There was no dramatic moment in which I started wearing the hijab. In fact, it happened so suddenly my mom assumed that I started wearing it to avoid brushing my hair every morning. Just to make sure that laziness wasn’t a factor in my decision, for the first year or so she would check my hair every morning before school to make sure it was still getting brushed.
Now I’m 21, and it’s been almost a decade since I started covering my hair and neck with a hijab (hijab refers to the Muslim practice of modest dressing, but it can also refer specifically to the headscarf). Having lived my whole life in a diverse Canadian city, it doesn’t get that much attention. Still, the ignorance I do sometimes encounter tends to come more in the form of condescending than hostile.
There was the time an old co-worker empathetically told me how bad she felt that I had no choice but to wear the hijab and how sad it was that I couldn’t be “free” like other girls my age. Even though I kindly explained to her that I wanted to wear the hijab and that it was a choice I made for myself without any outside pressure, she remained unconvinced. The poor woman was putting herself through mental gymnastics trying to liberate a free woman, while I was just trying to find a polite way to excuse myself from the conversation so I could go home and watch Arrested Development.
Every fellow hijabi that I know just wishes that people would ask us questions about the hijab, rather than make offensive assumptions. It’s a question that makes people uneasy. After about thirty seconds of them telling me how much they don’t want to offend me and how I don’t have to answer their questions unless I am comfortable, I give them a simple answer: because I want to and I love it. At this point, they look at me as if I’m cheating them out of the real answer, but really that’s what it comes down to. I wear the hijab because I am a Muslim woman and I believe my hair and body are my business, and mine only. It’s more than just a religious symbol (though that is a part of it); it acts as a sort of security blanket. I choose who sees what’s under there and that gives me a sense of power and reassurance I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Likewise, it bothers me when girls tell me how lucky I am that I can be ugly and nobody would know. I still know what I look like underneath and let’s be real: my opinion is the most important. It makes me recall my mom checking my hair every morning before school; at the time, I found that to be pointless, but it taught me something valuable about what it means to wear the hijab. Although nobody on the outside could see my hair, my appearance underneath can still hold as much significance as I want to give it.
Not unlike hair, my hijab has evolved with me over time and I have tried many different styles. I went from trying my hardest to not stick out and only wear muted colours, to wearing fuchsia pashminas in order to match my shoes. I still look back on my tent style hijab of 2005—a square silk scarf pinned together at the throat—and shudder. I think I’ve found the best way to wrap it around my long head to compliment my Somali forehead, but I can only wonder if in a few years I’ll look back and be embarrassed the same way we all collectively cringe when we remember the ’80s. And hey, who knows—maybe next year my tent hijab will come back in style.
Don’t let their screeching scare you; MYTHS are the sweethearts of Vancouver’s noise and experimental scene. Quinne Rodgers and Lief Hall comprise the dark electronic duo that mixes performance art with fashion and attack noise assaults with deconstructed pop stardom. For those who checked out the recent Grimes tour, you might recognize them as the beautiful creatures under sheets of opalescent plastic playing back-up for Ms. Boucher.
I first saw MYTHS play at a show in Meaford, Ontario a few years ago. They danced like pixies around a giant homemade prism in elaborate, mirror-covered outfits…with capes. Doused in an amplified rainbow of light, they poured waves of beautiful sound over the crowd and down into the valley of the farm we camped on. Needless to say, I was impressed. Fashion, noise music, and two strong women in one band? I left inspired and still remain nostalgic about that night. I knew I had to see them play again and had to talk to them about fashion, feminism, and their own personal mythologies for WORN.
What do you think the relationship between music and fashion is? Why do people care about what musicians wear? Leif > My first thought when you say that is that people are always fascinated with the personality behind the creator of an artwork. What drives that creative force? Clothes and people’s personalities are really linked. It’s the way that you express who you are, what you’re into, what you like. People want to know: who is that person? How you dress says something about who you are. Quinne > Humans are visual creatures. That’s largely how we communicate. Clothing is a language and a code. Being able to see a person and see what they’re wearing—it reads like a novel. I’ve heard other musicians complain about that before but it’s just how it is. You need to accept the visual as part of it; it’s what people are attracted to. It works for us because we’re both visual artists and we love clothes!
