Second Time Around

29.07.2019

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Linen suit, vintage Yves Saint Laurent, purchased at a flea market in Bushwick, New York in 2015. Shoes, Veja at Brown Thomas. White T-shirt, Cos.

It’s the prevailing topic of conversation in the fashion world right now. Brands who haven’t previously tackled the subject are stepping into the conversation, and those who are well versed are helping to lead the way. Just last week LVMH announced that they have purchased a minority stake in Stella McCartney (the brand has been one of the forerunners in sustainable fashion since its launch in 2001) and that McCartney herself would be advising the company, and CEO Bernard Arnault, on sustainability for its other brands going forward. In other news, Zara announced that all of their cottons and linens will be “sustainable” by 2025 and that they will only use recycled cellulosic fibres. Along with introducing “green” packaging, the company have also put ambitious targets in place to tackle their energy usage in store and during production. Considering Zara have been one of the biggest culprits in the fast-fashion industry (it was previously revealed that Zara have a lead time from design to final sale of just 13 days – it doesn’t get much faster than that) it is interesting to see them increase their efforts so drastically. Have they begun to realise the detrimental effects their business model is having on the environment and decided to row back – or is it a convenient way for them to cash in on the zeitgeist?

While these efforts from clothing brands are vital, a change in practices from consumers is possibly even more so if we want to curb the extreme effects the fashion industry is having on the environment. Sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, eco-clothing, whatever way you want to put it, what we are talking about is clothing, manufacturing and production processes that are as kind to the environment – and the workers employed to produce them – as possible. There is so much to discuss on the topic that it can be offputting and consumers can easily put it down to the responsibility of clothing brands and makers, but in reality, most of the power lies with us. While fashion brands can implement green initiatives and track their goals for the future, it is down to us as shoppers to change our habits.

In our fast-fashion led capitalist society it has been ingrained in us that more is more. It is believed that millennials and Gen Z own four times the amount of clothes than our parents did. Along with the increased availability (and the speed with which new collections are released) this is largely down to the disposability of fast fashion. We are no longer (en masse) purchasing clothes that we plan to have forever, instead we are buying clothes that have a finite life span. According to The Guardian, this summer alone British shoppers will buy 50 million throwaway outfits, with the expected spend among the population to reach £700 million. Going to a wedding? You buy a new outfit. Going to another wedding? You couldn’t possibly wear the same dress again, another new outfit it is. Sound familiar? The stigma around re-wearing clothes has become even more apparent with the rise of social media. While our parents and grandparents would have had their good clothes or “Sunday best”, our generation is buying on demand when and where ever they feel like it. In order to tackle what is being referred to as an environmental crisis, what needs to change first is the attitude toward clothing and shopping. A new purchase shouldn’t be a throwaway piece that you wear once and relegate to the back of the wardrobe; each item of clothing you buy should be a conscious and considered purchase that you plan to wear long term.

Consumers also need to be more educated on the brands they are purchasing from. I’m not saying we all need to stop shopping from the high street entirely, a lot of clothes I’ve purchased from high street shops are pieces that I’ve worn for years and will continue to do so, but reducing your purchases and being more educated is important. Before you make your next purchase, visit the brand in question’s website and take note of the information they disclose on their fabrics, factories and workers. If a brand is open and willing to share this information freely, it’s likely that they are working towards being more ethical and sustainable in their practices. If it is hard to find any information (or if the product details are filled with polyester, polyester and more polyester) take a step back and reconsider your purchase. There is a useful app called GoodOnYou that breaks down valuable information on different fashion brands and rates them on their sustainable and ethical credentials and is worth taking a look at. Consumers also need to be aware of what’s called “greenwashing”. Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. It can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is. GoodOnYou can help to clear up any confusion in relation to greenwashing of brands.

To tackle this colossal issue and each play our part in assuaging it even remotely, what it ultimately takes is some small changes and further consideration before making a purchase. Before you buy something new, think about these simple steps.

Firstly, and this may sound silly, but shop your own wardrobe. Do you really need something new, or do you have something existing that will fill the gap? We are all guilty of buying things and forgetting about them over time. The next time you feel the need to buy something new, go through your wardrobe and root out some pieces you haven’t worn in a while. Styling them in a new way can sometimes make you feel like you’ve got a brand new piece of clothing. Plus it’s free!

