January 20, 2015

Backyard Luxury

I first encountered Nordstrom during my trip to Seattle. The retail giant awed me with its extensive handbag and shoe section (almost an entire floor!), and so when it was announced Nordstrom would be staking ground in my own city, I had been eagerly awaiting its arrival for months. When it at last opened its doors in September, I had despairingly just left to begin another year at university.  After being taunted with photos of the grand opening, and consequently wistfully scrolling through its official Facebook page every day, I finally had the chance to walk under Nordstrom's gleaming silver storefront during my holiday break.

My consensus: impressed! The Nordstrom here was even better than the one in Seattle. Nordstrom is known for its combination of high and low, and in Seattle, that was glaringly apparent - right outside the walls of Chanel's grand boutique were racks of tween clothing starting at $10. A bit disorientating, if you ask me. Here, the prices ranged from mid to high, lessening the shock of disparate products. The store was also organized in such a way that the different sections were neatly divided, but flowed smoothly into one another. An overall enjoyable experience; happy to welcome Nordstrom to my city!

As a general comment, Nordstrom provides a fairly unique shopping experience. Because of its mix of mid and high, Nordstrom provides an opportunity for average shoppers to interact with luxury goods in a laid-back, comfortable environment. Retailers like Holt Renfrew uphold an elite atmosphere in order to stay consistent with its products, but Nordstrom is a more approachable retailer for shoppers (like me) who adore luxury, but may be intimidated by the colder, starker image of high-end stores. I'm a little torn on whether I enjoy such a shopping experience. On one hand, I do feel comforted by the more relaxed approach, yet feel as if the magic is lost when luxury products aren't given the treatment they deserve. I guess in the end, it will depend on your mood.

Lastly, highlights of my visit included seeing Valentino's Rockstud Ankle Boots, which I had first come across online.  My dad and I both zeroed in on the boots (him the pebbled black leather, me the smooth bordeaux leather), and with fire in my eyes, I wanted to announce to the entire store I was finally holding the glorious shoes in my hands (a saleswoman gave me a knowing smile as she heard me gasp). Nordstrom also had an impressive selection of sunglasses, including a pair of gold frame aviators from Marc by Marc Jacobs.  As my dad said, "If you can't find a pair of sunglasses here, then you're really out of luck!"  Lastly, in terms of clothing, I found colourfully striped beachwear by Missoni, which included long maxi dresses and one-piece swimsuits (or more accurately, suits for lounging in the sun because no way is water getting near that wonderful creation). At the end of my trip, I walked out under Nordstrom's gleaming silver storefront, ready to go back any time and do it all over again.

Image Source: BlueBesos, MTLurbNordstrom

January 10, 2015

A Word of Recommendation

Every summer, I try to set a goal for myself. One year it was to catch up with as many old friends and classmates as possible. Another year it was to start exploring the surprisingly vast number of cultural/artistic events my growing city had to offer. Just this past summer, in addition to continuing my artistic escapades, I had another goal of learning more about fashion through mediums besides my usual magazines and online websites. As a result, I found myself borrowing a good number of fashion books and documentaries over the course of four months. Now I'm here to talk about each of them, and hopefully inspire you to pick up a copy one day and begin your own journey.


The Sartorialist: Closer. I absolutely loved the first The Sartorialist, and so I was very excited to finally have my hands on the second one. In the first book, what stood out to me was photographer Scott Schuman's commentary. In The Sartorialist: Closer, I was struck by the way Schuman put his photographs together. Photos were placed beside each other such that the spine acted as both a way to bring people together, and to divide their personalities. On one page was a woman in an all-white dress, and right beside her was a woman in an all-black dress. They were polar opposites, yet somehow they were complementary. And as the book went on, more and more of these fascinating pairings were made.

Advanced Style. I've always struggled with how I would dress in my most advanced years. Fashion tends to avoid that question; Vogue has its annual age issue, but in reality, their idea of old age is 60-years-old. It's like any woman older than 60 doesn't have much hope left in terms of fashion. I want someone to tell me I can live to a ripe old age and still have fun with fashion. Thankfully, Ari Seth Cohen does just that. He celebrates aging and shows that it doesn't have to filled with baggy t-shirts, khakis and sneakers.

