Eddie Shanahan

The Little Black Book

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THE STYLE STAKES

Fashion at the galway races

 

The ‘season’ is upon us.
In Ireland that means regular horse racing, a rare polo match, the odd ‘celebrity’ wedding and one day in five when it does not rain… heavily.
It is time for a style statement. The trouble is in many will insist on wearing an entire ‘book’ .
Easy elegance is drowned under a mayhem of logos, patterns and shapes in the name of fashion that those with an eye for understatement will decry…. ‘in the name of God !’

”in the name of fashion… be careful not to frighten the horses!”

Waists are cinched beyond the natural lines of human anatomy. Busts are fortified to battle strength and legs elongated by towering stilettoes unsuitable for anything but lying down.
Heads are crowned by structures that defy both good design and common sense, calling concepts of architecture and torture to mind in the same moment. The wearers strut awkwardly and top heavy like dolls in a Punch & Judy show.
In the belief that ‘more is more’, parts of many ensembles are chosen independently and incoherently. The effect is quite the opposite.
Millinery often breaches the planning laws while make up and fake tan camouflages ethnic origin.
The ratatouille of logos and labels, patterns and shapes ensures that the whole is never greater than the sum of the parts. It often simulates a collision between a laundry basket and a truck load of prefabricated steel.
While style still whispers, its measurements and those of ‘new money’ grow strangely dissimilar. Fashion it seems is now a pastime that suffers from excess, extravagance….and a lack of full length mirrors.
We really must be careful not to frighten the horses!

Natural Cure

DSC00988

There are old folk medicines, pills for sleeping, tinctures for toothache, liniments for muscle strain, epidurals for birthing, tonics for tiredness, lotions for sunburn, elixirs for youthfulness….and sights for sore eyes.

I found this one lying silent, poetic and misty on a back road from Sligo to Dromahair.

Model Behaviour

Fashion Models in Dublin Ireland
The Cannes Film Festival produced a flurry of reviews, headlines and dramas in various measures again this year.

”Under the lights… or in the final edit of a shoot…hidden in the complexities of either feeling is a blurring of reality, a blurring of truth.”

One film, Neon Demon starring Elle Fanning, is described as portraying a dystopian fashion industry full of psychotic models. In the realms of fantasy storytelling and movie industry commerce such a narrative is likely to draw big box office sales and a continuing exaggeration of model behaviour in tabloid media.

As a model agent (15 years) and a show & photo producer (30+ years) I feel it best to get my retaliation in first.

The models I have worked with have, with notably few exceptions, proved to be professional, dedicated, smart, personable and kind. They live normal lives outside the glare of studio lights. They raise children to be fully formed and thoughtful adults. They create or support many worthwhile charitable projects. They take all that life offers, good or bad, with the same sense of joy, loss and humanity as the rest of mankind.

Under the lights of the catwalk or in the final edit of a shoot they draw both admiration and envy. Hidden in the complexities of either feeling is a blurring of reality, a blurring of truth.

There is a world of difference between depictions of lives the audiences wish and the actual lives the models live. The space between is easily filled with mendacious headlines.

SURPRISE

Fashion Retail Consultant

 

Cold January mornings rarely reward curiosity unless there is snow.

The outside cold and inside warmth have come to a détente and the mist has cleared from the windows. The patina of light shifts between silver and slate. It is a dull day.

As I sit sideways on to the window something registers out of the corner of my eye. It takes time to process this strutting palette of lacquered colours.

”…slowly and hardly breathe, fumbling to retrieve my camera and in three frames he has dipped beneath the boundary hedge and is gone!”


A cock pheasant is lurching slowly and haughtily across the lawn. He looks here and there, stops and tilts his head, listens for worms or danger.

His feathers overlays copper hues on black and are accented by silver grey. A feint purple dusts the edge of his white collar. The eyes are regal and outlined in dramatic red. A wrapping of navy becomes teal, becomes navy again, yielding to a dove grey at the top of his head.

I move slowly and hardly breathe, fumbling to retrieve my camera and in three frames he has dipped beneath the boundary hedge and is gone! Peering around in disappointment , moving from window to window, it is then I notice the snowdrops. Like delicate embroideries they shyly decorate the frayed edges of the lawn.

Nature surprises at the most surprising moments.

GAME ON!