The next best thing you can do is to try and buy second hand pieces, that way you are contributing to the circular economy and giving items that have already been produced a longer life span. Swap shops with friends are also great for this. I recently attended an event where Taz Kelleher spoke about sustainable fashion. Taz hosts regular talks and organises charity shop crawls and swap shops around Ireland to raise awareness for sustainable fashion. Visit her Instagram for dates and further information.

Next think about the wearability of the piece: will you be able to wear this piece in multiple ways and in a number of different scenarios (work, weekend, holiday etc)? A one wear item is not an option.

Always check your labels: in terms of fabric, aim to buy natural fabrics like cotton and linen rather than man-made materials (like polyester which is made from plastic and not biodegradable). Even when buying natural fabrics you still have more to consider; always look for organic fabrics, this means that the plants or trees the material is made from were not treated with any harmful chemicals which are damaging to both the workers and the natural resources. While there are still issues with natural fabrics, such as the excessive water usage when producing cotton, it’s a step in the right direction.

Consider timelessness: ask yourself if this is a piece you can see yourself still wearing in ten years’ time. If not, why not? Clothing should be bought to be savoured, loved and enjoyed for years to come. An item that is simply filling a gap for now is not good enough.

Shop local: there are so many amazing Irish designers making brilliant collections both ethically and sustainably. Not only are you supporting the local economy, you are also taking steps to protect the environment by reducing transport and extra packaging and in turn pollution.

Invest. Buying fewer, quality pieces is guaranteed to help shape a better future. Consider spending more on good quality basics like T-shirts and jeans that will last. In the long run, your cost per wear will often work out at a lot less.

Care for your clothes. Do you have a good tailor and cobbler? By mending your clothes and accessories you can extend their lifespan for years. A new sole on a pair of leather boots can get you another few winters out of them and leather bags with tired straps can often be replaced. And get creative with alterations, places like Zipyard can recreate your clothes into entirely new pieces (think a maxi dress or jumpsuit altered into a top and skirt). Find good menders (or get crafty yourself!) and your wardrobe will thank you.

Lastly, help to spread the word by telling your friends and family to do the same. This will only work if it becomes the norm. Start by picking one thing from this list, and work up to using it as a checklist every time you need to go shopping. Every little helps when it comes to saving our planet (or even helping to limit further damage) and the fastest way to help us get there is by joining and getting involved in the wider conversation.

There’s no perfect solution and there’s no easy quick fix. But what we can do is introduce these small changes. What we need to aim for collectively is a complete slowing down of the system. Slow fashion needs to replace its fast alternative. Shoppers need to digest their purchases, taking time to wear and re-wear over and over again. You don’t have to completely avoid the high street, but when you are shopping from H&M, Zara or Mango, keep the above tips in mind and make sure you’re not purchasing a single-wear piece. Clothes from the high street can and will last if they are cared for properly and chosen with longevity in mind. But do pay attention to where you are buying your clothes. Not all high street stores are equal. And as mentioned above, it is preferable to purchase second hand where possible – you may be surprised what you find.

The suit I’m wearing in these pictures proves this point. It’s vintage Yves Saint Laurent and I bought it at a flea market in New York in 2015 from a girl whose mother has collected vintage pieces for the past 40 years. I stumbled upon the flea market accidentally just three blocks from where I was living in Bushwick and couldn’t believe my luck when I found this piece. It’s easy to think vintage or second hand clothes won’t suit your shape or style, but remember they can be altered to fit. This suit was one size too big, but I had the trousers taken up and in at the waist, and I’m happy to wear the jacket slightly baggier. It’s one of my favourite outfits in my wardrobe and I love the fact that I have a story to tell when someone asks me about it. Clothes hold history and this is something to be remembered. When you wear them they become an extension of your self – what do you want your clothes to say?

