Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Month: March, 2014

World Mastercard Fashion Week Day 3: Christopher Bates and Brunch

ImageGeorge Pimentel / Getty Images

The keyword in my invitation for the ‘Toronto Fashion Incubator Press and Buyers Brunch’ on Wednesday was ‘brunch’. As per usual, I had had only a cup of coffee and a banana when I got up so I was starving. I arrived at David Pecaut Square at noon—too early even for the street style photographers outside the tent waiting to not take my picture. Inside it was so dead as well I thought I had the wrong location. But the studio space where the brunch was held was brightly lit and buzzing with activity. About ten to fifteen vendors were set up with their clothing, accessories, and jewelry, but my eyes went straight to the back of the room where I spied tables of steaming breakfast goodies.

“No, Max,” I warned myself. “You cannot go straight to the food. Remember society. Mingle. Schmooze.”

I did a once around, stopping to talk to designers who piqued my interest. I complimented Muhammad Alamgir (for L’Momo) on a gorgeous aquamarine dress and Jon De Porter on his pearl concoctions, which turns out I had just seen in the VAWK presentation. I stand out was the Sappho line by Kim Smiley—bracelets made from lace that appear like intricate henna-designs on the arms and wrists.

“Okay, now I’m ready for food,” I thought. “I’ve earned it.” But all of the three little tables were occupied with brunchers. I could have grabbed a plate and stood with it, but as I am not the type to eat something without spilling on myself I decided against this course of action. Fortunately, I spotted Laura-Jean Bernhdardson of Clothing Collective with her distinctive red hair and cat eye glasses. I introduced myself. At the Standard I conducted a phone interview with her, but never met her in person.

“This sounds a bit high school, but…can I sit with you?” She said yes.

Pancakes, bacon, potatoes, sausage, fruit (of course)—they had quite the breakfast spread for us, but I couldn’t immediately get to it as the tables were blocked by reporters and cameramen following a little fancy suited middle-aged man.

“Who is he?” I asked Laura-Jean. “He looks very important. He’s blocking the food.”

It turns out the man in the suit was Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who had a few kind words to say about the industry. “The designers I’ve talked to are living their dream,” he said. “And I think that’s wonderful.”

Speaking of suits, my only show that afternoon was Christopher Bates menswear. Bates always seems like he’s casting a particularly elegant James Bond film and this collection was no exception. He showed slim-fitting suits in black and grey, and sexy beige sweaters that highlighted the models pectorals. As for the models, the audience responded to a man with gleaming white hair and matching beard. (“Sexy Santa” I wrote in my notebook). My friend Dervla and I couldn’t decide whether he was an older man with incredibly good skin, or a younger man who’d gone prematurely white. Another mature model, squinty eyed and beard of salt and pepper, broke the fourth wall by making eye contact with members of the audience. He appeared to be flirting with the whole room.

“That got lady bits excited,” I said.

“Christopher Bates chooses models that look like him,” Dervla observed afterwards. “Just, in different incarnations of his life.”

She may be right. 

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World Mastercard Fashion Week Day 2: Mercedes-Benz Start Up

ImageGeorge Pimentel / Getty Images

When my friend Jess Bartram and I entered the cavernous presentation space for the Mercedes-Benz Start Up presentation models were already standing on platforms on the runway, still like mannequins. On their boxes were little triangular spikes.

“I like their wee mountains,” Jess said.

It felt more like a performance art piece than a runway show and, as with every performance art piece, attendees looked a bit uncomfortable walking by the performers. Of course, it took about five minutes before people started taking selfies with the models, implacable as British guards.

“They are human beings!” I protested to Jess. “Well, they’re models, at the very least.”

The Mercedes-Benz Start Up awards up-and-coming designers and this year they chose two: Cécile Raizonville of Matière Noire (who showed first) and Malorie Urbanovitch. I suppose Raizonville saved some time by having the first models already on the runway because she played an extended intro of electric music and, projected on the screen, flashing satanic symbols—orbs, vertical lines, and triangles.

“It’s the Eye of Sauron,” Jess whispered.

“She’s trying to hypnotize the fashion critics,” I replied.

Considering the creepy, pagan atmosphere, Raizonville’s collection was fittingly “Noire”. She showed wide-necked square sweaters with asymmetrical, two part skirts—black wrapped around vibrant royal blue. Black and white abstract patterns on belts and sleeves called to mind African prints, while large shapeless coats referenced the late-1950’s silhouette. The designer demonstrated how subversive a baby doll dress can look when, in lieu of white or pale pink, you colour it black. On their heads the models wore small, helmet-like caps as though they were horse jockeys. A recurring full-moon motif on a handful of tops reminded me immediately of ‘Twilight’ series book covers.