Sports Ireland

 

It is Sunday. It is one of those winter mornings when sleet scratches our faces and rasping air tears the lining of our throats. There is little shelter and no comfort on the high bank overlooking the GAA pitch in north County Dublin. A mixture of hope and expectation, a sense of family and community, a pride in our football club brings us out in bone chilling temperatures.
We are supporting the indomitable will of teenagers to tog out and compete against the elements as much as against the opposing team. They do it for themselves, for each other, for the pride of parents and friends. It is a day when mothers worry about colds, fathers worry about losing.

 ”It is a day when mothers worry about colds, fathers worry about losing… happy to be there…whatever the weather.

 

The team races from the dressing room with grimacing faces and shoulders dropped against the wind. Mud squelches, grass turns muddy brown in the steely rain. The ball is drenched and heavy, the thud of contact is a cold unmerciful sound .Passes are called, shots skewed, injuries suffered, wills hardened. Supporters cheer and moan. They summon a passion in the players hiding momentary despair with varying degrees of success, betraying it with the odd expletive. The game proceeds. The scores ebb and flow. When success looks like a long shot, the heroes stand to be counted. Never mind the prize, pride is at stake here, it’s not over until it’s over.

A long pass is caught and held up. The roar of the wind muffles the roar of the crowd. Defenders pull and drag, desperation draws a foul and a free kick in the final minute. A desolate stage is set for one final act..

A player steps forward and places the ball with quiet calm. Time barely ticks, breathing ceases, silence falls. Luck covers its hand as pressure mounts and mounts. We wait. The free taker shakes his shoulders, steadies and glides over the sea of mud. Thud !, the ball rises like a slow torpedo against the howling wind. The slow seconds pitch hope against reason in the gale. Are we dreaming ?. As the ball drifts towards the crossbar incredulity steals many heartbeats, breathing ceases in the dizzying wait.

Yeeessssss they’ve done it !. In the ensuing stampede sweet tears wash away the drops of bitter rain on grown men’s faces. Families jump in joy and celebration, happy to be there on days like these whatever the weather.

We will remember this day as surely we remember where we were when Kennedy was shot or Elvis died. To our small community this is sporting history.

EMPTY CHAIRS

Paris attacks

 

It took a while to develop an easy familiarity with Paris, with its neighbourhoods and the short cuts that create a sense of comfort, even belonging.

In time my interest and work in fashion took me took around the city to the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, the Palais de Tokyo, l’ Ecole Des Beaux Arts, the Sorbonne, the Hotel de Ville and to the heart of the Marais where style secrets were easily discovered in the intriguing shops along its skinny streets.

In October of 2014 I took a photo of empty chairs in the Eglise Reformee de l’ Oratoire Du Louvre. This was an emptiness full of expectation. We awaited the arrival of international media and buyers for Sharon Wauchob’s Spring Summer 2015 collection fashion show. At show time a thousand strobes flashed in motorised tribute.

 ”There is something desolate here, a sense of Paris lost…one wicked night….how it was once so different.

The music of David Bowie boomed. All manner of beautiful fabrics sashayed in layered harmony and intrigue. These were electrifying moments. This was Paris.

Now just eighteen months later there is a different kind of emptiness in the city. Following the terror attacks of the winter of 2015 it has surrendered its joie ve vivre and maybe its very soul.

There is something desolate here, a sense of Paris lost!

Empty now, the riverboats shimmy on their warped trajectories along the Seine. The Carre du Louvre rests under a pall of silence, you can count the tourists, there are no queues.

On ‘Republique’ the iconic statue is draped with tattered tributes to fallen citizens. Their only crime was ‘being there’ one wicked night. Fading flowers accent the sense of loss, the passing of a better time.

Across the river there is little commerce in the streets off the Quai Malaquais. The bookstores are quiet, the galleries deserted. At Les Deux Magots a few patrons are scattered through the tables, some waiters stand idly by the door. How it was once so different.

The last time I saw Paris was not February 2016, it was in was on a sunny morning in 2015 when flowers bloomed along high balconies, the Louvre stood majestically as if bathed in gold, from the Pont des Arts the Ile de la Cite looked like some earthly paradise, a plethora of scooters, cabs and cars roared in familiar chorus along the Seine, there were people everywhere from everywhere and accented voices mingled with the hiss of coffee machines in the Café Des Beaux Arts.

I hope to see Paris again….sometime soon !

TERRIBLE BEAUTY

Irish Landscapes

 

The mists swirl smearing the car widow, flinging icy drops of moisture over the edge of every contour. I am on the deserted road that drags itself across the Knockmealdown mountains between the villages of Clogheen and Lismore.

Suddenly the spectre of tumbling walls strobes softly through the dreary grey light. A ghostly pile of bricks comes into focus. There is a deserted cottage lying in the folds of the broken landscape on the right hand side of the road.

