Virtual Visits

By Dale Peers
While the COVID pandemic has restricted movement and closed many doors it has also spurred the opening of many others. Museum exhibitions that might have been difficult if not impossible to attend are now available through virtual visits.
Here are just a few that you might enjoy.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams
The incredible history of the house of Dior was showcased in this exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris from July 5, 2017 to January 7, 2018 and at London’s V&A in 2019. The exhibition highlighted the house rather than simply the designer by including Christian Dior’s work as well as that of Yves St. Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri – the many designers who continued his legacy. This virtual opportunity shows not only elements of the exhibition but behind-the-scenes as the exhibition is mounted.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLWDWzMrkBE&feature=emb_logo

About Time: Fashion and Duration
The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s most recent exhibition explores the cyclical nature of fashion. A virtual visit of the exhibit is shown in black and white which I found a bit unsatisfying since the colour and textures of the garments is absent. However, the stark details of the silhouettes and the similarities of the designs becomes particularly evident in the very absence of colour.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NV2gFW-eH4&feature=youtu.be

Collecting Comme
While a “trip down under” may not be in the cards a virtual visit to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia is possible. This exhibit features 65 outfits from 40 collections by contemporary fashion designer Rei Kawakubo as well as those of her proteges Junya Watanabe and Tao Kurihaha.
This is a true 3D experience as the virtual exhibit allows you to travel down corridors of your choice as well as turn, view and linger of the incredible shapes, textures and colours.
https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/virtual-tours/collecting-comme/

Google Arts and Culture collaborates with many of these institutions around the world making visits as easy as a quick google search. Here are just a few examples that feature the work of fashion design icons.

Balenciaga: Master Craftsman
See not only the work of the master but better understand why his work considers not only design but structural integrity. His contemporaries – Chanel, Dior – saw him as the designer’s designer. He not only sketched his pieces but could sew them too. His work created never before seen shapes and sculptural forms.
His unique work redefined fashions of the 50s and 60s and his inspiration ranged from his Basque childhood and his Catholic upbringing to the culture of Flamenco, from the bull fighting arena to the world of modern art.
https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/balenciaga-master-craftsman/-wIivb9hDv4rJQ?hl=en
photo:
https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/about-balenciaga-shaping-fashion

Schiaparelli and Surrealism
Schiaparelli and Surrealism are almost synonymous. The fashion collaborations between Schiaparelli and her friends, Salvator Dali, Jean Cocteau are examined in this exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Her endless nerve, verve and appreciation for the surrealism movement mean that bugs, skeletal construction and tromp L’oeil can be seen in this exhibition.

https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/schiaparelli-and-surrealism/1QLSabXbe04rJw?hl=en

photo: https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/elsa-schiaparelli

The Craftsmanship of Alexander McQueen
Attention to the most minute of details might well be an apt descriptor not only of McQueen but of this fashion house. McQueen’s legacy has been expertly led since his death by designer Sarah Burton. This Arts and Culture Google exhibit shows how seamlessly Burton has carried the design house forward.
https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/the-craftsmanship-of-alexander-mcqueen/MALybhvhk1gXJA?hl=en

 

At the risk of having you jump down the rabbit hole with me viewing all this lovely fashion and doing this instead of the many things on your (/my) lengthy to-do list I will save a few more wonderful sites for us to visit for my next blog.

The New Roaring Twenties

by Dale Peers

Here we come! The first 12 months of this new decade have certainly been tumultuous.  And, I wonder whether that means we are at just the beginning of another Roaring Twenties.

The pandemic has been an event of global proportions not unlike the first World War.  The “war to end all wars” involved multiple nations of the world, banding together in a fight that at times felt impossible but in which the human race ultimately prevailed.  The pandemic is mirroring that trajectory and we hope the brilliant medical minds of today will soon find a way for us to return to a more regular life.

