Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Extraordinary Experience - Carla Stef of Holt Renfrew

This article on Carla Stef appeared in Fame'd Magazine in January 2012.  I truly loved doing the Behind The Scenes interviews because they stirred up memories of all the changes that had come about since I first entered the workforce. Computers and the Web have changed how we do business in significant ways.  As a long time employee of a very well known company, Stef gives us a peak into her life working for Holt Renfrew while experiencing those dramatic changes. 

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Image by Peter Jensen Photography
Carla Stef has come a long way from the shy, young girl who loved to spend time alone filling every spare writing table with fashion drawings. Years of working a wide range of jobs in the retail industry and running morning meetings for staff lured out a hidden love of public speaking, a knack for engaging others and a talent for public relations. As Director of National Events and Regional Public Relations at Holt Renfrew, each day offers the promise of interesting new challenges.

In 1981, Stef graduated from the University of Alberta with the idea of becoming a lawyer. Needing to find a job, she turned to retail. After rising quickly through the ranks at two other businesses, it was time for a fresh challenge. The decision to accept a position at Holt Renfrew – the epitome of luxury fashion – was a life-changing moment which opened the door on long career with the company. She shares, “What I value most about my experience with Holt Renfrew is I've had extremely wide-ranging job positions – sales manager, divisional manager within the store, human resources, operations, public relations, buyer, special events, marketing and communications. Over the 25 years I have been here, I have had five or six mini careers along the way. They have been incredibly supportive in terms of my development.”

Despite it's world-class status, Holt Renfrew is actually a surprisingly small company when compared to other luxury retail chains, with only nine stores across Canada. This creates an atmosphere where employees have the chance to work closely with those in other locations. “We know the people in Montreal, Ottawa and Calgary really well. We see them, we work with them and we talk to them on a daily basis. It doesn't matter what position you hold in our company and it's an extraordinary experience.” Stef lives and works in Vancouver, but deals with employees Canada-wide. It requires a special intuitive touch as different people respond to different styles. “The secret is to not take a cookie cutter approach. To really take a look at each person on your team and help them achieve their goals by pushing the right buttons for them.”

The day often starts very early. This gives a chance to work before others arrive and facilitates dealings with stores back east. There are emails and phone calls to answer as well as managers to touch bases with to assure everyone understands the day's priorities and sales goals. Communication is all important to ensure they have the right products in the stores, employees are motivated and each has the tools needed to be successful. Everyone who wears a Holt Renfrew name tag, no matter what their position, is expected to help a client if needed. Public relations requires her to take those same skills and apply them to connecting with media and the wider community. Each project requires a tailored approach, be it working with the Holts national communications team on larger opportunities or individual brands to drive awareness of their products.

In January 2011, the position of Director of National events was added to her resume. Stef notes, “Events are no longer day-to-day stuff, they are really big projects. My job is to make sure the experience in the store is extraordinary – that there is always something wonderful going on. Last weekend we had “Christmas Comes Early. Our windows all reflected the 12 days of Christmas and we had a flash mob spectacle where the 12 days of Christmas came to life. We had 12 drumming, 11 pipers piping – the whole thing.” (New Note - Stef's current position is Marketing Manager Holt Renfrew Vancouver.)

Over the last decade, Stef has seen tremendous changes in the industry. Retail used to be very hands on. Cash registers only rang up sales and credit card approvals were done one at a time by phone. There were no bar codes or scanners. Inventory was a manual process. Fax machines, computers, email and word processing didn't exist. “Technology has changed the world and it's snowballing and accelerating at a rapid fire pace. Customers are extremely savvy and know what they want the minute it's seen on the runway.” Staying up to date and aware of trends as they happen ensures when a customer walks into Holt Renfrew, she sees what she wants ready and waiting

When asked what advice she had for those just entering the workforce, first and foremost was to love what you do. That might mean taking the time to try several different jobs before deciding on a career. Stef also shared, “You are your own brand, so determine what it is going to be. Your brand will be how you present yourself, how you carry yourself and how you live your life. And try to be your company's greatest asset. Be the one they know they can count on, the one they can go to when something needs to get done.” What you do each and every day is an investment in your future.

2012 promises to be extraordinary as it will be Holt Renfrew's 175th anniversary. Stef is already beginning to look what celebrations for this remarkable milestone will look like. How this unfolds over the next several months will only be one item filling her very busy slate of responsibilities, but she wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, July 29, 2013

San Francisco - The History of China Town, The Asian Art Museum and The Night Bus Tour

Gate into Chinatown
Day 3 brought an unwelcome change in weather that continued through the next day - our last. Fortunately the morning and evening were okay in most areas. Only the Golden Gate Bridge decided to stay shrouded in fog for the next 48 hours straight. A huge disappointment to the tourist who had just arrived, but okay for us as we had bicycled to the base of it the day before.

First stop early that morning was to the Cable Car station next to Ghirardelli Square.  At that time of the morning the line-up was short. Although we could have jumped on the first car if we had sat inside, I wanted to be outside so waited for the second. \ As the cable car climbed the hill, there were a huge number of photos taken by the tourists standing on the sidewalks. Very strange to realize I was going to be in so many travel photos. We did opt for a shorter ride as our destination was the Cable Car Museum.  We arrived about 20 minutes early, so we decided to briefly explore the affluent Nob Hill district.
Love this old structure tucked
in between others on Nob Hill.

