Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Style Inspiration From Neo

I saw the sci-fi film The Matrix when it was released in 1999, and while the film was chock full of amazing visuals, the thing that stuck with me the most was the costumes.  After watching that film,  I wanted a long, dramatic black coat like the one worn by Neo (played by Keanu Reeves, see image below), and wished I could rock a shiny, pvc one-piece like the character Trinity (on far right). 

Better late than never, I always say....

I'm past my pvc catsuit-wearing days, but I can definitely rock a dramatic coat

I spent two days in Toronto in early November and for part of that time I hung out with fellow blogger, Suzanne Carillo.  As we are both avid thrift shoppers, we had to fit in a visit to her local Talize.  I always go for the coat section first, and at one point I pulled out a large, very wrinkled black wool and nylon thing.  It didn't look like much (in fact, it looked like it had spent some time rolled up into a ball in the bottom of someone's closet) but it seemed like good quality, and I was intrigued enough to try it on.  It fit like a dream, so despite the dust and the wrinkles, it showed true potential.  A trip to the dry cleaners later, and it revealed its true, glorious self.   The brand is Creenstone, which was not one I was familiar with, so some research was in order.  Turns out it is a high end "outerwear specialist" based in the Netherlands, and their coats retail for $400 - $800.  Was I excited?  You Betcha, especially when I paid less than $20 for it.

It's a perfect weight for those "just above freezing" days, and the nylon "skirt" of the coat billows behind me when I walk, which makes me feel like the start of my own movie.

The curved lines in the back are incredibly flattering, and when you throw in the zipper and metal snaps on the sleeves you add a level of bad-assery to an already gorgeous coat.

It even has a light nylon hood that is concealed in the thick, standup collar.  I left the background unedited in this photo so you could see just how boring and colourless it was.  It definitely did not suit such a fabulous coat, so I had some fun playing around with the paint brush in Photoshop.

Excuse me, but I'm off to the Matrix to kick some ass.  See you next time.

Monday, February 19, 2018

God is in the Details - the Designs of Christian Dior

I had planned to visit the exhibit "Christian Dior", currently on view at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, in mid-January, but my plans were derailed by the flu.  I was finally able to go on a Friday in February, and there is nothing better on a cold and snowy day than being inside, looking at pretty things.

Delphine - a silk cocktail dress from 1956 designed by Christian Dior

Christian Dior was born in 1905 in a small town in the north of France.  His father was a wealthy businessman and moved the family to Paris when Dior was five years old.  There Dior developed a passion for art, and as a young boy sold fashion sketches to people on the street for extra pocket money.  Dior wanted to be an architect, but his father wanted him to become a diplomat, so he studied Political Science.  After he graduated from university, his father provided the funds for Dior to open a small art gallery in 1928, which he was forced to close in 1931 after the collapse of his father's business.  He found work with fashion designer Robert Piguet until he was called into the military in 1940.  After two years of military service Dior returned to Paris to work with couturier Lucien LeLong.  In 1946, he opened the House of Dior, although 1947, when he showed his first collection, is considered to be the official founding date.

The exhibit, sponsored by Holt Renfrew, marks the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the House of Dior in Paris.  The focus is on the decade of 1947 - 1957, when Dior debuted his first collection, which Harper's Bazaar called "The New Look".  The Second World War had ended, and the practical, utilitarian style of clothing women had been wearing was replaced with soft shoulders, full skirts that emphasized tiny waists, luxurious fabrics, and beautiful embellishments.  As part of the structure of this "New Look", Dior also revived the art of cut, shaped, and boned corsetry, which raised the bust, flattened the stomach, and accentuated the waist and hips.  

The Caracas late afternoon dress (above, and in black worn by Sophia Loren) is a perfect example of the extreme feminine shape of the "New Look".  The neckline was very flattering, revealing the shoulders and decollete, and the lines draw the eye upwards to the wearer's face.  The corseted waist and extremely full skirt creates an hourglass figure.