(Image: http://www.people.vcu.edu/~djbromle/cartoon04/projects/kori/index.htm)

The economy was seeing unprecedented positivity after the war.  And, as of this writing we are continuing to see stock market gains which exceed explanation in this time of political uncertainty in the United States.  Will there be a crash?  Hopefully the concerted efforts that many countries like ours made during the pandemic as well as lessons learned from the great Depression of the 1930s will prove to bolster economies to the point that we may avoid such dire financial circumstances. (https://stock.adobe.com/ca/)

Restaurants and bars are certainly feeling the hardship of this time.  While their liquor sales are being restricted, we are at least not dealing with a Prohibition which was once the norm in our neighbours to the south.  The pandemic has curtailed celebrations in a way that might be deemed prohibition-like but imagine the scope of future celebrations when we can again gather in numbers greater than our “safe six” or “bubble of 10.”  (Image: https://www.istockphoto.com/)

The 1920s was also a decade in which societal changes in terms of women made great strides.  What we are now looking for in this ‘20s decade is positive societal changes for people of colour, our Indigenous peoples, and all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Fashions for the “flappers” of the 1920s reflected their new won freedoms with shorter hem-lengths allowing for those great strides both physical and metaphorical.  Hair was “bobbed,” makeup was worn and the Clara Bow lip, in deepest red, transformed not only women but the Cosmetics industry.

The necessity of masks has seemingly overnight transformed this protective gear into a new fashion accessory and statement.  And, while the lipstick product category is taking a hit, the eyes (and ayes to wearing a mask!) have it.  Eyeshadow, liner, mascara, not to mention primers and eye creams are now the focus for many. (Image:http://silenceisplatinum.blogspot.com/2010/02/miss-clara-bow.html)

Masks are being produced in record number and are as simple or elaborate as the maker likes.  They haven’t escaped the fashion runway either.   Does this pearl encrusted mask by Christian Siriano remind anyone else of 1920’s fashion icon Coco Chanel? (Image:www.christiansiriano.com)

 

While the closing of borders might feel xenophobic the flip side of that coin is the focus on Canadian made.  We can foster greater success for our Canadian designers and manufacturers of fashion (and all consumer goods) by choosing to buy Canadian and to support our local makers and retailers.  MadeInland.com is an example of just one organization which virtually highlights Canadian designer fashion goods.

At Seneca you can support the Fashion Business and Fashion Business Management students by shopping on their new e-commerce site for The Boutique.  These fashion students are utilizing their skills in the new retail landscape they will soon be entering.  Go to:

https://www.senecaboutique.ca for the Pop-up store recently launched.

While current days are uncertain we must look forward to a new future.  May this be the beginning of a new Roaring ‘20s for Canadians and the Canadian Fashion industry.

 

 

Collar Connotations

By Dale Peers

The recent passing of Supreme Court Judge (and completely amazing woman!), the notorious RBG – aka Ruth Bader Ginsburg – has highlighted her iconic collar.  Is it possible this often, overlooked element of fashion, or accessory in the case of her honour, may enjoy a revival due to its sudden notoriety and the symbolism attributed specifically to those worn by RBG?

www.harpersbazaar.com

In her role on the highest court in the United States Ginsburg wore what became her signature collars as a quiet yet visual affirmation of her female gender in a male dominated world.  The black robes of these judges were designed so that they could be worn with the collared shirt/tie ensemble typical to the corporate and legal world.  Ginsberg’s first “jabot” was also a pristine white making it vie for attention not only against the black robes but in contrast to what other members of the court were wearing.

In later years she began to wear more distinctively different collars which she used not only to affirm her presence in the court but to silently express her opinions.  The silver studded, punk inspired collar from Banana Republic was her Dissenter Collar and worn when she was in disagreement with political and legal decisions made by the court.  Her favourite was a delicate, white crocheted collar she acquired from Cape Town, South Africa.  The Stella & Dot designed Pegasus necklace was worn by RBG to announce her return to the court after a fall in which she broke several ribs but also in silent protest of Justice Brett Kavanaugh of whom she did not approve.

The collar is one of those elements of fashion which, with the influx of more casual attire (e.g. t-shirts, tops) has disappeared from many wardrobes.  Business/corporate attire for men, usually defined as a collared shirt-tie-suit combination, is also on the decline in this year of Zoom, with the possible exception of politicians and some newscasters.

www.joefresh.ca

But that has not always been so.  Collars have been used to indicate wealth and status as seen in any portrait of Elizabeth I and her courtiers.  The colour white was chosen as an example to show status as it is difficult to keep clean and being sparkling white implies that you are not doing anything which would cause the collar to be anything less than white.

