Thursday, 21 July 2016

Cultural differences, differences in perception and learning to like how you look

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't quite gotten total acceptance of how I look down yet but I'm a hell of a lot better than I used to be.

I can almost pinpoint exactly when I first became self-conscious about how I look or when I first even really considered it. As I've always had strong opinions on clothes but nearly always place importance on comfort over aesthetic, I spent most of my childhood wearing things that made climbing and running around easier. And, as I spent most of my childhood climbing and running around, I was nearly permanently dishevelled to some degree. But I was cute and naturally very slender, in the way that vaguely wild children are, and never had much pause to worry about how I looked. Of course, I did always want hair longer than the bob my mother imposed on me for ease and I did want it to be blonde, the way my favourite princesses were and most beautiful celebrities of the nineties seemed to be. Other than that, however, I didn't think about how I looked all that often.

As I grew older, the cute phased into the awkward in-between stage of the preteens. Still, I wasn't too worried. I was happy to remain a child for as long as possible but it seemed no one else felt the same way and, suddenly, no one wanted to play the games I invented at lunch and people began to have "boyfriends" and "girlfriends". This was when I realised that I wasn't one of the pretty girls and that such a category really existed or mattered.

I have a rather distinct memory of what shattered my innocent illusions and made me pine for a place in said category. It was break and the latest issue of Spiderman had just come out, I was sitting with some guy friends discussing it when one of the prettiest girls in class walked past. All of the guys turned away from our conversation to watch her and I was completely ignored. I felt completely invisible and realised how powerful being beautiful could be. Of course, I didn't know how much more complicated life was than that but, in that moment, it seemed simple: being pretty meant being noticed and privileged in lots of ways. That same summer, I started to notice my "stomach". Skinny as I was, my stomach was rounded the way a healthy child's is but I began to resent it.

Curves hit me hard and fast in the next few months, leading to extremities that felt foreign and unwanted and were temporarily covered in very visible stretch marks from the sudden growth spurt. I went from skinny to awkwardly busty so quickly that I didn't really have time to adjust. My teens were an awkward time, to say the least. Clothes were my saving grace and I hid my baby fat as best I could with flamboyant punk armour but I had no clue what to do with hair or makeup. During a brief stint of beginning to play with makeup at fourteen, my best friend at the time asked me why I was bothering as I was simply plain anyway, in front of our entire class. Needless to say, I stopped "bothering" thereafter.

Throughout secondary school I had my friends and was very happy but my relationship with the boys in school wasn't particularly good. I was either the target of unwanted attention and torment for being outspoken, unapologetically myself and smart or utterly ignored. Younger boys I didn't know shouted things like "dog" at me from time to time and I was consistently told I was "frigid". Such things don't exactly boost one's confidence.

Somehow, I came out the other side and, in college, began to cultivate my personal style. A couple of years ago I began taking care of my skin properly and went from knowing nothing about makeup to blogging about it and attending press events. Since I've started to work, I've had the economic luxury to regularly pay for hair appointments and personal grooming. I can safely say that, today, I look a lot less awkward than my teenaged self.

And, over the years, I've gained perspective on my appearance. A part of me will probably always crave hearing things like "pretty" being said about me but I am no longer the teenager that so desperately wants someone to think that that it almost hurts. I'm largely at peace with how I look and this is down to maturity, time and an increasing awareness of cultural differences, personal preferences and different perceptions.

In fact, my interest in other cultures and my attempts to listen to the opinions of others more has been intrinsic to my journey to liking how I look more. For example, my eyes are a feature I've always liked. They were my selling point as a child as they were impossibly large and made everyone bend to my will. When I grew into them as an adult, they became my favourite feature but one throw-away comment from my sister made me self-conscious of them for a long time. She casually tossed the comment that they were "froggy" across the dinner table one day and I began to obsess over how they protruded slightly from being so big. The fleshiness beneath them became something that I saw as detracting from the one thing I had been utterly confident in. When I became interested in Korean makeup and beauty, however, I learned that they called this the "aegyo sal" and it was considered a feature that made people look cuter and younger. In fact, some people even undergo surgery to exaggerate or create this effect. Seeing people want something I was born with made me look at it in a different light.

