Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Moving Reality of Mimi Wade's Imagining of Hollywood's Dark Side // Fall 2018

Finding a venue for London Fashion Week is quite the challenge. In February, Symonds Permain were welcomed by Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East show, where they presented as special guests; Toogood’s presentation was held in their studio and store on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch, in an obvious attempt to cut costs. It was Mimi Wade who was befell by scheduling pitfalls, showing off-schedule, at the same time as Marta Jakubowski and Mulberry, in North London’s Hoxton neighbourhood. Scheduling misfortunes aside, Mimi’s show was the triumph of the afternoon.

The starting point this season was HeX-Rated, pulp fiction about a private investigator in 1970s Los Angeles. He becomes embroiled in a case of a scarred pornographic actress to uncover the secrets of the set in the San Fernando Valley. In its blurb, it describes the the city thus: “Los Angeles has always been a den of danger and bliss, but even darker tidings brew in the City of Angels. Cults, magic, and the supernatural are leaking into the worlds of glamour and dives of the gutter.”

It’s timely to consider these enclaves as less than salubrious, in the wake of the Weinstein controversy with reshaped Hollywood as we know it. The foundations of the film industry were rocked when sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, and rape allegations were uncovered. Currently, Weinstein is on trial for rape charges in New York. 

Wade’s designs have always been about the film industry. Pamela Curran, her grandmother, was a B-movie actress. (B-movies are low-budget commercial films.) Filmic influences pervade each collection. Dresses are printed with real or imaginary film posters; accessories are emblazoned with titles; variations of the Mimi Wade logo are stamped on them, like a film studio’s. Fall 2018’s slated titles were Witch (with the tagline ‘We Intend to Create Havoc’—undoubtedly a symbol for the uprising that ensued in the aftermath of the sexual misconduct allegations in Hollywood), Flight of the Fallen Angel, a nod to Fallen Angel, the 1945 film noir about a drifter who becomes involved with a waitress who is eventually found dead. 

Her affinity for looking to decades dating as far back as the 1940s were echoed in the clothes which always bare a resemblance to cocktail dressing from a bygone era. She throttled the perfection of past seasons with this outing: Hemlines were frayed, revealing a lace underskirt; off-the-shoulder dresses had jagged edges; the dresses were styled with trainers rather than heels. This, of course, added an urban, contemporary air to proceedings, but it also pointed to a woman unbothered by perfection, and perhaps one shaken by experience. There was a moving vulnerability, something hitherto unseen in Wade’s work.

They were even more powerful in the context of that morning’s news. On February 16 2018, The Boston Globe article published that day unearthed claims against Patrick Demarchelier and Karl Templer. This was a mere few weeks after The New York Times printed a story about allegations against photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber. The fashion landscape is witnessing seismic shifts and Mimi’s collection, in its unabashed adoration for sassy, punchy, thrillingly girlish femininity, felt utterly relevant for the times we are in. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Leo Varadkar Rolls Up His Sleeves to Get Down to Work

When Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrived at Dublin Castle on Saturday afternoon, flanked by Minister for Health Simon Harris, the count was almost finished. Ireland had voted to relax its abortion laws, making the provision of abortion services lawful in certain cases. 66.4% voted in favour of repealing the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution. 

A phalanx of photographers with cameras abuzz, jubilant journalists clamouring for a comment, and thankful campaigners of the triumphant Repeal campaign thronged the Taoiseach upon his arrival.

He removed his blazer and traversed the courtyard of Dublin Castle dressed in a crisp white, buttoned-up shirt and tie, navy trousers and a Together4Yes ‘Tá’ badge. (‘Tá’ is a loose translation of ‘Yes’.) Business casual for a sunny Saturday afternoon, the dawn of a new Ireland. “A quiet revolution has taken place, a great act of democracy,” Varadkar posted to his Twitter account, accompanied by a photo of the vast numbers that flooded Dublin Castle.

The rolled-up sleeves point to two things. Firstly, it portrays a relaxed demeanour, possibly because the referendum comfortably passed. The Irish Times exit poll on Friday night indicated the landslide victory would see a 2 to 1 majority. 

Moreover, the symbolism of rolling up one’s sleeves is embedded in the notion of hard work and a readiness to work. In the forthcoming months, the Taoiseach must convince the naysaying cabinet members, and he is obliged to unite the House ahead of the new law’s enactment. He echoed this in his decision to wear a buttoned-up shirt and tie; his ensemble possessed an officious air.

Minister Harris looked comparatively dowdy in drab tones. His grey blazer, buttoned-down grey-blue shirt, and taupe trousers weren’t the clothes of a man victorious. Sharing moments with relieved men and women, his face contradicted his dour outfit. 

Where Varadkar excelled on this occasion was his decision to sport another self-effacing outfit. The rolled-up sleeves was a suggestion of what’s to come. Saturday wasn’t about him. Saturday was about the millions of women across Ireland whose human rights were impinged by the preexisting laws. Saturday was an apology to the thousands of women who had to travel abroad to seek abortion services, and Varadkar made that clear in his speech. (The blazer was reinstated.) As he put it, “we voted to look reality in the eye and we did not blink. We voted to provide compassion where there was once a cold shoulder, and to offer medical care where we once turned a blind eye.”

Hopefully, the overwhelming majority in favour of the legislative change say, Varadkar will begin to work on passing the bill through the Oireachtas in the coming months. Reports say the process will take up to six months. Ireland’s future is currently in Taoiseach Varadkar’s hands. It’s his time to roll up his sleeves and get down to business.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Nabil Nayal's Extended Elizabeth Exploration // Fall 2018

Nabil El-Nayal is a virtuosic Syrian-born, London-based fashion designer and Royal College of Art graduate. 