The material chosen for such collars was often lace and with the hundreds of hours required to make even a small inch of lace the cost of such fabric was high and therefore reserved for the very wealthy.  Whether the material was lace or not the fabric was often stiffened so that the collar extended and framed the wearer’s face.  The structure of this would also be an indication of wealth as the person’s range of motion would also be limited, again suggesting you were not engaged in any strenuous activity.

The concept of the white collar versus the blue colour worker as an indicator of status came about with the establishment of offices.  Men working in offices wore a white collared shirt with tie and were able to keep them mostly clean because clerical, legal or other office work did not require manual labor of any sort.  The “blue colour worker” came to mean the individual who was engaged in more productive, manual labor of the sort that meant a darker coloured shirt (perhaps paired with rugged blue denim) that would hide the dirt better.  In the 1980s when women began to break through the glass ceilings of the corporate world the “pink colour worker” phrase was coined to identify the female manager in the office world.

And the preppiest of collars, those found on the ubiquitous polo shirt were a style created by tennis player Rene Lacoste in the 1930s.  Borrowing from the popular polo players of the period Rene began to wear this new sport shirt with its attached collar on the tennis court.  He “popped” the collar not as a fashion statement so much as a way to ensure that his neck wouldn’t get sunburned while bashing those tennis balls at his opponents. Moving into the 1980s, designer Ralph Lauren’s Preppy Look brought the polo shirt back into fashion, especially with the Yuppies of the decade.

The elimination of collars on shirts and tops has been a cost saving for clothing manufacturers as it reduces the amount of material as well as labor required to produce a garment.  That may be changing if the influence of RBG’s iconic collar as well as passionate fans of this woman are anything to go by.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s incredible work and words are being immortalized not only in social media and the press but in fashion with the production of garments and copies of her iconic collar.

www.jamparks.com

 

www.sheknows.com

“Real Change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (March 15, 1933 – September 18, 2020).

 

Identity and Identifier: Two of the Many Roles of Fashion

by Dale Peers

The source of inspiration for this blog came from a book gifted to me by Professor Jenifer Forrest entitled, “Threads of Feeling” by John Styles.  This publication, from The Foundling Museum in London, describes the archive of 5,000 small textile items dating from the middle decades of the middle 18th century found there.

These items accompanied the children accepted into the care of the London Foundling Hospital during this time as an identifier of not only the child but also of their parents.  They were included in the child’s records in the event that the parents were able to return at some later time to take back their child.  As most of the parents (and most of these would have been the mother) were from lower social classes and often illiterate, something that could be attached to the Hospitals records was presented.  These might be a bit of cloth from the mother’s clothing, a ribbon/keepsake or sometimes a sleeve from the baby’s clothing.  Sadly not all babies were accompanied by such tokens.  In fact, according to the author “between 1756 and 1760 there were more than 14,934 children” left at the hospital – almost 3 times the number of tokens.

In studying this archive it is not only possible to examine the sad, social commentary of these children and their parents but also the varied textiles left behind as these important identifiers.  Most museums will focus on the beautiful fashions and techniques used to produce the attire of the very wealthy.  These expensive textiles created fashions that would identify the wearer in terms of status.  Those of the Foundling Museum provide a very different look at textiles worn by individuals at the opposite end of the status continuum.

The textiles include serviceable goods like wool, flannel and cotton but surprisingly bits of more expensive fabrics like satin might also occasionally be found.  The donation of an expensive and obviously prized possession could be linked to the precious child sadly left behind.

Fabrics were not all plain and serviceable.  Brightly coloured and printed fabrics demonstrate that even members of the lower economic classes were likely to copy the fashions of those members of the upper classes.  While the costly fabrics produced in Lyons or Spitalfields for the fashionable members of society would be out of reach, copying the illusion of prints on silk was possible.  We could assume from this that, regardless of social standing, having beautiful clothing was coveted by all.  And the more iconic something might be the better an identifier it would become.

Our choice in clothing and fashion as a way of expressing our personal identity, as a form of communication and as an outward symbol of our values is as important to many of us today as it was in the past.  While we might consider our present day fashions to be more democratic than those of the 18th century our desire for something unique to express our individuality continues to be one driving force for consumers of fashion.

We have a myriad of price points, products and possibilities available to us when we shop but, even so, we attempt to find something – a colour, a pattern, a style – that will be a reflection of our “self.”  And, we alter that image or identity depending upon the impression we are looking to make.  Do we want to look more professional in a workplace boardroom or on a Zoom call?  Do we want someone to see our creativity in the way we have put a “look” together?  Do we want to make a fashion or status statement by wearing a recognizable brand?

