Why mean girls always seem to meet especially cruel ends

Culture, Fashion

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“Good evening, idiot hookers,” snaps Chanel Oberlin, the perfectly blond and symmetrical queen bee of the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority in this season’s hit TV comedy-horror series, Scream Queens. She addresses a mix of misfits that includes a deaf girl, a “predatory lesbian” and a pledge with a neck brace played by Lea Michele (Glee). The university’s Dean forces the sorority to admit these so-called undesirables in an effort to curb the sisterhood’s history of mean girling … and a few suspicious deaths.

Chanel (Emma Roberts) is pretty, rich, vain and hopelessly entitled. She rules the campus with a well-manicured fist and has Kazi — whom she refers to as “her Asian” — on retainer to take tests on her behalf. She names her best friends and minions after herself: Chanels No. Two, Three and Five (Chanel No. Four died).

The Chanels are the latest addition to Hollywood’s stylish she-devil hall of fame. Viewers love to hate cliques like The Heathers (Heathers), The Flawless Four (Jawbreaker) and The Plastics (Mean Girls). All the Chanels are impeccably dressed, decked out in various shades of pastel, layers of fur and feathers, tweed jackets and couture garments. The sorority’s house includes a two-level walk-in closet, which is restocked each season by Chanel’s godfather, Karl Lagerfeld.

The show’s costume designer Lou Eyrich has been interviewed by just about every publication with a passing interest in fashion – Vogue included. There are entire Instagram accounts dedicated to documenting Scream Queens’ fashion while showcasing cheaper alternatives and where to buy them.

Scream Queens, along with many of these female-centric films, are hailed as feminist, but why do these films and television series lean so heavily on the age-old idea that attractive, fashionable women are inherently vapid, vain and dumb.

Runway, Interrupted: Genderless models all the rage

Culture, Fashion, Politics

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There’s been a lot of uproar in the fashion world over underage, underweight models – particularly female models. Media and consumers are increasingly outraged by companies that market designer clothing to grownass women using pre-pubescent girls.

Governments have taken notice: France recently moved to ban ultra-thin models and photoshopped campaign images. The U.S. Congress also introduced a bill that extends workplace safety regulations to young professionals, including models.

So, what do design houses do? Do they have an epiphany that leads them to cast adult, healthy-looking women? Nope. They decide to cast teen boys instead. In September, Acne chose its creative director’s 11-year-old son to model women’s clothing in the brand’s fall campaign. Now, Louis Vuitton taps 17-year-old Jaden Smith for a new women’s wear campaign.

Underage boys with no hips, boobs and nary a pound of fat on their bodies are being used to sell clothes worth thousands – sometimes tens of thousands – of dollars to grown women. But instead of being lampooned by critics and body image activists, designers have somehow spun the narrative in such a way that they’re actually being applauded for this trend.

Sure, there’s a lot to be said for fashion’s newfound acceptance of genderless clothing, androgyny and trans models. It’s also fantastic that young men (albeit one percenters with famous parents and nothing to lose) are willing to dabble in women’s clothing. But the sorts of ads Louis Vuitton and Acne are creating aren’t furthering those causes- they’re continuing to force unrealistic body ideals down women’s throats, cleverly disguised as progress.

Theses brands aren’t trying to sell their women’s wear collections as unisex or genderless – they’re still very clearly targeting the same female consumer base they always have. In teaser shots for the new Louis Vuitton shoot, Smith poses alongside three other very young, extremely thin girls. There’s absolutely nothing subversive or noteworthy about the image other than the fact that we all know he’s actually a dude and Will Smith’s son.

If designers are serious about supporting the LGBTQ and genderless movements, perhaps they could start by no longer designing separate male and female collections. They could cast models who represent diverse backgrounds who aren’t already notable rich kids. They could make a genuine effort to represent their clientele in ads by, at the very least, hiring models over the age of 18 who look healthy. They could – gasp – actually do something new and creative.

It does no good to applaud major brands, that have all the power and capital in the world to take risks and push the social envelope, for Trojan horse campaigns that misrepresent themselves as progressive. They can do better. They must do better.

*** This column originally appeared in 24 Hours

A sexy Santa? What’s next? Hot elves?

Beauty, Culture, Fashion

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Is nothing sacred? Toronto has a new homegrown celebrity. Yorkdale’s Fashion Santa, personified by Canadian model Paul Mason, has gone viral. His photo is plastered across media websites from the U.S., Germany, France and the U.K, including CNN, Time and GQ.