After I first saw you play I was left with this overwhelming sensation: I had just seen a mind-blowing performance that I sensed was inherently feminist. After reading up on your work, I wasn’t surprised to find that you cite feminism as an influence on your practice. What kinds of feminist politics drive your work? Quinne > We were both discovering feminism as MYTHS was created. It was almost like a feminist book club when we were first starting. We read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and had these long discussions about it, and a result the first album was really influenced by this. When you first discover feminist thought you feel like the wool is being pulled off your eyes and we went through this together as friends and band mates. Leif > It was our first real experience discovering feminism, and it was great that we also experienced this sudden empowerment because we were doing something creative and productive together. You hear about feminist thought in passing, but when you really start to get into these politics things change; it was an exciting time in that sense. Also, you get a lot of feelings coming up—reactionary feelings. These reactions really came out in our music. But we’re also very much interested in storytelling and fantasy and evoking imagery, so even though we were thinking about and wanted feminism to be a part of our work, we didn’t want it to be preachy—we don’t have the answers. We wanted the project to be evocative of these ideas. Our approach to it was to create stories, worlds, fantasy and poetry and let our views come out as something that wasn’t imposing. So in the way that you said you “sensed something,” that’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted to convey a message subconsciously or in a dreamlike landscape.
When you say reactionary anger I think about a video I’ve seen of you performing costume-less at Wyrd Festival in Edmonton. Lief > There were three dates for that festival: Calgary, Edmonton, and, Lethbridge and we didn’t really wear costumes the whole time. If was our first out of town gig and we were just a little bit nervous, but we’ve come into our own with that. We did a photoshoot the other day that was a series of Vancouver bands and everyone wore the typical band uniform; causal day clothes, the usual. We decided to just go for it. I wore this frightening yellow ballgown with big ruffles and big flowers on my head. Quinne wore her wedding gown with similar flowers on her head. We decided to just say screw it and go with our own thing.
In the video I saw of that show your aggression seems to come across in a totally different way without the clothes. Lief > I guess when you strip away the costumes it starts to show a little bit more of the real part of what we’re doing. We enter into fantasy in our work, and the costumes, sets, and visuals are all a part of that. The aggression is different in those settings, it takes on a different meaning. When you strip away all of the costuming you’re left with the rawness of the aggression. Quinne > Have you ever seen videos of Leif’s old band, Mutators? You could really see the aggression in that band.
Are there characters you play when you perform in MYTHS? Quinne > There’s the aspect of live shows and being a character, and there’s also the idea of actual reoccurring characters that come up in our work: like the woman with the long white hair. We did an electronic opera and a bunch of characters came out in that. Then there’s also the idea of live performance: how much we are ourselves and how much of it is characters. But it’s really important to us that we’re not some kind of version of something that isn’t ourselves, that we’re not “playing parts.” Lief > I guess at the same time, every person has different elements of themselves that they can tap into. That was my experience when I was in the band Mutators. People would meet me offstage and be stunned as if it wasn’t the same person they had just seen get up on stage and perform. Sometimes you transform during a performance, you tap into a part of yourself you don’t usually access. We both like reading about mythology a lot: it’s a big part of what we write about, hence the name MYTHS. Carl Jung talks about personal mythologies, and more or less said that because we don’t believe in mythologies in the same way that we have historically, we create our own characterizations of ourselves and other people as these sort of mythic characters in our psyches. Within MYTHS I do think we tap into these parts of ourselves—it’s still us, but it’s a mythic characterizations of ourselves.
Who are your favourite fashion designers? Quinne > Alexander Mcqueen. I cried at my desk at work when I found out he died. Nobody’s really come close for me since, until recently I discovered Iris van Herpen who is a dutch designer whose stuff is so amazing. Bjork has been wearing a bunch of her work. She’s really technical. She did cyborg, skeleton-like designs that were made with lasers. You put a bunch of material in a box and a laser will go in and solidify the material. It’s also not traditional material for clothing—that’s something I get excited about, when clothing is not just fabric draped on a body, and instead it’s a piece of architecture, an object—film, rocks, etc. McQueen really did that. I also used to say Galliano, but now I feel like a dick for saying Galliano. He’s a dirty thing to like now after his behaviour. I’ll just stick with Alexander McQueen and Iris van Herpen. Leif > I share Quinne’s love of designers, but I also love Victor and Rolf. Quinne > They all really influence the costumes for our stage shows, even to the point where I’ve tried to copy some of their designs. We’re not fashion designers though, so it turns out differently and we’re not competing with them. But we do get really influenced directly by stuff. It’s transformed by how we make it and how it’s used.
Quinne, I read somewhere that you used to be a fashion designer? Quinne > Yeah, quite a long time ago. I’ve always been really into clothing and because of my small stature I had to learn how to sew. So for a while I made clothes, had my own label, and sold them in little Vancouver shops. I stopped because I wasn’t really organized enough to really pull it off. I would make one piece and it would be intricate and handmade and then I would go off and do another design—I never made a bunch in different sizes. It’s perfect for the band though; now I can just go nuts and make whatever I want.
