March 17, 2018

Fifth Harmony

When Hudson's Bay announced in 2013 it would acquire Saks Fifth Avenue, I waited ever so patiently for the American luxury department store to one day open a location in my city. That day finally arrived a few weeks ago, when Saks set up shop and opened its doors in square footage formerly belonging to Target (whose shameful expansion failure will remain talked about in business schools for years to come).

I believe I had once visited a Saks when I travelled to Seattle, but don't recall much of the experience. However, I had an inkling Saks would be on par with Nordstrom, so I was curious to see how it would differentiate itself from its competitor who is - literally - just down the hall.

After checking out the store on the day of its grand opening, I see I was slightly off in my prediction. Saks actually falls between Nordstrom and Holt Renfrew: it is more high-end than Nordstrom, but not nearly as luxurious as Holts.

As I've mentioned in the past, Nordstrom is a mix of mid-to-high end wares. Although such a product mix can make it a more approachable department store, it does unfortunately weaken its air of luxury. Saks, on the other hand, focuses solely on high-end designers. Its handbag section is fairly rounded, carrying major names like Chloé, Alexander McQueen, Valentino, Loewes, Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy, Saint Laurent, and Alexander Wang.

Its shoe section I found to be most interesting, though perhaps not in the best way. Besides being small in comparison to every other department, I found it lacking in variety. There were a lot of unique and quirky products I had not seen elsewhere - but that was it. It seemed almost like a museum of shoes. There were no classic styles or luxury brands to ground the footwear department, making it unlikely I will ever go to Saks for serious shoe shopping.

In spite of that, I was impressed with how Saks houses an apothecary, a Tom Ford beauty boutique (which I had never seen before), and private shopping suites. Walking into the store, I also approved of the glimmering and shiny interior décor, which truthfully outshines that of Nordstrom. My only critique of décor would be the jewellery section. With its orderly rows of glass jewellery cases, it looked surprisingly commercial and plain compared to the rest of the store.

In the clothing department was where Saks lower rank beneath Holt Renfrew was most apparent. Even though Saks carries high-end brands, it doesn't carry luxury clothing. All of its womenswear was from contemporary labels - which isn't a bad thing as many of those labels are one-of-a-kind in the city, but any feeling of granduer was certainly dampened. Nonetheless, the standout item for me that day was a light pink, beaded leather jacket from Elie Tahari.

As an overall shopping experience, I was pleased with the customer service. Granted I did attend the grand opening so I may have received particularly keen service that day, but I was greeted multiple times by sales associates who simply wanted to ensure I was enjoying my time and felt entirely welcomed to browse. I was not pressured to buy at any point.

One final, funny thing I would like to point out is I noticed every entrance was flanked by a security guard. I understand the value of the merchandise inside and I realize other stores do the same, though I found it amusingly jarring to see darkly uniformed guards standing among such elegant surroundings.

Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Holt Renfrew are like the Venn diagram of high-end retail in my city right now. They undeniably have overlapping offerings which will challenge all of them to be more competitive, but I think each has also carved out enough of their own market to co-exist in relative harmony.

Image Source: Retail Insider

January 14, 2018

Product Review: Eva Leather

For me, wallets have always been an item of functionality. A disgraceful thing for a fashion fanatic to admit, but as long as a wallet can hold cards and keep cash, I will use it. As a kid, I started off with a horrendous fabric, velcro holder. Years later, I moved on to a red, faux-leather portefeuille with quality so poor it was painfully obvious in the loose seams, glued-on pieces, and scratched hardware. Nowadays, I carry a more sophisticated wallet with a subtle checkered pattern and brown piping. Yet despite having "upgraded" since my childhood, every wallet I have ever owned has been gifted to me, so I have never really used one that speaks to my own sense of style.

Therefore, when I was given the opportunity to review some wallets from Eva Leather, I wandered into a new, unexplored territory of wallet shopping.

Eva Leather is an online shop offering genuine leather handbags, wallets and belts at wholesale prices. I ended up receiving two wallets: Rosaire Huguette, and Rosaire Catherine.

Rosaire Huguette

Rosaire Huguette is a larger wallet (approximately the size of a small purse) that stood out to me because of its functionality and clean, silver hardware clasp. As someone who prefers smooth leather, I selected a light blue shade from all the colour options thinking it would soften the texture of the pebbled leather - and it does! The interior comes with ample room to fit numerous cards, cash, receipts, and even a phone.