Valentino: Themes and Variations. I love Valentino, but because he retired right when I started getting into fashion, I sadly never really had the chance to witness his prolific career. This coffee table book is my attempt at grasping as much Valentino history as I can. Flipping through the pages, I realized that although the modern Valentino brand borrows wonderfully from its past, it still misses the mark in terms of capturing Valentino's magical touch. But perhaps that's exactly how things are meant to be - it's a testament to the designer's inimitable hand and unrivaled talent. 

The Asylum. This is a riot of a book. Simon Doonan has a wicked sense of humour, and gives a hilarious look at the mad, mad world of fashion. But burrowed among the sly remarks and quick-tongued writing are gems of wisdom. Doonan really gets at how fashion people think and gives honest criticisms on the industry. Yet as broken, superficial, and crazy as the fashion industry can be, we still look at it with tender love. I guess that makes us just a little insane?

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. Two words: read it. You don't even have to be a fashion fanatic in order to read this. This book is a gold mine for both consumers and retailers.  Paco Underhill makes a living off watching people shop, and has a wealth of information on the science behind shopping. From looking at the ideal layout of retail stores, to how human physiology impacts the way we shop, Why We Buy lets you peek inside the secrets of retail. 

Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. I picked up this book thinking it would be similar to Why We Buy, but I finished the book fairly underwhelmed. Martin Lindstrom studies marketing through the lens of neuroscience, which in essence, is quite interesting. But the book didn't manage to distill the science into a format the average reader would find approachable, and therefore I found myself skimming several parts. And ultimately, the results Lindstrom gathers are not entirely noteworthy. Lindstrom appears to take already commonly accepted ideas, and simply further supports them through science. Nothing groundbreaking coming from this book.

The Worn Archive. The WORN Fashion Journal, a Canadian fashion magazine that aims to be, well, unlike your typical fashion magazine, has put together a book that wonderfully captures what the magazine is all about. Typical glossy fashion magazines put forth an idealized lifestyle, but The WORN Archive approaches fashion from a raw and real perspective. Fashion issues, ideas and histories are explored in ways the average fashion lover can relate to, and photoshoots feature models that look just like you and me. In some ways, this book is for true connoisseurs who aren't attracted to fashion simply because it looks nice. I'm not saying this book is better than the glossy mags I also adore, but that it acts as the perfect counterpart for those looking to get the full picture.

Humans of New York. Now, this isn't necessarily a fashion book, but when you aim to photograph humans in all their unique glory, you inadvertently (or perhaps deliberately) end up photographing fashion. Brandon Stanton, like Scott Schuman, does a fantastic job of creating themes around the photos he places together. One page might have me smiling like a goof; the next, tearing up in sadness; and the last, intrigued at all the zany, adorable, admirable characters that make up what we know as New York.


Valentino: The Last Emperor. Finally, finally I had this documentary in my hands. It was fascinating to witness Valentino's brilliant mind (and at times, his quick retorts) at work, and it was humbling to learn that behind every lauded designer is an extremely hardworking and supportive group of seamstresses and loved ones. Between scenes of the jaw-droppingly opulent life Valentino lived, there are precious, tender moments between the emperor and Giancarlo Giammetti, his partner in both business and life.

Lagerfeld Confidential. I went into this documentary giddy with excitement at being able to tap into the mind of one of fashion's greatest characters: Karl Lagerfeld. I'm intrigued by how Lagerfeld is such a prolific man, yet strangely, still remains such an enigma to so many of us. But around half an hour in, I realized this documentary would not satisfy my intrigue. Instead of taking a meaningful look at what makes this man tick, director Rudolphe Marconi seemed more interested in giggling like a pubescent boy as he urged Lagerfeld to divulge in his sex life. Although Lagerfeld's mystique has been shattered a little by this documentary (never meet your idols, as they say), Lagerfeld's good-hearted jabs at Marconi prove he's well above the petty school-boy humour of this film.

