Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Advanced Style - The Documentary

Last night, the long-awaited Advanced Style documentary, based on the blog by Ari Seth Cohen, had its premiere at the Toronto Hot Docs Festival.  The film has been 3 years in the making, and was funded by a Kickstarter campaign.  So far, it's the only film in the festival that is sold out, which is great news for Director and Cinematographer Lina Plioplyte, Producer Ari Seth Cohen, and the six stylish senior stars of the film.   I have followed Cohen's blog for the last 4 years and have met some of the women in the film, and they are as delightful and inspiring in real life as they are on the screen.  Four of the women in the film made the trip from New York with Plioplyte and Cohen for the premiere of the film last night at the Hart House Theatre in Toronto.

The film's director, Lina Plioplyte, and producer Ari Seth Cohen shone in silver

Debra Rapoport (l) and Tziporah Salamon (r), who appear in the film

Another star of the film, Lynn Dell Cohen, aka "The Countess of Glamour" and owner of Off Broadway Boutique, was radiant in black and fuschia.  You can see my friend Donna standing up in the background over her right shoulder.

Many people came up to talk to Ari and Lina, and members of the cast, before the screening.  Lots of photos were taken, and it was great to see people of all ages who were obviously thrilled to meet the creators and stars of the film.  When I was walking to the venue I came up alongside two young women who were headed in the same direction and when I asked if they were going to see the Advanced Style Documentary, they said "Yes, and we're so excited".  

 The young woman in the black lace dress talking to Lina and Ari was just adorable - her face lit up when she saw them and she had the biggest grin on her face the whole time she was talking to them.

Clockwise from top left:  Joyce Carpati; Lynn Dell Cohen and Tziporah Salamon; Salamon with member of the audience (wearing a very cool vest); Debra Rapoport, wearing one of her trademark hats she makes from paper towels.

There was an entertaining short film screened before the Advanced Style documentary called "You Won't Regret That Tattoo" directed by Angie Bird.  Six men and women, all over 50, reminisce about tattoos they got when they were younger, or in a few cases, ones they got after they turned 50.  One lovely woman who had always wanted a tattoo ended up getting one on film.  You can watch the trailer for the film below.

 Producer and Director introduce their film

The Advanced Style documentary focuses on the day to day lives of six vibrant women living in New York, who at the time of filming, ranged in age from 62 to 93.  Tziporah Salamon, Debra Rapoport, Jacquie Tajah Murdock, Ilona Royce Smithkin, Joyce Carpati, and Lynn Dell Cohen are stylish, creative, and inspiring women who have been featured in Cohen's popular blog.  They are very different in their style choices and their backgrounds, but share a love of dressing up, and a determination to live their lives by their rules.  While it is tempting to see these particular women as leading charmed lives, the reality of what it means to be a woman over 60 living in a society where youth is worshipped is not ignored in the film.  Serious health issues, loss of family and friends, and the frustration of earning a living at an age when many people are retired are some of the challenges experienced by the cast.  Jacquie Tajah Murdock, a former dancer at the Apollo Theatre, has lost most of her sight due to glaucoma, Lynn Dell Cohen spent time in the hospital during the shooting of the film, and Ilona Royce Smithkin is shown caring for a friend with Alzheimer's disease, who passed away after the film was completed.  The film also includes a tribute to Zelda Kaplan, a funky and fabulous 95 year old socialite who passed away last year after collapsing in the front row of a fashion show at New York Fashion week.  Talk about making a grand exit.

Zelda Kaplan, who was quoted as saying her bedtime was "anytime between midnight and 7 am". 

It's easy to see the film as a promotional vehicle for Cohen and his blog, but Plioplyte keeps Cohen's presence to a minimum on screen, choosing to focus on the women themselves.  Their humour, wisdom, honesty, and eclectic personal style make them the stars.  I was touched and inspired by Ilona Royce Smithkin's revelation that she feels she's only come into her own during the last 15 years and relishes her current role as an artist and a teacher, and  I felt a kinship with the four single women in the film who muse about the possible existence of a "Mr. Right" at this point in their lives.