What I like about this wallet first and foremost is the number of different compartments. It comes with a back pocket, an inner pocket, a zippered pouch, and even additional card holders along the front. The Huguette will do a fantastic job of holding everything I need it to hold. However, at the size of a small purse, this wallet is much larger than what I am accustomed to. I would have liked to see it in a smaller size, because I think even if it were to be shrunken down on all sides, its usefulness would still be retained.

The silver hardware adds a polished touch to the Huguette, and I appreciate the chic use of a lock as a zipper pull on the interior pouch. Unfortunately, as you can see in the photo, the inner zipper will rub against the leather flap above it. I'm afraid that is an unavoidable side effect of the design, though I acknowledge Eva Leather did add cardboard separators in the wallet before shipping to help prevent scratching. Another comment I have is regarding the silver clasp in the front. Although it is very elegant in design, the middle portion simply snaps shut. I imagine a lot of future wear and tear on the clasp, and would suggest a magnetic closure instead.

Overall, I am impressed with the softness of the leather and how the compartments are designed to offer a lot of functionality. My mom tends to use larger wallets, so this will actually be perfect for her!

Rosaire Catherine

Although Rosaire Catherine was sent to me by surprise as an additional item, I am pleasantly pleased with it. This wallet is smaller in size and more understated in its silver hardware. Like the Huguette, the leather is soft and comes in a feminine light blue colour.

The interior offers pretty much all the functionality I would need. A couple more card slots and a clear panel to put my bus pass in would have been appreciated, but I am still very happy with the compartments provided. The size is perfect, and I adore the leather strap closure. Because it feeds so smoothly through the elegant clasp, opening and closing the wallet becomes a deliciously gratifying act. I will definitely make good use of this wallet, and look forward to using it with my more refined outfits.

Many thanks to Eva Leather for giving me the opportunity to review their wallets. Ironically, although I tried picking out something to suit my personal style, sometimes the best things come as a surprise.

Wallets courtesy of Eva Leather in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

December 24, 2017

Thighs Don't Lie

I know I vowed not to buy any more clothes, but I never specifically said I wouldn't buy any more shoes. C'mon. A girl, especially me, can never have too many shoes.

The thing about shoes is...I always seem to need another pair. I need variety. With boots alone, I need winter boots, rain boots, combat boots, ankle boots, knee-high boots, thigh-high boots, suede, leather, high heel, low heel, etc... When is enough, enough? Honestly, never.

Speaking of thigh-high boots, that was exactly what I had needed in my shoe collection. Thigh-highs have become trendy over the past year, but as much as I had liked the look, I couldn't find a pair that truly spoke to me. And you know me; I wasn't keen on being just another girl with typical plain black suede thigh-highs.

So I held off on buying anything until the right one came along (note: also good advice when looking for a man).

One day, on an impromptu amble through Winners, I came face-to-face with a pair of Catherine Catherine Malandrino Glitzy Glitter Over-the-Knee Block Heel Boots:

I promptly snatched them off the rack and knew instantly I was in trouble - because I had a bubbling hunch I was going to end up walking straight to the cashier with them in hand. The gold glitter heel made my eyes sparkle with lust, and when I tried the boots on, I felt the sensual power of thigh-highs coursing through my veins. A passing salesperson stopped to compliment the boots, and mentioned how they seemed to fit my thighs very well. She was right - they did fit nice and snug.

My heart was telling me to get the boots, but my mind still walked through some logic.

First of all, the boots were $60. To determine whether that price tag was justified, I inspected the quality. Although the suede-like upper was incredibly smooth, it appeared to be synthetic. Some glitter specks had already begun to shed, and the fact they were Catherine Catherine Malandrino also tipped me off the craftsmanship may be lacking. Moreover, I noticed the toe box curved upwards quite a bit, which has always been a sign of poor quality to me. The curved toe box not only made the boots uncomfortable, it exposed the tan sole underneath in an unflattering manner.
In terms of quality, these were definitely not up to par with my usual standard for shoes; however, I did consider the glitter heels to be a dazzlingly unique touch, so I threw in the towel and bought the boots.