He boasts a trim frame, sapphire blue eyes that make everyone go wild and a wardrobe full of festive designer wares like velvet blazers, trendy man purses (not sure how he fits all the presents in there) and plaid trench coats. But is this sexified Santa really a good thing? While it’s surely a brilliant marketing stunt, and Mason pulls off the role like no other, why can’t Santa just be Santa?

Jolly Old Saint Nick is one of the few pop culture figures who’s allowed to be … well, old and fat. His message is supposed to be about giving and the spirit of the season – not chiseled abs and a perfectly symmetrical face. It’s pretty bad when even he has to conform to the fashion industry’s expectations of how we should look.

Naughty nannies: A celeb buzzkill

Culture

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Hide your kids, hide your husbands: we have an epidemic of pretty little liars (formerly known as ‘nannies’) on our hands.

That’s according to the tabloids, anyway. Once trusted household employees, these tramps are running wild, seducing one middle-aged Hollywood hunk at a time.

Recent headlines claim Gavin Rossdale carried on a three-year affair with his children’s nanny while married to Gwen Stefani.This week’s US Weekly cover screams “HE CHEATED WITH THE NANNY!” from newsstands in big bold print, striking fear into the hearts of wives everywhere.Ben Affleck was accused of cheating on Jennifer Garner with their 28-year-old nanny. Even the New York Times got in on the action this weekend with a fear-mongering feature, “The Nanny Factor in Hollywood Marriages.”

This is nothing new: before Rossdale and Affleck there was Schwarzenegger, Hawke, Law and Lowe. There are countless men whose names we don’t know, but whose titillating tales we hear from neighbours and friends.

It’s a tale as old as time: hot young nanny who doesn’t know her place seduces otherwise totally happy, well-adjusted husband. The only thing worse than nannies might be interns and gremlins when you feed them after midnight.

The rise of richface: Why so many young women are getting cosmetic surgery

Beauty, Culture

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Images of young women, lips severely swollen and bruised from aggressively sucking the air out of shot glasses, began to flood social media in April. The disfigurement was intentional – an attempt at DIY lip plumping inspired by 17-year-old Kylie Jenner’s oversized pout. The frequently disastrous results were mocked by columnists and reposted across the internet, partially to warn other girls off the trend and partially because, like watching a train wreck, it was hard to look away.

The results of the Kylie Jenner lip challenge might seem extreme, but a growing group of millennials are going several steps further to alter their facial contours. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons last year reported that in female patients aged 20 to 29, face-shaping cosmetic procedures were on the rise: Requests for hyaluronic acid fillers were up by almost 10 per cent, while Botox and chemical peels saw similar upticks. What’s more, according to dermatologists, young patients aren’t looking for subtle results; they want the ‘work’ to be noticeable. That’s because the puffed and plumped ‘richface’ aesthetic is the new Louis Vuitton handbag in certain circles – an instant, recognizable marker of wealth and status.

You, me and everyone we smell: Do new unisex scents mean the fragrance industry is finally embracing progress?

Beauty, Culture

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For the better part of the past century, the conventional wisdom — or at least that spouted by the fragrance industry — was that scents were inherently feminine or masculine. It’s a matter of simple biology, of course: the so-called finer sex favours fruits and florals, while manly men everywhere prefer the rugged scents of nature and strong spices.

But just like the age-old gender myth that girls fancy pink and boys blue, the idea that fragrances should be segregated by sex is ripe for a challenge. Take Moschino’s Toy, Lady Gaga’s Eau de Gaga and Pharrell’s Girl: all are among a crop of new scents designed for a unisex market.

“Many fragrances are moving away from gendered boundaries, and many of the of top sellers in our portfolio are presented to both men and women alike — including Creed, Frederic Malle, Acqua di Parma, By Kilian and Byredo,” says Wayne Peterson, Holt Renfrew’s division vice-president of cosmetics.

The trend is on point with the evolution of gender roles. Why can’t a woman relish the smell of musk and tobacco? Or a man wish to smell like a rose? “The fragrance world is reflecting a larger cultural shift,” Peterson says. 

WAKE UP, CANADA – AND TAKE A LESSON FROM HONG KONG

Culture, Fashion, Politics

This country’s consistent refusal to give financial support to designers is making us a laughing stock on the international fashion scene

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HONG KONG – In little old Toronto it’s difficult to truly grasp how the world’s 1 per cent live. Fly 12 hours forward to Hong Kong and it’s impossible to ignore. Highly concentrated wealth engulfs you like the dense fog that obscures the city’s towering skyline, leaving you awestruck and dazed in an urban maze of upscale boutiques that occupy the square footage of modest mansions. Our trendy Yorkville strip looks like Schitt’s Creek by comparison.

Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Hermès – they’re all here in triplicates, quadruplicates and then some. It’s easier to find a $10,000 handbag than a Starbucks. Tourists from mainland China fill the malls on weekends, armed with rolling luggage that enters the city empty and leaves packed with high-end spoils. 

The power suit is back — but it’s no longer about imitating the authoritative look of men

Culture, Fashion, Politics

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Any time someone uses the word “appropriate,” I consider it a feminist red flag. It’s often used to hold women to standards of conduct or dress that simply don’t apply to men. This is especially true of workplace presentation. A quick Google search brings up pages upon pages of advice for ambitious women: cover up, look less feminine, speak with a lower voice. The bottom line? Don’t threaten the men and, if at all possible, try to disguise yourself as one of them.

For decades, the look of success has been steadfastly masculine. If a woman had any hope of elbowing her way past the glass ceiling, she was expected to imitate the male esthetic with boxy pantsuits and shoulder pads better suited to NFL linebackers.

Unsurprisingly, men often scoffed at female attempts to access the corridors of power and gain membership to the old boys’ club through their fashion choices. Women had to fight for their right to emulate men.

It’s all meme to me: What’s behind our rush to adopt the latest subcultures

Culture, Fashion

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Surrounded by idiots? Get in line. Is negativity your specialty? Heard it before. Just so damn grumpy? Well, who isn’t?

Grumpcore, or whatever you want to call the slightly evolved second coming of “I’m with Stupid” tees, barely hit shelves before anything subversive about the movement was tempered by its own sudden trendiness. You can’t self-identify as a grump of epic proportions when everyone else thinks everything is awful, too.

This isn’t the first subculture to find itself on the wrong side of trendy. As much as fashion is about conformity, it’s also a tool for dissent. Fashion’s subcultures have become the defining visuals of many a decade.

Long before Mary-Kate Olsen brought “homeless chic” to the masses, for instance, oversized clothing belonged to the 18th-century Bohemians as they rejected the bourgeoisie’s cold rules. Those impoverished creatives wore what they could salvage, often second-hand garments that didn’t fit or match. Bohemian style soon became a statement, one that rejected materialism, embraced communal living and empowered the individual.

IN 2015, RESOLVE TO LOVE YOUR BODY

Beauty, Culture, Fashion

Thirteen brave Torontonians strip down and tell all about their journeys toward self-love. Find inspiration in their images and stories to jettison society’s toxic values and embrace the beautiful you.

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If you listen to most mainstream media, the new year is all about finding the new you. But what’s wrong with the old you?

We want to break away from the soul-crushing onslaught of negative New Year’s resolutions – eat less, lose weight, spend every waking moment at the gym – and promote feeling good about the skin you’re in.

While weight loss and fitness conglomerates would have you believe “healthy” looks like a size 6 or bulging biceps, good health doesn’t discriminate based on size or body shape. Wellness is about respecting and caring for the body you’re born with, not forcing it into an unrealistic cookie-cutter mould.

On many fronts, 2014 was a great year for the body-positive movement and diversity in general.

The rise of androgynous and genderless fashion represents society’s increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ community, as well as body types that don’t read as traditionally “masculine” or “feminine.”

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The viral #FreeTheNipple campaign, backed by celebrities like Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and Chelsea Handler, challenges gender-biased policies and sexist societal taboos both online and off.

American Vogue boasted a record number of black stars on its covers, and while magazines still have a long way to go, there have never been more discussions about the need for increased racial diversity in media, entertainment and ad campaigns.

Then there were those who appeared to jump aboard the body-positive bandwagon only to appropriate the movement’s language to sell us the same old crap. 

Here’s to the ladies who lunch: socialites are saving Canada’s fashion industry, one soirée at a time

Culture, Fashion, Politics

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Socialites, fashionistas, ladies who lunch — whatever you want to call them, wealthy women who take an interest in fashion and style are easy targets for snarky takedowns.

Their lavish outfits make them hard to miss on any city’s social circuit, and all too easy to dismiss as little more than one-percenters with an expensive hobby. (Just think of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics to “The Ladies Who Lunch” from the musical Company: “Off to the gym, then to a fitting / Claiming they’re fat and looking grim / Cause they’ve been sitting choosing a hat / Does anyone still wear a hat? / I’ll drink to that.”)

While we praise moneyed men who drop fortunes on artwork as esteemed “patrons of the arts” and “cultured” members of society — David Mirvish, for instance, who has invested untold millions on hundreds of paintings — women who support the fashion world are cast as vain, self-important and spoiled. With galas now in high gear leading up to the holidays, they’re also squarely in the spotlight. Last month, Toronto Life alleged that Suzanne Rogers, wife of Rogers scion Edward, has a million-dollar-a-year clothing budget; naturally, the magazine’s online comment section was riddled with posts declaring Rogers had “too much money, too few brains and way too many silly dresses.” This sort of dated thinking categorizes women as stylish or brainy — never both. It infantilizes women and seeks to strip fashion, a historic tool for female self-expression, of its power. We might as well put on our stodgy aprons and get back in the kitchen.