(Does the black and white, Marilyn Brooks print above imply a sense of humour attributed to the wearer? Does the asymmetrical Pauline Trigere gown below imply a unique, one-of-a-kind style and personality?  Is the wearer of the striped, scooped neck Sonia Rykiel sweater looking to stand out in a Zoom meeting?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The study of fashion goes beyond looking at the hemlines, colours and silhouettes of a garment.  It is more than the choice of textile, the drafting of a garment or the method of construction.  We can identify a garment on the basis of these but we can delve further into the meaning that garment had for the wearer, the observer and society.

Seneca’s Fashion Resource Centre, like The Foundling Museum, offers the opportunity to study not only the styles of an era but the social, political, economic and personal meanings that are tied to each artifact.

 

 

 

Fashion Post Quarantine

By Dale Peers
Fashion is a reflection of zeitgeist and our current zeitgeist has undergone a paradigm shift. This pandemic has impacted lives globally and it continues to do so as we begin the process of emerging from quarantine.
We have seen after each major political, social, economic event in the past century a shift, an alteration, an influence on design and fashion. What will the impact of Covid 19 be on fashion?
Here are a few thoughts:

Comfort conformity

After weeks of “dressing” in our most comfortable of clothes will we be able to give up the softness of sweats, the cosiness of pjs, the luxury of shoelessness? “Athleisure” has been a fashion trend for the past few years and as we have found in video conferencing the need to dress up for work might have been reserved for the news/reporters we saw broadcasting from their home offices. But, were they secretly wearing the most comfortable “pants” they owned and which we would never see (unless they inadvertently forgot to close their video screen and got up from their desk!)?
Will comfort be acceptable in the new work world? 30 days is supposedly the length of time it takes for us to fully embrace a new habit. After nearly twice that time we are likely fully entrenched in a wardrobe that was previously reserved for Sunday mornings. Although we may want to get back to our place of work will we be able to remember how to dress according to a business code?

https://i5.walmartimages.com

Full Frontal Formality
Or, have we had enough of schlepping around the house in those clothes. Are we so done with them that when firepit bands are lifted we will happily burn them?!
Will we want to look good and feel professional when this is over? Looking the part is advice that has long been given to the person who is being interviewed or the professional looking to climb a corporate ladder.
While “Casual Fridays” were a non-monetary perk for office workers when economic downturns occurred the practice of dressing down began to be questioned when people wondered whether true professionals, especially those working in financial institutions and legal arenas would be perceived as capable if they dressed so casually. And so, the upswing back to sartorial elegance began when those in upper management positions began again to dress more appropriately.
We have all watched the impact the pandemic has had on the economy. People may again consider whether there is a relationship between their financial advisor’s ability and her appearance. How casually dressed do you want your banking professional to be?
Our prime minister and premier show up for those daily reports in shirts, ties and suits. Their appearance says just how serious these days have been. They tell us not only in words that are to engender confidence but, in their appearance as well. They are serious about what we all need to do and look it.

https://www.brantfordexpositor.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/COVID_CDA_

Facial Masks and Makeup
We have already seen the necessity of wearing masks. These face coverings will become a new and necessary accessory and I have to wonder what that will mean to the beauty industry. The “lipstick” theory was one that explained the importance of this product on moral. It was deemed to have such an incredible impact that metal lipstick tubes were one of the few metal items that were exempt from rationing in the second world war.
Lips are now hidden behind masks and while these will become a new niche in the fashion accessory market they are not conducive to the wearing of lipstick. But, will eyes now become more than just windows to the soul? Will the beauty market place even more attention on eye shadow, liner, lashes and brows?

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/jan/13

Proudly Patriotic
If there is one element of this pandemic that I hope will be fostered and strengthened by governments and consumers alike it is Made in Canada. Many politicians have praised our home grown entrepreneurs, designers, and manufacturers for stepping up, changing their production lines and creating the PPEs and hand sanitizer so desperately needed by our front line workers.
Clearly it is possible to design and manufacture in Canada. While we don’t need to become completely xenophobic the time has come when we need to respect the ingenuity of our people and the quality of the products that we can produce. There will be many people needing employment. There will be many opportunities to produce what we need and as patriots and consumers we can support these companies and our country.

http://clipart-library.com/clip-art/canadian-flag-transparent-9.htm

Stay well and stay safe!

