Monday, September 30, 2013

Meat Free Monday // Kale and Chickpea Curry

Really enjoyed the Kale & Chickpea curry I made for dinner for me and the fam this evening #meatfreemonday

I never promised that Meat Free Monday would happen every Monday, but sporadically. Anyhow, I heartily enjoyed this kale and chickpea curry I made last week. My friend Jenny who has been rockin' veganism for the past few months recommended it to me. I adapted the original Vegan Society recipe.

Kale is currently is season at the moment, so buy Irish (or local to wherever you are)! You could always throw in some forgotten vegetables you have in the fridge, end of season courgettes would work well as they can be quite bland and would really benefit from the rich flavours of this curry (I'm so in love with the cardamon in this). As always this is a very economical dish to make.

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
2 medium onion, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 red pepper, diced
2 tins plum tomatoes
2 tins chickpeas
150ml vegetable stock
Pinch sea salt
200g kale
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
6-8 cardamon seeds

- Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the sliced onion until golden. Add the garlic, pepper (optional) and spices (except for the cardamon) and stir every now and again while cooking for about 1 minute.

- Add tomatoes, drained chickpeas, kale and cardamon seeds. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 10-20 minutes until the kale has softened to your liking.

- Season to taste. Serve with rice, or naan bread.

- Should serve 4 people, generously, with enough leftover for lunch the next day!

The addition of cardamon really makes this dish special, and would keep for up to 3 days in the fridge for leftovers, I wouldn't recommend freezing as the kale would loose its texture.

You can view my other meat free monday recipes here.

Get involved in the #meatfreemonday campaign!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Don’t agonise. Don’t regret. Don’t fuss. Never brood. Move on.

Circle of Friends, 1995
Minnie Driver and Saffron Burrows in the 1995 film adaptation of Binchy's bestselling novel Circle of Friends

As twenty somethings are loathe to do, a few weeks ago my friend Jean and I were dissecting our current situations (career, finances and relationships) and prospects for the future over tae. I'm trying to be positive and reflective with whatever hits me nowadays. We both see Maeve Binchy's book as a balm of sorts, as do generations of young Irish women, our mothers too.

Jean reached for her newly acquired kindle and brought my attention to a Binchy quotation she had highlighted in an article she had been reading. As with everything Binchy wrote, there's a sense of imparting wisdom, like a beloved aunt with a girlish heart, passing on her knowledge to make the difficulty of navigating your way through the obstacles of life a bit smoother, finding comfort in the knowledge that someone close to you grappled with similar situations, and came out the other side, warm personality intact.

"Learn to type. Learn to drive. Have fun. Write postcards. (Letters take too long and you won’t do it, a postcard takes two minutes.) Be punctual. Don’t worry about what other people are thinking. They are not thinking about you. Write quickly. (Taking longer doesn't usually make it better.) Get up early. See the world. Call everybody by their first name, from doctors to presidents. Have parties. Don’t agonise. Don’t regret. Don’t fuss. Never brood. Move on. Don’t wait for permission to be happy. Don’t wait for permission to do anything. Make your own life."

Maeve on the set of 'Circle of Friends', 1995. Binchy's international profile increased after her book was adapted into a film.

An ultimate autumn comfort of mine is curling up in my duvet before lights out and reading a chapter of a beloved Maeve Binchy book. I recently picked up a collection of her early short stories Dublin 4 in a charity shop, and read it on the train to Dublin. I lived in Dublin 4 for a time while I was an undergrad at UCD, and all the ups and downs of youthful naivety came flooding back. Her books are all so familiar, its like catching up with a dear friend, and one that has always been there for you.

Maeve McCarthy b1964
Maeve Binchy, 2005, by Maeve McCarthy, National Gallery of Ireland (source)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Surviving the war, London and designing for the elite // The dressmaker Wanda Zaklika

Sligo Flea Market at The Model, June 22nd

My school reports described me as a 'day dreamer', how I had potential if I only paid more attention in class. I would get in trouble for sneaking Malory Towers books and Anne of Green Gables into my Irish textbooks during class. History and English were the two subjects that firmly held my attention, I was fascinated by people from ages past or by stories of children living out lives far removed from my own, as I sat chin in hand, in that overcrowded rural class setting. Discovering vintage clothing by way of my eBay hobby was a revelation of sorts for me. It was the chance to have my head in the past, but my feet in the present (almost). I was living a day dream of sorts, imagining those who had worn the dress before me, what they'd been like and how exciting it was that 30 or 40 years hence, I shared the same taste as a girl from a decade now past. It was my own role in social history, and my preoccupation with how lifestyles have changed, but at the same time, looking back to what I imagined was a more authentic time, a social life that wasn't dictated by Facebook.

