Drawing the line between function and fashion

French design house Hermès releases a $11,000 bicycle — has fashion gone too far?

Drawing the line between function and fashion

This season, French luxury retailer Hermès has decided to enforce its new motto, “a sporting life,” with the launch of handcrafted, leather-adorned bicycles.

If you possess even a minute awareness of fashion, you’d understand that anything Hermès touches turns to gold — and costs its weight in it too. One handcrafted Le Flâneur bicycle will cost a cool $11,000 —  a price as sleek as its projected silhouette.



However, don’t expect to get much bang for your buck. According to François Doré, the managing director of Hermès’ Horizons department, the product is designed to be “a real bike that is easy to use.” We can all agree that the company made a smart move in avoiding high-performance competition, sticking to what it knows best. But the question is, what “real bike” needs to cost as much as a car?

The general public may scoff at this projection, but the truth is, Hermès usually gets it right. Many industry insiders applaud the design house for exercising restraint in the genres it explores — sticking to high-end athletics and fashion accessories. Although many customers lap up the label’s equestrian gear, scarves and belts, one product stands far above its peers: the Birkin handbag, arguably combining the art world with daily life, is a sure-fire symbol of the “I made it” society. Named after English actress and singer Jane Birkin, the bag costs at least as much as Le Flâneur, although most try to conceal the price in favor of modesty. After scouring the internet and the minds of various fashion insiders, I’ve gathered that this tote can cost anything from $10,000–$80,000 — with no flaws to be found at any price. Regardless of rumors, however, it’s crystal clear: if you own a Birkin, your disposable income is very, very high.

Most wealthy clientele consider their purchases as investments. Many covet art and fine craftsmanship, and being able to carry a piece of Hermès with them is a blend of both worlds. These pieces hold their retail value, too ­— at auction, a Birkin buyer pays a 25 per cent premium over what is charged in-store.

Yet, will a bike, such a utilitarian commodity, be treated similarly? It has been argued that today’s high rates of bike theft have left consumers hesitant in making such investments. Hermès doesn’t need to worry, however — the projected owners of these toys won’t be thinking about them as home-to-office transport; rather, they’ll be something fun to use on weekends in the south of France.

As an avid cyclist and university student, my mind was immediately peppered with questions on the value of an $11,000 bike. What happens if you leave it in the rain? Is it light? How durable is this “luxury good?” Just the fact that I posed these questions shows I’m not yet ready to own one, though I expect the one per cent to embrace them with a charming laugh and a graceful swipe of the credit card. These bikes will be beautiful, and someone should enjoy them. Who are we to judge?

Over the past year, Hermès has brought its shareholders returns just shy of 20 per cent, with dividends swelling by 20 per cent over five years. Evidently, Hermès is  doing pretty well for a luxury goods company. The company has a long history of superb craftsmanship, storied elegance, and durability, turning the pieces into great investments. These factors keep regulars returning to the brand, while simultaneously breeding a new crop of aspiring clients. Hermès has made previous attempts to attract a younger generation of buyers but by elevating prices, establishing waiting lists for coveted products, and designing  products such as a ‘luxe’ bicycle and a $12,900 basketball,  is Hermès crafting its “ideal” demographic? Perhaps. By launching a loftily priced bicycle, Hermès ensures that students like us won’t be riding one anytime soon.

App Reviews: Fashion

Three free, easy-to-use apps

We review three free, easy-to-use fashion apps



Thumbs down

WebPros: This is the 2013 answer to Cher’s “way normal” computerized closet in Clueless, except you have your iPhone instead of a computer and the app doesn’t already come preloaded with your closet in its memory. The app’s interface is very similar to that of most photo-based apps, so users should have no problem getting used to Cloth if they have used apps like Instagram before.

Cons: You are your own worst critic, and you judge whether or not your outfit actually works. The app does encourage you to share your daily outfit snaps with the rest of your social media networks — such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr — by awarding points for every outfit uploaded and shared. It’s a nice touch, because it turns the organization app into a game, but there are no bragging rights associated with being a “Blog Baron” or “Facebook Fiend.”



