The Clothes of Cronenberg


There are two kinds of David Cronenberg movies: the ones that disturb and horrify you, and the ones you haven’t seen yet. In November 2013, I wrote a review of Cronenberg: Evolution, the exhibition showcasing David Cronenberg’s prolific film career at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. In the process I realized I had seen a total of three Cronenberg films; pitiful, considering that he’s made almost forty. In the name of research, I watched 15 Cronenberg films in the span of five days (with one particularly trying Saturday Cronenberg marathon—six films in a row, not recommended for the faint of heart).

Cronenberg: Evolution showcases the artifacts of Cronenberg’s prominent and prolific film career within three loosely defined themes or stages. The first stage asks, “Who Is My Creator?” and features films like Stereo, The Brood, and Videodrome, films in which the heroes and heroines have to live with the results of a scientific experiment gone wrong. The second stage, “Who Am I?” deals with protagonists who are often the scientists—The Fly and Dead Ringers, for example—and their own test subjects. Finally, there’s “Who Are We?”, the current stage in Cronenberg’s career where his films look outward at society and communities, with films like A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method, and Cosmopolis.

At every stage, Cronenberg: Evolution makes a point to include notable costumes and other important sartorial artifacts, like the makeup and wardrobe sketches for Videodrome. David Cronenberg works primarily with his sister, Denise Cronenberg, who has created some of the most iconic wardrobes seen in his films. Denise has worked on thirteen of David’s films, as well as Dawn of the Dead, The Incredible Hulk, and Resident Evil, among others.

Denise did not formally study costume design. “I’m completely self taught,” she tells me over email, adding that she comes from a family who worked in clothing—her grandmother was a dressmaker and her grandfathers were tailors. The family connection is clearly not just between David and Denise—she adds that “being a mother of three has given me the best tool in working with actors. Psychology!”

Before film, Denise was a dancer who specialized in ballet. “If I disliked [my costumes], I found it affected my performance. I always remember that when I’m creating costumes for actors. They must feel good in their costume; it must help them become the character they are playing.”

In the video above, you can see a few costumes and accessories from our visit to opening day. The clothes of a Cronenberg film are, like the protagonists who wear them, ill-fated. They’re fabric casualties in the making. From the moment I saw Jeff Goldblum proudly display his one-outfit closet to Geena Davis in The Fly (“Learned from Einstein,” he boasts), I knew he would soon lose any human appendages with which to wear those five identical pants, shirts, and blazers. If The Brood‘s Nola goes to her psychoanalysis in flowing white robes that we only see from the neck up, you can bet those robes are hiding something truly grotesque from the neck down. By the end of most Cronenberg movies they’re either covered in bodily fluids or disintegrating to dust.

On the other hand, the fashion of David Cronenberg’s films isn’t exclusively blood-soaked or ripped to shreds. Often they’re incredibly beautiful and intricate period pieces, like the opera costumes for M. Butterfly and the true-to-life wardrobes for Cronenberg’s fictional versions of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Sabina Spielrein in A Dangerous Method. My personal favourites are the leg braces from Crash, which evoke an iconic Helmut Newton photograph, and Debbie Harry’s red dress in Videodrome.

Cronenberg: Evolution is open until January 19, 2014. I’d highly recommend a visit for Toronto Wornettes. For Wornettes everywhere else, I have a suggestion for a really dark Saturday afternoon.

Video // Daniel Reis
Music // Love Like This by Human Egg (h/t Alex Molotkow)

Haley’s Year In Review

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The problem with writing a review of a 12 month period at the 11 month mark is that you have a totally skewed perspective on things. The most recent event seems like the most important and I start to delude myself into thinking that nothing, not a single event in the realm of fashion during the calendar year of 2013, could be as important as Beyoncé wearing a crystal corset in this video.

I guess a common flaw in the human memory is that we give way, way too much importance to the most recent events (particularly when those events involve the surprise release of a new Beyoncé album), and that everything else gets lost in this grey fog at the back of your cerebral cortex. But then someone says something and it triggers one memory which leads to another and another and then all of a sudden you’re frantically texting yourself ridiculous non sequiturs like “t-shirts Wendy Davis criticism street style Janet Malcolm Gucci.” So, without further ado, here’s my 2013/Year of Beyoncé review.

