funeral for fashion blogs

dead lo

It’s become an awful cliche – that thinkpiece, usually written by a fashion journalist with more than a bit of schadenfreude “fashion blogs are dead“. Just as predictable is the refutation. And for a long time, I scoffed at the notion too. I mean, I had been blogging since 2005, and my fashion blog still had a pulse. True, I had somehow managed to dodge fame and fortune as fashion blogging became colonized by the digital it girl with her clothes and her money and her photographer boyfriend. Let’s face it, fashion bloggers were never out to make fashion critics obsolete, and the fact that fashion writers seemed to think so betrayed a lack of perception and surfeit of self-importance on their part. The true incarnation of the fashion blogger was a post-modern revision of the socialite.

Then I had to stop calling myself a fashion blogger altogether because the popular definition had become too tainted by all the wannabes and arrivistes who wanted to cash in on the popularity game and affiliate programs. What I did – draw and write thoughtfully about a subject that has always fascinated me – was no longer the accepted definition of fashion blogging. I changed my title on my business cards to “fashion illustrator and trend theorist” and continued to blog.

This year, I had to admit my fashion blog was clearly on life support. I had taken on more personal projects as I began to style myself as a “fashion artist”, and between that and my growing business as a freelance fashion illustrator, I had fewer post ideas and time to work on them. Every once in a while I post about a larger project, but gradually Final Fashion has become, at best, a monthly link roundup with the occasional portfolio piece.

Final Fashion is dying, following many of the other blogs I knew and loved. It really does seem like the end of an era – between 2005-2010, the new media revolution created a brief open window in the gated palace of the fashion media that weird kids could slip into. Those of us who did climb through that crack have since redefined what we do to become artists – writers, photographers, performers, illustrators. Being a fashion blogger now means being a sort of human advertisement, subordinate to social media platforms and big brands, and for those of us who were part of the early cohort, that’s not what we ever wanted.

The best thing to do at this point is to give our fashion blogs a proper memorial, like Tommy Ton did last week. They were there for us when we were discovering who we were. They gave us a way to enter our industry without following the route of internships and entry-level jobs. They gave us a way to meet friends who understood us in a way no one else did.

I’m in New York right now, so I’m going to hold a small funeral to honour all the fashion blogs at St. Marks in the Bowery in Manhattan on September 14, 2014 at 2pm. Everyone who has had a fashion blog touch their life in some way is welcome. If you do come, please wear a flower so we can find each other.

silhouettes and signals

This post is the result of my live sketching lecture, Silhouettes and Signals, performed using Paper by FiftyThree at The Drake Hotel in Toronto on March 16, 2014.

1 eight head ideal

The most essential fashion silhouette is a very specific version of the human body. The Classical ideal is about 8 heads high, and remains resilient in the face of ever-changing fashions, recurring over many millennia since ancient times. It is incredible how the eye instantly recognizes these forms as beautiful, and is drawn to them. To many, the classical ideal represents healthy, natural man, unspoiled by civilization and modern culture, a symbol of rationality. For that reason, this shape can have a sinister quality. That competitive physicality reeks of eugenics and conformity. Human beings naturally come in an incredible variety of shapes, so this rugged or graceful physical ideal excludes almost everyone. For most of us, achieving this shape would require as much effort and artifice as any dandified exaggeration.

2a beauty

Beauty is a peculiar phenomenon. We have an instant, irrational, positive reaction to symmetry and average proportions. Objectively we understand that just because a person happens to have pleasing features by accident of birth, it doesn’t mean that they are a better person, and yet we can’t help but ascribe positive characteristics to beautiful people and pay more attention to them.

3 modifications

Considering this biological instinct to favour “natural” beauty, it’s fascinating how human beings have used fashion throughout the centuries to subvert our own proportions. We will use any technological means at our disposal, whether it’s padding, scaffolding, compression, surgery, propping, binding or prosthetics. We are hungry for novelty and constantly trying to transcend beyond our physical selves, which is why the fashionable ideal often diverges so dramatically from the more conventional “natural” beauty ideal.

4 contemporary silhouettes

The current silhouette for both women and men is top-heavy – oversized jackets, muppet furs, statement sweatshirt and tunic-length shirts for men. Fashion-forward men – even hyper-masculine rappers –  are beginning to adopt skirts. When men and women’s lives are similar, so are their fashionable silhouettes. The male and female silhouette has evolved in tandem ever since the 1970s.

5 class based silhouettes

This was not the case before the masculine renunciation of fashion. In the 1500s, both male and female fashionable silhouettes diverged wildly from the natural human form and from each other, with big ruffs, tall hats, bombastic sleeves and abstract torso shapes. Back then, if you didn’t have an exaggerated silhouette it was a class-based distinction – the poor simply couldn’t afford fancy collars and lots of fabric and accessories to achieve a fashionable silhouette.