 ”a deserted cottage lying in the folds of the broken landscape…Here is the terrible beauty of an Irish winter’s day… harsh, ravaged, rain sodden and breath taking…”

Stained clouds drift like a giant blanket overhead. Here is the terrible beauty of an Irish winter’s day – harsh, ravaged, rain sodden and breath taking. I must stop.

I can almost see the wind but despite the bitter weather, discomfort is temporarily suspended. The bleak afternoon is filled with wonder, like finding a long lost painting by some favourite artist.

Sheep hop and pick their way through reeds and heather. Some look warily over crumbling remains of old stone walls. Dye stained strands of wool flutter like torn flags on the spurs of barbed wire fences. Moss, lichen, bark, peat and granite knit tightly together in a damp patchwork. Towering trees create a jagged frame along the blurred horizon. Ribbons of white water rush, rustle and carve their way from the higher ridges. Stony paths twist, in and out of sight, meandering across this vista of drowned colours.

Many superlatives come to rest in this unexpected pleasure.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

Hiking above Lake Garda, Italy

A wide meandering path runs through alpine summer meadows at Monte Baldo, 1760 metres up in the Alps above Lake Garda. The barely noticable hiker in the picture gives some idea the scale of the area. On a summer’s day the temperature could be 18 degrees, whereas at the lakeside below it might tipping 40. The air up there has a clarity, both visual and breathable. It makes an interesting day trip from a base in one of the local towns like Mantova where classical art, ancient architecture and easy living merge. Dinner on the pavement’s edge outside Mantova’s Hysteria Leon D’Oro provides a special taste of life. Around the corner tiny local Hotel Broletto offers a friendly welcome right in the heart of ‘medieval’ Italy. 

”1760 metres up in the Alps above Lake Garda…the air…has a clarity, both visual and breathable…Italy provides much for the explorer”

Italy provides much for the explorer… towns like Pescheria for wonderful restaurants at the edge of Lake Garda, Sermione for its expansive Roman citadel, Ravello for its sea views, central piazza and music festival, Verona for the spectacle of favourite operas set in its Roman arena. Milan with its dusty cobbled streets leading away from the Duomo square throws up traditional and contemporary cafes and restaurants along the Via Mercato or the Corso Garibaldi. There too one finds the charming authenticity of Da Bruno on the Via M. Gonzaga.

Mallorca also provides a refuge from the commonplace …especially in Deia where the tiny hilltop churchyard and the spartan house and fertile gardens of Ca n’Alluny, once home to Robert Graves, are quiet but powerful spiritual touchstones of the poet’s life. The walks around here, over cryptically marked trails and terraces are taxing but enjoyable. There is wonderful food at the buzzy restaurant Sebastian or at the more discreet es Raco d’es Teix. Luxurious relaxation and excellent service awaits at La Resedencia.

To ramble round Palma’s side streets and alleyways is to discover delightful cafes full of locals. Here diverse memories will please and amuse, from wonderful rich roasted coffee to a waitress wearing a tee shirt nonchantly printed with the slogan …’Who is the Queen ? ’. Nearby Puigpuyent is cloaked in rural secrecy, a haven of quiet at the foot of the hills. Its Son Net hotel is casually elegant and friendly in equal measure. Higher up beyond the meandering terraces and craggy peaks lies the village of Esporles, lazy and welcoming in the heat and shade of late morning.

Further over in the tiny hill village of Fornalutz you can hear the quiet up there in the Tramuntana, broken only by the tingling bells that help trace flocks across the spines and valleys of the towering hills. The streets are twisting passageways, more often climbed than walked. The scent of jasmine is everywhere. The best hotel is a converted convent with furniture that looks left over from long forgotten film set. The sunshades in the garden are orange trees spreading their spindly shadows over state of the art sun loungers.

There is much to be discovered and enjoyed beyond the horizons of the standard itineraries, brochures and travel guides. Often you find the most enriching travel experiences off the beaten track.

OH VIENNA !

Art in Vienna

Vienna does not live up to expectations , it far exceeds them. I expect a city that is formal, reserved, serious. I find one that is accessible, amusing, friendly and appreciably surprising at every turn.
Vienna’s many parks and impressive architecture provide points of reference and interest that make walking an easy pleasure. The atmosphere is expansive, with distant sonorous bells playing counterpoint to the close up staccato of trundling trams.
Art and museums abound. There is an absence of pomposity. There are places to stroll and smile, discover and wonder , relax and unwind. The Leopold Museum is celebrating Egon Schiele. The challenging beauty of his portraits sit engagingly besidecaptivating landscapes. The space is generous.

