Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: fashion

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. 


Jessica Rabbit

I love this photo of a Barnum and Bailey circus performer in 1946. Isn’t she pretty? And her fur is as sweet as cotton candy. It reminds me of a photoshoot you’ll see in the upcoming WORN Fashion Journal No. 13. There’s more pics like these, and many others of equal interest, on the How To Be Retronaut blog. I have been wasting a lot of time there.

Hey McFly!

Read my post about Marty McFly’s awesome shoes in ‘Back to the Future II’ on the WORN blog. Great Scot!

Myles Sexton

Check out my interview with Model Extrodinaire, and my new friend, Myles Sexton on the WORN Fashion Journal blog. He talks about concealer, Lady Gaga and the Aztecs.

Casie’s Mandatory Birthday

Isn’t it funny how quickly times change? For one of my very first posts I wrote about our generation’s habit of over-documenting our lives with digital pictures, turning everyone into tabloid-ready celebutantes. Back in the late-00’s there was no event too small to warrant its own album on facebook. For some, it meant self-portraits in the bathroom mirror or falling down drunk during some random guy’s kitchen party. If you were more like me, your pictures would instead focus on your friends coming over to eat Oreos and watch ‘Fraggle Rock’ or Julie Andrews in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’. To each his own.

But then we got photographed-out and put our cameras away for a while. I reached the point where I only wanted to take pictures of important events, like grand tours of India and Spice Girl Reunion Concerts. It eventually snuck up on me that I had almost no pictures of my lovely peers at WORN Fashion Journal. And, although we have our own flickr for cuddling launch party pics (as a group we’re not exactly shrinking violets) there’s something to be said for photographing your friends yourself. Maybe you’ll tangibly capture them the way they look to you. (You’re on dangerous ground there, Max.)

So here are the pictures from wonderful Casie Brown’s backyard birthday bash, otherwise known as Casie’s Mandatory Birthday Party, as the celebration was attached to a ‘mandatory’ WORN meeting before hand. (The quotation marks are to imply that we don’t take meetings that seriously, while not to suggest that the meetings are not in fact mandatory.) We all wore headgear, some home-made, which we in fashion call couture, and a good time was had by all. As you may notice, my photography skills improved as the night wore on and the drinks added up.

Rose Wornette

Check out this amazing outfit on WORN Fashion Journal’s Rose. Click here for her thoughts on it.

Max’s Big Gay Article

It’s finally here! The WORN Fashion Journal feature that I brainstormed on this here blog oh so long ago has arrived fresh from the presses (and boy, has it changed a lot since then!). If you like my writing in pixels, just wait until you see it on paper. I’m so thankful for everyone on the team who made it possible: Haley for helping me research; Gwen and Serah-Marie for their editing and commitment in making the piece everything it could be; Casie and Stephanie for fact-checking my many words; and the rest of the WORN team for copy-editing, proofing and believing in my ‘big gay article’.

The entire issue is looking pretty spectacular. It’s the best of the world of WORN: insightful, witty and quirkily pretty.

How can I pick up a copy, you might ask. The best way to behold the glory of Issue 12 and supporting the magazine is to come to our Fancy Pants launch party tonight at the Dovercourt House, starting at 8.00 (but going quite late). I shall be there and wearing something awesome. (It’s a surprise.) Or you can order it online or drop by in person to these fine stores.

Keep chasing that rainbow.

Purple Shell Training Bra

I really liked this cover (turns out I’ll take Rihanna with dyed red hair over Gaga in a tired bobbed wig any day) until I noticed the resemblence to a certain flippered Disney princess. Now, it’s all I can see.

Asian Beauty

Periodically, American Vogue acknowledges that not every woman has the ‘all-American’ blue-eyed, blond-tressed, blank-faced beauty of Russian models, and attempts to have some diversity on its pages. This has resulted in the ghettoization of the annual ‘Age Issue’ and ‘Shape Issue’ and the odd feature on Ethiopian, Brazilian or “curvy” Victoria’s Secret models.

French Vogue, on the other hand, works on the assumption that we’re all past the need for such tokenism, and then will have an African-themed photo shoot with black face.

The December issue (with Angelina Jolie on a cover whose pink and white writing so suggests Cosmopolitan rather than Vogue that I half-expected the headline ‘The Top Ten Jimmy Choo Clutches to Please Your Man!’) features a tribute to the classic 1948 Cecil Beaton photograph of impossibly-elegant debutantes,  but recreated with exclusively with Asian models. To add even more contrast, the Oscar de la Renta gowns and formal tea-sipping poses are paired with punky black Mohawks.  

While the juxtaposition of Mohawks, evening gowns and Chinese, Japanese and Korean faces is visually arresting (and drawing on Beaton’s legacy is the kind of witty self-reference that Vogue does so well) I can’t help but feel the picture and the accompanying article by Samantha Chang are a tad patronizing.

Chang quickly moves from recounting the difficulties of growing up as a Korean-American adopted by a white family (a mother-daughter bonding trip to the beauty counter ends in embarrassment) to interviewing designers on why they are allegedly choosing Asian models like never before. Big surprise, none of them have any intelligent explanation, and it’s depressing that the term ‘political correctness’ has replaced ‘feminist’ as the word everyone scrambles away from.