The only glitch in an otherwise perfect evening were the technical difficulties that caused the sound and picture being out of sync for over half the film.  When an attempt was finally made to fix the problem there was a considerable delay, so cast members from "You Won't Regret That Tattoo" were invited on stage for a Q & A, and then Cohen grabbed a microphone and chatted to some of his the films' stars.  The issue was finally resolved, but only after a couple of additional starts and stops.   The audience remained patient, and Cohen and Plioplyte kept their sense of humour, but I cringed inwardly, imagining just how frustrating and upsetting it would be for all involved to have something like that happen on the premiere of your first film.  Hopefully all future showings go smoothly.

There was a  Q & A on stage after the screening of the film.  Left to Right - Tziporah Salamon, Debra Rapoport, Joyce Carpati, Lynn Dell Cohen, Lina Piloplyte, Ari Cohen, and the host for the evening whose name I didn't get.

Audience members had questions about the women's nutrition and fitness routines (most of them are vegetarian, and all of them are very active) and how their personal style evolved.  One person asked them what their childhood selves had wanted to be when they grew up.

The elegant Joyce Carpati had wanted to be an opera singer from a young age

Debra Rapoport had always wanted to be an artist, and she creates amazing wearable art from recyclable materials.  She got very emotional when speaking about the experience of making the film.

Salamon's Prada shoes got their own shoutout from an audience member
*for those of you who wondered what I wore -the combination of pouring rain, below seasonal temperatures, and a total of 5 hours spent on a bus meant that I had to dress for comfort instead of glamour, so no photos of me with the Advanced Style ladies.

The film travels to London, England for its UK premiere on May 6th at the Curzon Mayfair Theatre.   You can find information about other upcoming events related to the film on the Advanced Style Blog.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gifted and Thrifted

After the last few text heavy posts, I just wanted to bang one out that was full of eye candy and didn't require much thought or research.   I had been the recipient of some wonderful gifts from friends and bloggers over the past few weeks and it was about time I showed them off....

A lovely friend from work had been thrifting one day and thought of me when she saw this dress, so she bought it for me.  It parades its 80's origins in the shoulder pads and shape.

I like the D-ring detail at the bottom and the wide band adds an interesting shape to the dress.  If the temperature ever gets higher than 15 degrees, it's going to be a good summer work dress; even though it's polyester, it's a polyester that feels more like cotton than plastic.

Another friend who is packing to move to New York for a new job found this Custo Barcelona t-shirt in her closet and passed it along to me.  Do my friends know my colour preferences or what?

A couple of weeks ago I arrived home to find a large package stuffed in my mailbox.  To my surprise and delight, it was from Krista.  Knowing what is happening in her life, I was even more touched that she took the time to send me a package of blogger love.  I was sure the black dress with the folded-ribbon overlay would be too small, and truthfully, it is shorter than I usually wear, and kind of clingy, but I stuck a turtleneck and leggings under it and wore it to work anyway.  The Betsey Johnson skull print shoulder bag was also in the package (skulls! bows! black and red!).

She also included a couple of necklaces, including the one above that she made for me.  It was a big hit when I wore it to work, where apparently I am considered overdressed most of the time. 

I also received a parcel from Ariane, who has been recovering from a serious injury.  The small blinged-out bag (for a cell phone maybe?) will make a cool necklace, and the gold wings will find their home on a pair of my shoes.  Again, I am touched and amazed that people coping with serious emotional and physical upheavals make the time and effort to send me parcels of joy.  Thank you both for your kindness, and for once again reminding me to be grateful for the wonderful people that my blog has brought into my life.

And of course, I've purchased a few things for myself. Clockwise from left: Plastic elephant necklace from the St. Vincent dePaul thrift store (I was hoping it was carved bone when I saw it in the case, but it's cool nonetheless), painted wire mobile earrings from Jackpot Vintage, and red and black metal earrings, also from Jackpot Vintage.  I seem to be regressing to my 1980's, big-earring-loving self, after spending the last 20 years or so wearing nothing but small silver hoops and studs.  Hmmmmm.....

