Category Archives: pop culture

currently: the uncompromising eartha kitt

eartha kitt with kittens

eartha kitt with kittens by gordon parks, 1952

a hotly anticipated new batman movie just came out, and everyone is still going on over whether or not anne hathaway was the right casting choice to revisit the role of catwoman. it happens any time a film touches a cult character, especially one that has spanned many decades and mediums… personally, i have yet to see the latest incarnation of catwoman in this film so i can’t judge.

Eartha Kitt as Catwoman c. 1960’s

Eartha Kitt as Catwoman c. 1960’s

in the meantime, however, many people have taken advantage of this batman pop culture moment to reflect on the various women who have been catwomen over the years, such as julie newmar. another one of the very first actresses to be cast as catwoman is the inimmitable eartha kitt. while she only took on the role for three episodes during the batman television series, her performance captivated audiences and remains iconic to this day.

every once in a while, i see a fantastic photo of eartha kitt pop up on tumblr. lately, it’s been a become more of a steady stream… here are just a few of my favourites that really showcase her style in the 1950s and 60s. i hate to be the kind of person who only posts photos of when an actress when she was young, but what can i say, i’m a sucker for 1950s fashion! there are some great ones from later eras you can find yourself, but i simply had to share my favourites.

Eartha Kitt, Amsterdam, Netherlands, c. 1962. by Ben van Meerendonk.

Eartha Kitt, 1952 by Gordon Parks

Eartha Kitt, June 1952, photographed by Gordon Parks for LIFE magazine

Eartha Kitt in New York City, June 1952, photographed by Gordon Parks for LIFE magazine

this entire photoshoot of her by the incredible photographer gordon parks is unbelievably charming!

Eartha Kitt, June 1952, photographed by Gordon Parks

Eartha Kitt, June 1952, photographed by Gordon Parks

Eartha Kitt dances during Dizzy Gillespie’s set at the Newport Jazz Festival (1954)

Eartha Kitt dances during Dizzy Gillespie’s set at the Newport Jazz Festival (1954)

eartha kitt photographed by carl van vechten, 1952

photographed by carl van vechten, 1952

uncredited/date portrait of eartha kitt (1950s?)

Eartha Kitt in Hamburg, 1950. Photo by Susanne Schapowalow.

but you know hear at à l’allure garconnière, i’m not about style over substance – eartha kitt had both in spades.  while i admire what eartha kitt wore, her words and acts speak volumes. she was a fiercely independent strong woman who spoke out against injustice. keep in mind she was all of these things at a time when being an outspoken black woman didn’t help already quite limited career opportunities.

In 1968, during the administration of US President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kitt encountered a substantial professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. Kitt was invited to the White House luncheon and was asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.”

During a question and answer session, Kitt stated:

“The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons — and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson — we raise children and send them to war.”

Her remarks reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to a derailment in Kitt’s career. The public reaction to Kitt’s statements was extreme, both pro and con. She  became publicly ostracized in the US.

she was also one of the earliest public figures to speak out against apartheid in South Africa. in researching her life online, i’ve also learned she faced discrimination for being light-skinned and mixed-race. her mother was african-american and cherokee, and her father was white. there is also a great biography of her over at classic vintage with a twist if you’re interested in finding out more.

Eartha Kitt for the Hill District Renewal Program, May 1966.

Eartha Kitt for the Hill District Renewal Program, May 1966. Photographed by Charles “Teenie” Harris

photographs can’t even begin to capture the energy and vivacity she had. take the time to watch this amazing video of her:

i hope you learned something new about an amazing woman!

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Filed under currently, fashion, pop culture, Uncategorized, vintage

recommended reading: on self-portraits

ode to tamil

ode to tamil (self-portrait) by julia caron

over the years, i’ve made it quite clear i have a particular fondness for self portraits. initially, i was drawn to many images i’d come across in art books, visual arts classes, and museums, without even realizing my favourites were, more often than not, self portraits. francesca woodman, frida kahlo, and cindy sherman come to mind as artists that made a huge mark on my life, my aesthetics, and my own (quite limited) photography. it was only over time and personal curiosity that i came to learn they were all self-portraits. cindy sherman’s untitled series, woodman’s ghostly incarnations, and frida kahlo’s powerful paintings are all reflections and representations of themselves… or at least, of a certain aspect of themselves.

a self-portrait taken by eve arnold in the 1950s

Eve Arnold, Self-Portrait in a Distorted Mirror, 42nd Street, New York, 1950.

for some reason over the past week, i’ve come across many a link which has forced me to revisit and remember what it is i truly love about self-portraits. eve arnold, an influential photographer, passed away last week. while most people quickly started circulating her portraits of marilyn monroe, i took a moment to revisit her work. it is startlingly curious to see which photographs we remember her for, and why. i was surprised to see how beautiful this “Self-Portrait in a Distorted Mirror, 42nd street, New York” was, which i’d never come across before. when we google image search her name, marilyn monroe’s face comes up before hers. how sad.

to top it off, i’ve also come across two fantastic articles on self-portraits. let’s start with wayne bremser’s reflections on the most popular photographs of 2011. it quickly shifts gears from a “best of” type list into a thoughtful reflection on fame, portraits, and consent. the contrast of a famous celebrity’s leaked nude self-portrait contrasted with a relative unknown woman’s posthumous self-portraits makes this point quite clear. this is the line that really struck me:

Vivian Maier was the least famous person in the world, the self-portrait was the only way to document her own existence; nobody else was going to do it for her.

there’s something brutally honest about that statement; for those of you in the known about vivian maier, you’ll known she’s the “unknown woman” whose life and photography came to light only after her death. the spotlight shone brightly on her work in 2011, so it is fitting that her images are part of the most important and memorable of the last year, even though most were taken many decades earlier. i strongly recommend reading the article in its entireity, as i think bremser has touched on something that most other photography “best of 2011” lists missed altogether in their pandering to the status quo and propaganda machines.

