Friday 2 December 2016

My cultural life - Peter O'Brien

Published 12/09/2016 | 02:30

Designer Peter O'Brien. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File
Designer Peter O'Brien. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File
Tilda Swinton
Stephen Sondheim
The Constant Wife

Peter O'Brien is a freelance fashion and costume designer. He describes himself as "a professional curmudgeon, a complete bookaholic, lover of esoteric musicals and when not practising his world-standard procrastination skills, can usually be found in a bookshop". His recent theatrical design includes Hedda Gabler at The Abbey, and A Month In The Country and The Constant Wife, both at The Gate. O'Brien, as he says of himself, "has a reputation for lovely frocks but longs for a gig requiring unlovely ones, or at least exquisitely distressed ones." Peter O'Brien's A/W collection for Arnotts launches on September 13.

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Exhibition: La Mode Retouvee

A wonderful exhibition that I saw in Paris at The Palais Galliera of dresses, which had belonged to la comtesse Greffuhle. Greffuhle was the model on whom Proust had based la duchesse de Guermantes in Remembrance of Things Past. Élaine Greffuhle was a woman of great beauty, a fine intelligence and was a great patron of the arts. Judging by the ravishing collection of breathtaking clothes in this exhibition, she also had rigorous and perfect taste. The exhibition is now at FIT in New York.

Film: Hail Caesar!

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I finally caught up with the Coen brothers' Hail,Caesar! on Netflix and I thought it was smashing. I loved Tilda Swinton's (above) demented twins inspired by real-life Hollywood gossip queens Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper and the Gene Kelly/On The Town/Anchors Aweigh gay send-up was a hoot: and brilliantly choreographed to boot.

Music: Stephen Sondheim

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I've been working on drawings for A/W 2017 and have had two CDs playing: 1: Follies by Stephen Sondheim (above). When the original Broadway cast recording was released, fans were unhappy as a lot of the score was missing and the quality of sound was not terrific. Well this is a re-mastered, clear-as-a-bell new release and is splendid. I can almost imagine those ghostly showgirls are drifting around my flat. My poor neighbours. 2: I've been listening also to The Best of Laura Nyro: Stoned Soul Picnic. It's marvellous, reminds me of 1979 when I lived on the Upper West Side in NYC, sunny afternoons overlooking Central Park with just a hint of darkness lurking in Nyro's lyrics.

Gallery: National Portrait Gallery London

My all-time favourite cultural boost. No matter how short a time I have in London, a quick visit to the National Portrait Gallery does wonders for my soul, which is usually a little jaded after hours of fabric shopping for the theatre, in the highly unglamorous Goldhawk Road. Drawings by Wyndham Lewis, Dame Laura Knight or the glorious portraits of each other by lifetime partners Charles Ricketts and Charles Haslewood Shannon never fail to buck up my spirits.

Book: The Secret Life of Somerset Maugham

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I just designed the costumes for Willie Maugham's The Constant Wife (above) at The Gate and great discussions were had in rehearsals and at fittings as to whether this was a feminist play or was Maugham a misogynist. Determined to find out, I dug out Selina Hastings terrific biography The Secret Lives Of Somerset Maugham and re-read it. Willie was certainly far from kind about his wife Syrie but I suspect his disdain for most people was equally balanced between the sexes.

The Peter O'Brien autumn/winter collection is available in Arnotts from Wednesday, September 14. Arnotts.ie

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