I hope you all had a nice weekend.  This week includes a quick trip to Toronto for the premiere of the Advanced Style documentary, which I'm excited to see.  I'm sure there will be photos.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Unbound 2014 - tailored pastels and flowing brights

Each year, the graduating class from Fanshawe College's Fashion Design program present their design collections to industry professionals and the general public in a fashion show at Museum London titled "Unbound".   This is the fourth year I have photographed the show for my blog, and I'm always interested in seeing the students' creations and what trends they predict for the following Spring/Summer.  This year the students had the added benefit of the mentorship of Canadian Designer, David Dixon.  Judges for the show included members of the Canadian fashion industry Franco Mirabelli, Natalie Deane, and Truc Nguyen.

Leesa Butler, a member of judging panel, was a bright splash of blue amidst the black.

It was great to see this colourful trio did not succumb to the lure of the little black dress

 Last year this woman and I turned up wearing the same dress, not so this year!  I was wearing my strapless red leather dress over a t-shirt, and a jacket (do I have any photos, of course not...).

 A New York style runway was installed in the second floor of Museum London

If the designs from the sixteen graduating students whose collections were in the evening show were any indication, we will see lots of high-waisted pants and shorts, shift dresses, and jumpsuits next Spring.

Morgan George's pieces featured muted colours and classic shapes

George's fitted dresses featured pleated detailing and demonstrated excellent tailoring skills

Samantha Ingram used creative leather manipulation to add visual interest to her earth-toned garments.  I loved the skirt with the rippled leather overlay!

These two jumpsuits had the most flattering fit of any in the show.  Several designers used thin, silky fabric for their jumpsuits and the lack of structure was not particularly flattering on the rail-thin models.  The patterned jumpsuit on the left was designed by Hilary Hantjis, the white one is by Paige Riviere.

The draped neckline and structured waist made this jumpsuit by Cassie Smith my favourite.  I would probably wear it with a wide leather belt.

Two very sleek and stylish shorts suits designed by Cassie Smith (l) and Hilary Hantjis (r)

The models wore their hair pulled back which allowed all the giant neck bling they wore to be seen to the best advantage.

Amanda Matthews' collection featured elegant resort wear, including the dress and swimsuit above.

Megan Sheppard used bold patterned silky fabrics in her designs.   The high-necked trapeze dress was one of the pieces in the show I would love to have for the summer.

Ciairya Deshane (l) and Kristen Kinzinger both used colourful prints for the low-cut blouses that were part of their collections.

Mengying Zhao used graphic patterns and a bold colour scheme in her collection.

 The only male designer in the show was Sebastian Taborda Guarin, and his pieces were extremely well done.  His collection was inspired by the city of Medellin in Columbia - the innovative architecture, the fences in Biblioteca Spain, and the orchid flowers.

I liked the modern shape of the top and the visual interest of the "cage" overlay on the skirt in this outfit by Guarin.

Another piece in the show that caught my eye was this tucked and gathered skirt by Jessica Haster.  It would not be flattering to someone with larger hips but the added fullness would be welcome on someone with fewer natural curves like me.

Either of the above dresses would work for a special occasion where you want to feel "dressed up" without resorting to a lot of sparkle or frills.  The leather dress is by Paige Riviere, and the plum one by Ashley Gennuso.

I liked the combination of white and grey in this outfit designed by Kali Samlal.  The bolero would also look cute worn over a simple dress.

 Grey and white was also featured in this dress by Courtney Kane

 The pastel, clean-lined pieces in Monica Liu's collection were both pretty and professional.  The pale yellow worked very well with the powder blue. 

Liu was the only designer who walked the runway with one of her models at the end of her collection.   I thought the simple shapes of her garments were very fresh and modern.  Each outfit had a pop of bright colour tucked under a collar, lapel or hem.