In between the collections a group of white and pink t-shirted Fashion Week volunteers came out. There were scattered applause from people who may have been confused. The volunteers were there to remove the platforms with the little spikes, like stagehands during intermission. Maybe the applause weren’t accidental—WMCFW’s hardworking volunteers literally move mountains.

The difference between Matière Noire and Malorie Urbanovitch was the difference between night and day. The lights turned up bright and suddenly it was a sunny morning in California. A model with blonde, bouncy hair walked out in an oatmeal sweater, black skirt, and Doc Martin-esque boots. The nineties are back, my friend. Urbanovitch also showed wrap skirts, but in soft grey and acid yellow. I practically gasped at a baby blue sleeveless turtleneck.

“Yup,” Jess whispered. “Pretty sure I had that in grade 7.”

Shift dresses looked very soft and comfortable, as though they were made from shaneel. And a loose-fitting yellow coat looked ripped from the cover of Vogue circa 1997.

“It was very 1990’s TV,” I remarked as we got up to leave.

“Yeah,” Jess replied. “First were the vampires, then there was Buffy.” 

ImageGeorge Pimentel / Getty Images

A Fan Reacts to Sex and the City 3

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In one of the final episodes of ‘Sex and the City’ red-haired Miranda Hobbes, played by blonde-haired Cynthia Nixon, has proposed to her on-again-off-again boyfriend Steve “over three dollar beers.” She hates everything to do with romance and phoniness but, after she tells her friends of the engagement, Carrie, Charlotte and Samantha get misty-eyed verklempt. Getting up from the table because they’re “freaking her out,” Miranda says, “Samantha, I expected more from you.”

The line works because, of the four lead characters, Carrie and Charlotte were the optimist/idealists, while Miranda and Samantha the cynical/realists, although their personal philosophies came from opposite directions. Miranda was the show’s feminist voice while Samantha was a de-political hedonist—a male sexual ego trapped in a woman’s body. Just how inescapable that female body was becomes clear later in the same episode when Samantha discovers she has breast cancer, a risky and brave story line for the writers to insert in the final episodes. When she accidently lets slip her condition at the end of Miranda’s wedding, she reminds her: “No tears. Miranda, I expected more from you.”

While ‘Sex and the City’ will always be associated with Carrie and her musings (but look, I wrote two paragraphs and didn’t even mention Big!) the trajectory of the show more resembled the development of Miranda and Samantha, who both had to let go of some cynicism and independence to accept that love was possible. It’s why, after Steve cheats on her in the first movie, Miranda’s line “I changed who I was for you,” cuts so deep.

Although Carrie had to get over her sarcastic reaction to Petrovsky’s romantic gestures, that didn’t work out too well for her. She ended up with Big, the man who had constantly let her down but she loved regardless. The series started as a tribute to chain-smoking, mid-thirties negativity (“Welcome to the age of Uninnocence,” Carrie voice overs in the first episode) but eventually became one of the most unabashedly romantic shows on TV.

Funnily enough, I think personally I’ve gone in the other direction. I started out with Carrie’s idealism, tested Samantha’s joie de vivre (the polite way to say it), and have settled somewhat on Miranda’s snarky skepticism. It’s maybe what happens in your twenties. But as both a first and second generational fan (I watched it when it first aired, sneaking downstairs late at night to watch it on the family TV as a teenager, and then shared every episode on DVD with my university friends) I will always stand by the show, even as the cultural cacophony has moved against it. After the economy crashed, Carrie’s shopping and trendy restaurant name-dropping instantly looked dated. Entire series have been created as rebukes to the fictional world of dating in New York that ‘SATC’ espoused. But it will continue to irritate me that in an era of philandering, drug-dealing, serial killing, male ‘anti-heroes’ Carrie Bradshaw is the one routinely described as a ‘bad person’.

The movies didn’t help. And I say this as a fan who watched both in the theatre and owns both on DVD. (Even the second one, yes.) There are scenes from both films I enjoy and, if I had any digital editing skills I would put them together into a passable thirty minute long episode, as I heard someone did with ‘Star Wars’. But the final three episodes, in which Carrie gives up her column and moves to Paris, were so perfectly conclusive there was no reason for a first film, let alone a sequel. I will say this for the much-maligned ‘Sex and the City 2’: I appreciated the theme, which was something about it being okay for women to speak their minds, much more than that of the first one, which was ‘forgive the one who love no matter what they do to you’.

