Deirdre Kelly


WHEN Grace Mirabella became queen of Vogue magazine in 1971, succeeding Diana Vreeland, the kooky, flamboyant high priestess of fashion, the then- fortysomething daughter of Italian immigrants signaled the changing of the guard by repainting the crimson walls of the editor-in-chief’s office a sobering beige.

Mirabella’s detractors had a field day. John Fairchild of Women’s Wear Daily sneeringly called the Newark, N.J., native “practical,” while Hebe Dorsey of the International Herald Tribune solemnly pronounced that she marked the “end of the era (of) haute couture.” Andy Warhol, once “a soul mate,” lisped that she had been given the job because “Vogue wanted to go middle-class.” Newsweek dubbed her “a nine-to-five” girl.

These were fighting words. Mirabella eventually jabbed back with her 1995  memoirs, In and Out of Vogue, meeting with members of the press on a book tour  to relish her moment of revenge. I was one, meeting her in a Toronto hotel room where she promptly put to rest those critics who accused her of not being “fashion-y enough.”

“That suits me fine,” she said at the time, “if being the opposite means accepting with open arms every backless and frontless and topless and see-through thing that clomps its way down the runway in combat boots.”

Much of In and Out of Vogue is an effervescent tribute to a bygone era of style and glamour. Written with the wry observation and loping stride of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, her book also makes room for that stock-in-trade of the fashion biz: bitchy comment. Photographer Richard (Dick) Avedon is depicted as a screaming ego who “achieved his best effects with girls who were utterly strung out on dope.” Warhol, Candy Darling and hangers-on of Warhol’s Factory scene “smelled like unwashed underwear”; the late designer Halston is described as a glutton for nose candy and Yves Saint Laurent as a drooling drunk.

But to appreciate what Mirabella inherited at Vogue at the dawning of the disco age, one must recall the Vreelandese of the decade before: Everything was “very now,” “very happening,” “very up, up, up.”

Such high-energy declarations may well have been in keeping with the drug-induced frenzies of the sixties, but they were totally out of touch with reality in the seventies. Women were entering the work force in record numbers, they were burning their bras, their girdles, their marriage licences; they were becoming antifashion; worse, they had stopped buying Vogue.

“The age of the Beautiful People was over, I felt, gone the way of Aquarius,” Mirabella told me. “I wanted to give Vogue back to real women. And even though I’d repeatedly been told that my idea of reality as seen in Vogue bore no resemblance to the real thing, I still wanted to create a new image of reality, a heightened reality, as I always called it, that would show women working, playing, acting, dancing . . .”

Vreeland’s vision alienated vast numbers of readers who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – wear her “duh-vine” purple see-through blouses to their new jobs. Newsstand sales of the magazine plummeted; in the first three months of 1971, sales of advertising pages at Vogue had fallen a full 40 per cent. Vreeland’s go-go boots were walking the magazine straight into oblivion.

Senior management at Vogue saw that change was needed. So out went Vreeland and in marched Mirabella, a long-time employee who had risen from gopher to stylist to assistant to editor. And even though Vreeland’s supporters looked down at Mirabella as oh-so-boring, “real” women came to see her as a godsend. As did the company executives who basked in the glory of Mirabella’s success in raising Vogue circulation from 400,000 in 1971 to 1,245,000 in 1987, when she left the magazine after 17 years.


The upstart editor-in-chief wanted to show women “doing things that mattered in the world and wearing clothes that allowed them to enjoy them. . . . I wanted to make Vogue democratic – not middle-class in the sense of being pedestrian or narrow-mindedly moralistic or down-market, but in being accessible to women like me.”

The “me” in question stared down with muzzled disgust at her lunch. The tuna sandwich was, well, more than she expected. She lifted up the upper piece of bread and looked inside and saw olives, a boiled egg and lettuce. The tuna is there but covered up by all this stuff. “Anything wrong, madame?” a nervous waiter asked from the sidelines. “Not really. It’s just that I feel overwhelmed.”

The polite but firm refusal of this lunch-hour repast was perfectly in keeping with Mirabella, a woman for whom the credo ‘Less is More’ seems to have been invented.

“To me, fashion has always been a vehicle – a fascinating, sometimes magnificent vehicle – for helping women enjoy and delight in their lives. Fashion to me isn’t, and never has been, an end in and of itself. You’ll never find me getting excited about shoulder pads or caring deeply, one way or the other, if hemlines went up or down. . . ,” she said. “What I’ve always cared about, passionately, is style. Style is a way a woman carries herself and approaches the world. It’s about how she wears her clothes and it’s more: an attitude about living.”

That is her philosophy. She lives and breathes it. Still.

Dressed on that day in a Bill Blass tailored suit, Mirabella is the personification of “the new ease” and “the new informality” that characterized her reign at Vogue – a long way from the Vogue of 1892 when the New York magazine was founded as the “dignified, authentic journal of society.”

Blass, the U.S. designer Mirabella championed in the seventies along with Halston, Ralph Lauren and Geoffrey Beene, all fulfilled her ideal of “interesting fabrication and marvellous cut and proportion.”

Vreeland’s “fashion is theatre” became Mirabella’s “fashion is freedom.” The changing esthetic was captured by a bevy of new bodies and faces – Lisa Taylor, Karen Graham, Patti Hansen and Lauren Hutton – who effortlessly embodied Mirabella’s “beautiful-tomboy type.” It’s easy to see why she liked those supermodel prototypes: Mirabella, with her wheat- blond hair cut in a shaggy style and barely-there makeup palette (pale eye shadow, a bit of liner, plum lips and a splash of Bulgari eau de parfum), exemplifies the “relaxed and spontaneous” glamour that was her hallmark.

Nevertheless, fashion is notoriously fickle. In 1987, just as unceremoniously as her predecessor, Mirabella, the woman who had made Vogue an almost worldwide arbiter of taste and standards, was unceremoniously fired by the suits who had put her in power.

Then 57, Mirabella found out about her dismissal on the evening news when her friend, society columnist Liz Smith, announced that she had been usurped by 39-year-old Anna Wintour, formerly editor of British Vogue and the revamped House and Garden. She was, the fashion press wagged, a much younger woman. Mirabella, a class act through and through, uttered a terse comment to the New York Times. “For a magazine devoted to style, this was not a very stylish way of telling me.” Those who once thought she was boring now said she was just too fabulous to lose.

“I should have been depressed. But instead I felt oddly elated,” she says of her abrupt departure from the magazine where she had worked for 38 years. “It had been at least two years since I had first wanted to leave Vogue, but I never had the nerve to go.”