Standards of beauty, outside symmetry and health, are almost all subjective and change over time and across cultures and the thing that you might not like about yourself may well be considered ideal elsewhere, in the past or future, If you try to maintain your health and confidence and step back from the ideals shoved in your face by the here and now, if you try to keep a sense of perspective and if you try to look at yourself with kinder eyes, you'll find more that you like in the mirror.

Throw-away comments can have a positive effect too, which is why we should always be mindful of our words as they can create or salve complexes. Negative comments about a person's appearance can be unbelievably damaging and should be avoided but saying that nice thing you think - even if it seems odd - can make a person's day or change the way they look at themselves. I used to hate the sprinkling of freckles that appears across my nose and cheeks in the summer with the slightest amount of sun and no matter how much I protect my skin. One day, my boyfriend of the time said they were cute utterly unprompted and, though I don't think you should utterly validate yourself because of another's opinion, it made me look at myself more kindly. For a moment, I saw myself through his eyes instead and the flaws I normally found weren't so glaring after all.

Of course, at the end of the day beauty is only skin deep and we'll all end up rotting in the ground anyway...cheery, I know. But, on a serious note, there is much more to a person than how they look and learning to love and accept yourself inside and out is an important part of growing up. I also do realise that it can be easier said than done but just remember this sage advice from Laverne Cox when she appeared on the Mindy Project: "Now, if the person in the mirror was your best friend, would be as mean to her as you [are] being to yourself?"

Exactly. Wouldn't we all be a little happier if we gushed about ourselves even a fraction as much as we talked adoringly about our besties?

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(L-R) Teenage me, college me and me today.

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Monday, 11 July 2016

CREATE 2016 at Brown Thomas - Celebrating emerging Irish design talents

Create is a wonderful, annual display at Brown Thomas that finds, showcases and sells some of the best emerging design talent that Ireland has to offer. This year, in particular, the team has outdone themselves in the designers they have sourced, as well as the actual display itself which is a glass, lights and solid block colours affair, in retro shades of seafoam and dusty pink. The display was also admirably made using a lot of polycarbonate and sustainable materials, as sustainability is an increasing issue on the mind of the brand.

Launched on the 5th of July and running until the 14th of August, this year's Create is the 6th edition of the installation and brings together the work of 19 talented designers across ready-to-wear, accessories, millinery and jewellery in the Grafton Street store.

The popularity of the scheme was apparent as, the same day I made my trip to specifically check it out, I heard countless others, clearly there for the same reason, excitedly explain it to companions as they strolled about. However, Create is also important as it showcases for Irish designers that are starting out and introduces work that might be stocked in boutiques in some far off parts of the globe to home crowds.

Shelly Corkery, Fashion Director for Brown Thomas notes that they"are very proud of CREATE, as it shines a spotlight on the Brown Thomas tradition of discovering and promoting Irish Design talent, this year we have worked closely with the Chairman of the Council of Fashion Design, Eddie Shanahan and with NCAD to discover the designers of the future."

The designers include talents and brands such as Mary Gregory, Richard Malone, Madigan Whisker, Teatum Jones and Margaret O'Connor.

One of the personal highlights for me has to be the beautiful floral creations of Aideen Gaynor that are the first thing to greet you upon taking the escalator up to the exhibition. Chosen as this year's "Designer to Watch" from NCAD's Annual Graduate Fashion Show by Shelly Corkery, she certainly makes an immediate and memorable impact with her bold silhouettes and prints. The sculptural footwear pieces by Sandra Plantos also caught my eye. Displayed in glass cases and utterly impractical but brutally beautiful, they tread a fascinating line between art and design and reference her background in architecture with their unconventional forms and materials. I was also delighted to see pieces from Richard Malone, who I've been a fan of for a while now. This collection is very visibly his but there is a lightness and ease to it that shows how the designer has truly come into his own in a rather delightful way.

