Wednesday, July 13, 2022

happy in your skin is the fashion trend


Being happy in your own skin is the latest fashion trend

Kathleen O'Callaghan looks forward to a slow serene fashion scene

The suit is an endangered species. Even Marks & Spencer, the epicentre of suitability, has stopped stocking suits in some UK stores as sales of formal wear fall by 72 per cent. In a world of remote working, the proverbial tin of fruit is losing its relevance as people opt for leggings, shorts, sweatshirts and hoodies. The structured suit of armour is being ditched in exchange for more casual clobber.

Along with the suit follows that other redundant emblem of masculinity – the old school tie. It’s the equivalent of the human appendix serving no meaningful function other than to add extra expense to your wardrobe.

On the upside, however, sartorial style is very much back in vogue with menswear designers like Nicky Wallace leading the way with gorgeous pink linen jackets, fine tailoring, silk shirts and luxurious blouson jackets. Paul Costelloe is also a man with a linen mission with cool shirts and trousers trading briskly.

After a year of home bound dressing – where anything from pyjamas to a string vest sufficed – the return to the office also features looser clothing with high-quality fabrics, linen trousers, silk shirts and breathable cotton tops.

Being happy in your own skin is the latest fashion call as more thoughtful and sustainable clothing wings its way into our shops. For many Irish designers this is the breakthrough that they have been waiting for as organic linens, tweeds, hemp and ethical knitwear have long been the key pillars of homespun manufacturing.

Whether you admire Donegal Tweeds, Inis Meáin jackets, Aran sweaters, Connemara lace or fluffy mohair cardigans, this is a chance to try out a new style that reflects your individuality rather than having to conform to an office uniform.

The new holistic and sustainable fashion scene has also seen a marked increase in vintage and recycled fashions that transcend seasonal fads. Fashion influencers are no longer dictating the trends as more discerning shoppers see through the hair extensions, Botox and acrylic nails promoting fast fashion products.

Fortunately, we won’t see a return of the “roaring twenties” predicted by fortune tellers with faulty crystal balls. Female flappers in tassel dresses dancing with knock-kneed partners in two-tone shoes and fedora hats are unlikely to be seen in nightclubs. Nor shall we be glamming it up with power shoulder jackets, contoured dresses, bandage skirts or conical bras.

Instead, a sense of restraint returns to wardrobes as clothes become less ostentatious and more in harmony with the environment.

Stella McCartney is one of the fashion industry’s eco-warriors always using sustainable materials in her collections. She has been an advocate of slow fashion manufacturing and would never use animal fur or leather in her designs. Using her creativity, she has spent time exploring different materials to achieve a similar look. Her wide leg trousers and flared midi-skirts stroll onto the high street along with silk parachute pants and skinny fit polo necks.

Designers like Edel McBride and NC Kilkenny are also concentrating on more classic styles for autumn. Many of them were relieved to be able to hit the reset button instead of churning out trends that change every few months without any good reason.

Closer to home, the Inis Meáin Knitting Company designs and produces individual, unique pieces of knitwear in the finest yarns, all exquisitely finished by hand. Its range has new styles as well as variations on its customers’ favourite sweaters.

The company founded by Tarlach de Blácam and Áine Ní Chongaile is based on the island itself and features a small knitting factory that gives local employment. The authentic heritage, sophisticated design, and beautiful dyed yarns of Inis Meáin knitwear are appreciated by many famous fans including actor Patrick Dempsey.

Its reputation has travelled internationally but it chooses not to mass produce. Instead, it specialises in small runs in order to produce a selection of different styles.

Béibhinn McGrath launched her label in 2017 after working as a costume designer for film. She always had a passion for Irish wool and sustainable clothing along with a vast knowledge of garment construction that makes her so popular with younger trendsetting shoppers.

“Four threads” design was set up by Alana Clegg during her graduate year in NCAD and she makes handmade, ethically sourced fabrics from local Irish linen to handwoven Indian cotton. She celebrates the heritage of traditional techniques that have been passed down from generation through tradition but with a futuristic silhouette.

