Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On The Town

This past Friday, two working girls took a vacation day, and made a road trip to Toronto to check out a pop up vintage store that had opened there in July.   As you can see from the photo, Linda and I have very different personal styles (Linda found her vintage dress at a yard sale), which makes us ideal shopping companions as there's no chance we would be fighting over the same stuff.    We both love visiting Toronto - it's only two hours away by Greyhound from London, and yet it seems worlds away when it comes to things to see and do.  This was also the perfect opportunity to test out my new camera.  My old one had become very unreliable, and a blogger without a camera is like a cowboy without a horse.  Many thanks to the adorable young man who offered to take our photo.

It was warm and sunny - a perfect day for strolling.  The area near the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Ontario College of Art and Design  is a goldmine of street art, from the thought-provoking...

...to the whimsical

The stretch of McCaul Street between Dundas and Queen is home to one of my favourite pieces of street art.  I don't know how long the colourful portrait has been there, but it has been at least several years, and I am always relieved to see that no one has defaced it.

I don't remember this photo of a very young Kate Moss (if it's not her, it certainly looks like her) being there the last time I was in the neighbourhood. 

We came across a few of these "Reality Alerts" on poster boards.  Apparently, sometimes you need to be reminded that you are not a giraffe.  Thank you, Urban Sanity Initiative.

The Queen Street West Fluevog store was just around the corner, so we stopped in to check out the new fall shoes.  I consider myself fortunate Fluevogs don't fit my feet, otherwise, I would be in worse financial shape than I already am.  My heart did a little flip-flop at the sight of those side-laced black ankle boots.

 After a yummy lunch, our first stop was Tatyana, a store specializing in retro-inspired women's wear.  The store is named after the founder and lead designer, Tatyana Khomyakova.  In 2006, Russian fashion model Khomyakova founded Bettie Page Clothing, but unfortunately, a lawsuit by a celebrity-licensing company resulted in the company's name being changed to Tatyana designs.  Linda fell in love with a sleek fur-trimmed dress (she's wearing it in the photo on the left in the above collage).  The neckline dips to a low "V" in the back and it fit her like a dream.  It was relatively expensive, and the fur trim meant it would be a pain to clean so it stayed in the store.

So, this was our primary destination - a pop up store opened by Montreal's Jack Lux Vintage to sell off a collection of vintage clothing formerly owned by the Quebec Government.  The collection, consisting of thousands of pieces from the 1920's - 1990's, was part of a costume archive used for film shoots and theatre productions.  When the organization was dismantled, Jack Lux acquired the collection, and is selling off the pieces over the next couple of months in an empty storefront at 546 Queen Street West.

It was rather overwhelming, as the stock is organized by item (dresses, jackets, skirts, etc.) but not size, so you have to be prepared to look through racks and racks of clothes to find items that might fit you.   You also have to check over the items carefully as many of them showed signs of wear, from small holes, to significant sweat stains.  According to the signs, prices ranged from $10 - $80, but we didn't find anything under $20 during our visit.  I had spoken to a couple of people who had visited the shop before we did and they both said they found some good stuff at reasonable prices.  We each tried on a few dresses, but were somewhat disappointed that much of the stock was just not that exciting.  Although the stock is replenished regularly, it seemed that the best stuff must have been snatched up by Toronto vintage fans as soon as the store opened back in July.

The back room of the store was wall to wall coats, and an astonishing number of capes, in all fabrics and lengths.  Linda and I marvelled at the amount of fabric that went into the construction of the purple and brown checked one in the top photo.  If you went strolling the moors on a windy day wearing that, you would likely end up being blown away.

In the center of the room was a rack full of costumes that looked like they would have been used in productions set in Shakespeare's time. Some of the more elaborate dresses and waistcoats showed signs of having had a lively life on stage, and as much as I loved playing dress up, I knew that I would never wear a pair of velvet and brocade knickers that easily weighed 15 - 20 lbs (although I did have to try them on).  I developed a rather large crush on the cream/magenta/red corset top that I'm wearing in the bottom left photo, but the price was beyond my budget for an item with numerous stains that were never going to come out, and that would probably end up hanging on my wall.   

