The Closet Feminist is on Holidays Friday!

Hey Closet Feminists,

We’re going to be taking Friday off as it is a holiday here in BC. We’ll be back on Monday, April 1st, which is going to be April Fool’s-themed! We’ll be updating more than usual on the first so be prepared for some amusing posts.

The Closet Feminist Team

Haven’t I Seen This Before? : Why “Fashion Films” Need Feminism

By: Emily Yakashiro

I have a problem with fashion films. Here’s why.

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Above: A screen shot from Little Women-here we see Susan Sarandon shortly after giving her progressive opinions I discuss below.

The other day I found myself watching the 1994 version of Little Women, based on Lousia May Alcott’s  famous eponymous novel. Alcott herself was quite the activist, being and abolitionist, not to mention her proto-feminist leanings shine through in this particular novel. The movie itself is a regular star-studded event, starring Susan Sarandon (herself a very prominent activist), Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, and Christian Bale (who, incidentally, is Gloria Steinem’s stepson!).

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Above: The character Mr. Brooks in Little Women thinking about Mrs. March’s feminist thoughts.

Watching the movie, I found myself particularly intrigued by a brief conversation Mrs. March (Susan Sarandon) has with John Brooks (Eric Stoltz) as they watch the March girls and Laurie play in the snow outside. Here it is:

Mr. Brooks: Your young ladies are unusually active, Mrs. March, if I may say so.

Mrs. March: You may indeed, Mr. Brooks. In my option young girls are no different from boys in their need for exertion. Feminine weakness and fainting spells are the direct result of confining young girls to the house, bent over their needlework and restrictive corsets.

Now, of all things, this particular exchange reminded me of fashion films/movies. I’ve noticed that with many such movies, we see a lot of women lounging around indoors occupied with various activities. It seems rather rare to see the women featured being particularly active in any sense.

What little activity we do see (dancing, walking, running) seems to fall kind of into the manic pixie dream girl trope which we’ve discussed before. This may seem rather harsh, and of course there’s nothing especially wrong with young women spending time daydreaming and reading by enchanted landscapes, but I think the general atmosphere created undersells what young women are actually doing nowadays. Generally speaking, we’re not spending hours in dreamy contemplation while reading vintage books in silky underthings. We’re in school, working, running websites and blogs, taking our dogs out for walks, traveling, volunteering, attending family dinners, social events, activist gatherings, etc.

What really gets me is that the majority of said fashion films are indeed not only made for women’s fashions, but are made by popular female designers. I really don’t like the idea of critiquing the precious few female designers that exist, but I really wish we could see something other than women moving slowly around as if in a fanciful daze…

Incidentally, I’m not the only one seeing these patterns in fashion films, as we saw with the recent and highly amusing fashion film spoof starring Lizzy Caplan by Viva Vena. Other bloggers, like Christina of For Show (brought to my attention by Style is Style) have also remarked that though beautiful, these movies are kind of ridiculous at times.

Here are some other things I’ve noticed about indie fashion films:

1. They almost always exclusively star white women.

2. There’s a lot of cute dancing often cut with moments of intense or dreamy gazing or contemplation.

3. Vintage props everywhere.

4. Active movement takes the form of dancing, running through the woods, walking through the woods, or one of those activities in another setting.

5. Background music is usually peppy 50s/60s girl pop or slow melancholy jazz or instrumental music.

6. The women starring in the movies are often subject to random forces of nature that affect their movement in strange ways (albeit in slow, strange ways) via sudden gusts of wind, even anti-gravity, giving the overall impression that women have a lack of control over their environments.

7. If there is food present in the movie, it’s usually nice little pastries, cupcakes, or other nicely arranged delicacies.

Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a love of cupcakes and sailor shorts, but I’m getting pretty tired of these common fashion film tropes, because though I love vintage clothes and tea parties as much as the next gal, there is a lot more to me. Mind you, it’s not like I’m even represented in these films in the first place, and neither is my fellow fashion-obsessed friend Lydia, since neither of us are white (see #1).