Congratulations to all this year's graduates,  and I wish them well in their designing careers!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Normcore - Rhymes With Bore

So apparently there's this new "Fashion Trend" called Normcore.  Until this week, I had never heard of it, and then a work colleague sent me a link to this article from New York Magazine.  On the same day, Melanie of A Bag and A Beret mentioned it in a comment on one of my posts.  This obviously required further research:

An article in the New York Times defines Normcore as:
Normcore (noun) 1. A fashion movement, c. 2014, in which scruffy young urbanites swear off the tired street-style clich├ęs of the last decade — skinny jeans, wallet chains, flannel shirts — in favor of a less-ironic (but still pretty ironic) embrace of bland, suburban anti-fashion attire. (See Jeans, mom. Sneakers, white.)

Steve Jobs was Normcore before the word even existed     
So, as I understand it:  wear the most boring, bland, clothing you can find, and claim it's anti-fashion, practical, and unpretentious.   Stop spending all that time and effort to broadcast your identity through your clothing and start looking like everyone else.   It's Jerry Seinfeld as Style Icon, and even Newsweek has written about it.   The term originated with New York-based trend forecasting collective K-Hole, who described it more as a theory instead of a look.  Embrace sameness and find the joy that comes with being part of a group;  conformity over asserting your individuality.  Apparently, if you dress like a schlub, it will allow you to blend in and mingle with people from all walks of life, opening you up to all kinds of life experiences you wouldn't get by clinging to your selfish need to "stand out".   Hogwash.

I would like to point out that this "trend" is being embraced by the 20 - 30 something hipster crowd - I doubt very much you will see any of the women in my blogging circle, or the women that appear on Ari Cohen's blog Advanced Style, climbing onto this bandwagon.

I wonder how the folks who've been dressing like this their entire lives feel about this?  There's a world of difference between the carefully styled, perfectly proportioned versions of "normcore" that are all over the internet, and what a mother of five in a small town in Oklahoma wears to go to the supermarket.

I can understand the style fatigue that may have contributed to this movement.  It takes lot of work and a lot of money to keep your wardrobe current with whatever Vogue Magazine has dictated is "IN" this season.    However, for those of us who aren't concerned with being "IN" or "OUT", and  are quite happy to have our personality reflected in our attire, hell can freeze over before we are going to adopt the bland and boring in order to "embrace sameness".  We spend so much of our lives trying to figure out who we are, and how to feel comfortable in our own skin, that if and when we finally, that is worth celebrating - not covering up with boring clothes that render you invisible.   The outfit I am wearing above, is quite "normal" for me, and is no less comfortable or practical for my day's activities than a pair of faded jeans and a t-shirt would be.

The vest may look complicated, but I just undo a couple of the buttons at the front and slip it over my head.
Oddly enough,  those of us who shop secondhand, make stuff, wear our clothes upside down or inside out, mix old with new, and don't concern ourselves with "rules" about age-appropriateness, pattern mixing, or colour-clashing, are, in fact, embracing our "sameness".  It's about a community of creative, intelligent, free-thinking, confident and .......... women wearing what makes us feel good.

Would you be as fascinated, and delighted by, these women in the photos below if they were wearing jeans and sweatshirts? 


 I think not.  
Clockwise from top left:  Sheila and Melanie, Krista, The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, and Vix.  The images are borrowed from their individual blogs (click on their names to see them), except for the one of Jean and Valerie, which came from Advanced Style.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Le Chateau - All Grown Up

One of the last places I want to spend a Saturday afternoon is in a crowded shopping mall, but this past weekend I made an exception when I was invited to attend the grand opening of Le Chateau's newly renovated store at White Oaks Mall here in London.   Had it been a different company that made the invitation, I would have probably declined it,  but I have a nostalgic fondness for the Montreal-based company, which I discovered when I first moved to London in 1980.  At that time, the Canadian retailer was selling fun and inexpensive clothing and accessories, and I would stop by the store in downtown London at least once a week.  It was the store where the "cool" people worked, and by shopping there, one hoped that some of the coolness rubbed off on you.  After the 80's passed, and I acquired a series of office jobs that required me to dress more conservatively, I lost interest in clothes that fell apart after one washing. I probably hadn't been in a Le Chateau store for several years.