The "New Look" shape demanded a great deal from the wearer - the dresses contained miles of fabric, making them heavy, and the interior corsetry made it difficult to breath.  While not a fan of the extreme shape, I do appreciate the exquisite details that Dior incorporated into his designs - embroidery, beading, draping, and architectural necklines.

Day and Afternoon dresses

The exhibit fills one large room, with dresses displayed on mannequins on two central islands, with accessories, notebooks and fabric samples in glass cases along the walls.  The 38 dresses on display are from the ROM's own archives, and were donated to the museum by Toronto and Montreal socialites.

Dior's interest in architecture can be seen in necklines such as the one on this two piece day dress from 1950.

 I was fascinated by the complex design of this suit jacket, from 1949, which has a second front panel that forms the large breast pockets with the extremely high pocket flaps.  

Detail of beading and embroidery on Palmyre, an evening dress from 1952 worn by Toronto socialite Dorothy Boylen

The dresses were vintage, but the ROM makes use of modern technology in the exhibit by providing touch screens mounted on stands that provide details about the dresses, including name (Dior named his dresses), fabric, year, original fitting model, construction details, as well as quotes and photos of the original owner if available.

Details for the frothy, fairy princess ball gown, Vénus, which was purchased for Marvis B. Powell's debut in 1949.

The dress itself, embroidered with 10 different beads and sequins, including iridescent "feather" sequins.  I thought it was such a shame that this gorgeous creation was worn only once.

Not all of Dior's dresses had full skirts.  The two designs above - Saadi on the left, and Rose France on the right, both from 1947 - show how the choice of fabric, embellishment and exquisite draping could result in something just as flattering and feminine as a full-skirted ballgown.

My favourite pieces in the show were a pair of exquisite evening jackets.  The one above, from 1948, was purchased in Toronto and worn by socialite Lillian Weiss.  The embroidery includes 8 kinds of gilt and silver thread, and 12 varieties of mother-of-pearl and silvered beads, coloured stones, crystals, and sequins.

The second jacket, named Tour Eiffel, from Spring 1949, is made of silk satin lined with cotton lace.

The fabulous three dimensional effect in the lining was created by the highly skilled women who worked at Maison Rébé, owned by René Bégué.  The house embroidered haute couture fashions and accessories for many design houses.

The other source for the hand embroidery on Dior's designs was Maison Hurel.  Above is an embroidery sample for a floral evening dress from 1950 featuring Chantilly lace, pearlized beads, Swarovski crystals and applied silk floral petals.

The exhibit included notebooks and registers of fabrics and embellishments used in Dior's designs.  The book above recorded the information for setting up the loom to make velvet ribbons for the company Giron Frères.  By the 19th century the art of designing and weaving ribbons was centred in France.

Staron was an established and important French luxury textile manufacturing firm, and a key supplier of textiles to the House of Dior.  The notebook above belonged to Claude Staron, and listed all of his textiles that were used in Dior's Spring-Summer 1957 collection.

The exhibit featured some of the shoes that Roger Vivier had designed for Dior.  The pair at the top are a "morning shoe" featuring a new rounded heel, while the ones on the bottom are an "afternoon shoe".  The description noted that "Dior preferred practical low heels for morning and taller ones as the day progressed and became more formal".   Somehow I don't think that Dior would have approved of my "Doc Martens for any time of day" philosophy.

The lily of the valley was Christian Dior's lucky flower and he always kept a sprig with him.  The flower featured heavily in his perfumes, and was also the theme for the set of costume jewellery above, made by Maison Gripoix in 1950, and on loan from Toronto collector and dealer Carol Tanenbaum.

In 1951, the President of Holt Renfrew secured the exclusive Canadian rights to sell Christian Dior haute couture in the eight Holt Renfrew stores around the country. To reinforce this agreement, the store sewed a special label into the garments that linked the two companies together.

