Rocky, I Trust You

Crushing on hair stylist Rocky Handspiker and his Modern Lovers Hair Shop

A good hair stylist is hard to find. No one seemed to understand me: my hair, my style, or my interests.

Then I met Rocky.

Our styling chair discussions aren’t your typical salon banter. Among many topics, we’ve talked about how he spent a year working in a salon in Japan that specialized in creating black hair looks on Asian hair. I’ve walked into the salon to find Rocky hand threading a mustache for his costuming class he was taking “on the side” of running his own business and raising a child. Rocky is anything but boring, and that is why I trust him.

How long have you been cutting hair?
I started in 1982, just messing around with friends. People wanted punk, new wave, and hip hop inspired cuts, and I ended up being the guy to see. At the time, British punk style was fusing with NY break-dancing culture, and it seemed like taking scissors into our own hands (well, mine mostly) was the best way to get it.

Where did you learn?
I started with basic training at the Marvel School of Beauty, and then moved on to advanced training with various academies like Vidal Sassoon and Toni & Guy. On top of that, hands on experiences and other creative challenges really helped me to perfect my skills. Things like seminars for hairdressers, fashion shows, pageants, music videos, photo shoots, and hairstyling competitions. However, I’ve technically been working in salons since I was fourteen years old—around the same time I had started cutting my friends’ hair. An older girl with a David Bowie smile had heard about me through the grapevine and I soon became a shampoo boy at the shop she worked at with other funky stylists. Eventually I decided that committing to cutting hair was something I was serious about and took up formal classical foundation training.

Did you have any mentors or other inspiring people who helped you along the way? 
Each salon I’ve worked at has had an incredible impact on my development. I’ve been inspired by many people and experiences, but one that really stands out was Pamela Neal. She took over for renowned stylist John Steinberg at the Rainbow Room in Toronto, which was a punk and new wave styled salon known as not just any place for cutting hair. Fashion, music, art, and media all came together at the Rainbow Room. It opened in 1976 and brought the British fashion scene to Toronto, moving away from the hippie era of Yorkville. Eventually it became where the Queen Street Scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s came to get their hair done. When Jimi Imij and Robert Pieter of Coupe Bizzarre brought their camp from Montreal to set up on Queen Street West in Toronto in the ’90s, I had the pleasure of working with and learning from them.

What has traveling as a stylist been like?
I worked in salons in Tokyo for one year, which was totally fascinating. There were lots of different styles meeting in a Japanese environment because of the many travellers and influences of outside music and culture on looks. I spent time at a black salon owned by a group of people formerly from Brooklyn, who needed me to help with their European clients. I was working alongside Japanese stylists who were having me translate hip hop lyrics for them—it was kind of crazy.

I worked in London, England, which was a really dynamic experience. I had the chance to do hair for photo shoots and videos, and worked in a salon on King’s Road. Living in London and experiencing the art scene there alongside my work was pretty amazing as well.

Tell me about your experiences hairstyling in the ’80s and ’90s.
At one point I worked at a three-chair salon in a fashion market managed by Pamela Neal, but when this closed I opened a small shop in Graffiti Alley in Toronto called Salon DNA. The space was also home to rave promoters X-Static. Because of this connection, during the 11 months that I owned the shop I was setting up hair styling booths at raves. I did a similar gig at the first Lollapalooza when I worked at the Rainbow Room with Pamela. We did the hair of almost 9000 festivalgoers. I moved to England after my time with Salon DNA came to an end. When I got back to Toronto in 1995, I worked at Coupe Bizzarre for 12 years.

How long has Modern Lovers Hair Shop been open?
We opened in 2010. After all those years with Coupe Bizzarre this was naturally the next step. I was originally looking to open up a sake bar with a friend, but when that fell through I decided to start my own shop. I had been working at Coupe Bizzarre and helping to train stylists there and was ready to branch out on my own, but if it wasn’t for finding this place through searching for real estate for the sake bar, I wouldn’t have left when I did. It was too good to be true. This location made sense—people come to Kensington Market for haircuts, among many other things, and the space was perfect for what I needed. This actually used to be a barbershop called Guerrero’s a while before I moved in here, so it’s kind of fitting for me to open another hair shop in this space.

What is it like working alone like you do now as opposed to working in a group setting like you have in the past?
Working one on one with clients is complete paradise—a total experience in hair styling. Early in the move people would ask me if I got lonely—never! I also have a music studio in the back room so this is a total creative space for me. However, working in a salon alongside other stylists, like I did when I worked at Coupe Bizzarre, has its advantages; the social life is interesting—you learn how to work well with others and a lot about people in general. You also draw inspiration and learn things from the other stylists around you. You can come up with ideas together for projects or looks, learn new tricks and invent things together. There’s always someone’s hair to cut. At Coupe, people came for the creative, artistic haircuts that I specialize in today. That, among many other things, has had a lasting impact on how I work.