Later on the night bus tour I learned that Nob Hill used to be where the scum and low-lifes originally lived. What wealthy woman would want to climb a hill carrying her groceries and other purchases? With the advent of the cable cars this quickly reversed. It became fashionable to live on the hill. To this day Nob Hill features many top, 5-star hotels and private clubs. The hotels were obvious, but one beautiful building we went by had no signs anywhere. Finally we meekly snuck up onto the porch and found a small sign stating the name of the club and a note that it was members only. The message was clear. If you didn't know - you didn't belong there.

By then the museum was open. When you enter on the street level you can walk straight forward to a railing that lets you overlook the metal shop where replacement parts are made as well as several large active cables rotating on gears.  It's noisy so say the least.  The museum side displays several old cars, vintage photos, some cases of parts, a great gift shop and a looped movie in the back that gives tons of information.

Panoramic image of the gears and the machine shop in the Cable Car Museum

From there we walked over to the start of the free Chinatown Tour that was a part of our package Hop-on-Hop-off Bus Tour. (Note - there are many companies in SF. We chose the Big Bus for the 2 free walking tours and night tour included in the 48 hour pass.) We lucked into an amazing guide that brought the history of the area alive - something that always interests me as much as the old architecture. We heard about street fights, a famous madam and more. One interesting story was shared when we viewed a vintage building - now a bank - that used to house the telephone exchange.  In the early days there were no phone numbers in Chinatown. The female operators had to know 5 Chinese dialects, English and the name of everyone who had a phone so they could forward calls to the right place.
Top left - the original figures on this sculpture were made in bread dough by a wide variety of people (including kids).
Top Right - this building was built from damaged and burnt bricks scavanged after the 1906 fire was finally put out.
Bottom left - you could often see laundry hanging on fire escapes drying.
Bottom right - woman adding fortunes and folding the hot cookies by hand.

The most interesting store?  Sam Bo Trading Company where they had paper replicas of everything from houses, to cell phones, to clothes, to computers that you purchased and then burnt in a special vessel for your relatives in the afterlife. It was disrespectful to take photos inside the store and I cannot in a Google search find a good picture of these paper offerings. I also loved the walking up an alley and seeing the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie factory - the last to fold the cookies by hand.  For $1 given to a very grumpy man you could take a picture of a very grumpy lady folding the fortunes into the cookies. Next door was a very funny barber with one chair who played the Erhu for tourists (and tips) when his chair was empty. He was hilarious as well as talented. Turns out he was in an Eddie Murphy movie, but I can't remember which. At the end of the tour we jumped on the Hop-on-Hop-off bus and rode to our next destination, getting a bit of history along the way.
On the left is an Erhu player I walked by on the street.  Put a tip in his
jar so I could take the candid picture, but as soon as I did that he jumped up
to pose. The Erhu player on the right is the barber I mentioned next to
the fortune cookie factory. He was hilarious and yet every picture of
him was solemn.  Go figure. Still trying to find out which Eddie Murphy
movie he was in.
 We decided to pop by the Asian Art Museum on the recommendation of another tourist.  On the plus side - they had a great cafeteria there where you could try many interesting dishes for a really reasonable price.  Unfortunately, I wasn't as impressed with the art museum. The bulk of the collection was old terracotta religious statuary which does not personally hold my interest.  There was some pottery and jewellery and some great puppets, but in the end I wish I had committed that time to the one of the attractions in Golden Gate Park - either the California Academy of Sciences or the de Young Museum.

Puppets in the Asian Art Museum
As we were going to be out in the evening we took the remaining loop of the Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour back to the wharf. Loved seeing Haight Ashbury from the top of the bus and was very sorry we weren't going to get a chance to wander around this interesting, street that was such a focal point in my pre-teen years. The bus then took us over the Golden Gate Bridge with a stop on each end to drop off and pick up walkers. It was hilarious. The bridge was shrouded in fog from top to bridge deck, yet people were snapping photos (I guess of the white fog) and walking it's span. The ride over we were both huddled in our seats and plastered together to try and keep warm as we were pummeled with the wet fog - laughing all the way. How strange to be sunburned one day and frozen the next.

Back at the hotel we munched some on salads from a local store and had a bit of downtime. Then it was back to the Hop-on-Hop-off bus for the night tour. We were lucky again. Earlier in the day we were on buses with taped tours. They're just not as good. This bus we had the same guide who walked us through Chinatown.  There was enough light at the beginning to explore some new areas. Most interesting fact I learned? During the famous fire in 1906, they decided the only way to stop it was a fire break. They picked one street lined with beautiful Victorian homes and the military came in. Those on the fire side were forcibly evicted and their homes blasted to smithereens to create the fire break - those on the other side came back to intact homes. Remember back then there was no house insurance or government to reimburse you. Neighbors either lost it all or kept it all!

