Dark Star Rising: Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen AW2014

Alexander McQueen AW14 via Vogue.co.uk. Tap/click on images for gallery view.

Dear All,

Oh-my-goodness-me, it has once again been too long, I hope you all are well and enjoying fashion month! For me, really one of the highlights has been Marc Jacobs’s triumphant, drama-filled New York show for Marc Jacobs AW15, which felt like a re-appropriation of all that he had brought to the Vuitton aesthetic, that he’d had to kind of shake off for a while; the embellishment, imagination, and beauty through high period drama, combined with a contemporary sharpness: I will be writing about that soon! This morning, Karl Lagerfeld’s ‘Brasserie Gabrielle’ at the Grand Palais for Chanel AW15 felt to me like a more inspired pairing than the equally inventive engineering feat of the Chanel supermarket of AW14, carrying with it a sense of the legacy of the house and Parisian café culture; more to come in future posts!

For now, in advance of tonight’s AW15 Alexander McQueen show in Paris, a recap of the extraordinary McQueen AW14 show (video below!).

Sarah Burton’s show for Alexander McQueen AW2014 was an extraordinary gothic fairytale, with a huge set like a blasted heath or windswept moor, and the central character a nocturnal otherwordly child-woman morphing with elements of birds of prey into a wolf, dressed in broderie anglaise dresses with full swingy skirts, full-length gowns, hooded capes, heavy embellishment, feathers, fur, and delicately shredded fabrics, velvet ribbon neckties and regal ruffs; a white, jet black, metallic, and dark-gemstone palette, and shod in heavy boots with finely pleated white ruffs in the place of ankle socks. The styling was similarly full of elements of metamorphosis, from teenage metallic sheen on eyelids and elaborately plaited hairstyles to hooded capes and hooded eyes, a sense of disguise.

To the soundtrack of instrumental versions of Björk’s ‘All is Full of Love’ and ‘Bachelorette’ (two favourites of mine), this was an extraordinary spectacle. I immediately thought of the Harper’s Bazaar UK editorial ‘Dark Star’ (September 2013) which was the catalyst for this blog, and imagined that Sarah Burton must have been influenced in some way by that storyline, which included several McQueen pieces, and featured a dark star heroine on Dartmoor (my earlier post on that shoot is here). The astonishing spectacle also felt intimately connected to the McQueen AW08 show, the AW14 girl like a banished, fighting-for-survival, cousin of the girl in the tree who grew up to be a queen.

The combination of tough, killer, seductive, elements and those elements referencing tradition, innocence, gothic literature and Victorian fairytale illustration, was immediately striking, and was echoed in the switch from the sweet and dissolving instrumentation and melody of ‘All is Full of Love’ to the independent hunter-girl throwing down the gauntlet in ‘Bachelorette’ (which included Björk’s wonderful vocals in the finale). Although this was show-spectacle at its most majestic, imaginative, and emotive, it was made up of individual elements which would emerge extremely strongly in the full ready-to-wear commercial collection.

Since the spectacle is so intimately connected to the scale of the show and to its soundtrack by Björk, here is the official show video, from start to finish, via Alexander McQueen. For now, it still seems hard to separate the collection from the spectacle! (Show photos and close-up details are available on Vogue.co.uk .)

What will Sarah Burton show for Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter 2015? Her Geisha-inspired SS15 collection was such a departure from her Dark Star AW14 heroine. All will be revealed this evening at 7:30 p.m. Paris time. Will you be tuning in live?

Always exciting, the legacy and new manifestations of the McQueen brand under Burton’s direction will be once again in focus not only this evening, but at the weekend, as the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ (an expanded version of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 2011 exhibition of the name same) opens in London. Coincidentally, Björk’s mid-career retrospective exhibition, which explores her music and visual expression through costume, video, and new commissioned material, has just opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and of course the Björk-McQueen collaboration goes a long way back. An exciting time! Hope you enjoy the show!

Bisou!

Sinéad

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For show photos, close-up details, video, and post-show interviews, see Vogue.co.uk.

For show video, see Alexander McQueen channel on YouTube.

For ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ (London), see Victoria and Albert Museum.

For ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ (New York), see Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For Björk retrospecive, ‘MOMA: Björk’ , see Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Saint Laurent Polka Dots and Party Dresses

(Hedi Slimane playing with polka-dot heritage for Saint Laurent: SS13, AW13, SS14 via Vogue.co.uk. Tap/click on individual photos for gallery view and captions.)

