a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘fashion’

not that I would wear any of it ;)

I have been on the road almost constantly since my last post so have lots of new travel tales but haven’t had any time to commit them to paper.  My summer project… thought I would start with some exhibitions that are current in case anyone is inspired to check them out…

I was one of those children who made clothes for my dolls.  I didn’t have access to Vogue.  I’d never seen a designer dress.  I didn’t even know the concept.  My fashion inspiration came from the Simplicity and Butterick pattern books my grandmother brought home from the dry goods department where she worked when the new ones arrived.  I learned that I could put in a request and I could have my very own collection.  I poured over all the shapes and styles, noting the subtle changes that transformed the base pattern.  It was an early education in tailoring – and perhaps the reason I lean toward Armani rather than Galliano.

Most of the photos of me as a child show me dressed in embarrassing outfits.  I have no idea why they want to bring the 70’s back.  Those were some scary moments in fashion…

But it was a time of high drama, especially in western countries.  The 60’s ushered in the concept of social change but most of it happened in the 70’s.  I was too young to appreciate most of it, especially as I lived in a remote rural community where not that much was changing.  One thing I did know about was David Bowie.  Before the internet, information was hard to come by.  I didn’t even know the Talking Heads existed in 1977, let alone that I should be buying that album.

My first fledgling teenage romance was with a drummer.  It was a headbanger rock kind of town so most of his favourite songs just sounded like noise to me.  But then he played “Changes”.  We had common ground – and I liked him a little more…  It became part of the soundtrack of my life.

I am not particularly interested in famous people and think most of them would likely prove to be quite boring in person – but Bowie is an exception.  He was my first decent musical choice so I know quite a lot about him but never really thought much about his social impact.  Being a big Bowie fan, I was intrigued when I emerged at Gare du Nord last month and saw intriguing posters of him all over the station.  Luckily, I had dinner the next night with friends from Vancouver who informed me there was an exhibit at the Philharmonie de Paris.

philharmonie de paris

philharmonie de paris

I was worried that – in the age of the internet – my lack of research and preparation for Paris – would render me ticketless but the Philharmonie is new and in an area of Paris I have not yet explored so worth the trip even if I couldn’t get into the exhibition.  It appears there are still some tickets reserved for people willing to make a journey to the ticket office in person.  You need some patience but eventually you get in…

It was definitely worth the wait.  The exhibition originated at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It’s called “David Bowie is”.  It’s hard to describe, as mercurial and enigmatic as Bowie himself.  You walk through a series of objects, videos, photos and costumes depicting Bowie’s biography.  You have headphones and the music changes as you roam to put the right soundtrack to the particular part of the exhibit in which you find yourself.  It includes the expected key points in his biography and the musical history but what makes it really resonate is the analysis of Bowie’s influences, collaborators and social impact.


I am one of those people who have spent a lot of time searching for the meaning to life.  For me, it’s been a combination of art, culture and relationships.  So it was fascinating to see how Bowie was influenced by books, music, travel and the people in his life – and how his achievements were generally part of a collective of talented, intelligent, interesting people.  He was just the most famous name in the group.

Anyway, go check it out for yourself.  It closed on May 31, 2015 at the Philharmonie de Paris but it’s touring internationally so see if it’s coming to a location near you…

The Victoria and Albert Museum featured heavily in my May sojourn in Europe.  They have also put together a killer exhibit on Alexander McQueen called Savage Beauty.  It’s on until August 2, 2015. I would recommend booking in advance.  I’m not sure if I just got lucky, or if my friend Monica’s E&Y connections scored us tickets, but they are definitely in high demand.  Seeing the exhibit I could understand why.  While there are very few items of clothing or accessories I would have any interest in actually wearing, it is fascinating to be inside Alexander McQueen’s head as he dreams this stuff up.


The V&A has made it very atmospheric so it doesn’t feel like a museum but rather a strange trip into a dark, gothic Romanian forest where you are wary that Dracula might jump out from behind a mannequin and bite you on the neck.  The coolest part is a room staged like a cabinet of curiosities.  On the walls, items are placed in boxes like a giant Renaissance cabinet of curiosities.  In the center, there is a 21st century bank of monitors playing video from multiple McQueen shows on a continuous loop.  It’s a perfect embodiment of his sensibility – strange old-fashioned exceptionally English clothes modified for the 21st century.