I purchased a blue cotton jumpsuit that had a definitely "Rosie The Riveter" vibe, which oddly enough, was the first item that Linda noticed when we entered the store.  It was in excellent condition, fit perfectly, and priced at $20.  If the warm weather sticks around for a bit longer, it may show up on a blog post in the near future.     If I happen to be in Toronto before the shop closes I may visit again, as I am curious to see what else might be lurking in the warehouse where the stock is being stored until it makes its way into the shop.

Across the street from the Jack Lux store we noticed a vintage clothing store that neither of us had seen before called Mama Loves You Vintage.  The store is a relatively new addition to the Queen Street West strip, and is operated by a mother-daughter team;  mother Melo sources the stock in Vancouver, and daughter Mahro runs the store.  We were impressed with the quality of the clothing, and the design of the store which had a cozy, bohemian vibe. Even though there was a lot of stock, the store felt spacious and was very well-organized.  You can see photos of the store here.

There was an entire rack full of jumpsuits (which are annoyingly referred to as "onesies" by the kids these days.  Onsies are things babies wear.  Jumpsuits are jumpsuits),  bold and beautiful maxi dresses,  1950's full-skirted dresses, and even a gorgeous black print kimono jacket with contrasting floral lining.  Prices were pretty reasonable, and I went home with this....

I'm thinking this is likely from the 70's.  I'm not usually a fan of floral prints, but the colour combination won me over. 

The gigantic balloon legs brings to mind something a clown might on a vacation at a summer resort.  I still like it, despite the clown reference, and I wore it on Saturday when I met Heather for a quick trip to the market.  It kind of felt like I was wearing my jammies.  

Our day was drawing to a close and Linda still hadn't made a purchase.  On our way to the bus station, we passed by Original,  and I dragged her into the rainbow-coloured store as she had never been inside.  While the store has a reputation as Prom Dress Central, it is jam-packed with so much fun stuff that I make it a regular stop whenever I'm in the neighbourhood.  The shoe selection is overwhelming, and you can find wigs, crinolines, candy-coloured jewellery by Betsey Johnson, and feathered headpieces.   I purchased the black and white feathered fascinator I wore in this post from last fall here.

If you're a fan of fun and fancy high-heels, this is the store for you

I can say with absolute certainty there is not another store in Toronto where you can deck yourself out in a head-to-toe print of unicorn bunnies wearing gold nose-rings.    Part of me wishes I could wear a pair of those red studded platforms, or the rose-patterned Vivienne Westwood heels just for one night.

While I was taking in the eye-candy downstairs, Linda made her way up the rainbow staircase to the second floor dress emporium.  I was just about to go upstairs looking for her when she emerged, wearing this stunning dress by the retro-inspired brand, Stop Staring.  It looked like it was made for her, and when she tried on another dress from the same company, this one in red with black trim, the charming store employee who was helping her told her she should be modelling for the company.  Linda had finally found her treasure of the day.  We arrived at the Greyhound station having enjoyed a glorious day of warm sunshine, yummy food, and looking at pretty clothes.  It was a wonderful day on the town!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tickled Pink

"And pink's for the lady with joie de vive!
Pink's for all the family.
Try pink shampoo.
Pink toothpaste too.
Play in pink, all day in pink,
Pretty gay in pink.
Drive in pink, come alive in pink,
Have a dive in pink.
Go out dancing but just remember one thing:
You can get a little wink
If you got a little pink
In your swing."

Lyrics from "Think Pink" by Roger Edens

Neon Pink, to be exact

Summer is my least favourite season when it comes to getting dressed.  I'm not the kinda girl who feels her best in a simple summer frock and a pair of sandals, and I haven't felt much enthusiasm for most of my work outfits from the last three months.   Give me patterned tights, short skirts, boots, a great jacket and a colourful scarf, and I'm happy.  I may soon have my wish, as our "summer" has been a mixed bag, weather-wise, and it's starting to feel like fall.  Today I noticed the quality of the light had changed (it's hard to explain if you don't know what I mean) and for me, that's always the sign that Summer is soon to be but a memory.   I was browsing in From Mars, owned and run by a couple of cool dames that I've known for at least 25 years, (and pretty much the only place in London where I purchase anything retail), when I saw the neon pink extra-high hi-tops in the photo above.  They were the last pair, and as luck would have it, they were in my size (meaning, large enough to be able to put my arch supports in them).

Does the colour remind you of anyone??