Red – Romance, Danger and Power

By Dale Peers

While Panetone’s colour of 2020 is Classic Blue (let’s leave that for another day) I thought another popular fashion colour, Red, might be a suitable topic to explore.  One of the colours associated with two celebrations – Christmas (red + green) and Valentine’s Day (red, as well as all tints, shades and tones of this primary colour) the psychological meanings of red make for an interesting fashion exploration.

Red is a popular colour in the field of fashion.  It has been found in ballrooms, bedrooms and boardrooms due to the impact it can create.  No one is going to fade into the background while wearing this colour.  Adjectives used to describe the colour attest to that fact.  Red is described as dangerous and dynamic, passionate and powerful, sexy and stimulating.

It is the colour of romantic hearts (e.g. boxes of Valentine candy) as well as real (anatomical) hearts.  And since there is this relationship with the heart we leap to love and sex. The Scarlet woman was an adulteress  (sometimes a prostitute), she engaged in sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage, was considered wicked and therefore dangerous.  Sexy lingerie is not green or blue or even pink – it’s red.  So any woman wanting to appear alluring or seductive may choose to wear this colour.

While this gown (left) from the 1930s is not lingerie it skims over the wearer’s body thanks to the bias cut and the satin fabric and is a perfectly “love-ly” red.

“Dior Red” is a colour that came to be associated with this important Parisienne fashion designer and in the 1950s it became popular in everything from day dresses to ball gowns.  The 1950s also saw the introduction of strapless gowns or what came to be nicknamed “The Nude Look.” This strapless evening gown provides allure with its red colour juxtaposed against the wearer’s bared shoulders. To the right of it is an example of a Dior dress in this cherry red colour.

The danger of red may be seen in its use on the top of a stoplight, stop signs and fire engines.  It you don’t stop at the intersection it is dangerous and if you see fire engines they are possibly on their way to a dangerous situation and you need to get out of the way.  So, there is also dynamism, power and authority in the colour red.   This made it a popular colour for men in high powered positions (think, red power tie) and for women who were attempting to break through the glass ceilings of corporations in the 1980s.  With their T-shaped jackets and red suits women announced to the world that they too could “shoulder” the problems and responsibilities of organizations.

Another colour of power and authority is black and, interestingly the two are often paired.  In this example  (right) of a woman’s suit thin, black banker or pinstripes contribute to the business-like quality the wearer likely wanted to create.

The second example seems to produce a punk rock tone which evokes that more aggressive look of the 1980s. The colours and strapless neckline suggest the wearer may be a bit  dangerous as well as sexy.

As Canadians we might see the juxtaposition of red and white as patriotic.   Linda Lundstrom’s La Parka coat came about to be the quintessential coat for our Canadian weather and her choice of colours in this first design seems to proclaim its nationality.  Rain, sleet, subzero winter weather – could all be dealt with while in this outerwear.  In this example of her first “La Parka” the red nylon water-resistant outer coat rests upon a white wool blanket hooded coat.  Both the hood and cuffs are trimmed in red faux fur which can be removed.  The nylon shell can be removed and folds conveniently into itself and zips into a handy “pocket.”

The colour red is also seen as a warm colour.  So powerful was that symbolism that in the 19th century women’s winter undergarments sometimes used red wool, believed to be warmer. There is also a physiological reaction to red – our heart rate and respiration increase, appetite is stimulated and we may imagine an increase in temperature.

Perhaps we might also infer this red version of the La Parka coat is a powerful symbol of our battle against Canadian weather.

Whether red is in fashion or “out” it remains a colour that gets our attention, seems to warrant a second glance and to proclaim power.   And, if you can get all eyes to look toward you, don’t you really have the most power in any room?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrapping up Summer

By Dale Peers

While today is unseasonally warm we know that cooler weather is inevitable.  The summer is just about over, colours are changing (and not just in the forest) and wrapping up for cooler weather is upon us.  The new fall trends in outerwear are harkening back to “70’s heritage styles” and adding pastel, sorbet-like colours to the popular down-filled jackets.

In Canada a wardrobe to deal with weather – cool fall temperatures will transition to sub-zero winter – is a necessity and I thought visiting some of the beautiful coats in our Fashion Resource collection might be inspiration for the Fashion Arts students designing coats or anyone thinking about purchasing new outerwear.