Haute Topic: Does Shepard Fairey’s Obey clothing line make him a sellout?

Culture, Fashion

We ask the street artist, in town to promote a collaboration with Hennessy, about his complicated relationship with fashion. Here’s what he had to say.

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On whether he’s sold out: When people are, like, “Yo, Shepard Fairey got big as a street artist, then cashed in and got a clothing line,” they have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about.

I come from the cultures of skateboarding and punk rock, where T-shirts are the visible currency rather than the album cover itself or the skateboard itself. For me, it was never a question of  “Is fashion a bad move?”

Everything in skateboarding and early punk rock and hip-hop was about tribalism – secret handshakes and things that would let people know you were on the inside. It was like, “Oh, I can see you have all these scuffs on your shoes…. Respect.”

I made T-shirts from the beginning, but stores said they’d never heard of my brand, so why would they carry it?

With the street art, I could just put it out there without permission. So my profile rose as a street artist much more quickly than it did as a purveyor of streetwear, but they’ve always been working simultaneously.

Weird beauty

Beauty, Culture

From urine therapy and sensory deprivation to the much-feared Vampire Facelift, I subject myself to some of T.O.’s odder beauty and wellness treatments

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The treatment: 60 minutes in a sensory deprivation float tank

at H20 Float Spa ($59, 138 Danforth, 647-349-0426, h2ofloatspa.com).

The promise: Reduce stress and anxiety, strengthen immune system, calm and hydrate skin and hair, increase energy level, flush toxins.

The lowdown: When a spa makes me sign away financial responsibility for the cleanup of any fecal matter I might let slip in their facilities, I get a little uneasy. I was already worried about my overstimulated brain’s ability to handle an hour in a sensory deprivation tank, but when I joked about “losing my shit,” never did it occur to me that I might literally park my breakfast in the little white pod.

The dark side of fitspo

Beauty, Culture, Fashion

Why the fitspiration trend is much more dangerous than thinspiration ever was

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Fit is the new skinny. At least that’s what hordes of trendy fitspiration posts on Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram would have you believe.

Fitspiration (fitspo) bills itself as a support movement focused on health and, as the name would suggest, fitness. Typical fitspo content consists of images and slogans supposedly meant to inspire women to live more active, stronger lives. A noble idea, to be sure, but most fitspo is just old-school thinspo disguised with little more than a neon sports bra and a perky can-do attitude.

GLOCK 17

Guns in the Closet

Culture, Fashion

Rihanna’s got a gun. Rihanna’s got a gun—tote, that is. And the punk rock pop princess isn’t the only one. Vlieger & Vandam’s Guardian Angel Tote, easily recognizable via its embossed gun detail, is, if you believe in such things, the next must-have bag (although MoMA’s had one in their permanent collection since 2006). The Dutch brand also sells handgun-embossed iPad cases, clutches, and wallets— and they aren’t the only members of fashion’s hot new Bang Bang Club. Betsey Johnson’s revolver prints, first introduced in 1985, have made a comeback in recent seasons, while gun-shaped charms and pendants are too numerous to count.

Firearm brands are getting in on the action via their own lifestyle extensions; Smith & Wesson released a line of higher-end fashions earlier this year, and Glock introduced a new apparel line this month. The New York Times just ran a piece on the increasing popularity of “covert fashions,” designed to carry concealed weapons while still looking hot to trot. Even mainstream sportswear brand Under Armour will soon release jackets, pants, and shirts with Velcro pockets for easy weapon access.

But not everyone is a fan of gun culture’s trendy new status, notably the Transit Security Administration (TSA). Last December, TSA officials detained a 17-year-old girl because of a gun design on the outside of her handbag. Back in 2008, a Toronto woman was forced to remove and check a two-inch gun pendant at Kelowna Airport.

Then there are the people who have problems with guns because, oh right, they kill people all the time.

Not that something like dead bodies has ever been a problem for the gun industry; in fact, gun sales tend to surge after gun-related tragedies like Columbine and the Virginia Tech Massacre. Bloomberg reported that one-day handgun sales in the U.S. increased about 5 per cent two days after the Tuscon, Arizona shooting that counted Gabrielle Giffords as a victim. Arizona handgun sales jumped 60 per cent that day.

Read the rest of my piece at Toronto Standard…