If you're anywhere near Brown Thomas over the next while, make a point to pop in and take in just how bright the future of Irish design real is. It'll warm the cockles of any fashion lover's heart right up.

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Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Anti Festival Style Guide – i.e. I don't get “festival style”

I've never really understood “festival style”. It has always seemed like a rather bizarre concept to me and I struggle to think of any other scenario where people feel a similar compulsion to dress in such a prescribed, uniform way. Guides to festival style have always perplexed me and I have to wonder, am I just the only one who doesn't get it?

Festivals are all about fun, music, art, self-expression. They are these bizarre spaces in which we are momentarily separated from real life and allowed to immerse ourselves in letting go and enjoying the moment and art in many forms. It seems odd, then, that such an established idea of how to dress emerged from such a space. Yet, when I say “festival style”, you're probably already forming a mental image of a uniform made up of cut-offs, boho accessories, face paint and cultural appropriation.

I don't want it to seem, however, that I'm just a kill joy. I totally get that the same atmosphere I just lauded would have people wanting to break from the norm, try something different, experiment with their look and give them an increased sartorial freedom to do things with their hair, makeup and clothes that won't lead to being stared at or people questioning their sanity. That sense of freedom and fun is a fantastic thing and I merely wonder why it is not full embraced but, rather, used to regurgitate the same things over and over again.

I think, perhaps, the phenomenon of celebrity festival style is to blame. All summer, as we plan how to spend our holidays, while in school or college, and stare out the office window wistfully, waiting for a vacation as adults, our social media is bombarded with images of perfectly coiffed and toned celebrities. Their holiday pictures from luxury resorts are, of course, enviable but I think it is the images of mudless bodies at Glastonbury and sweatless, perfectly made up faces at Coachella that have seem to set us apart. That unattainable perfection and apparent ease seems particularly glamorous in comparison to the heady, chaotic experience most of us have of festivals – though I would argue one is not necessarily better than the other. When we see pictures of the beautiful people floating around festivals, looking as though they stepped out of a music video or magazine, it is hard not to want the same for ourselves but it is easy to forget the team behind it. And those teams are often lead by stylists who work for multiple clients. As a result, those enviable looks can get quite samey.

From an Irish perspective, the style championed by celebrities at the likes of Coachella is also particularly unsuited as the scale, amenities, culture and weather conditions couldn't be more different. I've seen many people stay in hotels to attend Coachella, whereas that is virtually unheard of here. In addition, sun and potential sandstorms are swapped out for cold and potential torrential rain. That means that those booty shorts might not be the best option if you don't want to freeze to death, you're probably going to have to style your outfit around wellies and elaborate hair and makeup sans daily showers, mirrors and tools is going to be pretty difficult to achieve.

Comfort and ease, it seems should be the things that dictate how one dresses at festivals but I've often seen people running around in things that couldn't offer either of those things. However, the main thing that this entire article is trying to get across is that, despite all those festival style guides floating around out there, nothing beats being comfortable, being prepared and being true to your own style. So, here's my alternative festival style guide:

1. Dress in light layers that can be built up for warmth, used to cover you should the sun (miraculously) become strong, and can be easily shorn should you end up in the middle of a hot crowd.

2. Invest in a raincoat that is cute, light and actually waterproof.

3. Similarly, proper footwear, that is waterproof, will make your festival more enjoyable. If you don't want to go the wellie route, Docs are another good investment. Mine have lasted me years, have seen me through many a festival and gig, protected my feet from being trampled and never let water in. Another option to consider, if Docs aren't your style, might be Timberland boots, which offer a more urban edge.

4. If it might be appropriation, just don't do it. I know you saw someone else do it and thought it was cute and, hey, maybe people from that culture don't see it that way (I've read that Japanese people, for example, like foreigners to try out and appreciate kimonos and Koreans feel similarly about hanbok) but it's better to be safe than sorry. With cameras everywhere these days, you might not want to end up being debated on social media or a website. Or, worse yet, don't want to have to delete your own pictures later when the belated shame hits you.

