Something Old, Something New

Crushing on up-and-coming designer Mani Jassal

The idea of tradition was ever present at this year’s Mass Exodus runway show. Many of the collections had a vintage feel; there was the ’50s housewife hair and summer dresses, the ’70s candy-coloured furs, and the dandy menswear. It was also the event’s 25th anniversary, and while the speakers opening the show acknowledged the prestigious past of Ryerson’s fashion program (Stacey McKenzie gave a very warm speech on her own experience with the school) there was also a lot of talk of the event’s new location in the Mattamy Athletic Centre. The change in scenery gave the event a new found sense of grandeur. Mass Ex 2013 was experiencing a similar transition to the designers: they’ve spent years steeped in fashion traditions, but now it’s time to innovate.

Mani Jassal’s collection was a perfect example of this balancing act. With some help from her seamstress mom and endless inspiration from her hero Alexander McQueen, Jassal created a line that gives a fresh face to perhaps the most traditional garment of all: the wedding dress. Luxurious and rich, with laser-cut fabrics and sequined details, the gowns have a (surprisingly) ’90s sensibility. We talked to Jassal, pictured below in Spongebob t-shirt and jorts, about her recent foray into bridal wear and the massive amount of work that went into her premier collection.

How did you dress in high school?
Completely different than the way I dress right now. I had my Air Jordans and I had the matching shoelaces. It was very sporty, very ’905.

What was the first piece of clothing you designed?
In Grade 8 we did a class project where we made an ‘innovative creation.’ I made a pink sequined dress, no shape or darts or anything, with a little pocket at the back that you could put your iPod in. It was really ugly and Spandex-y but it was one of the first things I made.

This was the first time you showed a collection, what was it like seeing your stuff go down the runway?
It was kind of surreal, because this is what we’ve been working towards since first year. Pulling all-nighters, tears, sweat, blood—literally blood because I would hit myself with needles—it’s all for this big show at the end.

What was your inspiration behind this collection?
The architecture of the Taj Mahal. The murals are reflected in the laser cutting in my collection and the fabric prints. The colours in my collection are very regal and royal as well. I also wanted to do a more modern take on South Asian bridal wear so I used leather, which is typically never used, and I used slashing techniques on it. I incorporated the more edgy stuff.

Would you say your collection is explicitly bridal wear or more formal wear?
I wanted to change my theme—don’t tell the prof—but I wanted to change it to formal wear because that better reflected my collection. But, when I talked to my prof she said I had to re-do all my research to accommodate my change in target market, so I decided to just stay with bridal wear.

But really your dream wearer would be anyone?

Exactly, if it’s your anniversary, if its your birthday, whatever you want to wear it to. It’s for anyone who wants to wear an extravagant dress.

How did you get the laser cutting done? Do you guys learn how to do that?
We don’t learn how to do it. I collaborated with a friend, she’s very good with Illustrator, and she created all the motifs for me based on my designs. I took the motifs to Toronto Laser Services and they did everything for me. Of course, I found out after everything was done that the architecture kids at Ryerson have a laser cutter.

Since we’re talking about the immense amount of work that went in to your garments, was the laser cutting time consuming or where there other elements that took a lot of work?
The laser cutting wasn’t that complicated because I wasn’t doing it, a machine was doing it. It was more complicated to apply the sequins, which I had to do by hand. I would pull an all-nighter and wouldn’t finish so I’d leave the bowl of sequins for my mom to work on when she woke up early in the morning, I wouldn’t have been able to do this collection without her. My skirts also needed to be hand hemmed so my mom did that, along with my aunt. We were allowed to contract people who could completely make everything but I just got my mom and my aunt to help me.

What was your favourite collection at Mass Ex?
It’s kind of biased to say my friends right? It would have to be Jayson Araja, who opened the show with an all white collection. And Yusun Kang, who did laser cutting as well.

Now that you’ve graduated, how do you feel about the fashion design program? Do you think it’s a good route for aspiring designers?
I definitely think so. Before I started at Ryerson I didn’t know that much about the fashion world. I was only really conscious of brands like Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton. But once you’re in design you just learn so much more. You also network so much. Now I know lots of photographers, makeup artists, and models.

