Best of Catherynne M. Valente’s “Deathless”

Catherynne M. Valente is one of my favourite writers of all time. I have read almost everything she has written. She’s a feminist, her books always have queer characters, and her writing is nothing short of magic. She’s pretty much The Closet Feminist dream.

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Here are some of my favourite quotes from her book Deathless.

When Marya saw something extraordinary again, she would be ready. She would be clever. She would not let it ruler her or trick her. She would do the tricking, if tricking was called for. (p.24)

When I am Tsarita, I will break all these machines and I will set them free. (p.110)

A marriage is a private thing. It has its own wild laws, and secret histories, and savage acts, and what passes between married people is incomprehensible to outsiders. We look terrible to you, and severe, and you see our blood flying, but what we carry between us is hard-won, and we made it just as we wished it to be, just the color, just the shape. (p.215-216)

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This house, she knew. It stayed within her as it had always been, the architecture of her girlhood. The wood held the oils of her skin deep in its grain; the windows still bore the imprint—long gone, invisible—of her tiny nose. (p.239)

I cannot make you understand that I forgive you, that I know you loved both he and I, the way a mother can love two sons. And no one should be judged for loving more than they ought, only for loving not enough, which was my crime. (p.320)

Feminist Designers: Strange Women Society

The Closet Feminist’s third instalment of Feminist Designers interviews Whitney, founder and head designer for Indianapolis-based Strange Women Society. SWS promises “curious good for curious folk,” and is inspired by all things magic and strange.

What inspired you to start your line Strange Women Society?

The catalyst for Strange Women Society was the frustration I felt with my day job designing items that didn’t really interest me, and oftentimes felt like the antithesis of what I wanted to create.

This boredom/frustration lead me to creating a few textile art pieces for a local art gallery. The piece I made for the show was titled Strange Women, and was centred on the idea of the wild woman, the witchy woman, and the mysteries and myths that surround womanhood and femininity. Thoughts and ideas on this concept snowballed, and I ended up with more designs than I had time to create.

Most found themselves in a sketchbook that was unearthed a few weeks later resurrecting my enthusiasm for the project.

In talking to several woman that connected with the pieces I had made, I realized that maybe there WERE other weirdos out there like me who often felt removed from normality, but who didn’t see this as a negative. I decided to make some of the ideas in my sketchbook happen, and hoped that other people would connect with them in some small way. I didn’t really have a clear vision of what I wanted to create, I just knew I wanted to make strange items for my fellow strange ladies, giving them a space to celebrate their strangeness.

What is it about fashion that inspires your feminist activism?

I think fashion is a perfect place to see both the failures and successes of our culture when it comes to equality. There are obvious issues with representation in the fashion industry. Let’s be real, this sucks… but at the same time I’ve witnessed so many small indie labels breaking the stereotypical mould and showing what the fashion industry could be in the future, and this excites me.

Industry aside, fashion from a personal perspective can also be incredibly revolutionary. Wearing something to purposely challenge a societal expectation is a very visible way to confront outdated ideas and expectations.

Even something that seems simple (you know, just wearing whatever the hell you want) can be incredibly liberating on a personal level. Apples, hourglasses, pears, whatever, it’s ridiculous the amount of pressure that is put on us to feel we have to dress a certain way. At the end of the day, who cares, be revolutionary. Be an apple, wear a body con dress, be a man, wear a miniskirt, be a size 22, wear short shorts. Making the decision to stop allowing the fashion industry or beauty magazines to tell us what is okay and what is wrong is an act of revolution in and of itself.

In your opinion, what is the future of feminism within the fashion and personal style sphere?

There is so much momentum in the self-love and sister love movements within the indie fashion sector that I think it’s only going to continue growing. My hope for the future is that more and more people will be able to find clothes they like, will see themselves represented in more brands, and will feel comfortable enough to wear what they want.

What is currently inspiring you as a designer?

I’m always moved by the idea of the mysterious or mythic, so both old and new interpretations of this has always intrigued me. I’ve also always been fascinated by the illustrations and poetry of Edward Gorey.

What have you learned working on Strange Women Society that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else?

How to run a business! I didn’t originally set out to start a business, and I have to be honest in saying that it is so much more work than I could have imagined.

I think the romance of starting your own business, especially in a creative field, typically focuses on the creative end. Making a thing, having other people enjoy the thing, and getting paid for the thing. People don’t often day dream about the late nights trying to figure out inventory, or trying to figure out your taxes at 6 am after three consecutive days without sleep. I love it. It’s hard, really hard, and I’m still learning, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

Oh! Also! I’ve learned that there are so many rad, supportive women, and artist communities online. I’m not a social media buff in my personal life, so I had no idea these communities existed until I got involved on Instagram with Strange Women Society. I’m honestly in awe of the other incredibly talented, kind, and supportive people I’ve met, and I can’t say enough good things about the community I’ve found on Instagram.

What is next for  Strange Women Society?

Currently I’m working on building a new site, designing more accessories, and teaming up with other awesome artists for a few collaboration items to be added late summer/early fall!

Do you have any advice for folks seeking to start a feminist business?

Just do it. There are going to be a million reasons why you can talk yourself out of doing something you want to do. Don’t let that happen. All of your insecurities will resurface, and you will more than likely fail a few times, but it’s okay. Just keep moving forward. Doing something, keeping with continual forward movement, is the best way to accomplish whatever it is that you are trying to do. Feeling the fear and uncertainty and not allowing that to stop you is the most important thing I’ve ever learned to do.

Women seem to be totally dominating the rise of awesome pin designs. Why do you think that is?