Management had been hassling her to make the magazine more like Elle, the new kid on the block. They wanted to capture Elle’s MTV sensibility: trendy, cartoon-like, light on text, heavy on jokey fashion modeled by young and adorable girls. But Mirabella refused, saying, “I didn’t know how to edit a ‘lite ‘n lively’ Vogue.”

She landed on her feet. Rupert Murdoch asked her to start up her own namesake publication. Mirabella, a thinking woman’s “style” magazine, hit the stands in June, 1989, and hit hard – selling out all 525,000 copies.

Advertising sales at first soared but then wavered; reader response was at first good but then critical, after the magazine, under the editorship of Gay Bryant, a Murdoch magazine maven, introduced waif-like models, drab clothes and depressing articles – much to Grace Mirabella’s horror. (Mirabella admits having lost control by that point, when she allowed Murdoch to reassign her to “an ancillary, hand’s-off position.”)

The magazine was also a money-guzzler. Murdoch eventually closed, then sold it in 1993. The publication that industry insiders like to call “the magazine born with a silver spoon in its mouth” was then briefly resurrected by Hachette, the organization that owns Elle. Amy Gross was made editor and Mirabella was renamed “consultant,” sometimes a kiss of death.

“When people call you ‘consultant,’ it usually means there’s no going back,” she said.



 The most successful party thrower always has a secret formula. The aim, says veteran hostess and writer Sondra Gotlieb, is to keep ’em laughing until the wee hours: “When they stay late and don’t get up from the table and everyone’s animated and nobody’s staring ahead, when you’re dead and they won’t leave — that’s the sign of a good party.”

Here’s how to get there from here — a compilation of tips from some of Canada’s party experts.




When it comes to the guest list, the experts agree: Mixing is key.

“We always have a bit of a different group, but there are always lots of creative people — designers, stylists, photographers,” says West Coast writer Sarah Reeder, co-author of Vancouver, The Unknown City, who loves to entertain. “We also always mix up the ages — we are in our early 30s, but have guests ranging from their 20s to 50s.

Mixing the ages makes it more fun for everyone, as long as everyone’s on the same wavelength.”But a house full of interesting people becomes a scintillating party only if the host/hostess knows how to stir it up. Be especially attentive to introductions, especially if people don’t know each other.  Sam Hiyate, president of The Rights Factory in Toronto, calls it the killer pitch.

“For everyone on your guest list, you should have a one-line killer pitch, like ‘X was a stripper in Tokyo,’ and you should have their whole resume down pat,” Hiyate says. “Because, as you introduce someone with the killer pitch, i.e., the most interesting thing about them within the context of the guests at that particular party, then you can also say, ‘Y once changed Canadian law’ and then add, and ‘Y also taught English in Hong Kong.’ Ideally, you should go beyond the introductions, and actually stay for a few moments to speak with X and Y before leving them to their own devices.”




Most people don’t go to parties to look at furniture, but you naturally want your digs to look their best. So use the tricks of the stylist’s trade: lighting and colour. Reeder swears by her soft romantic lighting for making every party magical. “I put tealight candles in clear glasses wrapped with white rice paper, which has the effect of little Japanese lanterns everywhere. Lights are on dim. You want everyone to feel like a movie star.”

Calgarian Mark Musters, a New York-based party planner to the stars, prefers votives and pillar candles in the same colour family to create an intimate atmosphere with little cost. “Or float a gardenia in a martini glass or in fish bowls with floating candles,” Musters adds. “Each container can contain a different cluster of flowers. I like a mix of three together. Think texture. Depending on the time of year, use local florals to draw in the season.”



Think of it as your party’s soundtrack.

Jamie Maw, former food editor of Vancouver Magazine, says music is the focal point of his monthly Sunday gatherings. “Music is always Ella Fitzgerald, Chopin, Rebecca Pidgeon, Mozart and also us, sitting around the piano.”

If it’s a dancing party, Hiyate hires a DJ and decides in advance when the tunes should be cranked up maximally. A little furniture arranging is always in order.

“Set everything up so that if the floor starts shaking, nothing will break. And, of course, your insurance should cover you if serious damage starts to happen. If you don’t have serious insurance and you want to throw a big party, get the insurance immediately. Some floors have been known to collapse from large groups dancing thunderously.”


Never go with a theme.


“It’s the equivalent of opening a concept restaurant in your home,” Maw says.

Gotlieb agrees: “Black tie is theme enough. The only theme at work on your dinner table should be good food. I think it can be anything as long as it’s nicely cooked.”

And keep it casual, Musters says.

“You are the host/hostess: You want to enjoy the party too. Get out of the kitchen, Blanche, and hire a couple of waiters to clean and bartend.”

Hiyate prepares as much as possible beforehand, a trick learned at cooking school. “If you cook everything to 80 or 90 per cent beforehand, then when the guests start arriving, you can pop things back in the oven and complete the cooking — so everything’s hot and fresh.”



Drinks are the fuel of the party, encouraging laughter and loosening lips.

Reeder always serves Segura Vuidas sparkling wine with cassis or fresh raspberry juice and frozen raspberries, ice cold Heineken, red and white wine (usually organic white and red from the French label La Ciboise) and San Pellegrino sparkling water. “We always rent twice as many glasses as we need,” she says. “The best party tip I know is to hire an attractive and friendly young person with serving experience to answer the door, take coats, top up glasses, empty ashtrays and pick up discarded plates and napkins so you can enjoy the party fully. It’ll be the best $50 you spend on your party.”

One of the benefits of good booze at the ready is that it can save a burnt dinner or any other culinary disaster. “If you do that right, you can serve Popsicles and people will still love you,” Hiyate says.

Musters also suggests a selection of seasonal juices — which are colourful, nutritious and great for non-tipplers. Gotlieb recommends having plenty of water — bubbly or otherwise — on hand to dilute alcohol levels between drinks.

While serving only wine at a party is a trend, Gotlieb is of the school of hard liquor. Vino is fine, as long as it’s vintage — but when serving at high volume, who can afford the good stuff? So instead of plonk, offer a mixed bar — for those partial to a scotch and soda, it’s the key to a great party. But be wary of excess.

“Nobody likes a drunk at a party,” Gotlieb says. “But people have to be tolerant. There have been famous drunks in my life and they have been forgiven. But lager louts? Uh-uh.”



Gunst advocates the “diverting cleanup” for those too busy to scour the house. Pile junk into closets or boxes in the furnace room and dress up the party space with seasonal flowers or greenery. Tealights spread about the room disguise a multitude of sins. Sequined napkins and tablecloths in diaphanous fabrics like organza create a fabulous shimmer and draw the eye.