The booming Eastern economy is touched on, as is the fact that Vogue launched a Chinese edition in 2005, but for the most part the article’s about Asian faces for the Gap and L’Oreal, ie. Asian models being hired by Western companies who mostly sell to white people. The huge, and growing, influence of Chinese and Japanese fashion on the rest of the world, and the potential that in just a few years Chinese Vogue may write about how nice it is that white models are finally walking the catwalks in global fashion-capital Beijing, are ignored.

Asian models are beautiful, of course (as are models from India, Africa, South America and everywhere else in the world) and while it’s good that proverbial ‘main stream America’ is accepting different kinds of beauty, the globalized world of fashion is still learning what globalization truly means.

I Shop therefore I Gay

While I’m all over the WORN blog, my absolute dream would be to get a story in the actual magazine. I entered my internship thinking I had all sorts of ideas, I quickly became insecure that none of them were good enough. WORN only comes out twice a year, so we have to be very strict about what goes to print. I eventually remembered that queer history was the focus of my Masters and that, as the first gay male intern, it would also be good representin’ if I wrote something about gay men and clothing.

So here’s what I’ve got so far, and to help me get moving on it (the pitch is due in October) and to act as a sounding board, I’m going to tell you what I’m thinking.

The stereotype that gay men like clothing and fashion is so entrenched in our culture that we rarely question it, and at times act as though it is somehow biological. Remarkably, the persona of the Oscar Wildean dandy from the end of the 19th century still holds sway. Daniel Harris, in his amazing book The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture,  which heavily influenced the way I think about all this stuff, argued that shopping and clothing was a more economical way of asserting snobbish queer sensibilities than art-collecting or going to the opera, the preoccupations of the aristocratic dandy.

“We have devised an ersatz aestheticism that we cultivate, not only through our involvement with the arts, but through our involvement with department stores, through shopping, the purchase of expensive toiletries, vintage wines, fashionable clothing, and designer accessories like Rolex watches and Ralph Lauren eyewear. The display of our refinement as consumers…easily replaces the display of our refinement as art lovers. In the course of the twentieth century, homosexuals have turned the aestheticism of art and culture into the aestheticism of products, the commodities that spill out of the Macy’s bags constantly swinging from the arms of the urban homosexual, a figure laden with the spoils of his spending sprees, an image that has largely replaced that of the monocled fop twirling his cane and sniffing the carnation in his lapel.”

In the same essay, Harris, like many other scholars, focuses on the desire of gay men to find each other as the motivation for a lot of gay culture. From cruising at bars, dropping cinematic hints (“Are you a Friend of Dorothy?”), and even attending Judy Garland concerts simply as an excuse to “act gay” in public, explanations of gay traditions have often focused on identifying oneself to others, either for sexual or communal reasons. This has also been the case with gay fashion, be it leather and jeans, pink mohair sweaters or the legendary colour-coded handkerchief symbols. (And, okay, I can’t really get into this here, but apparently a houndstooth bandanna sticking out of your pocket means you’re into biting, and if you stick a doily back there, you like doing it in public restrooms! Amazing!)

But what about shopping for one’s self and dressing as a means of asserting identity, as sociologists now think about it? Cara Louise Buckley wrote “In the transition from modernity to post-modernity, the notion of an essential self…has been displaced by a far more fragmented, fluid, and contingent understanding tied to image, style, looks and hence consumption.” So, it’s not so much ‘I Shop therefore I Am’, as Barbara Kruger’s photo has it, as ‘I Am because I Shop.’  

Rather than focus on who gay men were trying to attract with their clothing, I would consider clothing, consumption and fashion as an important step in their development of a gay identity, both personally and collectively.

And there’s no escaping the seventies, the decade when queer culture crossed-over,  gay politics went mainstream and people were encouraged to come out of the closet en masse. The 1970’s are to gay men what the 1770’s are to American patriots: a founding era whose traditions, style and legacy are still drawn upon today.

In Forging Gay Identities; Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco 1950-1994, Elizabeth Armstrong presents a useful breakdown of the three phases of the gay rights movement: the early, conservative ‘homophile’ activism of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the radical leftist revolution of 1969 and the early seventies, and the ‘lifestyle’ era of the mid-seventies onward, in which homosexuals (mostly white, middle-class gay men) asserted their identity through shopping, clothing, music, clubbing and interior decorating. I would use Armstrong’s framework and place clothing and fashion into the context of 1970’s gay identity formation, arguing that dressing up has been an essential aspect of accepting one’s homosexuality and coming out of the closet for many gay men since.

What I’m still wondering about is whether I should focus mostly on the 1970’s and make it a historical piece, or if all that should be the background leading up to a series of interviews with gay guys now. It might make sense to focus on the seventies, but I would have to do a lot of primary research (scanning every copy of The Advocate from that era, say, for articles about fashion and photos and illustrations of clothing). On the plus side of doing interviews, I off hand can think of twenty gay guys I could ask about clothing, their personal style and their shopping habits, but with no guarantee of useful answers.