We have moved! You should be redirected to thelicentiate.com in a few seconds. This blog will not be updated. Click here if you are not redirected

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

African Wax Fabrics

My first proper boyfriend lived in Ghana for a year.  In our emails back and forth he would tell me about the food, the nightlife and the time he drunkenly passed out at a party at the Irish Consulate in Accra. 

Reading back over his emails from five years ago, it's clear that Ghana is an incredible country with Everest-type highs and supertrough lows.  Floods, typhoid and the odd Internet cafe going on fire are recurring motifs in the emails.  But then again, so are friendly, welcoming people, sporting tradition and the merits of river boiled kenki.

He never told me about the fabric though.


Wax fabric is predominantly made in Ghana and is responsible for some of the trippiest, brightest, graphic prints available in the world today.  The prints can be abstract, but are usually full of signs and symbols denoting a persons social status, political affiliations or general likes.

African art has a tendency towards the literal and these prints follow on from that.  With the popularisation of wax printing, more and more prints are devoted to technology and commerce.  You can buy Pop Art-ish yards of fabrics stamped with lipsticks, batteries, car mufflers, chickens and irons.


I love the pure, flat joy of these prints.  It's only a matter of time before a label like Proenza Schouler or Erdem picks these brights up and works them into a Spring/Summer collection (fingers crossed). 

There are already Western designers that work with these fabrics, but I'm yet to see a top or dress that justifies the fabric and brings out the best in it.  Is it just me or is a lot of this clothing, I don't know, a little bit... patronising?  Or self-congratulatory?  People need to get out of the mindset that Africa is synonymous with charity - then we'll stop treating their indigenous goods like another person's cast-offs and give it the shape and beauty these prints deserve.

To see more, go to the African Fabric Flickr pool

Photos 1-4 from here.  Photos 5-8 from here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cecil Beaton Book Covers


I found these while combing through the internet for an out-of-print book. If you're looking for something that's that bit to hard to find, ABE Books is the place to go. On their homepage was a feature on the books and illustrations of Cecil Beaton.

If you're like me and know close to nothing about Beaton, then this post by The Selvedge Yard is an excellent place to start.

I just love these covers. Now I just need a spare two and a half thousand dollars to buy a clean copy of Cecil Beaton's New York and see what's inside the beautiful watercolour dustjacket.


All pictures from ABE Books (this isn't a sponsored post, by the way)

P.S How great a title is 'My Bolivian Aunt'?
P.P.S You'd be surprised where you'd find copies of these books.  Check your local library - you might be surprised.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Related #3: Do it like a Dude

Yesterday's post dealt with women who dress like men, or don't (Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, I'm a-looking at you) to assert their power.

But where there are Queens, there are Kings...

And where there is power, there is also subservience...

So, to veer insanely from one end of a spectrum to another, here are some pictures of women who dress like men to show their love for a man.  Like a king.  The King, in fact. 

These photos were taken by Grey Villet in 1957 for TIME Magazine.  They show a day in the life of Susan Hull, who has decided to take the plunge and get an Elvis-style pompadour, joining the thousand strong ranks of girls and women in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who love Elvis so much that they want to look like him. 

If you want to put it in a modern context, imagine thousands of femme Justin Beiber fans, all with the same, super feathery, peekaboo, come-hither (but not too close, I'm a good Christian) hair*.  Just for the love of the Biebs.  Have you shuddered?  Has an icy cold finger of revulsion crawled down your back?  Good, let's look at the pictures.

All captions from the original article (because they're hilarious)

Susan Hull looks apprehensive as beautician prepare to form lock into Presley sidecurl

IN NEW GLORY: Nancy Hull happily shows off Presley cut.  Beautician who created style stresses convenience for girls who like swimming without caps.

CONFRONTING FATHER outside the beauty shop.  Susan Hull (left) and her sister Nancy, 20, display haircuts.  He was noncommital about new style.

COMFORTING MOTHER, Susan promises not to have her brown hair dyed black.  After showing cut to family, she gave ponytail to 4-year old brother.

CONVINCING SWEETHEART, Susan explains her coiffure to her beau Lew Potter in Motorcycle shop.  At first he threatened to break their next date.

