Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mondo Guerra (Project Runway), Coming Out In A Very Public Way

When my children were young I chose to be at home with them, but needed a source of income.  Enter dance costumes.  I personally created and sewed over 200 costumes a year - all custom fit.  They ranged from metallic sports bras up to tutus, but my forte was working with lycra.  After five years it was time to stop.

I do not miss the unbelievable stress, but I still miss the creative outlet.  To fill the void I often follow Project Runway - not for the awful reality TV dramatics, but to enjoy the creative process. From Post-It dresses to Couture, it's a wild ride and sometimes unique and interesting garments come out of the process.  Season eight of the U.S. show was actually a tough one.  Just way too much drama and designers dissing each other for me, but there was some brilliance shining through that kept me watching. One designer I thought stood out was Mondo Guerra.  I loved his creativity, but was also inspired by his personal journey on the show.  It was unbelievably public in nature and brought a strong message of acceptance in what can be a judgmental world.

Top 3 finishes in episodes 2, 6, and 11
Mondo Guerra, 32, drew me from the beginning.  He started out the season as what I can only call a tortured soul.  It was hard for him to easily mix, mingle and be comfortable in the out spoken group.  You would notice him quietly working in his own space and giving short answers to Tim Gunn.  His personal sense of style could be best described at quirky and the garments he created had that same outside-the-norm flavour with lots of colour and a unique ability to combine strong prints.  For the first several challenges he moved quietly along, but did garner some momentum with two top three finishes.  Then suddenly he hit his stride and found a way to take his unusual aesthetic and give the judges what they were looking for - something new and innovative infused with his own "Point of View".  Starting in episode eight he was the winner of three straight challenges and had another top three finishes in the coming weeks. In episode nine, his winning high fashion look and a ready-to-wear companion piece earned him $20,000 and a L'Oréal Paris ad shot with the two garments. His comment?  “I came from Colorado with $14 in my bank account. Now, I have $20,014.”   How very real and down to earth!

Episode 9 winning garments

Over time he grew more comfortable and became an integral part of the group.  I always
appreciated his work ethic.  Guerra stayed away from the drama and just focused on creating something he was proud of.  It was in episode ten, however, that his strength and determination rose to the challenge. The designers were asked to create an original fabric using HP/Intel technology.  The artwork was to be created from an important moment or time in their life.  The garment could be anything the designers chose, but the textile had to be deeply person. It was during this time that he chose to share with the camera his own story of coming out as a gay person. "I came out to my mom when I was 17 and she told me not to tell the rest of the family and that she wasn't going to tell my father.  I think that's been instilled with me.  I can't tell a lot of people about who I am...I have to be myself and I have to allow myself to let people in.  That's really hard [for me]." The fabric Guerra designed consisted of graphic crosses in a vivid colour palette.  He was totally mum with his fellow designers about the personal nature of the artwork, but those of us watching were let in the loop.

Episode 8 and 10 winners
On the runway it all came to a head.  Nina Garcia mentioned she would love to have understood the inspiration for his fabric. In a life-changing move, Guerra decided to let her know it was inspired by his ten year HIV positive status.  Earlier in the episode, he had privately shared with the audience how he felt about keeping this inside.  "...[My design is] based on a plus sign that represents my HIV positive status.  I have held this secret for ten years of my life. This has been so hard to keep a secret from my parents because I feel guilt and I feel shame. I can't live that way anymore because I'm such a better person than being a coward."  After the revelation Garcia asked him how he felt and his response was,  "I'm free!"  He won more in this challenge than top garment.  He stepped out of the box he had been living in and received in return acceptance as well strong support from the judges, his fellow designers and the TV audience.

Final collection shown at New York Fashion Week

Guerra was one of the finalist who showed at New York Fashion Week.  He did an amazing collection inspired vintage Mexican circus pictures and the Day of the Dead.  Although he did not win the top spot on Project Runway, I think he won the hearts of everyone who watched.  The challenge now is for everyone to let him move beyond that point in time and leave his mark as a designer. We need to let him be freed by that courageous moment, not defined by it.  He has the vision, the talent and the technical skills to bring something new to the table and I will be one of the ones watching and encouraging him to become all that he can be.

For more information visit Mondo Guerra's website at www.lovemondotrasho.com.  (I do have a link to watch episode 10, but it is very slow.  It really is one that is worth watching.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sex in a Cup

 In the VIP room at Vancouver Fashion eZine this last season, Milano Coffee (http://www.milanocoffee.ca/) had set up a station and was distributing free samples to media and designers alike.  I had never been a fan of espresso, but Krisztian Katona (Milano's Director of Business Development) drew me in with the promise to make me something special, maybe with a little Bailey's in it.  Yeah right - but sure I'd try a cup.  After a few minutes I realized the next fashion show was getting ready to start.  I leaned in to say, "No time," but a small, beautiful glass cup of java that smelled delightful was placed in my hands.  One sip and I was sold.  I thanked him profusely and told him it was like sex in a cup.  I stand by that description today.

As everyone knows, I LOVE MY COFFEE.  Take away my wine, my junk food, even my buttered toast, but let me have my morning cuppa or the day doesn't seem right.  Now that I try and focus on writing for the first hour or two every morning, sipping coffee has become an ingrained part of the habit.  While I am not fussy (other than I can't stand instant or extremely weak brew), I do know a good cup when I taste it and the one  Katona brewed me at VFW was really exceptional.  I met a friend at Milano Coffee at 156 W. 8th this week to relive the glory.  As soon as I walked in the door, my Sex in a Cup was already being brewed (by Katona himself) and ready by the time I made it to the counter.  I took that first sip.  It was amazing, but not quite the same - not at the sex in a cup level.  After a little arm twisting I discovered the secret.  I did receive a cup of the La Futura blend, but there was a small hint of Baileys added.