Thumbs up

Pros:  The interface is beautiful and simple, and it manages to deliver quite a bit of information in a manner that’s not too cluttered. Pose uses users’ Facebook and location information in order to personalize their feed. Users have the option to follow a number of “posers” from different categories — men’s style, plus-size style, and celebrities and stylists, to name a few. The “what to wear” option makes the app more useful by giving users outfit suggestions based on weather, location, or occasion. Pose’s user relevance ensures that it’s not just another time wasting app.

Cons: The app is a bit slow while loading certain pages, especially profiles with over 100 poses. Some of the posts don’t show up in the stream immediately.



Thumbs up

Pros: Figr is a fun dress-up app for the smartphone set. It’s a no-bullshit, no-strings-attached app that doesn’t come with promises to “revolutionize” the way you organize your closet. You simply swipe through the choices until you’re satisfied and once you’re done, you upload your outfit onto the Figr stream. The simple interface is easy to figure out; once you’re signed up, you’re pretty much good to go. The app exercises your creativity, and users will quickly learn that inspiration comes best from within and not from outside sources.

Cons: The app crashed on me several times while I tried to sign up with my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Although I had no problem with the app while I was creating outfits, there were a few slow moments when I decided to browse other users’ Figrs.


Honestly, the sale of Mirvish Village is a huge loss

The sale of Honest Ed's and surrounding property could spell the end for some unique Toronto businesses

Honestly, the sale of Mirvish Village is a huge loss

“There’s no Place like this Place, Anyplace!” reads one of the many quirky signs for Toronto’s famous discount store, Honest Ed’s. Opened in 1948 by the late Ed Mirvish, Honest Ed’s has been a Toronto landmark for over 65 years. The ostentatious exterior cannot go unnoticed at the intersection of Bloor and Bathurst streets. Inside, the massive emporium carries groceries, housewares, clothing, and many other necessities.

In the 1960s, Ed Mirvish bought the Victorian homes surrounding Honest Ed’s and leased them to artists and business owners.  For over 40 years the eclectic hub has been home to a variety of shops, galleries, and restaurants, each with their own unique character. Today, this neighbourhood is known as Mirvish Village and is, unfortunately, one of Toronto’s planned business improvement areas.

Like many Torontonians, I was shocked to hear that it was for sale. David Mirvish, Ed Mirvish’s son and the current owner of the property, revealed in an interview with the Toronto Star that Honest Ed’s is just part of the 1.8 hectares of land up for sale. This means that in addition to the iconic discount store, other unique, interesting businesses in the Mirvish Village are also for sale.

Many of the people living and working around the area are upset about the proposed changes. Mike Anderson, an employee at Hollywood Canteen for over 15 years, claims that the store recently moved to Mirvish Village for the location and atmosphere. He was saddened at the possibility of having to move out, as it would mean losing the foot traffic that comes from being downtown.

Next to the Hollywood Canteen is a jewellery and clothing store called Chokka Jewellery. The artisan studio features clothing made with natural fibers in addition to items produced by both local and international artists. Having only just opened earlier this year, owner Katarina Loizou finds the sale upsetting. “I looked for five years to find the perfect spot; it’s such a pity a beautiful cultural landmark is for sale,” she explained.

However, not everyone in the area believes that the sale of Honest Ed’s means shoppers should worry about changes to Mirvish Village anytime soon. The owner of a shop called The Rock Store was optimistic, noting that the plan to sell property in Mirvish Village along with Honest Ed’s is not a new development and that if any change does happen, it will not be for another three years at least.

Next, I stop in the Coal Miner’s Daughter, a boutique store which carries contemporary as well as vintage fashion. I am greeted by co-owner Krysten Caddy, a jewellery designer, who opened the store four and a half years ago with clothing designer Janine Cockburn-Haller. She points out that although tenants have come and gone, the area has become an established place for local artists, and views the sale of Honest Ed’s as: “a sad reality that everything is being developed. A lot of charm and history is being bulldozed.”