When the revolutions of Europe shifted towards democracy, men renounced fashion as a way to demonstrate the ideals of equality and the value of work, and the weight of wearing wealth literally fell upon women. This is when fashion became “feminized” as we recognize it now.

6 domestication and upholstery

The feminization of fashion led to the upholstering of women. Women’s lives became so dramatically different from men’s that their silhouette became exactly opposite. Their clothing was literally constructed as heavily as furniture, and in the 1860s skirts became so wide women couldn’t wear coats – complete domestication.

The bottom-heavy, big-skirted silhouette still exists today in the context of prom dresses and bridal gowns. Women wear this as a very formal, ultra-feminine sexual display. Covering your legs this way is coyly enticing, a “look at me, don’t look at me” game – it totally covers the lower half of your body and yet also makes the lower half of your body the biggest thing in the room.

7 abstinence and bifurcation

Of course long skirts, negating the split between the legs, is traditionally a symbol of chastity. That’s why you only ever see men wearing them in the context of religions that uphold the idea of abstinence.

8 bondage and bieber

The current youthful silhouette, embodied most recognizably by Justin Bieber, has a very long torso and short little legs. It’s a look that evokes bondage and prison culture, which is interesting to consider in terms of the attitude of contemporary youth. It’s also very sexual – the pants come pre-dropped – but the sexuality is deviant, indulgent, and nihilistic. The way the legs are bound limits the gait of young men – the essence is “why bother? Might as well get our rocks off now, there’s no future worth running towards.”

9 twiggy helter skelter

Contrast that with the youth of the 1960s exemplified by the model Twiggy. The broad gait and short skirts are also extremely sexual but the sexuality is more promiscuous and conventional by 21st century standards. The attitude is, as the Beatles sang, helter-skelter. It’s youth on uppers, youth on speed. The essence is essentially optimistic – kids are striding forward into a space-age future. A far cry from Bieber-style bondage, this silhouette says “go for it, we are free and the possibilities are unlimited.”

10 I V A

Ever since the 1970s, the standard silhouette has been pretty close to the most minimal simplification of the human form – as upright animals, our most essential symbol is the letter I. Sure, it varies a bit – getting a bit bottom-heavy in the 1970s and 1990s, and more top-heavy in the 1980s. This is a very broad generalization, but I think it holds up: top heavy silhouettes are more conservative, bottom heavy silhouettes are more liberal. Think about it – if you’re dressing for a job interview you’re more likely to go top-heavy – it’s more structured, authoritative, formal. A bottom heavy silhouette allows itself to be pulled by gravity – it’s more laissez-faire, permissive, and relaxed – better for a house party.

11 trapeze to tuxedo

Up until the 1970s, female silhouettes diverged dramatically from menswear – but Yves Saint Laurent changed all of that. His first collection for Dior after the death of Christian Dior was an abstract shape – the Trapeze silhouette. But now we remember YSL for the Tuxedo, most iconically in that Helmut Newton photograph. It’s an androgynous silhouette about sexual liberation – but it’s also about liberation from the old fashion system, liberation from the idea of designer as dictator.

12 1800s skirt shapes

In the 1800s, silhouettes shifted each decade – skirts were like domes in the 1860s, like trumpets in the 1870s, and had bustles so big in the 1880s that there was a popular joke about balancing a tea service on them. This constantly shape-shifting kept women constantly updating their wardrobes – wearing an 1860s crinoline in the 1870s was simply not done if you wanted to belong in fashionable society.

When Christian Dior launched his business in 1947, he wanted to bring back the glory days of French fashion authority after the setbacks of World War Two. He did this by creating new, exciting shapes each season, just as Worth had done in his glory days. It was a very nationalistic, authoritarian and capitalist business model that worked like fossil fuel for re-establishing French fashion industry in the 1950s.

13 H line Y line A line

In 1954 and 1955, Dior did three lines inspired by letter forms. In 1954, the H-line was straight up and down. In 1955 the Y line was top-heavy, and the A line was bottom-heavy. Dior was a publicity-savvy designer and perhaps it’s no coincidence that these letters matched the weapons of mass destruction at the time – this resulted in some very topical fashion headlines.

“Alphabetizing” women’s bodies is no longer seen as a positive thing. The young people of YSL’s generation didn’t buy it, and Saint Laurent responded by flipping the designer model on it’s head, and instead of dictating “lines” to his clientele, he was inspired by the lives of the fashionable women he knew and the way they dressed.

14 S line V line

If alphabetization was introduced by a Western designer today, it would certainly be heavily criticized as a patriarchal, oppressive categorization of women’s bodies. But in South Korea, alphabetization is currently a popular sales tool – hyper-feminine S-lines and V-lines are used to sell body products and health food. This kind of rigid classification of the female form according to abstract shapes only flies in conservative societies with rigid definitions of beauty ideals. In Europe and North America, where we are seeing increasing social and sexual fluidity and softer definitions of beauty ideals, grading people by letter seems anachronistic.

