Monday, May 28, 2018

A Month of Outfits

We finally got Spring, but then fast-forwarded to Summer in the space of a couple of weeks (too soon, Mother Nature, too soon!!).  The air conditioning has been on the fritz at work since the beginning of May (we haven't had any hot water either), so dressing for work is proving to be a real challenge in 30+ degree temperatures (that's celsius, or in the 90's for you fahrenheit people).  I have nothing exciting to report, so here are some outfits I wore this month. 

All the photos below were taken on my phone, which accounts for the slight blur and the crappy colours on the ones taken indoors.

giant cotton dress from From Mars

This dress is actually blue and white, not sure why the stripes on the front look grey.  I blame the crappy camera on my phone.  Anyway, it was sooo comfortable to wear, and I took every opportunity to put my hands in my pockets and swish from side to side to show off the volume of the dress. 

layers of linen all purchased at From Mars

This was what I wore earlier in the week, at the start of the heat wave.  I realized that most of my summer wardrobe consists of oversized linen pieces in black, grey or blue.  They are very comfortable to wear, but after a few hours of sitting, I look like I slept in my clothes (and I look like I'm just waking up from a nap).  I love linen, just not the wrinkles.

t-shirt dress over cotton skirt, both thrifted from Talize

Another "baby, it's hot inside" outfit which inspired a 20's flapper feeling because of the shape.  Shoes are Fly London.

cropped sweatshirt and textured skirt thrifted from Talize, "sleeves" made from a pair of knee socks and leggings from The Purple Puddle

This is one of my favourite outfits I wore this month, back when it was cooler.  I like the mix of black and white patterns, and the sweatshirt is actually a light blue, with puffed sleeves.

silver pants from the sale rack at H&M, sparkle tunic from From Mars

An outfit from the start of the month, when it was starting to warm up, and we saw the sun for several days in a row.  I went to an opening of an art exhibit with a friend and took a moment to take in some rays.

no post is complete without a gratuitous cat photo

This long and lithe kitty often visits my porch in the summer and this was the first time he was over this year.  My Sylvester is not cat-friendly, and despite the best efforts of this guy to try to make friends through the window, Sylvester (who is just out of sight on the other side of the glass) was not having any of it.  He even balanced on the back of my porch rocking chair in an attempt to get closer to the window.  A+ for effort!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Yayoi Kusama at the AGO - Feel Forever (or at least as long as it takes to get a selfie)

When it comes to visual art, it seems the preference of the current social media generation is for an experience that is both participatory, and instagram-worthy.   There could not be a better example of this than the exhibit Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario. 

The AGO began promoting the heck out of this show last year, and the frenzy that has resulted around getting tickets has made the exhibit Toronto's MUST SEE experience of 2018 (Toronto is the only Canadian stop on the tour).  I was familiar with Kusama's work before the show had been announced, and I admit I got caught up in the hoopla.  I got a membership to the AGO and when member's tickets went on sale in December, I waited 5 hours in a "virtual waiting room" to snag a coveted ticket. And that was just the start of the waiting I would have to do in order to see the show.

Yayoi Kusama - source

So who is Yayoi Kusama?  The 89 year old Japanese artist, is the current "it girl" of the art world when it comes to pulling in viewers.   You may only know her as the woman who loves polka dots and pumpkins, and wears bright orange, pink or red wigs.   The contemporary artist works in the mediums of painting, sculpture, collage, film, poetry and fiction and has been called a "worldwide phenomenon".   In 1993 Kusama became the first woman to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale.

The prevailing themes of Kusuma's art grew out of what could easily be called a very difficult childhood.  She began experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations as a young child, which continued into adulthood.  The themes of repetition, obsession, obliteration, infinity, and mortality which appear in her art today can be traced back to the drawing she made as a child trying to cope with her illness.   In her early 20's she was diagnosed with cenesthophathy, a syndrome where patients complain of abnormal or strange body sensations which are medically unexplainable.  When her illness got worse, she voluntarily moved into a mental institution, where she has lived, by choice for the last 50 years, leaving to work during the day in her studio which is located within walking distance. 

