Saturday 26 May 2018

Books: That 60s, 70s and 80s show

Design: Brand New Retro, Brian McMahon, Liberties Press, hdbk, 208 pages, €29.99

An ad page from a 1969 Pure New Wool promotional brochure.
An ad page from a 1969 Pure New Wool promotional brochure.
An ad for the Woman's Way House of Year in 1974.
A piece from the 1960s magazine Miss.

John Spain

Our reviewer on a new coffee-table book that is a visual blast from Ireland's psychedelic past.

For the past few years, the creative types who work in advertising, graphic design and film in Ireland have been fans of a little-known website called, especially when searching for inspiration. The site is a treasure trove of visual culture from the 1960s to the 1990s, a real blast from the past.

Now its creator, DJ Brian McMahon, and his collaborator, advertising designer Joe Collins, have taken around 700 adverts, pictures, illustrations and articles from the thousands on the site and turned them into a coffee-table book.

The retro material, which appeared originally in some 50 Irish magazines and papers from the 1960s onwards, is a voyage back to the days when everyone was "cool", had big hair and wore floral tops and flares - and that was just the men. It's a visual treat, hilarious in retrospect, all very hip in its time but in a very Irish sort of way.

Included is material from a number of long-forgotten Irish magazines. An example from 1966 from a magazine called Miss is a fashion spread titled One Mod Day in Dublin. It portrays a meeting between a few rather old looking "mods" on O'Connell Bridge, with text as follows: "It started so casually. Hi, he said. I was all for giving him the deep cool, but next thing I know his friend was showing mine the sights. How about kicking this town around some, his friend asked me."

Those were the days when fashion editors wrote in a deeply ironic way. The captions reveal that all the clothes were from the newly opened She Gear and He Gear boutiques in Roches Stores (now long gone, just like the magazines).

There is a 1968 cover of Scene, "Ireland's International Magazine", by artist Jim Fitzpatrick (who did much of the psychedelic Celtic art of the time, like his Horslips album covers) which featured a regular cartoon strip called The Incredible Adventures of Sharona. A sort of Wonder Woman without the suit.

There was more than a touch of the psychedelic about a lot of the art back then, like another ad from Man Alive magazine in 1974 for the hippest nightclub of the time, Zhivago's on Baggot Street - "Where Love Stories Begin".

Another Irish magazine at the time, Executive, was aimed at "with it" young achievers and had raunchy covers, but inside it was as tame as it was naff. A fashion spread it carried in 1979 showed two guys wearing business suits with flared trousers... and white socks.

Nylon was big back then. "Top men want leisure shirts for modern living... they are right to insist on Bri-Nylon," another ad reproduced in the book says.

There's also a fashion spread from New Spotlight magazine in 1969 featuring Dickie Rock looking knowledgeably under the bonnet of an E-type Jag while being careful not to smudge his Louis Copeland suit (yes, Louis was at it even then). Looking on adoringly is a mini-skirted model. There's another "Fashion Freakout" shoot from New Spotlight in 1971 with Phil Lynott gambolling about with another model in a mini when he still had his enormous afro.

Talking about psychedelia, the images from a Pure New Wool promotional brochure in 1969 are garish enough to induce flashbacks. One picture has the model in a red mini dress reclining against an orange sofa on an orange carpet which is floating on a lake in the Wicklow mountains. "In a tame world, wool is wild," the ad says (dress by Glen Abbey, carpet by Youghal)!

Equally disturbing is the ad for the Woman's Way House of the Year in 1974 which was in Pinebrook, off the Malahide Road in Dublin, with migraine-inducing patterned carpets and curtains.

Divided into sections on Fashion, Lifestyle, Music & Showbiz, Sport and Reader's Lives, this book is a journey back to the 1960s in Ireland that will appeal to those who were around at the time. They say if you can remember the 60s, you weren't really there, man. If you were and it's now a blur, this book will bring it all back.

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