Thursday, 27 October 2011

A Brief Sabbatical

Hello class

Just a brief announcement to let you know that we are having some professional days for research and development. This might be a wise time to review the archive for exam purposes...

Monday, 15 August 2011

For Those About To Ink, We Salute You

article and illustrations by Mrs Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

Ever popular Hawaiian lady

Good Day, Class. A few semesters ago, September 2010 to be exact, you will recall our discussion on body decor, specifically piercings. Today we’ll continue to cover this area with the tattoo. Has it ever been more popular or widely accepted? Your mom is out getting one right now. And middle America knows that it has the green light to ink up one side and down the other with ‘reality’ TV shows illustrating that the paint parlor is just another esthetics appointment in the day-planner. Akin to getting your hair and nails done, getting a new ‘tat’ is not out of the norm for a week’s end of pampering. But don’t get me wrong; tattoos are very special and the decision to have one can be a very significant event in one’s life.

Take for instance the first tattoo I came into contact with; it was on the arm of Popeye. Yes, I’m referring to Popeye the Sailor Man, the beloved cartoon character. My brother was the ecstatic recipient of a ‘life-size’ inflatable Popeye punching toy one Christmas morning. Hence, I got the day off. He sported an anchor on each steroidal-sized forearm, naturally. I didn’t think much of them. It was a Navy thing. I was about 4.

The next tattoo I saw was on a real life friend of my dad’s. It was an image of an exotic hula girl. He could make her wiggle by flexing his bicep and triceps muscles. I had a feeling this was a showstopper at the local pub where he assuredly drew the ladies. Talented, this fella, and maybe just a little creepy; I wasn’t all that impressed.

Aside from girlfriends’ names, the only other tattoos I was witness to were of the jailhouse variety sported by friends in my father’s motorcycle club. The homemade tattoo, traditionally in blackish blue ink, was often hard to decipher. Some looked as if they were a little hurried while others seemed abandoned altogether. Or maybe “Rosie forev” was intentional shorthand. Skulls, flames and crosses seemed to be the order of the day. The occasional teardrop was one to be wary of.

There weren’t too many kids adorned with ink in the early punk days, probably for the sole reason that most punks didn’t have the necessary funds. Eventually more and more tattoos surfaced. Many went for a comic approach with cartoon characters. Fred Flintstone with his “Yabba Dabba Fuck You” was a standout. Soon loyalty to favorite bands would influence tattoo choices--for example, the graphic black bars symbolizing Black Flag or the DK logo for the Dead Kennedys.

As the early1980s rockabilly revival scene grew so, too, did the number of tattoos. More hula girls and anthropomorphic cats with quiffs! And, of course, when hard-core punk and heavy metal rolled out like thunder, fellows lined up around the block at their local tattoo parlor for the toughest designs: again, skulls, flames and crosses. I guess if it ain’t broke...

But with the tattoo’s recent leap in popularity, encompassing wide demographics, we now see a more diverse and unique implementation in design. People have pushed far beyond the standard rose tattoo into new and exciting territory. But Skoolers, I have a few words of caution, so please, take these following tips in to consideration when you are about to take the plunge:

loyalty counts

Tip #1  When deciding whether or not to get a tattoo of the name of the Love of your Life, choose the girl or guy you will love forever wisely. This tattoo will let you discover just how long ‘forever’ really is. Consider tattooing your ‘one and only’ using the shortest version of their name as possible. For example, rather than inking in “Elizabeth”, why not go for “Liz”? That way if you break up you may still be able to find yourself a “Liza” or even “Eliza” down the road, rendering the tattoo pertinent. Remember, it’s easier to amend a “Sam” than a “Samantha”.

Tip #2  Don’t be preachy. Be careful with tattoos that are full of free advice, like the catchy phrase “Live fast die young”. Unless one is planning on checking out before their 30th birthday it could look a little hypocritical sporting that tattoo at the age of 70 over at the seniors’ shuffleboard showdown. And slogans telling us to “live free” in a fascist country’s text isn’t the best choice. Talk about rubbing it in. No one likes a Sanctimonious Sandy. Your tattoo should not be a bumper sticker for your body.

Tip #3  Keep the text to a minimum. Some folks load up on too much information-- for instance, by tattooing the whole left side of the body with a favorite passage from the New Testament. That’s all well and fine, but keep in mind you may be spoiling the story for those that haven’t yet read the book.

Tip #4  “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” These words are all too familiar. When is the best time to get a tattoo? After many, many drinks, obviously. First of all, it won’t hurt as much. Plus, you will have obliterated any reservations about the appropriateness of the tattoo, leaving you open to a world of choices. Perhaps renew your feelings for a first love by putting the name of an old flame over your heart. Even if they are now married to someone else, they will still feel honored.

And you can’t go wrong with good ol’ “Mom” or “Dad” – unless it turns out that you were disinherited.

Tip #5  Research your Sanskrit and verify it with a master. You never know what sort of sense of humour the local tattoo artist may have. You might think your fancy lettering says “Avoid evil, practice good”...only to find out it really translates as, “we’re having a two for one sale at Ed’s Inkery.”

Aside from these five basic tips you need to ask yourself this: what’s the message you’re posting permanently on your body? Further, what part of your body is displaying the message? I need to question the positioning of the tattoo on the small of one’s back. It can’t possibly be for the owner’s amusement but rather in consideration of the person assisting the tattooed one while down on all fours to, say, find that contact lens that just popped out. Or perhaps as an accompaniment to the uber classy thong straps rising up from the crevice they are inevitably wedged into. A tattoo of a phoenix might work well here. And keep in mind, Skoolers, when choosing your symbolic skin adornment: a little something called ‘collagen’ and it’s effect on skin’s elasticity, not to mention gravity. What may have started out as a fresh and lovely new rose tattoo, (in homage to the Damned song, of course), may become wilted or shriveled by the time you hit age 75. It is for this reason that one rarely sees a tattoo of a bowl of fruit.