Art Installation on Bay Bridge - random patterns created by
LED lights.  It is supposed to never repeat itself over the months
it is on display
The tour bus literally careened down the very steep California Street like a roller coaster ride - even the guide seemed a little taken aback - and then proceeded across the Bay Bridge to Treasure Island where we could view the night skyline. San Francisco is working on being a green city, so the lights at night were not as spectacular as others I had seen. Back on the city side we could view an alternating light art installation on the bridges vertical cables. Shortly thereafter, I was ensconced in a nice hot bath reminiscing about what a great day it was despite the change in the weather. Definitely memorable.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Project Runway Season 12, Episode 2 - Million Dollar Runway

As I didn't give the full list last week, I want to start with the prize package worth over 1/2 million dollars. What do they win?  $150,000 provided by GoBank, $50,000 of next generation technology from HP/intel, a years supply of Re-source spring water, an all expense paid spa retreat for 2 to the Maldives courtesy of Resource, a chance to design and sell an exclusive collection at Belk's, a complete sewing and crafting studio from Brother, a fashion spread in Marie Claire, a 2014 Lexus IS 350, $100,000 fabric allowance from Tide Pods and a $50,000 styling contract with L'Oreal Paris. The model paired with the winning designer will receive a spread in Marie Claire and $25,000 from L'Oreal Paris.

To create a bit of drama this episode, an armoured car pulls up outside and then 2 armed guards enter the runway. The designers feign fright, but then truly react when the real scary part happens. Heidi Klum enters carrying the dreaded button bag. (Note: I honestly don't like the distracting white inserts on the sides of the skirt in the dress she is wearing.) Why are the guards here she asks and then answers,"For millions and millions of reasons. [models enter runway] Thanks to the Diamond District, our models are wearing over 30 million dollars worth of jewels."                                                                                                                                                                                       The stones are to be the designer's inspiration for their next challenge - to create a complimentary look that can walk the runway paired these amazing accessories. All the designers are excited, well except Timothy, of course, "I'm not inspired by jewellery. I'm not inspired by money. We have to pick the prettiest diamond and I think that is very superficial." Why is he on this show?  Bradon won the previous challenge so was allowed to pick first. Designers then had to choose in the order their name was drawn from the button bag.  Model Natasia was SOOO happy to get to work with a designer other than Timothy. Surprisingly no one complained about models getting stolen away.  Guest judge this week is Emmy Award winning costume designer Eric Daman (Sex and The City, Gossip Girl, The Carrie Diaries).
Back in the studio Tim Gunn tells them they have 30 minutes to sketch, 45 minutes to shop at Mood Fabrics and only until 11 p.m. to create a red carpet dress. Yikes! They are handed their new GoBank card loaded with $4,000. I was pleased the show offered a suggested budget. For this challenge it was $300. While all the designers shop, Timothy was found digging through bags of remnants even though there were some lovely organic material available. Sandro confused everyone this week with his mood swings, going from verbal fights, to hilarious jokes, to knocking a design, to supporting another designer during judging. Then there is Sue. I love her work, but her inability to thread a machine or wind a bobbin along with her lack of appreciation when someone helps her is disappointing.

Eric, Nina, Zac, Heidi
Before I start, I want to first note that I would have loved to see some of these dresses up close. I think it was particularly important in evaluating the garments this week, so please realize my comments reflect that I only watched this on TV. I'll do the top 3 and bottom 3 first and then share my thoughts on the rest afterwards.

Kate (winner) - Dom - Sandro
Kate wanted this Silk Taffeta gown inspired by Marie Antoinette to make the model feel like she ruled a country. When asked by the judges what it was like to wear it, the model gushed it felt amazing. It was a hands down hit. Comments include - I knew immediately it was your dress, I love the colour and that is very light, I love the back, really pretty all the way around, I love that you have a concept around which you're creating, I think you picked a fabulous colour for your model and those rocks, the jewellery pops, I like the asymmetry - the transparency - her styling is terrific and this is the strongest work I have seen you do. (The last - strong praise from Zac Posen.)

Dom wanted the look created to be a Caribbean woman covered in gems. Tim cautioned her to make sure it didn't look like Palm Springs poolside. The judges responses made it evident she hit the mark. I like it except for the green trim - take it all off. The judges seemed to only dislike the green trim at the bottom. Comments include - you have diamonds, emeralds and ?? that look very serious - what I loved is that you made it very young, the print shows the jewels in a very different perspective which I am always looking for, I love the back, what you used to trim the hem overpowers, if I had to pick one dress it would be yours, the hair band makes it a little beachy, the print plays with the graphic nature of the jewellery, I could see it on the red carpet and well done.

Sandro - Before they left for the runway, Sandro needed help figuring out how to turn on the steamer and everyone ignored him. As they usually seemed to help each other even when bitchy, I found this odd. Perhaps his tirades were worse than shown. He chose to create something 50'ish to match the tones in the jewellery - a mix of vintage and modern - which had that same Vargas Girl feel as last week, but stronger in design. Comments include - you really love putting a lot into your garments, last week you overdid it and you kind of did that again but it really works this week, I really like it, there is maybe a bit too much lace around the fish tails in the back, a nice combination with the jewellery, he is working with most technique, the fit is really good, walks the line between stripper and chic, I appreciate you made it short and used a fabric that is not usually associated with high jewellery, the sides take away and are a bit trashy but the space in the midriff saves it and makes it more modern.

Timothy - Helen - Kahindo (Out)

Kahindo was sent home this week and I was definitely not in agreement. The judges truly hated what she did so by the end of their comments I got it, but I didn't agree that she was the worst. I would have sent Timothy or Helen home. She chose a gorgeous Silk Charmeuse print that everyone seemed to like in the studio (but the judges were horrified by), but all questioned her design choice. It did overshadow the jewellery and was too simple. I just wouldn't label it the worst. Comments include - I feel like you haven't done enough, it's so simple it's kind of boring, you have a major diamond necklace and then this off the rack dress, the colours are beautiful on a redhead but you didn't explain how they work to animate that beautiful necklace, there is a big disconnect between the dress and the accessories, the print is really hard, the construction is not inspiring and I don't know if this is exciting enough.

