Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Style Inspiration From Neo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

God is in the Details - the Designs of Christian Dior

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day and Afternoon dresses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christian Dior continues at the ROM until March 18th.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Betwixt & Between the Monsters We Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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