vivian maier - self-portrait, 1960

Vivian Maier, Self-Portrait, 1960

a day after coming across that article, i found this one while trying to find proper credit on tumblr for this image. Mirrors, Masks and Spaces: Self-portraits by Women Photographers in the twenties and thirties by Herbert Molderings & Barbara Mülhens-Molderings totally made my saturday. i printed it out and poured over it while drinking an afternoon cup of tea… here are some of the passages i underlined:

The woman’s break with her oppressive pre-war image, her new liberties and her new vocational prospects, the shape and scope of which were still extremely unclear, found expression in the multitude of self-portraits taken by female photographers of the 1920s in an attempt at defining and asserting their new identity.

can i get behind that? fuck yeah. there is a lot in this article of the flapper “garçonne” persona of liberation and the direct correlation of the desire to document ones face, ones self. the power of being able to be both creator and subject is something that has infinitely appealed to me over the years, and i am endlessly grateful for the self-timer function on digital cameras for allowing me to explore that. but for someone like myself, born in 1985, to reflect on what it meant for the very first female self-portrait photographers and artists in the 1920s and 30s? wow, how eye opening.

a self-portrait taken by Marianne Breslauer, « Die Fotografin » , 1933

Marianne Breslauer, « Die Fotografin » , 1933

In a self-portrait taken in 1933, undoubtedly the most erotic self-portrait of a woman photographer of the 1920s and 1930s, this Berlin photographer (Marianne Breslauer) poses, with her cable release in her hand, as a young woman obviously skilful at the game of concealing and revealing. She has deliberately opened her fashionable, fur-trimmed housecoat in order to view her beautiful naked body on the ground-glass screen of the camera. As she is standing to one side of the mirror, her face is hidden by her hair, heightening still further the subtle eroticism of this photograph. Her gaze into the viewfinder of the camera, as though refusing to look herself and, by the same token, the imagined viewer in the eye as she performs her exhibitionist act, seems modest and outdated compared with the erotic self-portraits of women photographers today.24 At once narcissistic and voyeuristic, this self-portrait is less an occupational portrait of the kind intended for publication – we know of no publication of this photograph prior to 197925 – than a private study of a young woman photographer using her professional skills to explore, and take delight in, the eroticism of her appearance.

i’m not going to lie, this definitely put me in mind of some of my own attempts (and failures) of playing with that erotic gaze in the self-portrait… the vast majority of which i have chosen not to share with anyone. but it is powerful to think that what seems like such an innocuous, tame image today went unpublished (and perhaps unseen) for over forty years, because it was too scandalous? because it was always intended to be private? in the era of taking photographs with cell phones and instantly sharing them online, tweeting them with instagram, this seems unheard of. but another aspect this put me in mind of were some of the questions i asked when writing about katie west‘s nude self-portraits back in 2010. why are women, especially young women, so overwhelmingly shamed and judged when they choose to share nude photographs of themselves online… even if they are the ones creating those images themselves? contrasting the digital era of self-portraits with the social mores of the 1930s is definitely intriguing, to say the least.

how many of these photographers were mostly taking photos for themselves? how many, like vivian maier, probably never thought they would have an audience of thousands, even millions? reading and reflecting on all of these questions has already been quite fruitful for me… but i still feel like most of my ideas are a bit half-baked. one day, i’d like to get to the point where i can reflect on the role fashion bloggers and “what i wore” outfit documentors play in the evolution of the self-portrait, of the digital camera as a mirror… but i think my brain has got a lot of digesting to do before it can help me articulate what i mean by the political implications of those things. in the meantime, my heart will jump a little bit each time i see a beautiful self-portrait or read an amazing article reflecting on just what self-portraits can mean. i hope you enjoy them as much as i did.

may 2010as always, click the photos for credit and sources.

recommended readings:

navel gazing:

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Filed under currently, pop culture, self-portraits

2011 in review

for those of you who have been following my adventures via livejournal for the past decade, you know i’m quite fond of taking the time to look back and reflect on the last year this time of year. it’s not so much about “the new year” for me, but moreso about taking stock of what i’ve accomplished in my private life in semi-public ways… my birthday is on the 26th of december, and one of the (few) advantages is that i feel more like i’m reflecting on my year than a compulsory calendar year pros/cons list, you know? i usually do that in friends-locked posts on livejournal, but this time around i thought i’d make a more “public” version.

on top of that, i’m also finding that as social media grows and changes, in the era of endless scrolling and constant connectivity, it’s really hard to find links you’ve shared over the year. so this is a combination of a personal archive for me and a best of the year for you! get ready! it’s a doozy. i’ve tried to keep it as fashion focused as possible, but you should know by now how all of my interests run into and over each other. enjoy!

january 2011

january

  • my best femme iris came to visit ❤
  • delicious food and fun craft nights with sarah
  • celebrated my belated birthday with some of my all-time favourite people
  • went to visit simon’s aunt and uncle in their beautiful home in the country, walks in the woods

recommended reading:

  1. What is Glitter Politic? by Majestic Legay (january 11th, 2011)

february 2011
february

  • tried lots of winter survival tips, like writing letters and making mulled wine
  • had my fantastic family come visit for carnaval in quebec city
  • participated in fa(t)shion february

recommended reading:

  1. fa(t)shion february and unfashionability by j. bee at sassyfrass circus (February 1st, 2011)
  2. living single at crunk feminist collective (February 7th, 2011)

march 2011
march

  • played with the new 35 mm holga camera karina gave me (as pictured above and in april, may, june, july photos)
  • went to the sugar shack!
  • really really wanted to chop all my hair off
  • read a whole lots of zines

recommended reading:

  1. Helpful tips: How not to be a boorish body-policing jerk by Leslie Kinzel (March 22nd, 2011)

april 2011
april

  • torn between my desire to devote myself entirely to writing and journalism… and being paid a living wage.
  • bike rides and visits to lévis to see sarah
  • thinking a lot about apartment renovations
  • working really hard!

recommended reading:

  1. On Punk Pants: Duration, Devotion and Distinction by mimi thi nguyen at Threadbared (april 4th, 2011)
  2. passive aggressive status updates: a fine example of girl hate by amber forrester at fight boredom! (april 27th, 2011)
  3. I was here then i wasn’t here then i went somewhere then i came back then i went away then i came back and now i’m going again to paris to read books and be alone by Jenny Zhang at Fashion for Writers (April 27th, 2011)

may 2011
may

  • visited my sisters in ottawa
  • saw austra and bumped into an old friend from 8th grade! isabelle!
  • met amber at slutwalk in montreal
  • hahaha “planked”

recommended reading:

  1. The Faux Vintage Photograph by Nathan Jungerson at The Society Pages (May 11th, 2011) *** this may be my favourite piece of non-fiction writing of the year****
  2. Slutwalk March or not march by Harsha Walia at Rabble (May 18th, 2011)
  3. Things to do if you are a hustling class artist or other person with no trust fund or much of an economic safety net by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (May 23rd, 2011)

june 2011
june

  • launched three major projects i had been helping work on since the fall
  • fell in love with biking once again
  • was kind of bummed about sarah leaving, but decided to make the best of it
  • took so many rolls of film!
  • spent a lot of time thinking about and planning a certain incredible event

recommended reading:

  1. Pointing out small-scale problems at better living through beyoncé (June 3rd, 2011)
  2. Understanding Vancouver’s Hockey Riot by Dave Zirin at the Nation (June 16th, 2011)
  3. Communities of care, organizations for liberation by Yashna Maya Padamsee (June 19th, 2011)
  4. wedding day as a celebration of love, not of coupledom by me at simon et julia (June 21st, 2011)

july 2011
july

  • left my job at exmuro feeling satisfied and accomplished
  • chopped off and donated 14 inches of my hair
  • made my very first radio documentary on that very subject
  • had dinner with and was reinspired by neil bissoondath

recommended reading:

  1. Sustainable Style Series via jesse anne o (july 26th, 2011)

august 2011
august

  • had the most incredible party of my life aka got married!
  • saw so many wonderful people, morgan, my sisters, everyone
  • slow danced with nicole brossard
  • went for a roadtrip in the eastern townships

recommended reading:

  1. Moving toward the ugly: a politic beyond desirability by Mia Mingus at Leaving Evidence (August 22nd, 2011)

september 2011
september

  • started working nearly full time in radio + loved it
  • beginning of my weekly writing dates with karina at librarie st-jean
  • biked 60 km with simon!
  • went without power for nearly eleven days (!!!) after post tropical storm irene

recommended reading:

  1. An Open Letter to my local Hipstersby Sarah Hunt at Media Indigena (September 20th, 2011)
  2. Urban Outfitters is obsessed with Navajos by Adrienne Keene at Native Appropriations (September 23rd, 2011)
  3. Unintentionally Eating the Other by Minh-Ha T. Pham at Threadbared (September 12, 2011)
  4. Antifeminist Frills by Eline at A Fluffy Blog (September 22, 2011)
  5. Fashion is a feminist issue by Greta Christina (September 2nd, 2011)

october 2011
october

  • celebrated karina’s birthday
  • first halloween in ages i didn’t dress up (i was sick & busy)

recommended reading:

  1. Occupy Together in the age of conspiracy by Syed Hussan at Rabble (October 13th, 2011)
  2. Fauxgress Watch: “Born this way” by Rachel at Social Justice League (October 10th, 2011)
  3. An Open Letter to Urban Outfitters on Columbus Day by Sasha Houston Brown at Racialicious (October 10th, 2011)
  4. Fat babes illustrated by Natalie at Definatalie (October 23, 2011)

november 2011
november

recommended reading:

  1. Not every girl is a riot grrrl by Lindsay Zoladz (November 16th, 2011)

december 2011
december

  • visited trenton for the first time of the year
  • took a lot of time for myself
  • said goodbye to my best friend karina as she headed off to sudbury
  • celebrated my champagne birthday with lots of sequins and glamour and fun

recommended reading:

  1. Why the “Native” Fashion Trend is pissing off real Native Americans by Lisa Hix at Collector’s Weekly (December 1st, 2011)
  2. Make your own stuff by Maranda Elizabeth (December 3rd, 2011)
  3. “Hello, I Love you” or “Why Fashion Blogging Smells like Raw Fish” by isabel at hipster musings (December 23rd, 2011)

phew! what a year. a new pair of glasses, three haircuts, tons of babes and incredible amounts of personal challenges and accomplishments. it took me way longer than anticipated to put that together. i’ll be sharing my favourite music of the year elsewhere in the next month or so, and best things i’ve read/seen in 2011 but i think those articles should sate your palates for the time being.

what were some of the best things you read or saw this year? i love lists! share yours with me. here’s one of my all-time favourites:

Woody Guthrie’s 1943 “New Years Rulin’s.” Found in one of his journals dated January 31st, 1942.

Woody Guthrie’s 1943 “New Years Rulin’s.” Found in one of his journals dated January 31st, 1942.

goodbye 2011! hello 2012!

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Filed under politics, pop culture, Uncategorized, vintage, what i wore today

Expecting a bit mo’ from Movember

The month of November has drawn to a close, and with it, Movember’s legions of moustachioed folks end their campaigning… not only will the sightings of moustaches drop significantly, but the amount of times I am asked what i think of the “awareness” campaign will hopefully taper off.

Ah, what a lovely, complicated, recurring question. I had planned on responding to it myself, but before I knew it my badass friend Iris had already tackle the issue quite succinctly. In her editorial “Mo Awareness, Mo Problems” she covers everything from the very heteronormative narrow approach to addressing men’s health issues to the badass moustachioed folks ignored in Movember’s hall of fame. But don’t let me speak for her, read it yourself:

A large portion of the money raised by Movember goes to Prostate Cancer Canada, which is funding some extremely worthwhile initiatives, but some of this cash goes back to Movember itself, which seems to be paying largely for slick graphic design and gimmicky branded merchandise.

While I don’t want to minimize the importance of cancer research, I have my doubts about whether Movember is the best vehicle for a men’s health movement. Though popular, “moustache awareness” has been marketed so strongly that the causes it stands for can seem like an afterthought.

screencap of the movember website that reads "merchandise"

screencap of the movember website that reads “merchandise”

If you look hard enough on the Movember website, past the ads for beer, motorcycles, and razors, you’ll find that the campaign encourages men to get physical exams, eat healthier diets, stop smoking, and drink in moderation. But rather than using their marketing dollars to make it cool for men to eat salads, the Movember website unhelpfully tells you the volume of beer that a one-month old moustache can absorb.