Finally, I head into The Beguiling Books & Art, a comic book store which has been open since the early 1990s. The current owner, Peter Birkemoe, summarizes Mirvish Village as an “arts-focused shopping district,” and says he would hate to see it go. Considering the property value in the area, Birkemoe explained that the store has benefitted from the generous rent rate offered by the Mirvish family. Immediately after he heard about the sale of Honest Ed’s and parts of Mirvish Village, he was struck with a feeling of uncertainty. Birkemoe questions the intent of whoever decides to buy the property, and is concerned it might affect his business and the atmosphere of the neighbourhood. As I leave the store, a man enters and announces with surprise that there’s “so much to look at.”

Leaving Mirvish Village, I cannot help but imagine how the street would look without some of these businesses. At the intersection I watch as a busker plays the guitar, something that is becoming harder to find in the developing parts of the city; I wonder if in a couple of years, this place will still welcome him.


Andrea Themistokleous is a third-year student double-majoring in criminology and political science.

The art of being Bowie

Latest exhibit at the AGO is a thematic trip through the musician's influences, career, and life

The art of being Bowie

Walking up the steps to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), I wasn’t sure what I’d find. David Bowie has all the ingredients of a fascinating exhibit, celebrating a man my father deemed “the original Lady Gaga.” I can recall us going through old album covers together, his eyes sparkling as his brain relived the rebellion and recklessness of his youth.

I was intrigued. I wanted to know what kind of person could do that to someone ­— what lit that spark.



From the moment I put on the exhibit’s interactive, intuitive headphones (they respond as you travel from section to section — no more pushing buttons), a theatrical hum filled my ears, as if to immerse me into Bowie’s mind. The exhibit itself is sectioned off into various rooms in order of influence, age, and era. It was here, taking the first few steps, where I began to see where my father’s adoration came from. Bowie, a trendsetter from the moment of inception, seemed to always be searching for something bigger. At one point debating the idea of full-fledged Buddhism, he declared his goal was to become a “trendy person, rather than a trend.”

In a world peppered with Internet celebrities, child stars, and reality television, Bowie couldn’t be more right. That’s one aspect which struck me as I walked from room to room — Bowie’s vulnerability. Sure, he may look like an alien, with his unique eyes and bone structure holding court from miles away. He may be very different indeed — yet he holds the same desire for originality, fighting the same demons many of us face in life. When asked about his reason for acquiring such fame, Bowie was recorded saying, simply: “I wanted to be well-known. I wanted to turn people on to new things.”



Bowie’s endured failure, rose above it, and countered bowing down to the masses by creating a new world with new identities to dominate. Whether he is Bowie or Ziggy Stardust, by claiming to be somebody else he could be himself. In a time when rock and roll was raw and rugged, Bowie would add Kabuki-inspired makeup, vague, embellished wording, and costumes that continue to shape the styles of today. He saw inspiration and influence in everything, and whether you follow him or not, Bowie shaped us.

His big break occurred during the moon landing of July 1969, when the BBC aired his single, “Space Oddity” alongside the miraculous footage. It seems that on that day, two things skyrocketed into our living rooms: the moon and, perhaps, the man whose mind resided there.

Bowie lived for creation in all forms, citing A Clockwork Orange and 1984 as major literary influences. Between music videos, songs, and performances, he refused to exist within a single dimension. The plethora of costumes and drawings shown in the exhibit provide a peek into what rock used to be — a time when individuality was the only option, and social networking had nothing to do with posting a “selfie” on Instagram. Things were either brutally honest or brutally ethereal — you couldn’t claim one as the other.



In the exhibit, a few things resonated with me. Bowie had a fondness for a program called the Verbasizer, which took paragraphs, sentences, and bits of news and scrambled then into new phrases. Sometimes, these compilations would speak to him such that it enabled him to write a song, full of lyrics with meaning for the listener. That is the beauty of Bowie, his words are vehicles that take you somewhere untravelled.