Helen started out confidently creating a classic red carpet look with her trademark machine fluting, but she slowly fell apart. The design was too complicated to finish in 1 day. I like Helen and hurt for her, but still felt it inappropriate that Heidi paused the runway show when she started crying and sent Tim over to comfort her. I think it made the judges feel extra sorry for her - even Nina Garcia was surprisingly drawn in - and that is what saved her as her gown was a train wreck. Comments include -  I am always surprised you decide to do something you have never done before here, you bit off too much, a lot of problems in the back, the execution is very poor, hairy hips, a gown like this takes days, the hem is off, the fabric is the wrong choice, you have to time manage, there are so many imperfections that it distracts from the jewels, the design is interesting but you didn't deliver on it and I have trouble believing that you're a bridal and evening wear designer.

Timothy's first design was such a disaster that Tim commented, "This is a hot mess and has ticket home written all over it." While he re-thought the silhouette and it was better, his work still looks unfinished and like a high school project. He continues to affect the judges with his Eco stories, but I don't think it will save him for much longer. It doesn't make up for poor design and construction. Comments include - I am surprised your model is wearing eye makeup but still no hair styling - it does not look that great, you have to think of it as a head to toe look, I commend you for taking something as ambitious as velvet, I like the bottom of the dress but when I get to the top the dress looks backwards, I didn't see the jewellery was canary yellow - the blue sucked the colour out and it is bizarre to have the razor back in the front. Tim did stand up for him saying it was 1000 percent better than when he saw it in the studio. That really isn't saying much.  This is week 2 he is in the bottom.  Should be a heads up that something is missing.

Sue - Bradon - Jeremy

Loved Sue's design again - if not her attitude.  You can't see in this picture all the intricate, angled pleating used to create shape. I don't know that this was the best neckline was right to show off the necklace, but other than that I am a fan.  Bradon took a chance and used curtain fabric to get the texture he wanted. As he had immunity, he felt it was the right time to take a big risk like this. You can't see from this angle but there is actually a transparency in the skirt fabric. It looked great on the runway and worked well with the necklace. Jeremy's dress looked good on the runway as well, especially the graduated colour scheme of the tulle at the bottom. But while the neckline worked with the gems, I'm not sure the softer look of the bottom worked with the more graphic style of the necklace.

Justin - Ken - Alexandria

Justin's runway image does not really do this gown justice. The soft layers of black with nice shaping at the bodice and waist worked well on the runway and showed off the necklace well. LOVED the silhouette and colour of Ken's dress. My only note is that he should have had a small dip in the neckline to mirror the shape of the necklace. The high, straight across bodice line meant the necklace sometimes slipped behind or folded over it. Alexandria came through this week with this deep navy number I found very appealing. Simple, elegant and showed off the necklace nicely.

Miranda - Alexander - Karen

Didn't really care for any of these. Miranda's had potential.  Loved the shade of blue and the 2 pieces. The fit and proportions of the top from around the armpits to the shoulder straps is awkward somehow. Perhaps a bit too high and not quite the right angles?  It did look great in the back. If the top silhouette was bang on it might have received more attention from the judges. Alexander! Oh my! I do want to note that while I didn't care for this dress, this photo makes it look worse than it did on the runway. The colour and those big sleeves were a definite mistake.  Karen's gown had 3 issues - a bit too simple compared to what others were doing, the waist accent is in an odd place so makes her look thick instead of accenting her waist and most importantly, the bodice is not fit properly. Notice the bagging at the armpit on each side?

To see more views of each design or larger images go to Rate The Runway.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Project Runway Season 12, Episode 1 - Pretty Pretty Parachutes

So begins a new season of Project Runway and as always a few changes are in store. Each set of designers has it's own personality.  In Season 11, there was some bitchiness at the start, but those designers who stood the test of time had depth of character.  Tim even mentioned this in one of the final segments. Hard to tell at this point where it's headed, but the opening showed several with ego issues. I am hoping they go home early.

There has been a growing trend to include more older designers on the show and this season is no exception. There are also a several with previous careers - professional modern dancer, former soldier, former model, costumer designer for stage shows such as The Lion King, art student and more. Then for the first time, there is a deaf designer - Justin. They used a sign language interpreter in the opening scene, but he recently had a cochlear implant so does hear some and speaks well. That said, he's probably still a long way from being experienced working with it.  He smiled as he said if the other designers bother him he can just tune them out by turning it off. He also shared that when he speaks to people on the street, they often assume he is from a different country because of his unique "accent".

Now for what is new. 15 designers were chosen through the normal process and then fans chose the 16th from a group of three designers involved in previous seasons. To make it dramatic, they had all the new designers standing on a private air strip to watch a small plane arrive and then see - surprise - Kate step out. The prize package this year is the biggest ever, worth 1/2 million dollars. The designers will also have to manage their spending this season by using a GoBank account and debit card. Not quite clear yet how this will work. Another twist is that the runway shows will be anonymous until after the judges have written their score cards. They are still told before it is decided who wins and who goes home. Last but not least is Tim's expanded roll. He brings in the top and bottom designs for the judges to look at up close and can answer questions from the judges. He also has the power to SAVE just one designer from elimination over the course of the season.

