Birkenstocks: For the Soles; For the Souls

A personal essay on a long relationship with an ugly shoe by Polly Dennison

Paleo is to diets, what Birkenstocks are to shoes. Wearing them is like being barefoot, but better. They provide a shaped sole for your foot, as if it were bare and walking across fields of green, organic grass (it’s obviously going to be organic) and the soft, mossy ground is rising to meet every curve in a loving and supportive way. I’ve been a convert for about ten years and I am a committed member of the faithful; I evangelise and have brought several of my kin to the cause. 

Birkenstocks – and their lesser impersonators – saw somewhat of a renaissance on the high street this summer. The 90s minimalist look was not quite complete without a pair of the chunky flatform-esque sandals. The trend has resulted in some accidental converts; people who, without this trend, would have overlooked Birkies, but are now planning on donning a pair each summer. One fashion blogger friend of mine, Roisin Linnie – one of the converts – told me, “I’ll wear them every summer now regardless of whether they're in fashion or not, because they're ... so comfy.” Her YouTube posting on “How to Wear Birkenstocks” is her most popular to date, with over 9000 views at time of writing. When I told my converted friends and family that I was writing this piece, they all volunteered their feelings on the shoes: unanimously positive and borderline obsessive. They, too, will wax lyrical about the shoes, given half a chance and have similarly been spreading the word, quietly. It seems that once converted, there is no return to unsupportive rubbish peddled in most sandal shops. Their comfort and minimalist look wins out. 

There was resistant among some to this trend. Leandra Medine of the Man Repeller referred to them as “birth control” in a recent article. But, are they actually ugly? When I first became acquainted with the German soles of comfort, yes, I thought they were ugly. I couldn't understand why someone would want them and they smacked all too much of an eccentric older woman who buys exclusively from M and S's Per Una collection. Which is grand if you are that eccentric older woman, but it wasn't exactly the look I was going for at fifteen when I first met Birkenstocks. Or now, at twenty-five, for that matter. I had only seen pairs in ugly colours, with strange child-like prints and they were not something I was interested in wearing. The pairs I had seen had the same effect on me as GAA County Colour Crocs; aesthetic reflux, no thanks. A quick addition: theyare ugly with socks. Unless you are one of those grumpy-looking Topshop models, please, do not don a sock with a Birkie. Somehow the Grumpies manage to pull it off. 

When I was fifteen, I went to France as part of a cultural exchange, to bring Irish traditional music to the good people of rural Brittany. I only had a pair of flimsy flip flops with me, which were not up to hacking up and down rough lane ways and through the Breton countryside. The harpist of our group, however, was wearing a pair of Birkenstock Gizeh thong sandals. Off-road flip flops, professional flip flops. The rough roads did nothing to dent the Birkenstocks' soles, nor those of the harpist. Not only that, but they actually looked kind of ... good? Somehow this style had circumnavigated the Per Una-eccentric look which had plagued the others in my mind. Somehow, this pair looked young enough for a fifteen year old. Somehow, I could see myself wearing them. I came home and promptly marched to the Birkenstock shop on Wicklow Street for my own pair. They were silver, but don't judge me, that was the summer when every accessory going was silver and so I was attempting to kill the on-trend bird as well as the practical one with the one, structured-cushioned-soled stone. I loved them. I wore them every day that summer. I wore them around the house in winter. They were minimal and unobtrusive,; they were practical and extremely comfortable without looking as if I were about to go rock climbing. 

Cut to five years later and my silver pair had not only seen better days, but the colour wasn’t quite the trend bullet it had once been. I knew I had to re- invest if I wanted to remain comfy and vaguely presentable. This time, I went for a more subdued dark brown, natural leather. I brought them home and my then-boyfriend took one look and remarked "they're a bit... granola". Which was, apparently, a negative quality. I chose to ignore this veto and persisted with my Granola shoes. Another five years later, I still have them and they have lasted even better than their predecessors. They are wonderfully comfortable, are a less intrusive colour than the silver and are supportive enough for endless summer walks and treks. 