He won the British Fashion Council’s MA Scholarship Award which enabled him to pursue further education at the Royal College of Art. Harrods bought his MA collection and it quickly sold out. Christopher Bailey enlisted him as a researcher during his Burberry tenure. He was the first designer in the world to use 3-D printing and he is finalising a research doctorate in how it can become integral to the design process. 

Such incredible accomplishments and he’s fashion’s best-kept secret. But, perhaps, he’s doing things the way others wish they could. Instead of desperately seeking press attention, Nayal’s operation aims for the business side of things. His stockists include Harvey Nichols in Doha and Riyadh, Dover Street Market in Tokyo, Moda Operandi online; with a bolstered emerging business, the press attention can follow. He’s proven himself in the only realm that matters in the long-run.

His fascination with Elizabethan dressing extends to his Fall 2018 collection, ‘Elizabethan Sportswear VI’, a tableau of 16th century-inspired garments that marks the final chapter of his doctoral research and concluding his exploration of Renaissance dress. However, I couldn't quite connect the sportswear elements to a collection bursting at the seams with 16th century extravagance. His clothes eschew from anachronism, a line dangerously towed by others who elect to revisit centuries predating the 18th. The principles which he explores: “‘to ruff’, ‘to sleeve;, ornamentation, lacing, black and white.” These have become instrumental in his aesthetic, illustrating his ability to find a contemporary voice for Renaissance dress.

This season began with Michel Pastouraeu’s book The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes which explores the dark connotations of wearing stripes. In the 16th century, stripes stood for subculture, a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I’s Reformation which left England bereft of excess and grandeur and whitewashed ornamentation. Society moved towards “imageless worship.”  

I recalled modern society’s fraught relationship with censorship. Articles are published daily about the question acts of governments and their approach to censorship. The freedom of the press, an integral aspect of modern society, has come under fire in recent years and with the rise of alt-left and alt-right voices the landscape has become more frantic than ever. It is unclear how to proceed but, like stripes in the 16th century, perhaps the best option is to rebel.

In a way, his use of early modern tailoring techniques differed from the modus operandi of his contemporaries--the collection was built on sculptural shapes and Elizabethan silhouettes. The most daring reflected the wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth I which veered further into costume territory than anticipated. A black tulle dress with a ruffle running down the centre was outshone by the accoutrement: A knife-pleated high collar. It didn’t exercise the poised restraint in the same vein as the other looks did. It was a costume, albeit fabulous, and it drew the fine line that exists between fashion and costume.

Nayal’s exposure is about to increase. He was announced as one of the recipients of the British Fashion Council’s Fashion Trust grant on Wednesday afternoon. 

The Fashion Trust is the BFC’s charitable initiative which, founded in 2011, provides mentorship and has awarded more than 2 million to 42 Britain-based businesses. In 2018, Fashion Trust has presented grants of 380,000 between eight designers. When contacted for comment yesterday, Nayal said, “I’m completely over the moon to be a recipient of the Fashion Trust Grant. It is such an incredible opportunity and I’m very excited to work with the BFC/Fashion Trust mentorship team.”

Grants and prizes like Fashion Trust catapult designers to the next stage of their careers. Nayal’s been working away for the past ten, collecting prizes and garnering recognition along the way. The BFC’s decision to support Nayal will be instrumental in the next stage of his career, perhaps acting as a propulsion to see him take centre stage next season.

“We’re working on some really exciting plans for Spring 2019 that will really show what we stand for as a brand.”

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Erdem Imagines a Modern Wardrobe for Adele Astaire // Fall 2018

The first thing to note about Erdem Moralioglu’s Fall presentation at London Fashion Week in February was the setting: The designer moved out of the Old Selfridge’s Hotel, a venue he used for many years, and into the National Portrait Gallery. It felt like a homecoming. Erdem’s well-to-do muse and historical romanticism felt fully-realised in the venue, models meandering rooms replete with 18th and 19th century portraiture.

Erdem’s shows are underscored by his approach to historicism but this season he was firmly set on modernising, updating the codes of wardrobe past. Whose? Adele Astaire.

Adele Astaire was an American stage actress, dancer and singer from Omaha, Nebraska. She is the older sister of Fred Astaire. Their auspicious beginnings led them to New York where they had a successful vaudeville act which segued to time on Broadway. But Fred didn’t interest the designer as much as Adele. The actress married British aristocracy, Lord Charles Cavendish. Although they lived at Lismore Castle, Waterford, in Ireland, the family seat was Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. 

The stately home, nestled in the Derbyshire Dales, played host to an exhibition which Erdem visited last year, House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion, curated by Vogue’s Hamish Bowles. Included in the exhibition were many of Astaire’s belongings—her clothes, her copies of Vogue. This struck Erdem as he trawled through Astaire’s personal archive, imagining her modern wardrobe, conflating the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s.
In typical Erdem fashion, there was his usual array of florid floral frocks in velvet and brocade, on prim and proper dresses that are likely to cater to the royal contingency who frequently wear his clothes. (Evidently, his ability to explore high society dressing is remarkable.) He had something for the modern day Astaire too, in sweeping gowns and shimmering dresses. He emphasised tailoring this season, a subtle departure from his usual offering. There was strong suiting on display—double-breasted coats; calf-grazing trousers and and boxy jackets. The harder, masculine elements of the Erdem woman’s wardrobe contrasted nicely with the subtlety and properness of his feminine influences.