I could write pages on Bowie’s impact on our generation, on his androgynous style and the importance of celebrating it. I could devote paragraphs to the beauty in his layered music, his synthesized beats and cultural trailblazing. But I won’t, because I want you to experience it for yourself. Find refuge in David Bowie’s fantasy, find comfort in his life.

His world is your world, and I strongly advise that you inhabit it.

“David Bowie is” is running now until November 27 at the AGO.

Threading our cultural roots

Reimagining Western Métis culture through couture and art

Threading our cultural roots

On the second floor of a tiny museum beside St. Patrick subway station, fabrics, cultures and stories are dancing the farandole together.

The Textile Museum of Canada is a big-thinking little space, devoted to exploring the richness and diversity of culture through everyday materials and more specifically, fabric. TMC’s newest exhibit, Farandole: Perspectives on Western Canadian Métis Culture, features the work of two artists, Colette Balcaen and Pascal Jaouen, It blends tradition with contemporary ideas through re-invented haute couture and a sweeping art installation.



Balcaen is from French-speaking Manitoba and Jaouen from Brittany, France, the two visual artists were brought together by Alliance Française to create a collaborative exhibit. As Balcaen explained in a recent interview with The Varsity, this partnership involved a one-week residency in Manitoba, where they would both visit museums and speak with the Métis people living in the area: “It was very interesting to see the difference in the embroidery between the Native peoples [and the Métis],” she explained, “The different tribes among the Native peoples each have a specific kind of embroidery, whereas the Metis have a very European influence, with the flower embroidery being typical of them.” This mixing of Native and European cultures fascinated the two artists, and thus Farandole was conceived.

The exhibit itself is divided into two halves: Jaouen’s line of revamped Métis fashion, and Balcaen’s art installation. The haute couture aspect of the display features five different outfits, each an incarnation of traditional Métis ensembles, with a distinctly modern touch. Synthetic materials, dyed fox-fur, and Celtic belt buckles make up the unconventional aspects of the piece, however, the real show-stopper is the hand-embroidered beadwork. Intricate patterns and flowers grace the clothing, echoing an old art form in a contemporary fashion.



The second part of the display is Balcaen’s art installation: a room filled with fabric hung from ceiling to floor, arranged in a maze-like pattern. On this fabric, there are many people outlined in yarn, with fainter silhouettes outlined in handwritten words, retelling myriad stories. “I use unravelled yarn because the essence of my artistic creation is that I see in a piece of fabric, a hidden text, a hidden story. Because the weaving in every fabric goes row by row, line by line, and you can just imagine the story that it would tell,” elaborates Balcaen.

The stories told by Balcaen through her art were collected from 25 different people in Manitoba, telling the history of a family keepsake and how it is rooted in their culture. “What happened when they described the object, is they ended up telling me about their culture! They would say ‘Oh, my mother was Irish or my father was Scottish,’ so it’s the mixing of cultures through an object.” She describes the handwriting that forms the outlines of some of the figures as embroidery, embodying the reciprocal relationship between textile and writing. “It was also to force the people to go through the pathway I had made, who want to read these stories, to do these gestures, to be able to read,” said Balcaen. “So their movement, even if they’re just walking or stopping and trying to read, it slows them down, making my work interactive.”



What is striking about the installation is how much it plays on circular movement. Walking through, the light, transparent fabric cocoons you, forcing you to follow its curves as it meanders about the room, and to watch other people interact with the artwork as well. “I wanted people to feel like they were walking into and joining the dance,” explains Balcaen.

The farandole is a traditional French community dance from the fourteenth century, involving a chain formed through linking hands and following the leader in a cyclical pattern. In a way, Farandole performs its namesake dance both through the movements of its visitors and by the full circle it creates by blending the original French and Métis roots together with stories from other cultures to culminate in a true mélange. Farandole is epitomized in one sentence, composed by Balcaen and embroidered on a dress in the exhibit — the linking thread between her installation and Jaouen’s sartorial creations: le continuum de nos histoires, de fil en aiguille trace un métissage des racines propre à notre identité.  