Women are amazing artists! I also think that there is this message of supporting each other and lifting each other up that’s allowed for the rise of so many talented women in the field of pin design.

Instead of competition there is an amazing community of women who have already achieved success in their industry, helping other talented women achieve success, too. There was never a lack of talented women artists, I just think that the atmosphere as of late has allowed for an explosion of incredible designers to be seen and find success among the online communities.

Strange Women Society seems to rely a lot on the idea of a girl gang. What makes the concept of a girl gang important to your work?

Everything! The concept of a girl gang reminds me of the riot grrrl or girl power movements of times past: the idea that we can all be successful. That another woman’s success, talent, or beauty doesn’t take away from our own; it’s not a threat, you know? We should be celebrating our successes, and I think this concept is central to the idea of a girl gang. Sticking together, lifting each other up, celebrating each other’s achievements.  

 

Check out Strange Women Society’s awesome Instagram here.

Want to show your love for Strange Women? Check out their online shop here.

 

All images used with permission from Strange Women Society

Music x Style: Adia Victoria is Just So Brilliant & Cool

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I was super excited to see Adia Victoria perform at The Cobalt last weekend here in Vancouver.  I’ve been hooked on her music since I heard Stuck In the South. Her debut album, Beyond the Bloodhounds, is easily in my top five albums of 2016 so far.

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Adia Victoria is more than just a very talented musician and performer. She is an activist (check out her Facebook), and dedicated the song in her set “Howlin’ Shame” to the victims of the Orlando shooting.

“You are American, but you are also black and your inner life is not often reflected in society because you’re extremely stereotyped and you’re put in this very small box—especially as a black woman. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to get into music. I remember how important it was for me to see other black woman making art, to know that was a possibility for me. I want to make art so I can potentially reach other black girls who are not Beyoncé, girls who don’t see themselves in Rihanna—not that there’s anything wrong with these women.”

  • Adia Victoria in an interview with Live Nation TV here

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She wore all white, both before she got on stage (she was milling about the crowd) and while performing. I just had to do a take on her outfits. I myself have already purchased a long white shirt/dress like the one she wore during the performance because she looked so cool and amazing.

 

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Slim tee, 320 CAD / H M long jacket, 37 CAD / Dondup white shorts, 160 CAD / Buckle shoes, 39 CAD

 

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Stella Jean: “I want to create new and unexpected cultural messages”

The Fall 2016 Stella Jean collection (example below found here) made me a little nervous for reasons mentioned on The CF’s Pinterest. Still, I’m always inspired by her thoughtful, conscientious creative process and the politics that go into her designs. I read an interview with her from last year and it got me pondering and contemplating all over again.

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And while being part of a multiracial family in Italy in the Eighties not only shaped me as a person, but also inspired my professional path, however, it has been neither simple nor painless.  Actually, my cultural background made it harder for me to find an identity. As I am the result of a mix of different cultures and races that could appear completely opposed, but I want to promote a sophisticated and alternative multiculturalism through fashion. Blending traditions that are so distant.  I want to create new and unexpected cultural messages. Fashion gives me ample space to maneuver and find a place where both of these cultures can coexist. This weak point has become both a strength and a fresh start.’

– Stella Jean in an interview with The Fashion Plate Magazine here

Why are the Majority of Top Fall 2016 RTW Shows by Men?

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If you go over the to the Vogue Runway page for the Fall 2016 Ready to Wear Shows, you’ll be greeted by a banner that advertises the “Top Shows”. Something that immediately caught my eye was that the vast majority of the collections were designed by men.

Now, to be fair, there are a few things I’m unsure of when looking at the page:

  1. I don’t know if “Top Shows” is determined by viewer hits on the site OR if the shows are ranked by the editorial staff for the site
  2. The top shows might not necessarily be ranked the very best moving left to right as I’m assuming

Regardless, if we take it at face value: of the ten collections noted as “Top Shows,” only three were designed by women. Marni and Prada are entirely the efforts of female designers, and over at Valentino the credits are split between Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli.

Top Shows/Labels and their Designer:

  1. Lous Vuitton – Nicolas Ghesquière
  2. Valentino- Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli
  3. Chanel- Karl Lagerfeld
  4. Saint Laurent- Hedi Slimane
  5. Balenciaga-  Demna Gvasalia
  6. Loewe- Jonathan Anderson
  7. Balmain- Olivier Rousteing
  8. Dolce & Gabbana- Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce
  9. Marni- Consuelo Castiglioni
  10. Prada -Miuccia Prada

Above: Karl Lagerfeld with models wearing his Fall 2016 collection. Image here.

This is rather troubling because, by and large, societies tend to think of fashion as a stereotypical women’s thing. After all, nearly all the models on the runway are women, and the designs on the catwalk are primarily considered to be for self-identified women.

Despite this, you can see above that the most-lauded design houses are run by men. From behind the seams scenes, the people determining what should be worn on women’s bodies are men. No doubt these top male designers out-earn their female counterparts, and get the bulk of credit for shaping fashion history.

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Above: Miuccia Prada takes a bow after her Fall 2016 show.

Just go to any fashion website or read any fashion magazine, and you’ll see that for all the thousands of articles run on Nicolas Ghesquière every year, a handful will also be written about Conseulo Castiglioni. It’s the typical, sad, sexist truth about our societies–be it writers, filmmakers, artists, musicians, and even fashion designers–we tend to focus on the work and achievements of men.

So, what’s to be done? For one, help change the focus and shift the conversation. At The Closet Feminist, we only pin runway shows that have a female head designer for that season. Read books by women. Listen to music by women. Appreciate art by women. Big steps and baby steps will get us there.

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