What marks an Erdem show is the meaning behind the women he counts as influences. In the past it has been imaginative explorations of the nightlife the young Queen Elizabeth II might’ve partaken in; a visualisation of his grandmothers and their disparate worlds colliding in a chance encounter. What inspired Erdem about Adele Astaire was her “charisma and fearless independence.” 

It can be easy to tack the #MeToo movement onto many a collection nowadays but it’s rather timely to consider fearless independence in a moment when the ghettoisation of women is coming to an end and the can-do attitude is bubbling to the fore. Perhaps that’s why he had Felicity Jones, Laura Carmichael, Ruth Wilson, and Haim, the band, front row. He was envisioning the next generation of trendsetters and trailblazers.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Subtle Statement in Meghan Markle's Wedding Dress Choices

The newlyweds, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, emerged from Windsor Castle this evening.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tied the knot at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle this morning, in front of a congregation of 600. The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, led the ceremony, invoking the words of Martin Luther King Jr.

It was one of the many gestures that pointed to the modernisation of the British monarchy. An overdue change, many have said. (Ms. Markle is the first biracial Duchess—the opening of a historic chapter in British culture.)

Clare Waight Keller, a British woman, and the first female artistic director at Givenchy designed Ms. Markle’s first wedding dress and accompanying five-metre-long train. Ms. Waight Keller is one of the few female artistic directors working at a major luxury conglomerate. She was thankful for being included by the Duchess, Prince Harry and Kensington Palace in the process.

The French brand was selected by the newly-minted American royal. It suggested a challenge of outdated mores. In a country of made up of Eurosceptics who voted to leave the European Union, Ms. Markle’s selection spoke volumes—it welcomed global voices into a strict conversation, usually reserved for the British institution and their chosen British brands. 

An age-old tradition remained. It had to.

Something old: the 1968 Jaguar E-Type Concept Zero electric car the Prince drove to the evening reception at the nearby Frogmore House. Something new: the high-neck silk crepe Stella McCartney gown in lily-white. Something borrowed: the eye-watering aquamarine ring which belonged to the Duke’s late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. Something blue: the painted baby-blue soles of her Aquazzura heels.

Stella McCartney, who recently bought  back the 50 percent of her business owned by luxury holding group Kering, was emphatic, declaring to the New York Times, it was “one of the most humbling moments of my career.” This dress choice was less surprising than her earlier offering; bookmakers predicted Stella McCartney as one of the designers they anticipated Ms. Markle to don and Page Six reported that it was going to be a McCartney gown that would ascend the steps in Windsor earlier today.

Something else was at play here. The Prince and Ms. Markle were gently resisting, peacefully protesting the establishment. The car, manufactured in 1968, had been converted to electric power. The shoes were designed by a Colombian man. The door was left ajar, a change could be afoot. ‘What will the future hold?’ was the question we were left asking as the newlyweds shot off into the sunset.

Arguably an archaic system, the royal proceedings will silence Ms. Markle. Previous statements about her feminist beliefs or anything noteworthily regarding social politics are less likely to reemerge. Her future will be devoted to charitable causes, ribbon-cuttings and evening receptions.

But as the Duchess has proven, simply by wearing gowns designed by prominent women designers, she will work with what she can. 
Images PA & Getty Images

Meghan Markle's Givenchy Gown Takes its Place in Fashion History

The royalists rejoiced: at 12 pm, Saturday, May 19, Meghan Markle waltzed resplendently down the aisle at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in a white Givenchy gown designed by the brand’s British artistic director Clare Waight Keller.

The announcement came from Kensington Palace.

“After meeting Ms. Waight Keller in early 2018, Ms. Markle (who will become the Meghan, Duchess of Sussex) chose to work with her in appreciation of her timeless and elegant aesthetic, impeccable tailoring, and relaxed demeanour,” read the press release. “Ms. Markle also wanted to highlight the success of a leading British talent who has now served as the creative head of three globally influential fashion houses – Pringle of Scotland, Chloé, and now Givenchy.”

Bookmakers predicted Ralph & Russo, Roland Mouret, Alexander McQueen, Victoria Beckham and Erdem.

Eschewing from extravagance, the understated bonded silk cady dress was developed by the recently-appointed Waight Keller after months of extensive research in various fabric mills across Europe.

There will, of course, be some objections to the focus on the expert craftsmanship of a French fashion house at a wedding that is now engrained in British culture. It solidifies the believe that British culture is a melting pot of a myriad of nationalities, ethnic profiles and that Britain is enriched by its international connections. Therefore, it may not be that surprising: the bride is an American, after all; Waight Keller is a British woman working in France. 

Ms. Markle wished to imbue her design with this sense of wordiness, requesting the 52 countries of the Commonwealth be represented in her gown. The five-metre-long silk tulle veil, designed by Waight Keller, incorporates the flora of each Commonwealth country in silk threads and organza. The California poppy, inspired by Ms. Markle’s home state, also makes an appearance. The veil is held in place by Queen Mary's diamond tiara, lent to Ms. Markle by HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

Some speculated Ms. Markle would select Gianvito Rossi heels. She previously stated in an interview, with an Irish publication, the Italian brand was her favourite. However, they were Givenchy too.

Other guests at the Royal Wedding also responsible for flying the flag for British fashion. They included HRH Queen Elizabeth II in a multicoloured dress by Stuart Parvin and a matching Angela Kelly hat; lawyer Amal Clooney and actress Oprah Winfrey represented Stella McCartney. Idris Elba, like the bride, wore Givenchy by Clare Waight Keller; David Beckham unveiled Kim Jones’ Dior Homme (another British export at a French fashion house) while Victoria Beckham wore her own creation. But it’s the image of Ms. Markle in white, and an impressive train trailing behind her, that will be among the defining images of British—and global—fashion in 2018.