Christian Dior died in Italy in 1957, at the age of 52.  At the time of his death, his house was earning upwards of 20 million dollars annually.  His bold, post-war designs revolutionized the fashion industry and the House of Dior continues to be an influential design house in Paris today.  If you are interested in reading more about Dior and his designs, the exhibit's curator, Alexandra Palmer, has written a book, Christian Dior: History & Modernity, 1947 - 1957, which will be published later this year.    

Christian Dior continues at the ROM until March 18th.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Betwixt & Between the Monsters We Dream

I'm starting to accept that the month of January is a complete write-off, health-wise, for me.  Every year,  I head back to work after the Christmas break, determined to stay healthy, and every year, that goal is thwarted by the hoards of germs circulating on the bus and in the office, and my own crappy immune system.  This year, instead of the usual cold-that-becomes-pneumonia, I got the flu (I do get the flu shot every year). I missed a week of work, was exhausted for another week, felt human again and promptly got bronchitis.  I'm pleased to report that after a round of drugs, I'm pretty much back to my regular tired-but-not-sick self.  I was feeling so chuffed about not hacking up my lungs that I went out, on a school night, to the opening of an amazing art show.

The Shadowood Collective is a group show held at The Arts Project, curated by Sarah Legault and Vincent Marcone (aka My Pet Skeleton) that celebrates the work of artists who take a walk on the dark side.  This year's show, titled "Betwixt & Between the Monsters We Dream",  features work by 23 artists, including Troy Brooks, Anita Kunz, Juliana Kolesova, My Pet Skeleton, Allen Williams, Ryan Price, Richard A. Kirk, Anthony Veilleux, Sarah Legault, Jeremy Hobbs, and Nidia Martinez.

The show's co-curator, Vincent Marcone (who works under the name My Pet Skeleton) stands next to his poster design for the film, The Wasp Woman ( a real film from 1959 no longer covered by copyright laws) .  I commented to Marcone that the women in his art are always very beautiful, but with an edge of "creepy" that makes them look like they do not take shit from anyone.  He agreed that this was the look he was going for. 

"The House on the Hill", by My Pet Skeleton.

In an interview with Tourism London,  Marcone commented that the work in the show is "whimsical, slightly gothic, and dark; but I think a lot of it lives in fairy tale."

Co-curator Sarah Legault always looks so cool and composed when I have photographed her at events and this time I asked her to relax a little.

Two of Legault's pieces in the show:  on the left, "Red", and on the right, 'Growth", a polymer clay and mixed media art doll.

Anthony Veilleux (the guy with the teeth on his shirt) is a talented local artist who works in many mediums, including sculpture, drawing, painting, special effects makeup for film and television, and tattoo ink.  On the right is one of his sculptures in the show, "March Hare".

As much as I'm not a huge fan of parties, I enjoy going to art exhibit opening events for the opportunity they give to chat to the artists.  I had admired Juliana Kolesova's piece "The Children" (on the wall to her left) and purchased the smaller version from the wall of miniatures early in the evening.  When I saw a very stylish woman wearing fabulous earrings and Trippen boots, I stopped to admire her outfit and learned she was the artist of the piece I had purchased. 

Another piece of Kolesova's work from a series of photographs inspired by ethnic spiritual dances, "BLACK PLAY WITH WHITE SPIRITS". 

The Shadowood Collective exhibit (there have been 7 previous shows in the series) is one of my favourite shows hosted by The Arts Project.  The caliber of the work, combined with the gothic, almost fairytale-like themes, means there are usually quite a few pieces I would like to be able to take home with me.  Almost half the exhibit consists of a wall hung with 90, 3.75" square, framed miniature prints that are priced at $50 for the framed piece, or $40 for the print alone.  This is an excellent idea as it means that one doesn't have to forgo paying the rent for the month in order to take home a piece from a favourite artist.

Another one of my favourites - "Vampire" by Anita Kunz, whose work has been seen on the covers of publications like Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Time,  and Newsweek.  Her work has also been exhibited in group and solo shows around the world, and in 2003, she became the first woman, and the first Canadian, to have a solo show at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

Award-winning illustrator, concept designer and fine artist, Allen Williams, created the piece above titled "Serpentine".   Williams' client list includes various film studios, book publishers, and even film maker Guillermo del Toro, who is a also fan of a number of other artists featured in the show.