Yes, they appear 90s in some looks; in the way that scrunchies, tartan mini skirts and chokers are 90s and to me, that's a negative thing. But, at the same time, they embrace the minimalist look that was also key in the early 90s. The 90s looks of duster coats, round sunglasses, the colour combination of black, white and beige; the 90s looks of Roz from Frasier and Elaine from Seinfeld. The 90s looks of minimalism, comfort and practicality. These are all good factors to embrace, in my mind, when it comes to trends. 

Aside from the immediate questions which often surround personal style at my age in the popular sphere – Am I on trend? Is Topshop selling something similar? Is this look validated by the Olsen twins? Even one Olsen twin, I'll take validation by one Olsen twin? – there are the other, oft ignored personal questions, ones about the individual. Caitlin Moran said in her book, How to be a Woman, that women, generally speaking, own so many clothes and varieties on themes in their wardrobes because each piece represents a different type of women as whom they wish to put themselves forward. To me, Birkenstocks and the minimalist style with which I choose to match them, represent something which I wish to communicate to the world about myself. Their obvious comfort perhaps tells people that I don’t always mind if I’m not a trend-monkey, that I prefer to do something which is good for me and my physical being, than pander. Perhaps it also communicates that I was a child in the early 90s and that Birkies were imprinted on my brain as A-OK. I just had to realise it myself, slowly, as a teen. 

For me, it just happened that Birkenstocks were "in" this season. And that is not to seem arrogant or annoyingly Hipster, that I liked something before it was cool – far from. I will always like them because they are comfortable and they are well made. They also appeal to my mammy-like appreciation for practicality and thriftiness; I like that fact they don't swindle me out of money for a crap product. For a pair of shoes which are under €100 to last five years, with constant wear is great and rather hard to find from a high street brand. I find myself selling them to friends based on the fact that “you can get a good few summers out of a pair”, among their other wonderful qualities. 

I will concede that they take getting used to; having a shoe that comfortable feels strange after wearing unsupportive shoes with no sole shaping. They wake up muscles in your feet and calves that you didn’t know you had. I dare any reader to buy a pair and not be converted after one season. I was surprised by how much I like them, and it’s never a bad thing to try something a bit new and outside your comfort zone. That said, I will never try GAA County Colour Crocs. I don’t care how comfy they might be. 

 

Excellence in Mediocrity

         An essay on why tech needs fashion by Liam Brophy

Image by Briony Somers

Image by Briony Somers

In the wake this year’s London Fashion Week, journalists were quick to herald the collision of the worlds of fashion and technology. Jimmy Choo’s virtual showroom, a host of social media integrations and the announcement of the new Apple Watch a week before all conspired to advance the idea that technology was now in the spotlight. Diane von Furstenberg seemed to capture the mood well: ‘The definition of fashion is ‘l’air du temps,’ the essence of the time we live in, so it is absolutely normal that it meets technology.’ The impressively vague term ‘digital first fashion’ was bandied about. The idea that fashion and technology had finally come of age together was invoked so often that it seemed as if many were trying to wish the combination into existence. There’s a good reason for that.

Fashion and technology is a strange and uneasy marriage. There was a time, in the dimly- remembered neon wonderland of the 1980s, where the two could have seemed like natural enemies. Back then, the design of most wearable technology was proudly ugly. Not even ugly in the brutalist sense that might appeal to a particular kind of aesthete. It was unadorned plastic radiating raw ugliness. In many ways, it was a statement of intent from Silicon Valley. At heart, the tech world is utilitarian; most comfortable when it can yolk all known human experience and moods to stats and metrics. Given that mindset, it’s small wonder that the tech world has, for a long time, shown nothing short of contempt for fashion. Consider Mark Zuckerberg’s recent endorsement of his refusal to change his ubiquitous grey t-shirt: “I’m not doing my job if I spent any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.”