CLIPPED GALLERY sits for a group portrait in Didgson's beauty shop.  The sideburns are standard but the number of stray locks on foreheads is optional

Read the original article here.

*Lesbians who look like Justin Beiber notwithstanding.  The Lesbiebers are awesome.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Licentiate Column 26/05/11: Do it Like a Dude

It’s not often that you’ll picture The Queen (of Great Britain, natch) and Jessie J in the same room, let alone the same thought, but lately I’ve had the two on the brain. One is a monarch, the other one is not. But they both do it like a dude.

Elizabeth II is one of only eight disputed premier queens to ascend to the throne since 1066 and has somehow managed not to be overthrown, arrested after nine days, dominated by her husband or die of dropsy - which is no mean feat in itself. Jessie J is not that important when it comes to explaining myself, but her song is.

Elizabeth II is one of those rare breeds of women - the women of the old guard who don’t have to resort to trousers to assert their power. The royal wardrobe has always been sleek, tailored, severe - but never masculine. It’s all kitten heels and handbags at dawn, the contents of which are often disputed. I’m thinking a paisley-upholstered hipflask of scotch, some menthol cigarillos and a filofax with the nasty details and unlisted numbers of every PM, baron and magnate alive today. And a lipstick.

When most women look to protect themselves, whether it’s protecting your interests in business or your modesty on a blustery day, a woman will wear trousers. If not trousers, a suit of some kind. Lines are sharp, shades are assertive in their boldness. No pastels for the bright women warriors of today, for she is strong and deserves a strong colour. Also, light colours stain so easily don’t they?

Dressing in the conventional masculine sense is spread over a broad spectrum. On one end, you have a pair of jeans. A person almost forgets that jeans were worn by men before they were assimilated into the murky genderless, unisex realm. On the other end are the unashamed, unabashed, totally admirable drag kings, who stuff tube socks down their trousers (not unlike some men, the Loose Women-watching part of me wants to add) and dot stubble and goatees on their faces with the precision of a Renaissance master.

Somewhere in the middle is my favourite kind of androgyne - Marlene Dietrich in a tux.  Masculine tailoring meets a feminine figure, with perfected painted eyes, coiffed hair and heeled shoes. With the coming of YSL’s Le Smoking suit in 1966, it was official: Suits are sexy.

Women dress in the male/female dichotomy for a multitude of reasons. Some do it for fashion, some for function, some for self-expression. Many women are not aware of the gender implications of buttoning up a shirt.

Some wear masculine tailoring as a type of armour. It says, “I am powerful. I mean business”. On the flipside, it also highlights our own vulnerabilities. Are we so afraid of being powerless that we refuse to be feminine?

The Queen knows better. After almost sixty years as a titular head of stare, she knows that power is not necessarily in the way that you dress. Clothes do not necessarily maketh the (wo)man. Sometimes trousers are good for nothing but outdoor pursuits.

A queenly caveat, though - if there’s a dress code, you’d better stick to it. Watch your step,
Kate Middleton.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Théâtre de la Mode

I saw these on How To Be A Retronaut and they were too good not to share.

The Théâtre de la Mode was brought about at the liberation of Paris in 1944. Parisian fashion houses were only just starting to re-open their doors after several years of limited or non-production.

The purported story is that there wasn't enough fabric to make full-scale dresses, so two feet tall wire models were kitted out with the finest in couture and displayed, first in Paris, then around Europe and North America until their acquisition by the Maryhill Museum of Art in Washington.

More than likely, it was a more cost-effective way to remind the world that Paris was still the epicentre of fashion, despite living through occupation, starvation, oppression and war. While fabric was rationed and still at a premium (especially silk, which was used for parachutes), Parisian women defied the Germans in any way they could, usually by flouting stringent material rationing and wearing dresses and skirts made with yards and yards of whatever they could get their hands on.

Breaking the law and looking chic at the same time - those Parisian women knew their stuff.

The first five photographs were taken by David Seidner in 1990. He deliberately set the dolls in a recognisably French, warlike background. At first, I thought that these photos were taken in the 1940's. In actuality, all 237 (!) dolls were put on display in 1944 as part of a number of scenarios designed by artists like Jean Cocteau, amongst others.