Photographs by Liadh Connolly

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Slow Dance

05.02.2019

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Culture and society (both past and present) have influenced fashion for as long as it has existed. This intersect between the two worlds has always fascinated me; learning about the cultural inspirations behind designers’ creations adds another level to your affinity with a brand. As well as this, fashion labels have become lifestyle brands in their own right, offering loyal customers the opportunity to not just wear their clothes but to share an interest in art, music and literature by creating additional content for them to consume like Spotify playlists, blogs and social media posts that encompass more than just their own product. In some cases, brands even create a physical space where fans can convene and embrace the lifestyle and meet like-minded people, take for example Mansur Gavriel’s café in LA or The Apartment by The Line in New York.

The concept for this shoot started with one bag with its origins in art and architecture. Enter Danse Lente (meaning ‘slow dance’ in French) a London-based accessories label. The brand’s founder Youngwon Kim says she is inspired by contemporary aesthetics, modern architecture and artists such as Picasso and Joan Miró. Although Picasso-inspired pieces aren’t hard to come by, this correlation spoke to me when I was doing my research on the brand before buying the bag in December. On a trip to London last year I had a chance to visit the “Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame Tragedy” exhibition at the Tate Modern. I had admired Picasso’s works for a long time but this was the first time I had seen an entire exhibition dedicated to the artist and it just blew me away. The colours and shapes he used are so powerful and I find it fascinating how you can find meaning in even the most abstract of paintings. After analysing Picasso’s works and later looking at Danse Lente’s handbags the influence was undoubtedly there; Kim had taken Picasso’s cubist shapes and warm tones and translated them into something entirely fresh and very now. (The bags are catnip for Instagram with their modern aesthetic and bright colours – throw in an affordable price point and you’ve got a winning combo.)

Danse Lente’s handbags also feel like more than a bag; they feel like tiny scuptures that are made to be worn. Last year I visited Atelier Brancusi in Paris and got to see the artist’s collection of work in its entirety. Dotted around the studio, the pieces collectively told the story of the artist. An organised chaos, each one had its place; Brancusi donated his life’s body of work on the one condition – that they would be displayed exactly as he left them when he died. My own little orange sculpture now holds court in a corner of my living room sitting on a vintage chair when I’m not wearing it, further emphasising this interlink between fashion, art and interiors and the ease with which they interweave. Which is why I thought it would be fitting to shoot these pictures in the National Gallery of Ireland.

I also revel in the therapeutic benefits of visiting a gallery. We shot these images on a Sunday morning. At times you would find yourself completely alone in a room with only the characters on the walls for company, and next thing a room would swarm with people. But it was this ebb and flow of the crowd that gave time for thought and reflection. The feeling that you can be entirely alone one minute and the next in a sea of people. The act of wandering around a gallery or museum for an hour is an underrated cure for anxiety and a racing mind, offering you time to get lost in something other than your own thoughts. I’m not the only one who feels this as The Guardian recently published a piece echoing my sentiments. And while you may take your phone out every now and then to snap a picture, it’s a great way to escape the screen and the fast pace of everyday life, if even just for a little while.

But back to the bag, admittedly it’s not the most versatile piece in my wardrobe but its uniqueness is what makes it special. For that same reason I chose the Phoebe bag in the terracotta colour instead of the ‘safer’ black version. Terracotta felt more authentic to the brand and makes more of an impact when paired with a neutral palette as shown in these images, and also looks strong when paired with all navy or black for a pop of colour. I won’t wear it every day, but when I do I’ll feel safe in the knowledge that I’ve got my very own little work of art on my arm.

Danse Lente is at Brown Thomas and www.danselente.com.

Photographs by Liadh Connolly.

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Starting Fresh

01.09.2018

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No matter what stage you’re at in life, there’s something about the start of September that calls for new beginnings, as if a permanent back to school mindset returns year after year. This can mean different things to different people; starting a new exercise regime, focusing on healthy eating, a new hobby, or, a new wardrobe. Over the summer I’ve found myself veering into unknown territories in terms of clothing. I’ve worn colour. I’ve worn print. I’ve even worn a bum bag! I’m blaming it all on Ireland’s uncharacteristically warm summer, and the feeling that we were all in a state of permanent holiday mode regardless of work schedules for much of the summer, thanks to the good weather. A bottle of rosé on a Tuesday? Why not! Fish and chips by the sea when you should be at the gym/yoga/pilates? But of course!  I think this summer we learned that the sun throws all sense of regular functioning out the window in Ireland. We’re generally so sun-deprived as a nation that when it does come – and stay! – we don’t know how else to act other than to celebrate and embrace it to the full. Which is actually a really nice thing when you think about it.