That would be the fabulously pink-a-licious Krista, shown here in a photo from her blog, cuddling her fur baby, Peetee.  My new shoes have been officially christened "Krista Cons"

The shoes had a magically inspiring effect, and I was able to put together an outfit that was playful, inspired some comments, and made me feel more like my old self.  I've been feeling pretty sad these last couple of weeks since I lost my little bun.  Thanks so much to all of you for the condolences and thoughtful comments on my last blog post.

I had purchased this skirt a few years ago, and it was too long when worn as a skirt - I was forever stepping on it and ripping out the stitching on the gathers.  With the wide stretchy waistband, it made a perfect strapless dress.

I couldn't stop staring at the powerful glowing pink-ness of the shoes

They even made me a little giddy!
Thanks to Heather for her patience, excellent photography skills, and for always being able to make me laugh

I'm wearing:  skirt - Winners, years ago
t-shirt - thrifted
cardigan - Joe Fresh
Krista Cons - From Mars
Necklace - handmade by Krista

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Short-Lived But Long-Loved

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know about my little fur baby, Fred (aka The Bun).  Back in early June she was diagnosed with pneumonia. After two weeks of antibiotics she seemed better....then it came back (or never went away), and we tried a different antibiotic.  When that didn't work, the vet prescribed an anti-inflammatory, which resulted in an immediate improvement, and renewed hope that she would pull through.  The hope was short-lived, and on July 31st I took her back to the vet to be put to sleep.  The vet talked me out of it, noting that she was still eating and grooming, and suggested we combine the two antibiotics with the anti-inflammatory, and that I wait until after the long weekend to see if there was any improvement.   The weekend came and it was obvious that she was uncomfortable.  She lost her appetite, sat crouched in a corner of her cage, and didn't want me to touch her.  It broke my heart, and I had to make a decision.  On Sunday, August 3, Heather and I took her to the emergency Vet Hospital where she ended her suffering.  The staff there were wonderful, and the vet technician that took care of Fred had rats of her own, and understood how attached you could get to a little rodent.   While I was at the hospital, an older couple came in with their 14 year old cat, who was obviously in distress,  and we looked at each other with tears in our eyes, acknowledging our shared grief.  It must be very difficult working in a place where every patient is hurting, and more often than not, the owners have to say goodbye to a beloved member of the family.   The staff even sends out hand-written sympathy cards to the owners of pets who have died at the hospital.

She was the best roommate I could wish for, except for the time she chewed through my telephone cord, and made a hole in a very expensive jacket, but that's what rodents do.  There is absolutely no way you can discipline a rat.  And how could one be angry with that little face?

She was scrupulously clean (and oddly enough, smelled very slightly of grape soda) and very quiet.   She loved all fruit (especially bananas, watermelon and blueberries), cheerios, and the peanut butter and bacon dog biscuits from the bakery at the Western Fair Farmers' Market.  Occasionally I would fill a paint tray with water and let her bob for peas, which was very entertaining for both of us.  She was an excellent climber, a good problem solver, and much smarter than I probably gave her credit for. 

I was endlessly fascinated by her delicate, human-like front paws, her halo of whiskers and fuzz-covered tail.  She had an obsession with licking the inside of my ears, which drove me crazy, but I let her do it because it made her happy. She was the first living creature I saw in the morning, and the last at night.  

 The week before she died, I had asked my friend Mark (who also shot my Tilda Swinton tribute photo) if he would take some photos of her with his incredibly expensive camera (he also contributed the title of this post)  I am forever grateful to him for these wonderful reminders of the little rat that took up very little space in my apartment, but occupied a lot of room in my heart.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tales of Love and Loss - My Day With the War Brides

This story in this post proves two things:  a)  You never know what is going to happen when you get up in the morning, and b)  If you are open to spontaneous adventure and not afraid to talk to strangers you can meet the most amazing people (and hear great stories).

A friend who works at the Central Library told me about a talk by Beverly Tosh, an artist whose work celebrates the lives of War Brides, that was taking place on Saturday.  The term "War Bride" refers to the approximately 48,000 young women who married Canadian servicemen during WWII.  Most of these women came from Britain, but there were also those who came from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy and Germany.  The library had scheduled Tosh's presentation, and an exhibit of War Brides artifacts, in conjunction with the Canadian War Brides and Families 2014 Reunion, which was held here in London this weekend.  About 10 years ago, I had photographed, and interviewed, a number of WWII veterans who resided at the Veteran's hospital here, and have always had a keen interest in stories from that time period.