Kate Bosworth - Nina Garcia - Zac Posen - Heidi Klum
This week was an Unconventional Challenge - to create a look from parachute fabric. Skilled parachuters jumped out of a plane, soared dramatically to the landing strip and then walked off leaving their parachutes behind. One-Two-Three-Mayhem!  Yup, they had to race like competitive school children to snag the colour combo they wanted. Not pretty. Back in the studio they are given access to black and white ripstop nylon that could be used for enhancements, but the majority of material had to come from the parachute. 2 designers, of course, ignored this citing trusting their instincts and one was almost sent home. They had until 11 p.m. that night and the next day to complete their look. Guest Judge this week was Kate Bosworth and I found her comments very well thought out so kudos. The accessory wall is now courtesy of Belk Department Store. Heidi Klum sends them off with, "We want you to all go into this competition confident, creative and ready to wow us all." Tim Gunn adds, "The sky's the limit!"

Top 2 - Bradon (winner) left and centre - Sue right

I truly love the work of the top 2 designers and while I would be happy with either taking first, I think the judges made the right decision. 

Bradon (the former professional dancer) brought the whole package and had a story to justify it, giving his design a distinct edge. The colour blocking was wonderful and choosing to have a silhouette that billowed as the model walked gave the feel of a parachute filled with air. Even the cording from the parachute was incorporated - decorating the front and creating the straps. Judges comments include - "It looks like a real expensive dress, I love this dress so beautiful, love that it's short underneath, I think it's an incredibly thoughtful design, I'm excited to see what you do, it's nice you used the string from the parachute (only Zac didn't like the cording), I love the back because that's such a wow, I love the fact you took this light fabric and made a very dramatic and billowy design, there is a fragility to the string that detail kills me and I think you did a great job."

Sue was a disaster at first, even having to ask a designer how to use the sewing machine. Tim thought she would be going home. Instead she came back on day 2, put the fabric on a mannequin and found inspiration. The dress is made from the parachute as is with very little cutting. It is double layer to give it weight and all the shape is created with pleating and draping. This is not an easy fabric to work with so I was doubly impressive. Comments were all positive hands down and include - "It's beautiful how the colours bleed from one to another, I like the sculptural quality - very exciting, It looks very 40's but at the same time very elegant, the placement of the rushing is very elegant."

Angela (sent home) - Sandro - Timothy - Miranda
Angela was sent home and probably that was well deserved.  She wanted to create something that mirrored the shape of the parachute and yet chose to do a structured hoodie.  As well, she never got around to making the bottom half she had planned so just shortened it into a mini. Pretty unexciting.  Judges comments include - "Something is missing - the bottom, it has a very odd proportion, it feels like a disposable poncho I don't think you gave it enough thought, you look very chic but this is not chic, the back has a lovely surprise, the colours are good, the graphic breakup is quite beautiful and chic, unfortunately it's still runway and you have to create effect as well."

Sandro has a larger-than-life personality that all the judges enjoyed. His garment and choice of styling were not well-received, but his technical construction skills and the concept behind the design were commended.  Another serious problem was that the model's privates were hanging out (notice the model holding the cording in front to disguise it. Judges comments include - "Way too many references in one, she looks like a slutty cat toy, why are there chains, it's a disaster, you put so much energy into accessorizing when really the energy you need to invest is in the piece, the Mock-to-pus needs to go, it's amazing you got that impeccable fit it really is, the taste level is a huge question mark, less is more and looks a bit like costuming.

Sewing machines, makeup, hair products and shoes are out for this eco designer
but he feels it's okay to burn synthetic fabric and wear heels obviously made in a factory!
Timothy - not a fan so far. He comes across as promoting his eco focus as a banner to justify his work and takes it way too far. He has a solar backpack he carries around and doesn't use electricity at all - zero impact art. Hence the sewing machine was a no-no, he would let the hair stylist use any device that plugged in or any hair products (only braiding and pinning were allowed), decided not to let the artist put on make-up and wouldn't let her wear shoes. It all fell on deaf ears for the judges as he burnt the fabric putting noxious fumes in the air and wore a pair of deluxe high heels on his own feet that were factory made. He also spent a huge amount of time trying to get the model to do this dramatic performance of agony on the runway. The model overall was very unhappy to have to go down the runway and compete against models fully prepared.  They never said why - but she came out and did a straight runway walk.  Defiance or backstage manager decision we will never know, but Timothy was heart broken. Judges comments include - "Tinkerbell at burning man, a bit muddled, this is not one of my favourites, burning synthetic fiber is breaking all your rules, I want sustainable fashion to be gorgeous because otherwise it's a disservice, and a bit creepy as it looks like a burn victim. 

