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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Stay-cation, All I Ever Wanted

I decided not to make my annual pilgrimage to New York this year, for several reasons.  The prospect of not spending time with my friends, in the city I love, was very disappointing but I decided to make the best of it, and am taking a Stay-cation this week (vacation from work, but staying home).  It's not New York, and the weather has been crap, but it's been enjoyable nonetheless.

No fancy outfits here.  It's been cold, grey and rainy, so I've been wearing cozy, stay-at-home clothes.  Thrifted jeans and sweatshirt from Talize Thrift,  boots from Housing Works Thrift store in New York.

I haven't done anything exciting so far, but there is something very satisfying about curling up on the couch with your cat and a good book on a rainy afternoon, and if you happen to fall asleep, it's ok.  I've uploaded some new music to my iPod, taken a bunch of empty shopping bags to my local thrift store for them to re-use, started listening to a new podcast, and had lunch at two local restaurants that are only open when I am usually at work.  There was a visit to the gym, and my physiotherapist in there too, and some thrifting in my neighbourhood.  I'll save photos of what I found for the next post.

 He's so happy to have me home with him.  There has been lots of snuggles and playtime
 Lula - we've had some struggles, but I think we are on our way to being friends
I am also working on making friends with my new sewing machine.  I got it in early August, but was sufficiently intimidated that I chose to wait until I had a block of time when I could give it my full attention.  I had an old Singer sewing machine about 20 years ago, which I used to make curtains for my apartment, but haven't touched a machine since.  I had my first sewing lesson last week, during which I made most of a pair of boxer shorts, so I understand how the thing works, and am not terrible at sewing a straight seam.  I have more trouble getting the thing threaded, and figuring out what stitch to use for what purpose.  As with most new skills, practice makes perfect, so I'm looking forward to getting acquainted with Lula, as she has been christened.

As long as I'm going on about crafty stuff, now would be a good time to show you photos of the thrifted Doc Martens I customized during the summer....

Heather spied these 20-hole Doc Marten boots at Talize, and when they didn't fit her, she handed them over to me.  They were very cool, but also very WHITE.

I spent a lot of time deliberating what to do with them, and after a couple of visits to Michael's craft store, I decided to go with a grey and black theme.  After a thorough cleaning, I used a sponge to apply a light layer of grey leather paint all over the boots.

I also picked up some black leather paint and a stencil.  I spent the next week or so adding the gear and cog shapes to the boots, letting each one dry before adding another.  I can tell which ones I did first as they have more smears and drips, but I got less sloppy with practice and the last couple looked pretty good.  Overall, I was pleased with how they turned out, especially since this was the first time I had ever done anything like this.

All you DIY and sewing queens out there (you know who you are, Vix, Pao, Sue and Mel, to name a few) have nothing to fear from me as far as competition, but you have all inspired me to try my hand at making stuff, so thank you.

I still have 4 days of freedom left, so who knows what adventures await? 

Monday, October 9, 2017

If It's Fall There Must Be a Vintage Clothing Show

I hadn't been to the Toronto Vintage Clothing Show for a couple of years so when my friend Suzanne invited me go to the fall edition of the show with her on October 1st, I happily agreed.  The show is held in the Queen Elizabeth Building at Exhibition Place in Toronto twice a year, and features between 90 - 100 vendors selling vintage clothing, accessories and housewares.

 Thanks to Yank Azman for the photo

Both Suzanne and I wore pieces we had purchased secondhand.  My 1980's jacket and Annie Thompson denim pants were found at Talize.

As our styles are very different, and I needed to get some photos for this post, we went off in separate directions and agreed to meet up in a couple of hours.   I find if I choose a theme when I'm taking photos at vintage shows it's easier than just trying to photograph everything, so this time, as Fall is officially here (although you would never know it from the warm temperatures we've been having), I decided to focus on colourful coats.

And there were lots to choose from....

Unlike new winter coats, which seem to be primarily black, vintage coats come in all colours and patterns.

I saw several plaid wool coats but the combination of orange and turquoise in this fringed one from Phoenix Vintage made it stand out.

The beautiful boucle wool coat from the 1950's is also from Phoenix Vintage

This beautiful coat with Inuit-themed embellishments was at the Karen Jeffery Collection booth

This Custo Barcelona coat from the Karen Jeffery Collection may not keep you warm in -20 below temperatures but it definitely makes a statement.

I was surprised to see the number of real fur coats for sale.  Given the amount of negative public reaction to the wearing of real fur, I wondered if anyone was still buying them.  I asked a couple of vendors for their thoughts on this, and some have stopped selling real fur altogether.  Others continue to sell it as long as there is a market for it.  I've made my feelings known about this issue in previous blog posts, and have worn vintage fur, or fur-trimmed coats in the past.  