In other words, there is harm done in perpetuating these tropes that we see in fashion films. I turn once again to Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency who reminds us in her video series Tropes vs. Women that,

A trope is a common pattern in a story or a recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to an audience. A trope becomes a cliche when it is overused. Sadly, some of these tropes often perpetuate offensive stereotypes.

-from Anita Sarkeesian’s series Tropes vs. Women

 

Now, I understand that representation in fashion films doesn’t seem as big of a deal as, say, being represented in government by people of my gender and races. However, I am heavily invested in the fashion world, and have been for years. I buy clothes from everywhere including fast fashion stores and independent Canadian designers, I consume tons of fashion magazines, have my own personal style blog, and I founded this very website in December. I really care about this industry, whether corporate or indie, and it’s important to me to see people with a similar identity as mine represented in something I value so much.

Bottom line? I love the beautiful clothes of talented designers like Vanessa Bruno and Samantha Pleet, but if I see one more video full of white women moving slowly through a cool old house or forest I might barf. And I’m not without ideas, or solutions to this problem- if you’re hoping to make a fashion film soon, let’s talk. Seriously. I’ve got some good ideas that involve zero moss-covered stumps and a soundtrack in mind that will have you ready to take down a whole zombie apocalypse-all while impeccably dressed, of course. So here’s hoping that we see more diversity in the fashion films to come.

A few indie fashion films to consider:

Betina Lou S/S 2012

The Loved One

Alexandra Grecco

Pamela Love

Vanessa Bruno One and Two

Orla Kiely

Colette Valentine

Samantha Pleet One and Two

 

 

 

Gloss Over This: Kelly Oxford

 

 

It is enormously refreshing to hear Oxford speak with such confidence about the trajectory of her career. Nice Canadians-nice Canadian women, especially–are not supposed to be so naked with their ambition, nor so assured about it results. “Psychologically, women don’t boast,” Oxford says. “So I try to do the opposite. I try to sell myself when I’m in a room with people. Men do it all the time” They talk about what they’re doing, what they’re successful at, how good they are. And women just don’t.” She’s right, but it’s an important reminder, one you want to whisper to every nervous twentysomething walking into her first job interview.

-Kelly Oxford to Danielle Groen in “The Concise Oxford” in Flare April 2013.

Well Dressed, Well Read: Anne of Green Gables

“Well, how do you like them?” said Marilla.

 

Anne was standing in the gable room, looking solemnly at three new dresses spread out on the bed. One was of snuffy coloured gingham which Marilla had been tempted to buy from a peddler the preceding summer because it looked so serviceable; one was of black-and-white checked sateen which she had picked up at a bargain counter in the winter; and one was a stuff print of an ugly blue shade which she had purchased that week at a Carmody store.

 

She had made them up herself and they were all made alike-plain skirts fulled tightly to plain waists, with sleeves as plain as waist and skirt and tight as sleeves could be.

 

“I’ll imagine that I like them,” said Anne soberly […] “Oh I am grateful,” protested Anne. “But I’d be ever so much gratefuller if–if you made just one of them with puffed sleeves. Puffed sleeves are so fashionable now. It would give me such a thrill, Marilla, just to wear a dress with puffed sleeves.”

 

-from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

A Look at Diversity in Toronto Fashion Week

Canada is known for its multiculturalism and diversity-but apparently not in the fashion world? We look at 14 fashion designers who recently had shows for their Fall 2013 collections at Toronto Fashion Week to see how Canada’s designers are challenging or upholding the status quo.

Above: A look from Tanya Taylor’s Fall 2013 collection. Image found here.

Last week across our country was fashion week, with both Toronto and Vancouver designers sending models down the runways with their Fall 2013 collections. Something that was heavy on our minds was the diversity of models hired to show off Canada’s couture creations. After all, Canada as a country prides itself on its multiculturalism, and it is something that this country is known for. So, we were anxious to see if Canadian designers would step up to the plate and reflect our country’s racial diversity, or if they would be part of the disturbing trend that is seeing less and less models of colour on the runway…

So here’s the scoop: to be up front, we are picking on Toronto. Vancouver fashion week, though also recent, has not seemed to have produced as many complete pictures of collections as our friends back east. As such, we turned to Toronto, as many major collections were captured in full by photographers.