Miranda was one of 2 designers that decided to ignore the rules and made her dress 85% from extra fabric. They slapped her hand a lot and threatened to send her home, but honestly they all loved the design. It was hard to take the threat seriously when everything said before was all positive. Based on their comments, if she had found a way to do this in the fabric as dictated, she might have been in the top.  Judges comments include - "I love this silhouette, very now, loved the way you styled her, it's disappointing it's not all parachute material but really beautiful, very modern, most polished piece up here, very finished. great first impression and I would happily wear it."  Heidi was the one who had a huge problem with the material used, "This is the unconventional materials challenge not unconventional inspiration challenge. Is this fair to the other designers?" When asked, Tim echoed this as well, "The teacher in me would give her an F and I told her 


Helen - Alexander - Karen
Now for the rest of the designers. This is such a difficult fabric, I was impressed with those who did extensive colour blocking. I really think Helen's design is lovely, BUT she is the other designer who used mostly extra white material and only a few pieces from the parachute.  I think she should have been called out on this, but still am impressed with her work. Note - she has a very interesting tattoo of a scissor piercing her neck! (image at bottom) Alexander's is interesting, but there is a lack of shape at the shoulders and the small V's of fabric at the hem needed to be double for weight as they stuck to the model's thighs and rode up as she walked. Karen did some seriously impressive colour blocking, but the bulky shape is unflattering and the neckline doesn't seem to blend with the rest of the design.

Kate - Ken - Jeremy

I actually thought Kate's dress would be in the top as it suited her aesthetic as a designer, stood out as different from the rest, looked great from the front and back and was well-constructed.  Ken's dress is not my favourite, but kudos for getting a double row of pleated parachute fabric to stand up like that and hold it's shape. Not a big fan of Jeremy's look mainly because of the white top. The pants were incredibly detailed and well constructed - they needed a simple top that complimented it with a bit of colouring and detailing included to tie the look together. This all white basic has no connection to the pants nor is it interesting.

Dom - Alexandria - Kahindo - Justin

Not much to talk about here. Any of these could have gone into the bottom for me because, more than anything, they are not interesting. There is one story worth sharing here. The ego of Alexandria (former model and art student) was overwhelming. She was sure by the end of day one that she would be easily be the winner and happily shared this with the other designers over lunch. No one was amused. Her design is solid if not that exciting and her construction skills are good, but she needs a good dose of humility and a better eye in evaluating her own work in comparison to other's. We'll see how long she lasts, but so far I can only hope they don't give her much camera time.

To see view more runway images or to see larger photos go to Rate The Runway.

Promo image with naked models that was censored.
Not a great photo, but best image I could find of her scissor tattoo!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Where Relativity Comes From

by Guest writer Aaron Anderson, I Think Too Much

No, I'm not about to feed you a bunch of nonsense equations. This is actually really cool and understandable. Almost everyone at least knows about the existence of the Theory of Relativity but it's less common for people to know how physicists started going down this crazy path. So here it is.

Imagine that you are standing on the ground and you throw a ball and at the same time someone drives by you in a car at a reasonable speed and throws a ball at the same time. From where you are standing, you will see their ball going much faster than your ball because theirs had the added speed from the car.

In the pre-relativity way of thinking about Physics the same is true of light. If you were standing there holding a
flash light and someone drove by you with their head lights on the light coming out of your flash light will be moving slower than the light coming out of their head lights because they are moving faster than you. However, once physicists actually started measuring the speed of light they discovered something odd. Regardless of how fast the object in question was moving, the light that it gave off was always moving at the same speed.

Relativity is the answer that physicists came up with when they asked why this is the case. They figured that if the speed of light isn't being distorted then time must be the thing that is being distorted and everything just goes from there.

So there you go. Now you know where relativity comes from.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Raphael and Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

When Vancouver hosted the winter Olympics in 2010, I was offered an opportunity to meet Raphael and Lisa-Marie Mazzucco at the Lancôme Canada launch of their special edition make-up boxes. Fame'd Magazine which I was editor of at the time focused on promoting local. As both were originally from Vancouver, I felt a Behind the Scenes story on their journey to becoming internationally recognized artists would be an inspiring addition to the magazine. 

I was able to briefly meet them at the launch, offer a copy of the magazine and ask if they would be interested. While the answer was yes, trying to organize a time in their busy schedule was almost impossible - but in the end a 45 minute slot was found. We sat outside the Opus Hotel where they were staying at a table in front of Caffe Artigiano sipping coffee and laughing constantly. Each added asides to the other's story. They were warm, funny, wildly interesting and oh so much fun to interview. Published in March 2010 - this article is just a very small excerpt of what they shared. Perhaps it's time for a new one!

= = = = = =

Sitting at a table on Davie Street with Raphael and Lisa-Marie Mazzucco, it quickly becomes clear they are each others number one fan. Raphael is a top fashion photographer with extensive credits including 12 Guess campaigns. Lisa-Marie is a make-up artist who has stepped behind the camera to become the “go-to” photographer for classical musicians. Recently they worked together to create Lancôme's Gold Fascination campaign – a tribute to Canada's elite female athletes. Inspired by Raphael's mixed media artwork, it is a stunning collaboration.

Both artists have their roots in Vancouver. Raphael was born and raised in Coquitlam. At 16 he left for Europe to play amateur soccer and returned to play professionally for the Whitecaps until the league folded. With time on his hands, he picked up a camera. “I loved it. I would just walk around Vancouver and shoot anything. Nettwerk Records started using me to photograph bands and I began to work with model agencies. It was a very quick transition.” Lisa-Marie moved to Vancouver at the age of four. She studied piano, ballet and was a competitive ice skater. Make-up fascinated her from an early age and she was always experimenting. A few stints as a model in Japan followed school and then she was back in Vancouver. The pair met just as Raphael started photography and it was instant chemistry. When Raphael decided to move to Italy, Lisa-Marie was ready to go.