One of the benefits of the tattoo as a form of expression is that it affords effortless communication. It alerts others to the tattooed parties’ interests, viewpoints and hobbies. Various youth group, motorbike enthusiast and Satanic logos allow an onlooker to get an idea of that person’s favorite pastimes and decide if they might be compatible. The tattoo is a sort of shorthand conversation starter in a society that has become shut off from directly interacting with strangers, with the exception of ‘friending’ a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook. Pretty handy, I’d say.

too normal even for Jim Rose

But with its vast popularity, has the tattoo lost its edge? It is now so widely accepted and assimilated into society that its shock value has ceased to exist, which is kind of sad. Even that fully tattooed guy, Enigma, from Jim Rose’s Circus got fired for looking too normal. And these days people are using their renting out their skin space as human billboards to pay the rent. Is nothing sacred? The tattoo, once a counter-culture demonstration of expression now finds itself in the form of commercial logos on skin pimped out by giant corporations. The rebel yell reduced to a skin tag-line.
Advertising is in your blood

And while I have no tattoos of my own it speaks not to the fact that I am against them, but more to my lack of decisiveness and inability to commit. My problem is I’m afraid of becoming bored with having to look at the same image for the rest of my days. I worry about the potential of a poor ink job or worse, misspelled words. I don’t relish the idea of having to constantly explain it away to strangers I’ve inadvertently been silently communicating with. No, I think I’m better off sticking to the temporary tattoo until I discover that one thing that can really get under my skin – and stay there.

Friday, 24 June 2011

These Are the Girls: Part One: Ginger vs. Mary-Ann

article and illustrations by Mrs Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

Gilligan, Ginger and all the rest
It’s no secret that I received my early childhood education primarily from 1960s television. Oh sure, there were the extraneous interruptions, like having to attend a few hours of public school, but as soon as I returned home it was straight downstairs and straight to business. I clocked in to work and headed to the rec. room, (which I recently learned isn’t meant to be spelled ‘wreck room’), to tune in, turn on, and drop out, sans the LSD.

I loved the fact that kindergarten started early in the morning and ended by noon. This gave me plenty of time to engage in my more critical curriculum: my favorite afternoon shows, in particular the gothic cult hit Dark Shadows. When you are five years old, there’s nothing more frightening than watching a good old-fashioned vampire drama alone in your dark, dreary basement where a freaky cellar and other nooks and crannies are bursting with horrific paranormal denizens. I sat paralyzed with fear, knowing that if I tried to run upstairs to the safety of the kitchen before the end of the show I would somehow be punished, either by Barnabus Collins or my mom for my self-inflicted daytime terror.
Barnabus Collins himself

When I felt I could safely make a break for it, I tore up the steps like my pants were on fire. I could sense a bony, gnarled hand was mere inches from grasping my ankles and dragging me to the depths of a snake-filled hell, every time. Gasping for air I tried to cover up my panic by insisting it was time for a milk and cookies break. And really, it was. And then back to work. Refueled with sugar I safely returned to my ‘study den’. While kids were getting kudos for memorizing the times table in arithmetic I should have been awarded at least four gold stars and a ribbon for committing the entire TV schedule to memory. After a few game shows, like Truth or Consequences and What’s My Line, (yes, there was a time when I wanted to change my name to Kitty Carlisle, who didn’t), it was finally time to settle in for some serious television: Gilligan’s Island. This show was ultimately made for a five-year-old such as myself. It had all the key ingredients necessary to babysit me for a good half-hour. What more could a mom ask for?

The castaways were a complete family, with the exception of responsible parental figures. I could relate to this on some level. There were rich grandparents (the Howells), a lovable uncle, (the Skipper) and the choice of the Professor or Gilligan as potential love interest. And while the Professor was brainy, if I had to make a decision I would opt for real estate. It was, after all, called Gilligan’s Island. Lastly, the ladies, the older sisters, who would contribute to my impressionable mind and warp it into the gem it is now. 

 As far as my young, spongy brain could determine, there were two types of women in the world: the Gingers and the Mary-Anns. Ginger, of course, was a second-rate Marilyn Monroe and a genius with the make-up kit. Fabulous winged eyeliner and a beauty mark that never smudged. Unfortunately her reasoning skills were somewhat subpar, rivaling those of a tennis racquet. Even I rolled my eyes when she’d contribute suggestions on how to get off the island based on plots from movies she starred in. I pondered the dilemma of being beautiful yet unable to consistently grasp the obvious. Mind you, she had enough foresight to bring along more than enough make-up for a three-hour cruise. That counts for something.

Desert island essentials

Then there’s Mary-Ann, a down-to-earth country girl with a spunky spirit. She sported a wholesome fresh-faced look. Sassy in her own right, but not really thinking ahead in terms of her appearance. The pigtails, reminiscent of Dorothy in Oz, symbolized a naïveté, which contrasted perfectly with Ginger’s more experienced femme fatale quality. But did I really want my role model to live in a state of arrested development? No, I would strive for a more sophisticated look, hers was too country bumpkin heavy.
Mary-Ann still has it at 80