Leaving aside the scary consideration of whether anything except a robot masquerading as a human could sincerely utter that sentence, this is not a novel attitude. When it comes to criticisms of fashion, it’s the old standard. Fashion is frivolous, it’s an obsession. The (Wikipedia-endorsed) definition of obsession is: "A strong attachment to a person or thing, especially such an attachment formed in childhood or infancy and manifested in immature or neurotic behavior that persists throughout life." Typically, obsession is associated with weakness and immaturity. Obsession is an accessory of the incomplete person. The obsessive puts herself in proximity to an object of obsession, and its radiation quells the sensation of insecurity roiling away inside. The old standard criticism of fashion is that it’s flippant; a whimsical distraction for insubstantial people. Pretty girls are obsessed with pretty dresses. That more or less seems to be the Zuck’s take on what fashion can offer the world.

It seems slightly unfair that the tech-bros of Silicon Valley should be allowed to knock fashion for its immaturity. Tech is an industry that is easily as prey to faddishness as fashion. Having worked in a tech firm, there’s a particular sensibility to the place: an air of boyish conspiracy to everything in the office. An overt excitement that "It's so cool that we can wear sandals to work!" with the obvious subtext of "Finally we don't have to wear grown-up clothes anymore!" left unsaid. Every superhero t-shirt, every ill-fitting pair of jeans, every meeting conducted pacing around in socks solving a Rubik’s Cube is a snub to the demands of a scary adult world looming outside the tech bubble. And yet, in a very real sense, these stupid-faced manchildren and the toys that they have foisted on us rule the world. Technology is our obsession, and it snuck up on us. The smartphone delivers us to a dreamy, decentralised state of comfort. It’s a kind of perpetual refrain of modern interaction; what we revert to whenever the texture of life becomes boring.

If that is the case, and tech is an inescapable part of our lives, does that mean that tech is in fashion? Does it maybe mean that technology has supplanted fashion? While writing this article , it’s been pointed out more than once to me that the iPhone is the most ubiquitous accessory on the planet. That is very true, but in no real way could it ever be considered a fashion statement. In one sense, the iPhone is a marvel. In its design, it is pitched perfectly: ‘designed’ just enough to appeal to everyone while alienating nobody. If you were setting out to create a product that could be regarded as genuinely world-changing, that has an almost universal appeal, you couldn’t do better than the iPhone. It’s an amazing achievement in mediocrity. That’s not to invoke mediocrity in a bad way. It’s the kind of high-end mediocrity that you’d associate with Christopher Nolan films or Coca-Cola. The iPhone is in one sense one of the most remarkable achievements in design ever created. In another sense, it’s also a very boring product. The current aesthetic of tech is a homogenising dead end. If the tech world has a deficiency, it’s that it’s unwilling to embrace frivolity. All great fashion is in some way alienating. It’s the essence of fashion’s appeal.

If one were to reconstruct Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for a modern audience, you’d probably place wi-fi access as the foundation of the pyramid, the kind of basic necessity that allows all modern human interaction to flourish. If technology is going to be so densely interwoven into the fabric of human experience, it’s important that we be able to enjoy it; to tune it to our own particular habits and preferences. At the moment, we all experience technology in much the same way. That way of experiencing technology works well for the people who live and breathe tech, but not for the rest of us. Kate Losse has described it well: “Tech’s obsession with making everything from one’s dishwasher to one’s heartbeat connected to the digital cloud isn’t necessarily freeing. After all, much of what fashion is about—a mood, a culture, an experience—cannot be registered or shared by a metric, and what's exciting to the technophile may seem sterile to the artist.” The great promise of letting fashion confront technology is as much about importing the mindset of fashion into technology as it is about attacking bland design itself. The result of all of this intensifying collaboration will ideally be a way of experiencing and living with technology unique to all of us, which is certainly a net win for everyone outside of Silicon Valley. 