First things first: on December 12, 2013, I went to bed at a reasonable hour to prepare to move into a new apartment on Friday the 13th. I have never made such a stupid decision. At the stroke of midnight, Beyoncé Knowles Carter released Beyoncé, a visual album that came as a surprise to the entire fucking world (up to and including some of the people who worked on it). There’s a lot of reasons this is significant, but mostly I’m stuck on “FORTY FIVE MINUTES TO GET ALL DRESSED UP AND WE AIN’T EVEN GONNA MAKE IT TO THIS CLUB.” “Pretty Hurts,” the incredibly beautiful video featuring Beyoncé as an aspiring beauty queen, is designed to wrench tears from anyone with a beating heart. In “Flawless,” Beyoncé mocks the idea of effortless beauty while sampling Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s TED talk on feminism. Do yourself a favour and set aside some serious time to watch and worship this holiday season; Beyoncé is truly a Christmas miracle.

It’s almost painful to not talk about Beyoncé, but okay, now I’m really moving on.

In 2013, I spent a lot of time thinking about Spring Breakers. This weird, dreamy film was like watching a neon-tinged stream of consciousness; it touched on important issues like race, class, wealth, sex, and dubstep. The image of Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson forcing James Franco to fellate his own gun is indelibly etched on my brain (in a good way). I fought with people about this movie—men, mostly, but also some women—about what it all meant, whether it was feminist, not feminist, all that basic bullshit. But the thing I really couldn’t stop thinking about was the way the girls in the movie were so unclothed—in some of the movie’s most dangerous scenes, it’s like they’re going into battle with nothing but a bikini and a machine gun. There’s a really strange element of power present, like they don’t need anything except their societally-approved beautiful bodies in order to thrive in any situation. The sneakers that they wear for most of the film are bright, with huge loops that looked like they were tied in a hurry; it’s such a small, childish detail that complements their string bikinis, South Beach tourist shop sweatpants, and pink balaclavas perfectly. There’s also James Franco’s Oscar-worthy monologue detailing everything he owns—he deserves every award, ever, just for the way he delivers the line “Calvin Klein’s Escape.” Spring break forever, indeed.

Sofia Coppola released The Bling Ring, a movie I did not like based on a book I really disliked. While both films dealt with really interesting ideas of wealth, consumption, and so-called “luxury” fashion, I really disagreed with the way Coppola portrayed her teenage characters as being a combination of pure evil and epically dumb; I think she was especially patronizing in this interview with Lee Radizwell. I think there are some really intelligent observations to be made on this topic, though, and would instead recommend re-reading Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, or even finding a copy of Lindzine, which I picked up at the 2013 New York Art Book Fair. Or should we just watch Spring Breakers again real quick?

But for better or worse, I did spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between clothing and consumption in 2013. One article that still haunts me is by Buzz Bissinger, the author of my beloved Friday Night Lights, simply titled “My Gucci Addiction.” In April 2013, GQ published Bissinger’s confession that he was, for lack of a better term, a shopaholic. He is addicted to shopping and specifically to buying Gucci clothing and accessories. By the time he catalogued the cost of everything he had bought in the three years preceding this article, it was $587,412.97.

Here’s what I think is good about this article: I think it’s really, really important that we have more honest dialogues about the really toxic parts of the fashion industry. And shopping is, in a lot of cases, toxic; it’s also entirely impossible to avoid, unless you are raising a flock of sheep and shearing them to knit your own sweaters. The obsession that the mainstream fashion industry has with the new and the now is a trap. It’s designed to keep us in a constant cycle of buying and discarding. But it’s incredibly unnerving to read someone—and, honestly, to read a mostly straight-identified white man, of all people—talk about the death grip his Gucci obsession had on him. I don’t think I’m used to people talking quite so honestly about the destructive belief that you can buy yourself better. Read the whole article here.

If we’re talking about the destructive nature of fashion, then there’s nothing more important than what happened in Bangladesh. Nathalie Atkinson, an honourary Wornette for life, summed it up best: “Today, we wring our hands; tomorrow we will live to shop again. Such brief disposable bursts of moral indignation are as cheap as they are trendy.” As Wornettes, we know that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. In July, several European retailers signed one safety pact while American and Canadian signed a slightly different agreement. I want to be hopeful and trust that big brands can be a force for good in the apparel industry, but before that, I think we all need to think really carefully about how and where we’re spending our money when it comes to clothing.

For more careful explorations of the entire fashion industry, I know Serah-Marie Wornette is a huge fan of NPR’s Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt series. The series is exactly what it sounds like: NPR follows the making of a t-shirt from every stage, cotton to human, to see what it really takes to make a seemingly simple item of clothing. I’m planning on watching, reading, and listening to all five chapters over the holidays, because I know how to party.