Another great boutique is Slow St in Blackrock, Co Dublin owned by Evelyn Browne. "I wanted to make it easier for people to pick up positive impact clothing and to think of their clothing as more of a valued possession rather than disposable and transient," she says. Labels include Fanfare denims repurposed from discarded fabrics that would otherwise end up in waste and organic cotton sweatshirts pants and T-shirts made in Portugal.

Meanwhile, things are loosening up below the waist. Stilettos have been kicked under the bed and swapped for fashionable flatties and trainers. Men's brogues and laced shoes are getting the red card as sporting giants like Nike, Puma and Adidas jog into the leisure footwear department.

Men can also cast off those stretchy skinny jeans that merely highlighted the girth of the beer-bellied bon viveur by juxtaposing his upper torso with a pair of knock-kneed ostrich legs. At least we can thank the pandemic for some small sartorial mercies!

style as workwear resumes


Sublime style as workwear resumes

The new approach is laidback but stylish in an effortless way

Returning to the workplace presents a fresh opportunity to revamp your office image and even your career prospects. Employees, absent for so long from the usual banter and the typical craic of the business dynamics, need to wean their way back into the office environment gradually. The great sense of relief at having got through the pandemic and back to normality is reflected in a relaxed attitude to office dressing.

The thoughts of whacking on a power shouldered jacket, tights and pencil skirts for women is as unappetising as ties, brogues and cufflinks are for men.  Nobody wants the fuss and unnecessary hassle any more.

The new approach is laidback but stylish in an effortless way. There is more emphasis on quality and comfort with looser fitted blouses, jackets and trousers.

The inimitable designer, Louise Kennedy, unveils a sophisticated selection of wardrobe options for those seeking a luxurious yet elegant return to business. Her super-soft sweaters and Capri pants form a capsule two-piece that's wearable and flexible.

The latest office armour is designed with emphasis on comfort and sustainability in mind as we steer clear of fast fashion labels. Natural breathable fabrics and classic labels are the key to a spring wardrobe with looks that will take you from the office to supper-wear. The days of rooting through retail rags on the bedroom floor-drobe have been replaced with a neater, thoughtful wardrobe.

The female executive on a mission could do worse than bagging a few tips from Sarah Snook, the actress who plays scheming Siobhán in the TV series Succession. As the daughter of a high-rolling maverick she balances the books by teaming her cashmere polo necks with high-waisted wide-legged trousers in her unrelenting efforts to become the boss. She clinches the look with accessories like Gucci belts, gold chains, iconic watches and a ruthless husband while she deftly climbs the corporate ladder in a pair of kitten heels. For those of us who have less cash but equal panache, check out Zara for workwear looks with baggy wool trench coats, palazzo pants and fine ribbed polo necks offering style with a good dollop of sense and practicality.

For menswear there is a similar laissez-faire approach at classic stores like Monaghan's in Dublin where superfine cashmere V-necked sweaters are teamed with cotton chino trousers. The organic range of wool shades are designed to last not only the season but another 10 years as well. Down the street in Dublin the perennially popular Best Menswear store also has a retinue of smartly dressed customers who can choose from the wide range of designer chinos, Italian jackets and open-necked shirts from Boss to Tommy Hilfiger.

If you haven't scaled the dizzy heights of office promotions – no need to fret – Penney's new range for men has been transformed and they have raised their standard of workwear fashion in terms of fabrics and design. If you want a relaxed selection of clean, crisp looks that will escort you from the office desk to the outdoor deck at the nearest al fresco bar, Penneys will have you sorted.

New kid on the block

A new kid on the fashion block is a label called Naya with a far-reaching audience in the UK and Europe. Dresses are feminine but comfortable with loose silhouettes that frame the figure without acting like a Hervé Legere body embalmer. Jackets are lightweight, cool in fabric and casual in style. Colours are classic like black, white and charcoal but given a spring update with soft pink, stone, lime and mint. The designs are a fresh contemporary range that are reminiscent of golden days of the Dublin Design Centre when maestros like Mariad Whisker, Helen McAlinden and Mary Grant held sway. The cuts are asymmetric and non-conventional with dipped skirts and pinafores that can be worn over T-shirts in the summer or more formally with cardigans and blouses for business.