If you also made clothes for your dolls – or just are really interested in fashion…

There are two more stops for you in Paris.  The Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent is hosting an exhibit “Yves Saint Laurent 1971 – the Scandal Collection” until July 19, 2015.  It’s for fashionphiles.   It’s basically a chance to look into the archives at a couture house.  You can see the entire design process for one of the finished garments and see sketches and mannequins displaying some of the pieces from the collection as well as watch some very old-fashioned fashion videos.


The 1971 collection was heavily critiqued because many felt Saint Laurent was glamorizing the Nazis and the

marvels of paris museum route

marvels of paris museum route

war was still fresh in the memories of the people who could afford couture.  Like Bowie, he was pushing boundaries and making people feel uncomfortable.

My final foray into European fashion was at the Palais Galleria Museé du Mode, a new addition to the wonders of Paris.  Until August 23, 2015 they are hosting an exhibit on Jeanne Lanvin.  I know the name but that was about it until I went to the exhibit.  The clothes are stunning – the antithesis of H&M.  She started as a milliner so there are lots of hats.  The clothes are sumptuous, full of embroidery, topstitching, cut-outs and other couturière virtuosity.  Nothing I would ever wear but easy to appreciate the craftsmanship.


What was most fascinating though was her business acumen.  She was a 19th century titan of commerce, a self-made woman in a world in which women couldn’t even legally vote in most places.  Apparently she was very customer-focused.  She was a real estate tycoon.  Jeanne started the whole craziness of dressing toddlers in mini-me designer clothing 🙂  She branched out into lingerie, menswear, interior design.  She created her own fragrance.  She opened shops to sell her wares to the public.  She had a distinctive logo.  Jeanne Lanvin knew how to brand herself before the concept was even a concept 🙂  An inspiring lady.

There is much to be inspired about right now so start making your travel plans…


p.s. if you are a fashion junkie, there is also a Jean Paul Gauthier exhibit at the Grand Palais – but I discovered it is closed on Tuesdays – but the walk to the other museums was worth it.



grizzly bears, geox and her majesty’s secret service…

OK, this is a little stale-dated now… but too much has been happening… so pretend it’s Thu, Sep 13th…  I am mostly over jet-lag so will see if I can start catching up with the storyline…

I have arrived in London!  Because I was travelling on airline points I had to arrive at Heathrow via Frankfurt.  Marcel suggested had I prepared better I could have just jumped out of the plane when we flew over London and saved a lot of time.  I suppose I could have even skipped the gigantic customs and immigration line 🙂

But sadly I am not on the same terms with 007 as the Queen and I told Marcel I would only feel comfortable in a parachute if we were doing a tandem jump (James Bond et moi :))

I’m not sure if Marcel has jumped from a plane.  But I doubt it would phase him.  It’s the first time I’ve even seen someone’s scar from a personal encounter with a grizzly bear (and it has claw marks so pretty authentic!)

I grew up with the bears so heard myriad advice in my childhood about what to do if you get too close to a bear.  Apparently you are supposed to “play dead” because grizzly bears are the connoisseurs of the bush and they won’t eat road kill.  If it’s not organic free-roaming prey they know is as fresh as sushi, they will go in search of alternative fresh meat.  If it’s running away, they know it will be fresh 🙂

You may not have had a children’s game where you pretend to “play dead” just in case you need to steel yourself for that tete-tete with the bear but, no matter how convincing we could be in an empty field, we all secretly knew we would likely just run if we actually SAW a bear.

So I had to ask… apparently Marcel passed out.  And the bear didn’t devour him.  So perhaps your body will just “play dead” without your consent.  Likely the best possible outcome.

I am a big fan of the “pod” and most of my recent business class treats on airline points have provided me with my private cocoon to drink champagne and catch up on movies.

But I love to travel.  And there is a higher probability you will meet an interesting person who likes to travel on an airplane.