Farandole: Perspectives on Western Canadian Métis Culture runs at the Textile Museum of Canada until November 14, 2013. 

Review: Christian Louboutin at the Design Exchange

Review: Christian Louboutin at the Design Exchange

Instantly recognizable worldwide,  a pair of Christian Louboutin heels — or “Louboutins” — are the ultimate status symbol for the modern woman. One can easily identify a Louboutin by the iconic red soles, which are the epitome of luxury, power, and — with the price tag occasionally reaching five figures — wealth.  The Louboutin brand has become such a vital part of the fashion hierarchy that designers  including the likes of Chanel, Dior, and Yves Saint Laurent,  frequent Louboutin for shoes for their runway shows.

After over two decades of at the forefront of luxury shoe design, the seasoned designer’s work is celebrated by Toronto’s Design Exchange museum with its Christian Louboutin exhibition, honouring the French designer’s design and artistry. The exhibition, which marks North America’s first ever retrospective of Louboutin’s work, showcases over 250 pairs of the designer’s most popular and iconic shoes, including a towering ten-inch slipper and a boot made completely out of various animal hairs.

The theme of the exhibition is a combination of a cabaret/burlesque show and a funhouse; shoes are displayed on moving carousels, spotlighted by flood lighting, hidden under bell jars, and showcased in halls of mirrors. The exhibition is cleverly divided into various sections, each representing a different theme of Louboutin’s work. These include  a section entitled “Handcrafted”  that showcases one-of-a kind boots, stilettos and even a pair of pink pointe shoes.

The multiplicity of detail, style, and form represented in Louboutin’s shoes and designs is unparalleled, adding to the allure of his one-of-a-kind creations. Louboutin’s success can be attributed in part to his love of travel, architecture, and entertainment, which ensures that no two pairs of shoes are alike. After over 20 years as a shoe designer and showing no hint of slowing down, Christian Louboutin has created a brand adorned and celebrated by not only fashion’s elite, but the entire world.

The Christian Louboutin exhibit at the Design Exchange runs until September 15, 2013

In conversation: Jorn Weisbrodt

Luminato artistic director talks about Viktor&Rolf and the future of the festival

In conversation: Jorn Weisbrodt

Jorn Weisbrodt is the artistic director of the Luminato festival, an annual ten-day celebration of the arts in Toronto.


The Varsity: How did the decision to feature Viktor&Rolf come up?

Jorn Weisbrodt: I’ve known them for a long time. I thought it was interesting to see the contrast between fashion and art, turning fashion into objects. There’s something about the dolls that makes it timeless and interesting.


TV: Were there other designers or exhibitions in mind?

JW: No, not really. I thought [Viktor&Rolf’s] approach to fashion and the installation is very unique.


TV: Why do you think Viktor&Rolf was a good fit for Luminato?

JW: [Viktor&Rolf’s] work crosses disciplines and boundaries. When I think about a project, we have to do what no one else is doing.


TV: What do you want or expect people to take away from the exhibition?

JW: Art doesn’t necessarily have a message. Everyone takes something else from it. It’s simply pure joy to see it. The dolls have something weird about them. It’s something that appeals to all ages — something that everyone can enjoy.


TV: It’s true, I actually saw a lot of kids and parents at the exhibition. I think this exhibition also draws people who don’t know much about fashion or Viktor&Rolf’s work.

JW: Really? That’s great. Yeah, the exhibition gives an overview of their career. It’s easy to look at.


TV: The exhibition is staged as a mock fashion show. Were you trying to show what a real fashion show is like?

 JW: The decision to set the dolls on a catwalk was by Viktor and Rolf. They had a dollhouse at the Barbican Art Gallery in London previously, and they wanted to do something new and unique for Toronto. I love the serpent shape catwalk, because it’s not typical and it works with the angularity of the space. It’s a fun way of displaying the dolls.