The Seneca collection spans all weather concerns and includes full fur coats, jackets and stoles once popular status symbols.  If there are a handful of items that donors frequently have in abundance, fur is most definitely one.  So many women in the 1950s to 1970s had fur and these now languish in closets and cedar chests.  If we have a good collection I can only imagine how many of these have been relegated to Value Village.  While we might want to abolish the use of fur from an animal rights perspective we need to recognize that fur has played an important part in Canadian fashion history.  If a designer is looking to re-cycle and create a sustainable statement in their coat design one might consider re-working a fur coat into a lining or use it as the trim for a collar or hood.

An examination of coats from the centre will also reveal a difference in the construction formerly used.  Simply picking up one of these garments from a rack will reveal a difference in weight.  The garments we are used to wearing today are light but in earlier garment construction there were multiple layers that not only added warmth but a degree of stability to the coat itself.

Coat

 

Embellishments and style details can certainly add panache to a garment.  This tweed coat from Hermes has always been one of my favourites.  Look closely at the top button and the unique detail created with these two tabs which are held in place by that gorgeous button.  A wonderful detail and one that would keep cold winds from penetrating one’s chest.

 

This wonderful wool, “swing” coat from the 1940s was by Canadian Ada Mackenzie who certainly appreciated how cold our winters could be.  While it may only be three-quarter length its cheery check would certainly keep the wearer happy on a chilly December day.

 

This pastel blue coat from the 1960s evokes a classic “Jackie Kennedy” feeling with its three quarter length sleeves.  It just crests the wearer’s knees and the rounded neckline matched with large round buttons provide a simple and elegant look.  It is a cozy mohair but looks light and airy. Certainly a “mint blue” comparable to the new for 2019 “ice cream” colours.

While there are classic and timeless styles to outerwear there are also classic patterns that we can’t help but associate with fall.  Plaids, tartans, and checks come immediately to mind.  And, what more classic pattern than a black and white hounds-tooth check (below) which was one of Christian Dior’s favourite ways of borrowing from men’s wear and creating ultra feminine styles. The belted waistline, and detachable neck-piece make this coat one that is pretty and practical

Hopefully Fall 2019 will transition gently between summer and winter this year. But if it doesn’t perhaps this becomes an excuse for the purchase of a new coat.

 

Marilyn Brooks: Behind the Seams

By Dale Peers

Our annual Fashion Resource Centre exhibition (May 6th to 17th) celebrates the career of Canadian fashion icon Marilyn Brooks.

Marilyn Brooks, always an innovator, opened her lifestyle boutique the Unicorn in 1967.  The funky neighborhoods of The Village and then Yorkville were the “Happening places” in Toronto in the Sixties.  Her choice of locations was definitely prescient and would include trendy Queen St, alongside Holt Renfew on Bloor St. West and in upscale Yorkville on Cumberland Ave.

Throughout her 40+ years in the fashion business Marilyn has been a staunch and passionate supporter of the Canadian fashion industry. Her vision, tenacity and positive spirit are unmatched in an industry that can be, shall we say, challenging!

In Marilyn Brooks: Behind the Seams, successful designer, artist, business woman, and now author, records not only the history of her brand but in her truly generous way shares the stories of the many people she has worked and collaborated with throughout her 40+ years in the fashion industry.  She shares her “Marilyn Maxims” – some of the lessons she has learned and the excellent advice she can provide to graduates and newly minted members entering the fashion foray.

One of the first Canadian fashion designers with a vertically integrated business model, Marilyn was designer, manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer.  Marilyn and her team did it all.  Her entrepreneurial spirit, artistic flair and bravery were key to her succeeding not only in her stores but in the contributions she made in shaping the fashion landscape in Canada and Toronto from the 1960s through to the 2000s.

Marilyn has been a pioneer in the fashion world and without her foresight and dedication to her craft contemporary fashion designers might never have had international spotlights trained on them and the City of Toronto.  In 1977 Marilyn invited a group of Toronto based designers including Lori Brooks, Shirley Cheatley, Wayne Clarke, Hugh Garber, Elen Henderson, Edie Johne, Linda Lundstrom and Pat McDonagh to her home to discuss the establishment of an organization which could help them all.  In 1978 TOD – Toronto Ontario Designers was officially launched with the first of many fashion shows, this premiere one held at St. Lawrence Centre.  TOD later evolved into Designers Ontario and then the Fashion Designers Council of Canada and then to the Fashion Design Council of Canada.

