the short-lived, but very productive series of pictures that made both their professional reputations. As well as a jobbing photographer, Yeager herself was a model. She would often take self portraits in the pinup style. You can see her looking demure in a bikini, auburn pigtails on each shoulder. A few years later she’s buxom and brazen in black negligee, platinum blonde hair solidifying the contrast. Her ability to transform herself for the camera is remarkable. It’s not hard to agree with the theory that Cindy Sherman was influenced by Yeager’s self portraits.  Here’s a fun fact – Yeager reportedly took those famous photographs of Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in Dr.No. No better woman for the job.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABunny Yeager has had a greater impact on the world at large than just nude photographs (of which there are absolute truckloads in this book).  In the forward, Dita von Teese hit the pro-sex nail on the head when she says “By her (Bunny’s) actions, she is challenging what it actually means to be feminist, to let the last taboos about sexuality and nudity go and at the same time to be in control of it all.  This is what it means to be truly liberated”.

The reader may agree or disagree with this sentiment.  However, it is difficult for the reader to spot anything unsavoury about Yeager’s work – all her subjects are ridiculously fresh and healthy looking, whether sunbathing or riding horses or monkeying around (in some cases literally; Yeager loved using animals in pictures).  No-one is inflicting or in pain.  No-one is uncomfortably contorted. In fact, no-one is engaging in anything particularly sexual.  It is all very innocent.

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The photographs, which are split into categories (cheesecake, self-portraits, photo stories and so on) are accompanied with either analysis by Petra Mason or excerpts from the many photography books that Yeager published in her lifetime. Carefully chosen, these snippets are all about women celebrating and not subjecting themselves.  It’s interesting that, over the fifty to sixty years since these photos were taken, pinups have gone from fodder for titillation to a legitimate (if not highbrow) art form. Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom reflects that change, as it is a book primarily written by women for women – although like-minded men will certainly enjoy it too.

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Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom by Petra Mason is published by Rizzoli and is out now.

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