The Oscar Red Carpet is Boring

Celebrities are boring. All hail the (mostly) non-celebrities!

The Oscars took place this past Sunday, and with it came the annual critique of what gowns were worn. But guys, this year was SO BORING. Perhaps even the most boring Oscars red carpet ever. Everyone played it pretty safe, and the biggest fashion controversy was whether Anne Hathaway’s last minute gown was showing her nipples or not (My consensus: Just darts guys. Though don’t even get me started on her styling choices, which were obviously meant for a different dress). Everyone wore white or nude or pastel colours, and there was not a swan dress to be seen. Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, and Catherine Zeta-Jones all seemed to be protesting The Great Gatsby being pushed back to May (and therefore not eligible for this year’s Oscars) with their gowns, and that’s really the most interesting thing I can say about them. The night’s most notable gowns were by and large not the ones worn by the major celebs, or if they were, they were notable for reasons that were not sartorial at all. Here’s our best dressed list for the 2013 Oscars Red Carpet.

Jennifer Lawrence, Dior
This is definitely a gown that’s notable not for being particularly interesting or daring, but because of the moments it created. Because let’s face it, this looks like one of those dresses that is made out of toilet paper for charity, though I honestly would not put it past Jennifer Lawrence to actually do this. It was lampooned a bit for being too bridal, but this dress created some of the best moments in this year’s awards show—Father of the Bride jokes, the adorable pratfall when Jen won best actress and both Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman tried to save her, the hilarious press conference moments afterwards when she was asked about the fall. This dress was a real troublemaker, but Miss Lawrence took it all in stride and has cemented herself as my imaginary Hollywood best friend forever.

Salma Hayek, Alexander McQueen
Salma Hayek looks like the tiniest, chicest Bride of Frankenstein, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Melissa McCarthy, David Meister
I don’t really get why so many people were up in arms about this dress. I think it fits her perfectly, and I think it’s a much more modern looking than the standard princess-y gowns everyone else was wearing. People really seem to love getting a bug up their butt when the big girl wears anything remotely different or interesting (See: Adele at the Grammys. You’ll note Adele went back to her trademark black after that, le sigh). Also, Melissa McCarthy is awesome and can wear what she wants, as far as I’m concerned.

Samuel L. Jackson, Designer Unknown
Samuel L. Jackson wins best dressed man of the night in his burgundy velvet jacket, shiny grey silk(?) shirt, and brown pants and bowtie. Men of Hollywood please note: only Sam Jackson can pull this look off. You will look ridiculous. Trust.

Emmanuelle Riva, Lanvin
Oldest Oscar nominee Emmanuelle Riva did not win Best Actress this year, but she looks fabulous while doing so in her voluminous blue Lanvin. She wasn’t dressed like a single other person on the RC, and she clearly had fun with her gown, twirling and dancing like she didn’t have a care in the world. To me, that’s way more important than making some best dressed list any day. Plus you know she was the most comfortable woman in that entire ballroom.

Sunrise Coigney, Zero + Maria Cornejo
Sunrise Coigney is a former actress who is now best known as being Mark Ruffalo’s wife. This gown isn’t my style, but you can definitely tell it’s hers, and she owned it. The choice of an electric blue bag to accessorize with it was positively inspired for the Oscars. Again this isn’t a look that most people could pull off, but Sunrise is doing it effortlessly.

Mark Andrews, Designer Unknown
Second best dressed man on the RC was hands down Brave director Mark Andrews, who accessorized his traditional blue Scottish kilt with a teal sporran (that would be the bag one wears with the kilt).

Rachael Mwanza, Vlisco
Rachael Mwanza, a 16-year-old actress from the Republic of Congo who managed to get a last minute visa to attend the ceremonies because of her role in best Foreign Picture nominee Rebelle (War Witch), showed her African pride in a traditional Ankara print gown. The gown was designed by renowned dutch textile company Vlisco, who have been around since 1846 and are known for their bright and colourful printed fabrics and supporting young African fashion designers. Ankara prints are typically associated with West and Central Africa, and were traditionally worn for ceremonial purposes. The prints and designs vary from region to region, but all are made with a similar wax print fabric technique, which involves printing the fabric with a pattern made of melted wax. In recent years designers like Diane von Furstenberg have been using these prints, and it’s become something of a trend, with celebs like Solange, Beyonce, and even Anna Wintour seen sporting it.