And what of the love dynamics? Sure, both girls had their eye on the Professor, but his head was so buried in dry logic that his ability to sense their flirting was nonexistent. Ginger wasn’t going to stoop for Gilligan or the Skipper, so that only left Mr. Howell, if she could just edge Lovie out of the way. But Lovie was a pretty tough broad under all that Tilley Endurables ladies sportswear. And she would have had no problem getting down and dirty to fight for her man if push came to shove. As for Gilligan, if he ever grew some testosterone, it would seem that Mary-Ann was the logical choice. She was closer in his age range and they were undoubtedly both virgins -- so they had that in common. The only snag might have been convincing the Skipper that it was time to let go of his ‘little buddy’.
I didn’t have to make my decision any time soon as to who I would model my feminine prowess after when I became a young lady, but I started weighing out the pros and cons. For all of Mary Ann’s fun-loving attributes, it was Ginger who tipped the scales ever so slightly with her knowledge of the benefits of a mud bath while being stranded (spoiler alert!) indefinitely on a deserted island. She was the ultimate Survivor. And I’m sure that once she ran out of the make-up she brought she would eventually (with the help of the Professor) figure out how to manufacture facial scrub and moisturizer from the indigenous habitat. Perhaps she would grind up oyster shells for highlighter and squeeze out some concentrated berry juice for lip stain and blush. Her eyeliner might be a concoction of plant oils and charcoal from the campfire.

Meanwhile, poor Mary-Ann would be relegated to a corner of the island fashioning little gingham romper sets and aprons out of old picnic tablecloths for herself while sewing lavish gowns for Ginger from Mrs. Howell’s satin drapes. Her perky spirit slowly fading with each passing sunset as her eyes strain while she struggles to reattach some errant sequins on Ginger’s best dress. No, this will not be my destiny. I choose the life of Ginger, the movie star!

I reach for another cookie and swig of milk feeling satisfied that I have chosen the right role model. Unwittingly, I have secured the value of a beauty mark and somewhat unconsciously I will apply that precious nugget in my teens for a glamorous nightclubbing look in the punk scene.

So many television shows and so many ladies would influence my style sense over the next several seasons. We’ll have to wrap it up for today’s class, but next time I’ll discuss the kooky yet extremely fashionable Ann Marie, aka That Girl. Her hairdo defied gravity with its perfect pipeline flip.  Also, Wilma versus Betty, which one are you? We’ll continue to explore iconic TV Girls from the Sixties. Stay tuned!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Style Pirate: Designer Collaborations Rule O.K.

John Galliano
by Mrs. Justine Brown

Picture this-- John Galliano perched in his Arizona detox, surrounded by a cluster of rogue P.R. agents determined to somehow benefit from the designer's thoroughly-understandable exclusion from fashion circles worldwide. How can he possibly redeem himself after the series of poisonous outbursts that will have him brought up on charges in France? It's clearly a case of too little too late, but the ex-Dior designer may have hit on a way to make up for his bile a bit: he is set to design a Beatles-themed collection for ASDA, the British big-box shopping experience (a bit like Wal-Mart). Having just ordered Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki's latest collection for ASDA myself, I can attest happily to the success of the one the things that makes style-hunting so fun these days.

Ms. "Biba" Hulanicki

Designers making cheap clothes for the masses-- it's hard to resist. The style world is full of such winning combinations lately. For example, attentive Skoolkids may remember the swoon Mrs. Brown fell into in December, when H and M issued a collection designed by the delightful Israeli, now residing in Paris, Alber Elbaz of Lanvin. After a tense week spent in the virtual aisles of the Swedish superstore, I finally emerged triumphant with TWO cocktail dresses, one black and dramatic with puffy yet tight sleeves, the other resembling a dark purple tulip-- with one bare shoulder. I fear I'm not doing the dress justice through words. Pictures may be preferable. Suffice to say that this dress had its own Facebook following.

Another august example is the collaboration between TK Maxx, a cut-rate designer paradise (albeit a paradise with hellish greenish florescent lighting--- makes the skin look, well, "bad" doesn't quite cover it, speaking from personal experience) and Liberty. Now, in London-towne, just the mention of a Liberty scarf can send ladies' temperatures through the roof. Liberty is is department store dating back to the turn of the last century, and its headquarters are to be found in a huge mock-Tudor pile on Carnaby Street. There's a rich tradition there that can be traced back to William Morris and his Art Nouveau theories. Anyway, silk, weavers, sartorial idealism-- it didn't work out quite the way Morris planned, but, to sum it all up, TK Maxx got together with the Comic Relief charity and Liberty to produce a silk scarf with all the trimmings for 12 pounds 95 pence. Yes! That's about 5% of the regular retail price.

While I'm singing the praises of TK Maxx and Comic Relief, I may as well add that they also worked with Vivienne Westwood to produce a series of t-shirts featuring Rowan Atkinson and Miranda Richardson in their time-honoured roles as Lord Blackadder and Queen Elizabeth I. And I am pleased to report that the scarf and the t-shirts now have pride of place in my closet.

In honour of Britain's Queen of Style

And no report on this theme would be complete without a celebratory reference to the winning combination of Jil Sander and Uniqlo, the planet-wide Japanese sartorial phenomenon-- the German designer who rose to fame in the 1990s  dressing everyone in minimalist black suits. For reasons too dull to go into, Jil Sander is no longer allowed to use her own name. The label still active, but others lie behind it. The result is +J, the distinct line designed by the actual woman and retailed in Uniqlo. So hurrah! We win again-- designer threads at manageable prices.

So by all means explore these opportunities, dear readers, but beware-- those online baskets can get full hair-raisingly fast. Personally, I limit myself to one treat a month. But that's just me, Skoolkids-- you may have more control over your credit cards.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Joey Ramone Interview

article and illustration by Mrs Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

In honor of the upcoming 10th anniversary of Joey Ramone’s death, April 15th, 2001, I decided to channel Mr. Ramone (nee Jeff Hyman) from the Rock ‘n’ Roll crypt the other night. I wanted to get his take on what inspired his look and how he feels about what the kids are wearing today. He was good enough to spend some time chatting with me. (At least, I think it was the Joey Ramone). What follows is a portion of the interview.