I think my sense of style took on a certain amount of that frivolity too, what with my venture into colour and print. From someone whose wardrobe is made up of 90% white, grey, navy and black it was quite a change. But it was what felt right at the time. I love the pieces I bought (and rooted out from the back of the wardrobe) like a green check handkerchief hem dress from Zara that I got on sale, but I think it’s time for me to go back to basics.

September has arrived and with it a sense of normality. Order has been restored and my wardrobe of neutrals is calling me. I like the idea of being able to change your style with the season, not drastically of course, I still felt like me, but maybe it was my “summer persona”. And while I did pick up a couple of statement summer pieces, I also got a few can’t-live-without basics that I want to share.

First up is the Arket T-shirt. I say “the” but really I should say The because it is The T-shirt everyone needs in their lives. I’ve spent a long time searching for the perfect white tee, and I’m sure some of you reading this have too. It’s the ultimate elusive item on my shopping list. You think you’re close but you never quite reach it. But now I can safely say my search is over. The perfect white T-shirt does exist, and it’s from Arket. I now own it in white, black and navy, I bought two whites as I knew how much I’d want to wear it. It’s 100% cotton, washes really well and is nice and soft. It has a high neck with a thick ribbed collar which I love, and it’s slightly oversized but not too large. You have to order online as there is no shop in Ireland yet, or stock up when you’re in London or another city that has an Arket shop. It may seem like a simple thing, but simple items are often the hardest to find. Arket are also quite forward thinking when it comes to sustainability which is a major plus.

And now for a few basics I’m hoping to purchase soon…

In case you haven’t noticed, I love tailoring. I love wearing a full trouser suit or a blazer with jeans. Paired with runners, boots or loafers and a T-shirt underneath tailored pieces form the basis of my wardrobe all year round. Last year I got a blue wool suit from Cos which I wore probably weekly during the winter, and this winter I want to invest in a corduroy suit.

I’m also going to get a new pair of runners. All my pairs of Stan Smiths have seen better days, and instead of getting a new pair of them I’m going to pick up a pair by Veja in Brown Thomas. Veja is a French brand that focuses on sustainability using eco-friendly materials and processes. I’ll wear these with everything from my black and camel pairs of Acne Studios trousers to midi skirts and dresses.

So those are the purchases I’m planning to make this autumn. Pieces that can be worn over and over with different outfits and made from natural fabrics that will last.

Modest Fashion

27.02.2018

L - R: Céline, Valentino, Victoria Beckham

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Fashion is in its essence a reflection of social, economic, political and cultural changes. It exists to symbolise the zeitgeist at any particular time, and works to capture the essence of any given era. When creating collections, designers look to the world around them and are inspired by the cultures they are immersed in.

A new way of dressing that has before now predominantly been favoured for religious or lifestyle reasons has become a trend and ‘modestwear’ has become the latest buzzword in fashion. Modest dressing is now in vogue, as conservative, covered-up fashions were spotted on the SS18 runways of brands including Valentino, The Row, Céline and Victoria Beckham.

At Céline the trend came in the form of a white roll-neck long sleeved maxi dress, paired with loafer/trainer hybrid and ladylike drop pearl earrings. At Valentino, high necks and long sleeves were the order of the day, in distinct colour palettes of striking violet and crimson red. Victoria Beckham paired her oversized menswear-inspired suits with a Victorian-style ruffle high neck blouse, covering her models up from top to toe.

A direct antithesis to the overt sexiness of seasons past, this non-provocative style sees the use of longer hemlines, higher necklines and voluminous shapes that cloak the body. Could this perhaps be a backlash led by women who oppose the overtly sexualised look that was often prescribed for male appreciation rather than female?

This trend has not only been seen on the catwalks, but also in popular culture and has been trickling down to the streets too. The Handmaid’s Tale, one of 2017’s most popular television series, saw the use of cloaks and bonnets as a visual marker of oppression. A number of SS18 designer collections referenced the costumes in The Handmaid’s Tale, from The Row’s fluid satin red dress to Vera Wang’s covered-up ensembles complete with peaked bonnet, reminiscent of those Ofred and co wear in the show.