Not only this, the design will influence brides around the globe for the next decade. British Vogue preempted the event with their June cover dedicated to the Royal Wedding. Steven Meisel photographed Cara Delevingne in an array of ivory creations. However, should they wish to emulate “timeless minimal elegance” they should look no further than Ms. Markle.

The Royal Family’s presence in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth generates enormous revenue for governments. Their contribution to the economy is invaluable. Images, merchandise and wedding paraphernalia will account for millions in revenue. Take for example the hundreds of thousands that congregated at Windsor for the weekend with masks, cardboard cutouts, and signs. 

The wedding dress—the speculation around it, the images that will dominate social media, newspapers, and magazines in the coming weeks—is indicative of fashion’s power. From industry folk to those uninvolved with the fashion industry, widespread speculation, and admiration of a wedding dress signifies fashion’s influence. It will have people talking for months—years even. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Charlotte Knowles, A Case of Industry Pigeonholing // Fall 2018

In London, the biggest curse with showing at fashion week in the current climate befell Charlotte Knowles. Pigeonholing. The ephemerality of social media permits a minuscule 200 words to capture an inspiration, an entire collection before it is effectively rendered obsolete, as we look to the next show. Buzzwords define designers: “Mary Katrantzou: Prints; patterns; architectural silhouettes”, “Richard Quinn: Queen Elizabeth II; florals; Leigh Bowery-style masks”, “Marine Serre: sporty influences, ‘Futurewear’, scarves”. There’s no escaping them.

Knowles is regarded as the young designer, subverting femininity by pervading her work with 90s-inspired sensuality and sexuality. 

I’m sure Knowles would like to assert a deeper meaning. Her work, in collaboration with fellow Central Saint Martins graduate Alexandre Arsenault, is as subtle as it is sexy, as connected with the nineteen-nineties as it is the present day. In fact, it’s rather pertinent that her Fall 2018 collection, shown as part of the Fashion East collective at London Fashion Week, approaches the theme of sexuality on the runway in a season when many others have expressed themselves in the only way they deem possible: deference.

Yet, Knowles’ models marched on. She continued to work with lingerie, trotting a host of negligees down the runway. They were styled as individual looks or with trousers (in an unpleasant shade of green). It was work that didn’t look out of place on the runway in the #MeToo climate. 
She subtly infused sporty influences too, with printed bike shorts. They became a staple of the season, popping up here there and everywhere—a less glamorous, more honest depiction of the athleisure trend.

However, she didn’t stuff her runway with them. She worked with surface decoration also, deploying a slew of sequin-embroidered pieces. Similarly, the design team pushed themselves in the direction of embroidered patterns.  

“When designing clothes for women, in my opinion a female gaze is always going to be more personal to the perspective of a male gaze,” she explained to Dazed Digital.

The female gaze has become the fixation of fashion in recent years and it isn’t a fleeting trend. There’s Brianna Capozzi’s photography—which was recently immortalised in an impressive tome, entitled Well Behaved Women—earnestly reflecting women and their natural state, in a glamorous, grainy style. Petra Collins, another photographer, imbues her work with an artfully pastel tinge. Zoe Ghertner rendering her subject in a soft, natural light. These were the photographers who sprung to mind when watching Knowles’ show. The female point of view. It’s something that has been sorely lacking in the presentation of sex in fashion.

It’ll be interesting to see how Knowles evolves as a fashion designer. (I hope she chooses to show in a static presentation format as the character in her clothes are lost on a nondescript, anonymous catwalk.) Fashion East has supported her for two seasons now. (She presented Spring 2018 in an intimate presentation on the penultimate day of London Fashion Week in September 2017.) With her final stint ahead of her, it’ll be interesting to see how she develops.

Sex sells but that’s not enough. The hint of a new direction on this runway was satisfactory.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Youthquake at Undercover // Fall 2018

Sadie Sink, the 16-year-old actress who plays Max from the critically-acclaimed, fan-favourite Duffer Brothers Netflix series Stranger Things, appears on the latest cover of System magazine, photographed by Juergen Teller. Fashion’s obsession with the young woman isn’t surprising—she’s an ambassador for Rooney Mara’s ethical fashion venture Hiraeth, with Vogue labelling her the face of ethical fashion. Furthermore, she made her Paris Fashion Week runway debut in March at the Undercover show. The Japanese fashion designer, Jun Takahashi, who designs Undercover, is fascinated with Western culture and this season he looked at 1970s and 1980s youth culture, illuminating Sink as the symbol of its resurgence. 
Takahashi is well-versed in creating a scintillating spectacle. He’s had many electrifying outings on the Paris Fashion Week schedule. In recent years, he’s expressed himself in forms of old world Parisian haute couture, creating something that was more more couture than couture itself—to a score by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. His défile last September was an homage to the American artist Cindy Sherman and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining—models circled the ballroom at the InterContinental - Le Grand, in pairs, dressed in tantalising, reversible garments. To throw a spanner in the works, his January menswear show was a post-apocalyptic nod to another Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey. His womenswear show in Paris in March, with actress, Sink, commandeering teenagers and professional models alike, was a departure from the more dramatic spectacles, and it veritably delighted audiences and social media.