Beauty Skool: Hi Joey, it’s great to have you show up, even if in an
amorphous state, and take the time out from your busy after-life.

Joey Ramone: Yeah, sure.

BSK: I’m a huge fan and I know I’m not out of line when I say that the
Skoolers are just as thrilled to have you spend some time with us today. First, how are you keeping and what’s that whole dead business really like?

JR: I’m okay-- it’s a lot quieter, not as many gigs, and I guess I’m a tad more relaxed.

BSK: Well that is good to hear. I understand there was a little band conflict as the years went by.

JR: Yeah, but now with most of us settled in for a long dirt nap things have mellowed. Jury’s still out on Dee Dee though.

BSK: No doubt. So, nine inch nails aside, let’s get down to brass tacks. The Ramones: style icons! Your whole look, as a group, was definitive. You were the fashion vanguard for a generation of kids and then some. In fact, jeans ripped at the knees originated from you guys in the 1970s and really exploded on to the scene. By the mid 1980s every Guns N’ Roses maniac was slashing furiously at their Levis. What was the brain-child behind that
rough and tumble feature?

JR: I was born with razor blades for kneecaps and nature took its course.

BSK: Wow! You were a pioneer in the whole distressed denim devolution.

Mr. Joey Ramone, Esq.

JR: I never really thought about it that much.

[Garbled sounds surface from the background and another voice makes its way through]

JM: Hey, Joey, you wanna hear my new poem? I just finished it.

BSK: Who is that?

JR: It’s Jim Morrison.

Jim Morrison: Hey, Joey, who’re ya talkin’ to?

JR: Not now, Jim, I’m being interviewed by Beauty Skool Girls.

JM: Girls?

JR: Just ignore him. You were saying?

BSK: Well... is that really...? Okay, right, and I think the skinny pant really elongates the leg nicely, rendering an enviable and elegantly lean look.

JR: Pant? I wore a whole pair.

BSK: Was there ever a time that you, Joey Ramone, wore a wide-legged jean?

JR: Are you looking for a fight?

JM: I wore flares all the time-- the chicks dug ‘em. Hey, can I read you my new poem?

JR: Yeah, not now, King Snake.

JM: “Incense brewed darkly...”

JR: You already wrote that, man. That guy is always trying to read me his poetry.

JM: You wanna talk pants? How about my black leather trousers?

BSK: True.

JR: I think Elvis beat you on that one. Look, Lizard King, why don’t you go find a nice rock to sun yourself on, okay? I’m being interviewed.

BSK: Let’s move on. Let’s talk about your penchant for stripy tee shirts.

JR: Yeah I like ‘em-- they’re cool.

BSK: But the striped shirt isn’t for everyone.

JR: Depends on the width of the stripe.

BSK: Too true. The striped shirt has a rich history of being worn through quite a few decades. Great artists like Picasso were fond of this bold look.

JR: And mimes.

JM: Don’t forget pirates, man.

BSK: Would you agree that the horizontal striped tee is a statement against the traditional vertical striped shirt favored by the majority of the business establishment? For example,the beatnik versus the banker?

[More muffled voices surface and interrupt our interview]

“Hello, hello, hello-- how low...”

BSK: That sounds it?

JR: Yeah, it’s that guy from Seattle.

Kurt Cobain: Hello, I have to weigh in here and agree on the striped tee shirt. One of my favorite shirts, thin or wide striped, it doesn’t matter.

JR: Aw, come on, what’s going on here? This is my interview!

KC: Okay, alright, nevermind.

BSK: Hey! Wait! Kurt, did Courtney...?

JR: He’s gone.

BSK: Oh, well. Now let’s talk about something that is very close to my heart. Footwear. What’s the story behind all the Converse sneakers?

JR: Just a classic runner. Comfortable, unassuming, we aren’t into flash. They’re just cool.

BSK: I’ll say. They are just as popular today. So let’s move way up north to talk about the hair. Aside from your own locks, it seems the other Ramones favored bangs and some had a sort of overgrown bowl cut that worked remarkably well when you guys played on stage.

JR: Yah, mine was a bit too thick and unruly to get that same movement. The main objective is to keep a lot of hair in and around your face. Long bangs can be your best friend. They conveniently shield you from offensive everyday occurrences, like invasive people.

BSK: I hear you.

JR: Good hair and a pair of shades will take you far-- or at least get you out the door to get some errands run...What?

[A soft voice wafts through]

BSK: Is that Kurt? Is he back?

JR: No, it’s that mopey Ian Curtis, he’s been hanging around here for quite a while.

Ian Curtis: Sorry to interrupt, I just wanted to say that I agree with Mr. Ramone about the sunglasses. Whether one’s wearing informal clobber or a smart suit-- the addition of a cool pair of shades completes the look.

BSK: Well, Mr. Curtis, you always were a snappy dresser-- no casual Fridays for you. It was all nicely pressed shirts and slacks.

IC: It’s just what I feel comfortable wearing.

JR: Shirts and slacks? Really? Were they wash ‘n’ wear?

IC: Are you taking the piss?

BSK: Well, Joey, they weren’t a pretentious shirt and slack combo. More of a relaxed everyday post-mod look, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Curtis?

IC: Laid-back, I suppose. I’m going for a nap.

BSK: Fair enough, thanks for weighing in. Joey, are you still there?

JR: Yeah, but it’s hard to get a word in with all these other guys lingering around.

BSK: I had no idea-- let’s get one more question in before Bon Scott shows up. What do you think of some of the trends happening these days, particularly with men’s fashion?