Tosh's passion for telling the stories of Canadian War Brides through her work shines through when she speaks about how she began the project and the women she has met along the way.

Tosh began her presentation with this slide, showing herself standing with the 8 ft portrait she had painted of her mother Dorothy, as a young war bride who emigrated from Canada to New Zealand to marry a pilot she met at a dance here in Canada in 1944.   Tosh was born in New Zealand, but when she was nine, her mother left her husband and moved back home to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  The painting's title, "One-Way Passage", refers to the fact that women who married servicemen received a one-way passage paid for by the military to their husband's homeland.  

Tosh showed slides of some of the photos that she has used in her work.  Her source materials are the photos from albums belonging to the War Brides she has met and corresponded with.  Hazel, the woman in the photo above, was a dancer, and is shown with the Canadian Serviceman she married.  Unfortunately many of the women left comfortable homes in Europe and traveled in cramped conditions by boat (which were called bride ships) to a country they had never seen, only to find they would be living in a remote area with no electricity, running water, or easy access to supplies. 

Winnie, who arrived in Canada in 1946 as a widow with her two daughters, stands next to her portrait painted by Tosh.   The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa held an exhibit of Tosh's War Bride portraits in 2008, and her work has since been exhibited in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Arizona, and most recently, Red Deer, Alberta.

Tosh works in other mediums as well - this 10 ft long steel wire sculpture, called "Tug of War" depicts 15 Canadian women on the deck of their bride ship.  The work is made from one continuous length of wire, reflecting the connection between these women who didn't know each other, but had linked arms for their photograph.  Tosh also creates "Tear Bottles" - small bottles filled with sea water, containing a photograph, and sealed with wax.  The sea water represents the bride's ocean voyage, and her tears, and whenever possible, comes from the ocean that the bride crossed to reach her new home.  You can find out more about Tosh's exhibit,  War Brides: One Way Passage on her website here.

This wedding dress and veil belonged to Susan Wallace's mother, a War Bride, and is part of the exhibition of War Bride artifacts at the Central Library.  Susan and her husband, local entertainment reporter/blogger James Reaney, Jr., attended the presentation and brought the dress with them.

The other wedding dress on display belongs to Edna Simpson, in the photo above, who purchased it secondhand in England for 10 GBP. 

I sat next to Isabel Summers during the presentation, and she told me that she met her husband at a dance (the best place to meet servicemen), and on their first date, they went to see the film "Gone With the Wind".  Isabel was coming down with a cold, and her husband-to-be went to a chemist's and got her some Vicks vapo-rub and cough drops, which made a good first impression.  Unfortunately, they couldn't stay for the end of the film as they had to catch the last train home.  She finally got to see the end of the film 25 years later.  She and her husband were married 60 years.  The majority of the War Brides I spoke with are now in their 80's or older, and their husbands are now deceased.

I met Dolores Hatch, who was assisting with the events that were part of The Canadian War Brides and Families Reunion, and voiced my desire to speak with some of the other War Brides, and she invited me to stop by the hotel where they were staying before the Saturday Reunion dinner. This was the fourth official reunion of Canadian War Brides and Families, and over 100 people had registered.

War Brides Betty Tharratt (left) and Doreen Grills (right) live here in London.  In 2011 they sailed back to England on the Queen Mary II to visit their homeland.   Many of the women were separated from their husbands for long periods of time when the husbands returned to Canada to find a home for themselves and their wife.   Tharratt had to stay with her family in England, with her new baby, until her husband found a place for them to live in British Columbia.

Olga Rains, who also lives in London, is a Dutch War Bride.  She had to wait in Holland for 9 months before she could join her husband, Lloyd, in Canada.  After raising a family in Canada, the couple returned to Holland where they established Project Roots, which helped Dutch, British, and European war children connect with their Canadian fathers.

To my surprise, and delight, I was invited to join the War Brides and their families for dinner.   I chose an empty space at one of the tables and set about meeting some of my dinner companions.