In The Handmaid’s Tale modest dressing is used as a form of patriarchal oppression, designed to conceal the female body as a form of power and control. This stems from the religious or cultural enforcement of covering the female body when in the public sphere that remains present in certain cultures to this day.

Now, with the current trend sweeping across the catwalks, it could be argued that the act of modest dressing is becoming a form of female liberation. Women have subverted the oppressive nature of these clothes and reclaimed them, and with that added a new sense of meaning. Such women (designers, editors, consumers…) are collectively rejecting the male gaze, and the clothes that they wear are putting the power in the hands (and voluminous long sleeves) of the wearer, rather than the observer.

In contemporary fashion, trends blossom on Instagram as much as they do on catwalks, and at the time of writing #ModestFashion has over 800,000 posts on Instagram. Ganni’s ‘Little House on the Prairie’ style dresses from last season’s collection have been popping up repeatedly on influencers and editors feeds. The trend is dominating, and it is ever growing. In March 2017 The Modist, launched by Ghizlan Guenez, became the first e-commerce platform solely dedicated to modest clothing. Net-a-porter have introduced a ‘modest’ tab which when you click into it, returns results of covered-up clothing including floor length day dresses, high-collared tops and voluminous trousers. Halima Aden became the first model to wear a hijab on the international catwalks when she walked in Max Mara’s AW18 show, and Nike brought out a hijab for sportswear.

For so long, emphasis in clothing choices for women has been placed on ‘sexy’ or provocative clothing. Who is that appealing to? And more importantly, who is it damaging? For girls to grow up in a world where equal weight is placed on every type of dressing, from provocative to demure, it produces a more supportive all-encompassing environment that encourages them to dress only for themselves.

Is it really so surprising that at a time when women, perhaps more than ever, are speaking out about misogynistic abuse and sexual harassment are now also dressing for themselves rather than for men? Clothes are a form of armour and perhaps in this politically and socially turbulent time, covering up is our own subliminal act of sheltering ourselves from the outside forces that continue to close in around us.

To Have and To Hold

31.12.2017

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| Heather wool wrap coat and Ella cashmere jumper Theo and George | Black high-waisted straight leg jeans & Other Stories | Hat Anthony Peto | Gold farthing necklace Chupi |

More and more producers of clothing are beginning to show a heightened awareness of, and responsibility for, the impact the fashion industry has on the environment by placing more emphasis on high quality clothing that is built to last and designed to leave minimal waste, rather than practices favoured by fast fashion retailers which sees extreme waste and polution.

Enter Irish brand Theo and George. Created by Katie O’Riordan, it was designed to bring a range of everyday essentials to the Irish market, clothing for busy women who don’t have time to think about getting dressed each morning. The idea was to create a ready-made capsule wardrobe consisting of pieces that could be easily mixed and matched, offering a number of different outfit options for various occasions.

By combining sustainable production and ethical manufacturing processes yet not scrimping on style, Theo and George have carved a niche for themselves in the Irish market, creating a unique brand offering. From the pieces I’ve worn from their first collection, I’ve been really impressed. They are comfortable, warm, durable (most can be machine washed, even the cashmere) and they work with a lot of existing pieces in my wardrobe. I’ve fallen in love with the Ella cashmere jumper, it’s so soft and doesn’t lose its shape, and has extra long sleeves which makes it nice and slouchy. I sized up and got a medium in this to make it more oversized. The Heather wool wrap coat has also been a welcome addition to my wardrobe and it looks just as well paired with a midi dress for evening events as it does with jeans and a jumper, again emphasising the versatility of the collection. The wrap belt can be removed if you want to wear the coat open, but it has been keeping me really warm on these chilly December days when it’s fully belted up and with the cashmere jumper underneath.

The concept of buying less and choosing well appears to be on the rise with more people willing to invest in lasting clothing rather than repeatedly purchasing throwaway high-street pieces. And with this move away from the disposable economy, independent brands like Theo and George have an opportunity to thrive while doing their bit to reduce the negative effects the fashion industry has on the environment.

In collaboration with Theo and George.

Photographs by Liadh Connolly.