Scatter my Ashes at Bergdorf's. The trailer of this documentary had given me shivers, so I knew I was in for a visual delight with Scatter my Ashes at Bergdorf's. I was riveted by the stories this historic department store held within its lush interiors, and was - at least for the duration of the film - invited to roam the realm of the elite. Although word of warning: my parents practically fell asleep watching this, so proceed only if you're a diehard fashion lover.

December 31, 2014

Age of Beauty

I always come across articles in fashion magazines where writers marvel at their mothers' personal style, recounting stories of how, as a child, they would rummage through their mothers' priceless furs and silks. Reading these articles, I always wished I had such stories to tell. But just yesterday, I realized I didn't have such stories not because my mother wasn't fashionable, but simply because she never showed me photos of her younger self.

In a bout of nostalgia, my mom decided to show me photos of herself from her youth. What I saw was a vibrant, beautiful young woman who had a soft spot for dressing up. Carefree maxi dresses, slouchy sweaters with colourful belts, ladylike shoes, or edgy rolled up jeans and scuffed up Keds, all topped off with a sleek bob, feline eyes (even without eye makeup!) and a bold red lip. I saw a woman who, just like me, went through an early awkward phase - big hair, large round glasses, and an insecure smile - but who grew into someone who was confident in both her brains and beauty. I found myself in the strange position of confronting my mother as a woman of my own age, and it dawned on me she too had her own dreams and ambitions, some of which were dashed, some of which came true.

Looking through her old photos, my mother got misty eyed, repeating to herself over and over how beautiful she used to be. My heart shattered because she never says that about herself now. Whenever she looks in the mirror, she is only ever wistful for her old body.

Coincidentally, just a day or two earlier, my friend had sent me a video called Sidewalk by Celia Bullwinkel. The video chronicles a woman who confronts her body as it changes with each chapter of her life. As for me, I'm still in that precarious stage where I'm learning to love who I am, but still hold certain insecurities, Like the woman in the video, there's a weird balance between beginning to have pride in who you are, and still feeling that urge to just hide from it all. But this video, along with seeing my mother's own transformation, helped me realize that our body is just what we operate in. To my mother, I want her to know she still is beautiful - beauty is not something you lose with age, but something you hold within. When I grow old and wrinkly, when my hair thins and my body becomes saggy and pear-shaped, I hope I will not look back with longing and think I was more beautiful when I was younger, but rather look back and know that the life I lived was, above all else, strikingly beautiful.

Image Source: Belelu

December 25, 2014

Ms. Role Model

In a first for Red-Soled Fashionista, this will be a post unrelated to fashion. It has fashion-related beginnings, but the heart of what I want to say today is a comment on our culture. Flipping through FASHION Magazine's May 2014 issue, I came across a feature on Marvel comic book character Kamala Khan (alias Ms. Marvel).

Khan is a fairly new comic book character, who began headlining the Ms. Marvel series in February 2014. To explain more about her, I pass it on to FASHION Magazine writer Mishal Cazmi, who sums everything up wonderfully:

"She's a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim girl, a discernible dork who fangirls over comic books. Her strict parents are a buzzkill (no co-ed parties) and her school in Jersey City is made up of nerds and cool kids (not her). The brainchild of editor Sana Amanat and author G. Willow Wilson, Khan was brought to life by Toronto-based illustrator Adrian Alphona and is an anomaly among comic book babes for being sans brazen sexuality and neither buxom nor bombshell. 'Kamala is an Ellen-Page-in-Juno-type girl covered up with layers of clothing - hoodies and pleated skirts over jeans,' says Alphona. And then there's her Ms. Marvel costume, which is all fabric, no flesh - an electric-blue dress emblazoned with a thunderbolt worn over a red three-quarter-sleeve top, red tights, matching blue boots and a cape that modestly covers her neck...She's every girl who's ever felt left out, could not reconcile her identity at home with who she is outside and does not realize the potential of her own greatness."