Gloria Waddy and her mother-in-law, Audrey, sat across the table from me.  Gloria's mother was also a War Bride, and both her father, and father-in-law, survived Dieppe.   Her husband was in the Navy, and they share the same birth date - that's just too many coincidences in one family.  I thought Audrey looked lovely in her turquoise outfit which had been made for her, and Gloria shared that her mother-in-law loves turquoise so much that she even carpeted her house in that colour.  As someone whose living room was at one time pink, followed by pumpkin orange, I saw no problem with that.

James Reaney Jr., decked out in a tuxedo and bow tie, was the emcee for the evening.

My table mate immediately to my left was Rose Stanley, and it didn't take long for me to discover that she was a very funny, feisty woman.  Now 87, she was born in London, England, and met her Canadian husband at a roller rink when she was only 16.  She said that they both knew right away that they would get married, and by the time she was 17, they were husband and wife.  They were married for 63 years, until his death, and according to Stanley, those years were "absolutely wonderful".  It was incredibly moving to hear the enthusiasm in her voice when she talked about her husband, and how much they adored each other.   Not all war brides were as lucky, and she knew of a few who were not treated well by the men they had travelled across an ocean to be with.  Rose and her husband were not well-off, and she did her cooking on a wood stove.  She told me that the best gift she had ever been given was a hot plate.  We discussed the challenges of cooking for one person, and of not driving a car (she had given up her license recently).

By the time we finished dessert we were comfortable enough to pose for a silly photo.  When the band started playing at 8 pm, it was time for me to head home.  I told Rose that if she could find someone to send me an email, I would send her a copy of this photo.    As I was leaving, I  looked around the room and imagined all the stories these women had acquired during their lifetime, and wished that I could have spent a couple of hours with each of them.  As it was, I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet some of them, and be given a tiny window into their lives.  Their situation was one that will not be seen again (hopefully...) and their stories are a valuable part of Canada's history that should be recorded, and shared.   Many thanks to Dolores Hatch for arranging my dinner invitation even though she had never met me before, and to James Reaney Jr. for confirming that I was not in fact, dangerous, or crazy.  

If you would like to know more about the Canadian War Brides, check out their website

Monday, August 4, 2014

Rebel Yell

Christine Gionet is determined to change the clothing shopping experience for plus-size women in London.  Up to now it has been pretty dismal.  Even I have had to resort to the largest size in some of the women's stores here, and I'm sorry, but that's just f**ked up.  The clothing stores like Addition Elle and Pennington's that cater to larger sizes here in London sell perfectly decent work-appropriate and casual clothing, but what about women that want clothes that have a bit of an edge, and make them stand out?  Renegade, Gionet's new store that opened this weekend in the downtown core, is the perfect place for them. 

Gionet was frustrated by having to travel to Toronto and the States to find clothing that suited her shape and her personality.   She sought out suppliers of fun and funky plus-size clothes, and held a few trunk shows to establish a customer base.   The level of support she received showed that a store was possible, and on August 1, Renegade opened its doors. 

The flags in the mini red velvet cupcakes that Gionet received from a friend spell out the store's motto:   Be bold.  Be Unique.  Be a Renegade.
The store will carry clothing in sizes 12 - 30, and fun accessories, from over 15 different suppliers.  From what I could see, prices for dresses ranged from about $60 - $150.  There is even a little vintage section in the back.

The black and white outfit on the mannequin above caught my eye (you know how us bloggers love a tulle skirt).

This adorable comic print shoulder bag from Hemet was a favourite of both of us.  The store carries skirts and dresses featuring the California company's rockabilly, Day of the Dead, and tattoo-themed prints.

While we were in the store, a woman tried on this sugar-skull print dress and it looked great on her, and the best thing was that you could tell how happy she was to be wearing a really cool dress that fit her well.

The highest compliment I could pay Gionet was that I wished her stuff came in a smaller size so I could shop there.   I loved the prints on these dresses.

The store does carry some fun t-shirts that would fit me, and I was kind of smitten with the red one that Heather is holding.

Heather took home this fab "heart" pendant that had some serious weight to it.  This particular line of jewellery is cast in bronze and then silver plated, and featured designs such as a pair of headphones, sugar skulls, and a pair of six shooters.

Renegade is located at 232 Dundas Street, and is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday - 10 am - 6 pm, and Thursday 10 am - 8 pm.  Closed Sunday and Monday.