We bonded when they took our champagne away before take-off because we weren’t drinking fast enough.  Conversations with strangers on airplanes are always mysterious encounters.  You can’t escape for ten hours.  But you aren’t required to converse at all.  So there is always this mutual dance between being friendly and making sure you aren’t crowding the other person’s space.

Marcel is Swiss.  He has travelled a lot.  He has lots of opinions.  And he wrestles grizzly bears for sport.  I didn’t catch up on any movies but we seemed to arrive in Frankfurt in no time.

Frankfurt airport is kind of like a second home for me but those stories are for another time.  The next few days will be all about London 2012.  I have this strange habit of arriving in cities just after the Olympics have ended.  The same thing happened in Beijing in 2008.  It’s a little like arriving at a party after all the guests have gone home.  But maybe I’ll hear some stories about the party while they are fresh.  It won’t really matter.

Beijing needed the Olympics to get the world’s attention.  London did not.  As I write this I am sitting in a Mediterranean restaurant being filled to bursting with Persian food.  It was just a random pick near the hotel but it is bringing back fond memories of Istanbul and Egypt from earlier this year.

I’m pretty thrifty so I took the Tube from Heathrow.  I’m staying in a new neighbourhood for me – at the cool CitizenM Bankside.


Because I don’t know my way around yet, I went the wrong way out of Southwark station so I got to tour the streets of London with my suitcase.  This isn’t a tourist neighbourhood so it was more striking.  And made me think of the commentary during the Olympics about how many different cultures and languages there are in the city of London.  That will happen when you  decide to create an Empire to rule the entire world…

Paris is more romantic.  Amsterdam is more freewheeling.  Istanbul is more entertaining.  But London feels like a city of the future – where the past and the future fuse.  Where, imperfectly, but with a very low level of violence by world standards, almost the entire world lives together.  I think they said 250 different countries are represented in the city of London.  It certainly looks that way is you walk in the non-tourist zones or ride the Tube all the way from Heathrow to the center of London.

I’ve been to London so many times I had an Oyster card when not all locals had one yet!  (My London friends explained it was the way to travel the Tube for those of us with thrifty Scottish genes).

In a couple of years it will be 25 years since my very first trip to London.  Many of my visits to London have been lost in the shuffle of memories and the exact details are blurry but I still have many memories of that very first trip.

At the time I had an Australian boyfriend and he was returning to Sydney and I was going with him.  But – in the interim – he was travelling through Europe as Australians are prone to do.  But I had just received my professional designation so had been living hand-to-mouth and had no funds to gallivant around Europe.

So we made a deal.  He would start on his own and I would save money like mad and join him for the last three months.

I know it’s likely hard to believe, kids, but back then there was no internet, no Skype, no mobile phones even, let alone smart phones.  So every week he would go to a European post office to make a short, wildly expensive transatlantic call.  I would wait by the land line and jump when it rang.  Not so functional but far more romantic 🙂

And I think that was part of it.   He wanted me to come for a quick, interim visit before I joined him later.  He was staying with friends in Earl’s Court so I just needed the plane fare – and a passport.  My first!

Having no experience with international travel, I thought it would be impossible.  But Toronto-London was a popular route and there was lots of competition.  So I quickly found myself on a Wardair flight to London with a tiny backpack, some travellers’cheques and a spirit of adventure.

In those days they didn’t mark the streets and it took some time to always look the wrong way for traffic – because everyone was driving on the left – but I didn’t sustain any injury.  The food was absolute crap.  But the people were lovely (yet again today some stranger helped me with my suitcase on the stairs and another gave me detailed directions without me even asking – I was just standing with my suitcase and a map looking confused :))

And then you start seeing the stuff.  St Paul’s.  The Tower of London.  The British Museum.  That is only the tip of the iceberg.  I still haven’t done everything there is to do in London as a tourist, let alone a local.  But that just gives you a reason to come back…