 

Intellectualism and Victoria's Secret

    An essay on the insecurity surrounding fashion by Briony Somers

Image by Briony Somers

Image by Briony Somers

Insecurity finds its way into our lives in the strangest of ways, but it becomes the most obsessive when it is based on truth. When our lack of confidence is based on the known disapproval of others anxiety gains an obsessive quality. Knowing it is a case of not if, people will judge us but when, a hypersensitivity to those around us develops. Each comment and decision is potentially veiled disapproval and, not wanting to be ignorant to our infallibility, we make doomed attempts to maintain our credibility. This develops in us a self critic but this kind of insecurity is seldom born from self hatred. It instead grows out of defeat - at having the opinions of others subsume your own. 

Insecurity is something women are particularly adept at feeling. Germaine Greer saw it in the anxiety of female students and Sheryl Sandberg sees it in professional women holding themselves back. It is unsurprising it had seeped into how we view fashion - the only industry where women earn more than men, a market dominated by female consumers and what, was claimed by Greer, to be the main component of female culture. Women’s activities are susceptible to debate and analysis in a way that men’s pastimes never are. Discussions surrounding the role of sport in encouraging aggression and competitiveness in young men are virtually non-existent and athletes encouraging young men to feel physically inadequate and rely on drugs receives nowhere near the same amount of attention as the messages sent my the bodies of young female models.

For women there exists a tireless need to justify our engagement with fashion and flickerings of shame when the industry is so readily criticised. A search for a defence of fashion will go largely unsatisfied. Those in the industry have become so tired of fashion’s stereotypes they avoid engaging in what has become a one sided discussion. But even if the leaders of the industry are slow to articulate it, fashion does provide answers. Prada is part of a tradition in fashion of offering an alternative form of beauty for women. One that is removed from the idea of attractiveness and that offers women a way of dressing that avoids fitting the sexual fantasies of men. This has long been a tendency of fashion from the androgyny of Chanel’s suits to the deconstruction of Comme Des Garçons. This comes from a desire and ability to see beauty in not only in the traditionally wrong or ugly. Even the phenomenon of the nineties supermodel demonstrates this tendency. Photographer Peter Lindbergh defined the group of models that came to be known as the supers and define female beauty for a generation. The supermodel is synonymous with physical perfection but Lindburg created these defining images by capturing the depth and personality of these women. Kate Moss said of Lindburg “He loves women, but not in a weird sexy way”. His eschewing of photoshop, androgynous styling and respect for women create images that show beauty a raw, sincere and unglamorous way.

Not all of fashion celebrates the ugly and not all of fashion is content with a niche audience. The annual Victoria’s Secret show hold a unique place between the worlds of commerce and fashion. It assumes the trappings of the conventional high end fashion show but appropriates them for an overtly commercial mid range underwear brand. Models such as Jac Jagaciak and Yumi Lambert began walking shows such as Givenchy, Dior and Chanel. They represent the the high fashion aesthetic with slender frames, angular features and a generally unconventional beauty. Victoria’s Secret cast these girls alongside the more conventional likes of Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio and all are present in the widely accepted guise of the “hot girl” - loose waves, an incredible weight of natural makeup and big smiles. Victoria’s Secret takes the high fashion aesthetic and presents it to the mass market in a more palatable relatable, and ultimately commercialised, package.

The female image used for mass market advertising speaks to traditional views of women. She is friendly, familiar and “curvier”. The veneration of these characteristics is interesting. It shows that for women to be broadly appealing they must have a friendly demeanour and fit a sexy aesthetic. Is it not concerning that the form in which society is more willing to find women attractive is more in line with what is believed to be what men find more attractive? There is a difference dressing for the male gaze and embracing a sexualised aesthetic. This distinction is similar to the one between competitiveness and ambition. To the outsider the phenomenon may seem the same but the intended audience alters our ability to find peace with our outcome. A motivation of competitiveness requires our success to deemed of a higher standard than those around us. Ambition speaks to the fulfilment of personal goals, of reaching a set of ideals that represent how we want ourselves to be. Ambition is not necessarily easier to satisfy but it is easier to be at peace with because it requires personal satisfaction and not the potentially fluctuating approval of others. The sexier look of the mass market, that the Victoria Secret show exemplifies, puts women in an empowered position if its an appearance that resonates with their sense of self rather then its appeal to men and society’s sense of beauty.