So, you’re going to Paris next week. Where are you most excited to go when you get there?
The Eiffel Tower. It’s so cliché but it’s one of those little girl dreams. I’m going with Jason and Yusun for our graduation trip.

photography // Laura Tuttle
styling // Lydia Chan

Drawn Out Fashions

Crushing on Illustrator Ed J. Brown

Whether he’s whipping up a pastel-hued illustration for some awesome publication, cough, WORN Issue 15, cough, or just working on his whimsical drawing series of mythological beasts, Ed J. Brown is always telling a story. Focusing on the narrative power of illustration, Ed uses movement, kooky characters, and lots of texture to give an editorial some extra pizzazz or just make a viewer laugh. His vibrant blog is regularly updated with new work (his most recent pictorial interests include drawings of outer space and original typeface) and he’s a regular contributor to Art School Disco. We sat down with the UK-based illustrator to discuss how he wishes he could dress like his drawings and why illustration and fashion mags go together like ice cream and apple pie.

Is there any connection between your style as an artist and your personal style?
I’ve never been able to define my style, and I don’t mean that in a cool, I’m-so-indefinable-and-unique way. It’s more like one day I decided to wear plaid shirts and that’s going on three years now. I guess there is some overlap, like when I’m drawing people’s clothes I don’t want solid colours—I want some checks on there or some plaids. I’ll turn up the trousers or give them little tiny heels, and other than me notwearing tiny heels, there is a connection actually.

So your characters’ outfits reflect what you like to wear?
A little bit. I’d like to wear the kind of crazy textures and patterns in my drawings, but I don’t think I’m as brave as the people I like to draw. Visually I don’t always fit the artist/illustrator model. I sometimes wonder how important that is, especially when you’re meeting clients. Do they expect you to turn up with a Wesley Snipes wedge and glow bands?

I’m sure you do just fine with your plaid shirts. A lot of your art, even if it isn’t editorial, is very narrative. What attracted you to that style?
I connect more with an image if I know there’s a story behind it. I feel more involved with it. That’s what I try to put into my drawings. Something as simple as an image of a rainy day conjures up a narrative. I like to think someone could spend a while looking at different layers and elements within my work.

It’s interesting how layered your work is with textures too, I feel like those two things really play off each other.
I fucking love texture, my idea of design is ‘just fill the page.’ I get obsessed with making sure there aren’t little gaps or white space anywhere.

A lot of your art is centered on characters, how does dress come into play in these illustrations?
I like to create oddballs and I don’t like there to be flat colour or flat texture if there doesn’t have to be. Obviously, you do need solids in an image, otherwise it gives you a headache, but particularly with clothing you have a tremendous freedom to insert anything you want. You can sort of describe a character’s personality, get across ideas of who this character is, by what clothes you give them. I think clothes can be great for getting ideas across—same as tattoos really.

There’s a long history of illustration in fashion magazines, what do you think it is about fashion illustrations that photography can’t always replicate?
I think it may come down to communicating an idea within fashion. If someone is describing the feel of an item, or describing the back-story of the clothes, I think in moments like that you really need the whimsy of illustration. It can bring out the ideas behind the clothing.

Who are your favorite illustrators right now?
That’s such a tough question! It changes all the time. I’m always a fan of Jon Boam. He always seems to be doing something fun. Other illustrators I’m liking right now are Jon MacNair, Nick Alston, Luke Best, Roberto Blefari, Niv Bavarsky, George McCallum and of course my Art School Disco brethren.

Have They Always Looked This Good?

Condé Nast and the Evolution of Fashion Photography

It’s true: I don’t buy Vogue for the articles (another heiress has an adventure, hurrah!). I buy it for the spreads. The lush, high-budget fashion spreads will always be my reason to pick up a copy of the magazine—something that, as a fashion nerd, has always made me feel a little shallow. Thankfully I picked up Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Condé Nast, a book all about the importance of fashion photography as an art form, and its many contributions to the fashion world. Now, thanks to editor Nathalie Herschdorfer, I feel much more justified in flipping straight to the pretty pictures.