Hello All! It has been too long! Hope you are well and that 2014 has gotten off to a good start for you all.

After a hiatus over Christmas and into the New Year, with festivities, yet more layout work for the book, and other commitments keeping me busy, here we are, and New York, London and Milan Fashion Weeks have been a whirl! Can hardly believe Paris is almost upon us!

Will  write about the new collections in upcoming posts, but wanted to share with you a post that I started thinking about on New Year’s Eve as we were getting ready to go out: it’s about party dresses (one of my own, one of my Mum’s); also about vintage YSL and contemporary Saint Laurent and… polka dots. Before I begin, a big thank you to my oh-so-philosophical friends who reminded me that the blog would be waiting for me when I (and the book) was ready, and that I shouldn’t worry about leaving a bit of a gap between posts: thank you, you know who you are!

So, to the dresses. The dress I wore on New Year’s Eve is not vintage YSL, but several people have asked if it is, over the years… Really the fabric should give it away (ssshh it is ‘vintage’ H&M, c. 2006). I have however gotten so much pleasure from wearing it: to parties, on the first birthday I had after meeting my then boyfriend, now husband; on one of his birthdays, and this New Year’s Eve, as pictured below (with sheer polka-dot tights, though they are hard to see).

If it were vintage YSL c.1983, it would be made of organza over stiff taffeta, with velvet petit-pois polka dots decorating the sheer fabric and highlighting the bow that I tie around my waist each time I put it on. I like that I have to tie the bow myself, that is isn’t stuck on and immoveable. My dress has two layers, one sheer but with a certain stiffness, with petit-pois detailing which is gathered into a ruched bodice, while the underskirt and lining of the bodice are jet black. As it isn’t vintage YSL, and H&M’s budget does not stretch to luxury fabrics, it is not made of heavy silk nor of fine organza, but I love it in any case: it contains two kinds of memories or associations, one personal (my mother’s dress), one fashion-historical (vintage YSL). And here is an example, of couture Yves Saint Laurent, from 1983, just to show you…

Yves Saint Laurent Couture, AW 1983, from Icons of Vintage Fashion (2013)

Yves Saint Laurent Couture, AW 1983, from Icons of Vintage Fashion (2013)

The polka dot on tulle here is exactly what comes to mind when I think of mid-80s cocktail dressing. So one dress, two memories. One of the reasons I love my polka-dot party dress so much, apart from the fact that I have so much fun in it, is that it reminds me of the dress my mother wore to her fortieth birthday party, which we had at our house one fine May evening in 1983. Her dress was not black, it was midnight blue, silk taffeta, with a fine embossed polka dot on the fabric: if you looked closely enough, but only then, could you see it.

A few years later, she asked me did I want to try on her dress, and I remember the feeling of the boning inside the bodice against my ribs; the elements of structure holding up this beautiful mass of deep blue silk. It had a tiny knife-pleat frill around the sweetheart neckline, the skirt dropped to the knee, and it twirled like a dream. I do not have a photo of her in that dress, nor do I have the dress itself, but I have the memory, and every time I wear my polka-dot dress, there she is, a little bit of her, in me. Since I don’t have a picture, here’s a quick sketch next to a photo of my dress.

The shape of course is 1950s cocktail dress made fresh for the 1980s. The shoes she wore to the party were in watermarked black taffeta with silk bows (like Dorothy shoes, I thought, but for serious grown-ups, and with a much higher heel). I loved them too. My first abiding very-special-shoe memory is of her opening the big white box full of white tissue paper on Christmas morning, a present ‘from’ my Dad (obviously chosen by her, but at the time I was very impressed with my Dad), which contained the taffeta shoes.

I found my own pair quite by chance, the winter before I got married, when I was doing all sorts of researching and searching for party shoes that I would love enough to wear again. Black sequins on satin, and a Dorothy bow. In heaven, I thought, and thank you Kurt Geiger (they are pictured above). I liked them so much that I also chose the pale peach sequined version for my wedding shoes, cut off the black bow and still get so much fun from them (especially with skinny jeans and bare ankles). (And PS: they are comfortable!)

But back to dresses and polka dots!

Yves Saint Laurent was not the first to focus on polka dots, both tiny petit-pois dots on sheer fabrics and large, graphic dots on monochrome looks, but he exploited their full design potential through the decades.