I didn't wear them right away, though. I kept the tags on until Black Friday a week later, when the boots went down to $46. Score! At that price, I was more willing to keep the boots as an experimental and fun purchase. I figure if the glitter does eventually fall off, I can easily replace it with glitter from the crafts store. I just couldn't bring myself to return these shoes. They had such a sexy and feminine allure even my own mother said she prefers I wear it with some skin peeking through. In this special instance, being able to check off 'thigh-high boots' from my wishlist of shoes is worth any ultimate shortfall in quality. 

Image Source: Nordstrom Rack, Just The Design

November 25, 2017

Blurred Lines

A few years ago, a friend sent me an article about Selfridge's new Agender space. The Agender space was an area within the department store that offered a unique genderless shopping experience. It contained clothing which did not fall into any particular category of gender. As Faye Toogood, designer of the space, explained, "Selfridges' ambition was to create a space where men and women could essentially come and shop together irrespective of gender, and that you would choose clothes as an individual rather than based on your gender."

Since then, I have been planning to write a blog post about the concept of gender-neutral fashion. I found it a compelling idea, yet push did not come to shove until now, when gender and sexuality are finally spotlighted by the current zeitgeist. Gender-neutral fashion could not be a more topical conversation.

However, before we get started, I think it important to establish some basic definitions to ensure we work off a common foundation of terminology. The broadly accepted definition of gender is the characteristic of being - traditionally speaking - masculine and feminine. I see gender as separate from sex and sexuality, and although there may be correlations, gender (and sexuality) are not determined by sex. To me, gender is identity, not anatomy.

So with that, let's talk about fashion.

Before I was introduced to the idea of gender-neutral fashion, I was familiar with androgyny. Androgyny is when one mixes masculine and feminine characteristics to create an ambiguous gender, and although this manner of presentation is essentially gender-neutral, androgyny was often superficially depicted in fashion as a woman in menswear-inspired clothing. So the extent of my knowledge only reached as far as knowing that people could identify or dress as the opposite gender. The moment my eyes were truly opened was when I read The Worn Archive, a subversive Canadian fashion magazine. It contained an article showcasing individuals who identified as gender-neutral.

And I was fascinated.

It never occurred to me that in addition to dressing as the opposite gender, one could completely defy gender binaries by dressing as an individual who is neither masculine nor feminine...but also at the same time kind of both masculine and feminine. I was blown away by the multi-faceted intricacy of such an identity. In the article, these individuals described the difficulties they faced shopping in traditional department stores. Those with female bodies may have wished to buy a menswear item, but had trouble finding sizing and clothing designed for their body shape. Or vice versa.

And so it was timely when Selfridge came out with their Agender space; a space where individuals were free to buy clothing that appealed to them rather than their supposed gender. Last year, Burberry and Vetements announced they would be combining menswear and womenswear into one show. Although that did not necessarily mean they would be designing gender-neutral clothing, it was a symbolic acknowledgement that the gender divide is blurring. Likewise when designers pared down womenswear and electrified menswear as a way of encouraging sartorial diversity and liberty. Nowadays, we are seeing more and more clothing that is genuinely transferable between genders. As society begins to break down barriers between 'him' and 'her', clothing itself will need to evolve. Evidently, the wheels of that process are already in motion.

Yet this is a conversation that will continue to grow and transform. In fact, only recently did I discover gender fluidity: the act of shifting between genders. Absolutely incredible. As discourse expands, what will that mean for fashion? The industry has always kept its finger on the pulse of revolution and rebellion, and I have no doubt it will react to the rumblings of change we feel now. Dressing is such an intimate and personal exercise that everyone should feel comfortable making fashion their own. Fashion is self-expression. Gender is a choice. So then let's give people that choice in fashion.

Image Source: Dazed, Madame Figaro, Qwear, Travelshopa

October 28, 2017

For My Eyes Only

Remember when I turned into an outright diva? Yeah, I thought I would put my diva days behind me for at least the next little while, but then I decided to get new glasses and prescription sunglasses. So back out I went - barely settled from my first foray - to become a spoiled brat yet again.

I was due for an upgrade anyway. I bought my current pair of Tiffany & Co. glasses six years ago, and my Coach sunglasses even longer before that. At that point in life, I was still trying to figure out exactly what my personal style was.

