Interview: Louby Mcloughlin

Girly: Stylist Mcloughlin talks femininity

by Lou Stoppard .

Fashion is for fantasy and to feel good, so we shouldn't judge others so much on their reference points. I don’t think we should look at women and be like, ‘are you thinking about what you’re wearing?’ Don’t think about what you’re wearing, I say.

Lou Stoppard: Tell me why you think the girly aesthetic is being so heavily championed at the moment.

Louby Mcloughlin: I don't think it's a new thing. I think it's something that's been around for a while now. I think it's been around for at least five or six years on Tumblr and in the online world, and the young people who have now grown up a little are making more grown-up art, fashion and music that's making waves in young London and filtering down. It's a bit of a post-Tumblr effect.

People want to put 'girly' into a box and a category. I think that's partly to do with it, and I also think the twenty-year cycle comes into it...that's probably a big part of it. Also, whatever goes up will come down. We had the punk thing - when I came to London about 6 years or so ago it was all about punk, everything was black, black, black. I had hair extensions, fake-tan - it wasn’t cool. It's been a long time since girls have been able to be girly-girls. So overall, it's three things really: backlash to grunge, the post-Tumblr effect and the twenty-year cycle. And that's it. But it's going to go anyway, it's going.

LS: Why do you say that?

LM: Things do - it’ll go to the next thing. 

LS: It's interesting what you said about the twenty-year cycle. Just glancing back there are several things you can look at when discussing this theme - the whole Riot Grrrl movement, the nineties and all that 'girl power' stuff. Do you think that is the root of where the current girly vogue is coming out of or do you think it's something quite separate?

LM: I think that's part of it, for me it feels like there is a bit of Girl Power 2.0 happening at the moment, like girl power gone digital - that's what the kids of Tumblr are all about. The Instagram generation and the internet generation - they’re all about soaking in everything that's been done before and regurgitating it in quite an mixed-up ironic way. It's generation LOLs, it's all about nostalgia and taking things from everywhere and spitting it back out as something new. But for me, there are a lot of exciting girly things happening all over, especially in London. From the underground electronic music scene to independent zines and fashion labels to Instagram and blogs, but they twist it up for the new gen, it's not exactly as it was.

LM: I think what you say about a mixing of references is very very interesting. This idea that you can take an image of a Riot Grrrl and put it next to an image of one of the Spice Girls and put a Hello Kitty sticker near it and you get a kind of common aesthetic out of that, even though those things all have very different intellectual starting points. I think that's quite interesting.

LM: I think it's all types of girl refs and it's a bit of a fuck-you attitude; 'I’m not in this box, I can do this, this, this. And I can do it well.'

LS: So do you think there is something quite empowering about that kind of mixing of references - that mixing of something that looks a bit ironic, with something that looks a bit Japanese, with something that looks a bit retro, because it is women refusing to conform?

LM: Everyone wants to do something different to the generation before them. If they don't, there's something a bit wrong. In the nineties people sat and made zines. It's the same thing people do now digitally. Kids are just expressing themselves and trying to be different - they're trying to say something. Now people have all those elements there available to them because of the internet. So it comes out in fashion, those different references. The younger generation has a lot more references available to them to explore and mix together.

LS: Talking about all those different references, it gets me wondering if girls who do dress like this now, whether they even remotely consider an intellectual side to it. Whether they think about, you know, femininity or feminism or womanhood, or whether they literally just take it as a pure aesthetic thing.

LM: Well I think you’re going to have a mixture of both, as you would with any type of style. People want to be different. I think that the younger kids that shop at, say Topshop, get the references more than anybody. They’re the ones that are really exposed to it, they’re the ones that have grown up with it.

LS: Have you always dressed like this, is it always something thats felt very natural? Where does the starting point come from for you, is it the way your friends used to dress when you were growing up? How did you start dressing like it?

LM: I think it's just from watching television and movies to be honest. And music videos. That's it really. And it did change as well. When I was at school I was kind of like a skater girl. I was more of a tomboy. I haven’t always dressed like this.

LS: How do people respond to you? I know London is slightly more open-minded to experimental fashion, but how do people respond to it?

LM: They don't really. But as I say it was a bit uncool probably five or six years ago.

LS: And what are the kind of aesthetic references that you’re drawn to, or the labels that you like to wear? I know you post a lot about early Versus stuff. What is the stuff that you think is really really great?

LM: I like to dress with a sense of irony. I like to have fun with style and take random references to play around. I don't take it too seriously. I like my Italian designers. I feel like they look good on me. I can’t pull off a lot of, you know, Margiela. But I can wear like double Pucci, some old Versace, noughties Valentino. I have a lot of Dolce e Gabanna but I'll also add in new designers from London like Sophia Webster and Ryan Lo. I like to mix it up a bit.

LS: Do you see the way you get dressed and the way you present yourself as about reclaiming girliness and taking ownership of it? Or is it just the aesthetics that you like? Is there an element where you are saying something about how you feel as a woman?

LM: Yeah, I’ve always sort of enjoyed very glamorous, successful women. Like a woman being glam and making it - I really like that idea. So I’ve always looked up to strong women who are also quite glam and girly. That's quite interesting to me, those two things combined. Think Erin Brockovich!

LS: It's interesting this idea that for a long time, for women to be taken seriously, they had to dress in either a minimal way or in a way that echoed a man. So it's interesting that you say you admire strong women who are successful almost despite their femininity. So I guess to dress in a way that's really really girly but be really smart, there is something about that which still makes people feel slightly uncomfortable. You even get it with how female politicians are treated if they’re wearing something thats super fashion-y, people almost act like that's at odds with them being smart. I guess there is something empowering about saying, 'I can be really interested in fashion and wear really girly stuff but I’m still really clever.'

LM: Definitely. I think that's what a lot of girls are quite interested in as well.

LS: Do you ever worry though, because obviously you’ve thought about that side and the strong attitude that comes with it but you mention those young kids shopping in Topshop - do you worry sometimes when they’re wearing something that's super super sickly sweetly feminine, that they’re not thinking about that side, that they’re not trying to present themselves as strong women and they do just end up looking like a sex object to a boy?

LM: I feel like this way of dressing isn't about men at all actually, it's about girls being girls and they do it for themselves. I think sex has nothing to do with it. It feels quite cute and innocent to me and all about dressing up to be a girl and feel empowered. I think everyone should do whatever they want. If you’re going to be clever with it, and reference this, that and the other then great! If not.. and you just happened to like looking the way you do then go for it too. Who cares? Fashion is for fantasy and to feel good, so we shouldn't judge others so much on their reference points. I don’t think we should look at women and be like, ‘are you thinking about what you’re wearing?’ Don’t think about what you’re wearing, I say! That's even better. They shouldn't have to consider it so much and worry what other people will think about them.

LS: It's almost rejecting this idea that how you dress says anything about you, because obviously if you’re a grown woman, you’re really smart and you’re dressed like a child, it doesn’t mean you are a child. It doesn’t mean you’re immature.

LM: Yes! And also, who cares what anyone else thinks?