Visit Rocky at Modern Lovers Hair Shop.

photography // Angela Lewis

The Hair Issue of Worn Fashion Journal is currently available for presale

The Wornettes do TIFF

The best outfits at the 2012 Toronto International Film Fest happened on screen

Great Expectations Mike Newell
The world probably doesn’t need another adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, but it never hurts to see one of classic literature’s greatest (and most visually interesting) characters, Miss Havisham, re-imagined yet again. In Mike Newell’s version of the story, Helena Bonham Carter plays the jilted ghostly bride (naturally) who is grandly clad in a dusty, decaying dress. The dress was designed by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor who also crafted costumes for Vanity Fair and Aeon Flux. Pasztor drowns Miss Havisham in layers and layers of lace and taffeta silk, creating more of an artistic masterpiece than a simple costume.

Even more exquisite is Miss Havisham’s lovely disciple Estella (her young and adult versions are played by Helena Barlow and Holliday Grainger, respectively). Estella wears pleated travelling dresses adorned with cascading ribbons and feathered collars in hues of blues and purples. Paired with bejeweled neck chokers, Estella’s wardrobe is aesthetically refreshing against the movie’s muddy backdrops.

And then there’s Pip, the blacksmith turned gentleman whose wardrobe is overwhelmingly vital to his transition into the upper echelons of London society. Played by Jeremy Irvine, Pip ditches his thick boots, puts on tailored suits, and gets the girl, all while turning into an uppity snob in the process.

Does this new version of Great Expectations break any new ground? Doubtful. But do the costumes live up to its period piece glory? I think the taffeta speaks for itself.
// Mai Nguyen

Deflowering of Eva van End Michiel ten Horn
This blithely haunting Dutch film unfolds around Eva, your garden variety “dork.” A chubby, bespectacled late-bloomer lacking in social skills, she remains silent for almost the entire duration of the film. Eva is a sullen, awkward girl who seems more interested in spending time with her pet rabbit and listening to her favourite pan flautist than having sex, an activity doggedly pursued by her libidinous classmates. Eva’s shyness results in her isolation from the outside world, where her family and peers treat her like a piece of furniture. Her outsider status is highlighted by her wardrobe: Eva wears mostly t-shirts emblazoned with Louis Wain cats, Converse sneakers, and ill-fitting jeans; in stark contrast to her brand-conscious classmates who love Ed Hardy, leopard print jeans, and skintight dresses.

Eva’s life changes when she is assigned an attractive but irritatingly friendly German exchange student named Viet. Viet plays the part of a clean-cut hippie; a vegetarian who financially supports an African child and meditates as his preferred form of relaxation. Viet’s wardrobe is all-white, consisting of linen tunics and Birkenstock sandals, which are meant to symbolize the purity of his beliefs yet create an ironic tension when his presence begins to wreak havoc in the van End household. It’s clever and funny with a dark, disturbing undercurrent that rears its head near the end of the film.
// Isabel Slone
Continue reading

The Graveyard Scene, The Golden Years

Not just for goths: 10 things about Vampira

It’s the mid-’50s, and television is as bland as ever. Mrs. Cleaver and the nuclear family grace the screens of identical idiot boxes across the good, wholesome, U.S. of A.

Then on a dark evening, an image of a curvaceous vamp walking through a mock hallway surrounded by cheap fog machines appears on television screens. She gazes out at audiences, and when she comes face to face with the camera (and viewers) she lets out a blood curdling scream. “I am… Vampira. I hope you all had the good fortune to have a terrible week.”

The woman known as Vampira was really Maila Nurmi—a young woman trying to make it in Hollywood by being hard-working, creative, and daring in any way she knew (or could learn) how. Her persona as Vampira would go on to be remembered by goths, cult film freaks, and the fashion obsessed for years to come.

1 // Birth of a Vampira
Maila Nurmi was born in Finland on December 11, 1922. She moved to the the U.S. with her family, living in both Ohio and Oregon. She later moved to NYC to study acting and finally made it to Los Angeles, where she would begin a career in Hollywood. Maila modeled for Bernard of Hollywood and Man Ray, and supported herself early in her career by working as a pin-up model and a coat-check girl.

2 // Everyday is Halloween
In 1953, Maila attended a masquerade ball dressed in a tight black Morticia-esque dress, inspired by Charles Addams’s New Yorker drawings—the original Addams family. After winning first prize, she was tracked down by a television producer looking for someone to do skits and host a late night horror movie program—The Vampira Show.

3 // A Creature of Her Own Design
While Morticia Addams may have inspired Vampira’s look, she was really a character all of Maila’s own imagination:

“Vampira is a kind of entity, we can call her a woman even though she’s androgynous… who survives in this carnal world. I, Maila Nurmi, am not.”

