Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wide Sargasso See: Multicultural Fashion in Selvedge

I just received PDFs of a new feature story I wrote for Selvedge's July/August folklore-themed issue.  It's about multicultural influence in fashion: both when it's appropriate and when it borders on cultural appropriation.

In the process I researched a new (to me) designer--Stella Jean, who incorporates a winning mix of Haitian and Italian influence in her designs.  Her mother is from Haiti; her father is from Italy.  My favourite look is the large red-check blouse worn under a wax-print bustier dress (see below).  I couldn't help but think of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea when I first saw it, as its exuberant celebration of native culture and colorful energy recalled, for this reader, a young Bertha Mason.
Clothes by Stella Jean
Clothes by Taka Naka
Clothes by Tata Naka

This clothing, a dialogue between colonial and postcolonial cultures, reminds me of the groundbreaking "Madwoman in the Attic" understanding of Jane Eyre--does Bertha act for Jane; does Bertha express the rage and passion that Jane represses?  In these clothes,where Europe meets Haiti, two cultures stand strong and together.  If we took Mr. Rochester out of the equation, maybe Jane and Bertha could have played dress-up together.

No tearing of wedding veils, though.  But maybe they could share a mantilla?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Blue and White: Miss C and Injiri in Selvedge

I'm delighted to have a story on the lovely label Injiri in the May Selvedge.

Designer Chinar Farooqui takes the name "Injiri" from the familiar term for "India," and incorporates beautiful handcrafted techniques into her garments.

May is Selvedge's "blue and white" issue, so you'll see some cool hues of blue here . . .

and maybe two Tess-inspired(?) milkmaids taking a spring nap in a haystack. . .

Happy Easter!

Monday, February 24, 2014

An "ELLE" of a Look: Tevas Redux?

Have you seen the new summer sandal?  It riffs on Tevas, the go-to for hikers that isn't particularly known for its pleasing lines.

When I was climbing through Che's caves in Cuba one summer with 10 other professors, mining helmet on head, I may have distinguished myself by not wearing appropriate footgear, so unappealing to me are they.

But still.

The spread in the recent T magazine featuring these new sandals both repelled me and reminded me of the summer of 1986, when I was living in Montreal, just barely in my twenties. I'd bought an almost-ankle-grazing gray sweatshirt skirt from Daniel Hechter, which I paired with what I considered my Montreal miracle: a tee emblazoned with ELLE, my favourite magazine, from the ELLE boutique on chic Crescent St.

From T Magazine, 2014

These were the days of Rachel Williams, Yasmin LeBon, and Elle McPherson on and in ELLE, and the magazine had a French cool factor that's been lost in the ensuing years. But in 1986, ELLE was it.

To ground the look, I followed my eye and bought what the Montreal denizens wore: a vaguely Japanese thick-strapped slingback on a wedge.  And topped it off with a messy topknot.  I felt I'd arrived.

Also in Montreal that summer I purchased a ridiculous jumpsuit from an eclectic boutique selling clothing from Paris. It reminded me of a Stephen Sprouse design with its bold graffiti and it was a perfect piece to wear around Montreal, where people had a joyful approach to dressing (nothing was too colourful or too eccentric!).

This ad from Celine brought me right back to rue Crescent, circa 1986: 

Celine 2014; compare/contrast with jumpsuit sketch above

Is it, plus the upgraded "Teva," the New Look?

Or even my new look?  Can't get a foothold.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

"My Fur Lady": Broadway Joe Namath Meets the Sears Catalogue

What a miracle it was that Joe Namath flubbed the coin toss at last week's Super Bowl. Why?  His fabulous fur jacket got even more air time as the referee called for a second throw (guess the former quarterback was out of practice). But I wasn't complaining, as my eyes were glued to Broadway Joe's outrageous 70s flashback fur.

I realize that Joe had worn similar furs throughout his career.  There are any number of vintage shots showing him stalking the sidelines in furs galore. But I was transported to Prince Edward Island, 1970s era, and my Sears catalogue.

Did anyone else grow up on a small island? In the 1970s, there weren't many shopping choices.  My stylish mother would pack my father and me in our car and we'd hop over to the mainland via a ferry boat--Moncton, NB, was close, Halifax, NS, was further, but had more big-city delights. 

And if we were really ready to throw down the fashion gauntlet, my mum and I would board a plane with my grandmother and high tail it to Montreal, where my two elders would set up shop in the fabled Ogilvy's while I satiated my sweet tooth with a box of the generously cut fudge from the shops in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

But if none of those possibilities were available, there were two catalogues: the Eaton's Book and the Sears Catalogue.  And it was from Sears, while an elementary-school student, that I ordered my first fake-fur jacket--a Joe Namath-quality gray beauty.  On the Island, people dressed for warmth, not style (I bought my first pair of winter "fashion" boots when I moved to the States), but this fur jacket with complementary pleather insets did the trick.

And since then, I've been drawn to an adventurous fur look. Josephine Peary has long been a style icon in her arctic gear;

Nanook of the North rivals Namath fur best-dressed.

So thanks to Joe Namath for reminding me of that fur-jacket memory, long tucked away, but fresh as my then-schoolgirl attitude.

Monday, January 27, 2014

"My Phar Mountie": Pharrell Williams at the Grammys

Any Canadian worth her snow salt recognizes the uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (aka the Mounties): jodphurs, red coat, and generous Stetson hat, dating from 1891.

So I couldn't associate Pharrell Williams's outfit at the Grammys last night with anything but.

To my eye, he offered a cool, urban update of our classic Mountie garb: jeans, red Adidas jacket and that hat (made, I believe, by Vivienne Westwood).


 My Tweet from last night:

And now the hat has its own Twitter feed.

Even if Mr. Williams' inspiration was something else, it was fun to see a little self-proclaimed Canadian style on stage last night.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Governess chic and Huishan Zhang

Whenever I browse through a magazine, a dark dress with a white collar with or without a bow is sure to catch my attention.

In some places I've called it "governess chic"; maybe it's also schoolgirl chic (think of la petite Madeline).

Whatever its name, I love the clean lines, the aura of uniform. (Maybe it's a nod to my own boarding school dress?)

Paging through British Vogue last night at my bookstore, I paused upon and pondered this photo.

It's kind of Hitchcock heroine and completely captivating.  No white collar, but no matter.  The bow more than makes up for it.

The dress is by Chinese designer Huishan Zhang (more about him here).

Tellingly, perhaps, the dress was not shown on the runway with the bow:

It also looks more fitted in the photo.  The magic of a Vogue stylist? She's a quick study.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Speech. Less. Attention: All Awards Nominees

Movie-awards season has begun, and so, apparently, has the reminder that actors generally do better with words someone else has written for them.

I used to think that dull acceptance speeches were a rite of passage--something to endure before getting to the next imaginative dress or bon mot from the host--but this year at the GGs I found them quite unendurable.

Jennifer Lawrence has built a reputation for herself as being "refreshing natural," but I thought she came across more as "inarticulate teenager."

Amy Poehler proved that even a writer can freeze when not working from a script.

And how I wanted Jacqueline Bissett to pull herself together (calling on her Scottish roots was a good sign, but it failed).

So I am announcing a new business:

Miss Cavendish’s
Award-Winning Speeches

All starlets, grand dames, gents new and seasoned, producers, costume designers, directors, etc., may contact me via email (see right sidebar) and I will work with you to prepare a smart, concise, elegant speech that suits your personality.

Be forewarned: no long lists of agents and other entourage members will make the cut. My services may be pricey, but less so than the cost of the Monday morning quarterbacking that your PR team will otherwise engage in.

Have people talking about your speech for all the right reasons.