“Entertaining is about giving,” U.S. author Kathy Gunst says in Relax, Company’s Coming! (Simon & Schuster, $38). In her book, subtitled 150 Recipes for Stress-Free Entertaining, Gunst points out that what makes a party memorable is not the matched napkins but the fun people had. The point being that if you don’t have time, don’t waste it obsessing over your house and menu — save it for your guests.

Eyes Are Popping

With eyewear reaching new heights of idiosyncrasy, it seems only natural that the iconic looks of the Swinging Sixties should be hauled out of retirement. Remember Michael Caine in Funeral in Berlin? Audrey Hepburn in Charade? Now look for Solange Knowles, Kate Moss and Liam Gallagher wearing remakes of their iconic specs.

It’s all thanks to Claire Goldsmith, great-granddaughter of Oliver Goldsmith, the London optician who more than 50 years ago, when British fashion was at the vanguard of a style revolution, reigned over the catwalk and the silver screen with his custom-made eyewear.

Since relaunching the brand in 2005, she has helped reposition Oliver Goldsmith glasses at the forefront of style. She today creates frames herself, updating the company originally founded in 1926. She also scours the family archives in search of the original behind the eyewear looks in such films as Two for the Road, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, How to Steal a Million and The Ipcress File, and selling them to a newly intrigued public.

“Many designer sunglasses are produced in their millions,” she says, “but our’s are made in their ones.”

They are also timeless.

For the 1965 espionage thriller, The Caine wore a heavy frame with a triangular arm that concealed secret messages. Fashionistas similarly wanting to go undercover this season can now get the look themselves. Called the Ingema, the frame was also worn by Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2.

Other frames are named after their famous wearers — the Audrey, the Britt, the Sophia Loren. The glasses themselves are hand-tinted, using the original equipment in use when John Lennon started wearing the round wire granny glasses made for him by — who else? — Oliver Goldsmith. Some of the frames are handcrafted by the same artisans who served the company in the 1960s and 1970s.

“I have pulled them kicking and screaming out of retirement,” Claire Goldsmith says.

And because made to order, they can be adjusted to suit your face.

But sometimes it’s all about the statement.

“I don’t believe in those theories about certain styles suiting certain shaped faces,” Goldsmith Senior famously told The Times of London in 1968.

“Life is too short. If you find a shape you like, have it and never mind what anyone thinks.”

So go on. Make a spectacle.


Lounge Like a Lady

In a softly lit room lounges a thirtysomething woman in the throes of divorce. And she is happy. She has a new job, a new house, a new life. But most significant, she has a new piece of furniture — a chaise longue on which she frequently reposes, relishing her newfound freedom.

“I got it when I was splitting with my husband,” Vancouver public-relations consultant Gwendolyne Gawlick remembers. “The chair was part of that process of independence, and it went with me when I was leaving the marital home. He got the Shaker easy chair.”

The chaise longue in question, to get it just right in your mind, has rounded feminine curves upholstered in a leopard print. Its owner calls it A Room of One’s Own, after the classic Virginia Woolf essay in which a woman’s independence is linked to having a place that is exclusively hers.

Let men keep their La-Z-Boys. The chaise longue is the true seat of feminine mystique.

In between a day bed and a sofa, this stylish piece of furniture has historically played a role in the social emancipation of women. Think Cleopatra reclining on her divan, holding the asp whose deadly bite would free her from the humiliation of being a slave to Imperial Rome. Think Sarah Bernhardt, the groundbreaking French stage actress, whose chaise longue (literally, “long chair”) was the proverbial casting couch, where dozens of lovers auditioned for a part in her sexually liberated life.

The chaise’s patron saint is Jeanne Françoise Bernard Comtesse de Récamier, whom the neoclassical painter David illustriously depicted reclining on a backless chaise that after 1777 became known as a Récamier.

“She was famous for her intelligence, wit and beauty,” Calgary interior designer Coco Cran says. “All during the Restoration, she entertained, in the reclining position, the upper echelons of the intellectual society. Among her close friends was Châteaubriand. Under her auspices, women have found assurance and confidence and comfort — you cannot share it.”

Though it never went out of style in certain quarters, the chaise is once again in the ascendant. It’s also a prime example of the trend to multifunctional furniture among dwellers of small urban spaces — it’s good for sitting, sleeping and anything else in between.

But the new chaise is a stripped-down affair, more likely to be upholstered in hot-pink felt than the traditional plush velvet. Rashid’s Q-Chaise for Umbra is made of a cube of solid foam carved into two upholstered pieces, a chair and a curvy footstool, that together form a chaise. When space is at a minimum, it fits back together into a cube.

It’s a space-agey look that is more likely to appeal to the male of the species, who tend to prefer the lean and mean modern take on the chaise — Le Corbusier, for example, in hard black leather. But the typical buyer of a chaise is female, says Susanne Plummer, president of Toronto-based Natural By Design, which imports handcrafted wicker and leather chaises from Germany for distribution across North America.

“The chaise is a sensual piece of furniture, so naturally women are attracted to it,” says Plummer.

“Women buy them more than men, by far,” agrees Hamid Samad, co-owner of Commute, a home décor store selling a variety of vintage and custom-order chaise longues on Toronto’s trend-conscious Queen Street West.

Samad, whose particular favourite is a neo-Renaissance beauty with a curved back, describes the chaise as a piece of furniture that is “comfortable for one, intimate for two; a good place to be alone and a good place to have sex.”

In the Brad Pitt film, Meet Joe Black, death and the maiden (played by Claire Forlani) have life-affirming sex on a poolside chaise longue. In Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections,the chaise is a metaphor for sensual obsession: The male protagonist makes mad love to a woman who eventually abandons him; to recapture her memory, he roots for her secreted scent in the tufts of the chaise that supported their affair.

“He worked his lips down into the chaise’s buttoned navels and kissed the lint and grit and crumbs and hairs that had collected in them. None of the three spots where he thought he smelled Melissa was unambiguously tangy, but after exhaustive comparison he was able to settle on the least questionable of the three spots, near a button just south of the backrest, and give it his full nasal attention.”

It has as many moods as styles. Backless, it is practical. Asymmetrical, it is playful. Curvaceous, like the knock-out Linea chaise from Italian manufacturer Paola Lenti, it is very sexy — and ready for action. But you have to have the stamina, says Vicki Lygouriatis, who offers the Linea up for sale at Toronto’s Quasi Modo. “The Linea chaise has caught the attention of the twentysomething crowd up to the late 30s, since it is quite low to the ground and requires a lot of action to get in and out of.”