JR: Well, I find the whole baggy pants/ass crack thing quite amusing, although I suppose the volume of denim comes in handy for shoplifting. The whole oversized clothing trend is a little unclear. And I’m not really sure why guys wear baseball caps so often. I guess things will eventually cycle back to our look in another ten years or so.

BSK: Well, I sure hope so. Joey, it was great speaking with you. If kids today had even half of the style that you and the rest of the Ramones exhibited the world would be a much cooler place. Thanks so much for your contribution.

JR: No sweat.

BSK: Thanks very much for chatting with us today. Oh and if you happen to see an old friend of ours, Dimwit, would you do us a favor and say ‘hi’ to him from the girls at Beauty Skool?

JR: Yeah, sure thing.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Magic, Men and Makeup

by Mrs. Justine Brown

Mrs Brown gives instruction
Or magic-men and makeup. Geddit? Class! Wake up! Pop quiz alert. Are men even stylish at all? Yes, that was the question. Men. Makeup. Fashion. Do the three add up to equal Style?

The correct answer is yes. If you answered no, please read the following essay very carefully. The rest off you can have the afternoon off. No, just kiddin.' Get back in your seats. I mean that, darn it!

Sometimes we ladies are so glamorous and fabulous and all-round great that we don't notice the menfolk. We notice them noticing us, we notice them noticing us noticing them noticing us, but we don't... remark upon the fact that they themselves are quite stylish, indeed knowledgeable about style. (Yes, I know it doesn't apply to all of them, but neither does it... oh 'whatever'.)

So for your delectation and edification, I have brought a few examples along with me today. I wish they were real, but our budget doesn't extend that far. I have to rely mainly on experience, observation, lots of reading... and the Internet. I'm thinking of three examples of males: an individual (like A.A. Gill, who writes so cunningly for the Sunday Times Style Section when they have their yearly Men's Issue),  the mysterious Sapeurs of Africa , and men who use kohl. The rest will have to wait their turn.

Let us begin with the familiar: kohl. We know something of kohl, that powerful black substance from whence sprang mascara, eyeliner and shadow. This substance is spooky sexy: dab some on at night and go out. Then pass out with your kohl on and wake up looking fabulous in a louche sort of way. Some people, like Anita Pallenberg, haven't removed their eye makeup for decades, and I wear they still look fascinating. Keith Richards too. Not young and fresh, but then Keith has always looked, even as a child, very wise. (By the way, when Keith and Anita parted ways, it is my theory that Keith left their home with his guitars and a pot of kohl, which he then presented to his future wife, the wholesome freckled model Patti Hansen. It's a bit like Rod Stewart and his ever-present bottle of bleach. All his wives are blondes, even the current one, though she started out in the public eye with Rod as a brunette. That lasted about one week.) (Oh, and ROCK STARS, are you listening? 'Hope I Die Before I Get Old' is not a helpful anthem. 'Hot for Teacher', on the other hand, now there's a tune worth rallying round.) (Silence...)

Fetching in kohl
Men who use kohl-- well, maybe not all of you are in familiar territory here. It depends on your menfolk, mostly, and it just so happens that a lot of mine favoured that eroto-haunted look. Speaking of territory, up and down the crags and deserts of Afghanistan you will find men in kohl-- in fact, throughout the Middle East nearly everyone wears the stuff, even babies, and they have done so for thousands of years. Dark and shady kohl is an ancient potion believed to ward off the evil eye. It also deflects the desert sun. Finally, it's alluring. Some of the most striking photos to come out of the latest Afghan wars... it seems that the nascent Afghan police force  includes a lot of fey and flirtacious young men with roses in their Ak-47s and bedroom eyes enhanced by kohl.

Let's move on to a more exclusive group, the Sapeurs, or Society for People of Elegance and Ambiance. Here's a club I am desperate to join, and they won't have me (it's men only). Now, the Sapeurs are mainly from Africa. They worship style. Literally. They are incredibly sharp dressers, and they have made a cult-- again, literally-- out of fashion. To confirm this, just look at these handy illustrations. (Struggles with overhead projector.) Plus, they don't consider it an insult to be viewed this way. Quite the opposite is true, though I can't speak for their loved ones on this matter. All I know is that the Sapeurs are gorgeous dressers who put the rest of us in the shade and make us look pretty dowdy.

A member of Les Sapeurs

These extraordinarily spiffy guys mostly hail from the Congo, formerly a colony of Belgium, and there is a strong Belgian influence in their style. They are said to regard Brussels as their fashion Mecca, and dream of making pilgrimage there. And many do make that trip of a lifetime, going straight from airport to tailor. As many of you know,  Brussels has been giving Paris some stiff competition in the fashion stakes over the last twenty or so years, and many Belgian designers have made inroads into the French capital with a view to fashion world domination. The name Olivier Theyskens comes to mind: the pale, fragile, black-haired and attired Goth type became style director at Nina Ricci and is now poised to dominate Fashiontown, U.S.A.

Mr. Olivier Theyskens
The Sapeurs may pay homage to Brussels style, but they have no time for its stark palette of black, white and greige. They like their beautifully tailored suits in the boldest colours and combinations conjureable. Hot pink with acid yellow, turquoise with orange; that sort of thing. Watch-chains, crisp handkerchiefs, gloves and shoes magicked through polish to perfection.

Which brings me to my last exhibit, Mr. A.A. Gill, London writer and general dandy-about-town. Lucky Mr. Gill recently wrote an article about tweed, wool, and Savile Row tailoring. The Sunday Times had the budget to let him design his own tweed (which you can do on an I-Pad), order a huge bolt of it, and have the tailor run a three-piece suit up specially for him. You can't get much more bespoke than that. Mr. Gill added a hat and now can't be separated from his suit; I think he sleeps in it. (This picture doesn't feature the tweed, but gives you a feel for his style.)