Milano Cafe's Espresso Tasting Bar
Katona sat down for a moment and shared with me what made Milano Coffee special - they blend 7 - 12 different beans in every type of Espresso they roast and eight are "on tap" every day.  As I sipped the cooling coffee I could taste all the underlying and unique notes.  What a new experience.  Usually I just taste coffee, here I could taste the blend of flavours.  As well, the Espresso Tasting Bar sports two of the finest espresso machines in the world - a Scharf espresso extractor and Victoria Arduino's 'Adonis.'  "These two machines represent the genius of two completely different espresso technologies, and when combined with our finely tuned Espresso blends allow our baristas to serve you a diversity and range of taste and sensory profiles nothing short of a revelation!"  Owner Linda Turko came over to hear the VFW story and assured me she could create something very special without alcohol that would give me that same taste sensation.   While I still reserve the label Sex in a Cup for this particular espresso blend touched with a hint of Baileys, I am going to challenge her to brew me that interesting cuppa the next time I am in. If the title fits, the blend will wear it. 

The history of Milano Coffee is covered on their website, so just a short synopsis will be presented here.  "In 1981 during a business trip from Italy, Milano founding father, and coffee visionary, Francesco Curatolo saw the wave of the future....But Francesco’s vision was to bring the coffee tradition and trade secrets of Milan, Italy to the budding coffee capital of Canada – Vancouver – which he did in 1984 when starting Milano Coffee."  22 years later he made the difficult decision to leave the business, but left in the hands of his protege Brian Turko, along with wife Linda and Barry and Colleen Henry.  They have continued the tradition of quality Italian espresso while developing new blends and expanding the business.  One new venture slated for a spring opening is a Milano establishment in Gastown that will have live music and offer specialty coffees in the evening with that hint of alcohol.  Live music and specialty coffees in a Gastown setting? I will be first in line.

As I think of all I learned on this recent visit, this clip from an article in the Vancouver Sun I found on their website brings it all home.  It is an interview with Brian Turko who explains about the quality of their blends.  "...Multi-bean blends to Italians are what single-malt whiskies are to Scots and Milano Coffee has at least nine espresso blends that use 11 different beans.  'All coffees have different characters...It's like a band -- it would be pretty boring if you had five bass players.'...Turko considers his niche to be the top one or two per cent of the coffee market -- with premium blends that sell for about $22 a pound."

That about sums it up.  Quality coffee that has not been overroasted burning away the real flavours, well designed unique blends, notes of flavour you can actually taste and a real commitment to what they do.  It's artistry in coffee.

Friday, November 26, 2010

William Orlowski - A Canadian Tap Icon

William Orlowski walked into his first dance class at the age of ten and found a passion that held true through a long career as performer, teacher and choreographer. He fell in love with tap while watching musicals starring icons such as Fred Astaire and the Nicholas Brothers.  It took five years to convince his mother to let him take lessons, but once he started, he never stopped.  "My dad got me a piece of plywood to practice on and I would practice before breakfast and after school.  My mother had to haul me out of the basement just to go to bed...I couldn't believe the magic."  50 years later there is still that same passion and as well as a wealth of ideas for new projects he would like to develop. His resume includes film, television and stage and over seventy works to his credit. As well, he has toured with Canadian and American orchestras, choreographed for the Shaw Festival and won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards. Time is also spent with the Smile Company, a theatre group that performs for people in nursing homes and hospitals. His philosophy - tap is an art form that should present works of substance performed with effortless technique and strong musicality.

Photo by David Cooper, 1998
In 1969, Toronto was the place to be. High school diploma in hand, Orlowski hit the audition circuit. He remembers, "I lucked out on my first audition and landed Ann Murray's first television special with Glen Campbell." After that it was a series of commercials, variety television shows and musical theatre which he credits with teaching him the skills necessary for a professional career: watching, listening and learning the basics of choreography.  One memory he shares with a chuckle is a Pepsi commercial he worked on. "I'm a butter fingers as anyone will tell you. We were dancing, shaking the bottle and going up and down escalators.  It was really hot. I dropped the bottle and it actually exploded. It got all over everybody's costume."  Following this period of time came the incredible experience of working with Canadian tap pioneers such as Alan and Blanche Lund, Bob van Norman and Jack Lemen – names sadly forgotten by today's dancers.

After seven years it was time for a change. In January 1977, that change turned out to be opening the Hoofer Club (Canada's first dance school dedicated solely to tap) and co-founding The National Tap Dance Company with Steve Dymond. At the time, tap was focused on the old Vaudeville routines. For Orlowski, “I was there to teach tap dancing technique and train dancers for the Company. I wanted to be adventurous and try new things. I had studied with the old timers, but they didn't speak my language.” The first class, no one came, but by the third week classes were over flowing. Articles on the new studio appeared in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail.

Left Photo by the Toronto Star, Right Photo with Leslie McAfee. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann, 1993.
The National Tap Dance Company was scheduled to make its debut performance in December 1977. Two weeks before rehearsals were to start, Orlowski's father passed away. From his grief emerged a new work set to Baroque music – Brandenburg Concerto #3 – a signature piece for the company to this day. Six dancers began sitting in chairs and progressed to flying through the air in split jetes, landing in cramps rolls. It opened to critical acclaim. From this initial success came opportunities to perform with symphonies in Canada, the U.S. and Europe and to represent Canada on international cultural exchanges. Cutting edge work was produced for the company by Orlowski and other top choreographers such as Paul Draper and Barbara Perry. One innovative piece was set to the oral recitation of World War I poetry accompanied by the sound of machine gun fire. Orlowski remembers, “It took the audience by storm because they had never seen or heard Tap Dance used in a dramatic setting. For me it was a natural. I never assumed it was limited in its artistic expression.”