We based the results below exclusively on the runway collections of the 14 designers below as we saw them on Fashion Magazine‘s website. We chose to rely on Fashion Magazine‘s pictures because out of all the major Canadian fashion magazines, they seemed to have the most pictures of complete collections on their website.

Our project was simple: count how many looks were produced by designers and sent down the runways, and how many models of colour each designer used. These 14 designers were chosen because they were the only ones that Fashion Magazine had shown in full on their website. It is also possible that Fashion did not capture each look from every designer, so it is of course entirely possible that we missed a few looks and models here and there.

 Above: A dress from Pavoni Fall 2013. Image found here.

Lastly, don’t get us wrong–we saw some truly breathtaking and all-around amazing looks by these Canadian designers (like the gorgeous dress above). However, we can’t help but be disappointed that Canadian designers (at least in this small sampling) did little or nothing to challenge the status quo-see for yourself, below.

 

The Label: Chloé Comme Parris

The Designers: Chloé and Parris Gordon

Number of looks shown: 24

Number of Models of Colour in show: 2

 

The Label: Tanya Taylor

The Designer: Tanya Taylor

Number of looks shown: 29

Number of Models of Colour in show: 3

 

The Label: Jeremy Laing

The Designer: Jeremy Laing

Number of looks shown: 31

Number of Models of Colour in show: 3

 

The Label: Steven Tai

The Designer: Steven Tai

Number of looks shown: 14

Number of Models of Colour in show: 2

 

The Label: Comrags

The Designers: Judy Cornish and Joyce Gunhouse

Number of looks shown: 38

Number of Models of Colour in show: 5

The Label: Jean Pierre Braganza (above, a picture from Fall 2013 collection, found here.)

The Designer: Jean Pierre Braganza

Number of looks shown: 31

Number of Models of Colour in show: 5

 

The Label: Joe Fresh

The Designer: Joe Mimran

Number of looks shown: 48

Number of Models of Colour in show: 2

 

The Label: Pink Tartan

The Designer: Kimberly Newport Mimran

Number of looks shown: 41

Number of Models of Colour in show: 4.

The Label: Vawk

The Designer: Sunny Fong

Number of looks shown: 22

Number of Models of Colour in show: 4

BONUS: Fong gets extra credit for being the only designer used in this sample to use a “plus-size” model in his Fall 2013 collection (pictured above, image found here). She appeared on the runway only once during the show, but nevertheless, she was there!

 

The Label: Line Knitwear

The Designer: Jennifer Wells and John Muscat

Number of looks shown: 28

Number of Models of Colour in show: 4

 

The Label: DUY

The Designer: Duy Nguyen

Number of looks shown: 27

Number of Models of Colour in show: 4

 

The Label: Laura Siegel

The Designer: Laura Siegel

Number of looks shown: 15

Number of Models of Colour in show: 3

 

The Label: Lucian Matis 

The Designer: Lucian Matis

Number of looks shown: 34

Number of Models of Colour in show: 3

 

The Label: Pavoni 

The Designer: Mike Derderian and Gianni Falcone

Number of looks shown: 24

Number of Models of Colour in show: 2

 

Overall, Canadian designers: you can do better. We were especially concerned by the Joe Fresh show and Pink Tartan show. These designers (who are incidentally married, Joe Mimran designing Joe Fresh and Kimberly Newport Mimran designing Pink Tartan) showed the most looks out of every one (48 and 41 respectively), but despite this abundance, both were seriously lacking a proportionate amount of models of colour, having only 2 and 4 models respectively!

On the other hand, we applaud the Vawk collection, who, as we noted above, not only had 4 models of colour, but also one model who appeared to be above a size 0! Vawk designer Sunny Fong is known for his relatively diverse runways, here’s hoping he keeps up the good work!

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