Imagine then, my sincere delight when one summers day last year, an email arrived in my inbox referencing an old blog post, in which I wore a beautiful 1960s floral silk suit. The son of the seamstress who had made the suit had found my blog via a Google alert and had emailed me to inquire about the garment, and by what circumstances I'd come by it.

Wanda Zaklika London 1960s dress
Wanda Zaklika London label, other labels could read 'Wanda Zaklika Haute Couture'

The dress with the label "Wanda Zaklika London" was made by my mother, who died in 1997. It's fascinating to see the dress find a whole second life. I'm afraid I don't know who it was made for. It would have been fun if I could have given you its history. My mother's business centred around a limited group of affluent clients. The dress might, for instance, have been made for the wife of the French ambassador to London or for someone in the Bowater paper family (or some other client I cannot now recall).

My mother wasn't a designer for the mass market She designed and created clothes for a rather small number of very affluent women. She had, perhaps, 20 customers at any given time. Each piece was custom designed and made for the individual and no two pieces of clothing were alike. Indeed, since some of the women went to the same society events it would have been a cardinal sin to dress two of them the same. My childhood involved being surrounded by copies of Vogue and having to walk about carefully because of all the pins embedded in the carpet. Notwithstanding this, none of my mother's talent trickled down to me.

Wanda Zaklika London 1960s dress
Wanda Zaklika London label dress

The dress is evocative of the new gaily coloured prints of the 1960s, with the large collar and buttons on the jacket in a quite conservative cut, typical of early 1960s fashions. It is all silk, the shift dress is very comfortable to wear, and was probably made for a middle aged woman, which would fit with the description I was given of Wanda's clientele. It would probably have been worn at a day event, during the summer.

The reason I was unable to find any information on the maker is because there is nothing to be found. Then as now, many seamstresses worked independently, from home, or in a studio, making dresses to order at the bequest of their clientelle. Now middle-class clients are more likely to buy off the peg, branded designer labels than have clothes made to order. For special occasions, such as weddings or debs/prom nights, we might get a seamstress to make something especially for our shape and to our taste. I was curious about the clientele of Wanda Zaklika and her son was more than happy to enlighten me ...

The sort of people who were customers were the wives of manufacturers or businessmen, members of the aristocracy (in the sense of being titled) and diplomat's wives. It was pretty much a word of mouth kind of thing and my mother never had to go out and hawk her stuff about as is the case with some designers. Given the scale of the business it is quite a surprise to see one of her garments materialize on the web.

Derry and Toms 101-111 High St Kensington. London. Iron grilles. Store frontage.1931
Derry and Toms entrance
Shot outside the entrance to the department store Derry & Toms on Kensington High Street, London.
Top: 1931 picture of the art deco facade of the seven story Derry and Toms store on Kensington High Street, closed in 1971 and a couple of years later taken over by the opulent Big Biba department store for a short while (1973-75), it now houses a Marks and Spencers store. (source)
Middle: Entrance to Derry and Toms store, 1960s (source)
Bottom: Photo shoot outside for Derry and Toms catalogue outside the store entrance on Kensington High Street, 1960s. (source)

My mother purchased many of her fabrics at Derry and Toms in Kensington High Street or at Harrods in Knightsbridge. As a young child, in the absence of daycare, I would accompany her on some of these shopping trips. In exchange for being a cooperative and patient boy I was taken to Harrods toy department to drool at the toys once purchases were complete. Sadly, there were never any toy purchases since our budget would not tolerate it, but it was fun to see how the other half lived.

The dress itself, I have only worn on 2-3 occasions. It has some minor flaws such as bleach stains and cigarette burns. I had a bit of a mishap when I attempted to hand wash it and the colours ran. We assume that it was probably obtained from the sale of someones estate and potentially passed through a few people's hands before ending up on eBay, and finding its current home with me. There could be dresses under the Wanda Zaklika label marauding out there, some possibly even sold on eBay, but often if it is not a brand name, people neglect to list the maker of the item, or label information.

Wanda Zaklika
Wanda Zaklika as a young woman, holding a leopard cub. This was taken in pre-WWII Poland,
probably at a zoo.

Though we can't be sure about the provenance of the dress, it is a piece of a larger, fascinating tapestry, and revealed to me, the tragic beginnings of its brave, driven designer and creator.

My mother was a concentration camp survivor, having been a member of the Polish Resistance. After World War II she worked for the Polish Red Cross in Italy, looking after orphans. There she married my father, whom she had first met as a Polish POW [Prisoner of War] in Germany, and the two of them set out on their honeymoon only to be held up by Italian bandits and robbed of everything they possessed, including their clothes. Given the choice of being sent behind [the] Iron Curtain to Communist Poland or coming to England, they came to England, much of their luggage being lost in transit. There they set up their lives anew under very difficult conditions.