Rehearsals for Stepping Out, Paramount Pictures, 1990.
Apart from the company, Orlowski went on to expand his horizons by exploring opportunities in film, theatre and on TV. He choreographed for films such as Stepping out with Liza Minelli and in 1990 formed his own company, the William Orlowski Tap Dance Projects.  One particularly rewarding time was spent working under director Christopher Newton at the Shaw Festival. “He was gracious with me as a choreographer and allowed me to watch for two days. The actors did not have dance training, so my job was to observe the way they moved as their character in the musical, taking note of Christopher’s direction to the actors.” Early in his career he learned that every dancer is unique in their strengths and bring a different sense of timing to the choreography. Orlowski worked with the actor's natural strengths, encouraging them to stay in character. The rehearsal period was used to develop the dance and be true to their part.  

Reflecting on the tap scene today, Orlowski notes several things. Training is not as extensive as in the past. The emphasis now is on creating short “routines” with a lot of tricks, bypassing the technique required of a professional dancer. He would like to see a return to using barre exercises, which offer students an opportunity to develop muscle strength, and he emphasizes that students should be musically educated and able to read a basic percussion line. Choreography should be adventurous and have substance. Amplified music with vocals needs to be avoided as it limits the experience for both dancer and audience: “Tap is acoustic. The majority of music [used in tap performance] today is electronically amplified. The dancer is forced to compete by stamping louder.” Orlowski also notes, “Educators are encouraging students to emulate what was [too precisely]. An unwritten law in tap dancing is, ‘Thou shalt not copy another dancer’s steps… exactly.’ He would like to see dancers honour the originality the old-timers lived by and use these steps to to build a unique vocabulary that will define our time. “What will tap evolve into? No one can predict.” 

Currently Orlowski is working as a consultant for The National Tap Dance Company as it goes through restructuring. It is in the process of licensing and preserving over 50 choreographic works. By hiring an experienced arts consultant and providing technical dance workshops, the extensive choreographic repertoire will be available to other companies and professiona dancers. He is also co-authoring a much overdue book on the history of Tap Dance in Canada. In closing Orlowski shares his philosphy on dance and creativity for students and professionals alike, “Just do and be brave.”

For more on William Orlowski or The National Tap Dance Company please go to www.williamorlowski.com.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Make Ahead Holiday Dishes

With all of my family living in the U.S. (for fun I always tell people Glen found me in a catalogue and imported me - LOL) and Glen's family woefully lacking women (neither brother married or had children), holiday dinners are definitely at my house.  Thanksgiving I do have a little more time as the season is not fully upon us. I usually bake a ham which is easy and add a few more complicated dishes for fun. Christmas is, however, totally crazy!  Over the years I have honed it down to a science with at least two dishes plus stuffing being made the day before.  The house is also cleaned and the table set the night before.  Christmas morning I just stuff the bird, pop it in the oven and baste it occasionally.  While the last 30 minutes before the dinner hits the table is always busy, I get to spend most of the time enjoying the company and working on the requisite jigsaw puzzle placed strategically on the coffee table.

I have several dishes in my arsenal that are easy to do the day before.  Three only need heating in the microwave and I think taste great (a very subjective thing as not everyone likes everything) and one is prepped the day before and baked. I am not a fan of all the vegetable and yam recipes that have sweet sauces, etc., the normal holiday fare.  The first recipes shared below fit the bill for me - you make them the day before and then reheat in the microwave (or oven if you have room), they are savoury not sweet and simple to put together. The fourth can be fully prepped the day before then just assembled and thrown in the oven that day. The only consideration is oven space.  If you have just one oven filled with a huge turkey, you could be in trouble as you have to bake the green bean casserole at the last minute.  The beet and yam recipes are so simple you can easily add an additional flavour, such as an herb or spice, to reflect your own culinary tastes but try not to mask the flavour.  Try to compliment it.

Please note - all photos are stock photography, not actual pictures of the dishes I make.

Oven-Roasted Carrots - 

I have no idea where I found this recipe, but it's been a lifesaver!  For my grown and extended family I have to make more - usually a recipe and a half (15 LARGE carrots) so you have to increase all ingredients by that amount.  That usually will feed the 8-10 adults I have around the table with sometimes a little left over if you serve 2 vegetables.  It initially looks like a lot, but even carrots get smaller when they are cooked, so be brave.

10         Lg. Carrots cut diagonally into 2" pieces (I like 1" as easier to eat)
3 T       Butter
1 tsp     Anise Seed (this has an unusual slight licorice flavour)
1/2tsp   Salt
1/2 tsp  Pepper
1/2 cup  Orange Juice

Preheat oven to 375.  Put butter on baking sheet with sides (for a recipe and a half you will need 2 that fit side by side in your oven) and place in oven until melted.  Add carrots and stir to coat (another option is to put the carrots in a large bowl, melt the butter, pour over carrots, stir until evenly coated and then place them on the baking sheet).  Sprinkle with Anise, Salt and Pepper and then drizzle with orange juice.  Bake approximately 60 minutes turning at least once (the baking time really depends on how thick the carrots are and the size you cut them so keep a keen on on them).  Remove from oven and transfer to a shallow baking dish to cool.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

The next day let stand at room temperature for one hour.  You can then gently warm them in the microwave or re-heat uncovered in a 325 oven for 30 minutes.  Be sure and stir once while warming.

Oven Roasted Beets - 

From the time I tasted my first pickled beet I have always loved them.  I used to home-can my own.  When we had a vegetable garden I began to enjoy the taste of the natural beet - sometimes called the vegetarian's steak.  Now I love them just roasted with melted butter, salt and pepper so the taste really comes through.  Here it is - easy and simple.  Unfortunately, in this day and age we have lost touch with a few of these really healthy, flavourful choices and it can be a hard sell the first time out.

