click click – 28-11-12

Welcome to click click, the sporadic review of what I find worth clicking on the internet.

Tragic news this week about a factory fire in Bangladesh that claimed the lives of 123 people. Sadder still, this is a common occurrence that is rarely covered in the international media. It’s been over 100 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and garment workers still sew in unsafe conditions. These ugly images are a reminder that others die in vain, for our vanity. Via Jabberdust.

Keep it karmic, folks.

trend ender – flatforms

Trend Ender is an irregular feature created to identify, illustrate and investigate the origins of current fashion trends, discuss when they’re fabulous and when they fail, and attempt to predict their demise.

Trend: Flatforms is a new portmanteau for a very old idea, platform shoes that place the foot on a flat surface, distinct from platform shoes with elevated heels. This may be the case of a trend ’emerging’ simply because someone came up with a spiffy new name for it. The identity of whoever coined the term is unknown, it seems to have entered the lexicon following the Spring 2011 collections.

Where it came from: As old as mud, many cultures around the world have carved wooden clogs to keep their feet off the dirt, from the pattens of medieval Europe to the geta of Japan. Flat platform shoes pre-date platform heels by a long shot. Actors in ancient Greece used platform shoes called korthorni to indicate who played the leading roles. Women also wore cloven platforms, sometimes of great height, which were more for sitting than standing. There are several representations of Aphrodite wearing such sandals.

In the Ottoman empire, very tall platform sandals called qabaqib, beautifully inlaid, were worn by women in public bathhouses to keep their feet off of the hot, wet floor. It is thought that trend for orientalism initiated the fashion for chopines in southern Europe in the 1500s. Styles of chopines varied across Europe – the abundance of cork in Spain lent itself to very visible, cylindrically soled shoes worn with shorter skirts. Meanwhile in Venice, courtesans wore stilt-like apparatus under longer skirts to create exaggerated proportions. Chopines worn by wealthy women were elaborate little pedestals meant to emphasize conspicuous inactivity more than height.

The flat platform form fell out of fashion in the west, but rose in the east. The 18th Century was the era of the classical geisha in Japan, where young geishas in training would wear a solid, block-like form of the geta called okobo. In the 19th century China, Manchu women wore platforms with teeteringly tiny footprints, some think as a more practical version of the fashion for bound feet among Han women. During the Qing dynasty, Empress Cixi wore bejewelled, platforms along with her long, precious nail guards.

Platforms clumped their way back west during the Second World War, as women’s fashions became more vertical. On the menswear front, the thick-crepe soled, suede “brothel creeper” was created, worn as a casual shoe by Western soldiors in the African desert, nicknamed for a popular pastime. Post-war in England, brothel creepers became the uniform shoe of the Teddy Boy subculture. In the 1970s, Malcolm McLaren merchandised youthful rebellion and sold it back to the kids. Much ted-on-punk violence has resulted due to shoes. It has remained a subcultural staple for the current generation of hipsters.

In 1971, Manolo Blahnik designed a sandal with a sole that resembled a brick for Kansai Yamamoto (source). Bringing the eastern aesthetic west using bold modern shapes, Yamamoto outfitted Ziggy Stardust and the pop culture flatforms were made iconic, and then mainstreamed. The 1970s clogged up.

Platforms dipped out of fashion only briefly in the 1980s before the current trend cycle began with designer (and former McLaren partner) Vivienne Westwood creating the Rocking Horse shoe in 1987. Subsequently, pop music made the platform trainer ubiquitous with the Spice Girls. Since then high-fashion platform heels have only become more elaborate, sculptural, cantilevered and bizarre. Flatforms, meanwhile, flicker in and out of consciousness.

2011 was the year of the flatform, if only in the fashion media. Designers did a mashup of various influences – Prada did creepers, Westwood did espadrilles, Derek Lam did punked up pumps.

When it works: Flatforms are an aggressively conspicuous fashion shoe. As such, they’re a daring buy for those who enjoy offending others with more classical – or old-fashioned – sensibilities. It makes sense that a directional brand like Prada is leading the flatform movement this season, with a monstrous post-modern mashup of okobo, chopine, and Baby Spice.

When it’s wack: flatforms will always have a whiff of Orientalism, prostitution, objectification, violent youth and dirty streets… they’re politically as well as proportionally incorrect, but maybe that’s the point.