Now, to return to my original question. Are men concerned with style? I think we have answered that arithmetic. The answer is three. Perfect. Class dismissed! (Sounds of stampede toward the door.)

A. A. Gill checks his look

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A Lipstick Killers' Valentine

article and illustration by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

the ineffably glam New York Dolls
Lipstick. It’s transformative and essential. It’s also our topic for this Valentine’s Day at the Skool.

The overwhelming selection of shade, texture, and opacity are enough to make your head spin and your lips chap. The joy of cracking open a new tube is unparalleled. As you twist up the stick, it shines and winks at you. But it’s not until you’ve swiped on a coat and surveyed the application that you are convinced you and your new shade are compatible. 

Do you remember your first, Skoolers? Not your mom’s natural looking frosty pale “Plutonium Pink” you covertly tested in the bathroom, or your dead grandma’s shade of “Tepid Flesh”, lovingly willed to you. Or cast-offs from your aunts, like “Vivid Livid Liver”, or “Colour Me Coli form”, with the ends are all rounded off-- impossible to contour one’s lips with, unless you’re going for a Ringling Brothers look. Or worse, it’s disappointingly worn down to just the inside edge of the tube -- only accessible by Q-tip. No, I’m talking about your very own handpicked lipstick, the color relevant to the year you were living in.

Prior to any sort of access to lipstick I admit that I resorted to the Smarties collection. That’s right. Wet two or three red Smarties and apply to lips. Discard Smarties by eating. Reapply as needed, usually every four to five minutes. For special occasions-- or if you’re feeling like taking a walk on the wild side-- try the purple or brown ones.

One of my earliest contacts with real lipstick involved my brother, his pal Clayton, and a bright white garage. At an age when you are first learning how to spell, say six or seven, you want to let the world know just how skilled you are. And there's no better way to spread the word than to commandeer your mom’s favorite coral lipstick, “Slammin’ Salmon” I think it was called, head across the lane to your neighbor’s freshly painted garage and attempt to spell the work ‘fuck’ in the largest lettering possible. (Take note, Skoolers: I was forming pre-punk expressive tendencies!) The fact that the garage was clearly visible from our kitchen window was hard to ignore, as was our neighbors’ disapproval. This did not dissuade me from pursuing my exploration of the Tao of lipstick. However, I now seem to have an aversion to all orangey shades.

Now, Skoolers, you may be asking “Mrs. Thirlwell-Nicol, yawn, what’s this got to do with Punk Rock?” Well, settle down and stop sniffing that nail polish remover, Avril, and I’ll tell you.

Does lipstick hold an esteemed position in the music scene? I would answer that by asking, “how could it not”? Lipstick, like rock’n’roll, pushed the boundaries of society’s love affair with conformity. In the olden days the forerunners of lip colour were primarily those living on the fringes, like actors and prostitutes. Even into the 1940s and 50s a bright red lipstick could colour one promiscuous. Demure soft pink lipstick-wearing singers such as the Lennon sisters contrast dramatically with, say, the Shangri-Las and their rebellious ruby shades. 

Now let’s skip over the 1960s (and all that white lipstick which only looks fabulous if you are willing to keep your mouth shut) to the early 1970s. This brings us to the predecessors of punk and the emergence of the lovingly crafted trash glam look. One band that stands out is the New York Dolls. But where would they have been if not for lipstick? And, okay, boas, sequins and platforms. I’m not saying that the New York Dolls were the mavens of male make-up in the rock arena. In fact, I’ll bet Little Richard could have taught them a thing or two. However, they did have their way with lipstick. Which begs the question: would David Johannsen’s pleas in the song "Looking For a Kiss" be heard if he hadn’t been all dolled up, complete with a scorching shade of lipstick? Furthermore, would bare-lipped Dolls singing about much-desired kisses have still caught the attention of one Malcolm McLaren? Who, in turn, absconded with their outrageous style and attitude, and then swiftly outfitted and thrust his Sex Pistols on to the stage. The Pistols, having bathed in global glory for their nasty uniqueness, showed their gratitude to the Dolls by recording the song “New York”. The song, anti-homage, makes fun of the Dolls’ look, need to find a kiss and, okay, their penchant for various ‘medications’.
The Sex Pistols: cream of the crop

Now Skoolers, if you’ll turn to page 104 in your “Lexicon of Legendary Lyrics” textbook you will see that the first line of the song “New York”, written by Mr. Lydon, reads: “An imitation from New York”. What?? Hold the phone! There must be some mistake. Wasn’t Johnny singing “An invitation from New York”? And I’ll be (a member of the) Damned if it didn’t warm my heart on a hot-plate to have thought that the Dolls had extended a brotherly welcome to the Pistols, inviting them to jump the pond and perhaps play some gigs together. Hmm. Not so.  It turns out Rotten was actually singing “an imitation from New York”-- which really isn’t very sporting, is it? Sure, maybe they rebuked the Dolls make-up aesthetic, but that’s no reason to get overly snotty.

It wasn’t too long before Johnny Thunders would have something to say about all this. His retaliation was neatly encapsulated in the song “London Boys”. While not exactly a chart-topper, it did include a few choice phrases like “you poor little puppet” in reference to Rotten dangling from McLaren’s orchestrated strings. Now Skoolers, don’t get me wrong-- I am not trying to create a case for who was the most punk rockiest first. Anyway, the Dolls pre-dated punk. They inspired a ‘do your own thing’ ethic and McLaren brought that sensibility back to London and found some lads with some seriously bad manners to fulfill his vision.