5     Large Beets
Butter, Salt and Pepper.

Pre-heat oven to 350.  Prick beets with fork and place in oven on foil lined cookie sheet.  Roast until paring knife slides through easily.  Cool, peel and dice (if you don't want red hands use kitchen gloves).  Store in refrigerator in air-tight container.  Bring to room temperature, add melted butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Gently re-heat in the microwave.

Pureed Yams - 

 This is the easiest dish in my arsenal, but one of the more controversial ones as not everyones likes yams or sweet potatos. I think that's the reason that most recipes are full of marshmallows, brown sugar and butter.  I personally prefer yams to sweet potatos.  Yams have a rich orange colour that has plate appeal and more natural flavour than a sweet potato.  My family has learned they are just part of our family's traditional dinner and while most have at least a taste, there are a few that don't.

Several LARGE Yams (depends on the number of people you're having over)
Salt and Pepper

Yup that's it - so easy.  Pre-heat the oven to 350.  Wash and prick yams with fork.  Place on a baking sheet lined with foil (easy clean up).  Bake in oven until the natural sugars carmelize.  What this means is that the juices are running out onto the foil and the yams are VERY soft.  Cool and peel.   Puree in a food processor in small batches with butter to taste (DO NOT OVER PROCESS - pulse just until smooth!).  Season with salt and pepper and put in the refrigerator overnight.  Let stand at room temperature for at least and hour and then gently re-heat in the microwave.

Green Bean Casserole -

I found this recipe on an internet search for a healthier version of this old Campbell's soup favourite I grew up with.  Fortunately I printed it out as I can no longer find this specific link. It's fussier than the other recipes, but can be prepared the day before so that it takes no time on the day of your dinner.  While the canned crispy onion rings are still there, all the other ingredients are fresh.  The day before I make the mushroom sauce, blanch the green beans and process the fresh bread crumbs, then package up.  It takes just a few minutes to assemble that day and pop in the oven. 

Beans and Sauce - 
2 lbs.     Fresh Green Beans, trimmed and halved
3 T        Unsalted Butter
1 lb.       Fresh white button mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
3           Medium Garlic Cloves, minced or pressed
3 T       All-purpose Flour
1-1/2 C  Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1-1/2 C  heavy cream or half and half
Ground Black Pepper

4 slices White bread pulsed in food processor into fresh bread crumbs
            (I used multi-grain and only needed 2 slices)
2 T       Unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp   Salt
Dash     Black Pepper
2 cans   French Fried onion rings (79 grams / 2.8 oz each can)

The day before - 
1. Blanch the green beans in 4 quarts of salted boiling water until crisp tender.  Drain  and plunge into ice water to stop cooking.  Spread beans on paper towel to fully dry.  Store in air-tight container in refrigerator.
2.  Make Sauce - Melt butter until foaming subsides.  Add mushrooms and garlic and cook until mushrooms release moisture and the liquid evaporates - about 6 minutes.  Add flour stirring constantly until well blended and then slowly add cream mixing well as you go.  Simmer until sauce is thickedn and reduced to 3-1/2 cups - about 12 minutes - and then season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cool and store in air tight container in refrigerator. 

The day of - 
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees (watch this, I found it a bit high - top browns before casserole is hot).  Add green beans to mushroom sauce, mix until evenly coated and then layer in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.  Mix topping ingredients and sprinkle over casserole.  Bake until top is golden brown and sauce is bubbling around the edges (about 15 minutes).  Serve immediately.

Note - The only thing I noticed when turning this into a make-ahead dish is that if everything is cold from the refrigerator you might need to let it bake a bit to warm it before putting the topping on.  The topping got brown before the casserole was steaming hot.

If the family is coming to your house this holiday season, give yourself a break and do a few easy things so you have time to enjoy the company.  The food will taste better if everyone is less stressed and you'll be happier you were the host if you actually get to enjoy the day.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Textiles as Wearable Art

Photography courtesy of Ian Sheh - see full credits at bottom

This article I could write in my sleep.  Of the eight years Katherine Soucie has been working as a designer and textile artist, I have known her for over five.  I have written several articles on this amazingly talented individual and have a deep-seated admiration for what she is working to accomplish as designer, artist and socially conscious human being.  It is about so much more than just creating garments to wear.  It is about sustainability, individuality and changing how we view fashion. 

Her collection is called Sans Soucie - without a care.  The first time I heard this it took me a minute to absorb as each piece is very labour intensive to make.   They are, however, effortless in appearance and easy to wear, pack and care for. I have always felt these garments were best shown on dress forms as they were designed with a woman's body in mind rather than hanger appeal.  How many times have you seen something that looked great in the store, but when you put it on it just didn't do anything for you.  Sans Soucie garments are meant to be brought alive by a women's curves so the reverse it true.  You have to take it off the hanger and put it on.  Best of all - your body doesn't have to conform to the shape of the garment, the garment adapts to your shape.  Do I hear a hallelujah?

