Men in Dresses, Dry Cleaning Mysteries, and Packing like it’s 1889

Karen Wornette makes some fascinating discoveries on the web

Hats off (but dresses on) to our Kurdish Feminist Brothers
By Dilar Dirik
The photographs capture the Brothers-in-dresses face on, shoulders back, and confident in their stance. In a regime that punishes a man who commits an act of domestic violence by sentencing him to walk the city streets in traditional Kurdish women’s robes, the Feminist Brothers stand in solidarity with the women of their culture, saying, “This is what we look like.” Harnessing the power of social media to spread this message by posting the photos on Facebook, the Kurds ensure the clothes speak of courage to a global audience.

Orthodox Jewish Women Find New Ways to Be Fashionable in Crown Heights
By Liana Satenstein
The Torah’s modesty guidelines are no match for the stylish, independent, and innovatively entrepreneurial women in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish sect Chabad-Lubavitch. Requirements to wear skirts that hit below the knee and blouses that cover the elbows and collarbones just means that the women face more of a creative challenge than others when they choose what to wear each day.

A Strip of Cloth that Makes Dry Cleaners Shudder
By Vijai Singh
One of my favourite summer jobs was working for the Textile Analysis Service at the University of Alberta, where I would perform detective work on garments that were damaged at the dry cleaners. Like a whodunit mystery, I tried to figure out who (the customer, the cleaner, or the manufacturer) ruined the garment (discolouration, tiny holes, loss of beads), and with which weapon (pretreating agent, solvent, or sunlight)—but not in which room, because, well, that doesn’t really matter in this case. I won’t tell you what strip of cloth makes these dry cleaners shudder; you’ll have to click to find out.

How to Pack like a Pioneering Journalist
By Maria Popova
Nellie Bly, the audacious journalist who, in 1889, challenged the fictional precedent set in Jules Verne’s classic novel Eighty Days Around the World by circumnavigating the globe in five fewer days, carried only a small leather gripsack with all of her personal items for the journey. This remarkable story puts to shame my packing job for my 60-day stay here in Toronto—and I had the luxury of one large suitcase and a couple of carry-ons. If you’re heading off on a summer vacation, keep Ms. Bly in mind as you repeat the mantra “less is more….”

Are Clothes Modern? Or, what we talk about when we talk about “Dress”
The Blog of A.E. Funk
I’m in awe of A.E. Funk, the veritable curator that she is, and her keen eye for evocative references to dress in all sorts of texts, from books on writing to the credits of Paris is Burning. For an assignment in a course on the history of dress, I scoured Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility for references to clothing, textiles, and accessories so that I could attempt to make an assessment of the historical accuracy of the costumes in Ang Lee’s film adaptation. I was also graded on the number of quotes I came up with, and I fell far short of the student in the class who’d earmarked the most. If Funk were in that class, I have a feeling she would have set a formidable standard.

text // Karen Fraser

Pretty Noisy

Talking Carl Jung and homemade costumes with Vancouver feminist fashion band MYTHS

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.

photography & video // MYTHS

Why YSL Was a Secret Feminist, Probably

Was YSL a feminist?

This was a question that I’d never before considered relevant, let alone taken the time to ponder. Yet, when I went to see Laurent Cotta speak at the Bata Shoe Museum on a rainy Wednesday, he chose to focus on the relevance of YSL’s designs, his personal history, and his creative inspirations. Laurent Cotta is a Parisian fashion and art historian and has lectured on the influence of Yves Saint Laurent across Europe and North America since 2004. By the end of my short but thorough education, I had a new understanding of what YSL meant to fashion, historically and today.

In my mind, the name Yves Saint Laurent had always brought about a sort of fancy, unattainable feeling, a classic idea of a long-ago perfected look that is still constantly referenced and adored today. Few self-proclaimed fashion lovers are unaware of YSL’s contribution to the fashion world, and some, like Cotta, have even dedicated their lives to studying his personal history.

YSL started out in the mid-1950s as the young assistant of Christian Dior. Year after year, more of his designs were selected to be in the haute couture shows and, in 1958, after Dior’s death, he succeeded him as Head of House. Although newspapers hailed his 1958 collection as having “saved France,” his 1960 beatnik-inspired spring/summer collection was not well received by the public. The House felt his liberal use of leather and alligator-skin motorcycle jackets mixed with thin, feminine sweaters were a misrepresentation of Dior. This misstep led to his dismissal. One year later, YSL and his partner, Pierre Bergé, started their own house of couture, and just like that, the famed Yves Saint Laurent brand was born. YSL created a simple look accessible to both men and women, believing both genders could dress the same if they adhered to classic designs. As an example, he even posed in his own fashion shoots dressed in a similar way to his sister. A supporter of women’s liberation, YSL’s philosophy demanded that outfits be practical and easy to wear. He explored androgyny throughout his career, especially towards the late ’60s, when he famously took to creating tuxedo-style looks for women.

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Quit Your Day Job

I rode away from the restaurant in high waisted vintage Levi’s, tears blubbering uncontrollably, and a black chiffon skirt tucked away in my basket. It was my fourth day, and I had quit. Though still visibly upset, my change of clothes had helped to settle my nerves, and make me feel a sense of normalcy. It was fairly instinctual, the second I quit I marched to the washroom and changed. Though I personally liked the clothes I had been wearing, they now felt heavy to me — riddled with self doubt and embarrassment, sheepishly hiding in the bottom of a dark tote.

After being told to fix my messy hair — which apparently must have gotten out of place walking from the kitchen to the hostess desk — I was pulled aside. It was then that my co-worker gently pointed out that as the initial face of the restaurant, it was part of our job to look good. She elaborated that this meant that we (or I, rather) should wear something more form fitting — in other words, something a bit sexier. Suddenly my pleated chiffon skirt and ’80s button-front tunic felt like I was wearing an industrial-sized garbage bag.

Perhaps I had taken for granted the fact that my previous employer had fully embraced the way I chose to dress for work (though admittedly it was a bit of a stretch on the company standard). Years of incorporating my own personal style into my work wardrobe had caused me to ignore the reality that in some work environments, maybe I wouldn’t be afforded the luxury of wearing clothing that simultaneously fit both my employer’s and my own dress code. In that moment, standing in the middle of the restaurant in clothes that had once made me feel confident in my appearance, I decided that for me, this was not a reality.

I had always known how important my own personal style was to me, but I never quite knew to what extent until it became endangered. A few reassuring conversations with friends, and one tear stained and clarifying bicycle ride down Queen St. later, and I have come to be proud of my decision. Working in an environment that makes me feel apologetic about the way I dress isn’t an option. In the moment my self-esteem was in slivers, all over someone’s disapproval of my clothing. I walked out the swinging kitchen doors, and into my own miniature personal style revolt. I never thought quitting a job could be a fashion statement.

text by Casie Brown