5. Have fun with your look. Face paint, glitter, temporary tattoos, hair chalk, etc. There are lots of products out there now that are easily accessible and look great on Tumblr but that you might be too shy out on the daily: now's your chance.

6. Don't try to force it. Again, you saw someone else do the boho thing and thought it was cute and, if you want to go for it, do but there is also a difference between appreciating and doing. If you're a style chameleon that always tries new things, go for it! But if wearing something doesn't make you comfortable and you're trying to force it in order to match someone else's idea of style, you're better off not doing it at all.

7. Try new things. This point may seem to contradict the last but there is a subtle difference between the two. Instead of tying to be something you're not, try being an exaggerated version of yourself, something a little more joyous. You can try different colours or silhouettes or one item in a look that's a bit out there for you, without donning a costume.

8. Don't buy lots of new things just for a festival. There are several reasons for this. (a) Festivals can be messy and people can rob tents so you might not want to bring/wear anything you'd be devastated to lose. (b) Unless it's boots or a raincoat, as I suggested, you might not want to waste lots of money on something you might never wear again/lose etc. (c) If you shop with a festival in mind, you might fall victim to exactly what I've been talking about and buy things you'd never normally wear and that aren't you at all.

9. Don't bring anything that needs ironing/is difficult to put on or style/you can't pee readily in. Seriously, it's for your own good.

10. All festival style guides are kind of bullshit anyway so just ignore everything I've said, if you wish.

Bonus: Just have fun and keep safe during the madness.

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Monday, 4 July 2016

Photo Post - June 2016

The most obvious thing that stands out upon looking back at the photos from the past month is the colour - sun, summer in Ireland making everything green burst into overdrive and flowers hang heavy, flushed with colour, drunk on the kiss of golden rays, good food and drinks shared with good people, Pride month being celebrated with such passion by almost the entire nation at large and only tempered by the shaken reaction to the tragedy of Orlando.

Visually, colour links the images of how I spent this month. But my life was more colourful than I gave it credit for, up until I looked back at the words and photographs it evoked. I have the flat to myself for the summer and I was alone in the office for two weeks so it felt as though I was alone a lot. This is something I relish: I enjoy entertaining and pleasing only myself. I like my own company. But I cannot deny that it is a little less vibrant than when I am with others, loved ones in particular. Yet, though I was by myself for many hours, I also spent some serious quality time with people from various parts and times of my life over the course of June. There was a lot of laughter, eating and catching up. As it turns out, a month that felt so slow and mundane, at times, as I was living it, was in joyous technicolor more often than cool and collected black and white.

At the beginning of the month, the skies were perfectly clear, beautiful light beamed down and danced around Dublin, making it especially lovely, and, on the very second day of June, I met secondary school friends for dinner. We rarely all get together anymore and every time we do, I remember how much I love hanging out with them. From starting the month on such a high, we went right into a long weekend, which I spent at home with my family, playing racquetball, spending quality time with my parents, welcoming a new member into the extended, barbecuing, laughing.

The rest of the month was spent grabbing after work drinks in the sun; trying out new restaurants; going to a Korean Film Festival; hosting a dinner party; singing my heart out (badly) at karaoke; attending the Primark AW16 Press Day; hanging out with a college friend I hadn't seen in a year; being home for arguments that no longer involve me and realising I'm really living my own separate life; a Father's Day spent eating and shopping; spending a childhood friend's birthday with her for the first time in years; having a sleepover; Jury Duty and listening to 44 counts of child abuse being read a harrowing three times but, luckily, not becoming a juror; falling into a book hard and being so entranced and anxious of the roiling plot that I was torn between feverishly reading on or never finishing it; listening to a former Miss World talk about nutrition, sampling juices and hanging out with other bloggers; a bizarre Pride that wasn't very Pridey but fun nonetheless; bringing my little brother to see his favourite band play; lunch and catch-ups with my American relatives; and ending with a date with my besto in my favourite restaurant and drinks in my favourite bar.

I suppose, overall, it's very easy to find yourself focusing on the boring days, the hard days, the lonely days, the days when nothing much happens at all but, when I write it all down like this, in one place and not across a diary or texts, statuses or tweets, I realise how good I've got it. For all the uncertainty and stress of life, mine is also rather full of kindness, love, laughter, good people and access to little luxuries that cheer me up.