The versatility of the chaise is a boon to home decorators like Toronto’s Sasha Josipowicz, who views it as the most functional piece of furniture in his repertoire of interior design tools. “Depending on the person, depending on the atmosphere you want to create, the chaise has as many faces as Mata Hari,” he says.

But behind the diversity of looks lies a singular purpose: “It is where you expect to seduce or be seduced.”

Some of his clients have felt uneasy about Josipowicz’s insistence on a chaise as an integral part of their décor. Says writer-turned-senator Linda Frum, “I was never sure about having a bed in my living room. It was altogether too suggestive.”

But to  Jessica Cherniak, her Récamier-style chaise is escapism on a William Morris print. The recently separated mother of four calls it the “Don’t Bug Me chaise longue.”

As a birth facilitator and personal trainer, the Vancouver resident is constantly involved in work that is physical and giving to others. The chaise is her retreat. “It is an island that gives me distance from the rest of life and a place from which I can observe and conquer,” she says. “I would call it the centre of my sanctuary.” Read the rest of this entry »

Hate Wearing A Bathing Suit? You’re Not Alone.

Once I had the luck of vacationing on the tony Caribbean island of St. Barth’s. It is a très French outpost, so vacationers can go as bare as they dare. But the most stylish woman on the sand was not in an itsy-bitsy bikini. Bianca Jagger, international partier and socialite, was covered head to stylish toe.
Her lower half was clad in black footless spandex pants. Her upper half was shielded by a batik-patterned sarong tied halter-style around the throat so that it billowed suggestively as she walked. On her head was a big floppy straw hat that made the large dark glasses seem really beside the point.

What woman can’t relate? Okay, not to the superstar bit. But to the fact that as we get older bathing suits become the bete noir of female existence. Who honestly looks good in one after the age of 22? Cellulite is the curse of even the most svelte. Add childbearing to the mix and there are sags and stretch marks that most women would prefer to keep a private matter.

The women’s magazines encourage us to put on brave face, and annually trot out swimsuit issues that offer tips on finding the perfect bikini even if you’re big, booby and bulging at the sides. Like, as if.

But we can adopt Bianca’s attitude and say, screw it. No more wiggling into French-cut bottoms that are supposed to make our legs look long. No more searching for industrial underwire. Instead, this summer, forget about the bathing suit altogether.

Grace Zeppilli, the Toronto-based vice president of Hugo Boss Woman, layers her bathing suit with a dress that she says is like a long tank top with buttons down the front. She tends to wear it open, to give a peek of the suit beneath and not much else.

“It’s about living the beach scene,” Zeppilli says. “You know, a little shopping in the morning, a light lunch, then an afternoon at the beach vegetating and reading books. Afterwards, you walk home in your big hat, your great sunglasses and your sarong — your lifesaver — and you feel good.” Summer fashion 2002 is custom-made for the bathing suit phobic. There are thigh-skimming peasant shirts galore; batik-patterned sarongs, fringe on belts and hemlines that looks like veils of smoke on the body — obscuring but not entirely concealing the feminine form beneath.


Fashion’s present love affair with hippie chic has heralded the return of crochet, macramé and lace, updated with stretch to make it truly body-flattering. These materials are making it into dresses and tunics that can be worn over bathing suits for a look of seductive peekaboo. Sarongs, bolero tops and blousons emphasize the new body of the season, which is voluptuously, not athletically, feminine.



In response to consumer demand for more coverage, Montreal-based Maillots Baltex Inc., which sells seven million suits annually to customers in Canada and the United States, has this season produced an accessories line of cover-ups in the form of pareos and pyjama tops. Steven Balit, vice-president of marketing, says today’s women are more conscious of their bodies and their health “and so we’ve answered the demand by including in our swimwear line cover-ups that can be worn with a bathing suit or with other clothes.

“The whole trend towards shirring has resulted in the industry adopting fabrics like jersey and georgette and polyester blends that drape well. It’s also part of the gypsy look, popular right now. We find that women take our pieces and mix them up and not always with a bathing suit.”

Blatant skimpiness is no longer the order of the day anyway, says Dr. Lisa Kellett, director of cosmetic laser dermatology at Toronto’s SpaMedica.

“Canadians are becoming more aware of the risks of revealing their skin in the summertime and the need for sun protection, because exposure to the sun is related to an increased chance of skin cancer and also photo-aging of the skin.”

Designers are heeding the call by creating summer looks that artfully conceal, without detracting from a woman’s need to feel flirty as the sun shines.

Dolce & Gabbana’s floral-applique silk shifts, Jean Paul Gaultier’s long lacy tunics over pants, Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent’s thigh-slit muumuu, Missoni’s silk-ribbon tunic, Etro’s wispy chiffon dresses, Ungaro’s kimono cover-ups and Iceberg’s maxi-print floral beach coats are part of the season’s fascination with the lightness of being (without maximum exposure).

“We as dermatologists love to see long-sleeved flowing attire in vogue,” says Ian Landell, director of the Landell Institute of Cosmetic Dermatology in St. John’s, and a spokesman for the Ombrelle sunscreen line. “It makes our lives easier because we don’t have to harp so much to our patients to keep out of the sun.”

Terry towelling, a popular retro revival trend, is back in the form of cover-ups that evoke Grace Kelly’s French Riviera. Chloe’s first swimwear line, designed by Phoebe Philo, includes terry towelling cover-ups and matching beach towels that take you from beach to bar without needing to shower in between. It Girls Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Nelly Furtado have been spotted in terry shorts and drawstring pants, most notably by hot label Juicy Couture.

Indeed, the bathing suit is becoming irrelevent this season as a fashion statement.

Take a cue from Canadian screen siren Arsinée Khanjian: The key to chic this summer is whimsical layering. The Toronto-based actress and mother of an eight-year old son recently told The Globe that her swimsuit style secret is to cover it up with something more beguiling:

“Three or four years ago, I went to Marks and Spencer and bought five black one-piece bathing suits. I wear one under a tunic that is made out of the same fabric to swim. It feels very sensual. The Twenties would have been a wonderful time for me.”

For her part, Zeppilli avoids the water altogether.

“Swimming fits nowhere in the equation. Have you ever seen a European woman get her hair wet? Especially not after all the time she has spent getting herself done for the day.”

Get the look:

A hip sun-and-sand wardrobe is easy to pull off this summer. Here’s how.