15 raf vs hedi

Considering the reversal of design philosophies, it’s interesting to consider that the houses of Dior and Saint Laurent continue to uphold opposing silhouettes to this day. Raf Simon’s Dior features a recurring X-shape, a modernist simplification of Dior’s hyper-feminine silhouettes. Meanwhile, Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent Paris continues the tradition a minimalist, long androgynous line.

16 hyperfertile figure

The hyper-fertile feminine silhouette is a lot like the Classical beauty ideal – it provokes an automatic reaction in almost everyone. When the hyper-fertile silhouette is in fashion, as it was in the 1860s and the 1950s, women’s lives tend to be dictated by their biological functions. This hourglass shape is a boon to those who have it and want it, and a bane to everyone else. Celebrities who have this figure have to deal with a much higher level of scrutiny and criticism than famous people with more fashionably slim figures. Perfectly intelligent, seemingly rational people – myself included – are somehow transfixed by Kim Kardashian’s ass. I think it’s a misplaced biological instinct to ensure the survival of the species. Once upon a time, our next generation depended on the sexual functionality of a few hyper-fertile females, and therefore their sexual status was of the highest concern for all members of society. In a world populated by 7 billion, this attitude is ludicrous, and yet we can’t help ourselves. That’s why having a body of this type is a mixed blessing.

17 futurist jumpsuit

Speaking of 7 billion, another anti-fashion silhouette that is fun to consider is the idea of Normcore. Nothing illustrates the breakdown of silhouette-based symbolism better. All silhouettes now are layered with contradictory meanings, and the media environment is so dispersed, there’s no way a single look could ever have the impact of Dior’s 1947 “Bar” ensemble. The subversion of the idea of “normal” is very timely in the light of questioning the value of beauty ideals.

Still, it is a manifesto-based trend and as such is reactionary against the fundamental precept of fashion – that we wear clothing in order to appear better than other people. It reminds me of the Italian Futurist movement, which also proposed an anti-fashion silhouette – T-shaped jumpsuits – as a way of liberating humanity from the tyranny of trends. This kind of attitude can only be taken seriously by the very young and idealistic – everyone else has acquiesced to the inevitability of our animal instincts over-riding our intellectual ability to reject fashion. Ultimately, no academic manifesto has ever successfully launched a lasting trend.

18 tall hats big hair

The most straightforward way to use fashion to appear better than other people is to use fashion to look taller. Even in modern society, tall people enjoy all sorts of economic and sexual advantages – CEOs are statistically taller (and still referred to as “chiefs”) which shows that we really haven’t progressed much from more tribal societies where the largest man was often chief by default. Historically, people have increased their height with tall hats. Pointed hats indicate a direct connection with the divine – sort of an “I’m With Stupid” shirt for Godliness – like a steeple on a church. Abraham Lincoln, already a tall man, wore a very tall top hat. This made him stand out very visibly as a an obvious leader in the early days of photography.

Tall hair is also an option – think of the towering hairstyles of the Rococo or the hairspray-held bangs of the 1980s. Big hair, pretty obviously, is about big head and big egos – think “let them eat cake”, or “the me decade”.

19 heels and trainers

Now that people don’t wear tall hats or big hair as much, they get their extra status from tall shoes, which over the past decade have been getting ever taller. However, even the most fashionable people have a limit to the angle they can endure. High heels offer status at the price of mobility, and we’ve just entered a reactionary period. Designers like Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld have been offering couture trainers and flat-footed creepers, and suddenly short – and the ability to walk – seems far more elegant than tall.

20 bauhaus ballet

It can seem like every silhouette ever has already been tried, but the avant-garde have pushed the boundaries of possibility, simplifying and abstracting the human form until it is barely recognizable. The Bauhaus ballet in the 1920s had geometric, playful costumes that made the dancers seem more like toys, and modern artists like David Bowie and Leigh Bowery have built fabulous costumes that push the human form to extremes.

21 dress meets body

In 1996, Rei Kawakubo designed a collection for Comme des Garcons called “Dress Meets Body; Body Meets Dress”. She padded her models in unexpected, asymmetrical areas – like the side of the neck, or the thigh. The fashion media was horrified. We’re not used to seeing non-symmetrical silhouettes and our instinctual reaction to them is to read them as disease. It’s still a very provocative collection to look at because you can feel inside yourself the friction between your animalistic revulsion and your intellectual ability to recognize a novel form of beauty.