Both at work behind the camera,

In Milan they lived in a 700 square foot apartment where they produced six shoots a day. Lisa-Marie would do the styling, hair, make-up and then head to the kitchen table to do the post-production work. Raphael would push the furniture aside and use the bedroom to shoot in, then head into the kitchen to cook dinner. “Living in that small space really helped my photography,” Raphael recalls. “We would notice that mistakes could be the most beautiful part of a photograph.” One day the phone rang - a top Italian photographer had called them by mistake. He ended up talking with Raphael for over an hour and introduced him all over Italy. After a few years, the couple decided to head to Amsterdam where they celebrated the birth of their son. While in Amsterdam they both acquired agents and began to work with other artists. Dutch Magazine was a strong supporter of Raphael, providing him pages and pages of editorial work for his portfolio. The couple followed this with a brief stay in Montreal where the worked with clients such as Elle Canada.

Then it was time for their leap of faith – a move to New York which had always been the final goal. “There are moments in your life where if that moment didn't happen, the rest of your life would have taken a totally different direction,” Lisa-Marie remembers. “We were looking for an apartment and I was supposed to take a check to the landlord and I missed him, so we didn't get it. Raphael was upset, I was crying, and then I remembered one apartment we hadn't looked at yet. There was no electricity, no bathroom, no kitchen and it was after dark so we couldn't see. We just walked around feeling the walls and said we'd take it. The man living in the apartment above us was an agent who just lost his photographer of ten years. He signed Raphael and is still his agent today. If I had not lost that apartment, we would not have met him.”

Family portrait
For Raphael, this launched his career into the upper echelons. He now travels for months at a time. Although often on set with up to 40 people, he manages to find his own space “I'm very spontaneous. I'll grab the model and take off. I like a girl very natural with almost no makeup and hair that looks like it's been on the beach all day. If I had three words for my work it would be raw, organic and romantic.” For Lisa-Marie, it was time to take a sabbatical and be with her son. Six years later she was ready to head back to work and chose to step behind the camera. This developed into a niche working exclusively with classical musicians. “Photographing classical musicians is all mine. I do the hair, I do the make-up, I do the retouching - it's my whole project from beginning to end.” Her style is romantic, classical and soft. There were a few mishaps in the beginning such as one of her early shoots with violinist Soovin Kim, “I wanted to shoot him up on this four foot rock, so I told him to give me his violin. I was holding my camera so I stuck it between my knees as I didn't have an assistant. He went pure white - the earth stood still. The violin was worth two million dollars.”

  With Lady Liliana Cavendish and
Edmundo Huerta BFA
 at Culo by
Mazzucco book launch
When Lancôme approached the couple, they were delighted. For five years Raphael has been creating mixed media artwork by building layers of photographs, painting and resin into stunning canvases. He decided to use the same concept in creating imagery for the Gold Fascination campaign. After the initial photographs were taken, they applied make-up onto the photographs with brushes, dabbing or mashing with their fingers and sprinkling. Then he would re-shoot the photograph to create new images in an organic process that is trademark Raphael. The finished work was used to create limited edition make-up boxes - unique pieces of art.

After 20 years in the industry, the Mazzuccos are still going strong. When asked advice for others in the industry Raphael offers, “If you want to be a photographer, you need to understand that all the photographs you take are your map, your quest. Just be true to yourself and act on what you feel. Grab everything great and be inspired by many different people.” Good advice.

To see more of their work go to and

Thursday, July 18, 2013

San Francisco - A Chance Trip to Alcatraz And A Bicycle Built For Two!

Day 2 in San Francisco dawned every bit as beautiful as day one.  It probably ended up having a lot more wind, but that was only an issue if you were truly out in the open.  Most of the time, you're between buildings with lots of other tourists around you, so it didn't factor in.

This is a day we almost learned a hard lesson.  When we first planned this trip, I didn't want to book a lot of things ahead of time as I wasn't sure what weather we would be dealing with.  Let's face it, who wants to be out on the harbour or on an open tour bus if it's pouring rain. As we checked the weather report on Friday, it showed Saturday would be sunny and then it would start to cloud up by Sunday.  Given this prediction, is seemed Saturday would be the best day to take the tour out to Alcatraz.  It was a weekend and prime season, so we figured we had better get up early and catch the first boat to be safe.

Panoramic view taken on boat from Bay Bridge on left, past the Golden Gate to Sausalito on the right.
Our first stop on Friday morning was an attempt to find a Starbucks by memory from last night's computer search. We totally failed. So we headed over to the ticket booth around 8:15.  Imagine our surprise so see a sign saying SOLD OUT UNTIL JULY 8. This was only June 22nd. How could that be? Throwing caution and our pride to the wind we meekly went up to the booth and asked if there was any way to get on the tour. Fortunately they actually did have just a couple tickets for the 10:30 sailing. That shot the day's schedule in terms of what we had originally planned, but we felt very grateful to get tickets at all. Since then we've had several people express shock at our last minute tickets, so lesson learned. I do think there are blocks of tickets out at some of the private tour companies to be sold with their package deals, but to get them from the main source, book them well ahead of time.
Alcatraz - taken from ferry

Now with an hour to kill, we headed back to the hotel to get our safe fixed - turns out the batteries were dead - and look up where that Starbucks was on the computer. It was all a waste of time in the end. When we finally got there the line was 25-30 people long. There was no way we would get coffee and make it to the boat on time. Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Alcatraz was recommended to me by several people and they were bang on. We had a beautiful ride over and a nice walk around the island, but it was the audio tour inside the prison that really made the trip worth it.  It was narrated by 6 former guards and 6 former prisoners.  When they told stories about specific events that happened, their personal experiences made it feel very real. They were there at the time and a part of it, so the prison's history came alive for me.  I took lots of pictures inside to help me remember all I learned.