1. Thigh-skimming djeballas, tie-dyed, psychedelia-swirled and embellished with beads or sequins are the anti-swimmer’s top choice.


2. Sarongs are your lifesaver. Wear them to the thigh or ankle with a bandeau top or plunging neckline. Or get a long fringed scarf to wear around your hips over footless lycra pants.

3. Jewellery brings sparkle to a summer day. Go for ultimate glitz with gold like this Robert Lee Morris cuff, about $5,300, at Birks.

4. Hats are de rigueur to block out the sun. Look for large brims in coral, lime or fuschia.

5. Flats are the season’s biggest story. Look for sandals with soles as thick as a stick of gum in leather with metallic hardware or beading.

When Your White Wedding Dress Makes You Blue

I am trying to remember the dream I had before my wedding day. It involved, of course, my mother. She is raising the veil on my face, and then gets it tangled in my hair.

Other women, I discovered, also dream before they walk the aisle to the altar. They dream about the dress getting dirty, about losing the dress. After all, we call it the dream dress: the single garment that symbolizes the fulfilment of hopes nurtured since childhood. But it is also fraught with fears.

Because marriage is such a pivotal moment, its most visible symbol looms huge in the psyches of women. And it’s a preoccupation, says culture critic Camille Paglia, that has proved remarkably resistant to change. “I recognize and respect the intense identification many young women feel with the wedding gown and wedding ceremony,” Paglia says in an e-mail interview, “as demonstrated by the enormous popularity of bride’s magazines, which 30 years of feminism have done nothing to change. Feminism has too often arrogantly dismissed such evidence of the dreams and tastes of real women.”

New York bridal designer Vera Wang has made a powerful business out of the obsession with the dress. She describes it as something “akin to madness” in her lavish new coffee table book Vera Wang on Weddings, which itself reminds me of a dress in its use of translucent pages and overlayered images.

“It happens two weeks before the wedding,” says Justina McCaffrey from her Ottawa salon, where she is designing the dress for the high-profile June wedding of prime ministerial offspring Catherine Clark.

“I’ll be fitting them and the brides will say to me, ‘Last night, I had this really weird dream.’ And it’s always about the dress.”

There are some common scenarios. The bride arrives at the ceremony to find everyone staring at her aghast. She thinks she looks all right until she looks down and sees that she’s isn’t wearing the dress at all, but a pair of see-through harem pants. Or the dress is covered in blood or people are tugging and tearing at the dress, which becomes muddied and unkempt.

“Of course, it’s not about the dress itself,” says McCaffrey. “It’s about their relatives forcing them to do things they don’t want; or it’s about their lack of communication with the groom.”

In my case, the lack of communication was with my mother. She has always said my success is her success, so I have had to be perfect. So did my wedding. And so she chose the dress I was to wear, which wasn’t an articulation of my dream as much as it was hers. She wanted respectable; I wanted high romance. When I think about that dress, nearly seven years later, I still feel the urge to cry.

Catherine Cooper, the designer behind Urban Bride on Toronto’s trendy Queen Street West, listens patiently as I tell my dress story. She’s used to it. Sitting in her atelier, at the centre of which is a huge jar of pacifier foods like Oreos and Peek Frean princess cookies, she says, “I tell my brides I charge $20 an hour for sewing, $100 an hour for counselling.” She is only half- joking.

“I learn their entire psychology,” says Cooper, “what they grew up with. For the most part, it’s a not a fashion job. It’s psychotherapy.”

And so she analyzes me, and she is worth the $100: “The first thing I think when I hear you say you asked your mother to go shopping with you for the dress is that you wanted to bond with her; you wanted her approval. And you wanted her love.”

Designer Lana Lowon doesn’t listen to mothers. She gives them a glass of champagne and shoos them out to the garden so she can give her full attention to the bride. Her wedding dresses are clingy, low-cut sheaths — dresses for the bride as sex bomb. I can see myself in one of these, fully in charge. Alas, her salon wasn’t open when I was getting married.

Lowon is a firm believer that life is about dressing your fantasy. She designed evening gowns for her actress/model clientele with partner and husband Jim Pope before turning to wedding gowns in 1996. She sees the wedding dress as the ultimate dress-up.

“My clients don’t want to feel like an offering given up at the altar. That’s very important, because this is the sum of who she has been to this point in her life, it’s the girl she was, and it’s the woman she’s about to become. And so she dresses sexy. She shows her body in bias-cut dresses that flatter her figure. If she’s not ready for that, if she has a bad body image, then she’ll get one of those pouffy gowns. That’s what they’re there for: to hide the body, hide the girl.”

The $100-billion bridal industry recognizes the enduring power of the fantasy. Canada’s doorstopper industry bible, Wedding Bells magazine, has pages of brides looking like Guinevere or the Lady of Shallot. There are Victorian belles with ostrich plumes in their hair and Scarlett O’Haras in lace and silk rosettes. And after the ’90s flirtation with minimalism, made popular by Carolyn Bessette’s wedding to John F. Kennedy Jr. in unadorned Narciso Rodriguez, the regal look is back.

Some call it the Cinderella syndrome. The intense fascination with women who make the fairy tale their own reveals how dominant a myth it is in our culture. The apotheosis of the myth was the 1981 marriage of nursery school teacher Diana Spencer to Prince Charles. Diana’s dress — a full taffeta gown trimmed with thousands of pearls, antique lace and a vast 25-foot train — epitomized the princess bride ideal and thousands of women throughout the ’80s followed.

Grace Kelly’s ivory peau de soie and satin dress, with yards of antique rose-point Belgian lace, was created by MGM Studio’s costume designer Helen Rose for the actress’s marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco. It was a significant choice. “On her wedding day, a girl is acting in her own film,” says Lowon. “The dress defines the role she wants to play, the impression she wants people to have as she walks down the aisle.”

Not everyone buys into the dress. Take New York academic Jaclyn Geller’s 2001 book Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings and the Marriage Mystique, a 400-page anti-marriage rant.

“I hope to dissuade many would-be wives from draping themselves in white and walking down the aisle,” Geller, 39, writes. “We must stop repeating the absurd mantra, ‘It’s okay to be single,’ and adopt the more aggressive stance that it’s not okay to be married.”

Geller is, as one critic called her, a lone Amazonian warrior in a culture in which marriage is booming. Her anti-marriage mania is right to target the gross excesses of weddings. But she misses the point when she criticizes women for wanting to make the choice. In this regard, the self-professed spinister-by-choice is old-fashionedly blinkered in her thinking.