She has been a mentor to many young members of the fashion industry and a long time supporter of many charitable organizations.  We are especially grateful at Seneca College for the support she has provided to our students, our programs and especially our Fashion Resource Centre.  From 1976 to 1983 Marilyn was a member of Seneca’s Fashion Merchandising Program Advisory Committee providing invaluable information and opinions that would contribute to courses preparing the next generation of fashion retailers.

Testament to her generosity are the many accolades and awards she has received.  These include The Woolmark Award for Design Excellence, the “Night of Stars” award in 1994 from Fashion Group International, the Order of Ontario presented by the Honorable Hilary M. Weston, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in 2000, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in recognition of her contributions and achievements in fashion in 2012.  Parkinson’s, Fashion Cares (in support of AIDS), Unicef, Big Brothers, and Cabbage Youth Centre are just a few of the many charitable organizations Marilyn has helped support through fund raising activities.

Marilyn is also a talented artist.  Not only as a designer of fashion and original prints but in acrylics and other mediums.  She has had a number of showings of her paintings and continues to be inspired by the beauty of her home in Lake Rousseau.

Our exhibition will take visitors through Marilyn’s 40+ fashion career with some of her early garments from the Unicorn to specialty t-shirts with original print designs to the work she did with corporations and celebrities and, of course, to the many loyal clients who shopped in her different locations.

It is thanks to Marilyn and these customers that we have these garments to present not only to our visitors in May but for the students in Seneca’s Fashion programs to study and learn from.

One of Marilyn’s Maxims (to be found at the end of each chapter in her book) captures not only good advice but a sentiment that sums up much of what Marilyn has done:

“Mentor, share, inspire, encourage, stimulate up and comers whenever you can with encouragement.  They will make the world a better place.”

If you would like to read more about Marilyn or find her book please visit: www.marilynbrooks.com

 

Fashion Necessities of a Bygone Era

by Dale Peers

While poking about in our massive vault of fashion reveals extraordinary design, colour and textures some of the items students fine most fascinating are items that are no longer relevant to a contemporary fashionista.

Imagine what folks 100 years from now might think of our fashionable necessities!  Here are just a few items from our fashion past which you might not recognize.

Pictured below are three versions of button hooks required to do up the multiple buttons on footwear of the 19th century.  The largest of the three has an ivory shoe horn to aid in slipping one’s foot into fancy dance slippers.

A button hook might also be used on a pair of “Spats.” Short for Spatterdashers, this accessory would be used to keep your highly polished footwear looking its best. These examples show that buttons as well as snaps, in later versions, could be used to fasten these around one’s ankle and over one’s shoes.

Keeping out of the sun to avoid skin damage is popular today but sunblock products are used. Wouldn’t a lovely little parasol such as this one be such a smart addition to one’s look? This clever example is collapsible – the shaft of the parasol folds in half and when fully extended stays in place with a small metal tube (you can see it peeking out just below the fringe) that slides over the hinge. One of the reasons such accessories as walking sticks and parasols fell out of favour was the difficulty one encountered trying to get in and out of the automobile with these.

 

 

 

 

And, if the atmosphere inside was too warm, fashionable ladies might include one of these luscious looking fans in their evening ensemble. An entire “language of the fan” might be used to flirt with a gentleman, exclaim at his brashness or entice him for a small kiss, hidden behind those lovely ostrich feathers.

Gloves were worn not just to keep hands warm on a wintry day but as an accessory for day, evening and special occasions. Gloves came in a variety of lengths and materials including delicate kid leather or silk. They might also be worn in the bright sunshine, to reduce a freckled appearance to a lady’s hands. These are examples of “Mitts,” (not to be confused with mittens)and are finger-less gloves crocheted in silk. They would have decorated the lady’s hand and arm while not being overly warm to wear.
While most people refer to their phone for the time a gentleman’s prized possession would have been one of these beautiful pocket watches. To ensure that they were safe when taken out of one’s pocket to consult the time a watch chain ending with a fob would make it possible to secure the watch to one’s suit vest. The standard horizontal bar style of fob could be replaced with something more interesting such as the tiny pocket knife found on the end of this watch chain on the right and the tiny barrel on the one in the centre.  (Was the owner a brewer or pub owner?)
The death of Queen Victoria’s consort and husband, Prince Albert made fashionable a niche market of mourning attire. Dressing in particular types of black fabrics and wearing mourning jewellery became popular. These are examples of rare mourning brooches and pendants made of Bog Oak, a fossilized wood. Their lack of shine and sombre motifs made them integral in the outward appearance of grief.
What will be thought of our fashion necessities in 100 years? Will people wonder why we needed different “skins” for our phones? Will they marvel at our obsession for handbags? Will they be unable to explain why anyone would wear Uggs and Crocs? Each generation has marveled at the “foolishness” of the generation that has come before and human behaviour is likely to continue to do just that.