And so it begins!  We’ll do some tourist stuff.  And we’ll weave together pieces from my enormous memory bank of the City of London – one of the world’s most spectacular and important urban settings.  Just imagine you’ve pulled the ripcord on your parachute and you and James are about to head to the bar for a martini.  Claridges, maybe? 🙂

p.s. you may be wondering why Geox?  It’s in honour of my new travel shoes.  Because I am famous for my eye-catching collection of stilettos, it would come as a surprise to many that I am equally obsessed with loafers.  Some time ago, loafers fell out of fashion and finding a pair that were non-orthopedic was like searching for pork in Israel.  So when they opened a Geox store in Vancouver I bought four pairs!  I have discovered the ballerina flat is even more versatile, possibly the perfect travel shoe.  I road tested my new Geox leopard  print ballet flats for this trip – and they are winners!  I have now been wearing them for two days straight.  With pants on the plane.  With tights and a leather miniskirt as I type this.


leopard print ballerinas part of Piuma collection

keeping up with the consumer…

This week I was walking through the flagship Sears store on Robson street and it was kind of depressing.  I had noticed a while ago the “going out of business” signs.  I thought it was just that location but I gather Sears is in trouble.

It does seem to have lost its way.  I guess it’s likely run by a bunch of old, white guys… let me check… no pics on the investors web page – but those names are not ethnic!  And nary a girl name among them.  So I bet they didn’t see H&M and Zara coming to eat their lunch… and they didn’t realize maybe they should take a page out of Target’s book and learn how to be a bit cooler…

My current shoe collection would suggest otherwise but almost my entire childhood wardrobe came from Sears – unless my mom sewed it herself.  The kids nowadays have no idea how much the world has changed in their favour.  And it has benefited a lot of people.

It is really cheap to be a fashionista in the 21st century.  And that is a wonderful thing.  I look back at pictures of me from the 70s and I just cringe.  But I didn’t know any better 🙂  There was no MTV, let alone fashion bloggers and websites posting photos of the latest designer collections a few hours after they hit the runway.

We may not have achieved as much political democracy as we might have hoped for but we have democratized fashion in a way that can only be a force for good for the human race.

Sure, fashion is silly.  And one shouldn’t get too caught up in it.  But fashion is also political.  Just ask a woman wearing a burqa in 40 degree Celsius heat.

Fashion is especially political for women.  And the politics take many forms.  My first job was on Bay Street (the Canadian equivalent of Wall Street).  It was a big deal.  I came from a small town on the Canadian prairie and Toronto was the big smoke.  And Bay Street.  It was the culmination of so many of the things my dad had taught me.

Including how to be a rebel 😉  Only recently I would go to clients and see the exposed thongs of the young female staff members (really a don’t, ladies! 🙂  But back in the 80s there were very few women in business and the tiny minority had decided that dressing like the boys would be the key to their ascent up the ladder.  The more conservative the profession, the tougher the rules.

At least we didn’t have to worry our costume would obscure our peripheral vision but it was pretty strict.  Only dull colours, no pants, hosiery non-optional, sensible pumps preferred and – the worst part – a floppy bow scarf thing around your neck in place of a necktie.

In those days in my private time I dressed like a pseudo-punk so, needless to say, the dress code (and many companies had written ones back then) made me crazy.  So I wore pants.  I was the only woman who did.  What was most amusing was that when I pointed that out to male colleagues they were surprised.  Only the women cared – and noticed.  I think the guys just looked at your ass – and if it was good, what you covered it with didn’t matter very much…  I also wore boy’s neckties in place of the cursed floppy bow… if we were supposed to dress  like boys, why not do it right?  I think it was sexier.  I got a lot of compliments from guys on my ties 🙂  And – a harbinger of my future identity – I wore shoes as funky as I thought I could get away with.

And – in my first performance review – the female partner I reported to (who dressed like a butch lesbian) called me out on my dress.  She told me I dressed “too mod”.  I think I wasn’t too cheeky but unfortunately she gave me a story for life… “too mod”… what is “too mod”???  I’m still not really sure.  I think she was just saying I had a personality and the style sense to express it.  And the firm did not approve. 