Herschdorfer acknowledges in her introduction that she made a bit of a devil’s bargain—choosing to focus only Condé Nast’s contribution to fashion photography, and leave out spreads from rival Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion mags. This does make for a bit of a one-sided read, but she makes an effort to mention the other publications when relevant, which definitely made me want to do some research on my own. That being said, the photos Herschdorfer was able to find at this one publishing house are truly remarkable especially because she decided to narrow her scope further by focusing on the early work of Condé Nast’s troupe of ‘Old Masters.’ As a result we are given a selection of the most innovative and inventive images printed in the magazines.

The book is filled with over two hundred beautifully reproduced photographs, which are mostly from Vogue or one of its international editions, with the occasional image thrown in from GQ, Vanity Fair, or a few others. The most remarkable thing about looking at these photographs is how often the clothing seems almost irrelevant in the photos—despite Herschdorf pointing out that Condé Nast was infamous for criticizing his photographers for being too ‘artful’ when they lost sight of their sartorial focus. It’s especially easy to view the photos as high art once they are taken out of the context of the magazine page, and the truth is that the photos were never entirely about clothes. As Herschdorf points out, the success of Conde Nast’s photographers was based on their ability to highlight a mood or lifestyle as much as a model’s outfit. Herschdorfer herself pays little heed to the fashions displayed, usually only bringing up the styles when a photographer has directly contributed to or popularized them.

Two essays penned by fashion historians Oliver Saillard and Sylvie Lecallier round out the book. Saillard focuses on the symbiotic relationship fashion photographers developed over the years with the couturier, arguing that the success of a fashion designer is often dependent on how well the concept behind a line can be expressed through a photo. Lecallier is more interested in the relationship between the fashion photographer and the model. She focuses on how photographers have helped define beauty ideals by choosing to work with certain models, often introducing the next supermodel or look. There is also an interview with Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani focusing on the relationship between the fashion editor and the photographer, which offers an interesting look into the mechanics behind creating a fashion spread.

The book is broken up into four areas with brief summaries explaining why the photos you’re looking at are important. The narrative is filled with juicy tidbits about Condé Nast discovering young talent and the imminent threat of Harper’s Bazaar stealing them away. Sidebars offer helpful details about how things developed stylistically and technically—what cameras were used, who used them, and the intent behind the image—as well as who the photographer was, their relationship to Condé Nast, and how they developed during their time with the publishing house. The participation of well-respected artists further emphasizes the artistic merit of the form, with photos by people like Salvador Dali and Diane Arbus receiving particular attention.

Although the essays and interviews are all interesting reads, the photographs are still the most compelling part of the book. I loved flipping through and trying to guess when an image was from; the high quality of the reprint often made it difficult to figure out when a photo was taken. It was fascinating to see the artistry behind the average fashion spread, and read about how the fashion photographer has evolved to become such an important figure.

photography // Laura Tuttle

Stick It To Me

The DIY tattoo, coming soon to a party near you

I was attending a co-worker’s birthday party when, in need of a drink, I walked into the kitchen to find the birthday girl being pricked with a sewing needle and India ink. It was her present from a friend—and for a small fee, I was told I too could get in on the action. I declined. Was this really what the kids were doing these days? Stabbing each other with sharp objects and ink? Well, yeah, Katy Perry’s lover giving her a heart-shaped stick’n’poke in one of her videos definitely affirms the artform’s youthful revival.

I associate the rise of stick’n’poke tattoos with the recent popularity of all things punk rock, but it’s really a modern take on an age-old tradition. The Maori used sharpened bones to cut designs into the skin and then tap pigment into the wounds. The ancient Egyptians are believed to have used wooden instruments with metal tips and soot. And until the invention of the tattoo gun in 1891, Westerners used a tattoo method adapted from the Tahitians after explorer James Cook’s sailors took up the practice in the 1600s. These cultures used the same basic model: a sharp object dipped in some sort of pigment that was hammered/scraped/poked into the skin.