There is no mention made of Kusama's mental illness in the promotional material produced by the AGO, nor in the historical photos, quotes and information tidbits scattered around the gallery to give you something to read while you are waiting in line.  The exhibit is curated by Mika Yoshitake, an expert on Japanese Contemporary Art, and when she was asked in an interview why there was not more focus on the role that Kusama's illness plays in her art, Yoshitake said she preferred to have the work speak for itself instead of filtering it through Kusama's personal struggles.  I think there was a missed opportunity to use her illness as a catalyst for a connection with the larger community during the exhibit run.

Kusama studied art in Japan, and to escape the oppression of her family, who did not want her to be a artist, she moved to the United States in 1957, first living in Seattle, and then moving to New York in 1958.  Her time in New York was spent living in poverty, and moving in the same circles as artist like Andy Warhol.   She began making what would be later known as her "net" paintings, covering great expanses of canvas with small, comma-like strokes. 

An infinity net painting from 1961.  Instead of painting coloured arcs on a dark background, as she did in her earlier net paintings, Kusama painted black "scales" on a red background, giving the painting a snakeskin-like surface.

Dots Obsession XZQBA from 2007

 The painting above combines the monocromatic colour scheme of Kusuma's early Net paintings with the iconic polka dots she later became synonymous with.

I asked another woman at the exhibit to take a photo of me next to a portrait of Kusama from the late 60's - early 70's. 
photo from a rooftop performance in New York in 1970

While in the United States in the 1960's, Kusama organized "Happenings", in protest of the Vietnam war, in which she promoted a sense of connection through "self obliteration".   Kusama and other participants would paint polka dots on each other's naked bodies with the intent to create a kind of equality and obliterate the ego .

 Detail of Ennui from 1976 featuring soft phallic sculptures and shoes, coated with silver paint
Sculptures in the shape of phalluses appear frequently in Kusama's art - when she was a child, her mother suspected that her father was having an affair, and forced young Yayoi to spy on him and his lover, which left her with a great fear and anxiety about sex.  In the 1960's, as a form of self-therapy, Kusama began making phallic "soft sculptures" which she then used to cover items such as a rowboat, and a baby carriage.

Life (Repetitive Vision), from 1998 features a "garden" of phallic soft sculptures

The exhibit includes some of Kusama's early works on paper, paintings, collages and sculptures, but the focus is on her celebrated "Infinity Mirror Rooms".  The Infinity rooms evolved from Kusama's philosophy of obliteration and her self-proclaimed "huge adoration for the concept of infinity".  When in one of the small mirrored rooms (there are six in the exhibit) surrounded by polka dot phalluses, multi-coloured tiny lights, or illuminated polka-dotted pumpkins, you can see yourself recede into the distance, getting smaller and smaller until eventually you disappear.  

Phalli's Field (and an infinite number of Shelleys)

Phalli's field, the oldest infinity room in the exhibit, was Kusama's first use of mirrors as a device for repetition.  She has said she grew tired of sewing the red polka dot phalluses and decided to use the mirrors to create the illusion of an endless field of them.   This is the first infinity room that a visitor to the exhibit enters, and knowing that I could spend only 20 seconds in the room I had a moment of panic:  Do I take a photo of the room? Do I try to just take it all in with my eyes? How do I best capture this moment?  I did end up taking a photo (see above).

 Love Forever, Infinity Room

Love Forever is a hexagonal shaped room, mirrored on all sides, with peepholes that allow you and a second viewer on the other side to see yourselves repeated into infinity.  That's me, holding my camera in my hand in the middle square near the top of the photo.