Christian Dior (in whose house Saint Laurent had started his career) had heralded the dot as elegant and easy and always in fashion in his Little Dictionary of Fashion (1954). 

Even earlier, in Renoir’s Jeune Femme à la voilette (c.1870) we can see a bonnet with sheer veil and polka dots and several of such bonnets appear in Manet’s Musique aux Tuileries (1862): it was extremely chic to wear such dotted veils even then.

Whether tiny polka dots or large graphic discs, the dot became a key element of the YSL signature throughout Saint Laurent’s life. Hedi Slimane, current creative director of Saint Laurent continues this lineage (as did his predecessor, Stefano Pilati) by showing sheer blouses with polka dots, polka-dotted dresses and polka-dot tights in his shows, as pictured above.

Here is a selection of vintage YSL dots to go with the contemporary ones above for inspiration! And here’s to the upcoming Paris collections!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A bientôt, bisou!

Sinéad

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Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane via Vogue.co.uk

Marguerite Duras, Yves Saint Laurent, Icons of Fashion Design (1988, 2010).

Pénélope Blanckaert and Angèle Rincheval Hernu, Icons of Vintage Fashion: Definitive Designer Classics at Auction 1900-2000 (2013).

Photo of YSL in Polka-Dot Bow Tie via ‘Muse: Polka Dots and Moonbeams,’ Process Blog.

Retrospective Look, Editorial: ‘Take the High Road,’ Vogue UK, September 2008

'Take the High Road' editorial, Vogue UK, September 2008. Fashion editor Kate Phelan, photographed by Venetia Scott.

‘Take the High Road’ editorial, Vogue UK, September 2008. Fashion editor Kate Phelan, photographed by Venetia Scott.

 

Dear all… apologies for not having posted in a couple of weeks… a combination of masses of editing, final book prep (which will mean more time for writing here!), a weekend away, a family birthday and my little one’s winter sniffles (to put it mildly) has kept me busy… but now it is time for tweed!

After the ‘Dream a little dream’ shoot photographed for Vogue UK October 2013 by Venetia Scott, I found myself thinking of another of her editorials, ‘Take the High Road,’ from Vogue UK September  2008 (and very luckily my copy, which could have been in a number of places, was sitting on one of the sitting-room bookcases).

At the time it appeared on the newsstands, I was working at Brown Thomas Dublin, and we had a sleeveless version of the Dior dress pictured above – with Givenchy shirt – with a flat bow as seen on the waist here neatly capping each shoulder. It was made of a gorgeous wool tweed, soft to the touch; beautifully constructed and finished: a grown-up dress for best-behaviour family occasions.

But as soon as I saw the Vogue editorial, it completely radicalised that dress for me, gave it attitude in a kind of punky-aristo way. (And for the purposes of the definition of Punk, which appeared to cause a certain amount of controversy in light of the 2013 Met exhibition, of course the pairing of ‘punk’ and ‘aristo’ may seem anathema; for me ‘punky-aristo’ is a term which attempts to convey the appropriation of certain punk sensibilities or aesthetics by another non-Punk grouping, here aristo(cratic) girls on a Scottish estate.)

(For all images, click/tap to enlarge and for gallery view. All fashion credits appear below.)

Beyond that particular garment the ‘Take the High Road’ editorial really made me think about the relationship between garments on hangers and garments on bodies in imaginary scenarios: or, the art of the fashion editor. I remember Grace Coddington’s tale of a shoot with Norman Parkinson in the recent and wonderful BBC Arena documentary, in which she described the story of a girl cast away on an island with a trunk of marvellous clothes; the imaginary quality of the story and her conviction about telling it really resonated. This belief in the scenario, the set-up, which in the ‘Take the High Road’ case is the Scottish Highlands; with girls in tartans, tweeds, big teenage hair, dark eyes, moments of introspection and a sense of attitude, is the stuff of fashion-editorial dreams.

Coincidentally, it seems fitting that as the ‘Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!’ exhibition opens at Somerset House in London, that I should have been thinking about this 2008 editorial, which was in turn inspired by an iconic shoot on which Blow worked as stylist in the early 1990s (fashion editor Kate Phelan refers to the inspiration in ‘Vogue Contributors,’ September 2008).

