Crushing on Lena Suksi

Friendship, feelings, filthy prom heels, and Felix Gonzales-Torres

There are crushes, and then there are crushes. Lena Suksi and I have been friends for almost a year, and she’s easy to love for a number of reasons. A thoughtful dresser, queer in all respects, and a talented artist and writer, she’s the type that can make anyone weak in the knees.

How do you feel about clothes?
I admire and respect people who have a primary relationship with clothes—people who take a more formal approach and are drawn to details, drape, and other specific elements of the garment itself. I think that when I get dressed I treat clothes as secondary objects. It’s important and meaningful to me, but I tend to get dressed in response to a mood. How I’m dressed is informed by an experience or a circumstance. Clothes respond to this; I don’t respond to the clothes. I like lockets, friendship bracelets, tattoos, haircuts—all of these are items I exchange with people. That’s when fashion is most meaningful to me.

One thing I’ve noticed about you is you tend to go through phases where you will wear something again and again.
There are certain things I pick up or find and I feel like they tend to reflect where I am at in a certain moment. So many of my clothes are given to me—hand-me-downs from friends or family. I get a piece of clothing and I think okay, this is where I am at right now. I have these strappy little prom heels that I wore everyday for about a month straight. I have never been comfortable in heels before and never thought I would be. Though, when I put them on I really liked being four inches taller. I couldn’t shed that feeling so quickly. I wore them everywhere. I was biking home one day and ended up in some construction zone digging for scrap wood and sunk my foot into a sandy muddy mess. My heels were just covered in filth. I thought it was hilarious. It reflected how I feel about formal or flashy things. I eventually hosed them down in the shower but wore them dirty as long as I could stand them.

Other than the obvious reasons, why wouldn’t you feel comfortable wearing heels?
Maybe comfortable is the wrong word. I just know that some things feel more neutral, and more feminine elements feel like drag to me. I’m aware of their power when they are on my body. Heels were one of those things. I never learned to walk in them, and it never became natural. I was hyper-aware of how they affected my body. I think of queer fashion as being aware of anything you’re wearing, being conscious of its effects in the world—knowing the performance. All of the things I refused to wear in high school I’m starting to play around with now. It’s not like I feel like I’m growing into elegance; it’s more for comic effect. I want to emphasize how unfit some things feel on me.

What did you dress like as a teenager?
I was kind of a goth. Dyed black hair, eyeliner, fishnets. On April Fool’s I dressed up in a pink velour sweat suit as a joke. All of the teachers told me how great I looked—so perfect. There’s always a jive between intention and result in fashion. Sometimes you have no idea what the reaction will be. I like to set up for the unexpected.

Do you shop on a regular basis?
No. Two or three times a year maybe? I do buy a lot of socks and hosiery though, because it’s cheap and colourful. I like to receive things. I am more of a garbage picker rather than someone who searches for a perfect item. Whatever is left over I get to scavenge through. Sometimes I buy things I get really excited about, things I get lucky to find. Like the shirt I’m wearing right now – it’s a Felix Gonzales-Torres t-shirt. I ordered it online for 10 bucks. J. Morrison did the design. It’s from a series of t-shirts recognizing artists, which are all kind of hilariously literal. Like a rainbow Yoko Ono shirt, or a Yayoi Kusama print with little dots. They are cheap and accessible and probably were screen-printed in a day. They run about 15 dollars, but this one was cheaper in the spirit of Gonzales-Torres’s work.

Do you have favourite items of clothing?
All of my clothes tell stories, and I have a lot of clothes. There are things that I get that I won’t wear, but also things that I will wear all the time. My jean jacket is pretty important—it’s covered in patches that I’ve made or friends have made. I’ve had it for a couple of years. It kind of came into being on a trip to Montreal. I made a bunch of patches with friends in Montreal. I haven’t spent much time with groups of women, but whenever I go to Montreal I do. It’s a really woman-friendly place. Consciousness raising exists there in a way that I don’t think exists in Toronto. It’s a supportive community for women, just for the sake of women being together. Making this jacket was the first time I had stitched in my life. It was satisfying.

Have you continued to work in textiles and craft?
Yes—I’ve been fascinated with it. I started appreciating textiles when my drawing slowed down a bit. Textiles were a nice shift. They can be a very immediate process—silk screening is kind of instant in ways. But I also feel like it’s a slowed-down practice of drawing. I’ve started doing embroidery and other needlework and like that it’s portable, feminine, and often a collective practice.

You’re very conscious of how your body is adorned and what that can mean.
When I was in my teens I realized how comfortable I was being androgynous. People were already reacting to my gender presentation with confusion, so I enjoyed playing it up. Maybe that’s why I like playing with femininity so much now. It’s not about trying to fit a norm; rather, it’s about bringing attention to these conventions. When I was in high school in London, Ontario, my androgyny was an antagonistic thing. In Toronto, it’s more acceptable to play with style in this way.

interview // Jenna Danchuk
photography // Laura Tuttle