22 untried silhouettes

There is really so much that hasn’t been tried in terms of altering our shapes, so many letters of the alphabet yet to be drawn. Asymmetry especially hasn’t been deeply explored – appearing inhuman is in some situations an advantage – such as when you want to avoid being recognized by surveillance technology. With access to ever-lighter materials and rapidly evolving visual technology, future silhouettes could diverge wildly from what we’ve tried so far. What is so incredible about fashion is how it liberates us from our biological fate to be born in the shape of a human – in fact, we can be anything we can imagine.

cool front/hot mess for The New Inquiry


I am very proud to write and illustrate for The New Inquiry, a rare home for fashion writing without a commercial agenda. In this essay, I attempted to express a big idea – how 21st century fashion is different from 20th century fashion, using my own observations from New York Fashion Week this season.streetstyle banner

the self project


After I moved back to Toronto, I lost the habit of shared self-reflection. In London, I had a lot of time to myself and spent a lot of time in the office. Money was tight and I was thinking about my work a lot, and what I was trying to accomplish, and how to overcome so many obstacles. And I was sharing my journey on Final Fashion. Then when I moved back in Toronto, I stopped.

In Canada again, I realized how much I missed my family. I felt so much joy  in being a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a grand-daughter, again. I spent as much time with my relatives as I could after two years of being so far away. My cost of living had decreased so I found myself feeling somewhat comfortable, relative to the reduced circumstances I had become used to in London anyway. And early in the year, I met a handsome Canadian carpenter and fell in love. It has been wonderful to indulge in being a girlfriend again after being single for a few years. I felt more whole and content than I had in a long, long while. Being content doesn’t provide much content, though. Posts on Final Fashion began to space out, and as the summer wore on I experienced a slow season.

One of the things I love about fashion is its cyclical nature. I’ve come to recognize the recurring ebbs and flows as my career picks up and languishes in step with the seasons. At the beginning of my career, when I experienced slow times, I used to panic. It felt like my career was a fragile thing, and rejections and empty inboxes made it feel like being a fashion illustrator was attempting a doomed mission. Later, slow times became an opportunity to reflect and reinvent. I would revise my blogging practices and edit my portfolio. I’ve always found that when you share energy, it comes back to you. Doing things and making things is the best way to get out of a rut. A creative career is all about giving the best you can and trusting that someone out there is going to get it.

This time, I knew why the deceleration was happening. It was my own doing, because I was too absorbed in real life, I had let my online identity slide. Things have changed a lot in the blogging world since I started, and I felt ideological resistance towards the development of two vastly different extremes in the form. I didn’t want blogging to be all about status and appearances – being an object of admiration and envy just for being pretty and having nice things. Not that I can afford luxuries. And though I’m comfortable with my appearance, I don’t feel compelled to use my own image as a creative outlet. I also didn’t want it to be all about confessions – performing a virtual psychological striptease to win sympathy or provoke controversy. There’s no sense in using sex or psychodrama in my work – I’m a fashion illustrator, not a diarist. The middle route? That’s where I am now, the middle route is obscurity, becoming lost among so many voices. I felt posting paralysis this year – I wasn’t sure what I wanted to share anymore. Yet it had become clear that I needed to put more of myself back into my work, somehow.

The other major consideration I was thinking about during the downtime was the wonderful New York Fashion Week I had experienced in February. Attending amazing fashion shows, seeing my sketches in WWD, getting my picture on the New York Times website with the caption, fashion illustrator! I was living the dream, my dream! I knew I had to go back and capitalize on that momentum. What had I learned, and how could I possibly have a better season after such a high note? I realized I have to pack a bigger, better thriving kit than ever.

One thing that I learned last season, is that I am not just an illustrator any more. I am a performer. The act of illustrating is becoming just as important, if not more important, than the illustrations as products. And more and more I was finding myself in front of cameras, doing my work, but also presenting my work in person to people whose recognition matters. I realized that downplaying my own looks, as I had tended to do out of fear or contrariness or idiotic ideology, was a pointless form of denial. Of course how I look and what I wear matter! If fashion had taught me any lessons, it’s that you can use your appearance as a form of game theory – that looking good gets you where you want to go. My life is like an adventure – I’m the hero – and I need to dress for the part I want to play.

So instead of redesigning my blog, this time I decided to redesign myself very deliberately so I could put my face back on the blog to best advantage. I decided to take all my good features and just amplify them slightly – so I made my hair blonder, had my eyebrows done professionally, and selected more modern frames for my glasses. I upgraded my makeup routine to help me feel more confident in photographs. I very belatedly opened an Instagram account and started earnestly practicing the art of the self-portrait.


I also wanted to adapt my wardrobe to my work. Last season I had the chance to attend the Oscar de la Renta show, and while it was incredibly exciting just to be there, it threw into stark relief my biggest problem at fashion week – I never know how to dress. Surrounded by a crowd of people with money, taste, and access the the best clothing in the world, I very much felt like a scruffy interloper, and being very pointedly placed behind a pillar so I wouldn’t be caught photobombing inside the photographer’s frames made it clear that I needed to overcome this problem. It felt at that moment like there was a glass wall between me and the world I was sketching, and yet somehow, I need to walk among the fashion elite. How am I going to do that?

