“I always sit in the front row,” I overheard a young woman tell her friend. “I’m a nerd.”
I could relate. A nerd myself, I arrived early at Convergence: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Fashion, Ryerson University’s first Fashion Studies graduate symposium that took place last November, and observed the over-caffeinated presenters as they organized their notes, unpacked their laptops and scurried about.
Other snippets of conversation that could be appreciated by WORN readers surrounded me:
“What are you wearing? I can see the Peter Pan collar!”
“There has to be a certain number of left-handed desks in the room. It’s called equity.”
“I’m going to wear my hat during my talk. I’m going to wear it until Wednesday.”
“You have every right to squeal; tutus are a sight to behold.”
“I’m not putting a name tag on silk.”
As the students, professors and guests took their seats, Sarah Portway, a Ryerson graduate student and one of the presenters, discovered her PowerPoint presentation would not load properly.
“It’s like I tell my students,” she said. “If there’s one thing that will screw you up, it’s technology. Late last night, I decided to be funny and create a pictogram. This is my punishment. Maybe it’s because my computer’s made of wood.”
I asked her if this was true. “Yeah, the outside is bamboo. My talk is about sustainability, so I should put my money where my mouth is.”
During her introduction, Associate Professor Dr. Alison David Matthews explained the title of the symposium. ‘Convergence,’ she said, means to ‘bend towards.’ It was a good metaphor for the diverse but overlapping topics discussed throughout the day.
Caroline O’Brien inspects a tutu for her talk on the Ballerina in Western Culture
From harem pants in interwar Paris to style blogs in the digital age, the presentations touched on the conflicts inherent in the study of fashion. Is fashion decorative or protective? Superficial or indispensable? Frivolous or feminist?
Artist, researcher and issue 13 contributor Ingrid Mida spoke about Canadian designer Ruth Dukas, whose blooming career was cut short in the 1970’s.
Designer Jenifer Forrest’s talk took up where Mida’s left off, outlining what happened to Canada’s fashion industry from the 1980’s onward. She argued that it should be categorized as a cultural industry (like film, music and books) rather than a manufacturing one, which would allow for more government support.
Portway, whose PowerPoint presentation did end up working, offered an inspiring vision of an industry which produces locally and doesn’t rely on goods being shipped around the world. “It all started with me being jealous of a dress I bought,” she joked. “I’ve never been to China, but my dress had.”
Ingrid Mida, Jenifer Forrest and Sarah Portway discuss Canada’s fashion identity
While Portway’s talk was concerned with what the West imports, Nabeela Ahsan shone a light on what we send away. After natural disasters, clothing companies send mounds of unsold items to foreign countries, for which they get a tax credit. Little thought is put into the garments’ usefulness or cultural appropriateness. As a result, evening gowns are sent to homeless earthquake victims.
The bags of clothes take up room in shelters, gobble up volunteers’ time and more often than not end up at the junkyard. Ahsan proposes an international program which would use local textiles to help clothe disaster survivors (working title: ‘Tailors Without Borders’).
Taken as a whole, the presentations showed where fashion has been and where it could go. They served to underline David’s description of the “incredible complexity of the fashion industry.” It’s a complexity Ryerson’s Fashion Studies program will hopefully continue to investigate for years to come.
text by Max Mosher
images by Sofie Mikhaylova