‘ I like wear­ing dead peo­ple’s clothes’

The Dublin city coun­cil­lor is a sharp dresser and has some sharp words on the style of his fel­low politi­cians, writes Deirdre McQuil­lan

The Irish Times Magazine - - FASHION - PHO­TO­GRAPHS: BRENDA FITZSIMONS

Dublin city coun­cil­lor Man­nix Flynn is a sharp ob­server and a sharp dresser, out­spo­ken, ar­tic­u­late and in­de­pen­dent, with force­ful views on a va­ri­ety of sub­jects, not least on sar­to­rial at­tire. Au­thor, artist and play­wright, his back­ground has been well- doc­u­mented – how he was one of a fam­ily of 15 who grew up i n a two- bed­room coun­cil flat on Dublin’s Mercer Street be­fore a long pe­riod of in­car­cer­a­tion in var­i­ous State in­sti­tu­tions. Af­ter a de­scent into al­co­holism, he re­con­sti­tuted his life in the late 1990s, be­came an ac­tor, writer and ac­tivist and got in­volved in pol­i­tics and to­day rep­re­sents the south- east in­ner city.

Not many may be aware of the fact that in the 1980s he was part of the Colony Room set in Lon­don’s Soho, the bo­hemian pri­vate mem­bers’ bar pa­tro­n­ised by the artis­tic elite whose mem­bers in­cluded Fran­cis Ba­con, Ge­orge Melly and Peter O’Toole. Through his var­i­ous con­tacts in the art world, Flynn ended up man­ag­ing Scott Crolla and Ge­orgina God­ley’s Sav­ile Row fash­ion em­po­rium, a mag­net at the time for New Ro­man­tics. “We were sub­vert­ing the tra­di­tions of Sav­ile Row and sell­ing the look to yup­pies,” God­ley re­cently re­called. The ex­pe­ri­ence would have height­ened Flynn’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion of mod­ish tai­lor­ing.

It was all a far cry from York Street and Sun­day best. “Sun­day best was de­fined by the church. On Monday, Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, the clothes went to the pawn shop and were then taken out for Sun­day best, Con­fir­ma­tion, Holy Com­mu­nion – the good suit and the good boots,” Flynn re­calls. “I knew the value of a good coat – it has to do with pres­ence and pride. And it’s about self- con­fi­dence and self- re­flec­tion – you look in the mir­ror and that’s what’s in­ter­est­ing.”

Pres­ence is a word that crops up many times dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion, in which his ref­er­ences range from the Bi­ble, the an- cient Ir­ish , Car­avag­gio and Michelan­gelo, to Saoirse Ro­nan’s ac­cent and Woody Allen. Flynn’s mother, Chrissie nee Gant­ley ( whose im­age is cur­rently on dis­play along­side fe­male lead­ers of the Ir­ish re­bel­lion on Par­lia­ment Street) was a street fruit seller on Cam­den Street “and the way these women dressed go­ing out to sell was all part of my sen­si­bil­ity and talk of who was com­ing back from Amer­ica and the kind of clothes they had and the stuff that came out of Brown Thomas or Gore­vans and the lo­cal drap­ery shops – all these were in­flu­ences. My suits were tai­lored be­cause ev­ery shop had a tailor then,” he re­calls.

He is watch­ful and ob­ser­vant, a flâneur of a kind. “Some­times I stand in the street for an hour watch­ing some­one like [ the hair­dresser] David Mar­shall work­ing around a cus­tomer like a bal­let dancer or sculp­tor. To­day, Sat­ur­day is the new Sun­day – it is a whole lit­tle num­ber for some – they have their push bikes and their bas­kets ( with noth­ing in them) and they float around in their out­fits on Satur­days,” he com­ments wryly.

A shrewd shop­per with a keen eye for a bar­gain for a “proper work­ing out­fit”, he shops ev­ery­where – in Brown Thomas, Arnotts, Louis Copeland, Dunnes Stores ( easy- iron shirts), char­ity shops and Sav­ile Row –“if I see a good suit and get good value. Most of the shoes that I have are 10 years’ old – Crocker & Jones last a life­time. Ar­mani, Gucci and Boss will catch your eye – I saw a beau­ti­fully cut Dolce & Gab­bana coat in Brown Thomas at the end of the boom and it looked so beau­ti­ful. You could roll it in the mud and it would still look beau­ti­ful. You take these cos­tumes and make them your own and the key to wear­ing clothes is never dress to hide, but to en­hance. They know me in Brown Thomas and know what I am look­ing for and I will try a few things and come back. I watch the Chi­nese com­ing in and go­ing ba­nanas buy­ing bags and on the phone as if on the stock ex­change – at the same mo­ment I have some­one scream­ing at me on my phone about plan­ning per­mis­sion.” He is an en­ter­tain­ing, elo­quent and un­stop­pable talker, a prac­tised per­former.

To­day, he is wear­ing a hand­some 1920s’ black dou­ble- breasted coat from a sec­ond- hand shop on Capel Street (“I like wear­ing dead peo­ple’s clothes”) with black side- striped trousers from Brown Thomas, re­fur­bished sec­ond- hand shoes from Wild Child, a shirt bought five years ago in Barcelona and a Swedish jumper from Indigo & Cloth. That mix of high- end with clas­sic, vin­tage and sec­ond- hand is his style. “If you have a good shirt, no mat­ter what state it is i n, i t will hold and men no­tice these things.”

One per­son for whom he has huge ad­mi­ra­tion is weather fore­caster Jean Byrne. He has taken thou­sands of pho­tos of her on TV for an art­work “be­cause you are look­ing at Ire­land. She has rad­i­calised the weather, changed every­thing. So here is Jean telling us about a gale force 10 on the way and we are glued to the cos­tume- cut striped S& M biker gear that looks like she’s off the rails. So we bat­ten down the hatches while we’re drool­ing at the mouth. In­stead of rep­re­sent­ing the weather, she is rep­re­sent­ing her­self, clever and smart and now it is not the weather, it is who is de­liv­er­ing the weather re­port. Through her clothes, she has be­come a sen­sa­tion.”

There was no Jean Byrne, no TV in his child­hood. “The first re­la­tion­ship you have is with your clothes. When we were chil­dren, we needed to get our clothes in the morn­ing, get on our ar­mour and get out the door as quickly as we could. I now de­cide in the morn­ing what I am go­ing to wear. I want to be com­fort­able and go about my busi­ness. These rit­u­als are part of the work­ing day and I rep­re­sent the peo­ple who have elected me and I want to give them the best with the best sen­si­bil­ity so I will never turn up un­shaven.”

His lat­est project is a feature doc­u­men­tary called Land With­out God, which took him 15 years to write and five years to film us­ing first- hand wit­nesses, land­scape and po­etry and is, he says, about how to exit trauma, “a State doc­u­ment with global rel­e­vance”. It will be pre­miered in Oc­to­ber next year.

Right: Cllr Man­nix Flynn in a Prince of Wales check suit made in Tai­wan by Jimmy Wang in 2004, with a Canali over­coat bought in a Brown Thomas sale for his birth­day. Green knot tie from Kennedy & McSharry ( in their orig­i­nal shop on Nas­sau Street); left: Steel blue Tiger of Swe­den suit bought in a Brown Thomas sale, re­duced to ¤ 500 from ¤ 2,000.

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