Re-Framing the Closet

Behind the scenes of our issue 16 photoshoot with jes sachse

“Growing up, I felt like I had to pick between something stylish and something I could actually wear. It would be nice to realize a future where retailers and the fashion industry stop forcing people to make that choice.” – jes sachse

How can fashion engage with disability? While we’ve recently seen a fair bit of progress regarding companies that accommodate wardrobes of folks of varying bodies and abilities, it’s not exactly a one-size-fits-all solution. Clothing is an incredibly personal and political choice, and no two sets of needs are exactly alike.

In our most recent issue, we had an in-depth chat with artist and activist jes sachse about how identifying as disabled and genderqueer collides with their love of fashion. We had a great conversation full of new ideas, the re-telling of experiences, and hard laughs. Beautiful photos were taken, and feet were tap-tapping away during the whole shoot.

It was a damn good time.

text // Jenna Danchuk
video // Daniel Reis
end animation // Barry Potter

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

Très Click: Karl “Leather Daddy” Lagerfeld and Pussies Protesting Putin

Free Pussy Riot: The Only Band That Matters in 2012
If you haven’t heard of Pussy Riot yet, you need to take action now! Tobi Vail (yes, of Bikini Kill) had much to say about members of the anonymous collective (who were jailed for protesting the conservative Russian government) as well as their outfits: “Their uniform not only disguises their identities, it congeals their individuality into a unified set of symbols. Their neon balaclavas clash with the individual pieces of clothing worn by each girl, but also express a visual unity. Bright purple, pink, green, red, yellow and blue; one girl’s tights clash with her dress, but match another girl’s balaclava, which match a third girl’s tights, whose balaclava matches the first girl’s dress, and so on. The result is an image that is striking and memorable.”

Thinking Kink: The Politics of BDSM Fashion
Catherine Scott at Bitch Magazine recently wrote this short piece about the place of clothing in BDSM culture. These kinds of interesting discussions happen on fetish community discussion boards all the time, so seeing it moved into a venue like Bitch is exciting.

Tom of Sinland (NSFW)
While we’re on the topic of S&M, we must bring your attention to these totally ridiculous (and awesome) drawings by Bendix Bauer for Horst Magazine. Playing off the works of legendary gay illustrator Tom of Finland, Bauer replaces the beefcake hunks of yesterday, with the gay fashion icons of today.

SSION’s “Earthquake” Video
SSION is so FSHION. One can spend hours going through their video stream (I have). The best band, and the best dressed. Maybe I should be in the next SSION music video?

text by Jenna Danchuk
image by Denis Sinyakov/Reuters