The Victoria’s Secret show offers hints of empowered sexuality. The women in the show represent some of the highest paid women in the world with significant talent in both performance and business management. The postures of the models are reminiscent of the power poses Amy Cuddy has shown to improve confidence and power. Naked female bodies are frequently censored, this year most famously on Instagram. This brings a sense of shame and the lack of control over how their bodies are presented inhibits women’s ability to feel ownership over their sexuality. The images of strength coupled with the open celebration of the female body show the power that women can derive from their bodies.

Ultimately Victoria’s Secret is commercial and mass market so its aesthetic is less interesting. Superficially the experience is tacky and hollow. Imran Amed of the Business of Fashion deemed the prerecorded spectacle to have lost its edge. It is none the less dubbed as fashion. This type of commercialised fashion encompasses that which makes us insecure about fashion. It explains itself as light, fun and insubstantial. While it creates images of empowered women it does not intend to say anything or change the way we think. It stays away from any intellectualism that may alienate potential customers and reduce its market.

It is precisely this intellectualism that gives fashion its a place in the cultural landscape and makes it more than a commercial activity. It gives women a way of engaging with their image independent of men. It creates dialogues around beauty and challenges conventions. Tavi Gevinson, the former blogger and editor of Rookie Mag explains “Thing I always liked about fashion was that it was very connected to everything else and when I really loved a collection I would look up the movie or song or whatever (that) inspired it and from that was just opened up to a whole world of what eventually became my very favourite things.” Fashion is a rich intellectual and cultural experience and by fully recognising that we prevent ourselves from becoming the vain, superficial and materialistic people we worry its turns us into. 

The Art of Curating a Collection

An essay on the synonymity of art and fashion by Fionnula Judge

About five years ago, I inherited a beautiful Tissot watch. Belonging to my great- grandmother, it is intricate in a way you don’t often see in modern time-pieces, with a thin leather strap and a minuscule mother of pearl face. This was how my collection began. After polishing cutlery and sustaining soup burns for the guts of one summer, I had saved enough to purchase my first ‘real’ handbag. A classic affair, it has yet to date, although the leather is beginning to soften. My collection grew. One of my latest additions is slightly more identifiable piece. My dad’s old denim jacket, complete with corduroy collar, found in the far reaches of a garage on moving day, not only keeps the rain off my back but also gives an individual twist to an otherwise dull outfit. 

Since the age of about seventeen, I have been curating my collection. Modest in size, more modest in value, I can say, relatively proudly, that my wardrobe is an embodiment of my sense of self. Clothes have always held my interest, having refused to be dressed by my mother since the age of two, my love for them has grown.

The verb ‘to curate’ is often first associated with an art collection. It is in its essence, it is simpler, as in the Oxford Dictionary, ‘to select, organize, and look after the items in (a collection or exhibition)’. Like an art collection, your wardrobe, can be a lifelong work, with pieces in all styles, often linked by a common theme. The largest privately owned art collection in Ireland lives primarily in the Merrion Hotel and ranges from Sean Scully to William Scott, to paintings of the late Lady Laverly. All the pieces are linked by their Irish origin, much like how Michelle Obama or Alexa Chung are seen wearing designers ranging from J Crew to Thakoon and Erdem to Topshop, all the while show casing her signature off beat style.

Of course, the differences between clothing and art are obvious; the disposable nature of a high street shirt doesn’t compare to an oil painting. It fades over time, but can, on the other hand, be said to represent history. Karl Lagerfeld described fashion as an ‘ongoing dialogue’. The two also differ in the extremely personal nature of clothes, and their usage. Fashion has a practical purpose, and so a collection may be worn down, become shabby.