Vampira lived through the depression; being poor, skinny, and scrawny; wearing second-hand clothes and having very low self-esteem. She needed something to cling to in such pragmatic times, so she created an imaginary image to keep her faith in the world going. The character Maila created was inspired by her fantasies and fascinations with characters such as The Dragon Lady of the Terry and The Pirates comic book series, the Evil Queen from Snow White, and silent movie star Theda Bara, the first “vamp.”

4 // The Lady is a Vamp
Maila was no ghoul, taking the horror genre into her own hands and crafting her Vampira character out of a combination of sex and death. She borrowed Charles Addams’s Morticia, and added elements of fetish attire and general provocativeness—a cinched 17-inch waist, a plunging neckline, fishnets, and voluptuous curves. Accessorized with a phallic cigarette holder and matching long black nails, Vampira was dressed to kill.

5 // Blacklisted (and Dressed in Black)
Maila’s sex appeal was the least of Channel 7’s worries—eventually The Vampira Show was cancelled due to Maila’s tendency to make subversive comments, and according to newspapers at the time, her suspected left-leaning politics. Maila went on to tell the story of how she was blacklisted from television and had a horribly hard time finding work because of it: going from appearing nightly on television to living off of $13 a week.

6 // When All Else Fails, Plan 9
Out of work and desperate to support herself, Maila took a role in a production by the infamous Edward D. Wood Jr. After reading the script for a film called Grave Robbers From Outer Space, and disgusted with the lines Wood had written for her, Maila insisted on a silent role. Dressed as Vampira, and bringing a crowd to the film because of it, an undead Maila would silently walk towards the camera, arms out and ready to frighten. Her role in what would eventually be called Plan 9 From Outer Space and by critics, “the worst movie ever made,” would have this image seared in the minds of cult film fans forever.

7 // Bat Your Lashes
Vampira’s fashion would go on to inspire gothic ladies for years to come. Her bat-eye glasses, created in 1949 by Edward Melcarth, are an accessory (and artifact) of note. The original pair is now owned by tattoo and television star Kat Von D and recently a company created a limited edition pair of sunglasses inspired by the originals. However, vamp was not her only look. Maila played a rat-loving beat poet in the film The Beat Generation, sporting a short cropped cut and a bohemian look. Images of her with a chelsea-like hair cut (a tuft of bangs on a bald head), accessorized with elfish ears and sci-fi accessories can be found in her archives.

8 // Creatures of The Night
More than just a blood sucker, Maila was also an animal lover. Maila spent Christmas of 1956 recovering from first degree burns on her arms and hands after a fire broke out in her apartment one evening. Her cat, Ratface, was said to have helped her escape in time. She posed for pictures after the incident with bandages on her hands while holding the beloved feline.

9 // An Uncanny Resemblance
In the ’80s, Maila was working with a television studio to re-vamp the Vampira character and make a comeback on the small screen. After three months, they stopped calling her to come in to the studio, and the next thing she knew, Elvira appeared. Maila tried to sue actress Cassandra Peterson unsuccessfully for eight years. Peterson gained success and fame with the character, and Maila financially gained nothing. She criticized Peterson’s use of the money on “houses and red limousines,” arguing that when she decided to re-visit the character she wanted to donate the profits to animal welfare.

10 // Forever Undead
By 1962 Maila’s career in entertainment dwindled and she found herself laying linoleum flooring and cleaning celebrities’ houses for 99 cents an hour. By the ’70s she was selling handmade jewellery and clothing in her antique shop, Vampira’s Attic, on Melrose Avenue.

Maila Nurmi passed from this wretched planet in 2008, leaving the world with memories, style, and a cemetery of artifacts and memorabilia that today are used in exhibits and documentaries about her life and influence.

R.I.P. Vampira.

images // courtesy Official Vampira

Mon Dieu! Fashion Pop

Our intern checks out the coolest fashion show to take place in a church basement

Welcome to Église Pop—AKA the basement of the most bangin’ church in Montreal.

Expectations: In the days of yore, before I found myself interning at WORN, I was able to build many misconceptions about fashion and its industry. Hearing that Montreal’s Fashion Pop included a runway show had me believe I was entering some absurd world populated by that type of human seen primarily on America’s Next Top Model. Coming to fashion from an academic background, I was worried I’d feel awkward and out of place.

Forgive me, for I have sinned. Fashion POP is anything but your run of the mill runway romp.

Fashion Pop winner Christine Charlebois revelling in her victory

Reality: I was pretty surprised to find my nervous, fashion show virgin self back in the basement of the French Catholic church where I had downed vodka and Red Bull and danced until 4 a.m. while Peaches spun records in a giant titty-covered leotard only a few nights before. (Those of you dying to ask Is the Pop Catholic? I’ll have you know the event is totally secular. Also: shush.)

There was no snobbery at Fashion Pop—just cheap beer, house wine, and a good old-fashioned survival of the fittest competition.

This, I could handle.

Fashion Pop designer Marie Darsigny.

Montreal chic outside of Église Pop.

Continue reading