This guy was exited to see his very own "mini-me" in the show  (created by Sarah Legault)

 Nidia Martinez, who teaches in the Fashion Design Program at Fanshawe College, is also part of the Shadowood Collective and has created dramatic pieces of wearable art for previous shows.   Some of the pieces created for this year paid tribute to the designer's cousin, an author who passed away last year.  Martinez included handwritten pieces of text from her cousin's published work on pieces of fabric incorporated into the designs.

In a sea of mostly black, this woman in her red velvet shawl and various shades of blue made a lovely pop of colour.  I later discovered that we knew each other, and that her husband had purchased one of my favourite pieces in the show as a gift for her. 

Here I am in front of the piece by Toronto artist Troy Brooks, titled "Bumble Sonnet for Saint Lucifer", that I loved, and is now owned by the woman in the previous photo.  His pale, elongated, and rather haughty-looking women are a signature of his work.  I'm attempting to emulate the elegant hand pose of the subject in the painting, at the same time, showing off the sleeve of my thrifted top which is embellished with embroidered "feathers".

Betwixt & Between the Monsters We Dream is at The Arts Project in London, Ontario until February 17th. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Vagina is 50 Times Better Than a Penis......

Let's kick off 2018 with some women-centric humour, shall we?  I'd recommend not listening to this at work....

Happy New Year, Y'all

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Momentary Lapse of Reason

It all started when I saw this photo of Anna, of Anna's Island Style, wearing this pair of pants she found at Zara (not linking because I don't love)

Before I tell the rest of this story, I need to give you a bit of background about me and pants.  I used to wear nothing but skinny black pants in my 20's and 30's.  I started wearing more skirts and dresses in my 40's but still liked to wear a great-fitting pair of pants.  Unfortunately, my waist is disproportionately larger than my mostly non-existent hips and butt, which makes finding pants that fit in both places almost impossible.   A significant weight gain over the past couple of years means that skinny pants don't look so good anymore, so I've gravitated towards higher-waisted wide leg ones.   I am always looking for stylish pants, (which oddly enough, are not so easily found in thrift stores)  that don't cost a fortune. 

When I saw the corduroy wide-leg cropped pants that Anna was wearing on her blog, I was excited until I saw that she had purchased them at Zara.   I haven't purchased anything new from a fast fashion retailer for several years.  The merchandise is poor quality, made by people who work in dangerous conditions for very little pay, and I prefer not to support an industry making items that end up in landfill by the following season.

Corduroy, high-waisted, wide leg pants from Zara

But did that stop me from becoming obsessed with these pants?  Noooooooo.  I looked at Zara's website for more details and I had to admit, they looked great on the model (as they always do), and they ticked all the boxes - corduroy (cozy), high-waisted (no muffin top), wide-legs (my favourite).  It was ridiculous to think I would go against my principles just for a pair of pants, but the more I obsessed about them (they came in several colours! ) and reminded myself about how hard it is for me to find cool pants, the more I convinced myself that there couldn't be any harm in just trying them on...

So I found myself in Zara.  There were no staff in sight, so I wandered through the racks and displays, looking for those damn pants.  I saw lots of oversized sweatshirts embellished with faux fur, fake pearls and fringe, and a lot of short skirts, but no corduroy pants.   Finally, after searching the entire store, I asked the woman guarding the fitting rooms if they had them and of course, the answer was no.   There had been a couple of similar styles I'd seen on the website that I liked, but they didn't have those either.  In fact, NOTHING I liked on the website was in stock.  ("we've been really slow in getting stock...")

To justify what was a major waste of time I decided to try some of their other pants, and a few sweatshirt style tops.  This is where it got ugly.  The pants, all size LARGE, were way too small, and the oversize sweatshirts were so oversized that they looked like shapeless sacks. The fabrics felt cheap, and everything looked like crap on me.  I felt fat and old. These are bad feelings to have when trying on clothes, and I realized that this what many women go through every time they go shopping.  I left as quickly as possible, and found myself doing what women have done time and time again when they've had a depressing shopping experience.  I went to the Lindt store (linking because I do love) and bought chocolate.   