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Monday, 27 June 2016

INTERVIEW: Kitty Moss on art, inspiration and not being too hard on yourself

Kitty Moss very much proves the old adage that you shouldn't meet your heroes can sometimes be utterly incorrect.

An Irish illustrator and designer extraordinaire, owner of one famous pooch (veritable star of Kodaline's music videos for “All I Want I” and “II”, which were directed by her husband) and all-around great human being, she is one of those effortlessly cool people that are made more charming by how genuine and self-effacing they are. Humble is a good word for Kitty though her background is anything but. She has studied and worked in both fashion and art, attended NCAD (Ireland's leading university of art and design), worked with John Rocha, has had her own (spooky and wonderful) clothing line and has worked on illustration projects for Dublin's most important retailers and publications.

I first became aware of her work through an exhibition in Irish luxury retailer Brown Thomas called“Art and Style”, which brought the designer garments on sale together with artwork by Irish artists. Her self-described as “spookily sweet” drawings, though modest in scale and less flashy than some of the other work on display, immediately caught my attention. I was dying to know more about her and we first met a year ago when I requested an interview for my blog. When we eventually coordinated our schedules, I ended up chatting to her while sitting on her couch, sipping prosecco and eating homemade cake. We clicked immediately and chatting to her this time around was more of a catch-up than a formal interview.

Since then, Kitty has undergone some major life changes; she got married and moved to L.A. with her now husband, Stevie, and dog, Digby. “We moved here last May and it's been great. We love it. We miss everyone but it's pretty sweet to just live in each others pockets and be creative every day. We have the little fellow too so it's all very idyllic at times, but spooky as hell other times. I've concentrated on just illustrating since we've been here and I'm half way through a kids book. That's going really well and I have also had the pleasure of working on oodles of wedding invitations, which has kept me busy, but really I would prefer to just work on personal projects like the book.”

News of a Kitty Moss book had me fan-girling and I wondered if she could share any details about it. She laughed at my cautious inquiry. “Nothing's hush-hush!...It sounds silly but it's called The Oinking Horse and it's about a little horse that doesn't fit in and needs to find his place in the world. I'm mulling over a new one too, about a girl with a ghost in her heart...I want to do something spooky next - I miss the spook - but feel the need to do something slightly more commercial first. The plan is to get it published this year, so I've to do a few more pictures then I'll send it out [to publishers].”

Discussion of the necessities of being more commercial sometimes, lead us onto the topic of when your passion becomes your job and how it changes your relationship with the craft, which Kitty acknowledges is inevitable but is “a good thing in a way as, apart from the obvious joys of being paid, it makes you realise more and more what you want to do in life” and doing it all day, every day “will make you even more brilliant”. In fact, she's very good at being wise and giving great, soothing advice for young creatives. She notes that it all “takes time” and not to worry about age or having it figured out – something I needed to hear!

Of course, you can't be a creative without talking influences and inspiration. Her favourite artists include Hughie O'Donoghue - especially his bog images - Van Gogh, Bacon and Harry Clarke and she is, of course, also partial to Rocha, particularly his accessories and hats, show pieces, the styling of the shows and his textiles which she says, "send me swooning". A more obscure influence that she notes, however, are Japanese-inspired willow plates that were in her family home growing up. “When I was younger, I used to get lost in them. I loved the little bridges and the hats. I think they may be the first thing that inspired me.” When I note that her work seems to mesh well with a traditional Japanese art aesthetic, Kitty replies that others have said the same thing but that she doesn't see it herself. We agree that influence and perception are magic things that are formed over a lifetime of experiences and memories, making us who we are and every outlook so unique and different. It is, indeed, a beautiful thing. Kitty's words are more poetic than mine. “I love how everything weaves its way in without you noticing. Like a dream. I still feel those willow plates working their magic.”

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An example of Kitty's pretty, witty and spooky work


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Some of Kitty's design work


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Digby himself

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