Crushing on Shi Wisdom

Heads up: this interview may inspire you to invest in a jumpsuit

Before even hearing Shi Wisdom‘s voice, she had me at her two-tone jumpsuit. I first saw the R&B songstress perform back in February. Her stage presence dazzled, both by her incredible talent as well as her vibrant style. An understated force in the Toronto music scene, she has collaborated with Drake, Kardinal Offishall, and JD Era. This past July, Shi released her debut album LVSPK. She spoke to me about her trademark look, the hypersexualization of black women, and the awesomeness that is Prince.

If you could define your style in one sentence, what would it be?
“I wear what I want, if it fits and flows.”

How did you dress as a kid?
As a kid, I bounced from really girly stuff to kind of tomboyish stuff. I didn’t have one set style. My mom has always had a dope sense of fashion and always hooked me up!

What else did your mom teach you about clothing and style?
She’s always taught me about wearing my size. She also taught me about when it’s appropriate or inappropriate to wear certain things. Those lessons have served me well throughout my life. What a woman wears and how she wears it has a great deal of influence on how she is treated. Especially being a black woman.

Mainstream hip hop has a history of ramping up the sex appeal of female musicians, to sell records or what have you. Have you experienced any pressure to look a particular way?
I’m a singer, but being a woman is the same in either genre. There’s always pressure to over-sexualize women, especially women of colour. I have no qualms with being sexy at all. My issues lie in the fucked up beauty perceptions that are continuously forced on Black women. I’m a brown-skinned, plus-sized woman. There will always be that voice from The Man that tells me to be lighter in shade and in weight. I definitely don’t counter losing a few pounds for the sake of a healthier lifestyle, but the skin lightening will NEVER happen. I’m a proud Black woman who is not afraid to be sexy, but not willing to sell my body in order to make the people hear what I have to say.

In what way does the music industry influence your look?
The music industry introduced me to consistency in style. Consistent style is a major part of branding. The more people recognize you for the little things, the better.

Is there a difference between a brand and a style?
Branding differs from style simply because a brand has to remain consistent, where style can change like the weather.

So your trademark septum ring would be part of your brand.
My horseshoe septum ring was just something I got because I loved the way it looked. At the time, I didn’t see many Black women in Toronto really rocking it, which drew me to it even more. It eventually became something that many people remembered me by. It became a part of my look. Now, it’s even a part of my logo. It’s totally me!

Is it true you may get signed on to a major label? Are you concerned about having to conform to a specific mold to sell records?
Anything is possible at the present moment in terms of signing to a major label. There are options there that I’m weighing. I’m certainly not concerned with having to conform to a specific mold to sell records. If my records don’t sell themselves, my style is not the issue at hand.

Your showy stage outfits are such a treat for fans. But how much of what you wear on stage affects your presence and mood?
The better I’m dressed, the more confident I feel. My outfits, while performing and in life in general, have a lot to do with how I feel in that moment (for the most part).

I still remember that flashy red and orange jumpsuit you wore. Where do you get all your fashion finds in Toronto? Do you ever make your own clothes?
That’s one of my favourite pieces! Love it! Unfortunately, I don’t make my own clothes. But, I will any day now. I have intentions of taking a few sewing classes.

I love thrift stores for the simple fact that what you find there, you’ll never find anywhere else. Also, the vintage stuff is made so well! Hence why those clothes stand the test of time and can still be worn today with confidence. They’re not making clothes like that anymore. They’re not making timeless clothes that last. Everything new I’ve bought likely won’t even last a year. It’s a shame, really.

You talk about taking musical inspirations from the likes of Prince, Bob Marley, and Amy Winehouse. Do you take any style inspirations from them too?
I wouldn’t say that I’m inspired by Amy or Bob’s style. Prince, though, inspires me to wear whatever I want to wear. He just did his thing and didn’t give a fuck!

OMG, Prince! He’s a fashion GAWD. What was your favourite ensemble?
It would be nearly impossible for me to pick my favourite Prince get-up. But here’s an awesome picture of him (one of many). I love what he’s wearing there!

Shi Wisdom’s Top Five Musical Style Icons

Erykah Badu > She’s totally in her own world and I love that.

Janelle Monae > She doesn’t switch it up often, but her look is classic and consistent.

Solange > Her style is colourful and playful and just UGH!

Beyonce > Always on point no matter what the outfit. She can do no wrong!

Kelly Rowland > She always wears such flattering, beautiful clothing.

photography // Brittany Lucas

Friendships & Bracelets

I’m sitting at my computer with a horrible little pit burrowing into my stomach. The pit is named “failure” and the feeling is small enough that I can keep working, but mean enough that my arms feel shaky and my eyes feel like they’re burning holes into my laptop. I’m really, really sad, and I’ve already had four cups of coffee, and my energy is still so non-existent that I feel like I’ll never accomplish anything, ever, not in my entire life, never mind this one dark morning.