I believe screenwriter Michael Patrick King deserves a lot of the blame. From what I’ve learned, the writers’ room for the series was a chattering place where the writers’ bad dates and misadventures in love were worked into episodes. Those different experiences and perspectives became the different voices of the characters and were essential to the chatty spirit of the show. The movies, in contrast, are subdued and quiet, the silence becoming all the more obvious with feature length runtime. He also deserves the blame for completely misreading the zeitgeist and sending the girls on a frothy vacation to Abu Dhabi, a sojourn that pleased no one.

What I’m saying is I can’t handle another movie. Which is why I was glad to see Miranda’s alter ego, Cynthia Nixon, holding out on signing up for a third film. Nixon, New York City’s most famous activist lesbian mom, has always come across as the most down to earth of the actors, and her non-involvement would make it impossible for the show to go on. (For the record, Chris Noth was also as noncommittal as Mr. Big.)

Sarah Jessica Parker, an actor I admire and will always have a deep affection for, seems unable or unwilling now let the character of Carrie go. When she came up to Toronto to open a Target store she wore a big season 3-style flower pin. She’s a professional Carrie now. It was only a matter of time before she started a show company.

Meanwhile, Nixon appears happy with doing the odd bit of theatre, the odd bit of TV. She told the press it would be okay if they let the series end. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, Nixon told the ‘Today Show’ she’d “absolutely” be on board for a third movie. (My question: who got to her? Was it Kim Cattrall?) I understand that working actors need money and movie studio pay cheques allow them to continue to pursue the life style they’ve become accustomed to, but there are bigger issues at stake. ‘Sex and the City’ is what the four lead actors will be remembered for, unless ‘Failure to Launch’, ‘Rampart’, ‘Cross Roads’ or ‘The Shaggy Dog’ become cult favourites. (Actually, ‘Cross Roads’ might be already.) They should let the beautiful series finale speak for itself. They should hang up their Manolos and call it a day. Lastly, they should consider how I feel, the lifelong fan who defend ‘SATC’ till his dying day, but wants to talk about Paris and Petrovsky and not camel toe sight gags. I hope one of the actors comes to her senses.

Miranda, I expected more from you.

World Mastercard Fashion Week Day 1: VAWK

ImagePhoto: George Pimentel / Getty Images

I keep saying I’ve retired from fashion writing but, like Cher with her unending farewell tours, it never seems to stick. Through WORN, the Toronto Standard, and befriending the right PR women I ended up on several media contact lists and consequently was invited to a handful of shows during Toronto’s World Mastercard Fashion Week. I decided to attend because I do enjoy runway shows, and playing ‘spot Stacey McKenzie’, but this year I didn’t want to go on my own. While I never did this when I covered the shows for the Standard this time around I asked for plus-ones for every presentation I was invited to. Remarkably, the PR women indulged me. I wanted to bring my friends to fashion week to give them a peek into this glamorous, crazy world, and they’re useful for snagging extra Peroni drink tickets.

First up was Sunny Fong for VAWK. Sunny and I go way back (and by that I mean I rooted for him when he was on ‘Project Runway Canada’). Also one time I approached him at Starbucks and said I was a fan. His whole face turned into a bashful smile. He’s just the cutest of elfin men.

His collections are also reliably excellent, often inserting some cheeky fun and much-needed model diversity. His Autumn/Winter 2014 collection promised to be interesting. It was officially touted as a collision of classical and modern, blended with the luxury of Dubai and the organic style of ‘90s street fashion.” I couldn’t really picture that (Salt-N-Pepa mixed with Abu Dhabi via ‘Sex and the City 2’?) but couldn’t wait to see it.

The resulting concoction was quite different than what I expected. It could have been subtitled ‘Fifty Shades of Black’. While I get a bit exhausted with the fashion industry’s obsession with monochrome, the collection demonstrated what a talented designer can do with limited colour. My favourite piece was early on—a black leather jacket with silver snakeskin sleeves which, under the glaring lights, shone like a suit of armor. Underneath the model wore a long diaphanous cape that flowed out the back like a train. The jewelry was restricted to large silver pedant necklaces, as you might see in a Renaissance portrait. Whether pants, skirts, or floor-length dresses, most of the pieces clung to the body tightly. When combined with the models’ straightened hair and dark eye makeup, they gave the show a ‘Morticia Addams goes to the Oscars’ air. 

And just when I was worried about diversity (while the models were multi-ethnic they were all of the same body type, with a couple looking dangerously skeletor) ultra marathon runner Amy Winters headed down the runway with a beautiful, intricate metallic prosthetic leg, designed by the Alberta-based Alleles Design Studio. There were whispers, then scattered applause, as the attendees noticed the reason for her distinctive gait.  After the show I spotted Winters, having switched back to her everyday prosthetic, carrying the unique one around in a complimentary tote bag. Hopefully she’ll have another excuse to wear it soon. 

ImagePhoto: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young