It all starts with long cell block corriders like in the image above.  Cells are along the right and left and 3 tiers high.  It was all very metallic and concrete, so the din must have been constant. A guard would enter the cell block and then, to prevent the possibility of escape, immediately tie their keys to a chord that was raised by a guard on a safe walkway above.  If you look at the image on the right carefully, you can just see where the keys are hanging from the chord. This had to be visually hard for the prisoners desperate to get out of there.

The cell blocks were not warm appealing places, they were bare bones and ugly.  When prisoners first arrived they were allowed nothing in their cell in terms of decorations. As you earned points for good behavior, you earned privileges. That would include having things in your cell to do time-passing activites such a painting like the inmate above right.

Finding something to do was always a challenge. The inmates had access to radio through that box on the left above. I have no idea exactly what they plugged into one of those 2 holes or if each was a different radio station.  Going out in the concrete yard also offered a much needed break.  There they played sports such as baseball and a game I have never heard of - Auto Bridge. According to a former inmate, this game was such a passion prisoners would sit outside for up to 3 hours in the freezing cold just to play. Another opportunity that came as you earned points for good behavior was was to be able to visit the library - image on right above. Pretty bare bones.

The opportunity to have visitors kept many in line, but I didn't get the impression it happened often. Many prisoners shared that visitors were not that common as even getting to the island was complicated. Just look at that small, uninviting window. Totally inadequate in my mind for 2 people to connect. Never a chance to even touch a loved one. On the right above is the former control room for the prison.

For those who could not conform, there was solitary confinements.  The cells look bigger and nicer, but they had a nasty feature.  The guards could close all the doors and shut the light off leaving you in utter darkness. While this was supposedly against regulations, it happened. One former prisoner shared to pass the time in the darkness and keep from going crazy, he would toss a button, search until he found it, then toss it again and again. It was the only thing he could think to do without any light.

Eating was another distraction, although not always a happy one.  You can see how bleak the cafeteria is on the left.  The kitchen was actually large and fairly well laid out. My favourite story from this part of the audio tour was the spaghetti fiasco. The spaghetti was originally quite good but over time deteriorated to the point the prisoners were not happy. One finally decided the next time it was served the tables would turn over. Sure enough, the prisoners started to create havoc but it was quickly quelled. One guard slowly broke 3 windows one after another to get there attention and then loudly cocked his gun. Every single prisoner knew that sound and one and all immediately stopped and at the signal, returned to their cells.

Every prison has had their escape attempts and the sheer creativity of the prisoners is astounding. Alcatraz is listed as having no successful escape attempts, but no one is really sure as there were a couple of prisoners who were never found. They are assumed dead. Surrounded by very cold water is the number one defense. One prisoner who actually managed the swim to shore was found clinging to a rock along the far shoreline in serious hypothermia. The couple never found supposedly left the island in a small boat created from a raincoat.

The above photos show a homemade bar spreader on the left. The middle and right photos illustrate how some prisoners supposedly escaped their dells.  They removed the toilet from the wall and supposedly chipped away the concrete with a stolen metal spoon and crawled out.  Other prisoners question how they could first of all carve concrete with a kitchen spoon, and secondly do it without the guards finding out. It would be a slow and loud process.

During one escape that escalated into a standoff, the prisoners were holed up in a specific area of the cell block. A hole was drilling in the roof above them and a grenade dropped in.  You can still see the hole in the roof and the scarring on the floor from the blast.

After we finished the audio tour we walked around the outside.  It really quite beautiful. There were decaying buildings that formerly housed all those working on the island.  Administrators, guards and their families resided here. There is a large group of volunteers who maintain the gardens you see. I also loved seeing how nature foudn a toe hold on it's own in the most unlikely places, such as the small bit of foliage growing out of a drain hole for rain water in the brick wall below.

There are also tons of nesting birds.  In June there were baby birds to be seen everywhere. Can you see the 2 small, gray balls of fluff with the seagull in the image on the left below? In the middle is a bird who had nests well-hidden in the trees. I couldn't find a way to get a pic discreetly. On the right below, that large group of black birds have many females sitting on nests mounded on the concrete. It was surprising to see them in such a visible location. I assume by late July/early August the babies will be all grown.

When we returned from the island it was time for a late lunch so we headed back to the outdoor patio of Jack's Cannery Bar for a cool brewski and some great food.  I was seriously hungry. The only downside was we didn't manage to snag a table in the shade this time - thank goodness for sunscreen. Then after some downtime we decided to indulge one of Glen's favourite past times - bicycling.  He bicycles to work every day, but I haven't done it in years. A tandem bike from Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals offered a chance for us to ride together. While they have several locations, we started at Pier 39 and road along the waterfront path all the way to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was pretty easy getting there, but near the end coming back there were a few blocks we ended up on the road with the cars.  No worries, we just walked from there.

Stock Images

For more serious riders you can actually go over the bridge all the way to Sausalito and then take a ferry back to the pier. If I was a better rider, I would do this in a minute. If you're interested in the self-guided bike tours offered by this company, you can check them out at -

And so ended day 2 of our mini-trip to San Francisco!