Helena Bonham Carter, Vivienne Westwood
It’s something of a testament to how boring the Oscars have gotten that this is what Helena Bonham Carter wore. I mean, this is practically tame for her, and it’s definitely something she’s worn before. That said, it was still one of the stand outs on the red carpet, which I think says a lot. DON’T GIVE UP, HBC!! WE LOVE YOU AND NEED YOU TO BE YOUR CRAZY DIAMOND SELF AT ALL RED CARPET FUNCTIONS!!!! I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M GOING TO DO WITH MYSELF IF THIS IS ALL YOU’RE SERVING UP NOW!!! I BEG YOU, FOR RED CARPET LOVERS EVERYWHERE, DON’T FALL INTO THE BORING TRAP!!

Game Changers

An interview with Ilya Parkins, author of "Poiret, Dior and Schiaparelli: Fashion, Feminity and Modernity"

Ilya Parkins is an Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of British Columbia, where much of her research has focused on the changing fashion and beauty more of the early 20th century. Her latest book, Poiret, Dior and Schiaparelli: Fashion, Feminity and Modernity, takes a look at this era by looking at the lives and work of these three prominent designers, and how their work highlighted the ambivalent role of women at this time as either glamourous, ultra modern style setters, to conservatives stuck in the past.

WORN is proud to announce that we will be holding a book launch and author talk for Poiret, Dior and Schiaparelli on December 10th from 7-9pm at TYPE Books (883 Queen Street West). Facebook event at this link for more details.

What made you decide to focus on gender studies and fashion?
I realized, when I started working on fashion about fifteen years ago, early in my graduate studies, that it was a fantastic way of thinking about the join between individual and social. Of course, some notion of the relationship between people and the social world is what informs all feminist inquiry, and this struck me as a wonderfully rich way to get at that. Importantly, it is also material, which attracted me; I was interested in thinking about the relationship between people and things of all sorts – things are part of the social world, too.  I also wanted to counter the trivialization of this feminized art form, because I thought it could open up dimensions of various questions – about modern life, about consumption, about sexuality, identity, and everything I could think of – and because, frankly, writing off feminized phenomena as trivial is misogynist – and boring and predictable! That has been my project for fifteen years, and it not only led to this book but to a book I co-edited, that came out last year, called Cultures of Femininity in Modern Fashion. I actually saw it as a political imperative to foreground fashion – that’s how I see that edited book, especially.

 What is it about the early 20th century’s fashion that you find so compelling as a subject?
One of the things that’s really fascinating and significant is the widespread recognition of the importance of fashion, among social critics and theorists. People – journalists and critics, and thinkers like Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin – used fashion as a kind of metaphor for modern life. Not only does that counter the trivialization and dismissal of fashion, but it also inadvertently places women and femininity at the centre of the modern. It is also a great way to get at the sense, in the early twentieth century, of living the new. It helped me to get at what people thought it “felt like” to be modern, because fashion was seen to embody the modern in a whole host of ways. In the early twentieth century, the obsession with newness, with modernity, wasn’t just a theoretical concern. It was also lived, quite intimately – often via their clothing.

Did you always want to write about Poiret, Dior and Schiaperelli specifically? Why do these designers stand out in regards to changing notions of women’s clothing and roles?
I wasn’t always interested in any designers specifically. I’d been interested in Poiret for quite a while, and then I read his main memoir. (He actually has three, though two aren’t available outside France, and were obscure and printed in just one edition even there.) Of course, he had a reputation as a vanguardist – as a “revolutionary,” as odd a word as that is in this context. So I decided that I wanted to read the memoirs of other designers who were considered revolutionary in some sense. Not all designers have a major memoir – Chanel doesn’t, for instance – and so in the end, Schiaparelli and Dior were the others I settled on.

How did you go about writing this book?
I began by reading Poiret’s memoir. Then I decided on Dior and Schiaparelli, and I thought that it was important to work on more than just their autobiographical books, but that I wanted to investigate all the writing they did – and much of the writing that others did – in creating their public images. I began by using library press resources in Toronto, where I was still spending a lot of time, but that only got me so far. Once I’d started my current position at UBC, I was lucky enough to get a couple of grants – including a major, three-year one – that allowed me to do research overseas. So I spent a total of about three months in Paris over a couple of years, reading Poiret’s other memoirs and anything I could dig up by and about the designers at the national library and the fashion museum libraries there. I got tripped up with Schiaparelli – she was an enigma who left relatively few traces – and ended up doing some research on her at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Dilys Blum, who works in the costume department there, has an incredibly extensive collection of her press clippings. And I wrote the book as I went, to some extent. I was caught out at the very end of writing the manuscript – around the time I was shopping around for a publisher – by John Galliano’s anti-Semitic outburst in February 2011. All of a sudden the House of Dior and its history were in the news, and I needed to address this history and the question of a possible collaboration of Dior and Nazis. I spent some unexpected weeks digging around in WWII French collaboration history, and added a section to my chapter on Dior. I think the book is much better for it.