How it will end:  they’re still ascendant, being worn in various forms by fashion freaks like Elle Fanning, yet aren’t yet mainstream. I think the shapes of the soles will continue to get more abstract and postmodern for a few more years before they become utterly unwieldy.

location independent limbo

Toronto welcomed me back with warm hugs, a sweet solo sublet, and a polished new surface. Being back in Toronto is like seeing an ex years later and they’ve had a makeover and look better than you ever remembered, and guess what, they’re sweet and steady and still like you too. London is like the more recent, exciting, high-maintenance ex who looked so sophisticated on your arm and made all your friends jealous of you while emptying your wallet and playing football with your heart.

Perhaps it’s obvious that I’ve been reading Great Expectations.

When you’re going through a transition is everyone wants to know what your plans are. I’m not great at planning so I was reluctant to announce them, but initially my intention was to apply for a French visa so I could spend 2013 in Paris. This plan was not conceived with any real idea of how I would accomplish it. As I took the first steps to assemble the paperwork required it became clear that the combination of two national bureaucracies was creating tangled logjam of arbitrary requirements that would take almost a year to sort out.

This discovery was somewhat discouraging, and yet overall I felt nonplussed. I’ve noticed something in myself as I get older, that I don’t understand how I really feel about anything while it’s happening. Realizations that explain my own behaviour tend to unfold in my consciousness a few weeks later at the earliest. This also reveals why I can’t write about topical things in a timely manner.

So I’ve been slow to sum up this change in my life. I’m still not sure yet how I feel about where I am, and where I want to be. I’m in the rather wonderful position of having created a ‘location independent’ career. I have zero familial, social, financial, or professional obligations to be at any particular place at any particular time. I am reluctant to squander this unprecedented level of freedom that has been granted to me by circumstance and technology.

I do still want to go back to Paris, whether for an extended vacation or for a bit longer if possible. I also want to spend more time in New York. I don’t have the intention to settle in either of these places, but I feel that the experience of London was an expansive one, and a necessary part of my continuing education. Spending a longer period of time in a fashion capital genuinely changes the way that you think about the subject. Being in a international, culturally dominant city makes you up your game as a creator and a careerist. I feel that I escaped a certain provincial ignorance and developed greater humility by abandoning my local identity. My work is more sophisticated and confident now than ever, and now I have a much more realistic sense of what level I am at relative to my contemporaries, my craft, and the total arc of my life and career.

Continuing to pursue the unknown, to throw myself into the milieu of fashion capitals will always be a necessary part of defining my career. I will do this; I just need to figure out logistically, how.

Another upside of being location independent is that there is no need to sacrifice all the comforts of life to location either, especially as I enter my thirties. Fashion capitals are exciting, and also expensive, snobby, exhausting places to live. I don’t want to live life trapped in a platinum champagne bucket full of pretty perfect popular people. All I need is a modest yet gracious space to work and sleep, and a variegated social life full of many types of friendly people who don’t take fashion too seriously. All of these things can be found in places much less competitive and demanding than London, Paris or New York.

The downside, if it could be called that, of location independence is the overwhelming array of options available. Having so many choices open to me doesn’t make figuring out what I want to do any easier. I’m following my own advice now – embracing the void, and letting the answer reveal itself in the absence of anything else. How profound, to be in the powerful position of designing my physical life to accommodate a career that has become utterly intangible.

click click – 15-11-12

Welcome to click click, the sporadic review of what I find worth clicking on the internet.

These two details are from a magnificent piece of art called Flower of Life by Eliza Plumley. It is currently on display in the Hard Twist exhibit at the Gladstone in Toronto. Eliza repurposes used consumer materials into beautiful, harmonious mandalas.