The wide cuff trousers have given the skinny legged looks the boot and they have sprinted off the catwalk.

As work travel resumes, many of us will be travelling for business again so all these laidback looks can be easily suit cased as they are in natural materials that don’t crease easily. Post-Covid weeks are too short for ironing as well as stuffing mushrooms and olives. So put the pinstriped suits into the back of your wardrobe and the stiff collared shirts in the hot press as workwear resumes with a relaxed sense of ease.

NFTs — now you see them, now you don’t


NFTs — now you see them, now you don’t

Barry McCall asks if non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are the investment equivalent of emperor’s clothing or a new frontier for people looking for a return on their money

What have ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, former Chelsea football club captain John Terry, putative queen of pop Madonna, and actress Brie Larson all got in common? They’ve all launched non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for sale to the public over the past year with varying results.

The questions that most people ask in relation NFTs is what are they and why would anyone be interested in buying them. The simplest definition of an NFT is that it is proof of digital ownership of something, typically a piece of art or other media. They are bought and sold exclusively by using cryptocurrency.

But the devil is in the digital detail there. Digital ownership means that you don’t actually own anything in the real world. In the case of a piece of art, you own an online image which you might be able to use as a profile image on a social media platform, but you have no rights to reproduce it as, generally speaking, the copyright of NFT artworks remains with the creator or the vendor if they have already acquired it from the creator.

And that leads us back to the second question — why would anybody be interested in buying anything which they don’t really own? And interest is astonishingly strong.

Among the best-known NFTs out there are cryptopunks — digital images which, to all intents and purposes, look like a young child’s attempt at drawing a postage stamp. Not only do they possess dubious artistic merit but the online image quality itself is very poor with each cryptopunk being just 24 by 24 pixels in resolution.

Initially offered free to anyone who claimed them, the real attraction of cryptopunks for many NFT investors is the fact that they are limited in number to 10,000 and each of those 10,000 is unique. A rare cryptopunk set a new record when it was sold in February for the equivalent of $23.7 million. The lowest price cryptopunk available at the end of June was $51,000. Overall, the total value of cryptopunk sales since they were released into the virtual wild stands at just shy of $2 billion.

There is clearly money to be made but have NFTs any real value as an investment instrument?

“They are worthless but not valueless,” says Brian Lucey, Professor of International Finance & Commodities at Trinity College Dublin. “In a sense, they are a solution looking for a problem. If we didn’t have them, would we have to invent them? One hundred per cent no. If we didn’t have blockchain and decentralised finance (defi) would we have to invent them? Absolutely yes.”

‘Ponzi scheme’

He believes people should be very cautious when considering NFT investments. “If people want to invest, more power to them,” he says. “Does that give NFTs a value? If their value is only the expected price you can get from selling them to someone else, it’s more akin to a Ponzi scheme. People might say that’s similar to gold but there are actually things you can do with gold. You can’t do anything with an NFT. There is no yield or return from them other than what you hope to get by selling them on. Their fundamental value has to be zero.”

That may be the case but it’s still hard to ignore the scale of the NFT market. “The value of the NFT market is now above $40 billion,” says Peter Bennett, head of technology and investment banking with Davy. “That’s greater than the entire global fine art market. There has been a lot of focus on people like Twitter founder Jack Dorsey who sold the first tweet for the equivalent of $3 million. It’s an active market.

“As with most assets, their value depends on supply and demand; what the next person is willing to pay,” he adds. “Because they are frequently regarded as unique in nature, supply is often constrained. Software is replicable innumerable times but NFTs are not.”

That is often referred to as the “greater fool” theory of investments — there is always a bigger fool who will pay more than the last one did for an asset.