It doesn’t talk about access. Movember imagines that men don’t go to doctors because they “just can’t fit it into their schedule.” The campaign assumes that the largest barrier to health care access is men’s reluctance. This ignores other significant factors, like the availability of healthcare or insurance coverage; the ability to see a queer or trans-positive healthcare practitioner; the ability to access healthcare in your first language, or if you work a night shift, or a variety of other reasons including the accessibility and affordability of healthy foods.

It’s cisnormative. Movember’s prostate cancer focus has expanded to encompass “men’s health awareness” generally. Still, not all men have prostates. Cervical cancer is also a “men’s health” issue –checkitoutguys.ca does an awesome job of providing info for trans guys who need paps. There are also lots of guys – trans and cis alike – who can’t grow facial hair, but that doesn’t make them less manly.

It’s heteronormative. The moustache plays a huge role in queer style and iconography, but Movember’s celebrity Hall of Fame is super straight (Dr. Phil, Mr. Potato Head, Ned Flanders, Ron Jeremy), except for Freddie Mercury. Where’s John Waters? Tom of Finland pinups? Le Tigre’s JD Samson? (Julia adds: Frida Kahlo!)

The Movember campaign also explicitly argues that moustaches are sexy, without ever acknowledging queer sexualities and relationships. The website’s “Mo Facts” include statements like “Women are more attracted to men with Mo’s.”

This absence is especially conspicuous in a campaign that focuses on prostates. If the aim is to get men to get annual physical exams, it would be especially useful to lessen the perception that someone’s finger in your ass (whether that finger is your doctor’s or your lover’s) is an experience to be avoided. No homo, right bros?

It misses opportunities to debunk sexist ideology. The idea that only men have moustaches is propped up by a lot of sexist marketing and patriarchal bullshit. Ask any woman who has bleached, shaved, waxed, or lasered her face – or who has felt pressure to do so. Women with facial hair have been displayed as “freaks” in circuses. Movember dismissingly mentions that “some Eastern European” women have moustaches, which is a harmful stereotype in itself. Check out J. Bee’s “Femme a Barbe” zine for more on women & other bearded gender outlaws.

Movember (somewhat defensively) states that men are “indifferent” to their health and need to step up their game to catch up with the “women’s health movement”. Of course, the underfunding of necessary programs or research relating to anyone’s health is a situation that should be improved.

Still, the framing of this conversation leaves out larger discussions about gender and healthcare that would likely be more effective than the “men are scared of hospitals” model that Movember uses. There is a “women’s health movement” because historically, women weren’t included in medical studies and so research regarding their health was underdeveloped. For instance, the symptoms of a heart attack are different for cis women than cis men.

As well, women’s bodies are often pathologized as unwell and treated as public. Women are pathologized as being sick even when the symptoms are often due to their social location – we don’t have “hysteria” anymore, but we do have similar stigma about shit like PMS. Men, especially typically masculine, macho, “bros” like the ones targeted by Movember, are thought to be by definition healthy and normal. It’s good that Movember aims to discourage the “it’ll all be alright” attitude, but it seems unlikely to be effective without also critiquing the “bro” stereotype.

It centres white dudes. When Jarvis was on campus scouting for Mo Bros, he told us that after hours of looking, he found an overwhelming number of participating white guys and very few POC participants. The official Movember website is similarly problematic, though they do sell licensed Snoop Dogg t-shirts.

It leaves out environmental factors. Healthy lifestyles are important, but can only do so much. Curing cancer for good will likely involve pressuring governments for better environmental regulations that limit the use and exposure of carcinogens beyond what individuals can do on their own.

What do you think? Personally I think she’s hit the nail on the head (but I’m biased seeing as she is my best friend).

While i’m on the topic of moustaches, though, here are some more awesome links:

Majestic Legay posted this video on November 1st of this year. So much of what they had to say rang true for me, namely being a “hairy french canadian” and getting teased. I don’t quite remember exactly when I stopped removing facial hair, but suffice to say these days I’ve embraced the little face fuzz I do have. I think it is slightly linked to the first times I did drag, where I had less work to do to highlight my sideburns, eyebrows, etc. It’s different for everyone, but I think we spend far too much time and effort hiding our facial hair and avoid conversations about it like the plague. Perhaps critical folks can reclaim movember to start discussions around how hypergendered facial hair is? and admire the badass femmes and queers who fuck with those notions around the attachment of moustaches and beards to traditional notions of masculinity? That is a campaign I can get behind.

majestic moustache


Two of my favourite moustachioed babes, majestic legay and jessie dress (founder of fa(t)shion february)

No Shave November No Matter Your Gender
art by katy did not

In the end, I can’t really write off Movember entirely. It’s got some real good aspects, and as a fan of moustaches on people of all genders and presentations, I personally can’t complain about the increase in sightings. I just think there’s a lot of work to be done before it’s something I can enthusiastically support. When we can start talking about cancers without having to brand them as girly! pink! = breast cancer and moustaches! virile! rugged! = men’s health/prostate cancer, I’ll be one happy camper. Until then, though, I’ll high-five these badass critical folks like iris, j. bee, and majestic for their insights and awesome work.

