Tag Archives: books

Une garçonne sur la Garonne

photo by pierre planchenault at festival chahuts

photo by pierre planchenault at festival chahuts, bordeaux. june 18th, 2012.

obligatory blogger apologizing for not blogging intro phrase.

just kidding! i earned some well-deserved time off this month. time off from my job, from my beautiful neighbourhood that is populated with one too many jackhammers, time off from “the real world.”

june has been good to me. i hopped across the atlantic into the arms of my love who was all the way in bordeaux, france. simon was presenting some of productions rhizome‘s work at festival chahuts, and we decided to take time for some adventures of our own, too. we met some amazing people while admiring the sights in pamplona, bilbao & la baie d’archachon. i impressed people with my comfort in french and english, prompting many people to make all kinds of wrong guesses on where i’m from. spanish? italian? cosmopolitan globetrotter? one french parent and one canadian parent? nah, just your regular québécois-abénaki-military brat mess of a person with francophile leanings.

photo of simon and julia by annie lafleur

photo of simon and julia in bordeaux by annie lafleur

little snapshots of my daily life here were captured on film, by new friends digital cameras and scribbled handwriting onpostcards. i’ve been letting the digital aspects of my life fall more and more to the wayside these days, and i must admit it’s been doing me some good. this is due, in part, to the death of my laptop (ironically timed just after i wrote the line “i’ve had this image saved on the three computers i’ve owned over the course of the past decade” in my last post) but also to the fun of getting wrapped up in the real world. i’m not yet a member of the constantly-connected cell phone brigade, but just the feeling of being disconnected from my cumbersome laptop has changed the way i spend my days. [sidenote: back in may i even made a tiny zine about attempting to change my internet habits, so it was nice to put those things into practice in a more concrete way.]

a photograph of some postcards

some of the postcards i sent off to friends and family while in bordeaux.

that said, i was still constantly thinking about the stories and ideas i wanted to share with my readers. scrawled in my tiny travel notebook are notes like, “how wierd is it to fit in, style wise, in a city i’ve never been to before, thousands of miles from where i was born and raised?” it’s funny how, with the exact same wardrobe, haircut, and body one can stand out so much in your hometown and blend in in a city you’ve never been to before. another note, scrawled in all caps was “interview old french men about why they are so much more dapper and stylish than north american men!!!” unfortunately i didn’t interview anyone (journalist on vacation!),  but i did admire men in tweed biking around the cobblestone streets of bordeaux. i’d be lying if i said i didn’t find it tempting to make sweeping generalizations about French people based on my ten days in Europe, though.

my vacation wasn’t entirely spent people watching and idea percolating – i did end up reading for pleasure more than i have in years. while waiting in airport lounges, i read my fair share of tattered copies of french newspapers but was also quite happy to have good books and magazines with me along the way.

recommended reading:

Mythologies by Roland Barthes, specifically “The Writer on Holiday” essay:

What proves the wonderful singularity of the writer, is that during the holiday in question, which he takes alongside factory workers and shop assistants, he unlike them does not stop, if not actually working, at least producing. So that he is a false worker, and a false holiday-maker as well. One is writing his memoris, another is correcting proofs, yet another is preparing his next book. And he who does nothing confesses it as truly paradoxical behaviour, an avant-garde exploit, which only someone of exceptional independence can afford to flaunt. One then realizes, thanks to this kind of boast, that it is quite ‘natural’ that the writer should write all the time and in all sorts of situations. First, this treats literary production as a sort of involuntary secretion, which is taboo, since it escapes human determinations: to speak more decorously, the writer is the prey of an inner god who speaks at all times, without bothering, tyrant that he is, with the holidays of his medium. Writers are on holiday, but their Muse is awake, and gives birth non-stop.

Causette – a sassy French magazine that’s similar to Bitch Magazine here in North America. i had to buy it after browsing it at a friend’s house and reading a shocking article about how France has repealed sexual harrassment laws. terrifying to say the least. on a nicer note, how refreshing it to buy a magazine that says “le poids des femmes” (the weight of women) but isn’t talking about pounds or fat, but instead political clout? can i get a fuck yeah?

i also finished a few fiction books i had on the go, namely oryx & crake by margaret atwood. if you’re interested in what i’ve been reading, i’ve been sharing a lot on goodreads these days. i’ve also spent the last week catching up on great articles published during my downtime. if you’ve seen (or written) anything you think is up my alley, please leave links in the comments.

i’ve got lots of other stories and suggestions to share from my time overseas, but i hope that satiates your appetites for now!

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Filed under currently, digital/online culture, personal, Uncategorized

knowledge, power and “feminist” fashion blogs

gloria swanson, photographed by edward steichen in 1924

Gloria Swanson photographed by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair, 1924

these days i’ve been spending a lot of times with books. fiction, non-fiction, zines, and gorgeous picture books. re-reading ones that have been on my shelf for years, and starting ones i’ve been meaning to get to for longer than i’d like to admit. this weekend while visiting my friend marika‘s place, i poured over the copy of Objectif Mode, 1850 a nos jours she had taken out of the library. myself, ainslie, cat and simon turned the pages together, pointing out our favourites. the chapter for the 1920s began with a cropped version of one of my favourite photographs. i gasped, and said, “swanson! steichen! how glorious.” it didn’t have a caption on that page, so my friends were kind of surprised.

“how do you know that?” cat asked.

i laughed it off, mumbled something or other about how it’s just a random bit of knowledge tucked away in my brain somewhere… but how? and why?

i know it because i love it, is the short version.

i know it because i’ll always remember this image. because there’s something about early photography that pairs decadence, decay, the jazz age, art, fashion that will always be compelling to me.

i know it because i’ve seen many other photographers try to emulate what it is about this photograph that draws you in so much. is it steichen’s talent as a photographer? is it swanson’s gaze? is it both?