TV: Is there any significance in using dolls instead of mannequins?

 JW: Yes, absolutely. They wanted to do something different. Dolls are very childlike, very naïve, but they have that creepiness. The same fabrics from the original designs were used on the dolls. The dolls are also a commentary on the importance of fashion, the hype of fashion, and are meant to impress on a larger scale.

Viktor  and Rolf had the idea at 22 or 23 that they wanted a miniature version of their empire. Today, in fashion, everything is bigger, larger, grander, and they wanted to do something that is completely different.


TV: I think using the creepiness of the dolls also draws people to see the exhibition.

JW: Yeah, I mean you see those dolls in horror movies that are your friends, and they suddenly turn on you. These dolls have a fairytale quality, but they have an edge, that quality of being mean and weird.


TV: These dolls were presented for the first time in North America and in Toronto. Do you think that Toronto is gaining importance and recognition in fashion?

JW: I don’t know to be honest. I think it’s great that there’s fashion week here. I think it’s great that this exhibition was shown in Toronto. But we had the connections to Viktor&Rolf, so we used that. We have done fashion at Luminato before, but this is my first fashion project.


TV: Luminato is about artists using various mediums to change their outlook on the world. How do you think people’s perceptions are starting to change about fashion as an art form?

JW: When you look at these dolls, they’re like sculptures in a way. The interesting thing about Viktor&Rolf is there’s something contextual about it, and it comes through in the exhibition. The dolls and the designs have this timelessness and statement about its time.


TV: What is your future vision for Luminato?

JW: I want to make Luminato one of the greatest festivals for the world. I want to create an environment where artists can collaborate with each other and present their work. I want to make Toronto and its citizens proud.


Check out our review of Viktor&Rolf’s Dolls, here.

Up close and personal with the dolls

Review: Viktor & Rolf: Dolls at the ROM

Up close and personal with the dolls

Last month, Dutch design-duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren of Viktor&Rolf are bringing their dolls to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).

The ROM’s exhibition, titled Dolls, is a recreation of the duo’s 15th anniversary celebration exhibit in 2008 titled “The House of Viktor & Rolf.” The 2008 exhibit, held in London, featured Victorian porcelain dolls dressed in Viktor&Rolf couture designs. The same dolls have been brought over to the ROM to be presented for the very first time in North America.

The exhibit was presented as part of this year’s Luminato festival, a ten-day celebration of the creative culture of artists who work in different mediums,  including visual art, film, music, theatre, and — in the case of Viktor & Rolf — fashion

The Dutch designers use fashion as an art form by emphasizing that fashion is about evolution, risk-taking and being playful; not every doll is dressed as a princess in haute couture. Some of the designs are crazy and theatrical. The alluring effect of the dolls is a reflection of Viktor&Rolf as a brand — their designs and ideas are unpredictable and unique, while still remaining timeless.

The exhibition is eerily haunting but dazzling in person. Set up as a catwalk with the lights dimmed and music playing in the background, it’s the closest you could get to an actual fashion show. The dolls have a creepy, disturbing quality similar to the ones you would see in horror films and yet, they are delicate and unique.  No two dolls look alike — each one is styled differently when it comes to hair, make up, design, and shoes.

What stands out most is the variation in designs. Each outfit on display is a replica of a different season from Viktor&Rolf. These designs range from classic pieces such as evening dresses to ready-to-wear coats and pants, and even extend to slightly more eccentric pieces with crazy patterns, floral details, and odd shapes.

By mimicking the experience of a fashion show, Dolls gives people a chance to admire the artists’ work up close. Not only have I become more familiar with Viktor & Rolf’s work, but   I also finally get the appeal of the brand. The dolls recreate the meaning of femininity in the designs. Each doll’s persona is reflected in  its outfit — isn’t that what fashion is all about? Like the dolls, women are often considered delicate creatures. But Viktor & Rolf prove that once you’re wearing their designs, you can be bold, daring, feminine, and different. After all, fashion is the most powerful form of self-expression.