RECOMMENDED READING:

UPDATED IN 2013

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Filed under body hair, pop culture

style icon: silent film star louise brooks

over the years, many people (online and off) have asked me who my style icons are. i don’t really like idol/hero/celebrity culture, and so i’ve always managed to avoid answering the question. plus, i always prefered admiring “real people’s” styles, like my friends, as opposed to celebrities i’d never met (who more often than not have a team of stylists orchestrating how they present themselves) and consider my own personal style a mishmash of influences… but! if we re-word it, i can make it work for me. if someone asked me, “which historical figure has had the biggest influence on your taste, style and aesthetics?” there are three or four faces that come to mind.

one of them is louise brooks.

you may not know her name, but you most likely know her face… or at least her trademark bobbed haircut. there is, of course, debate around whether or not silent film stars like colleen moore and louise brooks can be credited as having “started” the trend of the bob, or if they are simply responsible for having popularized an already quite popular hairstyle… but that’s another story.

louise brooks was born in 1906, in cherryvale, kansas. as a young woman, she loved literature, dancing, and the cinema, and soon all three would become major parts of her life. she worked as a dancer before lighting up the silver screen, and after she ended her acting career, she opened her very own dancing studio. as she aged, she continued longstanding letter writing friendships with friends and fans. but that is just a small window into a long, full life. she is probably most remembered for her role as lulu in G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box, which also happens to be one of my favourite films.

i could go on and on about her, but i’d rather recommend you watch her films and read up on her yourself. personally, i’ve been smitten with her since i first saw her on the screen when i was in my late teens, and soon after came across barry paris’ biography of her. i wouldn’t quite call it love at first sight, but i quickly realized it was more than her gaze and her face that so entranced me.

Louise Brooks autographed picture- “Dear Winston- These earrings are a bit extreme-even for the 1920’s.” “I wish I still had that bracelet. I adore that dress-such an interesting pattern. Sincerely Louise Brooks”part of the deep fondness i have for louise brooks is that she was such a intelligent, whipsmart, and yes, gorgeous, person… over the course of her entire life. in fact, the most interesting aspect of her, in my opinion, is her life as a whole, not just the short decade in which she was a celebrity. many writers bemoan the fact her acting career was so short lived, but if you hear what she recounted in hindsight in the 60s and 70s, she never sounds bitter or angry about it. hollywood wasn’t a particularly friendly place for outspoken and badass ladies (then, and we could argue even still, today). instead of just moping about it, she lived the rest of her life, opened a dance studio, watched movies, read, and wrote. independent, savvy, passionate, unapologetically sexual, brimming with wisdom and wit. this autographed photo shows a bit of that side of her. signing autographs in 1979 for a picture taken in the 20s, and being nostalgic in a healthy way, all the while acknowledging she was always a bit of a black sheep, a little ahead of the curve.

and that’s why her style, the photographs of her short career, have entranced me so. here are just a few of my favourite louise brooks outfits.

film still from pandora's box, 1929, g.w. pabst

i don’t know what it is, there’s just something about her i’ll always admire and hope to one day emulate myself. maybe it doesn’t need explaining. so obviously, over the years, i’ve tried in vain to emulate brooks. unsurprisingly, i jumped at the first chance i got to do it for others. back in 2007 i participated in amelia raley‘s vintage vivant project. one of the assignments was to take a “star portrait”:

Submit a photo of yourself that mimics a photograph or artwork from 1920 – 1949. Include one portrait of yourself, and the original photo you’ve based your submission on.

julia posing as louise brooks

it’s not quite perfect, but i’m still pretty proud of how it turned out.

clearly i’m not the only critical fashion lover enamoured with her, either! one of the folks over at the always wonderful WORN journal even shopped up this image of her:

aaaaaaand i’ll leave you with this lovely gif. how can you resist that smirk?

a .gif of louise brooks looking queer as fuck. hot damn that smirk/smile of hers!

happy birthday, louise!

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what did kate wear: royally reinforcing gender stereotypes

i expected a lot of things when i moved to québec city. among them included: longer winters, lots and lots of french, gorgeous centuries-old trees in the middle of an historic city, a harsher job climate for a semi-bilingual person such as myself.

québec city in january 2009

two and a half years later, i am now fluent in french (only have a slight accent and make fewer and fewer mistakes) but still forget some québécois cultural standards. around this time of year, i’m reminded of the little things that add up: st-jean baptiste as “la fête nationale” on june 24th, everyone getting a day off. also, that july 1st is moving day in this gorgeous province, not “canada day” as it is known in the rest of the country.

one thing i hadn’t been told about (and hadn’t even thought about) was that québec is a very anti-monarchist/royalist city.

in early june, i was reminded of this fact when i saw these posters popping up around my neighbourhood. the posters read “William dégage!” (William, go away!) and feature an image of a married couple sitting atop a crown. information about where to protest was featured prominently below, and all were welcomed to join.

if you had your television/radio/internet turned off in early july, you may be wondering, william who? but if you’re canadian and consume mainstream media, you’ve most likely been aware that the “royal couple” had a 9-day visit to canada and continued with a short trip to the united states. and if you live in the province of québec, you probably know about that bunch of people weren’t very happy that the royal couple was in their neck of the woods.

when it was announced that the royal couple would not only visit Ottawa, the symbolic nation’s capital on Canada Day, but also Québec, Prince Edward Island, Yellowknife and Calgary, reaction in Québec was swift. a member of the national assembly, Amir Khadir, pointed out the absurdity of paying millions of (tax-payer) dollars for non-elected officials to basically have a fully paid honeymoon across the country. he even went so far as to call them “parasites” and was one of few public figures to publicly question the role that the British royal family plays in Canadian politics. a small group of separatists, the Réseau de Résistance Du Québec planned to protest their visit (but really, kate and will shouldn’t take it personally, as this has happened many times before).

so, what does this have to do with fashion? at first glance it would seem like not a whole lot. but when we scratch the surface, an interesting picture emerges. here’s where “hats for kate” come in:

What does a stylish British princess wear when visiting Canada? It’s been 20 years since the last royal visit to Canada by William’s parents, and while much remains the same, a lot has changed. To help relate to Kate’s first official royal destination, we commissioned hatmakers to design high fashion ‘Canadian’ hats for Kate. Because we all love hats!

sounds innocuous enough, right? let’s take a look at some of their creations:

the "maple beatrice" hat from hats for katehats for kate - road to avonlea

the maple beatrice and the road to avonlea, okay! yeah, those might work…

oh, but wait… what’s this? Tar and Feather? To mark the day Canada achieved infamy when a flock of ducks mistook a massive toxic lake in the tar sands for a good place to land… and Bully the Beaver? Canadians are polite, eh? Well, lately, not so much. In fact, from lobbying against EU fuel standards to hindering international climate talks, Canadians are getting downright nasty defending the oil industry.