David Seidner, Lucien Lelong, 1990

David Seidner, Balenciaga, 1990

David Seidner, Marcel Dhorme, 1990

David Seidner, Madame Gres, 1990

David Seidner, Robert Piguet, Raphaël, Pierre Balmain, 1990

Jean Cocteau's 1944 setting, Ma Femme  est une Sorcière (source)
For more info, read Theatre de la Mode

Friday, May 20, 2011

Related #2: What's Your Time Period?

If I had to pick a time period, I'd pick the 60's and be a mod.  Typical of people who always want that they can't have, I don't have the legs for micro minis and am deathly afraid of scooters (or any two-wheeled transport).  I would be a terrible mod.

In yesterday's post, I talked about my dad and the punk movement in Dublin.  Any street style phenomenon that predates digital cameras in Ireland is usually woefully underdocumented.  Maybe it's because Ireland is such a small country, maybe it's because we're all really lazy - who knows?

On top of that, Mod culture is also woefully underdocumented (at least in comparison with other subcultures like punk) so there's not a lot to go on.  But here are a few Mod Links...

Mods go wild in Margate after a clash with rockers (source)

For all things Mod, Modculture is the go-to place.

Polka dot mod mini from Nod to Mod Vintage (could there be a more appropriate name for this shop?)

Do you want to organise your very own Mod Club Night?  Click here.

Richard Nicoll's collection for Fred Perry has more than a whiff of Mod to it.

Listen to the Modcast - more music oriented, but worth a listen.  Guests have included Matt Berry.  Oh Matt.  I love your dulcet tones.

Minidress from Hellhound Vintage

From Dave's Mod Photos

Recollections of a Mod life (lots more pics here)

Jumper Dress from Novella Bleu

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Licentiate Column 19/05/11: What's Your Time Period?

Everyone has their time period. This isn't a nod to mortality - although, in the fashion world, trends only live for a few months and some careers at fashion houses, even less. Death isn't really relevant.

When a trend dies or fails to get out of the starter gate it is instantly forgotten about, until a designer runs out of ideas and decides to revive it in lieu of actual creativity. Lest we forget, bulky 70's rainbow crochet and macrame are going to be huge this winter. Apparently.

Some trends never die out. That's because they have more meat and room for maneuvering than the average twice-yearly expelling of stress-induced creative juices from a frazzled designer's brain.

The trend is synonymous to a way of life, a philosophy, a musical style or is a vital part of a rich vein in art or literature. It was not gestated by a figure in the fashion industry, but was definitely popularised by several. It doesn't belong to one person, but is eternally tied to young people - all in their teens and twenties, all growing up in one time period.

Everyone has their time period. Whether it's the one you grew up in or one you wish you were there for, everyone has one. It's half misguided nostalgia, half style inspiration and a liberal seasoning of fantasy.

One friend would have fitted in perfectly with the dying days of the debutante balls, in peach satin and white gloves, one foot in the old world and one foot looking towards a different and wholly brighter tomorrow. Another's anarchic spirit wouldn't be out of place in the Manchester of the early 80's, listening to Joy Division and A Certain Ratio, wearing forest green donkey coats and severe buttoned-up shirts.

Once, my father and I were watching a segment on a current affairs programme about 70's punk in Dublin. "You should have been alive then, Sarah", he said to me. " You would have really fitted in."

It was an observation that stuck with me, because up until then I was unaware that my father was any different at twenty than he was at fifty. In my mind he always wore suits and worked in an office and reserved his best terrible floral shirts on holidays. I never contemplated that he could have gone to see The Clash or worn drainpipe jeans or perhaps even taken some pride in looking a little bit like Paul Weller (yes Dad, I know this is conjecture, but your haircut at the time had a definite Modfather vibe).

Everyone has their time period. If clothes maketh the person, then who are you? Are you a punk? A Fab Fourophile? A 30's screen siren? A make do and mend Blitz babe? Are you into the grunge look? Or your time period the one you live in today?

What will it look like to the next generation? We only have to wait and see.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Kinda Sorta Love...

...The Eurovision, which for one night only turns everything the most amazing shade of camp.  This is the Serbian entry Nina, who sang... er, I have no idea.  In my mind, it sounds a bit like this.


Need more pictures of this act. Source
  Coloured tights, bright colours, patterns, sharp bobs, heavy eye make-up, micro minis.  Remind you of anyone?