”the cafes, all mahogany and brass, with long and patient Sunday queues. Waiters in mournful black…Women with elaborate chignons…”

It is a joy to visit.

A cross town journey takes me past the imposing Opera House, along Kartner Ring, down the length of Stadark to the MAK Museum. It is worth the adventure. I discover Stefan Sagmeister’s ‘The Happy Show’. The show explores the boundary between art and design and this masterful graphic artist’s attempts to increase his own happiness. He makes me laugh and reframe my idea of an art gallery. Two giant inflatable monkeys command the entrance court.

Here too, the fashion designer Helmut Lang’s archive is interred in a long grey casement. It is instantly resurrected by scanning the drawer codes, with the iPad provided, to discover garments in videos from his various fashion shows.
Back across the city, in the narrower medieval streets of the old town, a Sunday morning stroll unearths another gallery – the Albertina. Dozens of people are out early to explore the Munch exhibition. It is curious, somewhat cramped and more than a little crowded. It pales in comparison to a breath taking combination of artistic virtuosity by Picasso, Monet, Braque, Modigliani, Chagall, Kandinsky, Francis Bacon and others. They hang together in surprising harmony and in the comfort of more expansive galleries.
The Albertina also displays stunning large scale black & white photography from masters of the art like Irving Penn, Henri Cartier Bresson, William Klein and Helmut Newton.

Of course I stop by the cafes, all mahogany and brass, with long and patient Sunday queues. Waiters in mournful black suits wrapped in long white aprons carry trays aloft. Women with elaborate chignons and men wearing loden lounge with effortless elegance and ease. Artful pastries tempt , pungent coffee invigorates, lively chatter softens any formality.
Elsewhere Christmas markets twinkle under a winter afternoon’s silver sky and shimmer later on through the dusky blue pall of twilight. The best are secreted away in side streets, lanes and alleyways where the after work buzz is scented by Christmas spices and the toasty whiff of mulled wine. The street food is soulful and tasty. Car tyres squeak down damp streets, smeared by a halo of golden light. There is intrinsic warmth in the ordinary life of this winter city.

At the airport, even leaving has its pleasure, as I catch the first glimpse of snow, icing the caps of distant hills.

THE MOST PEACEFUL VILLAGE ON EARTH?

Esporles
It is a perilous drive from Puigpuyent through rising corkscrew passes and hairpin bends, past layered terraces and walled estates that hang from the spine of the Tramuntana to the village of Elporles.

It is autumn in Majorca. The hills are lush with grasses, the olive trees laden with fruit. Leaves turn on the harvested vines. Nature knits its richest colours -saffron, lime, copper, emerald and fiery crimson – into an alluring patchwork across the lower slopes and valleys. The peaks of these ancient mountains rise defiantly stone faced.

”In dappled side streets, canopied by broad leaved trees,…Esporles is a living picture postcard… conceived in another era…”


In the fold of the hills the road widens alongside a ‘torrent’ as you enter Esporles.

Only the whisper of the water breaks the sound of silence as I step from my car. The door closes like a thunder clap in the quiet. I notice a tiny green bridge spanning the water course. It points to hewn steps and up to where the sun casts shadows, like discarded jigsaw pieces, along narrow streets and twisting lanes.
Silence pervades, broken once by the delighted chuckle of a baby behind louvered windows and later by the rattle of cutlery as it is set for lunch.
Down the long street another bridge, draped in bougainvillea, beckons back across the torrent to a shady stretch of cafes, bars, delis and restaurants. At the end is a long ‘square’. This is the heart of village life. In dappled side streets, canopied by broad leaved trees, parents chatter, children play. Even here excitement is whispered or so it seems. A sense of quiet heralds the afternoon.

Esporles is a living picture postcard. Terracotta urns overflow with rosemary and hibiscus under stories of iron balconies and olive shutters. Window boxes explode with white tipped scarlet, purple and pink flowers. Tiny shops, conceived in another era, accent the wonder of the place. Every stone has its own elegance.
Once in a while the eye wanders to catch a glimpse of greying olive wood, stacked for the approaching winter.

In the tiny shops and craft ateliers a mix of sign language, broken English and bad Spanish makes for good humour, great commerce and a promise to return. Cafe menus are rarely offered, instead the ‘carte’ is spoken softly as the day lingers or the dusky evening drifts in.
No need to hurry here in Esporles, the most peaceful village on earth.