The soundtrack incorporated 1970s classics including the unforgettably anthem Heroes by David Bowie. There was an excerpt from Stephen Chbosky’s coming-of-age novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which as adapted for the screen in 2013. Much was made about this, the emotional weight it carried. Chbosky’s We Are Infinite speech underscored many reviews.  
The power of youth was contemplated elsewhere at Paris Fashion Week. Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior looked at the May 1968 student protests, which brought France to a standstill. They protested capitalism and consumerism (oh, the irony is sweet) and traditional values. Perhaps Takahashi was responding to the Parkland shooting and anticipating the March for Our Lives demonstration which took place after fashion week. As activists or active participants in the luxury market, the youth are not to be underestimated.
It’s an intelligent move on many parts. Firstly, dissecting contemporary culture makes for an interesting show. Youth culture is as topical as it gets for fashion designers. Here, it wasn’t done a disservice, sneered at or mocked. Rather, Takahashi elevated it, splicing together garments. (Hybridisation, as it were.) There were sweatpants aplenty—enlivened with ruffles and satin. A polo-shirt and beige chinos turned out to be a functioning jumpsuit; three genres of coat were alchemised into one. It reconstituted perceptions of luxury. Can a hoodie be high fashion? Can sweatpants be considered a symbol of luxury? These were the questions confronted and, chances are, the youth of today would answer yes.

But in terms of commerce, the post-millennial purse will be activated in a few years time and it will dominate the global luxury market. It is a generation tantalised by exclusive gestures—limited edition collaborations such as the Louis Vuitton x Supreme endeavour last year—and an affinity for 90s nostalgia—indicated by the proliferation of Instagram e-tailers selling Matrix-inspired sunglasses and vintage sportswear. Perhaps, in a few more years, a fondness for clever creativity will arise. Inevitably, that would lead them to Takahashi’s Undercover.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Profound Pathos of Caoimhe MacNeice's Design for 'Fashion is Repealing'

Yesterday the New York Times published ‘As Abortion Vote Looms, Irish Fashion Designers Choose a Side’ by Elizabeth Paton, an article I contributed reporting to. The piece takes a comprehensive look at the fashion industry’s engagement with the Repeal the 8th campaign, ahead of Friday May 25’s referendum date. 

Following yesterday’s publication, I am publishing an interview with one of the designers featured in Andrea Horan’s The HunReal Issues’ ‘Fashion is Repealing’ show which took place at the Powerscourt Centre on William Street in Dublin last Thursday, May 10. 

Caoimhe MacNeice, a London-based graduate of the National College of Art & Design in Dublin, was contacted by Andrea Horan earlier in the year. She was asked to participate in the fashion show, creating a couture piece for auction and a t-shirt which were mass-produced to fundraise for The HunReal Issues, an organisation which launches awareness campaigns surrounding abortion rights and the upcoming referendum, which takes place Friday May 25. 

Caoimhe’s couture piece was a black, one-shoulder column gown. The asymmetry of the dress points to the inequality that exists between men and women in Ireland—the lack of body autonomy, in this case, as opposed to the other disparities that exist in the country. Other designers chose more eye-catching approaches but Caoimhe endeavoured to maintain a simplicity, the use of a single strap signifying how women’s rights are effectively hanging in the balance. 

The t-shirt she produced was a collaboration with Emma O’Brien. The silhouette of a woman is marked by the text: No More Faceless Women. It captures the sombre mood of the nature of the referendum and the heartbreaking anonymity women must endure should they choose to have an abortion. It was inspired by an interview with a shadowed figure, discussing her experience.
Can you tell me about your involvement with the HunReal Issues' ‘Fashion is Repealing’ show?

The HunReal Issues got in touch with me earlier in the year about making a piece that could be auctioned off to help raise money for the Repeal the 8th campaign. As well as the auction piece, I collaborated with my friend Emma O'Brien to create a printed t-shirt of which fifty pieces were produced. 

Why is participating important to you?

Participating in this event meant a lot to me because I have recently moved to London and so have been watching this amazing movement unfold at a distance. It was great to feel more connected to it and feel I was doing a small part to help.

Were you nervous about participating?

I was actually a bit nervous about creating the print for the t-shirt because, in my own work, I generally focus on shape, not surface design, so I asked my close friend Emma O'Brien to collaborate on the graphic design with me.

What was your design inspired by?

The starting point was a news broadcast that I saw on TV interviewing an Irish woman who had an abortion. Her profile was backlit so her face wasn't visible, all you could see was her silhouette, like the technique they use to hide criminals' identity, which technically she is under Irish laws. 

The image was so strong and reminiscent of those old Victorian silhouettes, which we used in the final print as a reminder that no matter how many people try to downplay Repeal the 8th as a new and 'trendy' issue, abortion is not a new concern for women. It felt necessary to make that connection to women in the past, that they shouldn't be forgotten, and that there should be no more faceless women.

Why do you think most Irish designers have remained quiet on the subject?

I obviously can't speak for anyone else, but I think abortion is a difficult, complicated and quite sad thing to talk about. Perhaps there is a fear of alienating people who don't hold their own views, perhaps they haven't figured out where they stand in this debate yet. 
 Images courtesy of Andrea Horan. Group shot photographed by Patrick Quinn Byrne (@patrickquinnbyrne). Studio shots photographed by Eilish McCormick (@eilishmccormick)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Investigating Tod's' Courtship with Millennials // Fall 2018

Italian luxury goods brand Tod’s is courting Generation Z, tapping into the upcoming cohort’s purchasing power. In the last 18 months their market share value dropped by 10%, shops were closed and former creative director Alessandra Facchinetti exited. CEO Diego Della Valle spoke to Business of Fashion last August, sharing, “we need to speed up our execution plan.” 