A case in point is an upcoming lesbian wedding ceremony taking place in Toronto this summer. The designated bride, who never ever wears a dress in everyday life, recently walked into Pam Chorley’s Fashion Crimes boutique in Toronto and poured out her inner fantasy.

“She came in in jeans and she went out with a full-length dress with a bit of a train, the colour of an orchid,” says Chorley. “And on her head we wrapped silver speckled tulle and old lace. She looked fantastic.”

McCaffrey in Ottawa has also had her share of wedding dress transformations: “It’s more often than not the corporate chicks, who come in with their briefcases and Gucci glasses and tell me, ‘Listen. don’t give me anything with crinoline. I just want a suit.’ And then by the end of the appointment, they are standing in front of the mirror wearing the pouffiest dress in the store, a tiara on their head — and they’re bawling their eyes out.”

It’s all part of the theatre of the self, where ideally you write the script for the character you are about to play — bride for the day. “Weddings are all about the bride: She’s the superstar,” says Paglia. “The groom is just a cipher. The whiteness of the gown symbolizes a virginity or purity that modern liberated women thought was a fossil of history. But there are enduring mysteries about procreation, whose biological burden falls most heavily on women. The whiteness of the wedding gown marks women’s last moment of innocence.”

In my case, I had directed everything — the bridesmaids (in matching blue velvet), the flowers, the limousines, the flirty first dance number by Sadie B. Hawkins.

But I hadn’t scripted that dress, and for months after the ceremony, it haunted me and made me feel my wedding had been a less than fabulous affair. One day, I pulled it out and looked at it hard. And then I realized that it had become another symbol: of relinquishing control.

Only then was I able to put it away. I paid to have it preserved and have it stored safely in a shiny white box. It is my own personal relic, the kind you see in churches. It makes me contemplate my inner life.

Since that moment of self-realization, I have since ceased asking my mother to shop with me. As I approach my seventh wedding anniversary in the fall, I am more my own woman. And so the symbolism of the wedding dress rings true; it did mark the end of the person I was and the beginning of the person I am now.

How Much Do I Like The Beatles? Maybe Too Much.

The Beatles: Still in Style

Wednesday, May 24, 2017: Catered Luncheon and Lecture
12:30 pm $30 includes a catered luncheon, dessert, coffee, tea and the lecture.

Deirdre Kelly, for decades The Globe and Mail’s award-winning dance critic and Style reporter, is presently working on a new book about The Beatles following the successful publications of her memoir, Paris Times Eight, and dance tell-all, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection. Her talk will explore how the Fabs continue to fascinate, more than a half century on.  A presentation of The Women’s Art Association of Canada. 

The Women’s Art Association of Canada
23 Prince Arthur Avenue Toronto ON M5R 1B2
Telephone: 416-922-2060



When Fashion is Forever: David Livingstone Remembered

My former Globe and Mail colleague, fashion journalist David Livingstone, has passed away but not without leaving a closetful of memories and trunks full of words that will live on well after his untimely demise in Toronto at the age of 69. A person who made his living thinking about and dissecting images, David has left behind some potent imagery of his own.

I distinctly remember my first encounter. He was at a Formica desk, its very ugliness highlighted by a canopy of fluorescent lights, and sitting directly opposite his style mentor, and if of our other legendary colleagues, Joyce Carter, and smoking his face off.  This was the Fashion & Design department as it was then called, a bare and stripped down corner of a loud and dirty annex to the newsroom with not a sample bag or any other form of graft in sight. The writing was its own perk.

The air was purple with the emissions from David’s ever present cigarette. He had an ashtray in front of him, and it was overflowing with yellowed butts. David may have loved writing about aesthetics but in real life he was quite the slob. His shirt was rumpled and so was his hair. His thick rimmed glasses slid down a nose that, to be honest, was frequently held high in the air. David was an unapologetic snob. He barely deigned to speak with me in those early days. I was fresh out of university. I was known in the halls as the ‘kid kwitic.’ But I think David called me airhead. He definitely had a mean streak. He could sit quiet as a mouse, chain smoking away at some fashion function, then totally explode in a torrent of foul and insulting language if something went not how he liked. I experienced it myself, early on.

One of my dear school friends was walking the runway at the Canadian Festival of Fashion, a long ago precursor to Toronto Fashion Week. How long ago? Well, MAC cosmetics had just launched and had a booth on the floor of the convention centre. Karen Kain, then in her prime, sat front row. Comrags, Loucas, Clotheslines, Wayne Clark and Alfred Sung were among the designers showing their latest lines. My tall and leggy pal, like me just a few years into our twenties, looked wonderful as she strutted down the length of the elevated stage. She had modelled in Paris since leaving high school, and this was my first time seeing her do the glamour thing in real life.

In my excitement I turned to David sitting next to me and said, teasingly, “I’m sure you’ll mention her walk.” He had already established a practice of commenting on “mannequins” as he steadfastly called the rising breed of models who in a few short years would become as big if not bigger as the designers themselves. Model was a word that for some reason he found beneath him. He also knew my friend. It was just banter. A bit of off-the-cuff fun. But David flipped out, tearing a strip off me, there and then, about how no one ever tells him what to write and basically to piss right off. It was over the top, but that was David.

He had integrity and a great store of pride. He was irascible with almost everyone, and so I knew not to place too much stock in the outburst. He was back to being chatty with me in no time, fluttering his eyebrows as he spoke, not just about fashion, but the latest bands. He loved pop music, nearly as much as he loved fashion. I think his style writing was informed by the subversive rhythms of the day. It’s one of the things that made him unique.

Our association at the Globe was short. David left the paper in 1996 when the distinguished investigative reporter and author, Stevie Cameron, another of our great Globe colleagues of times now very much past, invited him to join her in a new venture. She had become editor-in-chief of Elm Street magazine and she wanted David to be her fashion editor. He handed in his resignation. Perhaps I alone knew how significant it was that he would be leaving.

I had cut my teeth on his writing. As an undergraduate toiling at my university student newspaper I used to read him, Joyce and the Globe’s late great film critic Jay Scott as part of my self-directed journalistic education. I noticed then how when his quirkily stylish fashion articles would appear alongside Joyce’s in the weekly pages David managed to turn the dull grey national paper into a beacon of chic. Everyone read him. So I alone volunteered to write his send-off. The editors weren’t sure. But I persisted and they relented. He wasn’t a good interview.

All the while I tried to be serious, he kept squirming and smoking and mumbling things like, “Oh when a dog has a bone in his mouth how are you supposed to cope? ” He was referring to an editor he didn’t like. To paint his portrait in words I had to go outside the newsroom, to people who sincerely adored and respected him. There were many to choose from. I will share again their insights below. He thanked me but not really. All he gave me in return was was a raised eyebrow.