So I have been looking for new glasses for a very long time. My Tiffany & Co. frames are not atrocious, but they are quite ubiquitous. I've seen more women on the streets than I would like with the same or similar pair of Tiffany's. And while the robin egg blue on the inside of the frames was a fun touch, I wanted something more professional and refined now that I'm a working adult. As mentioned once before, I fell in love with browline glasses years ago. In particular, I developed a bottomless obsession with havana/gold Ray-Ban clubmasters. Yet every attempt I made to own a pair was met with failure. With such high prescription, I was told my lenses would end up being noticeably thick. The distance between the nose pads also didn't fit my flat nose. And, last but not least, they just fundamentally didn't complement my face shape as well as I had hoped.

So I tried other browlines. I dabbled with cat eyes. I thought of surrendering and succumbing to typical plastic frames. I even emailed Tom Ford at one point asking if they could please design a browline for women - with gold metal instead of silver, and a gold bridge instead of black...sorry for being picky... (I never did get an email back, but I saw Tom Ford came out with a pair of black/gold browline glasses for women this season). I initially wanted havana frames because I thought they looked softer against my dark hair, though over time I started to realize I should probably stick to black. Havana seemed to wash me out.

On the streets, I became jealous of women who could pull off browline frames. And of those with black and gold frames in those glamorous, quirky styles which are particularly trendy right now.

So it was quite an unbelievable feat when I finally managed to find my own pair.

It came to me swiftly and unexpectedly. A pair of Dolce & Gabbana browline frames. I was just messing around with different glasses while waiting for my mom to choose her own pair of new frames (she, ironically, settled on Tiffany & Co.), when I tried on these:

When I saw myself in the mirror, it was like being struck with an awakening and finally seeing the light of day. Because these frames just felt so right. There is a special soothing feeling I get when I try something on and I just know it's the right one. These frames made the stars align on my face, and to boot, it was a black and gold browline. It wasn't necessarily unique, but it was polished and refined. Here's how it looks on me:

What I find especially fateful is that I used to own a pair of Dolce & Gabbana frames before I switched to Tiffany. And guess what? I also ended up choosing a pair of Dolce & Gabbana frames for my prescription sunglasses. I guess Dolce & Gabbana and I have an inexplicable sartorial bond, and it was simply calling me back to my roots.

My search for a pair of prescription sunglasses was much more...last minute. I hadn't paid any thought to what I would want in new prescription sunglasses, so I was really going in blind (pun not intended). In an act of desperation, I went to the mall and tried on as many pairs of sunglasses as I could. What naturally caught my eye (oh man, I'm punning it up today) was of course gold detailing. I also knew I wouldn't want another pair of sunglasses from Ray Ban, so I started narrowing down my options. I came across a couple frames with gold trim along the brows, which were interesting, but for some reason didn't feel right. And now I'm grateful I trusted my instincts because I have ended up seeing more than enough people with those exact sunglasses on the train.

I ultimately ended up debating between these Tom Ford Penelope sunglasses, and the Dolce & Gabbana 4268 frames pictured above. However, as much as I liked the cylindrical gold arm on the Tom Ford sunnies, I knew the frame was simply too large and thin for it to look good with prescription lenses. So I went with Dolce & Gabbana. I asked for the darkest lens possible with no gradient colouring. I've learnt from past mistakes and didn't want any risk of my lens coming out more transparent than they needed to. Here's how it looks:

I didn't fully Jekyll and Hyde into a diva this time, but I did disregard a lot of opinions from others on what frames I should get. I was met with a hesitant pause from my parents when I showed them the frames I wanted. They worried the frames would be too big, too thin, too round, etc. And the sales assistant at the eyewear store warned my lenses would be thick, and the lack of nose pads on my sunglasses would affect proper fit. Yes, my lenses are visibly thick and I do have to get used to wearing sunglasses that sit lower on my nose, but I've come to realize the only choice that will make me happy is the one I want. As a wise saleslady at Nordstrom once told me, "Don't listen to what other people tell you. Don't even listen to what I tell you. Get what you want - because you're the one who's going to be wearing it". And she's right. These glasses are, after all, for my eyes only.

Image Source: Pinterest, Visio Factory, Jenn Im, Shenny Violet Kaplan 

August 27, 2017

Breaking the Fast

Uncharacteristically, I've been avoiding the mall lately. I'm afraid of window shopping. Because I know that if I wander through the racks, there's a chance I'll come across an item that catches my fancy. And if it does, I might start obsessively waiting for it to go on sale.