Vivid and Vivacious

by Dale Peers

These two adjectives can apply equally well to the exhibition of Vivienne Poy’s work as they can to Vivienne herself.  Many family and friends joined in the celebration of the opening of our exhibit, Vivienne Poy: A Legacy of Fashion, Politics & Philanthropy.  Vivienne recounted her time in the Fashion Arts Program and spoke of her path to success in the industry.

More than one guest commented on her elegant style, vivacious personality and the passion for creating beauty that shone through each of the garments that she designed and many of which were on display.  And at least one guest appeared in an original Vivienne Poy purchase!

Above, Vivienne is surrounded by her family and left, fellow Canadian Designer Marilyn Brooks celebrates the opening of the exhibit with Vivienne.

Vivienne’s company, Vivienne Poy Mode was run for 14 years and served a clientele who were clearly interested in fashions that would never be dreary or minimal.  Vivienne described her target customers as: “Elegant, mature, active, practical, women who wanted comfort with style.” And that, “Comfort must go hand in hand with beauty and elegance.”  These affirmations explain why her steadfastly loyal clientele came back year after year.

Her work celebrated femininity in the era of power dressing.  The designs reflect the silhouettes of the 1980s and 1990s but in a way that allowed women to be perceived as vibrant and strong, confident in their abilities.

Her love of art and nature can be found in the organic lines as well as flora and fauna expressed both literally and in a more subtle, abstract way.

We posed a variety of questions which Vivienne answered and which highlighted not only the design work but her opinions about fashion and inspiration.  Below are some of those questions and answers interspersed with images from the exhibition.

Q: What first drew you to the field of fashion design?

Vivienne: I was fortunate to have been born with an artistic flare, and have painted sunsets and flowers since I was a very small child. As a practical person, it makes sense to turn that talent into wearable art.

Q: Why did you decide to specialize in knits?

Vivienne: I wanted to create my own fabric. Knitwear gives me the freedom to create textures, sheen, and colours.

Q: Colour and beautiful embellishments appear to be hallmarks of your work. Would you agree with this statement? And, if so can you explain why they were so important to you?

Vivienne: Yes, that’s my signature. We have invented new stitches, new textures, and new ways of beading. Not only are they beautiful, they are unique.

Q: Do you see a connection or relationship between your work as a fashion designer and your work in the senate advocating for gender issues, multiculturalism, and human rights?

Vivienne: Yes, they both require similar skills. Leadership, problem solving, farsightedness and the desire to improve life for others

Q: Given your education and obvious appreciation of history, how do you think an understanding of fashion history can help young designers? Vivienne: A lot of inspiration as well as techniques can be learnt from the past. Fashion history is a reflection of society of its day. Understanding social trends is important for fashion designers.

Q: How can Canadians who love fashion contribute to furthering human rights and equality when they purchase clothes?

Vivienne: Don’t buy clothes made in countries where manufacturing conditions are known to be unsafe. Buy clothes that are well made, even at a higher cost, and keep them for a long time, which in turn will help to save our planet.

Q: Do you think Canadians have a unique sense of fashion? If so what makes us unique?

Vivienne: No, Canadian fashion sense is global.

Q: What advice would you give to young fashion designers about to enter the industry today?

Vivienne: Fashion design is hard work and not glamorous. One needs to learn and be observant. Be innovative and creative!

The Seneca Fashion Resource is the grateful recipient of over 275 of Vivienne’s unique knitwear designs. In addition to the garments Vivienne has donated each pattern for her hand-knitted pieces. This provides a unique research opportunity for fashion scholars and particularly those with a love knitwear.