Fashioning the Final Frontier

Is fashion plotting a new course and boldly going where no man has gone before?

Final frontier

On April 10, 2013 the ROM hosted a panel discussion featuring designer Jeremy Laing, Ryerson University School of Fashion chair Robert Ott, branding and fashion lawyer Ashlee Froese and Nicholas Mellamphy, Vice President and Buying Direction of HBC’s The Room. They gave their two cents when the marvelous Jeanne Beker asked the hard-hitting questions: How does one deal with the fashion industry pressures? What does it mean to be Canadian in the industry? Is Victoria Beckham really a fashion designer? It was an eventful hour and a half.

Here’s how Star Trek factors in: Remember that episode when the Enterprise runs into the space probe Nomad, whose mission is to “find and sterilize imperfection?” No? Okay. Basically the episode delves into the man versus machine mythos that also underlined this panel discussion. Whilst no Borg were present, Mellamphy made the interesting conclusion that the industry can now be summarized as: online shopping vs. retailers and bloggers vs. journalists. These are two huge topics, and seeing as resistance is futile, let’s just get right to it.

Call me old-fashioned, but I much prefer shopping in-store. Granted, we all have those days when we just don’t want to wear real pants, but this virtual world lacks helpful salespeople and the thrill of the hunt. We lose, to borrow a line from Confessions of a Shopaholic’s Becky Bloomwood, the excitement of grasping the handles of a bag knowing that the goodies inside are yours. Like me, the panelists had their reservations. Although Mellamphy acknowledged that online retailing provides a solid platform for emerging designers, making their products accessible to all, he made the point that retailers now have to come up with innovative ways to attract customers to their shops. Ott was concerned with how this sudden surge of online shopping had dramatically affected retail stores, such as The Bay. The virtual world is convenient, and though it’s not entirely bad, it has lowered sales and could put many out of work. We want what we want and we want it now. The Internet can give us this. Real stores take more effort. And with that, Scotty, beam us to our next issue.

Fashion bloggers have shaped this new generation of “Internet dressers,” as Laing likes to call them. They have become the new fashion authority. But is it really authority when practically every under-30 has a different opinion? Do we even care about fashion authority in this day and age? The Jeanne Bekers and Suzy Menkes‘ of this generation are the thousands who have access to Tumblr and Instagram. And this seemed okay with the panel, because it meant fashion had become democratized, everyone can wear fast fashions and everyone can express their opinions on it. Even fashion shows have become affected by this radical change. Long gone are the days of the whimsical McQueen or Galliano show, as Beker reminisced. Now, Laing pointed out, shows are created for Instagram. Designers are responding to the iPhone generation, opting for low-key, minimalist approaches that would surely impress the always logical Mr. Spock.

The panelists gave me a lot to think about, even as I frantically tried to copy down everything being said while maintaining my cool—alas, it was my first time at one of these events, and a girl’s gotta start somewhere. I did get my (beloved) photo with Jeanne Beker and left thinking that despite the constant and radical changes that face it, the fashion industry can handle what is to come and live long and prosper.

Raising Vintage

Or: how I learned to stop resenting old clothes and respect the family business

For about 15 years, Re Threads was one of Toronto’s most poorly kept secrets. It was a consignment store in the Annex where you could find vintage kimonos alongside the latest little black dress from Club Monaco. The customers were a young, hip mix of fashionistas, Much Music VJs, and staples of the Toronto indie scene like Leslie Feist.

It was also where I grew up.

When I was about nine, my parents took me to an empty box of a building near Dupont and Spadina that would eventually become Re Threads. In her twenties, my mother owned a popular vintage store called Mumble Jumble in Ottawa. Being a small business owner was nothing new to her. But now she was older, working full time at the Toronto Reference Library, and she had a husband and two small children in tow.

It would fall to my father—a writer to whom clothes were simply utilitarian—to run the day-to-day operations. For me, that meant that I would spend my days after school at the store finishing my homework and helping my dad hang clothes.

I hated it. I wasn’t at all interested in clothes as a kid. Fashion for me was an oversized Marci Lipman sweater and stirrup leggings, a look I stuck with right to the end of Grade 6.

My appreciation for my mom’s store—and the development of my personal style—was triggered by two things: a pair of pants, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I discovered Buffy in Grade 7. She was, in all her confidence, the perfect role model for a gangly and awkward emerging teen like myself. I became obsessed with everything about her—especially her style. I even bought a cross necklace from the local Bi-Way, something that confused my strictly agnostic parents.

When a pair of red leather pants came into the store, I knew they were for me. Buffy always wore leather pants, and she kicked ass in them. I knew if I could get my hands on this pair—these glorious, bright red, hip-hugging leather pants—some of Buffy’s strength would run right to me.

Wisely, my mother wouldn’t let me have them. Somehow she knew that her 13-year-old showing up for junior high in red leather pants would not be the ticket to popularity I so desired.

But the pants were the first time I realized that I was lucky enough to have access to the kind of closet most people dream about. I started paying more attention to the clothes and the people who brought them in. There were the students, casually cool in the midriff baring tops and baggy jeans, and the Annex punk moms, that would come in tattooed and green haired, strollers in tow.