Dots Obsession - Love Transformed into Dots 2007
A room filled with giant, inflated pink and black polka dotted vinyl balls on the floor and suspended from the ceiling pretty much begs you to roll them around and bump up against them, but alas, the signs said "don't touch the artwork".  I did bump into one of the ones on the floor by accident, causing it to move towards me, and I looked around to make sure no one thought I was trying to cause trouble.   The largest ball contained a small infinity room of smaller versions of itself, but I spent my allowed 20 seconds taking a requested photo of two women in the room with me, so I don't remember much about it.  More interesting was a smaller hard plastic ball with a peephole that allowed you to view a silver orb suspended inside it...

There was no lineup to look inside the ball, so I was able to look at the fascinating kaleidoscope of small silver orbs for almost as long as I wanted.    This may be why this was one of my favourite pieces in the show.   

Photos do not capture the magic of what you see when you are inside one of the infinity rooms; they have to be experienced in person.  Visitors were not allowed to take photos inside my favourite of the infinity rooms, All The Eternal Love I Have For The Pumpkins (a gallery volunteer joined you in the room to ensure you didn't try to sneak a selfie), and for me it was the most enjoyable experience, partly because you were allowed 10 extra seconds in this one, and also because there was nothing to distract you from the fairy tale scene before you.  The darker, upside-down view of the polka dotted pumpkins on the mirrored ceiling was just as fascinating as the happier, brighter ones in front and below you.  I could have easily remained entranced for several minutes if we hadn't been informed that "time's up"! 

The exhibit includes works from the artist's most recent painting series My Eternal Soul (2009 - present).  The paintings incorporate vibrant colours and Kusama's signature polka dot motif along with amoeba and eye-shaped forms, and the titles reference love, life, birth and death.  Boldly colourful sculptures accompany the paintings.  It was disappointing to see that many viewers ignored the other artworks in the exhibit in an effort to get a perfect selfie in one of the mirror rooms.

 Obliteration Room

Viewer participation reaches a peak in the Obliteration Room, which starts out as a large, pure white room and "exterior" courtyard, complete with white furniture and household items.  During the run of the exhibit, viewers are invited to cover the surfaces in the rooms with colourful polka dot stickers provided by the gallery.  And afterwards, you can exit through the gift shop where you can satisfy your craving for all the polka dot-covered merchandise you could ever imagine.

Narcissus Garden

In addition to the two floors of the gallery devoted to the Infinity Mirrors exhibit, the AGO has also included the additional installation of Kusama's Narcissus Garden.  1,300 stainless steel balls cover the floor of the Signy-Eaton Gallery.  The work was created in 1966 and originally installed at the Venice Biennale that year along with a sign reading "Your Narcissism for Sale", indicating the balls were for sale at $2 each.

"The silver ball is also representative of the moon, of sunshine, of peace.  In essence it symbolizes
the union of man and nature.  When the people see their own reflection multiplied to infinity they 
then sense that there is no limit to man's ability to project himself into endless space."
Yayoi Kusama, 1966

As I came to the end of the exhibit, I asked myself if all the waiting was worth it.  I had the extra challenge of having come down with a stomach bug the night before, which meant an added stress of knowing where the closest washroom was at all times.  The art itself is in turns fascinating, mesmerizing, and often beautiful, and given that the opportunity to experience the exhibit is not available to everyone, I was glad I was able to see it in person.  However, that said, it was definitely not one of my best viewing experiences.  I do not like being told how long I am allowed to look at a piece of art, and this was the major quibble I had with the exhibit .   I could understand, and deal with, the lineups to get into the show, and the lineups to enter each of the infinity rooms, but 20 seconds is absolutely not enough time to enjoy, and register the experience, especially when you are forced to share a small space with two other people, at least one of whom is busy snapping photos.  I realize that the more time people are allowed to spend in the rooms, the longer the lineups to get in, but I wonder how I would have felt about the experience had I been able to spend 45 seconds to a minute in each room.   