My mother had a degree in economics from the best business school in Poland (known by its initials SGH, and referred to in English as the Warsaw School of Economics) but her qualifications were not recognized in the UK. She began to study for a duplicate degree in Britain while simultaneously learning English. When I arrived on the scene her studies were interrupted and she began piecework sewing of shirts, something she could do to supplement our extremely modest income while looking after a baby.

Having acquired sewing skills through this and a range of subsequent dressmaking and design jobs, she set up her own couture enterprise. She acquired clients primarily by word of mouth and kept a restricted clientele so she could continue to care for me. Typically, she employed one or two people to do the finishing work on the clothes. My mother continued the business until I went off for postgraduate work, so it must have lasted for nearly two decades, perhaps from around 1955 to 1975 or so.

What an incredible story, of courage, survival and necessity. I'm glad that despite her horrifying time during the Second World War, Wanda Zaklika found success in her business, and raised a family, and I have a personal artefact to remember her by. Something I will never gain from the latest on-trend piece from replica high street stores. I feel very lucky that Wanda's son shared her unique story with me.


If you have a Wanda Zaklika dress, and perhaps you too found this post as a result of a Google search, please get in touch with me via my email. I'd like to put you in touch with Wanda Zaklika's son, as I'm certain he would be interested to learn where his mother's creations have ended up. Most things have a story to tell, as this happy anecdote demonstrates.

Has anyone else any similar stories to share?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Celtic eclecticism and Pre-Raphaelite fantasy: Bill Gibb

Detail of Renaissance evening outfit, Bill Gibb, 1972, V&A
Bill Gibb, early 1970s
Top: Detail of Renaissance evening outfit, Bill Gibb, 1972, V&A
Bottom: Bill Gibb designs, early 1970s

Before I became a student of art history I was bewitched by the exuberant romance of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. The sensual drape of a fabric was evocative of a mood, an allusion to desires at odds with conservative Victorian society. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a revival of the Pre-Raphelite mode of feeling, reflected in the clothing of the period.

william-holman-hunt-lady-of-shalott-1886-1905Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Veronica Veronese 1872
Top: The Lady of Shalott, c. 1886-1905, William Holman Hunt
Bottom: Veronica Veronese, c. 1872, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

As the 1960s entered their full swing, fashions became more daring as new vibrant chemical dyes flooded the market and fed the appetite for psychdelic prints. In this decade we saw the introduction of the womens liberation movement, and in response the hemlines became higher as women's dress became more outrageous. Toward the end of the decade, as austerity set in, a wave of ennui hit the younger generations, who witnessed the destruction of many historic buildings as the downside of rapid urbanisation and modernisation became apparent. Responding to the rapid population growth in urban areas, high rise concrete building began to dominate the skylines of the major cities, particularly London. The demand for social housing grew, and a generation of young people grew disenchanted with modern living, turning, as the Victorians did, to what they saw as a more rural, authentic way of living. In the cities they expressed this desire through their clothing. By the time the 1970s came round Victorian eclecticism shook out its extravagant skirts as it sashayed back into vogue. Enter Bill Gibb.

Bill Gibb at the V&A
Top: Bill Gibb editorial, photographed by Sarah Moon from Vogue, January 1970 (source)
Bottom: Autumn/Winter 1976/77 designs from Bill Gibb, from the V&A

Bill Gibb's roots couldn't have been more pastoral. Born in rural Scotland in 1943, Gibb was the son of a dairy farmer. His talent for drawing was noticed by his art teacher, who encouraged the young Gibb to move to London in 1962 to study at St. Martins School of Art. He graduated first in his year and gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1966, where he studied under the legendary Janey Ironside. At the close of the decade, a number of key British talents emerged from the college, namely Ossie Clark, Zandra Rhodes, Anthony Price, and Gibb himself. Thus Gibb became an active member of the British Boutique Movement.

Twiggy in Bill Gibb
In 1971, Bill Gibb made a splash onto the international fashion scene as he dressed Twiggy (pictured) for her appearance at the premiere of Ken Russell's The Boyfriend, a movie in which she also starred. In 1972, he established his independent label, he debuted his first solo collection at the Oriental Club in London.

Gibb was unconventional, his designs responded to the growing romantic trend of the late 60s/early 70s, the free spiritness of the Woodstock generation personified this mood, and his creations took their inspiration from the Medieval Renaissance and the East. He combined rich fabrics, textures and hand embroidered patterns. Gibb’s most recognizable motif was a bee (B for Bill) which he utilized in the form of enamel bee buttons and knitwear with bee designs (how very Arts and Crafts!). Twiggy, Bianca Jagger, Anjelica Huston and Elizabeth Taylor counted among his celebrity following.