Sandie Shaw, Eurovision winner 1967.  Source

Friday, May 13, 2011

Related #1: Fashioning Nightwear

Every so often, I write a column where five hundred words just isn't enough.  There's all kinds of pictures and resources that I would love to share.  I'm starting a series of posts the day after each column comes out in print (ehm, that's Friday then) with some supplementary material.  It won't ebe every Friday, but it will be a recurring thing.

If you read yesterday's post, then you'll know that I don't really take nightwear too seriously.  I do, however, have huge love for pajamas.  Pajamas are great.  The best pajamas are the sartorial equivalent of a hug.  The ultimate in loungewear, a nice pair of a pajamas is only one point in the triangle of the perfect relaxing winter evening (the other two points being a hot drink and a good book).

Here's some pajama related information and inspiration.

The Poetry of Pajamas by A.K MacDonald
When Pajamas Weren't the Cat's Pajamas.. Or Were They? from Here's Looking at You, Kid.

Vintage Fashion Guild Guide to Pajamas.

Pauls Stuart Pajamas, the pajama grandaddy (source)

Claudette Colbert in Clark Gable's PJs from It Happened One Night.

Lana Pajama Rama (more here)

1940's Pajama Set from Japan from Moonchild Vintage at Etsy.

Candy Dream 1950's pajamas from Lasthouse at Etsy (very tempted to buy these).

1980's Cabana pajamas from A Hula Girl at Heart at Etsy.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Licentiate Column 12/05/11: Fashioning Nightwear

What do you wear in bed? Burberry pajamas? Silk kimonos? Calvin briefs? Something saucy by Elle MacPherson or (cue scandalised gasps) Ann Summers?

The politics of nightwear aren’t so much convoluted as they are unexplored. I can’t remember the last time a fashion magazine dedicated a shoot to fashionable nightwear, if ever. I doubt somehow that the sticky subject of what to wear while unconscious and riding the waves of REM has Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington engaged in vicious debate over the best hemline for a babydoll nightie.

A straw poll taken amongst my female friends (the answers the males gave are unfit for print and would probably result in a mental-picture induced fainting fit) revealed that fashion has no place between the sheets, unless grey Marks and Spencers t-shirts are the new Spring/Summer trend that Vogue have unforgivably forgotten to report on.

We already over-analyse what we should wear to weddings, to dates, at work and at play. Why not stir a pot already overloaded with spoons and discuss the ramifications of what you wear in bed? That grey tee will never look the same again.

1) Pajamas. Loose fitting shirt and trousers, often made in a cotton or silk material. A much beloved Christmas present from clueless maiden aunts the words over, pajamas are basically slouchy suits. The pajama is the formal matriarch of the nightwear family. It is staid, perennial and probably best worn in cream silk with reams of pearls, a la Coco Chanel. Here’s a bonus fun fact: Pajamas were, up until the 1940’s, an acceptably chic form of daywear. Those girls who go to Tesco in their best Penney’s piggy print know more than they’re letting on.

2) Baby-doll nighties. Super short, often transparent nightgowns, sometimes sold with matching underwear. Much-maligned, under appreciated and terminally neglected now that suggestion just doesn’t cut it in the sexy stakes, baby-dolls were once the pinnacle of Playboy risque. Modern baby-dolls are close cut on the hips and have slightly seedy connotations. If buying, vintage baby-dolls are your best bet. Be warned, old polyester can scratch like angry sandpaper and if worn by the wrong person, can make you resemble a circus tent with legs.

3) T-shirt and underwear. By far the most popular answer in the straw poll, the thinking behind this combo is that, before bed, you take off everything but your underwear and cotton vest. And that’s it. No effort equals high function and low impact. Many women labour under the thought that this is actually the sexiest option for bed-time attire and they’d be right, unless their partner watches too many exotic films. It’s you with the absolute minimum of clothing on - what’s not for your partner to love?

4) Funzie - The adult version of a onesie, this is best indulged on a lonely night in front of the tv, with a tub of ice cream and a dab of paraphilic infantilism. Just say no.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I KNOW I said last week that some things were better in black and white, but sometimes you need a colour photograph to really get the full impact of the message.  In this case - early photography and national dress.

How many of you have seen black and white pictures of your great-grandparents?  Don't you wish you could see what their favourite colours were?