Soucie was studying textiles at Capilano University when she became aware of the vast amount of waste in the fashion industry and felt her focus as a designer should be to bring about change.  It was the development of a process to stabilize nylons (that's right - women's hosiery) into a usable fabric that led to her current work. “I was given the ability to create my materials from scratch! This gave me complete creative control and allowed me the opportunity to develop something from fabric to finished product.”  She purchases nylons destined for the land fill.  The fabric is stabilized, dyed, silk screened, sewn into basic blocks and then created one at a time on dress forms using straight pins and a pair of scissors.  The palette in each series comes from her life experiences at the time.  Low moments might create a black and white series, while joyful times might bring energetic colour.  The inspiration for a collection's silk screen design can come from a wide range - barbed wire, structures viewed under a microscope, art, etc. 
True to her desire to influence the industry, she does not release a S/S and a F/W line each year (plus holiday and resort wear). A new collection is released about three times a year as a limited run art series because for Soucie, "...fashion is art. In it we find our sense of individuality being expressed...”  As this is a waste product that constantly varies, each series is dictated by what she has available at the time of creation.  “One series I put out may just be dresses because that's what I can produce from the material.  Another might be all interior pieces - blankets and throws.”  She also uses every scrap of fabric so there is no waste.  

Change is also a natural part of Soucie's growth as an artist.  While a Sans Soucie garment is always recognizable, new ideas are constantly being incorporated.  Last year saw a new flow and energy in the collection as she integrated a revolutionary drafting concept, Subtraction Cutting, learned at a workshop by the inventor, renown British fashion designer Julian Roberts. Studies at Emily Carr University on embroidery as a construction technique created a new textural element.   Once a Sans Soucie garment is produced, the designer works hard to make sure it doesn't end up in a land fill.  If your body has changed or if the garment has worn out, she will take it back and find a way to use the fabric to make a fresh creation for your wardrobe. 

Katherine Soucie has moved into the international arena with an invitation to show at Esthetica in London Fashion Week and an internship in Germany.  Her growing influence was also brought home with the inclusion of eight of her designs in new coffee table book titled 1000 Artisan Textiles.  The coming year will see her immersed in work on a study grant, developing workshops, student mentoring, and charity commitments, but the direction she is most excited about is developing collaborations with other artists.  This is here where she thinks the potential for some really amazing new work lies.

For more information on Katherine Soucie and the Sans Soucie line please visit her website at /www.sanssoucie.ca.  To read previous articles in Vancouver Fashion eZine go to - 
Nov. 2007 - http://vancouverfashionezine.com/magazineissue03/fashiondesigner01.html
Photography credits
Photography - Ian Sheh
Hair - Victoria Kuzma
Make up - Kelly He
Model - Olga Glughovska
Accessories - Bronsino Design
Jewelry - CrowBooty
Shoes - Nika Design

Monday, November 22, 2010

Navigating the Autobahn

Is it just me or does anyone else think drivers have become a little crazy lately.  With events and magazine delivery commitments, I do have periods I drive quite a bit and always come home shaking my head.  I really DO NOT want to have an accident.  As we head into winter, driving in general becomes more challenging as we add in slippery roads, earlier sundowns and lots of increment weather.   We don't need an additional hazard such as driver in front of you doing something unexpected.  Here are a few examples - some recent, some not.

1.  A car ahead of me is half-way through the intersection on a green light when they suddenly slam on the breaks and stop dead in the middle of the road.  Fortunately all of us behind them managed to stop in time.  Why?  They decided maybe they should have turned right at that corner.  So they sat there for a couple of minutes in the middle of the intersection while we all honked our horn before deciding to continue straight ahead.

2.  A car just getting ready to cross the two lane Dinsmore Bridge decided maybe they didn't want to go that way and slowed unexpectedly to 5 KM/H while they considered if there was any place to turn - there wasn't.  When they finally decided to cross the bridge where it went back up to four lanes, they couldn't decide whether to turn right or left.  Without any warning they crossed from the right lane, across the centre lane, to get into the left turn lane almost taking out a car trying to get around them.

3.  I was approaching an intersection I needed to turn left at (going 10 km over the speed limit) when a large truck came right up on my bumper.  I was unable to pull over in the right lane as I needed to turn shortly.  In anger they tried to speed around me, but there was a car in the right lane as well.  Somehow they squeezed over almost taking off my bumper (if I hadn't put on my brakes they would have hit me) and got into the left turn lane at the light with me behind them.  There they sat through the green light until it turned yellow, then took off at the last minute so I couldn't make the light.  No this wasn't a teenager - it was a man in his 50's or 60's.

4.  A car in the centre lane with his left turn signal on suddenly turned right across two lanes of traffic at a green light.  No we weren't sitting there, we were all moving at full speed.  More than a few cars had to brake and swerve.

5.  I was at a four way courtesy corner in a residential area where tons of kids were walking to school.  I slowed at the corner to make sure the way was clear and a car blew around me on the left narrowly missing several children.  What was interesting?  It was a driver training car and the person behind the wheel was the instructor who was dropping his daughter off at the elementary school.

6.  Richmond has one of those infamous three lane roads - one lane going each direction with a centre lane you enter only to turn left so you are out of the flow of traffic.  Off and on a few speed racers going way, way over the speed limit (there are at least three school zones on this road) have decided this is actually a passing lane.  Fortunately I haven't had it happen, but more than one parent entering the centre turn lane to drop their kid off at school has almost been rear-ended by one of these idiot drivers.

Oh, the list goes on and on.  We've all made mistakes driving, but when it gets to the point that a serious accident could happen it's time to take a breath.  If you miss a turn, it IS okay to go around the block - consider it an adventure.  Someone has to be mentally ill to think it's a good idea to cross several lanes of traffic to make a turn (especially with the opposite turn signal on) or stop dead in the middle of a bridge or a green light.  And it doesn't matter how late you are running, swerving around cars in a residential area where kids are walking to school will only have one outcome in the long one and it's one you will regret for the rest of your life.  Add in pedestrians that  walk right behind your car while you are backing up or step off a curb without looking, and there are days I prefer to not drive.  Unfortunately that's not always an option.