  • Rocaille – found this treasure peripherally through an image search and was instantly delighted – it’s sort of an occulture blog, with themes of decay, history, fashion and music, it’s so far up my alley I can’t believe I never noticed it before. Check out posts on Michele Lamy and 90’s pop fashion.
  • Inside Fashion: Oscar de la Renta, 1984 – this is wonderful, candid interview with de la Renta, who shares all of his greatest hits anecdotes about his early career and an amazing negotiation story. You could learn a thing or two about charm and persuasion from Oscar. This is from a television show hosted by Barbaralee Diamonstein (!) – another very vivacious interview is given by Mary McFadden.
  • The Other Middle East – meeting with Ryerson Folio founder Trung Ho inspired me to revisit the issue that my piece In Praise of the Unplanned Career appeared in, and I found the whole issue well worth a reread, but especially two very different articles written by two of my contemporaries. Tara Aghdashloo takes on a huge subject – spanning art, politics, money and geography, and opens a window to a world I know nothing about. Sarah Nicole Prickett opens a confessional vein that reveals something about why she writes the way she does.
  • CUTECIRCUIT – the process of turning the clothes we wear into screens is well underway – and the initial form is as a dystopian vehicle for slick, vapid celebrity and corporate messages. Once this technology becomes more common, it will be interesting to see how people will hack it.
  • When ‘style icons’ speak – Rachel Hills and I had a little tumblr debate about how – or if – skinny girls can talk about size. I come off as an Alexa Chung critic when I’m actually quite a fan of hers – I think she’s a total pro. However, I’m not a fan of size talk in general, and particularly when skinny girls (like me) do it. Rachel used the conversation as a launching point for a more considered article on the subject.

Karma comes back to you –

the true fashion feud – words vs. images

The Spring 2013 season skidded to an awkward finish with a bitter aftertaste. The breathless anticipation suffocating the collections at Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior ensured that whatever walked down the runway was bound to disappoint. There’s no way the designers could satisfy our collective imaginations with mere clothes. The louder the hype, the fainter the hope.

In the end, both Simons and Slimane delivered what they were hired to deliver, as best they could in high pressure corporate environments. Two professional, polished, on-point, collections. No rough edges, no surprises.

The notorious feud between New York Times critic Cathy Horyn and Hedi Slimane that ensued, to me, wasn’t just a spat; it was indicative of fashion’s ongoing tensions with the world of words.

The axis of images and words is of particular interest to me as an illustrator who loves to write. Images are the id; words are the ego. Fashion is a visual world – images always come first, and they’re always stronger. Words are an upstart force in fashion – but they have their own pugnacious power that cannot be denied. Especially now that the discourse of fashion takes place online, words matter more than ever before.

Fashion designers have to have tremendous visual intelligence to do their job well. They process their world in pictures; they produce appearances, not analysis. If you’ve ever seen an interview with a fashion designer, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re not as smart or interesting as you thought they were. The truth is, most designers don’t thrive in vocabulary-demanding environments like panel discussions. They’re not usually very articulate people. But that doesn’t mean they’re not smart – fashion design is too difficult, you need be a near-genius polymath just to keep your head above water in that business. Literary abilities aren’t necessarily a requirement, however.

The rare fashion designers that do have a way with words possess a kind of superpower as brand builders. Coco Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, and Tom Ford are the outliers – fashion designers that can turn a phrase as deftly as they can turn heads can consistently deflect their critics. The rest of them, when they’re confronted with the written word, are operating at a significant handicap.

Fashion criticism is a recent development – Horyn herself dates its genesis to the 1990s. It was that decade when fashion started to get intellectual – for the first time fashion was deemed worthy of academic study and critical analysis, and fashion writing became something more than elevated ad copy. Up until that point, fashion designers almost never had to deal with any kind of intelligent discussion of their work – that’s why most of the fashion designers who balk at being written about – Armani and De La Renta come to mind – belong to an older generation. But even for younger designers, the sense of entitlement to keep the power of their images from being trivialized by mere words runs deep.

When Slimane chose to confront Horyn’s dismissal of his collection on her terms, he was stepping well out of his comfort zone. It’s even symbolic that he chose to format his defence as an image rather than text – subconsciously he must have understood that he was fighting a losing battle on uneven ground. In the word-dominant domain of blogs and social networks, it seemed unanimous that the ‘winner’ of this lost-in-translation bitchfest was clearly Cathy Horyn.

And yet, it seems that Slimane will win the war. Image is always far more indelible than words. Far more universal, too – unlimited by language barriers or differences in education. The relative influence of a New York Times column is minor compared to an expensive international onslaught of advertising. Horyn’s words might mean something within the fashion bubble for a week or so, but just one month later, the persuasive vision of Slimane’s dark Californian dream that is oh-so potent right now (it belongs to the same trend as pop phenomenon Lana Del Rey), is what the rest of the world is left with. Fashion criticism has no afterlife in our culture. The clothes – and the images – will echo through the collective consciousness long after the feud is forgotten.