Since then, and in the intervening two decades, I kept running into David at assorted fashion events. Ironically, I had become the Globe’s fashion writer in his absence, a job thrust upon me after years as the paper’s dance critic. I always had his example to fall back on. Not that I ever solicited him for advice. I wouldn’t have dared. When we were side-by-side in “le standing room” inside one of the tents at the European collections, two Canadians alone in a crowd, he had refused to speak to me. Life might not have gone as planned. Elm Street had folded and he had moved from fashion editing  job to fashion editing job. Despite his curmudgeonly behaviour toward me, I had urged him to apply to come back to the Globe. He was what everyone in the industry called the best, after all. But I think that interview had not gone so well. I never did learn the details. He continued to be elusive in conversation, though one time, and I never will forget it, he cornered me at a party which the Toronto Star reporter Susan Walker had thrown at her house, desperate to talk.

He was with yet another esteemed former colleague of ours, the architect critic Adele Freedman, and both them were smoking up a storm and inches from my face. Through choking clouds of arsenic laced fumes David loudly declared that he admired my guts. I had been bullied at work and had stood up for myself and had brought the meanies down. It was public knowledge. But few of my colleagues had ever told me to my face that they had been quietly rooting for me. David wasn’t even there at the time. He had been watching me, obviously with Adele close by, from a far. It was an isolated moment of true comradeship. And all the more sweet for coming from one who never did mince his words when speaking out on something he felt strongly about. So I have that to cherish. And I always will. David Livingstone, thank you for leading the way. In tribute I share my original tribute to his genius:

Fashion & Design
The end of a stylish era After 13 years at The Globe and Mail, fashion reporter David Livingstone is moving on.
20 June 1996

FOR a guy who has spent the better part of his 48 years writing about couture, David Livingstone is no fashion victim. His clothes are workaday: a hockey sweater, a pair of Levi’s, comfortable shoes and a labourer’s jacket bought on his first trip to the Paris collections. But while simple, the uniform represents a studied esthetic. “A sense of style has nothing to do with money,” said the bespectacled scribe, with a drag of his ubiquitous cigarette. “Besides, I love the clothes of the working man. They’re honest.”

Livingstone’s admiration of what passes for truth in fashion — clean lines, natural fabrics and quality workmanship — has put him in good stead as a journalist. He is respected in fashion centres around the world as a writer of integrity and insight.

“You are the rarer kind of journalist [these days] who tries to communicate your ideas and inform your readers,” wrote London designer Vivienne Westwood.

“If everyone could guarantee themselves an interviewer as thorough and as thoughtful as you, no one could ever refuse to give interviews,” declared former New Yorker fashion writer Kennedy Fraser.

In Toronto, where Livingstone honed his craft first as a freelance writer on pop music and style for Maclean’s and Toronto Life Fashion and, since 1983, as fashion reporter for The Globe and Mail, the accolades run thick in a business known for its cattiness.

“There’s no question that David’s brilliant,” enthused FashionTelevision’s Jeanne Beker.

“In a field where the lines between the art and the business are often blurred, David has never fallen prey to the promotional, but has always maintained a unique perspective in search of the artistry in fashion,” added fashion public-relations consultant Jane Mussett.

“He’s always able to put fashion into the loop of history and make it cyclical,” said Krystyne Griffin, a former couture buyer for Holt Renfrew.

Livingstone’s gift for turning fashion into witty cultural commentary has made him ripe for the picking. The taker is Stevie Cameron, the political columnist turned magazine editor, who snatched Livingstone away from The Globe to join her new Toronto-based publication, which makes its debut in October.

“I have always been a fan of David Livingstone’s,” Cameron said. “And when they [the magazine’s publisher] offered me the job and they said I had to get a fashion-and-beauty editor, I kept phoning them from Jerusalem and from Russia and other places where I was travelling and asking them if they had talked to David yet because to me he’s simply the best.”

After 13 years and more than 1,700 by-lined articles, Livingstone leaves the Globe with the enthusiasm of a man ready to take on a new adventure. “I look forward to the opportunity to be involved in something from the ground floor up, to work with people who want to make this a successful venture and to function, finally, as an editor.”

Livingstone came to fashion journalism in a laundry hamper. He was born in Glace Bay, N.S., in 1948. Both his grandfathers were coal miners. He was studying English at the University of Toronto when he landed his first job in newspapers, selling classified ads.

After graduating in 1970, he got a job as an editor in the publications department at TVOntario. His first writing was background articles in a TVO advertising supplement in The Globe and Mail. “I met a lot of journalists this way,” Livingstone recalled. “And that’s when I first realized that you didn’t have to know about anything to have your name in print,” he added with a smoky growl of a laugh.

Encouraged, in 1977 he quit TVO and started writing about pop culture full time. His first fashion piece was on sunglasses. He researched the subject to death, he said. “I have always liked doing research where fashion is concerned. Mainly because there’s such flimsy material out there, so any investigation you do is fun because it’s like covering new ground. And, of course, research is a way of avoiding writing . . . a painful and hideous process.”

Livingstone’s investigative skills have increasingly distinguished him from other fashion writers. “David doesn’t rely on hearsay,” said Bernadette Morra, fashion editor of The Toronto Star. “He will go as far as he has to go to find out what the facts are and what the actual history of a garment or a designer is. He never takes the easy road.”

Consequently, he is never pat, never superficial. He lends fashion writing the dignity it deserves.

“It is a fine subject, sometimes,” Kennedy Fraser wrote in a letter to him, “and I hope you keep negotiating its shoals and keep writing well about it for as long as you ever want to.”

Elusively Fluid-Farewell Trisha Brown

IMG_2223American postmodern dance pioneer Trisha Brown has died in New York, the city where she reinventing dance as an act of non-virtuosic rebellion. She was legendary, even in her own time, and in 1989 I went to New York to review her latest premiere, a collaboration with the artist Robert Rauschenberg, a frequent collaborator. Reading my Globe and Mail dance review, I can see her again vividly in memory, her hips swaying sensualously as she danced as she often did– with her back to the audience. I hope it recalls to you, too, how unique she was:
Choreographer pushes limits of unpredictability
25 March 1989


WITH Astral Convertible, U.S. modern dance innovator Trisha Brown forges a meeting ground for old and new. Where in the past the 52-year-old dancer and choreographer explored the rock-bottom elements of dance – space, time and weight – and the ways in which external influences affected them, today she is concerned with seeing how the basics of choreography affect and (significantly) alter the world around them. The new piece, which had its U.S. premiere at City Centre last week, excites and startles precisely because of this unpredictability.