It would seem, however, that all had been forgiven, especially considering that Steve Jones and Paul Cook actually joined Thunders in the recording of "London Boys". Oh, except for some incriminating evidence that surfaced. That’s right class-- the real reason for all those musical missives was found stuffed in the depths of an old sock drawer after McLaren’s demise. Yes, these letters could possibly have been the inspiration that ignited this legendary melodious melodrama. Here are a few excerpts from some rather nasty back and forth telegrams between the boys. Valentines these are not.
Sweet Johnny Rotten

Letter dated January 10th 1977

Dear Mr. Rotten,

My bass player, Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane, was taking stock of his make up kit this morning and noticed that his Max Factor #2 is missing. He feels that one of the members of your band may have ‘borrowed’ it to cover up a few blemishes. Please return it promptly as we have a show in the next few days and Arthur refuses to play without it.


David J.

Response from Rotten dated January 30th 1977

Dear David,

Go fuck yourself. Just because both our bass players share the same sickly complexion doesn’t mean Sid nicked it. Besides, Sid wouldn’t wear make up. He may try to drink it or shoot it, but he don’t wear it.

Up yours,


P.S. Sid says Johnny Thunders stole one of Nancy’s best lippys, “Sugar-smacked” I think it’s called. She wants it back or else.

Response from the Dolls camp dated February 14th 1977

Happy Valentine’s Day Boys, 

You’re all so special to us in so many ways. Thunders is completely devastated to hear that you think he would pinch Spungeon’s lipstick--considering the number of sores she’s usually sporting. 

By the way, Steve Jones can keep the eyeliner he borrowed from Thunders, as well as the stage presence.



As you can see, Skoolers, things got more than a little salty and the accusations flew. It was a veritable compact powder dust-up! Fortunately for us, the songs exist as a reminder of the influence of make-up and its often times gritty and provocative effect. They are important historical insights, the equivalent of hieroglyphic storytelling.

No one is really sure if everyone kissed and made up. Or if anyone returned anyone’s make up. And even though you can’t put your arms around a memory, the songs and the lipstick killers live on.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Smurf Day Approacheth
the enigmatic Smurfette
When we last left our heroine, she had undergone several weeks of preparation for the Obagi Blue Peel (see "The Blue Peel Letters"). This involves using a number of products, chiefly a bleaching cream, generic Retin-A and plenty of sunscreen.

Dear Miss X,

I know that you have been anxious on my behalf, so allow me to reassure you. In spite of the nurse's kindly warnings, week four of the elaborate treatment was not after all an inferno of peeling, pain and redness. Curiously, this fact seemed to cause the angel at my bedside some consternation. However, I swore upon my honour that I had been using the products as directed, and this seemed to console her.

My skin is a pleasure to me now! I scarcely recall the dark days when I would  awaken early and flee to my closet to mask myself before my husband awoke. The mirror is no longer an instrument of torture to me; in fact, I blush to say it, I am in danger of spending too much time before the glass admiring my skin, for it is free of dark spots and blemishes alike. Rather, it is white and smooth, as are my hands. I confess that I contravene my nurse's orders and use the preparations on my hands as well-- I do not seem to be in danger of running out of the costly cream and unguents as she warned, and it is such a blessed relief to see the few annoying spots of my hands vanish as though they never were.
Aubrey Beardsley illustrates Vanity at the Vanity Table
I must guard against Vanity. Equally I must guard against a slight sense of Anger, for I believe that these creams would have been enough to achieve the effect I desired without resort to the Blue Peel, and the nurse did not apprise me of this possibility. However, I have only myself to blame, for no person, no highwayman, took my money by force. Furthermore, I anticipate "Smurf Day", as they have christened it for reasons that remain  obscure to me, with considerable excitement.

Affectionately yours,

A Lady

Dearest Mrs X,

I confess that, writing some weeks later, I am full of fears once more! Having consulted with a physician Friend, I am nearly resolved to propose a compromise-- surely they will not force their Peel upon me. The creams and unguents continue to prove miraculous, and I would not part with them for virtually anything. Can the doctor perhaps give me more of these in lieu of the Blue Peel?

My head whirls, and I fear I must to my couch.

Yours in confusion,

A Lady

Thursday, 6 January 2011

I Don't Wanna Be Your Downward Dog

 Article and illustrations by Mrs. Tami Thirlwell-Nicol
Mr. Pop demonstrates

Good afternoon Skoolers,

Today I’ve called an emergency assembly. We have yet to cover a
topic which, while rather foreign to the punk lifestyle, still has a place in the realm of beauty and thus, the Skool.That subject is fitness.

Now I realize that our Skool is not about to set foot into ‘jock
nifty’ territory, especially when, historically, we had ironically
met our fitness goals by routinely running from packs of said
nifties. You also wouldn’t find too many of us on the swim team,
the tennis circuit or training in track and field. No, our forms of
exercise in the punk days consisted of scaling chain link fences
to escape the authorities, marching in protest parades, diving
off stages at gigs and, of course, the constant cardio blasts from
pogoing in the mosh pit. The latter was our own version of being
on the high school wrestling team.

Gym class was exponentially brutal as the years went by. I never
considered this period to be fun and games. For me Phys Ed
was really just unwarranted punishment between classes. It was
uncomfortable, superfluous and offered no qualitative benefits. Not
seeing a need to be competitive in the wide world of elementary
school sports I became quite skilled at playing on the sidelines.
I dodged dodge ball entirely; being struck in the head by a thick,
heavy sphere of rubber was in no way appealing. The grass hockey
team meant chronically bruised shins and a lot of running up and
down a field hoping for a lunch bell to ring. And running track
was for hamsters; it winded and bored me simultaneously. I did
not experience the so-called ‘runner’s high’. Believe me, if I had I
would have been setting records.