So, yes, I am feeling a bit melodramatic today. And I’m looking for a quick fix. What can I do right now, I wonder, scanning my “office” (read: living room), that will pull me out of this deep hole of exhaustion and self-pity?

“Oh,” I say out loud, even though I’m alone, as I look over at my side table, where I tend to dump all of my personal belongings at the end of the day. I can put on my bracelets.
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Book Report: Zeitgeist and Glamour – Photography of the ’60s and ’70s

The thick, heavy pages of Zietgeist and Glamour consist almost entirely of photos: some with one larger image and others littered with smaller, less artistic shots. The front portion offers a few words from the collector, Nicola Erni, and a short essay on the era written by the curator, Petra Giloy-Hirtz (which, if you’re interested, are also printed in German). As Erni and Hirtz explain, the images published in the book show a very specific slice of the sixties, focusing on glamour, wealth, and art, and purposely leaving out important historical events like the hippie movement and Vietnam War. The faces scattered throughout this massive book are those of socialites and filmmakers, models, and royalty—from Bardot to Warhol and everyone in between. The photography documents the mingling of classes and cliques that took place during the ’60s, when the rich fueled the creative and vice versa. The word “zeitgeist” can be defined as “the spirit of a time,” and the spirit conveyed in Zeitgeist and Glamour is the attitude that suddenly anything was possible (if you had the money).

The photos chosen for this particular collection are a mirror of Erni’s interest in the “Jet Set” society, a group of wealthy nomads who used air travel innovation to get the best the world had to offer at the time. A single day could include shopping in Paris, hair appointments in London, and partying on the Côte d’Azur. This was an unmatched show of excess and eccentricity, and it’s no wonder this over-the-top lifestyle led to the birth of paparrazi photography, as everyone wanted a piece of the grandeur. The high-society life of the ’60s was so craved by the public that many of the most famed photographers of the time came from within the circles they are known for capturing on film, such as Robert Mapplethorpe and his work with Patti Smith and the inhabitants of the Chelsea Hotel in New York City.

The concept of paparazzi photography has always confused me: why would I want to admire poorly shot, quickly snapped photos of someone else doing everyday things in ridiculously expensive clothing? Where is the beauty and glamour in that? I finally discovered the art in paparazzi photos when flipping through Zeitgeist and Glamour, where one can find a collection of celebrity snapshots from the era of hope and change. Although the book contains formal fashion photography from the likes of Avedon and Mapplethorpe, most pages consist of tiny snapshots of a different world, where the rich and famous are always photo-ready and flawless. There are no grotesque shots of celebrities eating cheeseburgers or accidentally flashing a camera while exiting a vehicle—the photos here provide a gaze into a time when paparazzi photos were art, catching the glamour and beauty of an unattainable world as their subjects jet-set by at new speeds, although I’m still unsure about their deeper meaning.

Zietgeist and Glamour has useful information, like mini-biographies of each featured photographer, and a short description of what the metropolitan hotspots were like at the time (New York, Côte d’Azur, London, Paris, and Rome). But I found myself confused and frustrated by the “rich and glamorous” theme of the series. Excluding crucial pieces of the era—such as the civil rights movement, feminism, and the Vietnam War—in order to focus on jet-setting and wealth didn’t sit very well with me in the end.

Zeitgeist and Glamour, Photography of the 60’s and 70’s, by Petra Giloy-Hirtz, Ira Stehmann, Nicola Erni, Prestel 2011.
book report by Alyssa Garrison
photography by Brittany Lucas

Steers and Queers: The Night of 1000 Dollies

Steers & Queers is a long running, queer country-western party in Toronto with a cult following, and the Night of 1000 Dollies is their ode to the greatest drag queen of all, Miss Dolly Parton. I knew cow-folk culture was totally gay, but I didn’t know that Dolly Parton had such a huge following of wig-wearing fans who lived to party in her name. I convinced Britt Wornette to be my side-kick for the evening, donned my hanky top, and went on down to the Gladstone Hotel to dance the night away alongside glittering queens, Dolly-eqsue dames, and babely Burt Reynolds look-alikes. I’m still convinced I died and went to Dolly Heaven—I saw a drag queen pole dance in a giant Dolly wig, Keith Cole, and a chorus tap dance to 9 to 5. Reverend Lex Vaughn baptized Dolly, making her an honorary queer as the crowd praised the Lord with shouts of Gay-Men! And Dolly-lujah! By the end of the night, I had finally broken in my new leather shoes from dancing so hard (they were covered in huge chunks of glitter confetti) and made a few new stylish friends.

Toronto’s favourite queen and former mayoral candidate, Keith Cole with our holy master of ceremonies, Reverend Lex Vaughn.

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