I love it.  I love, love, love it.  For years, I have struggled to find women in media I could relate to. In my younger years, I was an avid chick lit reader, hoping to find a character I could connect with. But the more I read, the more I realized everything just always works out for women in chick lit. Even when they were outsiders, they still ended up enchanting the hottest, most popular guy with their striking beauty or personality. Technically, that's a good thing, isn't it? For me though, it wasn't reality. I needed a character who was awkward and unpopular, yet who was perfectly fine not getting everyone to like her, not getting the most covetable guy, and not getting everything society tells us we need to be successful. I needed someone who was confident enough in herself to tell me I didn't need to keep fighting to be accepted by others. Since then, I've stopped reading chick lit. 

Then I turned to entertainment, but that was an even more hopeless endeavor. Every character in entertainment is beautiful, intelligent, strong and accomplished. As just an average girl, I constantly find myself getting annoyed with female characters in media because they are so perfect. Putting glasses on a gorgeous woman does not a nerd make.

This is where a character like Khan comes in. A girl who isn't defined by the fact she is blatantly beautiful. A girl who is modest in her dress.  A girl who struggles with self-identity. A girl who doesn't fit in. Even though I am not a comic book reader, and therefore will never really know what happens to Khan, I am impressed by the premise of her character. I hope she is able to inspire and act as a role model for other girls like me - although considering the incredibly positive reception this new Ms. Marvel character has received, it seems Khan is already well on her way.

Luckily, I have my own happy ending. I recently found my role model in Ashley Perez, video producer at Buzzfeed.  Her confidence in herself and acceptance of all her quirks is what makes her so beautiful. For anyone else out there who struggles with being an outsider, hopefully this video will speak to you as much as it did to me. Realize you are never alone. Despite what the moniker suggests, the great thing about being an outsider is that there are so many of us out there. Together, we become role models for each other, proving that confidence in ourselves is what makes us all superheros.

Image Source: Photo 1, 2

December 20, 2014

Paying the Price

There's been an article floating around social media by The Guardian titled "Luxury brands: higher standards or just a higher mark-up?"  Check out the article for yourself here.

The first time I came across this article, I did not even think of responding to it on my blog. But when my friend sent me the link, I realized perhaps this was a topic worth discussing. In the article, Tansy Hoskins disproves the assumption that luxury clothing demands higher prices because workers are being paid higher, ethical wages.

First of all, I want to clear things up.  What assumption is this?  I've followed fashion for 8 years, and not once has it ever occurred to me that higher luxury prices are due to ethical wages. Right off the bat, Hoskins' article began with an assumption I have never heard of. To my understanding, luxury clothing comes with higher price tags because it requires higher labour hours and higher material costs. Luxury clothing generally has a more complex production process, meaning it takes longer to make - but just because it takes longer to make does not mean workers are receiving fair wages. Even for someone like me, who loves and appreciates high fashion, I am not so disillusioned to think luxury products are made in cozy cottages with middle-class workers. The idea of luxury has always been in design and high quality materials, and at least to me, not in ethical wages.

Hoskins does, however, end with a statement I agree with.

"With high-end brands, further insult is added to the injury of low wages, as workers sew and sell items that they have no chance of ever affording. Luxury it seems has more respect for their merchandise than for people."

This is entirely true, but not something I find to be all that shocking. Think of any luxury product. Is it ever marketed on the basis of ethical production? Very rarely. It's all about customer experience, not worker experience. I am fully aware luxury, for the most part, is not about respect for its people.

But I say all of this not because I am dismissing Hoskins' article, but because the issue of ethical production is something we all need to address. And not just high-end retailers; low wages and poor working conditions exist across all industries. Nonetheless, in order for there to be any progress, we have to realize we, as the consumer, are the ones driving wages down. Certainly income disparity between those at the top of the corporate ladder and those at the bottom adds a layer of complexity to the issue, but if you were to truly think of all the hands that have a part in the production process, you come to quite a hefty price tag. Yet have you seen the disdain the average shopper has for luxury products?  The way they scoff, furrow their brow, and chastise high-end brands for having such high prices (all while piling their shopping basket with cheap Forever 21 clothes)?  It seems to me the average shopper is not willing to pay the price for ethical labour, and the reality is, if you aren't willing to pay the price, then neither are retailers.