This year I read a lot of really wonderful writing about fashion criticism. Fashion Projects devoted an entire issue to the topic, featuring interviews with fashion critics like Robin Givhan, Guy Trebay, Suzy Menkes, and more; it’s impossible to pick a favourite, but I did especially love Francesca Granata’s interview with Judith Thurman, which is online here.

Speaking of Suzy Menkes, in February 2013, she wrote an article entitled “The Circus of Fashion.” In it, Menkes talks about the proliferation of street style blogs and how they’ve changed the industry. I’m inclined to disagree with her, mostly because I’m hard-wired to disagree with anyone who bemoans what kids today are up to in favour of the more “authentic” kids of their own time. She is right that the majority of fashion bloggers have not, unfortunately, used their platform to organize a full-scale revolt around an unjust industry, and instead have chosen to enforce the status quo, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame that on the bloggers—I’d rather focus on the people who are using the freedom the Internet brings to subvert fashion publishing norms. Or the people who are changing the status quo from the inside out! Anything but another round of finger-pointing at a group of people who, honestly, are more a reflection of fashion industry’s core values than anything else. Susie Bubble had a wonderful, heartfelt response to being named by Menkes in this article.

Here’s something that just made me lol a lot, while we’re talking about the fashion establishment: at New York Fashion Week in September, a bunch of fashion editors, stylists, and writers were trapped in a freight elevator on their way out of a show. This is the perfect premise for a horror movie, by the way. That’s a freebie for any big movie executives reading this round-up.

In June, a magazine published a cover story called “A New Golden Age,” about the future of magazine publishing; I’m deliberately not linking to it, because according to them, the future of magazine publishing is exclusively white and male. As a response, Jessica Grose wrote about the prejudices against women’s magazines within the publishing industry here. As well, Longreads published a list of 21 Outstanding Stories from Women’s Magazines and Websites. And all those white male self-congratulatory publications can go fuck themselves.

In the grand tradition of Valentino blazers and rainbow pantsuits, American politics made a contribution to fashion history this year with a simple pair of sneakers. Wendy Davis stood for thirteen hours to stop a list of measures that would have severely restricted abortion regulations in the state of Texas. Her choice of shoes—a pink pair of Mizuno sneakers—inspired a series of truly hilarious Amazon reviews, such as “These are the perfect shoes for standing your ground against misogyny, ignorance, and deliberate stupidity.” Anna Wornette and I talked about the significance of these shoes for The Toast, which you can read here. We also talked about a whole bunch of other stuff for The Toast, including our feelings about museums, horror movies, and skin care; for a complete archive, click here.

At WORN, we’re very against the concept of do’s and don’ts…unless we’re talking about the word “fashionista,” which is banned from our offices and our publication. We were extremely gratified to see that the man who invented the word fashionista apologized.

A book I loved this year was White Girls by Hilton Als. Als is a staff writer for The New Yorker and an absolutely brilliant perfect genius; seriously, I cannot recommend this entire book highly enough. He has one essay in particular that I think all Wornettes should read: “The Only One,” an essay originally published in 1994 about Andre Leon Talley‘s life and work. It’s a perfect profile of a man who has given his life to mainstream fashion, and the last three paragraphs just emotionally devastated me. You can actually read the whole thing online here, but I’d still say you should get a copy of the book, if possible, because every single essay in it is wonderful.

Wornettes live for the style issues of The New Yorker. This September, my favourite article was the Janet Malcolm profile of Eileen Fisher, the piece I didn’t even know I’d been waiting my whole life to read. There’s an excerpt here, but the entire article is unfortunately subscription-only.

The New Inquiry published their first ever fashion issue this September, and I was lucky enough to be one of their contributors. In “Swarovski Kristallnacht,” I wrote about my very conflicted feelings about the Punk: From Chaos to Couture exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as the history of Nazi and fascist imagery within punk fashion. The issue also featured Minh-Ha T. Pham, one of my favourite fashion writers, discussing the future of virtual fashion shows, Fiona Duncan interviewing the man behind Not Vogue, and Ayesha Siddiqi with what is really the only essay you need to read about Miley Cyrus, and so much more. You can download the entire issue here.

More from Minh-Ha: she wrote an incredible response to the Rick Owens’s Spring 2014 runway show, arguing that fashion needs to stop trying to be diverse and instead should “fundamentally alter the structures that enable whites to benefit from racism and people of colour to be exploited by it.” To which I can only add: yes.