Sometimes you don't appreciate how powerful red is until it smacks you in the face.  Metaphorically.

This picture was taken in the rural west of Ireland in 1913 and was probably one of the first colour photographs ever taken in Ireland.  It is part of the Albert Kahn Archive, just one of over 72,000 colour photographs commissioned in the first three decades of the 20th century in an effort to document all aspects of society and culture.  If you don't know much about Kahn and would like to know more, there was a BBC documentary tv series called The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn, which is well worth tracking down and watching.  There is also a book of the same name.

Here are some more photographs.

West of Ireland


Amazing still life


African colonial soldiers circa WW1

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Licentiate Column 05/05/2011: Fun in the sun

If 2011 has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Millions of Irish people who professed nothing more than a simple loathing of the British Royal family and the overstuffed pomp of a wedding in Westminister Abbey are, at time of writing, now glued to their television sets, dabbing moistened, nostalgic eyes with tissues. It’s like that everywhere except, possibly, Kleenex HQ, where everyone is capering around with glee at the thought of how many extra units of Balsam they’ve managed to shift.

In January, much of North Africa was a prime tourist destination. Now it’s a war zone. And April of this year has been hot. Unseasonably hot. It’s not so much ‘April showers’ as ‘April exsiccated’ - but that doesn’t trip over the tongue quite as nicely as the aqueous version.

We know who’s to blame for this weather. No, not Al Gore. College students. Sod’s Law has proven itself yet again by making sure that no clouds sully the perfect sky while college students have to stay inside and prepare for exams. We can expect similar weather in June when the Leaving Cert starts.

In the meantime though, we’re stuck with a dressing dilemma. What to wear in this hot weather that, let’s face it, is only hot in terms of Irishness? It’s only real shorts-wearing weather between the hours of eleven and two. Before or after that, summer dresses adorn bluish, goosepimpled flesh (lobster red if they’re lucky).
The weather can be deceptive. It’s always sunny, but it’s not always warm. Irish weather is changeable and our memory is so bad that, in a game of Mastermind, a goldfish would win every time.

Here’s a few tips for people who want to see out summer in style. Since it’s now May, you may want to cut out and keep this column until June, when we inevitably emerge from a ‘Day After Tomorrow’ type blizzard, blinking into the sunlight and in need of a pair of shorts.

1) Always wear sunglasses. Yesterday, today and forever, sunglasses are a perennial and eternally useful favourite. The right pair not only look good, but will protect your eyes from sunlight. You can’t put SPF on your eyeballs - glasses are the next best thing. Not only will you be shielding your eyes, you will also save others from your looks of over-admiration/disgust at the nearest human being wearing what looks like a napkin and three lengths of dental floss.

2) Cover up - I can see what you had for breakfast. If it’s hot, shorts and a tee are fine in almost every circumstance. A bikini is what you wear while sunbathing, not grocery shopping. The only time it’s acceptable for a man to be topless in a densely populated urban area is when he’s working as a bricklayer; then it’s a requirement. Know your environment and if in doubt, don’t go topless. It’s not rocket science.

3) If you are going to go nude, please wear something. I’m not talking condoms (although that’s also an excellent idea), I’m talking SPF. I don’t know what it stands for, or how it works, but it stops me from peeling like a crimson Cheesestring, which is the way it should be. Pop some of this magical unguent on your skin and go have some fun in the sun.

If worst comes to the worst and we end up in a drought situation, we have our bases covered - pre-emptive irrigation with the reservoir of public tears spilled over Will and Kate’s nuptials.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Some things are better in black and white...

...like film noirs, for example.  Imagine The Big Sleep in Technicolour. Oh no no no.

With pattern, black and white can sometimes have a higher visual impact than the full prismatic experience.  Black and white are two absolute opposites.  One could not be more different than the other.  It's the ultimate contrast.

Even better than black and white patterns are black and white patterns that are shot in black and white.  Excuse me if I'm getting too Brechtian here.  Case in point - these pictures, taken by Nina Leen for the March 1958 issue of Life.






Source: Life Photo Archive


This photo is unrelated, but I love the monochromatic goodness the picture adds.  I wonder what colour Barbara Streisland and Marlene Dietrich's suits were in real life?