I always cheer a little when I see some cool shoes poking out under a burqua 😉  Maybe if Sears had some cross-dressers on its board, its business would be better.  Fashion may be frivolous but it has also always been political.  It has been a reflection of the times, of the social mores and of the religious state of all the nations that comprise the world.

And the world is changing, people.  It’s not all good.  It never is.  But there is definitely some good things happening out there.  And fashion is a mirror to what’s going on.  So what’s it telling us…

Fashion is being produced where the labour rates are lowest.  Bad for developed countries but great for developing ones.  It’s forcing people to acquire actual skills the marketplace wants in order to get a paycheque.  It’s supplying paycheques to lots of people (especially women) in lots of countries where that was not a possibility even twenty years ago.

It’s made clothes cheap.  So everyone can express themselves.  And look good.  And acquire the self-esteem that comes from that.

It’s opened up new markets and made it not such a big deal to have an Asian or African model sell clothes to white people.  And – more importantly – to be a mirror for their own people so that they can visualize themselves in the clothes.

I feel some nostalgia walking through the now almost empty Sears store.  It used to be the flagship Eatons store before they also forgot about the consumer.  I bought almost everything at that Eatons store.  And it was one of my first audits so I counted inventory there so many times I could direct people to departments better than almost any of the staff members 🙂

When I was a child my dad was always buying properties and we would be going through old abandoned houses cleaning up.  One of my strongest memories was the old catalogues from Eatons and Sears.  That was how people bought things on the Canadian prairie back in the early days of the twentieth century.

That’s the thing with consumers.  They always think they are moving forward and what they are doing has never been done before.  But the internet is the new Sears catalogue.  Nowadays people all over the world buy things in the same way a 20th century farmer without access to a shopping mall would.  Sears coulda been Amazon… if only they hadn’t been asleep at the wheel…

finding your personal style :)

I spent the weekend organizing my closet and trying to finally get rid of some of the stuff in it.  I did manage to drag a few things out and even got them to a charity for resale.  But my closet still looks way too full!

Things were easier back in the old days when my mom tried to get me to quit wearing the same brown sweatpants and oversize T-shirt every day.  When I tell people I was painfully shy when I was 15, they roll their eyes and laugh.  It’s true!  It’s also true that I had absolutely zero sense of style and owned maybe three pairs of shoes…

The first wakeup call was when my friend Yvonne told me I looked smart…  I’m not quite sure what she meant but I was 18 and finally waking up to the concept that maybe boys could be more than buddies – and that might involve donning a skirt.

It all still seemed pretty dumb to me and I figured my intellect would get me a date 🙂  And it can.  It depends who you want to date.  And I wanted to date smart boys.  So my style remained a black hole for many years after the first fleeting thought that maybe it should be something I should consider.

In the end it was fate that was the tipping point, not great planning.  Given all the shoes stuffed into miscellaneous corners of my apartment as I type this, it’s hard to envision but back in 1992 I was freshly arrived from my sojourn in Australia and looking for a new pair of black loafers.  When I had arrived in Vancouver in 1985 the shoe store landscape had been bleak so I had become an enormous fan of Stephane de Raucourt as soon as it opened.  In its first incarnation sensible pumps in a myriad of colours along with some boring, sensible loafers were pretty much its entire offering.  It fit to my personal non-style perfectly 😉

But when I went to the newly located store a few years later I was shocked to discover that the business concept had changed and they were now doing knock-off designer shoes.  Not a boring Weejun style loafer to be found.  But I hate shopping so was open to seeing if I could get out of the store with something and not have to go elsewhere.  The salesclerk convinced me a black suede loafer with a heel and Gucci-copy buckle would be just as comfortable as my boring ones.  It was true!  But what was life-changing was that people actually noticed my shoes.

And it all went downhill… uphill?  from there.  It was a slow process and it took me at least a decade to realize there had been a transformation.  Somehow I had developed a personal style.  And become the kind of person who has random men tell me how much they like my shoes!  I have had women run up to me looking intense – only to have them ask where I got my shoes.