Bill Gibb with his models, 1970s
Bill Gibb with his models, 1970s (source)

By the 1970s Gibb was influenced by the Hippie movement, and the rising popularity of the 'handmade' artisan crafts. With his partner, the artist turned knitting guru, Kaffe Fassett, Gibb's knitted designs became what he was best known for. His designs and knitwear were undoubtedly influenced by his Scottish roots, and his love of history and fantasy. Like the Pre-Raphaelites before him, the costumes of the Renaissance informed and inspired his designs. The lure of the exotic also features heavily in his gowns, with luxurious fabrics, silks, leather and furs, translated into eclectic styles such as a hareem style trouser suit or a billowing Holbein print gown. The pastoral influence was never far away, with folk style dresses, evoking the fairy tales of Bavaria and Eastern European traditions. Just as the folk tales of Europe share common themes, the creative exchange between Gibb's Celtic eclecticism and Eastern influences met in a rich melting pot, where art became fashion.

Frederic WilliamBurton, Hellelil and Hildebrand the Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
Bill Gibb and Kaffe Fassett dress
Top: Hellelil and Hildebrand the Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864, Frederic William Burton
Bottom: A Chenille and Lurex dress designed by Gibb, knitted by Kaffe Fassett with actual pearls, in front of one of Fassett's needlepoint tapestries (1970s)

The romance of the medieval beloved by his predecessors the Pre-Raphaelites, featured heavily in Gibb's designs. The revival of craft, first promoted in the nineteenth century by William Morris, in line with the medieval craft guild tradition, was also a popular feature of the fashions of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Gibb worked closely with Kaffe Fassett, executing highly skilled designs in wools and silks, as close to haute couture that British fashion designers at this time attained.

Liberty evening gown, 1897
Bill Gibb evening dress, 1972, worn by Sandie Shaw, V&A collections<
Top: Liberty evening gown, 1897
Bottom: Bill Gibb evening dress, 1972, worn by Sandie Shaw, V&A collections

The Victoria and Albert museum is the world's foremost museum for design, throughout its 150 years the exhibits have inspired generations of artists. Comparing the Liberty gown with Gibb's design almost a century later, it is probable that Gibb was one of the many art students who came to the V&A to be inspired by generations past. Gibb favoured leather, suedes and wool crepes in his dramatic clothing, often adorned with lavish embroidery, clothing that evoked the romanticism of the medieval, but in contemporary, comfortable fabrics, much in line with the Aesthetic dress movement of the nineteenth-century. The V&A museum holds a number of Gibb designs in its collection now.

Charlotte Rampling wearing Bill Gibb designs, from a 1971 issue of British Vogue (source)

Some of Gibb's designs are more contemporary, playing with the art deco decadence promoted most notably by the Biba look, as seen in the Charlotte Rampling editorial above and the designs below. The two dresses (seen below) remind me of Edwardian tea gowns, in terms of fit, and the materials used (silks and wools).

Bill Gibb Maxi Dress featuring his signature bee motifs
Bill Gibbs
Top: 1970s Bill Gibb maxi dress with his signature bee motif (source)
Middle: Bill Gibb psychedelic marbled printed satin maxi dress, from his debut independent collection, Autumn-Winter, 1972 (source)
Bottom: Bill Gibb 1970s pink satin coat

Throughout his life, Gibb remained much like his childhood self, the boy who 'had raided a dressing-up box to transform his sisters into minature Rapunzels or wee Ladies of Shalott'. Gibb had too much of a romantic outlook, and his romantic vision was at odds with the fashions of the 1980s. Like so many members of the British Boutique Movement, Gibb was an artist, a visionary, but a poor businessman. His own label struggled financially, particularly in the 1980s as the romance of his designs struggled in the decade of monochromatic modernism, all sharp shoulders, where for the modern woman, androgynous suits reigned. In 1985, he showed at London Fashion Week in a collaboration with Fassett, to renewed critical acclaim. It appeared that his career might be rejuvinated. Sadly, in 1988 Gibb died an untimely death, as a result of bowel cancer. His influence on generations of designers cannot be underestimated, but in the wider sphere, he is less recognised. A handful of exhibitions have commemorated Gibb's unique vision, a retrospective exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery in 1990, and more recently he has been rediscovered with the release of Iain Webb's book on Gibb, with two exhibitions: Bill Gibb: A Personal Journey at the Fashion Museum, Bath (17 October 2008 - 2009) and Billy: Bill Gibb's Moment In Time at the Fashion and Textile Museum (November 2008 - January 2009).

Bill Gibb and Kaffe Fassett
Bill Gibb and Kaffe Fassett, 1960s

Read more:
Style Bubble / Gift of the Gibb
Vintage Fashion Guild: Bill Gibb
Suzy Menkes / Bill Gibb: A bittersweet story of a forgotten designer (The New York Times)
Bill Gibb: Fashion and Fantasy, by Iain Webb