Buying designer clothing isn’t an option. However, I know how to sew and I have a studio at my disposal, so I decided I would design my own solution. I made a shirt-dress inspired by artist’s smocks. The idea was, I wanted to look as much like a fashion illustrator as possible. Most people have no idea what that looks like, so to a large extent, I get to define it for myself. I thought, why not look like an artist, but a bit more chic? I like the idea of wearing a working uniform – as far as fashion goes, I’m not a natural born peacock, and I love simple, practical clothing. I took my cue from people like Karl Lagerfeld and Bill Cunningham – creating a single signature look that can be repeated, until your image itself becomes a kind of logo. Above is the first prototype. The idea is, it is a versatile garment that can be worn belted or loose, open or closed, as a dress or as a shirt. It has lots of pockets for all my pens and stuff. This is just the first one, but I want to make many more variations in several colours. I like careful cuts and crisp, classic details, and though it was labour intensive, this project felt incredibly satisfying. This is the beginning of something.

runway sketching bag

I also made a purpose-built portfolio case for live runway sketching. I’ve decided on my ideal format after much trial and error – 12 x 16. So this bag is meant to hold paper of that size, but the main feature is a plexiglass window on one side that allows me to display my latest and greatest drawing to the world. Plus, the plexi keeps my papers from getting bent or damaged and offers a firm surface for me to draw on if I need it. I should have made this bag ages ago, I can’t wait to take it out to the field.

The upside of lean times is that I need them to grow. As an artist, I can’t keep a relentless momentum and produce consistent work constantly – sometimes it’s time to step back, live a little, take a long view and refocus. I feel more ready for a new season than I ever have before. I’m back in New York for the Spring 2014 shows, and ready to show my best work – and my best self.


Double Flawless – five female video game characters go to fashion week

video game females

I’m a fashion illustrator who dabbles in trend theory, not a gamer. When Jaime Woo asked me to interpret five female video game characters through the lens of fashion for Gamercamp, I approached the project as a total outsider. Video game heroines, to a fresh eye, are very peculiar indeed. The way they behave and dress reflects the male majority of their beholders. So how would they appear if they were style icons, appealing to a female gaze?

When I did my research, I found that video games and fashion share much in common. They’re both idealized universes full of strange characters, hierarchical in nature. Both are based on different notions of status; in one world, power is conferred by violence and skill, in the other, by snobbery and creativity. Just because fashion is perceived as “female” does not make it any better or fairer than “male” video games. The two are in many ways, more similar than dissimilar. Not the least is the way they are both demonized as a corruptor of youth. More positively, they offer safe virtual spaces where people can dream and act out their fantasies.

For each character, I have chosen a “Style Icon” as inspiration for their look, and chosen a designer collection to dress them in. What follows is my reasoning behind each illustrated interpretation.

Chun-Li character + Chun-Li - Anne Hathaway + Chun-Li - Burberry Prorsum Spring 2013 =

Chun-Li, Street Fighter

Style Icon: Anne Hathaway

Collection: Burberry Prorsum Spring 2013

I’ve chosen Anne Hathaway as iconic influence for the Chinese character Chun-Li because she is consistently popular in Chinese media for her clothing and appearance. Her porcelain complexion, large eyes and sophisticated yet conservative red carpet style resonate with contemporary Chinese beauty standards. Modern Chinese fashion favours familiar luxury brands, however the overtly logo-ed branding of Louis Vuitton is now falling out of favour for the more subtle (and more difficult to procure in China) Burberry. The Chinese conception of glamour is hyper-feminine, wealth-driven and yet also understated, and you never see Chinese actresses wearing “oriental” fashions on the red carpet. Therefore I’ve taken a departure from Chun-Li’s traditional look to one that is more about saying “money” as demurely as possible, with a British accent. Conveniently, the Spring 2013 Burberry Prorsum collection featured a variety of booty shorts to accommodate Chun-Li’s high kicks.

Chun-Li web

Commander Shepard character + Commander Shepard - Daphne Guinness + Commander Shepard - Gareth Pugh Spring 2009 =

Commander Shepard, Mass Effect

Style Icon: Daphne Guinness

Collection: Gareth Pugh Spring 2009

Daphne Guinness is both an aristocratic authority figure and an artistic iconoclast; I think her style is suitable for Commander Shepard because she champions individuality over ‘robotic’ sameness (paralleling Shepard’s mission), while at the same time affecting costumes that are aggressive and strong. One of the designers Guinness favours is Gareth Pugh. I’ve chosen Pugh’s Spring 2009 collection because of a stunning series of armour-like outfits in black and white. I used some artistic license and rendered the design in red & white, to reflect the character’s original design. The earrings are loosely based on the Laruicci designs worn by Beyonce with another Gareth Pugh outfit in her “Run the World” video.