What other designers would you say were influential in changing the way women dressed at this time?
There’s no question that Chanel had a massive influence. That’s real, it’s not a myth – you feel it in the press from the period. I also think that Mariano Fortuny had an influence that was quite important; he was crucial in the “orientalist” turn in the early twentieth century, and that appropriation of design elements from various so-called “Eastern” cultures was taken up all over the place.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the Strand magazine article from 1883 where they tried to predict the coming century’s fashion trends, but it’s pretty off the market (apparently they thought the future would be like Alice in Wonderland). Why do you think they were so wrong?
Hmmm! I haven’t seen this gem. I think they were so wrong because they seemed to forget about the principle of innovation. That is, certainly, fashion borrows from and often really recycles the past. But it does so in its own idiom. It’s not like a historical costume. What’s so interesting is that it combines elements of the past with elements of the present. The article about future fashion forgets that this is the innovation structure of fashion, this kind of hybrid of past and present, and seems to just imagine some kind of historical play-acting with hilarious elements for good measure, which looks silly.

What’s your favourite Dior/Schiaperelli/Poiret collection?
I don’t actually have a single favourite collection, I wouldn’t say. Of the three, I really love Poiret’s clothing the best. His pre-WWI work, especially, is stunning. It’s really kind to bodies, that clothing. And the richness, the luxuriousness of it – the colour, the layers, the draping… (This dress on slide 12? Come on! Sooo gorgeous.)

Don’t Be Racist (or, Haley Wornette’s Thoughts on John Galliano)

Very little about the whole John Galliano mess surprised me – the allegations seemed plausible, and the video was just the proverbial nail in the coffin. Even though I know it’s supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, I also know that where there is smoke there is usually a racist. (That’s the expression, right?)

What did surprise me, and I mean this in the best possible way, was LVMH’s swift and decisive action: immediate suspension, followed by termination. It surprised me because it seemed like such a reasonable response to a terrible situation. Lets be real, the fashion industry is not known for handling these situations reasonably.

In any other profession, just the allegations of offenses like anti-Semitism, racism, sexual assault, or child labour law violations would be enough to get someone fired. Yet when it comes to people in fashion – be they designers like Galliano, editors, stylists, photographers – there seems to be a never-ending stream of people who rush to the guilty party’s defense. It’s all a conspiracy. He’s a sweetheart. He was provoked. She apologized. You’re being too hasty. By far the worst defense I saw was that Galliano could not possibly be racist because “[his] multi-ethnic shows, celebrating the beauty of nomadic worlds, and looking into visual languages of forgotten minorities (from everywhere on this planet), has brilliantly proved it to everyone from collection to collection since years.” Being “inspired” by a culture’s fashion doesn’t mean you can’t hate the people wearing it.

The fashion industry does not get a free pass on bad behaviour just because they happen to create great clothes. It goes without saying that John Galliano is an incredibly talented designer, but he’s an employee of LVMH first. An employee who professes to love Hitler simply cannot remain on the payroll of a responsible corporation. Well played, LVMH – I hope that more businesses follow in your example. Most importantly I hope one day I won’t feel like applauding those who stand up for basic ethics like “don’t be racist.”

- Haley Mlotek

Book Review: Dior – A New Look, A New Enterprise

“There has probably been more written on Christion Dior in his lifetime, and after, than has been penned on any other couturier,” so writes Alexandra Palmer in the introduction to her book Dior: A New Look, A New Enterprise. However, I hadn’t read any of it, so I opened this slim 113-page volume expecting nothing above a very basic introduction. Palmer, the Nora E. Vaughan Senior Curator of Costume at the Royal Ontario Museum, respected author, clothing expert and academic, gave me much, much more.

I can honestly say I have never found such a broad range of information in so few pages. This book which, on first glance, appears to be mostly pictures (ooh, the pictures!) covers not only the clothes Dior was famous for, but also details the business innovations (ooh, the commercial vs. private client sales tables!) of the most successful and innovative couturier of his time.

Named Camaieu, Harper’s Bazaar featured this dress on its pages in 1949.
Continue reading