As she has done many times in the past, Brown has here collaborated with artist Robert Rauschenberg. He designed the sets, a series of eight aluminum towers with headlights attached, while Richard Landry, another long-time collaborator, designed the sound: traffic noises mixed with instrumental and percussive compositions. The sound system and Ken Tabachnick’s lighting designs are hooked up to sensors hidden within the Rauschenberg towers. They respond to and are directed by the dancers’ changing movement with the result that it is the choreography that determines the aural and visual composition and not the other way round.

Brown introduces a wide margin for controlled improvisation, which means that no two performances of the piece are the same. A hand gesture one night might sound a drum beat, raise the volume of the city traffic. On another evening, the same hand might move differently and inspire a whole new set of noises or lighting effects. It is unpredictable, yet in many ways reminiscent of Brown’s avant-garde work in the past.

Park Avenue Armory presents Trisha Brown Dance Company’s reconstruction of Astral Converted, a groundbreaking work by choreographer Trisha Brown in collaboration with Robert Rauschenberg (visual and costume design) and John Cage (original music) on July 10, 2012.  The piece will be presented in its entirety for the first time in 18 years in Park Avenue Armory’s soaring 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall. The Dancers:  (per the line-up, l-r): Patrick Ferreri, Tara Lorenzen, Megan Madorin, Leah Morrison, Tamara Riewe, Jamie Scott, Stuart Shugg, Nicholas Strafaccia Samuel von Wentz  Credit: Stephanie Berger

In the sixties, when Brown was cutting her teeth on experimental work, she specialized in artful collaborations with artists from other disciplines. From the beginning, she was interested in widening the parameters of dance and jostling conventional ways of seeing movement in the theatre. She specialized in “happenings,” events organized around a “found” object or chance occurrence. Astral Convertible harkens back to those days with its concentration on randomness of expression and serendipity of design.


Critics have noted that, on one level, Astral Convertible is sixties avant-garde recycled for eighties sensibilities. The brooding, post- industrial aura of the entire piece and the varying nature of the work’s formal elements do lend themselves to this interpretation. But with this work Brown reaches some kind of breakthrough in technique. While it is true that Astral Convertible is set in the context of previous works – familiar are the volubility and propulsive flow of movement, the careful spacing, sudden changes of speed and constant shifts in spatial relationships – the dancing is looser, the phrasing more dynamically varied and the rhythms more keenly edged. The dynamism alone is stunning, as are the shapes the dancers carve out of their loose-limbed and precisely angled bodies.

Astral Convertible was originally commissioned by the Montpellier International Dance Festival and co-produced with the Aix-en-Provence International Dance Festival, both in France. It received preview performances in Moscow last month as part of the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Exchange, and will have its open-air premiere in Montpellier in June.

Brown presented it on a mixed program consisting of works from the past, including Set and Reset, her now classic 1983 collaboration with Rauschenberg and Laurie Anderson, and Opal Loop, a work danced in silence.

Alternating with this program at City Centre was another also featuring past works: last season’s Newark (Niweweorce), with a set and sound concept by sculptor Donald Judd; 1985’s Lateral Pass, with sculptural pieces designed by Nancy Graves and a score by Peter Zummo, and 1981’s Son of Gone Fishin’, designed again by Judd with a score by Robert Ashley.


Brown danced a solo in Lateral Pass, and while she is perhaps a generation older than the nine nubile dancers now in her Trisha Brown Company, she amply suggested the zest, intricacy and loose-hipped sensuality of her salad days. Lateral Pass illustrates Brown’s distinctive style and technique, as it is formed of “accumulations:” small, plain moves collected in what critic Deborah Jowitt has called an “add-a-gesture structure.” Each piece of movement is like a building block on top of which Brown supports dances of increasing richness and complexity. Brown’s dances, like Brown’s dancing, are expressions of elusive fluidity, and anyone interested in virtuosity and integrity in choreography shouldn’t miss them.


In From the Cold: How Refurbishing a Fur Coat Is the Ultimate in Chic


A number of years ago, a wealthy girlfriend was cleaning out her well-filled closets when she came across an old fur coat she hadn’t worn in some time. It was ankle-length, made of raccoon and had fox accents. Seeing that it was ragged around the cuffs, she was struck by a touch of noblesse oblige and thoughtfully tossed it my way.

“Wear it when you take the kids to the park,” she said. “It will keep you warm.”

I did, but only once.

My friend is a tall Teutonic blonde, meaning super-broad-shouldered. I, something of a Celtic dwarf, was fairly swimming inside the linebacker-appropriate fox-fur sleeves. It was all very eighties, but I looked and felt ridiculous. For the past few years, that old coat has been gathering dust in my basement.

I almost forgot about it until an army of fur coats marched down the runway at Toronto Fashion Week, each click of the high-heeled boots worn with them signalling fur’s return to the fashion radar.

Sales of fur, in fact, have been skyrocketing, up almost 60 per cent since the end of the 1990s, when every supermodel worth her multimillion-dollar contract declared she’d rather go naked than wear fur. Methinks they’re not saying that now.


Fur’s new-found cachet lies in its growing status as a “green” material, says Canadian fur designer Paula Lishman, who grew up in Labrador and thinks that fur is a more environmental choice than fake fur, “which is a non-renewable resource.” Wearing real fur “shows that you’re concerned with the environment and shows your support for the trappers who work the land,” argues Lishman, who is also a firm believer in recycling fur. She uses laser cutting and other new technologies to give old furs up-to-the minute looks.


Which brings me back to the fur in my closet. Looking at it in this light, all it needed, I figured, was a judicious trim here and a bit of restyling there, so I took it to Toronto fashion designer Farley Chatto, whose creations had made such an impression on me at Toronto Fashion Week. Chatto has lately been employing a technique called stripping, whereby he literally shaves old furs down to reduce their bulk, leaving a series of wispy tails he then sews and weaves back into new lighter-weight coats that are the last word in chic.

At least that’s what I feel about mine, post-makeover: My former bear of a coat was cut and reshaped into a fab knee-length fur trench that turns heads every time I wear it. Chatto also managed to create a pair of fur pillows out of the sleeves as well as a matching muff. I got three distinct looks out of one source, all for $1,250.

“Look at you, Miss Reduced, Recycled and Reused,” Chatto said recently as he helped me into my wrap. “The ultimate in fashion.”