As for group sports, nothing says ‘ready, set, gotta go’ like waiting
to be picked for a team. Ten excruciating minutes of standing
with one’s peers feeling like the Jello salad at Frank Baker’s
smorgasbord while captains Stacy and Mandy choose their
dream team is no way to spend one’s youth. My head is running
a commentary on their selections: ‘Oh man, you’ve got to be
kidding. Really? Her? Okay, seriously, Margaret? This is bullshit
man, that spaz Maureen? ...her? ...wha? ...her?... fine pick Nancy,
I hope she can throw more than just a hissy fit...huh...her?...yup,
okay Wendy, whatever...hey, finally. Not too shabby, second to
last-- I beat out the scoliosis chick!’

As you can see class, my sports stats are less than stellar. But this
didn’t stop me from finding some form of exercise I could live
with. It would be outside of the standard practices of traditional
ladylike sports. I entered the renegade world of skateboarding. The
most valuable thing about this new activity is that it never felt like
exercise. Finally, I had found something that I enjoyed. But that’s a
discussion for another day.

Now, back to the reason for this emergency assembly: fitness, sure.
Staying in shape is important, yep, however, more importantly:
fitness attire. I have never really had an issue with what one
chooses to wear when working out. It used to be all Sporty Spice
Adidas-style nylon or cotton sweat pants, and if one can keep it to
the parks and gyms that’s all well and good. However, currently
this is simply not the case. Somewhere along the track those
sweatpants were swapped out for the rampant and nondiscretionary
wearing of yoga pants. Yes, yoga pants. How did they happen?
Where did they come from and why do women insist on wearing
them? Everywhere.

I’m no stranger to yoga. My mother, determined to find an activity
for me one summer, signed me up for a beginner’s Hatha yoga
class at the local community centre when I was eleven, (after I was
deemed too klutzy for gymnastics and too chunky for ballet). I was
told to wear very loose clothing-- that’s LOOSE CLOTHING all
you spray-on-spandex-loving Sun Salutationers-- preferably draw
string pants and a comfy tee shirt. I wore pajama bottoms and
my ‘War is not healthy for children and other living things’ tee.

The classes were strange and quite the opposite of calming. I never
seemed to please the patchouli-infused yoga instructor and she
made a point of letting me know it. I think her name was
Moonbeam or Sunshine. As I twisted myself into some skewed
position and waited for Moonshine’s appraisal I listened to her
encouraging the other members in the class: “That’s lovely, Sheila,
yes just extend that arm a little more.” When Sunbeam arrived at
my self-styled sculpture there was no gentle critique. She just
started to yank my limbs around like I was Gumby. Ow! “There,
now hold that till I come back,” she barked. (She hates kids, was
my first thought). When Starshine returned ten minutes later she
asked, “Why aren’t you doing the Half Cow?” “ It hurts," I
replied. “But you're just lying there, what pose is this?” she
demanded. “The Plank,” I said.

Now nearly forty years since my introduction to all things pretzel-
like, someone, most likely not a yogi master, has instituted
some sort of yoga by-law: the wearing of stretchy, link sausage-
inducing pants with matching yoga bra tops. But just because the
fabric ‘breathes’ doesn’t make it all right. Apparently this clobber
should be decorated with arbitrarily placed dashes of bright pink or
purple or blue. This is so you can safely match with your yoga mat.
Here we have the necessary outfit to propel us on our road (heavily
trampled) to enlightenment. And if you really want to reach an
enviable level of Nirvana you’ll make sure it has that trademark
logo on the gear, letting everyone know it is of the highest spiritual
quality (that money can buy).

This, for me, is not on. What started out as a means to physical
wellbeing and a way to achieve a sense of peace and tranquility has
morphed into a fancy version of “does my ass look good in these
pants?” And what’s up with the cropped yet flared pant leg? Is the
flare really necessary? Do one’s calves really expand that much
when doing the Warrior pose? I can’t take it. I really can’t. And
what is it about Sundays? You can’t really tell me that every
woman spends the whole Sunday doing yoga and that stretchy
yoga pants are the only ‘must have/go to’ piece to be worn that
day. Oh and please, add insult to injury by sporting a big old pair
of chunky trainers to go with. Hey now you’re set for a stylish
Sunday vegan brunch and a walk along the Seawall with 3,000 of
your contemporaries. Just don’t forget your baseball cap with
protruding ponytail. It’s like a flash mob down there. It’s as if
everyone tweeted the night before, agreed to put on yoga pants and
head to the seawall. Any minute the Black-Eyed Peas are going to
show up. They’ll perform a version of “I’ve Got a Feelin’ with
sitars and tiny cymbals. The LuLu Lemon girls will synchronize all
their Kundalini moves. They’ll be whipping out their color-
coordinated yoga mats, tossing around their foam bricks (for the
less flexible-- pffft-- losers), and pulling on their long Vinyasa
bright pink leg warmers ‘cause it gets chilly in those hot yoga
rooms. Besides, they look so cute. Remember the cuter the outfit
the closer to Vishnu! And don’t forget to rehydrate using your
standard issue “Om” stainless steel water bottle. It has to be
an “Om”. Om or go home, I say. Afterwards, everyone will pop
into their favorite all-natural health food restaurant for a $30 dollar
bowl of steaming hot organic lentils and fair trade kale and quinoa

So, if you’ve missed the break out yoga flash mob on the sea wall,
don’t lose any meditation time over it. Just head to your nearest
Bikram franchise and join in on some steaming hot fun. It’s sort
of like Sweatin’ to the Oldies, 2010 style. Get there early because,
really, everyone will be fighting for the front row in anticipation of
the Downward Dog.