Perhaps this is part of a collection’s charm, the pull of vintage clothing. To know your shift dress was a sign of changing times in the 60s, or that your grandmother loved that shirt as much as you do, is all part of the enjoyment of curation. In order not to have her life’s work broken apart in a similar manner, Daphne Guinness bought her late friend Isabella Blow’s entire collection. Her legendary wardrobe went on show in Somerset House in November 2013. "The decision to put Isabella's wardrobe on display was a natural progression; it felt like what she would have wanted," Guinness explained to Vogue. "I bought the collection because I couldn't bear for it to be dispersed; it was her life's work - her legacy.

The V&A Museum of London have an ongoing fashion gallery, as does the Metropolitan in New York. In January of this year, ‘the Personal Collection of Elsa Shiaperelli’ went on auction in Paris. The fashion designer’s pieces, worn by her in 1930s Paris, include a deep indigo jacket emblazoned with the moon and the sun from the collection astrologie, a floor length fur lined coat, and a neat waistcoat patterned with bucking horses. The collection starts at €10,000 and embodies the personality of the once enemy to Coco Chanel. What better way of celebrating that legacy than allowing the world to view it?" Iris Apfel has recently parted with a number of pieces from her eclectic collection of costume jewellery, and you can even pick up some of Joan Collins’ blazers on eBay for a mere $500. These are women who have spent their lives colourfully, and their personality shines through in the fashion haul they have amassed.

In recent times, this idea of curating a collection has only become more entrenched in our culture, through sites such as Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram. Online, we can create our dream collection, edit and curate to our hearts content before we buy. Fast fashion, and disposable trends are dirty words, not only in this economy, but in the fashion industry. from this rises the old justification of the ‘investment’ piece; an addition to your collection that will enhance and enrich your wardrobe. The same justifications rush through your mind when buying a new Topshop skirt It goes with everything, you can wear it so many ways, it is just so you. Are these really just ways of assuring yourself that this is important, that you are a curator, not merely a consumer? A quote from Coco Chanel recently helped justify my newest Zara addition: “Those who create are rare, those who cannot are numerous. Therefore, the latter are stronger.” Is there a way to see that strength in our consuming? The ability to design a dress should not overshadow our ability to dress as the people we really feel we are. 

Lee Miller: A Forgotten Role Model

An essay exploring the many lives of one of fashion's forgotten role models by Jenny Drea

 

Muse, fashion Model, Writer, Photographer, War Correspondent, Surrealist, Mother - Lee Miller once described her own life as ‘a water soaked jig-saw puzzle, drunken bits that don’t match in shape or design’. Unearthing the background to this intriguing comment reveals the life of a model in the roaring twenties in New York City, a hugely influential member of an innovative artistic movement in Paris in the Thirties and a journalist and photographer of the Second World War. Perhaps these huge undertakings do not match in shape or design, however, understanding the woman who achieved such a significant influence across this wide spectrum makes clear a unique personality. In a time when female culture is so often characterised as frivolous and superficial, the story of someone so fearless and so passionate certainly has a place as a role model.

Miller began her career in front of the camera. In the space of two years working with Vogue, she had been photographed by the great photographers of her time and her portrait, drawn by artist George Lepape, even graced the magazine’s cover. While she was highly successful, her interest in photography quickly took over with her declaring she ‘would rather take pictures than be one.’ Miller moved to Paris in pursuit of her love of photography and began assisting Surrealist photographer, Man Ray. Miller became the most photographed sitter of Man Ray’s. Her charisma and inner strength enchanted him, and he spent years trying to understand her. He began dissecting her in his work - photographing body parts and facial features, treating her more like an object than a woman. This relationship with Man Ray did not define Miller, who had become a central character of the Surrealist art movement herself. She began making new discoveries of her own - inventing solarisation, the technique of Solarisation. Ultimately, it was Man Ray’s competitive nature that ended their professional relationship. Miller moved back to New York in pursuit of her own creative projects. In response, the devastated Man Ray tampered with one of his most famous pieces, a metronome made in 1923. He replaced the eye on the metronome with one cut out from a photograph of Miller. The instructions read as follows: “Cut out the eye from the photograph of one who has been loved but is seen no more... With a hammer well-aimed, try to destroy the whole at a single blow.”