Why is that a problem?

Well, I've realized I have. Way. Too. Many. Clothes. When it gets to the point you open your closet and continuously find "new" clothes you totally forgot/never knew you had, you might just have too much. It's like some reverse bandit is sneaking into my room at night and giving me new clothes. I literally have zero recollection of certain items being under my ownership. Not only that, sometimes I can spend 15 minutes just deciding what pair of socks to wear because somehow I have 7 different pairs of white socks in my drawer. Or an entire box of nylons. Or three boxes of jewellery. Or clothing stored throughout the house and in the basement. I could literally open a thrift store at this rate. In fact, I've been selling away my clothes, and yet it barely makes a dent.

So point is, I can't buy anymore. I don't need anymore. Aside from a couple wardrobe staples here and there I could update, it would be silly of me to buy more.

But yesterday I broke the fast by walking into an ALDO store. Luckily, I didn't walk out with an item on my wishlist. All I walked out with were a couple quips about their latest collection.

ALDO is actually my favourite shoe store. I think it's good at producing shoes which are trendy, affordable, and can have decent quality - though let me expand on that last point. The majority of the time, ALDO shoes fall short in quality. However, they do always have a selection of shoes which I think step it up. While most are faux leather, it is possible to find a few made from genuine leather, and there are always a handful with better construction. You have to look for them, but they're there.

Yesterday, I found myself more conflicted than usual about ALDO. They have really interesting designs lately. If we look past the blatant Gucci imitation items (Floral embroidered sneakers? Horsebit hardware? C'mon.), or the Fenty x Puma copies (though honestly, who isn't copying those nowadays), there are some cool concepts. Heels and sneakers became canvases for metallic rainbow finishes, sparkly embellishment, shiny gold hardware, encrusted pearls, flecks of glitter, and soft fur. It was just plain FUN. I was honestly impressed with the attention to detail this season.

The only thing all looked tacky. Not because of the design itself, but because the quality was not up to snuff. The fake leather had an unsettling sheen, the metallic was dull and probably easily scratched, and the pearls looked a bit pasted on. I find outré, trendy detailing like this does require some level of craftsmanship to make it look stylish. Otherwise, it can look like an item from the kiddie dress-up aisle (sorry).

I appreciate the design effort, ALDO, and to give you credit, I'm sure there are a couple good pieces in there. But, regardless of whether I'm abstaining from the mall or not, would I purchase any of it? Unfortunately no.

Image source: Aldo

August 8, 2017

Ange où Demon

Angel or demon. Feminine or femme fatale. Goddess or goth. There is no denying the beauty of fashion is the ability to shape-shift across a spectrum of personalities. Tobi was kind enough to send me a couple dresses to style, and two of my favourite pieces ended up being on opposite ends of the spectrum. So I had some fun with play pretend, and I ask you: ange où demon?

Dress: Tobi | Camisole: tout à coup | Shoes: Ground Green Store | Sunglasses: Ray-Ban

This feminine dress with its dusting of rose pink and airy kimono sleeves reminded me of the flowing beauty of a Grecian goddess. I knew instantly I would have to pair the dress with my fringed gladiator sandals. I call this outfit the look of the angel, but it is hardly of pure innocence. I added a cheeky boudoir twist by layering a soft lace camisole underneath and bringing the criss-cross straps (which are intended to be worn in the back) to the front across my chest. Another way of styling this dress would be to have a tight lace underlay across the chest - enough to cover up the deep v-neck, but not enough to keep everything hidden. A game of hide and seek.

Dress: Tobi | Shoes: Ned-Nedy | Camisole: Old Navy | Sunglasses: Ray-Ban

I was immediately drawn to the slits along the sheer sleeves of this dress, and couldn't resist ordering it in black to amp up the smouldering evening appeal. There is actually an opening down the front of the torso, but for the more conservative among us, a black lace camisole underneath will work just fine. However, although this cocktail number shows a bit more skin up top, I was greatly impressed by how perfect the length of the skirt was, hitting that sweet mid-thigh spot. I may have glided with grace in my previous look, but this dress gave me confidence of a different kind - the kind that made me walk with an extra strut in my step.

Dresses courtesy of Tobi.