‘Anglo-Saxon Attitude,’ Vogue UK’s December 1993 editorial (unofficially known as the ‘Babes in London’ shoot), was photographed by Stephen Meisel, with fashion editor Joe McKenna and Blow as stylist. It featured Stella Tennant, Bella Freud, Plum Sykes, Honor Fraser, and Lady Louise Campbell as models, in grungy, aristo-boho form, and local London settings, streets and apparently deserted (or perhaps morning) pubs, with Tennant photographed wearing a gorgeous wisp of a Philip Treacy hat in one image, as though she was tottering home from an all-night party, which had involved a degree of dressing-up.

I will feature that editorial in another post; here, for now, is the  rest of ‘Take the High Road.’ Look out for the Alice-in-Wonderland-like, girl-in-a-garden-reading image: such a contrast to the other images full of attitude, which speak equally of the self-invention of the girls through dress and accessorising in their Highlands isolation, and the imagination of fashion editor Kate Phelan and photographer Venetia Scott (no doubt fuelled by the AW08 collections at Alexander McQueen and D&G Dolce & Gabbana). Will it inspire a punky attitude in your winter dressing this season?

A la prochaine (it won’t be so long ’til the next time, promise!), bisou!

Sinéad

Photographed by Venetia Scott. Fashion Editor: Kate Phelan. Models: Agnete Hegelund and Kamila Filipcikova. Hair: Duffy. Make-up: Hannah Murray. Production: 10-4 Inc.

(2) Puff-sleeved wool dress, Alexander McQueen. Bow headband with veil, Benoit Missolin. Chain necklace, Stephen Zweck, New York. Tartan rosette, feather brooch, both Piob Mor of Scotland. Fingerless gloves, Chanel.

(3) Cashmere coat, cashmere trousers, both Ralph Lauren. Silk-organza blouse, Douglas Hannant, New York. Velour trilby, J Smith Esquire. Leather gloves, Hermès. Antique grouse-foot brooch, Sylvie Spectrum, Gray’s Antique Market. Felt and feather brooch, Piob Mhor of Scotland.

(4) Strapless wool dress, left, tights, both D&G Dolce & Gabbana. Leather belt, Ralph Lauren. Patent leather shoes, Peter Jensen for Topshop. Pearl flower necklace, Alexis Bittar, New York. Chain necklace and bracelet, Stephen Zweck, New York. Wool beret, Piob Mhor of Scotland. Wool dress, right, tights, both D&G Dolce & Gabbana. Leather belt, Piob Mhor of Scotland. Boots Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti. Beaded pendant necklace, Gerard Yosca, New York. Antique silver locket, Aurum, Gray’s Antique Market. Hat, Toast.

(5) Silk blouse, silk scarf, wool skirt, all Dolce & Gabbana. Striped socks, Karen Walker, at Matches. Argyle socks, Burlington. Leather boots, Alexander McQueen. Tartan beret, crinoline headpiece, both Noel Stewart. Bib necklace, Gerard Yosca, New York. Gold cuffs, Gerard Yosca, New York and Stephen Dweck, New York.

(6) Tweed jacket, Chanel. Chiffon blouse with velvet ties, Escada. Wool skirt, Louis Vuitton. Wool sash, Piob Mhor of Scotland. Chain-link necklace, Ghost, at Liberty. Rabbit-fur hat, CA4LA.

(7) Argyle-knit jacket and matching skirt, Vivienne Westwood Gold Label. Checked cotton/silk top, Vivienne Westwood Red Label. Organic-cotton blouse, Bamford. Cotton hat with checked brim, D&G Dolce & Gabbana.

(8) Wool jacket with ponyskin collar, Anne Valerie Hash, at Harvey Nichols and Liberty. Red checked jacked, Vivienne Westwood Red Label. Lace shirt, Roberto Cavalli. Hat, J Smith Esquire.

(9) Checked wool dress, Dior. Cotton shirt, Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci. Ribbon, in hair, VV Rouleaux.

(10) Checked cotton jacket, Comme des Garçons at Dover Street Market. Silk-organza blouse, Douglas Hannant, New York. Strapless velvet dress, Lanvin. Headdress, to order, Benoit Missolin.

(11) Strapless wool dress, House of Holland, at Dover Street Market. Tweed and leather shoes, Chanel. Socks,  Piob Mhor of Scotland. Necklace, Stephen Dweck, New York. Ribbons, in hair, VV Rouleaux.