I thought about how I feel when I go thrift shopping, and how that shopping experience is different from the one I had in Zara.   I rarely go into a Goodwill or a Talize searching for a specific item, but instead, I'm excited by the possibility of what I might find.  There are always things I like that are too small, but chances are, there will always be that one awesome thing that does fit.  And it costs $10.  And I don't feel old and fat, I just feel like me.  


Feeling good about myself, wearing thrifted velvet pants from a neighbourhood consignment store, and one of my favourite finds from my visit to Talize with Suzanne in early November, a never-worn Winnie The Pooh hoodie.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

An Alternative Nativity

This past Thursday I took a few hours off work so I could attend the official presentation of First Nations artist Kent Monkman's installation, Nativity Scene, at Museum London.  The piece was purchased for the Museum's permanent collection with funds raised by the Museum's Volunteer Committee Acquisition Fund, and was dedicated to the memory of long-time volunteer, Shelagh Martin-McLaren.  Members of Martin-McLaren's family were present at the event, as was the creator of the piece, Kent Monkman.  I have been fascinated and moved by Monkman's work since I viewed his  installation "The Rise and Fall of Civilization" at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto a couple of years ago, which I wrote about here.

Nativity Scene, above, has been on tour as part of the Canada 150 celebrations, and is part of a larger exhibit of works by Monkman titled "Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience".  The phrase 'Amor Vincit Omnia' (Love conquers All) is carved into the peak of the front piece.

Monkman, a Canadian artist of Cree and Irish ancestry, works in the mediums of painting, drawing, installation and performance to put forth an alternative, and more historically accurate, narrative of the treatment of Canadian First Nations people at the hands of European settlers.  He incorporates just enough campy, sarcastic humour into his work to act as a counterbalance to his disturbing, symbol-filled narratives.

The Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience exhibit is divided into a series of chapters narrated by Monkman's alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, a play on the phrase "mischief egotistical".   Nativity depicts Miss Chief's birth.

The three figures in the piece have Monkman's face, the artist's comment on the dioramas he has seen in many galleries and museums where the same model was used for the faces of all the Indigenous figures.

Instead of a manger, the scene is set in a Res House, where the squalid living conditions include unsafe drinking water, and over-priced, unhealthy foods.

The beaver is an important and frequent symbol in Monkman's work, representing the fur trade, and often acting as stand-ins for indigenous people in his paintings.  In the Nativity piece, beavers appear as angels, heralding Miss Chief's birth, and on a crucifix, worn by the male figure.

Monkman's painting Les Castors de Roi (The King's Beavers) is an example of beavers used as symbols, representing the slaughter of indigenous people.

 I have known the woman on the left for many years, and she is a devoted fan of Monkman's work.  She was moved to tears by the opportunity to meet him.

Nativity Scene will be on tour after this weekend, but will return to Museum London in March,  2018 to be part of their permanent collection.

Monday, November 13, 2017

At Home With Monsters

This wall-sized photo of the entrance hall of Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro's home base greets visitors to the current exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters.   Del Toro's residence (which he named Bleak House after the novel by Charles Dickens), located in Los Angeles, is home to his vast collection of art, books, and movie props.

The only thing I knew about director, screenwriter, producer and novelist Guillermo del Toro before viewing this exhibit was that his films featured freaks, outsiders and monsters (some human, some not).  I had seen several films he has written and/or directed, such as Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy and Hellboy IIPacific Rim, Blade II, and Crimson Peak.  The exhibit at the AGO features approximately 500 pieces from his personal collection of props, artifacts, art, and books and is a journey into del Toro's world of the things that move and inspire him.

This photo of del Toro (age 10) wearing a monster mask, as he pretends to attack his sister, was an interesting personal addition to the exhibit.