When the Second World War broke out, she was working as a fashion photographer at Vogue, but knew immediately that she wanted to work as a war journalist. In doing so, she became the only female combat photographer to follow the Allied advance through Eastern Europe. During her career, she captured some of the most tremendous events of the decade - London’s underground air- raid shelters, the siege of St Malo, the tent hospitals and frontline casualty-clearing stations in Normandy and the liberation of concentration camps at Dachau and Buchenwald. Miller also convinced editor, Audrey Withers, to allow her to write her own articles to accompany her work.

Towards the end of the War, Lee Miller and Dave Sherman, Life Magazine’s war correspondent, found Hitler’s abandoned apartment in Munich. They were staying in the apartment on the day the news was announced that Hitler had committed suicide. They photographed the interiors of the apartment for Miller’s 1945 July Vogue article, ‘Hitlermania’. The most iconic photograph from this series, taken by Sherman, shows Miller washing herself in Hitler’s bathtub. Despite the ordinary nature of the photograph, there are two elements which shock the viewer - the framed image of Adolf Hitler in the corner of the room and the black working boots in front of the bath, dirty from Miller’s visit to Dachau concentration camp the day before. Miller plays with symbols of purity, cleanliness and normality, while staging it in the home of a figure who epitomises evil, violence and inhumanity. Miller writes in her article, ‘He’d never really been alive for me until today’ - she seemed unable to believe that this destructive monster had been real, until she saw the place that showed he had once had human habits.

Sadly, in her later life, Miller suffered from post-traumatic stress, insomnia and alcoholism. This disconnect between the two parts of her life was clear in the fact that it wasn’t until after she passed away, in 1977, that her son, Antony Penrose, learned all that his mother had achieved. In a letter to her editor, a frustrated Miller wrote, “nearly all the photos I ever took have disappeared - lost in New York - thrown away by the Germans in Paris - bombed and burned in the London Blitz - and now I find Condé Nast (Vogue publisher) has just casually scrapped everything I did for them, including war pictures.” This made it difficult for her son to to put the pieces of his mother’s puzzling life back together. This led him to set up the Lee Miller Archive in 1979. Not only did he uncover the extraordinary career of photography, he also discovered the unnerving nude portraits that Miller’s father had taken of her growing up. Devastatingly, it was her son who made the most horrifying biographical discovery of all. Lee Miller had been raped at age seven and contracted an STD which required an extremely invasive and painful procedure as treatment. Did carrying these scars equip her to deal with some of the most evil human abuses in history? She admits, "I looked like an angel on the outside. That’s how people saw me. But I was like a demon inside. I had known all the suffering of the world since I was a very little girl."

Throughout Miller’s life, she is subject to male fixation in a variety of ways. Whether it be when she was first scouted as a model, her role in front of her father’s lens and Man Ray’s obsession with her as a muse - they all demonstrate a fascination with her. These men are entirely dependent on her to produce their own work, and in certain cases, this seems to reach the heights of possession. This is very obvious in her assault and, in a far less violent way, her relationship with Man Ray. in a respectful and loving way, you can also see this in her son’s work. Although there is a sense of struggling and striving in her life, there is an even stronger theme of independence and freedom. At a time when a woman’s purpose was to merely facilitate the success of a man, Miller removed herself from the men in her life to do exactly the opposite. She used her creative talents and life experience to fulfil a traditionally very male role in a completely unique and genuine way. Lee Miller teaches us that an engagement with creativity enhances our connection to the world rather than stifling it. While piecing the puzzling parts of Miller’s life back together, I can declare my own obsession with her to be near complete.