Since that first party, I have had more than one friend get drunk and break out a BIC pen for a quick and dirty tat. But I’ve also seen stick’n’poke stands at craft fairs, and I’ve witnessed more than one tattoo parlor advertise the old-school service. Most recently, I started working with a bunch of DIY tattoo enthusiasts who all frequented the same amateur artist. My coworkers frequently traded meals and scotch for one of her at-home tattoos. I decided to put my curiosities to rest and tagged along when my boyfriend went to her to get some new ink the old fashioned way.

The tattoo artist decided to remain anonymous, due to the murky legal area this all occupies, though she was more than happy to answer a few basic questions. Although she agreed with my initial assumption that stick’n’poke’s popularity has been partly fueled by the rise of punk and DIY, she says there is more to this resurgence than mere trendiness: “Everyone’s moving away from manufactured goods that were made as quickly and cheaply as possible. Everyone is going and getting handmade, crafted, made-in-America type goods, and the same is true for tattoos. People don’t want to get flash off the walls anymore.”

She first tried tattooing the more conventional way, apprenticing at a parlour in Montreal post-university, but says she hated the feeling of using a tattoo gun and ended up “drawing a bunch of shitty tattoos that people came to get on a whim.” She got her first pin-prick tattoo at 20 when a friend experimented by giving her “a moon that looks more like a piece of swiss cheese.” Despite this lukewarm introduction to the form, the artist has no intention of going back to the gun. For her, stick’n’pokes are superior because they’re cheap, heal quickly and, most importantly, are a slow process, allowing for an intimate experience for her and whoever she is tattooing.

My first query was, of course, a style one. Since the only DIY tats I’d seen before hers were punk emblems and prison tats (OK, those were only on TV), I assumed the form lent itself to a particular style. She quickly dismissed these restrictions.

“I think often people assume stick’n’pokes are limited to certain styles, like harder lines with not as much shading. But you can achieve anything with stick’n’poke, because really, a tattoo gun is the same just a lot faster.”

Her clients are evidence of this. Some get only straight lines and bold colours (my boyfriend opted for a simple design that mashed up his punk inclinations with some good old fashioned illuminati insignia). Others opt for shading and more complex images, like my coworker, who has a beautifully coloured rose, or my boss, who has Piglet holding a red balloon on her upper arm.

The resurgence of stick’n’pokes as a party game is not without its negatives. When I voiced my concerns about hygiene, the tattoo artist agreed, saying people need to be careful. “I get the fear of transferring disease, because it’s not often that you talk to someone who got a stick’n’poke tattoo that has been sterilized. Most people are drunk at a party and pull out some ballpoint pen, and use that ink and a sewing needle they probably didn’t even burn with a lighter. I think that’s a huge risk with their building popularity.”

Despite being worried about her drunk brethren, the tattoo artist still believes the rising popularity of stick’n’poke is nothing to fear. “I remember wearing plaid skirts and army boots and studded everything when I was 14, and that was frowned upon. Now you walk into ZARA and everything is studded. Who ever thought that would happen? With that I think comes stick’n’pokes.”

Like so many counter culture practices before it, stick’n’poke is slowly slipping into the realm of the socially acceptable.

Our anonymous tattoo artist gave us a quick rundown of how she gives a sterile tattoo from the comfort of her living room:

1 // Establish clean and dirty fields (both of which are lined with paper towel). The clean field is where you keep sanitized needles (she personally uses tattoo gun needles) and whatever super clean receptacles you’re keeping your ink in. The dirty field is for discarded needles and used paper towel.

2 // Slap on some rubber gloves and wipe the skin down with rubbing alcohol.

3 // Draw an outline of the tattoo on the skin with a thin layer of tattoo ink. Sometimes she will use transfer paper or India ink to draw a preliminary mock-up on the skin, but more often she freehands it.

4 // Dip the needle in the ink a few times to build up a layer of dry ink—this will help keep the ink on the needle as you go. Other people use a thread attached to the needle as an “anchor” to accomplish basically the same thing.

5 // Pull the skin taught so the image doesn’t get distorted and start poking. Dip and poke, dip and poke. Periodically wipe away excess ink with a wet paper towel.

6 // Once the tattoo is done wipe it well with a damp paper towel and then apply some aloe or other soothing lotion.

7 // Wrap the tat in saran wrap—to keep it clean—and then voila. Tattoo complete.

photography // Laura Tuttle