Commander Shepard web

Lara Croft character + 64th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals + Lara Croft - Saint Laurent Paris Spring 2013 =

Lara Croft, Tomb Raider

Style Icon: Sienna Miller

Collection: Saint Laurent Paris Spring 2013

Lara Croft’s antecedents are aristocratic, yet she chose the adventurous career of an archaeologist, so I’ve chosen Sienna Miller as her icon because that actress came from a very wealthy background but became known for sporting a very “bohemian” style that plays down her own privilege. Miller is also known for her braided hairdos which is likewise a Croft signature. For the collection, I’ve chosen one of the controversial Saint Laurent Paris collections by Hedi Slimane – his rich girls also reject their European blue blood by dressing inspired by “the streets” of California, and notoriously not even carrying handbags. They also wear broad-brimmed hats which seem to be occasionally sported by Croft.


Lara Croft web

Mileena Character + Mileena - Lindsay Lohan + Mileena - Balmain Spring 2011 =

Mileena, Mortal Kombat

Style Icon: Lindsay Lohan

Collection: Balmain Spring 2011

Mileena’s unhinged aspect immediately suggested Lindsay Lohan as her icon – Lohan’s got this scattershot fashion sense that occasionally veers towards the overly-revealing. She’s often also unashamedly dishevelled, with overprocessed, unkempt hair and a disregard for details. Balmain SS11 is the perfect collection for Mileena because it’s essentially made for a hot mess of a rich girl, outrageous tastelessness rendered uber-fashionable by the fact that it’s very, very expensive.

Mileena web

Princess Zelda character + FAMEFLYNET - The Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge Arrive At The Senate House in Cambridge City Centre + Princess Zelda - Alexander McQueen Fall 2008 =

Princess Zelda, The Legend of Zelda

Style Icon: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Collection: Alexander McQueen Fall 2008

The Duchess of Cambridge is the ultimate fashion princess of our times, and is often seen wearing Alexander McQueen in his posthumous, polite incarnation as a national hero. However, for Princess Zelda, I’d like to dress her highness in the more subversive designs of the designer while he was still alive. McQueen has often been characterized as using violence against women as an emotional and creative instigator. McQueen’s clothing plays on ideas of female submission and corrupted power which I think makes it suitable for a permanently kidnapped heroine. The Fall 2008 collection, appropriately inspired by British colonialism, features some spectacular diadems which I understand are Zelda’s signature.

Princess Zelda web

fear of fashion – the eternal moral panic

The Prodigal Daughter 1789

Fashion is the devil in the mirror. Fashion is a signal of antisocial behaviour – the sins of vanity and excess, deviance, raising fears of false appearances. Fashion in ancient woodcuts is demonized.

Throughout history, there are always small groups of fashion extremists and individual eccentrics who take fashion well into the moral panic zone, occasionally even risking their lives for it. We consume a lot of breathless media outrage about these outsiders, even as we forget that the vast majority of ordinary people just aren’t fashion nuts and just don’t find freakish fashion victimhood appealing enough to be corrupted by it. As Valerie Steele argued in her book, our perception of corsetry through illustration and other propaganda is (surprise!) revealed to be vastly exaggerated when the physical evidence is examined.

corset deformation

Since medieval times, women’s predilection for fashion has been cast as a form of moral and physical weakness. And in a way, it is. Historically prevented from competing fairly in the arena of work or sport or ideas, the most accessible competitive edge for most women was (and often still is) their appearances. The adoption of forms of fashion, occasionally to extremes, is a social stepping stone for the disenfranchised.

Fashionable moral panics directed at women are always concerned with authenticity and purity – the cultural majority is obsessed with the biological implications of women who appear more fertile than they in fact are, or who allow fashion to interfere with their apparent fertility. These days, female-focused fashion moral panics are concerned with plastic surgery, age- and sex-appropriate dressing, and dieting. Whether it’s a woodcut or a tabloid, the essential message from the mainstream is a biological directive, not a rational one: “don’t misrepresent or impair your ability to carry on the human race.”

Ever since youth culture emerged in the mid 20th century, the establishment’s moral policing is often directed at youth. Fashion is often the scapegoat, the shorthand, simply because it’s a visible phenomenon and that’s all most people have time for. The fashionable moral panic of the time, is a symbol if its time. These days, it’s hoodies.

Youth often choose their fashions to deliberately provoke panic. As this documentary points out, the demonization of deviant youth culture only serves to make it more attractive. The media moral panics directed at youth are particularly poignant because in the struggle for control of the media, youth always lose the battle but win, insidiously and inevitably, by eventually becoming the media. The corruption of culture is the evolution of culture.