So today, if you're behind the wheel, try and take a breath.  Leave the aggression at home and go a little more with the flow.  If it takes you an extra five or ten minutes so be it, the world will not end.  Most of all, try not to do something unexpected as those of us in cars around you may not figure it out in time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shave The Children

Every year I commit a number of days to selling copies of the Vancouver Fashion eZine print collectible at charity fund raisers, partly in my mother's honour. For those who do not know, her unexpected passing provided me the ability to financially back the first Vancouver Fashion eZine print collectible.  She was very active in giving to charity, so I find this a great way to honour both that gift and her memory.   In one way it is exhilarating to meet new readers and to be able to make a difference in a more significant way.  In another, it can be very tiring and challenging.  No matter if it is an easy or tough crowd to sell to, I have a job to do and after anywhere from 4-9 hours sitting or standing by my poster and pile of magazine, I am exhausted.

Whether my husband Glen would agree or not, it really is a bit like fly fishing.  You set up what you hope will be an eye catching display (the lure).  When someone's interest is caught, you make the effort to engage them (reeling them in).  There are four possible outcomes from any of these encounters:  they are not interested and walk away, they think about it (sometimes they do come back and purchase), they decide to follow the magazine online or they purchase a copy (landing your catch).  Only when a magazine is actually sold do you help the charity.  Being passionate about what you are selling and the charity does help as it comes through when talking to a potential purchaser. Which charity you're raising money for can also have an effect.  Being able to get the opening line out smoothly is a gift as the day rolls on.  I am reminded of my daughter Danielle who did charity fund raising when living in Australia.  Her favourite faux pas at the end of a long day was, "Have you heard of Shave the Children?"

Over the last year I have had the privilege of raising money for: Big Sisters, Dress For Success, Ronald Macdonald House, Vokra, Vancouver Aquarium, Beauty Night, Starlight, From Grief to Action, Christmas Bureau, Covenant House and more.  During that time I have learned a few things.  There really is no point trying to catch someone's eye if they don't want to look your way.  It's a waste of time for both of you.  I also have learned what a look of polite disinterest is and how to quickly finish so the person can move on.  It is a gift of their time for someone to let you talk when they really aren't interested, so I try and treat that with respect.

The only person I have trouble with is the one who sneers.  Whether I am at a general event helping to raise money or at a market where all the vendors are working hard to cover their booth costs and come out ahead, it is a commitment of our time.  You can politely ignore us and we'll get it.  No need for a further statement.  Other helpful things - a comfortable chair is a god send during a long day, no coffee for 45 minutes before you start and very limited beverages until you finish (I think we ALL know why), food and snacks that can be nibbled between talking to people and flat shoes unless you intend to sit the whole time.  Most important is to maintain that genuine smile and warmth which will draw people to you.  As you get tired, this probably becomes the hardest of all.

Today is the last day of a three day event for me.  At this moment it's difficult to get that energy and enthusiasm up. I also know that this is the day the tongue starts to get seriously twisted and the line doesn't roll out easily.  It's a matter of really digging deep because at the end of the day comes the moment where I get to hand over that envelope of cash.  It's a bit like giving birth.  Not all of the process is fun, but the end result makes it all worthwhile.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Painless Tattoo

One of my favourite outfits to wear bar none is my tattoo shirt and leggings from Wild Rose Tattoo Shirts.  I have always had a bit of the wild child about me and love to startle, but as you get older many of the options to do this just aren't a good choice.  When I was in my 20's everything was backless, slit down to the waist in front, slit high up the legs or super short with a great pair of heels.  That look had to be left behind, so the options to make a statement needed to come from another direction.  Enter tattoo wear - painless, easy to put together and your look can change on a moments notice.  Best of all, I feel amazing when I wear it.

I first met the talented artist behind this line, Susan Setz, when my daughter started modelling at age 16.  Danielle began doing leg modelling for the company's website and over the years expanded that to have several opportunities.  I actually styled a shoot (one of my very few) using these garments that was published in Raine Magazine.  Then I spent a year working part-time in the office.  Setz is a very gifted artist, one of the hardest working business people I know and a truly nice person to boot.  Everyone time I show up at a fashion event in my tattoo outfit it's a hit (I actually have had a few versions over the years but the current is definitely my favourite).  So today I decided to give some background on this hidden Vancouver treasure.

A band that purchased jacettes to wear for their performance
Born and raised in Alberta, Setz honed her business and design skills by running both printing and tailoring businesses.  On moving to Vancouver she spent time in the movie industry doing garment breakdown.  While between jobs she happened to notice the tattoos sported by girls in some music videos.  The tattoos were appealing, the pain and the permanence was not.  An idea blossumed to try and print original tattoo art onto sheer stretch mesh and Wild Rose was born. Setz remembers, "It was a huge learning curve for me, plus the whole computer aspect of it - photoshop - back then I could only send email...I have learned how to be a dye subber and work with knits.  Every knit is different, the warp and the weft, and what you want to do is fit that around the body with no wrinkles.  Where the bends are the shape of your pattern is differnt.  It's a really challenging and wonderful experience."

It took a lot of experimenting to come up with just the right fabric - strong, sheer and non-run so that edges could be left raw to blend in with the skin - as well as finding the perfect dye. Patterns were drafted and adjusted until the garments laid perfectly flat on the body.  Connections also had to be made to artists who could produce original tattoo work, but eventually it all came together.  Copycats have come along, but none have been able to match the quality and originality of the Wild Rose Tattoo Shirts line.  If you hand wash and take care of these garments, they LAST!  Customers are still wearing them ten years after purchase.