Image Source: Photo 1, 2

December 15, 2014

Smart Moves

A lot has happened in the Canadian retail industry lately. As Jacob prepared to close down all of its 92 stores in Canada over the summer, American retailer Nordstrom made its first foray across the border to its Canadian neighbour. More recently, Reitman's announced it would be shuttering its Smart Set banner, and weeks later, Mexx filed for bankruptcy, a move likely to affect all of its Canadian stores. Yet at the same time, Quebec retailer Simons is set to expand across the country.

What is going on?

Many are blaming it on the rise of fast fashion retailers like H&M, Forever 21 and Zara, shouldering out retailers who can't keep up with the latest, greatest trends that have young hearts beating. It appears only the extremities at either end of the retail spectrum are staying well-afloat - cheap and chic fashion, or high-end luxury. There is no place for those hoping to occupy the precarious middle ground.

And I agree.  All three stores cater to the average woman; they offer basics that occasionally come in trendier guises, but overall, nothing too fashionable nor unique. Let's be clear: there is space in the retail world for the average woman looking for everyday, wearable clothing, but what there isn't space for is a retailer average in all aspects of price, quality and design.  All three stores obviously positioned themselves above the chaotic realm of fast fashion, but ultimately, they didn't offer much more than their (slightly) glossier entrance way.

Being not particularly high quality not fashionable, and not particularly affordable, Jacob, Smart Set and Mexx all occupied that tough space among (better) competitors that left them with a very halfhearted customer base. You cannot lure in loyal customers with average designs, average prices, and average quality. At least one thing must stand out. Cheap and chic fashion offers decent designs at low prices, and for that, consumers are willing to sacrifice quality.  Luxury retailers offer beautiful designs with exceptional quality, and for that, consumers are willing to pay the price. I think our three fallen retailers were fine with the price point they operated in, but if they had upped their quality or put more thought into design, I think they could have struck a chord with paying customers. But that's easier said than done, and perhaps why that murky middle ground remains the Bermuda Triangle of fashion retail.

Certainly I am saddened that such stores are finding themselves at a struggle, but at the same time, I think this will help push us towards better retailers. The free market mechanism - no matter whether you support it or criticize it - is showing us what the consumer truly wants. And the market must respond. To be frank, malls are filled with stores I (and apparently many others) hold no interest in. They are mere fillers. If competition is filtering out those who offer no value to consumers, then we may finally begin to see malls fill with stores that actually interest us. It's never a smooth and happy ride in business, but I think it can only lead to one thing: a better retail sector.

Image Source: Jacob, Smart Set, Mexx

December 10, 2014

I'll Have a Julep

Four years ago, I sloppily discovered nail polish in a university dorm room.  My friend had offered to help me paint my nails for the first time, and it was there I realized my nails had the potential to become amazing canvases for self-expression. It was like a whole new world opened up to me.  I couldn't stop staring at my nails - when I was typing, when I flipped through a textbook, or when I saw my reflection in the mirror as I brushed my teeth - because nail polish made everything I did with my hands just that much better. And because I don't wear makeup, nail polish is essentially my one and only beauty pleasure.

Throughout my nail polish adventures, there is one brand I've come across and have always wanted to try: Julep. Imagine my surprise then, when I incredulously found an email from Julep asking if I would be interested in sharing my holiday look with them. Let's just say it was a no-brainer.

Skirt: La Dive | Top: Alice + Olivia | Heels: Christian Louboutin | Earrings: Dolce & Gabbana | Clutch: Saint Laurent | Lipstick: Gucci | Nail polish: Julep 'Karissa' & Julep 'Oscar'

I'm a classic girl, as you all know, but I like my fashion drama. Whether it be a ball skirt in shocking holiday red, a simple tee covered in glimmering gold sequins, or a quintessential pump with a raised counter (and red sole, naturally), it's all about taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. For my nails, I would do the same by taking classic red and pairing it with girlish glitter.  Whether I indulge in a glossy red manicure with glitter tips, or simply use the golden glitter as an accent nail, I know one thing for sure: I won't be able to stop staring at my freshly decorated hands.