While we have expressed our love for the beautifully designed shoes of Roger Vivier in our shoe issue, there’s a stark difference between seeing something on the page and seeing something in real life. Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum’s current exhibit Process to Perfection features some of Vivier’s most stunning works. Not only is it a good complement to our article (hint hint), it also acts as an informative look into the life and working process of the renowned shoe designer.
The artifacts in this exhibit come from the Bata Shoe Museum’s holdings, as well as the Roger Vivier Brand, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Deutsches Ledermuseum in Germany, with each institution helping to document the history of Vivier’s rise to mastery of his craft. While the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Roger Vivier Brand may provide elegant examples of Vivier’s distinct aesthetic such as the Pilgrim buckle and the perfection of the stiletto heel, pieces of the process of “becoming” Vivier can be found elsewhere. For example, many sketches, as well as “pullover” prototypes from the archives at the Bata Shoe Museum are included in the display, alongside some of Vivier’s earliest prototypes created while working at a German leather company during the ’30s. These pieces were only recently discovered as a part of Vivier’s material legacy, given the fact they were created prior to his fame as a designer.
Vivier’s work has become so ubiquitous in ’50s cinema that to see his work broken down to its elements is a reminder of all the work that exists behind some of the most iconic shoes.
Museums and clothing have a longstanding history together. The John L. Wehle Art Gallery is home to the fairly extensive Susan Greene costume collection: 3,000 garments spanning from the late 18th to the early 20th century (think many crinolined skirts and satin tuxes). It’s a collection that Karen Augusta, Antiques Road Show appraiser, calls “a gem” that “stands alone as one of the finest collections of its kind in North America”. So what is it that makes this particular collection so unique? Susan Greene kept everyday possessions belonging to men, women and children that no one thought people would want to see. Displayed in shiny glass cases are dish rags, undergarments, and beloved frocks that have been Frankensteined together over and over to resurrect the dead. Visitors see the material lives of New Yorkers from eras past, approachably presented.
The museum is situated in the Genesee Country Village & Museum, a historical village in Mumford, New York, complete with Ye Olden Shoppes. I got to wander through the collection with Bevin Lyn, Coordinator of Interpretive Programs, who I found walking through a cobbled street. In a full Jane Austen style get-up, Bevin gave me a tour of the collection, first recollecting how she came to the Genesee village. “As a child I was really into Jane Austen,” she says, “so when I came here I was like ‘Wow! These people are like me.’” Bevin worked in banking but came back to work the museum, linking herself with this past. She hasn’t turned back and I began to see why.
Since the Greenes collected the garments of the working and upper classes, a history of thriftiness is woven through the exhibition. Bevin points out that most New Yorkers “valued each and every garment [they owned]…so they patched, maintained and took care of [them]…and that’s why they survived today.” “Thrift” today conjures up exciting trips to Salvation Army to find quirky leftovers. A 19th century American’s idea of thrift was simply NOT discarding or giving away their clothes, but preserving them for their own usage. With a tighter economic climate, Bevin warns that “we’re having to come full circle.” Perhaps we can learn to take better care of our clothes by following the Wornette lead…
“Without foundation there is no fashion”
Bevin quotes Christian Dior as she leads me through the incredibly user-friendly plexi-glass covered drawers of women’s undergarments. She talks of corsets and stays, words which perplex me at first – what is the difference between these undergarments? Push-up vs. just keeping them in place? My guide tells me that the terms are interchangeable. This collection encompasses that interesting time just after the French revolution when non-fussy, cotton shift dresses became popular and foundation garments thus evolved accordingly. Women did not want bone in their foundation garments, but opted for softer more flexible stays that allowed for greater movement, just like their dresses did. Much in the same way, we opt for sports bras- versus underwire cups and hydraulic cleavage pressure systems for our more bouncy pursuits.
Staring at a case saturated in paisley, Bevin relates that paisley shawls were once a status symbol. Cashmere shawls in paisley designs were produced in Kashmir, India and were created by sewing needles and hand-weaving. Small sections would be sewn together so masterfully that seams were invisible. In the second half of the 19th century, paisley scarves were woven on looms in Paisley, Scotland. In Franc,e attempts were made to domesticate Indian goats which produced the soft wool, all in the hopes of replicating the pricey Indian original. When these “knock-offs” came out, Bevin emphasized that wealthy women were upset: “in the fashion articles of the time you’ll read that rich women think it’s so gauche that these poor women are copying them.” Lest we forget the Fendi baguette incident from Sex and the City.
The Wehle Gallery has put together a relevant fashion exhibit in that it has exposed many of the fashion concerns of the 19th century only to reveal they have become trendy again. The gallery however breaks with the prevailing style of museum exhibits by including numerous hands-on drawers, displaying cheap and chic garment examples, and on some fortuitous occasions, offering period-costumed tour-guides. These are some trends I wouldn’t mind having catch on.