(12) Feathered silk dress, Burberry Prorsum. Swarovski-crystal necklace, Philippe Ferrandis, Paris. Leather gloves, Causse, Paris. Tweed and leather shoes, Chanel.Cashmere tights, Dolce & Gabbana. Socks,  Piob Mhor of Scotland.

Editorial: ‘Dream a little dream,’ Vogue UK, October 2013

(Styled by Bay Garnett, photographs by Venetia Scott, model Georgia May Jagger. Hair by Tomo Jidai. Make-up, Sharon Dowsett. Production, 10-4 Inc. Location: Great Dixter, East Sussex. Digital artwork, Ben Pickett at Touch. Click on/tap images for captions and gallery view.)

After the particularly glittery, jet-black, dark-star vibe of Hallowe’en 2013 (thanks to Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton SS14 and to the last-minute make-up suggestions of Harper’s Bazaar and Into The Gloss), returning to the ‘Dream a little dream’ editorial in Vogue UK’s October 2013 issue seems a breath of fresh air in more ways than one.

Shot on location in the gardens of Great Dixter, East Sussex, by Venetia Scott whose work has inspired for many years (and to whom I will return in future posts), ‘Dream a little dream’ captures the innocent insouciance of dreamy October days, those days which surprise with their warmth and mists… in this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. The editorial story begins: ‘The winsome heroines of Victorian literature inspire the romantic return of opulent, feminine pieces that will continue to tell stories for seasons to come.’

The pieces featured certainly have a timeless quality, as does Georgia May Jagger here, thanks to  Bay Garnett’s styling (which often has a quietly bohemian quality), and Jagger’s own inner resolve, with her hair slightly mussed, and the unselfconscious air of a girl who has had to amuse herself and fill her hours in this garden, with flowers and her white horse for company, and if the first image is anything to go by, a longing for life beyond the garden walls.

Hands in pockets (a very modern pose), looking off to the right and out of the frame, she is inaccessible, apparently lost in her thoughts, as Victorian literary heroines often are. She is mostly captured in moments of restfulness but more than capable of action (running through a field in a Valentino silk-chiffon dress for example); is perfectly at home amongst the flower-filled meadows and orchards and yet yearns for something more.

A gorgeous editorial, it is also refreshing for its discretion,  its mix of innocence and knowingness: Jagger’s heroine mostly ignoring the viewer (appearing lost in thought, entranced by her surroundings or the company of her clearly beloved horse) and only in one remarkable shot gazing out of the frame, directly to us, through iris heads, in an image of Indian-summer laziness, both candid and sensuous in its soft-focus. In this image we see the woman in the girl.

The strength of the shoot means that we can imagine our heroine jettisoning her precious wardrobe and setting off on her horse on an adventure, hoping one day to return to her home; to the cherished garden and her favourite coats and dresses as pictured here; but she is not a girl to be bound by them.

The images are grouped in pairs sharing similar tones; the opening grey-blue early-morning misty garden (1 and 2); the blue-accented shots of orchard and flower-filled meadow (3 and 4); the rose-inflected sense of time standing still while the heroine looks up the path for something or someone and stands in the rose garden (5 and 6); the white and gold fields (7 and 8); the dark navy and purple-iris notes of  images 9 and 10;  and the white, gold and blue-grey of images 11 and 12.

Ending with the carefree radiance of a sun-warmed smile, lying amongst the oversized daisies in Dries Van Noten’s floral patterned duster coat (the caption references William Morris’s first print, ‘Daisy’ from 1864), this is a girl who is at one with, and at one with wearing, her flowers. And, we have little doubt, is about to experience  life’s beauty beyond the garden walls.

What do you wear for a walk in the garden or park? And would this inspire you to add a little Victoriana to your look?

A la prochaine, bisou!

Sinéad

================

From top, left to right: flocked wool-mix coat, Emporio Armani. Cotton/silk dress, Giles. Vintage cluster brooch, Ting’s, at Gray’s Antique Market.

Organza blouse, Lanvin. Denim skirt, Ashish, at Browns Focus. Wool belt, Luisa Beccaria. Leather brogues, Bally. Printed silk dress, Rochas. Vintage lace blouse, Elizabeth Avey. Resin and crystal ring, Miriam Salat.

Silk coat, Louis Vuitton. Embroidered silk-chiffon blouse, Alberta Ferretti. Silk/cotton shirt, Claire Barrow. Vintage ribbon belt, Elizabeth Avey. Lace dress, stretch satin bra, satin knickers, all Dolce & Gabbana. Pearl pendant necklace, Laura Lee Jewellery.