Working for Setz for a year let me get up close and personal with the process.  Original art comes in and the designer has to carefully decide which will both appeal to her customer as well as adapt to the shape of the garments.  Any not chosen are returned to the artists and those slated to go into the line are purchased, even if only a small portion can be used.  The artwork is then scanned into the computer and adapted to fit the pattern pieces:  mesh shirts, leggings, single sleeves and jacettes (like a tight bolero).  Artwork is printed onto a special paper using fabric dyes, sheer mesh is cut and then the design is heat set onto the fabric.  Even the sewing of the final garments is accomplished in the Vancouver studio.  Both men's and women's styles are available.

Since its inception, the line has expanded first to cotton t-shirts with tattoo sleeves inset and then to stunning burn-out t-shirts with the tattoo art printed on the shirt itself (front only, back only or both front and back - with or without tattoo sleeves sewn in). Always pushing for new areas of design to explore, Setz designed a clothing line, created a t-shirt with the artwork bleached out of the fabric and an amazing tattoo dress.  Not all ideas end up being a part of the permanent line, but it keeps a visit to this business always interesting because you never know what new ideas you will find there.

My styling attempt - Three Sisters, shot by Mike Lewis and published in Raine Magazine
This blog is particularly timely for those readers in Vancouver as Wild Rose Tattoo Shirts will be a part of the upcoming East Side Culture Crawl on November 26, 27 and 28th.  So if you're intrigued by the ideas here, or you are one of those who have seen me out in my tattoo wear and asked me where it came from, here is your chance.  You can meet the designer, see what's new and get a great deal on a piece (or several) for your own wardrobe.  I will be there on Saturday and Sunday helping as well, so be sure and come by (1000 Parker St., 2nd Floor) and say hi. In the meantime you can check out the new website at www.wildrosetattooshirts.com.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Texting Dilemma

I had the most curious thing said to me the other day.  My brother-in-law was commenting about text messaging and how careful you had to be.  He knew someone who ran a company that received a weekly print out of all the text messages sent by employees on their company phones.  He didn't ask or want this, it was just given to him.  Fortunately for his employees, he chose to shred this rather than read it.  Say What!!!!! My first question would be were all the employees informed that this would be happening?   I found it an astounding idea that the cell phone company would bother to waste the time and space to save every single text message and that they would actually give a print out each week to the company.

I think companies have a right to know how their phones are being used, but the content of text messages is a different issue. It really hints a bit of big brother.  I actually tried a web search to find out if this was still current but couldn't, so all I can say is if you use a company phone, be careful.  Most cell phone companies avoid talking about how long text records are kept, but one said 3-5 days maximum.  That said, your phone is always a liability as, even if you delete text messages, they might still be recoverable.

In my searches I did find several disturbing things.  First was an article at www.eHow.com.  This is from 2009, so the article may be outdated, but what caught my eye was the ads following the article.

How to Get Cell Phone Text Message Records

Trying to obtain your cell phone records is a task that will require patience and persistence. Ask your cell phone provider for your records and they will direct you to your on-line account and put you on hold. Always try to make this call on a land line as it will be a lengthy wait. You will be transferred to another operator who will ask you account questions for verification purposes. Eventually, you will be successful.
Difficulty: Moderate
  1. Log into your own account information online with your cell phone carrier. It is illegal to look up another person's text information without a warrant. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has forbidden cell phone carriers from printing out text messages, even if it's from your own account. By logging into your account online, you can view the numbers and times that text messages were sent or received, but you will not see actual messages.
  2. You may contact your local law enforcement to ask for a legal way to receive a print out. Although they may send you to the FBI due to the 2006 Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act, by law it is the only legal way to obtain records.
  3. Under extreme circumstances such as court cases, you may contact the FBI. The FBI can use what is called "digital forensics" to pull even erased text messages from any electronically hand-held device.
  4. Because of the 2006 Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act, the only way to get your cell phone text messages will be in court.
Read SMS Messages - View Call Logs Undetectable! Works With All Phones
Listen-In on Cell Callswww.TheCellSnoop.com
Read Text Messages - Cell Phone Spy Undetectable!-Works with All Phones
Cemetery Record Programwww.LegacyMark.com
Use Our Advanced Computer Program for Maintaining Cemetery Records.
Mobile PHONE SPY Softwarewww.CellSpyArsenal.com
1) Secretly View Call Logs 2) Read SMS Messages

The second is from www.slate.com.  Again, an older article, so may not be up to date.

QuantcastHow Do You Intercept a Text Message?Turn your cell phone into a spy gadget. 

Retail giant Wal-Mart fired an employee Monday for eavesdropping on phone calls and intercepting text messages between the company's media-relations staff and a New York Times reporter. How do you intercept a text message?

Turn your own cell phone into a surveillance gadget. There are a few ways to do this. One method, phone cloning, lets you intercept incoming messages and send outgoing ones as if your phone were the original. If both phones are near the same broadcast tower, you can also listen in on calls. To clone a phone, you have to make a copy of its SIM card, which stores the phone's identifying information. This requires a SIM reader that can read the card's unique cryptographic key and transfer it to another phone. (Warning: This is super illegal, but there are still sites that show you how.) The problem with cloning is that it only lets you intercept messages sent to one phone number. Plus, you need physical access to the target phone to make it work—something Wal-Mart's technician probably didn't have.
It's also possible to intercept unencrypted or poorly encrypted messages directly as they're broadcast over cellular channels. (If the network uses sophisticated encryption, you might be out of luck.) To steal messages with your phone, you would need to upload illegal "firmware" onto your phone. This essentially turns your phone into a radio and allows it to pick up all the texts broadcast on a given channel—instead of limiting you to the ones addressed to you. You'd also need to know the network for the target phone—Verizon, Cingular, T-Mobile, etc.—and you'd have to make sure that both your phone and the target are within range of the same base station. This method isn't too expensive since you don't need much more than a computer, a phone, and some firmware that any serious techie could find online for free.

clear pixel
Wal-Mart isn't discussing details of the method its employee used, but a spokesperson did say he was able to intercept messages that included certain keywords. Companies like Global Security Solutions and Homeland Security Strategies develop interceptors for law-enforcement purposes. (Prices reportedly run as high as nearly $1 million.) These fancy devices essentially work the same way as the firmware method outlined above, but they have antennas for longer range and may run more smoothly.
With more and more people using cell phones instead of installing land lines, I think the privacy issue is becoming more urgent.  Just like with wireless internet, there is sophisticated equipment for monitoring it available to the average person be they stalker or paparazzi.  

