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.

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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…

 

 

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Perky Tits Do Not An Erotic Woman Make

Beauty, Culture, Fashion

Sabrina Maddeaux takes on Margaret Wente’s claim that 20-year-olds reign carnal supreme

 

Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail’s champion of chimp-level logic, recently penned a personal-essay-cum-misogynist-manifesto to lament the loss of her erotic power at the ripe old age of 40. The crème de la gem of the whole thing was her statement that “No matter how sexist or unfair it seems, no one in the world has more erotic power than a 20-year-old girl.” A sad statement considering even most Victoria’s Secret Angels round out closer to 30.

Wente’s version of erotic power lies in the cellulite-free crevasses of co-ed asses and young tits stuffed into gravity-defying bras they don’t need, yet to know the joy of bare nipples against sheer jersey. Unfortunately, Wente’s not the only middle-aged woman who thinks this way, but most don’t get paid to pseudo-comment about culture on a national platform. Many women mourn, or begin to aggressively fear, a supposed loss of sexual power little more than a decade from the day they become adults— but while Wente curses Mother Nature, the problem may be more man-made than biological.

The fact is many women of a certain age remain beings of immense, if not increased, erotic power.  Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston, Salma Hayek, Sandra Bullock, Courtney Cox, Julia Roberts, are all over 40. For God’s sake, even Sofia Vergara – the light at the end of every man’s tube sock – will turn the big 4-0 in July. Even Wente acknowledges this isn’t an unusual feat in other countries: “In French culture, even women of a certain age are still considered erotically attractive. Christine Lagarde may run the International Monetary Fund, but she’s a woman who obviously enjoys her femininity. I’m certain men flirt with her. Still.” A 2006 Synovate poll found more than half of senior French men thought that a woman’s beauty peaks in her 40s. Now, no woman looks the same at 40 as she does at 20, but eroticism is about more than wrinkle-free skin and a tight behind. So if all these women can still be objects of sexual desire, why can’t Wente? Or you?

Unfortunately many women in Western culture manage to screw up one of the few constants in life: aging. While logic dictates that the finer sex should become more independent, self-aware, and able to connect with others at the peak of adulthood, we somehow manage to lose ourselves in an almost pubescent-again fit of social expectations and crippling fear. And who wants to fantasize about sex with a half-there version of a full-grown woman?

Read the rest of my piece at Toronto Standard…

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The War on Nipples: Weapons of Mass Seduction?

Culture, Fashion

I didn’t realize I hated bras until I stopped wearing them. A couple months ago, in a crisis of womanly self-determination I suppose only a millennial or someone politically active in the 60s could properly understand, I decided to ban brassieres from my wardrobe. Formerly a neurotic, even-in-bed bra-wearer, I was bemused to discover during a late night Google binge that they, in fact, have no medical benefits and questionable (at best) aesthetic benefits. Today, my breasts remain steadfastly high above my stomach, I skip mediocre events with promises of free lingerie, and I’m constantly terrified my parents will find out what I’ve done (hi, Dad!).

Why? Because there’s a good chance my parents—who once sent me to a school-sponsored water gun fight armed with a Windex bottle—are more uptight than the audience of Live! With Kelly, and that crowd went batshit last week when they mistook the darts on Kelly’s Stella McCartney “Miracle” dress for nipples. Not giant swastika-shaped PEZ dispensers doling out free ecstasy… just nipples. The show received so many letters, Kelly actually apologized on-air at the start of the second segment. “Everyone knows I had my nipples removed years ago,” quipped Kelly. Maybe she should have.

Socially preferable nipple-less women are never more than a few clicks of the photo editor’s mouse away. Victoria’s Secret models are notoriously nipple-free in their ads, most fashion magazines will nix even the shadow of a nipple beneath a sheer shirt, and the creator of Desperate Housewives claims to spend $100,000/week digitally editing tapes to get rid of nipples that show through clothing. Even Barbie, in all her titanic tits glory, has no nipples. The Super Bowl wouldn’t let anyone under 50 perform for years after the Janet Jackson slip.

Read the rest of my piece in the Toronto Standard…

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How Suits Make Monkeys Out of Men: A case of old Bristish balls

Culture, Fashion

Womenswear has become the fashion world’s de facto United Nations—superficially global with minimal social progress. No one really cares if it’s Navajo or Nanaimo (so long as America pays the bills), but on some level there’s a desire to seek new trends and experiment with foreign modes of sartorial expression.

Menswear, meanwhile, has evolved into something vaguely resembling MuchMusic: no amount of snarky hipster lexicon can cover up for its gross cultural irrelevance. It remains stagnantly Western, and more specifically, British. At one point this diversity dike could be blamed on men’s aversion to, well, fashion. But with men everywhere jumping on the “maybe I should wear a belt with this” bandwagon, that excuse flies out the glory hole in favour of a more sociological explanation.

It all started with the Brits. Streamlined suits, skinny ties, button-down shirts, trench coats, polo shirts, and countless other male wardrobe staples all have Redcoat roots. Back in May, Oliver Spencer quipped to The Guardian: “If you looked at a line-up of current menswear looks and asked someone to pick out the British outfit, you’d find every item has a British influence.” America can be credited for a few gems, like jeans, but when fair isle qualifies as a foreign influence and bowties count as quirky, you’ve got diversity problems…. read the rest of my piece in the Toronto Standard

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The Great Pink Ploy : When Cancer Chic is Carcinogenic

Culture

October is a great month for the breast cancer cause. It’s also a very lucrative month for brands. Smack some pink on a product, and consumers gladly get to making purchases they’d usually think twice about. “It goes to a good cause!” seems to excuse almost any act of frivolity. We buy because it feels good to get under the pretense of giving.

Disturbingly, brands take more and more advantage of consumers’ willingness to shop blindly during the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s as if those little pink ribbons are engineered to inhibit clear thinking. How else do we explain hordes of well-meaning people throwing cash at ‘cancer fighting’ products that can actually cause cancer?

A perfume released by Breast Cancer powerhouse Susan G. Komen for the Cure made headlines last week when it was found to contain dangerous carcinogens. And not just any cancer-causing carcinogens– ones that specifically contribute to breast cancer development! The offending ingredient was galaxolide, a synthetic musk and hormone distributor that accumulates in the body.

This fragrance was recalled because a non-profit charity was behind it. But what about the products of for-profit corporations? I doubt they have the same social conscious and standards of transparency.

Some bloggers around town have been pimping out Telus’ Go Pink campaign, through which a portion of proceeds from each pink Blackberry sold in October goes to the purchase of digital mammography machines. Sounds great. But, hold on, aren’t cell phones under serious heat for their potential to cause malignant brain tumors? The studies have gone back and forth on this one, but it’s something worth considering.

I recently attended the White Cashmere Collection: Fashion With Compassion runway show in support of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. I was less than ticked pink to discover Cashmere chops down Canada’s Boreal Forests to get that fluffier than fluffy feel recycled paper just can’t produce. I like to think leaving all those trees intact to clean our air would do more to combat cancer than donating 25 cents from each overpriced and overproduced package. To add to the hypocrisy, guests were sent home with gift bags containing pink candles (not of the friendly beeswax persuasion) and pink sugar-free gum (aspartame tops the ingredients list).

Supporting cancer awareness and research is incredibly important, but let’s do it the right way. Instead of blindly jumping on the pink bandwagon, we must challenge ourselves to think critically about the charitable choices we make– or risk of hurting the cause more than helping it.