Cotton blouse, Chloé. Wool-lace skirt, Eudon Choi.Wool belt, as before.Crystal Brooch, Linda Bee, Gray’s Antique Market. Vintage brogues, from a selection, Vestiairecollective.com. Silk-chiffon dress, Valentino.

Embroidered silk/wool coat, Céline. Wool/cotton blouse, Paul & Joe. Wool belt, as before. Coin pendant necklace, from Laura Lee Jewellery. Lace shirt, Paul & Joe. Silk skirt, Rochas. Vintage brogues, as before.

Patchwork lace dress with peplum, Alexandra Rich, at Selfridges. Wool/alpaca coat, Dries Van Noten. Lace dress, Emilio Pucci. Coin pendant necklace and pearl necklace, as before.

Bright Star Dark Star

(click on image for caption)

In September 2013, during Paris Fashion Week, this blog somehow became a reality. (And no-one is more surprised by this than I am.)

‘Bright Star Dark Star’ is a space for writing about the past and present of fashion: designers, dresses, blazers, accessories; coats, heels and hats; international collections, fashion week shows, fashion photography; editors, editorials, campaigns; exhibitions and museums. I’ll also post on fashion in art, film and history. (And I promise you now that future posts will not be as long, but I thought some background was important here to situate the blog, and me.)

My name is Sinéad Furlong-Clancy, I’m an independent art and fashion historian living in Dublin, previously in Paris and London (well almost London: Surrey), where I grew up. I’m also a writer, stylist, lecturer and consultant, with a PhD in art, fashion and nineteenth-century Paris, soon to be published as a book by Mellen, New York.

Often found very happily if busily balancing two schedules, a research/teaching programme and another fashion/style advising position, I have gained years of experience in the fashion industry, most recently working with international womenswear collections, personal shopping and styling, in The Designer Rooms at Brown Thomas Dublin, with favourites Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Prada, Miu Miu, Chloé: the list goes on… This was before I became a Mum in late 2010 (something else ‘about’ me!) and decided to take the opportunity to work independently and focus on my book and research (not to mention my young family).

My first daily encounters with fashion blogs came while at Brown Thomas, in early 2009, when my then-boyfriend, now husband, and I would compare notes on The Sartorialist and Garance Doré via texts during breaks from work (and no, while very stylish, he is not in the field). I loved the back-and-forth, looking at their photographs capturing street style and fashion-week style; and also loved Garance’s illustrations, stories and wit, and Scott’s vintage photographs and the stories that came with them.

My Mum’s innate style, elegance and dressmaking skills were early influences, as were her fashion magazines, which opened windows into other worlds, at times ethereal, saturated with colour, or darkly gothic. This tension between the depicted bright world of fashion and its darker or more melancholy elements was made all the more apparent coming from a colourful mid-eighties childhood of polka dots and ra-ra skirts, to the heroin-chic grunge of my late teens. By that time, I was collecting the same magazines she had, and new ones like The Face and i-D, forming my own collections of images, ideas, inspirations, with mood board-like collages decorating diaries, folders, sketchbooks.  This continued through college and summer jobs, in tandem with graduate studies in Dublin and Paris, and summers researching at the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris (the newly re-opened Palais Galliera) for my PhD on art, fashion and nineteenth-century Paris; also while teaching fashion students at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin.

The bright/dark contrast was perhaps even sharper for me as I lost my beloved mother to cancer a few months before my fourteenth birthday. What she wore, what she had bought for us to wear, what we shopped for together and what she had made for us as small children in exquisite Liberty print fabrics, all of these things shaped my memories of her; that and her incredible sense of fun and empathy, whether for children or adults. I still have and wear a beautifully tailored David Charles wool navy blazer that must have been one of the last things she bought for me (the label reads ‘age 14 years’). But all of her beautiful clothes were packed away soon after and given to charity, and this was another, secondary loss; her perfume, her warmth had seemed to fill the wardrobe space; for a few brief weeks I unpacked shoe boxes and stood in her shoes, where she had stood. Then it was empty. Justine Picardie considers ‘the life and afterlife of clothes’ in her moving, inspired and ‘courageously playful’ book My Mother’s Wedding Dress. But for my bereft but incredibly strong Dad, with four children aged between 6 and 13, it was the only way forward.