Yayoi Kusuma: Infinity Mirrors is at the Art Gallery of Ontario until May 27th.  Good luck getting a ticket - aside from a few "same day" tickets that may be available, they're all sold out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Hat, A Poet and A Pair of Shoes

 The Hat...

Once upon a time, in a conservative, Southwestern Ontario city, there lived a women who loved hats.  She loved looking at hats, the more dramatic and unusual, the better.  She loved to see other women wearing hats, and had several friends who lived in other cities who wore hats every day.   When she travelled, she enjoyed visiting hat stores and vintage shops where she would try on hats and picture herself wearing them on the weekend, or on an evening out.  She wanted to be one of those women who wore a hat with confidence and panache. "This is the one!" she would think, the one that I WILL wear, only to take it home and find that it sat on the top of her wardrobe, or in a hat box, admired, but unworn.   It turns out that she loved the idea of hats, and what they represented, more than wearing the hats themselves.

Occasionally, she would find a hat that was simple, but still had a bit of drama, went with many of her outfits, and did not make her feel uncomfortable or self-conscious when she wore it.

It's like a beret, only with more structure.  Wool felt hat from The Sentimentalist

Enjoying some sun on my face, wearing some of my favourite black and grey pieces.  Waxed cotton vest and faux leather leggings from From Mars, ribbon-laced Doc Martens purchased in New York.

These photos were taken at the end of February when we had a brief spell of very spring-like weather, and I could get away with wearing a lighter coat.  I found the vintage wool coat at Blue Pepper Vintage closing sale.  There was either something very interesting going on in the sky to my right, or, more likely, I discovered that if I tilt my head upwards, it gets rid of that annoying "soft and wrinkly" neck in my photos.

The Poet....

I was thrilled to learn that Canadian poet bill bissett was going to be in London to do a reading at one of our local branch libraries.  bill and I have known each other for about 30 years, and while we don't see each other very often, he has always been one of my favourite people.  He has a sweet and gentle spirit, a lovely sense of humour, and for all the challenges (including a severe head injury in the 1960's, and two recent heart surgeries) he has faced in his life, retains a positive and optimistic outlook.  bill, whose sound and concrete poems at one time earned him praise from Jack Kerouac, is the author of more than 60 books of poetry, and is also a painter and musician.  His poetry can be challenging to read as he has abandoned all use of capitals, punctuation, and conventional spelling, but it is a joy to listen to him read his own work.  You can find the words of one of the earliest poems I every read of his, "Cooking Carrot Soup" here, and there are several videos of him reading his poetry on Youtube.

The Shoes....

I was contacted by a representative of Calla Shoes, a start-up company in the UK that sells stylish shoes designed specifically for women who have bunions.  The founder of the company, a woman who has bunions herself, wanted to provide heels were both stylish and comfortable to wear, and that protect and conceal bunions.  They noticed I mentioned I suffer from bunions in one of my blog posts, and offered me a pair of shoes from their website to try them out.   Since I don't wear heels, and for now, the two styles they carry are heeled pumps and ballet flats, I went with a pair of grey suede ballet flats.  The shoes arrived from the UK in record time, beautifully packaged.  They are a nice looking shoe, with a comfortable cushioned insole, and they fit, in that the wider front did accommodate and conceal my bunions, but unfortunately, because my foot is also fairly wide in the middle, the sides of the shoes bulged and my foot slipped out when I walked.  I have never been able to wear ballet flats because of the shape of my feet, and the need for more support than they provide, and I was hoping these might be the exception to the rule, but alas, not.  I contacted the company to get instructions on how to return the shoes, and they generously suggested I gift them to someone else. 

As it happens, they fit my bestie's feet perfectly (she and I both wear a size 10, but she doesn't have bunions), and she quite liked them, so they found a good home after all!  Thanks very much to Calla Shoes, for letting me try their product, and for letting me re-gift them.   If you have bunions and haven't been able to find heels that you can wear, take a look at their website.

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.