Kendall Jenner, supermodel and Instagram influencer, was enlisted to boost the company’s profile on social media. In the advertising campaign with Jenner, she awkwardly frolics with docile puppies on a chaise at a seafront villa, presumably in Malibu, California. 

A fresh-faced Gigi Hadid carried an adorable French bulldog—and a handbag too—dressed in patchwork shearling, leather trousers and a wool jacket in warm, earthy tones, at their February womenswear show at Milan Fashion Week. (Continuing their fascination with canines, which seemingly amass a wealth of clicks on social media for their understandable cuteness, they served as an unlikely accessory which was sure to infuriate animal rights activists and dog lovers, whose least favourite thing is seeing dogs as ‘accessories’.) Her arrival and the ensuing appearance of Bella Hadid, Vittoria Ceretti, Grace Elizabeth signalled a responsiveness to the popular models of the time, the majority of them boasting impressive follower counts and industry clout.
The clothes which were determined to take more creative approach. On the sprightly models, none of the girls over 25, they looked fresh, albeit occasionally overwrought. There were fine examples of tailoring, specifically a canary yellow trench. A rust-hued ‘teddy-bear’ bomber on Kiki Willems, styled with a lacquered leather skirt, was transferrable come winter morning or summer night. 

The leather trousers and dresses were less modern, less successful. They belonged in a bygone era. I don't know what millennials they had in mind with those looks.

They struck gold with anoraks in biscuit and seafoam green. Polished, sleek and determinedly chic, there was no denying these were outstanding. From line, colour and texture, they achieved what some other looks couldn’t—weighted in modernity with the luxurious ease and tactility we expect from Italian luxury brands. But this probably isn't the brand appealing to the Jenner and Hadid age bracket, rather someone twenty years their senior, with an weighty purse.

But this was about the accessories—and not just the four-legged friends or respectable outerwear. The meat and potatoes. The old reliables. Handbags and footwear aplenty, the options here were decent ranging from casual flats to knee-high boots. Not a model breezed by without an accessory of some description in her well-manicured grasp.

You could argue once more, was this even about the accessories or the social media campaign?

Tod’s selecting to work with Jenners and Hadids is suggestive of a wider cultural shift: employing social media success stories to remedy ailing profits. All it takes is an advertising campaign, a couple hundred-thousand likes, and a catwalk show with a puppy-touting Hadid, for a brand to posture themselves as noteworthy. 

But we must beg the question, for struggling brands, there’s always Kendall and Gigi—for how long more will that be a viable option?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Mark Fast Makes a Case for Confidence Over Sex // Fall 2018

The 2008 class of MA womenswear graduates from Central Saint Martins included Mary Katrantzou, Christopher Shannon, Masha Ma, Sander Lak and Mark Fast. They were the five that year that prospered. As is always the case, only the savviest will endure. 

Mark Fast’s legacy didn’t seem all that enduring. After his Fall 2014 show at London Fashion Week—underwhelming by his standards—he dropped off the official schedule for one reason or another. However, he returned in February 2017, three years after his departure, to Fashion Scout, the Freemasons’ Hall-based four-day long event that coincides with official proceedings in February and September. His return came with a renewed spirit 

His aesthetic has proved the most durable aspect of his work. You can still see the lasting effects of his stint at Bora Aksu. The Turkish designer, who also presents in London, has mastered macrame which infuses his work with an elegant seduction. Fast takes his clothes down a sexier route, with his figure-accentuating eyeleted dresses. (He also worked with Stuart Vevers when he steered Mulberry towards global recognition; those influences aren’t particularly noticeable.)
The narrative for Fall 2018 was based on Greek mythology. He looked at the Sirens, dangerous creatures in Greek mythology, who lured sailors with their lamenting melodies. He was thinking about the curse placed on them by Demeter after they failed to protect her daughter Persephone. Perhaps Fast was incarnating complex women with his clothes. From the beautiful to the damned, there was a representation of women. The diversity of his casting was one of the better efforts made in London this season. (There was a surprising lack of body diversity, something which he has championed in the past.)  It was also reflected in the duality of his colour palette, which included soft whites and lilac sea stark greens and blacks.

His “sequinned marabou yarns and bejewelled metallic knits intertwined with banded lycra” is a vision of sexy sportiness that isn’t as welcomed on the runway as it used to be. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements signalled that change. Across the four fashion weeks, designers were looking for ways to reinvent sexiness and what it means to be sexy in a world where the connotations point towards misconduct allegations.

Designers are unsure how to present sex on the runway. Many will consider it unfashionable to do so. The day after Christopher Kane’s show at the Tate Britain celebrated sex. His effort was joyous. Declaratively, he wouldn’t change gears based on the current cultural climate. At Alberta Ferretti in Milan, a few days later exposed models painted an image of objectified vulnerability—it looked out of place. 

Fast’s interpretation of sexy is unwavering. What he set out to do ten years ago has stood the test of time. It may be an aesthetic suited to reality stars and the bronzed Ibiza revellers but that contingent has never been stronger. They’ll be inclined to party in his aqua fringe party dresses or sequin-embroidered gowns, resembling modern iterations of Daisy Buchanan. It isn’t an overly cerebral aesthetic but it requires unfathomable amounts of chutzpah. His place in fashion is clearly defined. His position on the London schedule supports this statement.

Sex will always sell. But as Fast proves, confidence will take you further. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Palm Angels F**ks with Americana // Menswear

In a recent discussion at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, close collaborators Raf Simons, the designer, and Sterling Ruby, the artist, mentioned their desire to “fuck with Americana”, which in Trumpian times has become ever the fashion statement. 