The Bright Star of the blog’s title is a reference to Jane Campion’s 2009 film Bright Star about John Keats and Fanny Brawne, which really resonated with me when I saw it first (and still does, it is incredibly powerful and beautifully shot… a Parisian friend recently messaged just after having seen it… my response: ‘Are you still weeping?!’… answer: ‘Yes!’). Why so significant? Bright Star opened at the Irish Film Institute two months after my then-boyfriend asked me to marry him (you can read about that and the story of my wedding dress, a couture gown by my friend, fashion designer  Sean Byrne, 2009 Young Designer of the Year, whom I knew from Brown Thomas,  in ‘Material Girl,’  by Kirsty Blake Knox, Sunday Independent Style magazine, April 2010). Campion’s film takes its name from Keats’s sonnet ‘Bright Star‘ written about Fanny Brawne; the inscription chosen by my husband for the inside of my wedding band (kept secret until after the ceremony) reads ‘My bright star…’ (For his ring I chose a lyric from French band Phoenix, ‘always and forevermore’… Not Keats I grant you, but we did see them at Barcelona’s 2009 Primavera, obsess about Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix on many of our summer roadtrips, and get engaged at Electric Picnic, so…). For me ‘Bright Star’ has a personal resonance but it also contains a significant reference to fashion history: in the film’s depiction of early nineteenth-century London, Fanny Brawne designs, makes and wears her own very stylish clothes and accessories, and early in the film points out that she can make a living from what she does, in apparent contrast to the poets Keats and Brown.

Still from Jane Campion's 2009 film 'Bright Star,' with Abbie Cornish as Fanny  Brawne.Still from Jane Campion’s 2009 film Bright Star, with Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne.

For the blog, Bright Star also stands for the upbeat nature of certain fashion editorials, collections, shows; whereas Dark Star represents a melancholy, gothic, or subversive fashion heroine. (Of course in real life, this idea can extend to the way we think about dressing to suit different moods, times of day, events, locations, and seasons. Sometimes we might feel, or need to be, more dark star than bright… more night-loving rock chick than broderie-anglaise-wearing girl in a garden. Make-up has a big part to play in this too: from bare-faced to kohl-eyed, we play with different degrees of the bright-dark spectrum every day.) The exquisite ‘Dark  Star’ editorial in the September 2013 edition of Harper’s Bazaar UK, styled by Cathy Kasterine with photographs by Tom Allen and model Iris Van Berne, radiates strength in the best girl-in-a-wild-landscape editorial tradition. An example of perfect casting: a celebrity model would have overwhelmed the concept, the imaginary nature of this fashion story. Without this editorial, it is likely I would still be thinking about rather than writing a blog. The ‘Dark Star’ shoot was the catalyst:  I paired Bright and Dark Stars; and that was that.

This was Justine Picardie’s impressive first September edition at the helm of Harper’s Bazaar UK. A flurry of tweets between us about the sublime cover featuring Natalia Vodianova and ‘Dark Star’ shoot gave me the impetus to put my thoughts out there (out here, I guess, blogosphere!). And this feeling was compounded as I found myself collecting visual references for ‘Bright Star’ and ‘Dark Star’ as I worked on an art/fashion history paper for an Oxford conference in early September, where I found much inspiration and new friends, including Rosie Findlay, aka fashademic, whom I will write more about, a style blogger and PhD candidate at the University of Sydney whose subject is personal style blogs. Her interest in performativity reveals a focus on how bloggers selectively edit their lives/wardrobes/subject-matter, and this was also a spur to figuring out how I could share some of my thoughts and ideas in the blogging arena. Later in September, the ‘Bright Star Dark Star’ idea was still with me, vying for space in my brain, as I prepped for a lecture for the National Gallery of Ireland on fabric and fashion in Morisot and Renoir. With thoughts of the arena, Brené Brown‘s TED talk advice … don’t wait until you’re perfect; that will never happen, and anyway even if you were, that’s not what we want to see… was probably the ultimate impetus…

Finally, during  September 2013’s fashion weeks, as a relative newcomer to Twitter, only joining the action in April, I found myself wanting to share and comment more than was probably reasonable, aflutter with the instantaneity of it all, and I realised that a blog, my idea in the making, my ‘Bright Star Dark Star’ could be a place for such commentary. So here I am! (I promise that the posts will never be as long again!) Hope you enjoy it.

Sinéad

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