okay, so perhaps this isn’t just a genuine bunch of milliners trying to get a famous face to wear their goods… but their convincing kate middleton doppleganger might lead us to believe otherwise. hats for kate is hoping to draw attention to the fact that canada’s environment record has gone drastically downhill in the 20 years since the last royal couple visited. they’re also drawing links between UK companies that drill for oil in the Alberta Tar Sands. but with this witty and subversive activist campaign, not only are they sending up the tradition that british royalty have a fondness for hats, they’re calling attention to the fact that, chances are, the mainstream media would write ad nauseum about what kate middleton decided to wear… without ever actually talking about the relationship the UK has to Canada (historically or today).

you might wonder, what does a fashion lover (albeit a critical one) like myself have against talking about a woman’s fashion choices? as i’ve talked about before in my article about red carpet culture, situations like these fuel the illusion that what a celebrity wears somehow gives you an idea of what kind of person they are, and can serve to render them more accessible (or more elite, depending on the desired result). in this case, we are talking about what a rich privileged woman is encouraged to wear, based on politics, neutrality, and of course a team of stylists. the way the media talks about her “clothing choices” propagates the illusion that everyone can look/dress as nicely as celebrities and royality.

but back to hats for kate: what a campaign like this one does effectively is use the royal couple’s recent wedding and tourism adventures around north america as an opportunity to call into the question the complicated relationship between the UK and Canada. unfortunately, across mainstream media outlets, all we heard about in regards to the royal visit was the rantings of celebrity-style accounts from crowd members. when asked why they waited in the rain for hours, the response was more often than not “i just wanted to see them in real life, i only see them on tv.” when journalists held the microphone themselves, they often referred to the “special” relationship the UK has with Canada – the words “former colony” or “British empire” were completely absent.

but now that the royal couple have left canada and the dust has settled, i feel comfortable enough passing a few judgements. Kai Nagata hits the nail on the head with this commentary on what he calls the “Kate and Will Show”:

Wall-to-wall, breaking-news coverage of a stage-managed, spoon-fed celebrity visit, justified by the couple’s symbolic relationship to a former colony, codified in a document most Canadians have never read (and one province has never signed). On a weekend where there was real news happening in Bangkok, Misrata, Athens, Washington, and around the world, what we saw instead was a breathless gaggle of normally credible journalists, gushing in live hit after live hit about how the prince is young and his wife is pretty.

what did canadians learn during the royal couple’s 9-day, $1.4 million dollar visit? what did we hear, over and over and over? oh, they are young! they are handsome! they are nice to look at! the prince landed a helicopter (which you can see here in this incredibly boring video) and kate wore this, this, and this. we hear what the prince did and said, and we hear about how the princess looked.

as always, we see (hypergendered, heteronormative, active=male, passive=female) stereotypes at play in the coverage of the royal visit. we talk about what prince william has to say and do, and we talk about what kate middleton wore. what i find most amusing is that the people behind Hats for Kate had the foresight to know that this is what the media coverage would look like when they put together their subversive campaign. unfortunately i didn’t see it picked up anywhere other than social media networks like twitter and facebook.

in the end, honestly? part of me feels contradictory in even writing about the royal visit; personally i don’t give a rat’s ass about the monarchy, to the point where i like to pretend they don’t even exist (blissful ignorance?). but perhaps when someone types “kate middleton honeymoon visit fashion” they’ll stumble upon this little piece of critical thought and think a bit differently next time round. or hey, it could inspire future activist campaigns. who knows.

THE ROYAL CANADIAN VISIT

ROYALTY AND FASHION

HATS FOR KATE

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what you’ll never find at à l’allure garçonnière: red carpet fashion reviews

as most of you know, i’m on tumblr. for the most part, i like to follow critical feminist tumblrs that often post interesting photography, great quotes, links to interesting fiction and non-fiction, and so on and so forth. i discover a lot of inspirational and amazing things via tumblr. but sometimes, as in the rest of my (internet or everyday) life, there are moments where i feel… shall we say… alienated?

one of those particular times is during what i refer to as “peak pop culture moments:” a long-running television series comes to an end, a celebrity who i have never heard of does drugs and it is a BIG. DEAL, an a-list couple gets divorced, etc. many critical people love their fair share of pop culture, and i’ll give ’em that. that’s cool. i mean, i’m not going to lie; it’s often strange for someone like myself, who doesn’t own a television and consumes relatively little mainstream culture, to see images of mainstream media sandwiched between an audre lorde quote and calls for safe and legal access to abortion services. but it’s cool! i mean no judgement by acknowledging its existence. the point of this post is not to call out feminists who are attempting to marry their love of america’s next top model with their criticisms of the modelling industry and body policing. (all of this reminds me of teresa chun-wen cheng’s zine, dirty (un) feminist secrets).

image of the cover of a zine by teresa chun-wen cheng. it reads dirty unfeminist secrets and is a drawing of an "upskirt" photo

but! what i do want to talk about is what i find potentially most alienating about pop culture. no, it’s not beauty pageants (they seem like this incredible archaic vestige of gender norms and femininity whose allure i cannot deny… plus, have you seen drop dead gorgeous?) no, it’s not that: it’s award shows. more specifically, the red carpet that happens before an awards show.

award show red carpets are perhaps, in fact, the pinnacle of what i loathe about pop culture, and what i cannot for the life of me every bear witness to without feeling ill and generally an overwhelming feeling of alienation. since the golden globes happened earlier in january, and now with the oscars happening today, i know regardless of whether i care or not, i will be seeing what celebrities wore and i keep on trying to put my finger on exactly why they bother me so much… so here is me trying in words.

when the entertainment television shows and blogs were abuzz with who wore what on the red carpet of the golden globes this january, it was martin luther king jr. day in the states. of course, they weren’t only talking about what people were wearing; this year, the most talked about topic was probably how many people host ricky gervais offended with his jokes… and i think some people won some awards for some stuff? but that doesn’t really matter. the stories we talk about after the trophies are handed out, however, are who was wearing what. but this is my problem: people aren’t talking about clothing. rather, more often than not they are actively engaging in really shitty body policing and shaming attitudes that masquerades itself as fashion commentary. and we are the ones consuming it.