Daily Mirror the Filth and the Fury

Participating in mainstream outrage is a waste of time when the panic is focused on a superficial image rather than an actual problem. Fashion is a self-correcting phenomenon – as it reaches the extreme limits of physical possibility, or approaches mainstream ubiquity, it loses its power and the trend will turn on a dime. Sumptuary laws across time and cultures have failed again and again to control fashionable excess as effectively as fashionable excess curbs itself. As for causing human extinction or destroying civilization, fashion has been an utter failure.

what fashion owes reality

alek wek by herb ritts web

No one’s willing to pay for reality. Why should they? We all get it every day for free. Reality is not an industry. Fashion is. Every time I read an argument for why fashion should more accurately reflect reality, my gut reaction is What? Why? No! But of course I would say that, I’m a fashion illustrator.

Above on the right is an iconic photograph of fashion model Alek Wek by Herb Ritts. Wek is already an unusual example of a human being, with exaggerated features and proportions. She represents a type of beauty which is so extreme, she seems like an otherworldly, fantastic creature. Despite this already outrageous figure reference, when I interpret the same image in illustration, I exaggerate her look even further. Even a bizarre form of beauty isn’t quite extreme enough for me. This is why I’m an illustrator and not a photographer – I resist being limited to the way things are. My drawings are a fantasy, processed through the distorted lens of my own imagination.

Sometimes, I attend life drawing classes for practice, but I find I can’t ever seem to represent the model as she actually is, even if I try. My lines always remodel the model into whatever I want her to be. I guess I’m most interested in trying to interpret the current fashionable ideal – because that is what fashion illustration is. If fashion illustration reflected the way people actually looked, it would just be… illustration.

The most challenging brief for any fashion image creator is to produce something that is both “realistic” and “aspirational” because these two concepts cancel each other out. This is why I find media artifacts like the so-called “real beauty” campaign more unsettling than reassuring. They confuse the viewer, calling a subtler, more insidious version of idealization ‘reality’. A realistic ideal is an oxymoron. I much prefer to see a dramatic divide between ideal and reality, because the corrosive effects of a beauty ideal seem to occur when impressionable minds conflate fantasy and reality. I desire a beauty ideal that is so extreme, it is clear that it is a form of entertainment, a dream world, as distinct from the real world as an action movie or a video game.

Like any form of glamour, fashion doesn’t owe reality anything. If you want to see reality, you can find it elsewhere, everywhere, free of charge.

reinventing fashion criticism


Why are there no recognizable new fashion critics? You would think, with an abundance of free media for the taking, one or two strong fresh voices would rise to challenge the established names and push this type of writing further. I can only think of a few who have more recently made a strong impression with personality and flair, only to abandon the form. Alexander Fury did consistently insightful and contextual reviews for SHOWstudio – he has now moved into an editorial position at LOVE. Sarah Nicole Prickett brought a sharp eye and sharper pen for a few memorable seasons in Toronto and New York. Now she no longer writes about fashion. Further off the radar, I enjoy the brief, sensitive, poetic reviews on Fashion156 by John Michael O’Sullivan of 1972 Projects – his unique work does not enjoy the attention I think it deserves.

There are many possibilities for fashion criticism that haven’t yet been played out, but for all the critics’ protests about the encroachment of the bloggers, isn’t it odd that so few bloggers are actually challenging them with direct competition? What does that mean for the future of fashion criticism?

Fashion has changed. Fashion criticism has stayed the same. Same names, same game. We often forget that fashion criticism in its narrowest form is a fairly recent development – in the 1990s. Fashion criticism emerged just as more academic and intellectual interest was focused on fashion for the first time, while at the same time supermodels legitimized fashion with popular attention. Most importantly, newspaper journalism had not yet been transformed by the media revolution. Fertile ground for fashion criticism existed for less than a decade. Since then, no new seeds have taken root.

The internet, for all of its many benefits, is a terrible environment for fashion criticism. The paradox of free speech is that it’s more in the sense of free market than it is like actual freedom. Horyn, Menkes, Alexander, McDowell and their contemporaries all have the tremendous subsidy of a major media corporation that protects their freedom of speech for them. Freelancers and bloggers, on the other hand, have to look out for themselves. Being critical isn’t good business in fashion. There are no economic advantages to it. It’s also tremendously difficult to do well, and be popular doing it, since it is a somewhat intramural, confrontational pursuit. Fashion is wary of words. For fashion criticism to survive and thrive, it needs at least one degree of separation between the creator and the money required to support their work.

A great fashion critic needs to be an outsider’s insider. They need to be obsessive and knowledgable about fashion history, recent and past, and also be well versed in the culture at large as well. Able to grasp the technical language of fashion as well as being able to interpret an expressive, visual phenomenon using words, without falling into the claptrap of cliches. Ideally, the critic needs to be able to write about a narrow topic in an expansive way that would also draw in the casual reader. A strong personality is a major plus. It is no wonder so few bloggers or young writers have such a unique combination of exceptional talents, not to mention the encouragement to pursue criticism as a career.