My shoes are the most famous part of my style.  Because I learned my lesson.  You can wear the same boring, comfortable clothes year after year – just change your shoes!  Somewhere in there I also learned how to dress my body, how to choose good fabrics, how a great tailor can make men swoon at your feet…

So, now I have a closet full of incredible clothing and shoes that would make any fashionista proud (almost all bought on sale like a good Scottish girl 😉  I regularly get positive feedback on my personal style.  And men flirt with me on every continent.  I am still the smart girl who doesn’t always get it – but the power of a dress and a pair of heels to rock your world… if only I’d figured it out when I was 16 😉

money for mouse shoes

Money gets a bad rap.  Being poor is honourable – especially if you aren’t poor 🙂  Being rich is vulgar.  But being sort of financially secure is just boring.  The lot of accountants and financial planners.  But some of those boring people know how to use money as a bullet to happiness rather than despair.

That is my goal in life.  Yesterday I used my ability to buy a pair of designer shoes to great effect.  While there is certainly virtue to knowing how to save money, the real hidden secrets of life are in learning how to spend it!

We’ve done a lot of talking about my dad lately but I learned some good stuff from my mom as well.  My mom is likely a little too generous.  But it’s one of those faults that is tough to find fault with.  There are certainly worse negative traits 🙂

No matter how many times I tell her ONE present is enough, I know it will never happen.  Something else will catch her eye that you just have to have.  Long ago she gave up trying to cram all the goodies into conventional Christmas stockings so we all know the plastic bag with our name on it sitting under the tree IS a Christmas stocking – you just need to use your imagination 😉

But the most memorable gift I ever saw her purchase was on a Christmas Eve many years ago.  The store was almost closing down around us but we had to get some more toys.  She was quite insistent about it.  I thought, “oh my god, she has gone bonkers.  There is NO way we don’t already have so many gifts you can barely see the tree!”  But this was not part of the usual Christmas bounty.  Instead we pulled up at some mysterious address and left the toys on the doorstep like some anonymous Santa a little off his schedule.  As we drove away, she explained.  The family was going through tough times and the kids might not have any toys for Christmas.  But it was a small town where everybody knows everybody’s business and people have a lot of pride so we had to make it look like Santa was just a wee bit early.

My mom has always taken great pleasure in doing nice things for other people.  She doesn’t do it for the thanks or the adoration but just because it gives her pleasure.  It’s one of my greatest life lessons.  And it’s really heart-warming to see my niece taking up the torch.

Ask not what the world can do for you but, rather, what you can do for the world.  Give it a whirl.  You may be surprised how great it feels to do something nice for someone else.  And the best news.  You can spend less than $5!  The price is totally NOT the point.  It’s how much thought you put into finding just the right thing to do.

What really turns people on is being noticed.  I used to send my friend Yvonne chocolate covered peanut butter eggs every Easter – cause it was our thing and you could only get them at Easter.

So… the mouse shoes.  I have already mentioned Morgan earlier – she is the teenage daughter of one of my best friends.  She (and her mom) share my obsession for shoes so we spent a lot of time over my birthday weekend+ talking shoes… and anyone who cares about shoes knows about Marc Jacobs mouse shoes.  I think I saw the first version in Paris (the best city in the world to shop for shoes!) back when there was only one.  Over the course of the weekend, we talked mouse shoes a number of times and I learned her shoe size.  As I noted in the previous post, she has emerged into this wonderful young woman doing all the right things despite the fact that she is a teenager.  So I decided she deserved some mouse shoes…

Through the beauty of the internet I confirmed her mailing address, send the invoice to her mom in case she needed to do an exchange and organized for Fedex to deliver a pair of size 8 1/2 gold glitter Marc Jacobs mouse shoes to her front door in Toronto via the Brown’s Shoes website.  I could track the whole process via my computer in Vancouver so sent her a note yesterday afternoon to look for a package when she got home.  And then I got the email.  The shoes had been safely delivered…  Some of the best money I have ever spent!

So, Morgan, I was wowed by your effusive thanks.  But you should also thank my mom.  Without her wonderful example, there would have been no mouse shoes for you 🙂  Given her obsession with everything Disney and the concept that Mickey is more or less one of her children, what could be a more perfect tribute than mouse shoes…

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