[image description: an artistic installation made with pink neon lights. the word "beauty" is spelled out, but the lights blink to light up two words in that one word: "buy" and "eat"] (if anyone knows the name of this artist please let me know!) operations are standing by by jean bevier

the body shaming/policing

for those uninitiated few, the basic premise of the red carpet is as follows: have the stars and creators of hollywood movies arrive so they can be photographed for the press before going into a theatre to watch their movies. this of course has extended to award shows, and expanded from its originally small hollywood publications and radio, to television and the internet. (sidenote: i would source these statements if i could but when you google “history of the red carpet + awards shows” most of what you find is a bunch of celebrity gossip about who wore what. how apropos.) today, in 2011, we broadcast the red carpet on television, and talk about who wore what in as many media as possible. the main commentary is still made by a few paid “red carpet reporters” whose job it is to yell the names of celebrities until they look in their direction, in an attempt to get a moment of their time and find out what brand they are wearing, who did their hair/makeup, and how expensive their jewelry is.

we, the viewer, are encouraged to make judgements about who is the best dressed and who is the worst dressed. there are always, of course, unspoken rules about what clothes are “appropriate” for the red carpet and/or suited to the celebrity’s “body type.” this is where we get into the territory i find murky and uncomfortable.

think about the language used when a joan rivers type is describing what someone is wearing. think about it as you’re watching or reading red carpet coverage of the oscars today. joan rivers is known for being unforgiveably mean when panning fashion choices on the red carpt. in once case, she describes a dress as “fashion birth control” because, of course, women only dress to be perceived as fuckable (by men, of course) ((this is namely my problem with the entire concept of the man repeller but that is another blog post)). not to mention who is assigned to be a red carpet reporter; namely comedians, “celebrity reporters,” and in more recent years (gay) male fashion designers. this propagates a culture where a “reporter”/fashion designer can grope a woman’s breasts without her permission, and it’s alright (well, not quite alright if you actually ask the person who was groped – NSFW link). and of course this is often argued that it’s to “touch the fabric” or see how the dress is built, where it is simply reinforcing the idea that women’s bodies are accessible at all times. for the purposes of my critique, i’d argue that there is very little differentiation made between what a person is wearing and what that person’s body is like or worth, and this touchiness speaks to that question. but also, we must think that using language like, “that dress/that fabric did her no favours,” or “someone with her body type should not wear that cut” is simply policing people’s bodies masquerading as fashion commentary. sure, short and fat people are permitted on the red carpet, but only if they wear things that give the illusion that they are tall and thin.

a picture of anne hathaway on the red carpet in In Style magazine. the title reads "who owned the red carpet in 2010?"

an article that adequately represents this point is sarah nicole prickett’s article in Eye Weekly, January Jones and the slutty double standard. while her article calls attention to how the mainstream media villifies and makes assumptions/shames a blonde white woman’s sexuality based on what she is wearing (not only is she wearing red, but she is showing cleavage! and even sideboob!), i definitely disagree with prickett’s conclusion that it is easier for mainstream media outlets to villify a thin white woman than a “hugely abnormal” body type like that of her co-star, christina hendricks. just another example of how women are consistently pitted against one another; we cannot defend a thin blonde woman from being called a slut without criticizing a large busted woman of being out of control.

actress christina hendricks having a cigar lit by a young man, with the quote "i'd be honored to bring curves back"

reporters like joan rivers and the internet/blog equivalent, go fug yourself.com, set the standard for mean-spirited attacks on what celebrities wear on the red carpet, and often turn them into personal attacks; if helena bonham carter wears two different coloured shoes and have a big hairstyle, not only does she LOOK crazy, she must BE crazy. replace ableist word with a sexist one (slutty, whorey, old, etc.) and the point remains the same. but here’s an interesting twist on this entire discussion: celebrities have very little say in what they wear at public events like these. there are entire teams and industries built around what an a-list actor will wear to what event. which leads me to my next point:

the illusion that what celebrities wear represents who celebrities are.

red carpet culture encourages us to convince ourselves that if we like what an actor is wearing, we like the actor themselves. and this is fair enough; how many people have gotten really excited when making a friend who is not only stylish, but wears the same size shoes as you? so can you imagine fantasizing about that with a celebrity who has endless access to all kinds of high-end fashion designs? we might OMG I DUNNO like share each other’s closests! you could borrow my thrifted lanz dress that sarah jessica parker wore, and i could wear your alexander mcqueen SS05 dress! (don’t even pretend like you don’t wish you could wear a fucking carousel for a dress, you know you want to)

i feel like i totally understand why this happens, and would be lying if i said i didn’t fall into this fantasy camp at times (hello michelle williams, tilda swinton, etc…). but i feel like it is important for us to acknowledge all of the capitalist/industry planning that goes into these kinds of events. but i think it is important not to lose sight of the main reason the red carpet takes place: to set trends, and most of all, to sell dresses.

consumerism/capitalism as fashion/style

the first question red carpet reporters who is wearing what brand. that’s because the viewer is supposed to take note, and suddenly have the amount of money required to purchase a designer dress (not to mention have an occassion to wear it to). okay, fine, that’s an exageration, but it’s not far off. in reality there is an entire industry of high-fashion knockoffs which will pick a handful of the “best” dresses to replicate and sell in department stores. yes, sometimes “the dress of the season” might be a dress from an actual film (most recent example, kiera knightely’s 1930s style green gown in Atonement and all of its knockoffs) but for the most part, this happens on the red carpet. the dress that is deemed “the best” is most often simply the most universally neutral, inoffensive. as soon as the celebrities have paraded down the red carpet, the knockoff industry is sketching out designs and getting ready to peddle those dresses to the future prom queens only a few months away. this is something i could go into at length but i’ll just leave it at that: the red carpet makes money for the fashion industry at many different levels. there is certainly an exorbitant amount of planning that goes into deciding which actress wears what dress, including contracts and free swag and ad campaigns. to me, reducing the fun of dressing up into a business opportunity kind of bums me out. i understand that this is how it works, but i dislike how it doesn’t necessarily present itself as such.

see, i love to get decked out to the nines with my friends and prance around, work it for the camera, tell people it’s Thrift Store Haute Couture circa 2006. and i mean, yeah, i’ve definitely seen garments on the red carpet that i would love to wear myself, and i do quite enjoy the escapism permitted in wearing (or fantasizing about wearing) extravagant, over the top clothes. but when it happens within this specific context, i feel like so much of what it represents is just straight up, inexcusably oppressive. for example, the fact that someone can’t show up with hairy legs or armpits without it being the talk of the town the next day. i have vivid memories of this being ingrained in  my mind as a young girl in the 90s – remember the kerfuffle when julia roberst dared to not shave her armpits (or hell, maybe even just forgot to) and where a sleeveless dress back in 1999? what a shitshow.