When I was reading the fashion criticism on offer this season, I was frustrated. The old guard seemed far older than usual – griping about bloggers and email invitations, bemoaning the digital influence on design. Many missives seemed to be pining for the glory days of fashion criticism rather than keeping up with ever-changing fashion as it is NOW. There were two insights in particular that I was looking for and never found – a dispassionate, up-to-date commentary on the effects of the media revolution on fashion, and a cool consideration of why, exactly, Hedi Slimane is offending the fashion establishment so much right now.

It’s clear that if I want to read these things, I will have to write them myself, and this post is a stab in that direction. Perhaps I’m flattering myself, but I think I’m in an ideal position to experiment with fashion criticism. Since my writing is wholly un-monetized and somewhat distanced from my business as an illustrator, I have more freedom in what I choose to write about than most. I also have the freedom of time – unlike a newspaper reporter, I have the privilege to ponder, research and wait for a genuine insight to emerge rather than racing to cover a particular event in a timely fashion. I also want to stretch fashion criticism beyond its traditional format of runway reviews and designer profiles, because really, it could be so much more.

Are you aware of any fresh voices in fashion criticism? I’d love to learn their names. What do you think the future of fashion criticism should be like?


the metaculture spiral


What’s your culture to metaculture ratio? I think I consume about 1:1. To be honest, I don’t understand the academic explanation for metaculture. In my own simple way, I think of metaculture like an eddy formation, where culture turns in on itself like a whirlpool.

Metaculture is when something is about the thing that it is. So like, a movie about making a movie. I saw a gallery show once which was all black paintings. No colour, no narrative, no context, nothing but brushstrokes. The paintings seemed to be about nothing, except the act of making a painting. Or a book that calls attention to itself as a book, like a novel with footnotes. Or a tuxedo t-shirt – trompe l’oeil is nothing but clothes with clothes on. A tweet about tweeting. And so on.

Since metaculture is culture about culture – that also includes criticism, comment threads, panel discussions, blog posts, academic writing, and so on. The culture out there is now so massive and complex, I need help to understand and navigate it all. Sometimes I listen to reviews of books and movies I have no intention of viewing or reading, just so I can feel like I’ve got a handle on the cultural zeitgeist. I’m consuming secondary culture in a primary way.

Metaculture feels necessary and inevitable. It can also feel like a downward spiral. Like a trap. The scary thing about metaculture is that it doesn’t open up possibilities – it shuts them down. For instance, literature about literature is appealing to writers and critics who spend their lives immersed in literature, but totally fails to connect with people outside of that small, rarefied world. While metaculture is often acclaimed within its own sphere, it has little universal appeal. Metaculture sections off and isolates its participants.

This has a homogenizing effect, creating stagnant pools of static culture. I’ve noticed this in personal style blogging, clustered around websites like IFB. Since all of these fashion bloggers are following each other, along with the same set of media outlets, and using the same resources for advice, that particular niche is suffering from a certain pervasive same-ness. This is one of the reasons that my advice to young people interested in fashion is to consume a broad and varied cultural diet (and to be wary of advice). In fashion, there are many people who only take inspiration from within the realm of fashion itself – the result is a dearth of novelty and a certain tone-deafness to the rest of the world.

I think all culture moves in spiral formations. For myself, I am now trying to avoid inward-facing metaculture spirals and move toward spiralling out. There’s something that unites great culture – it takes on the big, universal unknowns – what is this life? Why are we here? The things we all share – love, hate, joy, pain, beauty, death, loss and discovery – that’s where the real stories are. Great culture is inclusive, not exclusive – it offers something any human being can access. There’s something so much more exciting and expansive about culture that attempts to be bigger than itself. Culture about itself delivers diminishing returns – taken to its inevitable conclusion, it becomes absurd.

Another quasi-metaculture trap that seems to trip up female creatives in particular is turning themselves into the subject. How do you make your work bigger than yourself, when the work is yourself? Even as a blogger, I’ve noticed that posts about myself attract much more attention than posts about abstract ideas, or the visual work (where I am not the subject) that I spend most of my time creating. It’s easy to see the temptation to put yourself on display in some way, if it gathers more eyeballs and reactions than anything else. And yet, I resist it, for two reasons. One – just because the mainstream culture rewards women for being contained (or chained) to their physical bodies, doesn’t mean I have to pander to it. Two – because it can turn you into a parody of yourself, quicker than you’d think. The end game is not pretty.

There are so many reasons why we are living in an era of metaculture. We’re still grappling with a new communications technology revolution, so it makes sense that much of what we create is so concerned with the particular devices we’re creating it on. The sheer volume and complexity of culture, now so easily accessible, makes referencing like a medium unto itself – the mash-uppers, the collage artists, the curators – all necessary and interesting developments.

I don’t think metaculture should be feared – even if it does seem like a harbinger of our own end-times. Just as we are consuming the planet until there’s nothing left, perhaps human culture is mirroring that entropy by turning inwards and consuming itself.

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.