When I received the invitation to the opening, I looked at the store website and discovered that their image had changed significantly.  No longer the go-to place for cheap club clothes (H & M and Forever 21 have that market cornered), the Le Chateau of 2014 is a boutique-style store selling medium-priced, stylish clothing targeted to women in their 30's and up.  As Shawn Schmidt, Director of Visual Presentation, explained, the store has grown up along with their customers. 

For the grand opening, the company rolled out the red carpet and handed out gift bags and treats to customers.

 Shawn Schmidt, the host for the event, was as charming as he was impeccably dressed.

I spent quite a bit of time chatting about the evolution of the company with Mr. Schmidt, who has been with Le Chateau for over 20 years.  40% of the merchandise sold by Le Chateau, including dresses and suits, is manufactured in Canada, which allows them to maintain better quality control.  Sizes range from 0 - 15/16, although not in every item, and according to Schmidt, they are "real sizes", not model versions.  I noted that the majority of the store staff were under 30, and asked if a 50-something woman could get a job here, and he assured me they would be happy to hire older sales staff.

The store has moved from their old location in the mall near the food court to a new, redesigned space.  Each collection has its own area to give the feeling of a series of European style boutiques instead of just one large, intimidating space.  

Three dresses from the collection seen in the previous photo 

The store had a large selection of very pretty, figure-flattering dresses and if I had a job that required me to dress more conservatively, I'm sure I could have found something here that would be appropriate, but not boring.  There were lots of bright colours everywhere.

 I thought the two dresses above, although very different in design, were both extremely flattering and very stylish, and would look good on a variety of women.

While there were lots of bright colours available, there were also items in classic monochrome.

One of the things I remember fondly about the Le Chateau of my youth was the fabulous accessories.  Almost all the big and bold earrings worn in my 20's were purchased there.   I was happy to see they still carry a large assortment of bling, ranging in price from $10 to $50.  Their upscale shoe collection, which includes Italian and Brazilian designs, is displayed in streamlined, well-lit wall units.

I ran into Kelly Connor, who blogs as City Mom, who had also been invited to the opening.  Kelly has been blogging for about 4 years and was one of the earliest followers of my blog. 

I had to try this orange faux-leather moto jacket as it coordinated perfectly with my shoes.

There is a large section at the rear of the store devoted to party/evening/cocktail dresses.  I asked a  woman shopping with her teenage daughter if she had shopped in Le Chateau before, and she told me she had found a prom dress for her daughter in the store.  I spoke with another woman shopping with her three daughters, and she said she liked the store because there was something for everyone.

Mid-afternoon, Mr. Schmidt, with the assistance of the store staff, cut the red ribbon to officially open the store.

After paying for their purchases at the cash desk, customers can exit through the men's section of the store.  It was nice to see the all the colours available in men's dress shirts;  I'm all for men wearing bold colours.

Any of the shirts in the carousel display above would look great with a charcoal grey suit

An unexpected bonus was the lesson I received in the science that goes into the design, and outfitting, of a retail space.  Mr. Schmidt explained that everything from the placement of the change rooms (scattered throughout the store instead of grouped in the back), lighting (environmentally friendly LED lighting), and the height of the display racks (low enough so the customer can see the entire item without asking for assistance) contributes to the visual appeal and financial success of a retail business.

In interest of full disclosure, I received a gift card from Le Chateau in return for my promotion of the store opening.  While I won't be making posts like these a regular part of my blog, I have to admit I rather enjoyed my brief visit to the land of retail.  It was good for me to step out of my comfort zone of thrift stores and small indie businesses and remind myself that the majority of women in Canada don't purchase their wardrobes in secondhand stores, and I learned a few things about the psychology of fashion merchandising.  Just because I don't like a particular item, or think it's too conservative for my taste, doesn't mean it's not attractive or flattering to other women.   Women who are looking for stylish, mid-priced clothing they can wear to the office, or to the park, will find something at Le Chateau, a company that, like their customers, is all grown up.