My favourite frequent customer was a woman who specialized in imports from India. When she had overstock she would bring us all the gorgeous textiles and clothes she couldn’t sell. There were the most beautiful bangles in jewel tones, soft little slippers with mirror inlays and gorgeous sari fabric. At the height of the Oprah-driven pashmina craze, she dropped us off a box full of the softest pashminas you’ve ever felt in a whole rainbow of colours. My mom snagged one for me; the first scarf in a collection that has since grown to comic proportions.

Towards the end of high school I was entrusted with running the store by myself. It was nice to be able to sit behind the desk for once, pricing clothes and bantering with the customers.

By that time, faced with rising rents, my parents had moved the store to Bloor and Ossington, an area my mother felt certain was going to be the next cool neighbourhood. She was right of course; but she was too early. The pedestrian traffic was too slow to encourage the word of mouth we needed. Plus, after more than ten years, my parents were simply tired of having to keep up with the changing face of the city. Low cost stores like H&M and Forever 21 took away much of the young clientele that provided Re Thread’s main source of income. They closed the store.

I hated the store when it opened, but when it closed I missed it terribly. Yet the memories continue to hang in my closet. There’s a gorgeous paisley multi-coloured Betsey Johnson shift dress that I’ve worn to more music festivals than I can count; a pair of Frye stacked-heel boots that my mother rescued for me; and a beat down purple purse that was my faithful bag for many years.

I got more than some great clothes from the store. Vintage clothes come with a sense of history; a story. If Re Threads gave me anything, it was the privilege of getting to know some of these stories a little more intimately as they were passed from one person to the next.

text // H.G. Watson
illustrations // Pamela Majocha

A Little Bit Dramatic

Seeing spots (and dots and stripes and swirls) with Marimekko

“There must be a reason to dirt a fine white cloth with print.” – Armi Ratia

Its fitting that an exhibit on Marimekko should take place at a textile museum. While the Finnish clothing company wouldn’t be out of place on display in an art gallery or costume institute, Marimekko is really defined above all else by its fabric. After all, one doesn’t immediately recognize a Marimekko dress by its cut or even its label; it’s those eye-catching, popping prints that you can see from space that have been the label’s defining factor and constant for the past six decades.

“Marimekko, With Love,” curated by Shauna McCabe, will be on display until April 21st at Toronto’s Textile Museum. If you’re in Toronto, it provides an opportunity to truly immerse yourself in a kaleidoscope of prints. The show is a retrospective, technically, but trying to pick out the difference between a Marimekko dress from the early days and one from last week is an exercise in futility.

Marimekko opened in Finland post World War II. From its inception, it has always been about finding that fusion between fabric and art. Armi Ratia, whose husband had just purchased a small fabric company, began to curate designs from young contemporary artists. The dresses became literal canvases for young artists to develop prints and in 1951, a company was born.

The patterns might appear to be as uniform as a designer logo plastered all over a collection of handbags, but the company’s artists referenced everything—see a pattern in nature? Blow it up and set it against a contrasting colour. The consistency in patterns comes out of the similar treatment granted to unique motifs. Architecture, folk patterns, flora, and fauna are all fair game.

At the exhibit, many people showed up wearing Marimekko. We were able to spot from a distance even amongst the patterns on display, an unmistakable bat signal of pop art. I went to the show with former Wornette Katie. Unlike some of our coworkers, neither of us come to fashion from a textile background, and it was our first visit to the textile museum. We were Marimekko babies, wide eyed and ready to learn something new. In our excitement, we at one point stopped recording the exhibit and instead started recording the other attendees, regardless of what brands they were wearing.

The word “timeless” gets thrown around the fashion lexicon a lot. Ironically, it’s usually used to reference a very insular aesthetic—one with clean lines, muted colours, and anything that can blend into the background. the company is very much of its time, born out of a post-war hope and ready to align itself with the eager optimism of the upcoming sixties. But what’s most remarkable about it is that while it is such a specific look, it is one that is accessible and applicable across multiple continents, decades, and generations. In a room filled with Marimekko, each pattern still stands out.

For more about Marimekko, see issue 4 of WORN Fashion Journal.

photography // Katie Merchant

Singing the Pain Away

Are YOU ready for Heartbreak Karaoke?

With our Valentine’s Day party only days away, our publisher Haley is practicing her rendition of “No Scrubs.” I’m studying the lyrics to David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Ted’s got the whole Beatles discography queued up. What is the soundtrack to your own heartbreak?

Let us know in the comments the songs you want to sing at Heartbreak Karaoke so we can get them ready for you. Then come out on Valentine’s Day with red on your back and your heart on your sleeve. Support independent publishing, and sing us a sad song!

$7 Admission
$5 Admission if you’re wearing red or pink
Each song is $1
Jump the line for $10
Celine Dion songs are $5

Jun Jun
374 College Street
Bring on the heartbreak: 9:00 p.m.
You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here: 2:00 a.m.

Red and pink preferred
Your heart on your sleeve: mandatory