The exhibit is organized thematically into different galleries, the first being Childhood and Innocence.   Children are often the central figures in his films, and they are usually much smarter and more aware of what is going on around them than the adults.  In my favourite del Toro film, Pan's Labyrinth, a young girl meets several strange and magical creatures, including....

The Pale Man, one of the creepiest creatures to appear in Del Toro's films

The lifesize silicone and fibreglass models in the exhibit are amazingly detailed - above is the Faun's "Fairy bag" from Pan's Labyrinth.   

Other themes include:  Victoriana, Insects, Death and the Afterlife, Magic, Alchemy and The Occult, Outsiders, and Frankenstein and Horror.  Del Toro is extremely well-read, and finds equal appeal in comic books and Victorian literature; both feature largely in the exhibit.

The gallery dedicated to Magic, Alchemy and the Occult features a life-size figure of author H.P. Lovecraft (a favourite of del Toro) and a re-creation of the author's library.  It also included a young man playing a grand piano which created a suitably eerie ambience throughout the exhibit.

Yours truly in the comic book room, where the walls are covered with approximately 1,500 comics, on loan from Toronto comic shop, The Beguiling, where del Toro has been a customer for many years.   It is said that del Toro owns over 50,000 comic books.

Large display cabinets like the one above contain items related to the theme of the specific gallery.

The cabinet above contained items from, or inspired by, the Victorian era, including these fascinating Victorian mourning objects.

I was pleased to see that del Toro and I share an admiration for the work of New York artist Travis Louie   (the three larger black and white portraits). 

Above is a costume from Crimson Peak, a gothic romance set in the Victorian era. The colour red is a dramatic and significant colour in the film.

Del Toro's favourite space to work in Bleak House is his "Rain Room", a space that exists in a perpetual dark and stormy night.  Del Toro set up the projections and fake rain-splattered window himself.   A figure of author Edgar Allan Poe keeps him company in the room.

The Outsiders section of the exhibit includes a video of del Toro speaking about his attraction to outsiders, and the "other".  Del Toro's films feature terrifying visual monsters, but he believes that human beings can be the real monsters.  Tod Browning's 1932 film Freaks, which features real circus sideshow performers, is one of del Toro's favourite films.  It was the first film to explore a different take on the idea of the "outsider" and belonging.  In the film, so-called "normal" people behave monstrously towards people with disabilities.

del Toro owns several life-size figures from Freaks, including this one, based on Minnie Woolsey, also known as Koo Koo the Bird Girl, born with a rare condition called Seckel syndrome.

The exhibit invites viewers to add their own drawings and thoughts in answer to the question "What monsters do you embrace".

A large section of the exhibit is devoted to Frankenstein's monster, which is the most important monster in del Toro's life.  As a teenager, del Toro felt a deep connection to the Monster's outsider status.  The Frankenstein and Horror section includes the five foot long head of the monster made by Mike Hill that greets visitors to Bleak House, paintings, comic book art, and life size silicone figures.

Artist Bernie Wrightson, who was the co-creator of the comic book character Swamp Thing,  spent seven years working on an illustrated version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; a number of his illustrations, including the one above, are on display.

Detail from a tableau created by Mike Hill featuring the Monster, the Bride, and Professor Pretorius

del Toro selected pieces from the AGO collections to compliment the exhibit, and it was cool to see that he included the above illustrations from local artist Seth, one of my favourite cartoonists. 

There is so much to see - I spent over two hours wandering through the exhibit - and didn't spend as long looking at some things (like del Toro's notebooks from his films) as I would have liked.  There are televisions scattered throughout the exhibit showing clips from del Toro's films, and viewers are welcome to sit at the communal table in the comic book room and peruse a variety of comic books and copies of the book connected to the exhibit.  If you're a fan of del Toro's work, you'll love this exhibit.  If you haven't seen any of his films, but have an appreciation for the strange and the scary, you'll find lots of things to enjoy.

Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters is on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario until January 7, 2018