Bank of Ireland head of pensions and investments Bernard Walsh sees the emergence of the market in NFTs in the context of what he describes as “the inexorable search for new sources of return for investment”.

“This is a continuous quest on the part of the investment community,” he adds. “It requires a high degree of patience or it’s just speculation. Patience is important. Warren Buffet said that the stock market is a very efficient means of transferring money from the impatient to the patient. In times of high inflation, investors are asking where they can find something doing very well. They are looking for the next big thing.”

And some people clearly think that NFTs represent that new source of return. And their use goes beyond digital art, sports memorabilia, music and brands. Another form of NFT is virtual real estate on the metaverse. “The area that will confuse many is digital real estate,” says Walsh. “Mark Twain said, ‘buy land, they’re not making it anymore’. But he never dreamt of the metaverse. Will we have a digital Bull McCabe claiming moral rights to a virtual field somewhere in the metaverse?”

Dr Richard McGee, academic director of the MSc in Financial Data Science in the UCD School of Business sees applications for NFTs in the arts world. “They can be used for a form of arts patronage,” he points out. “People get digital bragging rights for having supported an artist early on.”

In that instance, artists at the early stages of their careers could sell NFTs to raise funds. The people who buy the NFTs get the satisfaction of supporting a struggling artist as well as the prospect of profit later on when their work becomes more popular.

Mainstream artists are also getting in on the act. “The Kings of Leon released an album via NFTs,” McGee points out. “A couple of extra things came with it making it a collectable.”

“The art world has amalgamated with the world of NFTs, perhaps more so than any other industry,” says Ellen McGrath, senior public affairs executive with Dublin Chamber. “The digitisation of art is reimagining how art is made, consumed, and purchased. In this respect, the landscape of 21st-century art has shifted considerably in recent years. The world of blockchain in general, and NFTs in particular, is accelerating at an unprecedented pace. The year 2021 marked a major stage of growth for the industry, as it continues to make its way into the mainstream. NFTs combine culture with technology, providing exciting and financially attractive ways to make, use, and sell art. However, the NFT space should be approached with caution, given recent reports of fraud in marketplaces, the volatility of the market, and their notably high energy usage.”

NFT market

People should also take some of the stratospheric valuations with at least a pinch of salt, McGee adds. “Some people buy them just to show off. People who made a lot of money in cryptocurrency investments early on are now showing off by buying things like cryptopunk NFTs. But you have to be very careful because people could be buying and selling these things to themselves.”

Sometimes the greater fool can be the same fool, in other words.

Bennett believes the NFT market will mature over time. “This is a new market and the frameworks and protocols for how it operates are still developing,” he says. “NFTs and cryptocurrency are both subject to different rules and regulation and tax in different jurisdictions. If you sell an NFT you could be liable for capital gains tax and in some jurisdictions there are higher rates for collectables. The cryptocurrency that you use is also subject to its own rules, regulations, and tax. You could be caught out by taxes and regulations which not been developed yet. We are looking at the systemisation of a nascent industry.”

Walsh agrees. “It is still very immature as an investment area. What will make it more mature is regulation. In Europe, most pension funds are restricted from investing in unregulated markets including private equity and NFTs. They are ultimately going to be part of the investment ecosystem. The authorities appear to be setting to work on regulating it. There is a bipartisan effort in the US senate to have it regulated by the SEC. If it is being overseen by the SEC that’s a little less onerous than banking regulation. How and where NFTs are going to be taxed is another question to be answered. It’s not Radio Caroline, it’s not going to float away from the authorities forever.”

Bennett also sees NFTs becoming more mainstream. “There is definitely a role for digital assets, cryptocurrencies, and blockchain in the investments markets. Some people are already using NFTs in ways they don’t realise through in-app purchases of gaming avatars. For example, the Roblox game platform has Robucks, a digital currency to buy digital assets. The market will get more sophisticated, more moderated, and there will be rules and regulations around it. It’s here to stay.”

They may be intangible, non-fungible, and worthless with no utility value, but it looks like NFTs are going to be a feature of the investment markets for a long time to come.