I noticed at Francesco Ragazzi’s Palm Angels, at Milan Fashion Week’s menswear edition in January, there were similar notions at play. Palm Angels brought a disruptive sensibility to Italian fashion, a stark contrast to the suits and leather goods elsewhere in the fashion capital, but also to the perception of Americana.

Popular in fashion at the moment is the unshakeable trends dadcore (dressing as one's father would) and gorpcore (outdoor apparel-inspired fashion design). Both have appeared quite humbly on runways from New York to London to Seoul… but emerged in suburbia, where fathers dress for practicality as opposed to redefining neighbourhood fashion. It can be rather placid but unsuspectingly mocking of an industry that appears unable to flex a creative muscle at times. Enter Palm Angels. Tartan vs bootleg! Balaclavas vs 90s sunglasses! Spikes vs studs! Leather vs denim! Technicolour vs blue jeans! It echoed Simons’ and Ruby’s sentiments. Ragazzi’s injected the blue-collar American Midwest with punk. It rendered Americana through a new lens. 
He took a plaid, common to both lumberjacks and punks, plastered it with the Palm Angels logo for a modern spin. Big-buckle leather belts and fanny packs were adorned with studs and logos. 

He referenced Grant Wood’s unmistakable, instantly-recognisable ‘American Gothic’ painting—which is perhaps the most memorable images in 20th-century American art—and put it on a bomber jacket. He juxtaposed the exclusivity of the art world with a ubiquitous clothing item. It nodded to the cultural landscape in America— the endless divide between high culture and low culture.

Ragazzi’s rendition of Americana may not be an American’s perspective but, undoubtedly, he toyed with the perceptions of the outsider. There may be inaccuracies—isn’t there always? One could simply look back to 2016 when non-Americans were utterly convinced of Hillary Clinton’s victory in the presidential election, only to have their predictions thrown back at them by Donald Trump. The ‘forgotten-about’ states voted for the man they thought best represented their interests. In Milan, Ragazzi immortalised the trends which outsiders perceive mark the Midwest and refracted it anew—the punk meets the Midwest, who would’ve thought?

Monday, May 7, 2018

5 Questions with... Ciara Masterson

In London, at the beginning of June, Graduate Fashion Week will be taking place. The annual event up calls upon various universities to present group shows of BA and MA fashion design students, hailing from different disciplines including menswear, womenswear, textile, knitwear. In Ireland, too, there will be similar events taking place. The primary design schools in Ireland are the Limerick School of Art & Design (LSAD) at Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) and the National College of Art & Design (NCAD) in Dublin. Notable graduates of LSAD include Danielle Romeril and Joanne Hynes, and NCAD counts the virtuosic Simone Rocha as an alumna.

Ciara Masterson, 22, from Dublin, is a member of outgoing fashion design students at NCAD. She counts Swedish brand Acne Studios and London design duo Preen by Thornton Bregazzi chief amongst her inspirations. 

She is the recipient of the River Island-sponsored fashion design bursary, an annual competition at the college. The bursary is €3,500. Design controller, Lucy Moller, a former graduate, selected Masterson as 2018’s winner. It will see Ciara’s designs sold in some of the retailer’s 350 stores worldwide. Also included in the prize is an opportunity for Masterson to spend the summer working in the River Island design studio in London.

Alla Sinkevich photographed Masterson’s studio space at NCAD’s Thomas Street outpost in Dublin.

I caught up with Ciara to discuss the bursary, fashion education and the life of a fashion student, and the future. 

I hope you enjoy 5 Questions with… Ciara Masterson
Congratulations on winning the River Island bursary. What was your collection about and what does it mean to you to have won?

Thank you very much! I'm so delighted, it's an amazing opportunity to walk out of college and straight into an internship, I'm so grateful! The outfit was inspired by my grandfather’s farmland in West Cork. I have been told many stories of how my family made do with what they had while living on the land, which was not much. This inspired me to investigate how we can get more use out of our garments and also make them last longer. My work is very versatile, most of my garments can be worn in multiple ways.

What do you wish someone had told you before pursuing a fashion design degree?

I wish somebody had told me to save up some money before starting the degree. Fabric and supplies can be very expensive, especially for students! 

Do you find it challenging not to pander to social media in your designs or is college a way for you to develop your skills and aesthetic as opposed to commercialising your work?

Social media, especially Instagram is a great platform for getting your work out to the right people, you never know who might see an image of your work and want to collaborate with you,  in fact, we are encouraged by our tutors to share our work on social media.  However, college is where your skills and aesthetic begin. Without realising, you start to develop an aesthetic through your sketchbook pages, etc and I think once you have established it you should then share it with the world.

The Irish fashion industry has changed remarkably over the years. Do you foresee a fashion week emerging here, would you show at it or if you do launch your business, would you prefer to show in London, alongside many other Irish exports?

I would love to see a fashion week emerging in Ireland and I think it is a possibility as there are so many up and coming Irish designers. If it was to happen I would love to show my work at it!

There is a constant battle between opening your own house and working for another. What is the general consensus among your classmates?

I think most of us would, of course, love to open our own but we are also very aware of how important gaining experience in the industry is. Starting your own business, I can only imagine, takes a lot of hard work, having an idea of how things work in the industry is crucial before going out on your own.
All images courtesy of Ciara Masterson

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Blindness to the Politics of Appearance

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had what could only be described as a ‘Melania Trump moment’ when he visited Wexford, the ‘worst-hit’ county in the aftermath of Storm Emma on March 10—affectionately known as the Beast from the East. The Taoiseach’s decision to sport a jacket by French lifestyle brand Moncler echoed First Lady Melania Trump’s selection of stiletto heels when visiting the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas.