I watched a lot of television this year (just like every year) and read a lot of really wonderful fashion-related television criticism. For Mad Men, I loved reading Tom & Lorenzo’s weekly recaps—every single post was an incredibly detailed and insightful look at the fashion that matters in each episode. I think my favourite was the recap for “Favors,” where they talked at length about the hanky code and other ways clothing was used as signifiers in Mad Men-era New York (for more on this topic, you must read Max Wornette’s article in Issue 12 of WORN).

I also became truly obsessed with Robin Wright’s character on the Netflix Original series, House of Cards, and wrote about why I loved her wardrobe for the WORN blog. And thanks to the magic of the internet, the costume designer actually saw my post! As a result I was able to interview Tom Broecker for Issue 17 of WORN, where we talked about his time as the costume designer for shows like Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, and In Treatment, among others. Talking to him about the relationship between clothing and identity on some of my favourite television shows was a dream come true.

In other WORN-related news: we’re publishing a book! And we’re so, so excited about it. The WORN Archive will be available for sale in spring 2014. For more details, click here and here.

Aaaaaand that’s all I’ve got. I’m sure there’s more I missed, but I’m only one person…also, I haven’t watched a Beyoncé video in about an hour and I’m going through serious withdrawal. Happy holidays, Wornettes!

Did I not include your favourite fashion story of the year? Leave it in the comments!

An Eclectic Set of Links for your Eclectic Set of Weekend

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We have all had a hard, long week, and most of us have likely spent it feeling dowdy inside a parka. Because it’s cold outside. What better time than the present to look outward from our parkas to the great wide world of the internet and its style-related links? Rebecca M. Wornette’s eye was caught by these internet treasures this week.

Mannequins Give Shape to Venezuelan Fantasy

This article takes a close look at Venezuela’s rapidly growing obsession with manufactured beauty. From impossibly proportioned mannequins to Miss Universe winners, it showcases the products and processes of unrealistic images. While impossible ideals for female beauty are really a global issue, the standards seem to be a whole other beast in Venezuela—to the point where European and Western mannequins just weren’t disproportionate enough. Miss Venezuela took the Miss Universe title again a couple of weeks ago. This is the country’s third win in just five years.

Reacting to Miley

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid having an opinion on Miley Cyrus, kudos to you. Educate yourself on everyone’s favourite conversation of the year with this short and sweet summary of some of the reactions to her Video Music Awards performance, which was kinda the show that kicked off this whirlwind of well-planned controversy. It’s got you covered on all things Miley, with in-depth analyses of her performance, as well as all the memes you really don’t need distracting you right now but will probably enjoy anyway.

Dev Hynes: Cupid Deluxe

The man is music, fashion, and art. Dev Hynes is constantly reinventing himself, dabbling in everything from post-hardcore rock to indie pop to funk and soul. Right now he’s making headlines with his feud with Beyonce’s baby sis, Solange, for whom he wrote and produced the critically acclaimed True EP. So while everyone is focusing on the negative, I’d like to throw it back to a couple of weeks ago when it was all about the music.

Why Instagram Censored My Body

While it was anticipated that her t-shirt collaboration with American Apparel would cause a stir, it was kind of a shock when Petra Collins’s Instagram was deleted because of a bikini picture she posted. She’d been reported before for more risqué content than this, but it seems that admins were not comfortable with that fact that her bikini line was shown au naturel. In response, Collin’s wrote this open letter to address the issue of censorship, body shaming, and the significance of freedom of expression on the internet.

We’ve Got Shows! Where to Find a WORN Table this Holiday Season

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‘Tis the season to browse your local independent craft fair, as the saying goes. WORN is very excited to be spending most of December hanging around The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West). On December 7th, WORN will be at The Gladstone Flea Holiday Edition, and then again on December 14th for the Toronto Indie Arts Market’s Small Press Fair.

The Gladstone Flea Holiday Edition is curated by WORN’s very own Haley Mlotek and honorary Wornette Anita Clarke. We’ll be there on December 7 from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. together with an exceptionally well-curated group of local, independent vendors.

The Toronto Indie Arts Market Small Press Fair features authors, zines, chapbooks, paper goods, and much more—perfect for print lovers (i.e., all Wornettes). We’ll be there on December 14 from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

At both shows we’ll have some very special holiday deals, including our WORN Holiday Gift Pack. See you there, Toronto Wornettes!