The out fall of all of this is that with the movement into cell phones comes an additional liability in what you say.  There have been many examples lately in the media you can reference.  I don't think I have ever said or done anything on my new phone to be embarrassed about, but if taken out of context perhaps something might be used.  The most vulnerable are teenagers who often have no inhibitions.  How do we protect them from themselves.

All I can say at this time is to use great discretion with your cell phone.  Who knows who may be listening.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Runway Fashion Shows - An Overview

After more than three years as editor for Vancouver Fashion eZine, and attending probably more than 30 runway shows, I have decided to share some personal comments.  Watching a show really is a very subjective experience and whether someone loves or hates the fashions can vary widely.  There are a few things that do make the experience have a higher success rate.  Before I start, the first thing I want to make clear is that a lot more outside sponsorship is needed to really knock one out of the ball park.  All event producers struggle to put on a great show within the limits of a budget.  Rarely does one get to see the kind of event the producer can truly conceive.  It's a real balancing act.  So kudos to all our local event producers who work hard to give us a night to remember.

Location  - Let's face it, to get the right location can be a big ticket item on the budget, but the perfect venue can add so much to a show.  Very small budget shows usually end up in a night club and from there you work your way up to locations that can charge from $5,000 (just a starting figure) on up for just the bare room.   Then you have to add in the cost of lighting, sound, backdrop, runway, etc.  I don't envy the job of the producer as they search for this holy grail.
---Black, black and more black:  black runway, black curtains, black ceiling and black walls.  Many venues are full of black as they are theatres, night clubs or used for other purposes that make this colour really useful.  I find it lacks pizzazz.  You want to walk into the room and feel the energy.  Dark hair disappears against tha black background, so a lot of back lighting has to be used to help the photographers get better pictures of these models - a difficult thing to do without shining lights in the audience's eyes. Unfortunately the second choice to create energy seems to be upping the sound way over the top (read "The Sound Explosion at http://www.oliobymarilyn.com/2010/11/sound-explosion.html).  I was pleased to see Vancouver Fashion Week this year with a light backdrop and white runway.  It just brought so much more energy into the room.
---Another great plus if the producer has a budget is an elevated runway.  Those not in the front row can see the full look.  Three feet seems to be a nice height.  It's a balance of being able to see from the back row plus not too high in case there are some short outfits on the runway.  Again, dealing with these issues usually means having to find significant financial backing as hanging a second set of light colour curtains, creating a backdrop or putting in an elevated runway is a huge expensive.

Designers - This next section really is directed mostly at student designers putting together their grad collection (although I have seen the odd show from a newer designer that missed the boat on these issues).  The single most important thing I can say is a quote from Tim Gunn, "Finish your garments impeccably!"  This shows more than you know.
---I absolutely hate to see threads that have been missed hanging off garments on the runway.  The lighting assures that every single one stands out. Unfinished raw edges can be a disaster.  If you are using silk cut on the bias, you get that really cool fuzzy effect.  However, the trend lately is to do it with wovens that do not handle this treatment well. The garment can end up looking like you didn't take the time to finish it properly.  It doesn't look like a purposeful part of the design, just a mess.
---Puckered seams are also highlighted by the lighting.  If you can't press the seam to lay perfectly flat, consider taking it out and trying it again.  Shiny satin in particular is unforgiving.  Do not use this fabric if your sewing skills are not up to the job.  Matching the fabrics with your vision and your current construction abilities is crucial.
---Make sure every garment is given the same chance to look amazing on the runway.  Sometimes you see the first garment is finished well, the second not quite as good and the third looking like it was banged out just in time to throw it out there.
---Take a really strong look at the proportions of your garments.  Put them on dress forms side-by-side and stand across the room.  Squint if you need help to just see the outlines.  How does it make the body look?  Does it have pleasing proportions?
---Last, be aware if you have an elevated runway.  Those super short minis can be a disaster to look at from the front row if the the runway is raised.

Models -  Ahhh, another pet peeve of mine.  I have a small amount of experience in this area as my daughter did some freelance work for awhile.  The first thing we did was research what she needed in her model bag - yup you are supposed to have one.  Whether you work for free or are highly paid, there is a commitment implied that you are there to help the designer make their clothes look fabulous.
---Almost every show I see at least one model who did not come prepared.  I have seen way too many white or coloured thongs shining through clothing.  One runway show the model was sporting pink floral ones and I could see them through the beautiful sheer print.  The designer must have been horrified but desperate to have sent her out.
---Other issues (some from designers) - white bra peaking out the armholes of an all black outfit, asking them to bring one pair of heels and having them arrive with a worn, dirty pair, and the list goes on. In general the silicone stick on bras can work well, but a couple times lately I could see them shine like Jello through the fabric - very odd - so they need to be used with discretion.
---Every model should have a few basics in a bag used only for modelling and they do not have to be expensive.  While some lists can be extensive, I would strongly suggest at least a nude strapless bra and underwear (no panty lines - you should check) in a shade that perfectly matches your skin tone (and a second set in black if you can afford it) plus one great pair of runway heels in neutral or black.

When all the pieces come together, it's exciting.  The best runway shows are always a combination of budget, vision, great designs, hard work and committed models.