The jacket drew ire from many commentators who lambasted his shortsighted sartorial selection.  Meeting those whose lives had been disrupted in a designer jacket highlighted himself as wealthy, unaffected by the strife of the people. A Moncler jacket from retailer Brown Thomas would set one back between €500-700. It goes without saying, this is unattainable for the average working class Irish citizen who was worst-affected by the snowstorms which tore through the country and claimed the lives of three.

“I bought it on sale about three years ago and it still serves me well,” he told Cork’s C103 Today Show. His unapologetic attitude didn’t sweeten the everyman’s Barry’s.

This could be considered ‘outrage porn’—“any type of media that is designed to evoke outrage for the purpose of getting traffic or attention online”—when there are real-world issues afoot.
Undoubtedly it is a pivotal time for women’s rights and women’s health issues in Ireland. On May 25 the country will go to the polls to vote in the referendum on the 8th amendment which could see the liberalisation of abortion rights in Ireland. But in Dáil Éireann yesterday, the members of the Oireachtas were debating the ongoing cancer screening controversy which has dominated headlines recently. 

The controversy surrounds women who were given incorrect smear test results.  Vicky Phelan, one of those affected, won a case against the Health Service Executive (the organisation responsible for the Irish healthcare system) and was awarded €2.5 million in redress. It was subsequently reported over 200 cervical smear results should have resulted in earlier intervention. 17 women in the 206 cases pinpointed had died. The government has launched an inquiry which will conclude at the end of the month and pledged redress for those affected.

Varadkar dressed for business in a charcoal suit and matching satin tie. He rallied opposition leaders in his corner of the Fine Gael wing. It was metaphoric, really. Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and the Social Democrats’ Catherine Kelly had him cornered. 

His sobering suit selection reflected the severity of the situation at hand. The controversy has cast a shadow over the quality of the healthcare system in Ireland and the questionable practices of the HSE, for which the Taoiseach’s party is responsible. Moreover, his understated attire could be perceived as self-effacing, a reliable black ensemble to shield himself from the impact of his disputants. 

Men’s fashion in politics can prove tricky when it comes to identifying fashion statements. Generally, the tie or the button-up or button-down decision is examined. In the past, Varadkar has selected ties from a wide variety of colours and patterns which merely point to the Irish as stylistically maladroit than stylistically aware—if anything, it becomes blindingly obvious that they are blissfully unaware of the relationship between the appearance of politics and the politics of appearance. 

In times when political parties are questioned, rattled or doubted, the aim of the leader should be to reassure, to exert capability, competence and control. But the Taoiseach’s nondescript ensemble made him look like ‘just another politician’. It was an anonymous outfit which failed to assert anything. What he doesn’t comprehend is the power in conveying a message through his clothing choices. In order to be a convincing leader, one could begin by dressing like one.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Eternal Pomp and Circumstance of Pam Hogg

In London, there’s the recently-graduated, the recently-established and the legacy brands. And there’s Pam Hogg.

This isn’t to single out Hogg’s work as inferior. Rather, she’s on an entirely separate plane to the other designers showing in London that her work exists on an incomparable universe. Her shows are bombastic, fun and oftentimes controversial. (She has famously sent nude models down the runway, draped in stripy jackets or latex boleros.) 

She’s a Scottish woman with links to Paula Yates, Siouxsie Sioux and Debbie Harry of Blondie. She’s been around since the 1980s and is positioned on a London schedule which is perhaps the antithesis of joy—brevity kills enjoyment. (There can be up to 18 shows a day at London Fashion Week—and that’s just the official schedule.) Hogg was featured on the official schedule this season and showed at Freemasons’ Hall, the impressive art deco building in Holborn. 
It was a riot of colour and fabric—latex, faux-fur, faux-leather and tulle fancies created a garish extravagance which served as a paean to the 90s. Suffice to say, colour exploded, lips were stained red, cheeks were daubed in an assortment of hues. The models stride was one marked with confidence and exuberance, as if Hogg herself had stepped into their platform heels and strutted down the runway. (Of course, she did the prerequisite bow at the end, commandeering her fleet of fanciful creations down the runway, in a graphic-print catsuit and towering heels.)

It is five times removed from the typical show at London Fashion Week. You can’t expect to see a fur bodysuit with gold fringe details and thigh-high latex boots or a flesh-bearing tulle dress fastened by a leather harness at any of the other shows. If anything, the closest comparison could be Charles Jeffrey’s LOVERBOY, a menswear fixture, which fixates itself with the revival of 80s tropes and the preservation of club culture, unabashedly celebrating self-expression and individuality. Hogg, however, predates the internet and her clothes first existed in 1980s London, during a pivotal time for youth and club culture, and subcultural currents which ran through the capital at the time. It’s still relevant today. 

Perhaps her beginnings in the pre-internet era is a testament to the honesty in her design. She is a woman wishing to convince her audience by sweeping them off their feet with theatre, pomp and circumstance. But it all comes back to the individual. The Pam Hogg woman, whose colourful individualistic streak runs wild amongst a sea of trend-led designers.  

It was a show dedicated to her friend, the late stylist and punk designer Judy Blame, who passed away three days after Hogg’s show. It immortalised his spirt in a fashion collection. In hindsight, the prescience of this was a bittersweet ode to a dear friend.