Gertrud Arndt, « Maskenselbstbildnis Nr. 16 », 1930

Gertrud Arndt, « Maskenselbstbildnis Nr. 16 », 1930

i also know these things because i am smart. because i am not just a passive consumer of photography, art, and fashion – i’m a fan. i take the time to inform myself, to remember details.

after finishing the book, i must admit i felt slightly disappointed. curious choices for images to define over a century of style. in the end, what i personally disliked about it was that it did not present the picture of fashion that i know and love. it presented the typical vision of fashion as one occupied by those who can afford to indulge in high-end couture, with more photos of runway models and movie stars than your average joe. a model can wear a dress, that is their job at the end of the day, but i’ve always been more interested in why someone might choose to wear certain garments, and how they wear them.

this reminded me yet again why i often feel alienated by the “fashion” world.

this leads to other things i’ve been asking myself about these days: what makes a fashion blog feminist. perhaps it’s because someone pointed out to me that when you google “feminist fashion blog,” my blog is on the first page of results. perhaps it’s because i’ve come across more than a few fashion blogs that describe themselves as feminist, yet i see very little/no explicit political content or discussion. or worse, a very second-wave version of what it means to be feminist.

a tweet posted on may 9th by julia that reads "if i could just have a feature that would let me read about fashion online without having to trudge through body hate bullshit, that'd be great."

one of the more specific reasons this question has been on my mind is because of last week’s extravagant fashion event. i wanted to see what people wore to the met ball last week. briefly: the met ball is when the top of the top get decked out to the nines in incredibly lavish clothing. here’s a more detailed description from the Atlantic‘s may 2007 article “Why Fashion Deserves its Place in Art Museums:”

Once inside, the 700 guests—actors and models, designers and socialites—will dine and dance and preview the museum’s newest exhibition. The occasion is the “party of the year,” the Met’s Costume Institute Benefit Gala. Co-chaired annually by Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, the party is not just a chance to wear and admire beautiful clothes; it’s a lavish and efficient fund-raising machine. Tickets start at $6,500 per person, with tables for 10 running as high as $100,000. Last year’s gala raised $4.5 million for the museum’s fashion department.

obviously, it’s one of my few typical “Fashion Elite” moments of awe. i generally click through a handful of fashion week shit, but it’s generally kinda low on my radar. the met ball, on the other hand? pure fantasy through and through, and i shamelessly love gawking at it. this year in particular featured an exhibition that is right up my alley: Schiaparelli & Prada (and wrote a bit about back in march). in my hunt for more photos of the dresses people wore, i visited sites i tend to avoid… and was reminded of why. i found myself rolling my eyes at the comments, and asking myself, really?

the comments on jezebel‘s “good/bad/ugly” met gala review are more about how skinny a model is, how much someone looks like a “drag queen” (as if that’s a bad thing?), and how slutty a woman’s dress is than about, say, whether or not it was an appropriate choice for a gala that lauds designer known for collaborations with surrealist artists, or how the theme of the gala this year was explicitly focused around conversations about feminist women.

the overall tone i got from the four or five websites i visited was one fraught with body policing (variations of the she’s too thin to show that much skin/she’s too fat to wear that dress/that colour/that style, usually coded in words like “flattering”) and left me headdesking. why so much vitriol when there were so many other potential things of substance to discuss? who chose to wear schiaparelli’s signature shocking pink? what worked, the over the top designs or the more demure ones? the hommages: well-done or too hokey?

i took to twitter and of course discovered i’m not alone in wanting to consume fashion (at least visually) without having to confront body hate and mean-spirited comments everywhere i turn. jenny zhang was briefly the fashion commentator at jezebel, and talked about her own struggles with facilitating that environment, as someone who identifies as feminist:

For a while, I was writing red carpet commentary for Jezebel, and I always felt too mean or not mean enough or not quippy enough or not discerning enough or too judgmental. It’s hard to write meaningfully about fashion! At least it is for me.

and i hear her. we fall into the trappings of “oh my god, she wore THAT?!” partly because it’s so effortless, but also because it’s so pervasive. it’s everywhere we turn. not only that, it’s ridiculous gendered, almost always heteronormative, often racist (if not completely whitewashed) – and overall unproductive and boring in my eyes. if you missed it, i wrote an article mapping out my feelings around those issues last year.

it’s so easy for me to feel as though i’m the one in the wrong, because i feel as though i’m in the minority. it’s easy to feel as though i should just accept that catty rude comments about people’s bodies are par for the course when it comes to talking about fashion. that i’ll always have to start conversations about my interest in fashion and art by defending that fashion can be art, since most people’s perception of the word “fashion” is a vacuous and mean-spirited one.

for me, framing my blog as a “critical take on fashion culture” is the most direct way i can challenge these notions. people know if they come to my blog they won’t see me writing about fashion in that way.

self-portrait by mccall johnson

i’m trying to remember why i write here. why i’ve been trying to create this space and foster dialogue around feminism and fashion for years. even though there are more and more of us these days, we still have to defend the very basic premise that you can be interested in fashion AND be a feminist. i’m really looking forward for the day we can put those conversations to bed, and move forward.

i should pride myself on my extensive knowledge of fashion and art, not laugh it off.  if i’m less worried that people will interpret my interest and affection for fashion as frivolous or anti-feminist, than maybe i can finally get to that point. let’s trade in shame for pride, stop being belittled and start being empowered. i’m done with the defenses. let’s keep talking about how to challenge oppressive ideologies we see operating in the fashion world we are already a part of.

recommended reading:

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Filed under fashion, self-portraits, Uncategorized, vintage