This elegant wool coat is from Gadabout Vintage

A stunning brocade evening coat from House of Vintage

Capes have become very popular again over the last few years, and I didn't have to look very hard to find colourful examples.  The blue check, yellow plaid and leopard print are all from Frou Frou Vintage, and the red, white and blue patterned one is from Nomadic.

I enjoy going to vintage clothing shows to drool over beautiful pieces of clothing, but it's also fun to see what the vendors and other shoppers are wearing.  Because we went on the second day of the show, we apparently missed a lot of the folks who really dress up, but the vendors didn't disappoint.

The stylish owners of EVOL Vintage.  He has a thing for velvet jackets (I photographed him in an emerald green one a couple of years ago) and she was rocking a fabulous vintage dress found by her husband. 

Madge Golleran, owner of Phoenix Vintage, always stands out from the crowd in her incredible outfits.  For this show, she chose a lurex leisure suit, and if you thought those words couldn't possibly go together, just check out the photo above.
Dana, wearing a beautiful 1940's dress, owns Victory Girl Vintage. The lace dress and velvet evening coat on the mannequin next to her was available at her booth.

The owner of Donna Beasley Antiques (which belonged to her mother, Donna), was wearing a stunning pieced-leather dress from Ian Drummond Vintage.  It fit as if it was custom-made for her.

Men in their twenties could take a lesson from these two guys, who demonstrated how to do casual and denim with panache.  I loved the orange sneakers, and the hats were icing on the proverbial cake.  Well done, gentlemen.

Of course there were lots of other fabulous things to see aside from coats, as evidenced by the photos above.  The fab blue and yellow maxi on the left from Vintage Soul Geek sold just before the end of the show, and the sparkly number on the right from PrintVintage would make anyone the center of attention.

I love the graphic boldness of this velvet and satin dress from Gadabout Vintage.  The gumball-sized buttons on the cuffs and front of the dress added a bit of whimsy.

There is jewellery for every taste available at the show.  Bracelets and graphic black and white earrings are from Renee Piche, and the saucy kittens Lea Stein brooch was available at the Vintage Soul Geek booth.

 I was seriously tempted by these marvelous patterned spats from Ian Drummond Vintage

 rotary dial phones in a rainbow of colours at McCools Antiques

These Levi's denim placemats, also from McCools Antiques, would impress your friends at your next dinner gathering.

I'm sure you are wondering if I bought anything, and the answer is yes.  I learned from my previous vintage show experiences that in order to stay within my budget,  I need to take cash with me, and once that cash is gone, I'm done.  I did very well, and found three cool pieces that in total came in just under $100.

I have noticed over the past several years that anything I own that is brightly coloured or patterned,  is vintage.  When I buy retail, which isn't often, I tend to go for black, grey or denim.  This also held true for my purchases from this show.  The first thing I found was this handmade pink and black dress on the left, from EVOL Vintage.  It doesn't look like much on the hangar, but it fits me well and will look great with black tights and docs.  I found the dress on the right at Vintage Soul Geek. I liked the 1960's trapeze shape, and the fabric is silky on the outside, and feels like a soft brushed cotton on the inside, so it will be very cozy in the winter.  I wanted to post a photo of me wearing them, but it's been TOO DAMN HOT.

The last time I attended the Toronto Vintage Show I purchased a heavy wool maxi vest, and it appears I now have the start of a collection (I'm obviously preparing for my "Maude" years).  This bold  number is made of what could be an upholstery fabric and is from Ian Drummond Vintage.  Now all I need is some cooler weather.

I've been to quite a few vintage clothing shows, including ones in New York, I feel I have enough experience that I can make some suggestions to vendors to help make it a better experience for the shoppers:

1) Leave some space on your racks for clothes to "breathe".  If I see a rack where the clothing is so tightly jammed together that I can't easily remove anything to see it, much less try and stuff it back in, I won't even bother to browse.  

2) Examine your stock before you put it out, especially if it's an item that you are going to feature on a display.  Moth holes do not make me want to take something home with me.  At the very least, if something has a hole or two, acknowledge it and reflect it in the price.

3)  The show has a pretty broad range of price points (my dress from EVOL was $25), and I can understand offering an exquisite vintage textile in excellent condition at a price few of us can afford, but there is no reason to charge hundreds of dollars for something unexceptional that I can find at a thrift store for $20.  I know that built into that price is your time, your rent, your overhead, etc., but wouldn't you rather sell it then keep bringing it back each year?  

For the record, the vendors I purchased from did not have these issues, and overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon oogling beautiful clothing, and chatting to the vendors and fellow shoppers.  Suzanne and I re-convened at the end of the show to compare purchases and then had a tasty dinner at Fresh before I caught my bus back home.   Many thanks to Catherine Knoll for covering our admission, and to Chris McDowall for providing two admission tickets to give away to my readers.