Julia Roberts at the London red carpet premiere of Notting Hill, 1999. She is waving to a crowd behind a reporter and we see her armpits aren’t shaved.

on top of enforcing those “beauty” norms (thin, all potentially visible body hair removed, falling within a narrow definition of what is acceptable/appropriate), the red carpet also offers us of a visual showcase that hollywood is white, straight, polished. the sea of white actors, reporters, and handlers on the red carpet is kind of astonishing when we think of the racial makeup of the city of los angeles itself. even worse, when there are people of colour, and when the media talks about the handful of actresses who happen to a colour of skin other than white, the media constantly exoticizes them. “latin siren” sofia veraga “flaunts her famous curves” at the golden globes this year. in fact, i’ve never heard of her purportedly “famous curves.” i have heard she’s the best part of a sitcom called modern family, but no, she is latina so she must be famous for her goddamn curves. think of the way you’ve heard any number of women of colour described on the red carpet; penelope cruz as voluptuous, salma hayek as fiery or sensual, jennifer lopez as bodacious. it begs the question, what is worse? the complete erasure of people of colour in Hollywood, or their constant tokenization and exoticization when they are present?

vanity fair cover 2010

a perfect (terrible) example of how white-washed hollywood is: the cover of vanity fair’s 2010 “new” hollywood issue, the year gabourey sidibe (a fat black young woman) was nominated for best actress at the academy awards.

you may have noticed that throughout this entire tirade (sorry, it’s come to that) that i have not mentioned very many people of the male persuasion. this was not unintentional; it reflects the kind of culture the red carpet breeds. yes, women and men (and people all across the gender spectrum but there is very little place for us to talk about that in a hollywood space) wear clothes, but it seems that it is only “fashion” when it is on women’s bodies. men are present, but they aren’t the main show. of course, we will make a passing comment here and there about male actors’ suits, but it is not nearly in the same vernacular or tone as the way we talk about women’s fashion choices. for the most part, red carpet reporters comments will lean towards the “clueless men of the real world! take note of how great this ridiculously rich celebrity dresses, and take a lesson.” men are given a short passing glance, because at the end of the day it is easier and more socially acceptable (i would even argue socially encouraged) for us to tear down women’s bodies and fashion choices.

it’s just so strangely muddled: we so often argue that “clothes make the man,” that our clothing is an outward representation of who we are and what we’re about. but when it comes to what celebrities wear on the red carpet, it is about what we are being sold. what image is this actress portraying by wearing a plunging neckline? what role should that actor be cast for when he is wearing a very stiff expensive christian dior suit? there are so many other aspects i could get into: the fact that whenever the celebrities are asked their honest opinion, many complain of the discomfort of wearing 4 inch heels, the terrible fear of potentially losing half a million dollars worth of jewelry, how they had disordered eating for weeks beforehand in order to fit into a sample size. the behind the scenes of this fantasy land beauty factory is of course really, really ugly.

aside from that, i just get really grumpy about the way the mainstream media talks about fashion. describing a dress as “romantic” or “elegant.” and seriously, do you EVER describe any of your friends outfits as “breathtaking?” do they look “radiant” or do they positively “glow” when wearing thousands of dollars worth of conflict diamonds? can we just stop? not to mention the way fashion reporters talk about pregnant women’s bodies. for the record! now and forever! may it be established! NEWSFLASH: a pregnant woman’s belly is not a BABY BUMP. IT’S A FUCKING PREGNANT BELLY. if we want to get really accurate about this shit we could call it a FETUS BUMP or a UTERUS ENGORGED BY ITS CURRENT HOUSING OF A FETUS BUMP.

so at the end of this rant, i feel like i can wrap up my feelings in some manner. tomorrow after the oscars, people might ask me, a known lover of fashion, who i thought was the best dressed on the red carpet. i can never answer that question. it doesn’t matter what my answer is. i feel like no matter what i say, i would be participating in a side of fashion i’ve always hated the most: the elite, classist universe of hollywood’s relationship with the fashion industry. that’s it. the reason i dislike red carpet culture so much (and have devoted many hours to writing and researching this article) is because it represents the exact opposite of what i love about fashion. the red carpet sets the “trends” for the masses, dressing an elite largely homogenous group of people in a palatable boring representation of glamour, beauty, and wealth. those “trends” fall into categories such as: strapless, knee-length, beige/”nude”, or the “long sleeve” as is the purported case with this year’s golden globes. to me, that isn’t fashion. that is business. that is capital. what fashion really is to me is revolutionary. it is throwing off the shackles of prescribed trends and the idea that you can (and should) buy style. it is saying fuck you to that. it is representing yourself, your identity, however complex or simple that might be. it is being playful, it is storytelling. and at the end of the day the only thing i feel like a red carpet dress is trying to tell me is that my body isn’t acceptable, my friends bodies aren’t acceptable, i’m too poor to afford to look that good or glamourous… and who wants that? not me.

PHEW. well. if you’ve stayed with me until the end, you deserve a little high-five or something. this is something i’ve wanted to get off my chest for a while now. to end off, i’ll leave it to you, dear patient readers: do you have a way of reclaiming red carpet culture? do you think i’m totally off-base with these critiques? will you be watching the red carpet of the oscars tonight, and what will you get out of it? i’d really like to hear how other people feel about this.

recommended reading:

not so recommended reading/viewing:

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