Little Black Lace Dress

FASHION - You don't want a lump of coal for Christmas, but a little black lace dress and the accessories to match might be on your list this year. Its sort of an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas idea, but don't forget black lace suffers from a Madonna/whore complex in fashion.

When done in white and in a voluminous form for wedding dresses, lace is considered innocent and pure. In black and in the boudoir – lace is sexy, racy and risque. With the colour of flesh underneath there is also underlying simmering sexuality.

Miuccia Prada, in her fall/winter collection, managed to marry the two personalities of this fabric with guipure lace dresses. She took black lace and made it look austere and prim and by adding dickies at the neckline – they practically look like something a nun or Mennonite might wear, a naughty one.

Prada believes in lace so much that she reportedly bought the entire stock produced from a Swiss factory. Small surprise, whatever the highly influential Prada does, it usually sends shock waves through the fashion world.

This holiday season, any chain store worth its fashion credentials is in on this trend and has lacy little black dresses for the holiday. They're perfect for the festive season and beyond, ladylike and classic, but also suggestive and sexy.

Best part of all, accessories to match are really easy to find. See Long Gloves and Fingerless Gloves.

Black Supermodels being left behind

Last year during the January 2008 fashion week...

'There should be more than one spot for a black model," says Yordanos Teshager, 21, a reed-thin, nearly 6-foot-tall model from Ethiopia who is represented by the prestigious Elite agency. But despite going on 85 cast calls seeking work during Fashion Week last season, she says she often left feeling that "they were going to hire a white girl."

Teshager walked in only 11 of some 200 shows last September, a season in which, overall, women of color were glaringly absent. Of the 101 shows and presentations, more than a third employed no black models.

Models were a homogeneous bunch - overwhelmingly white, bony and often blond. Along with the obvious - and serious - issue of racism, some wondered whether it wasn't all becoming just a little boring. When Fashion Week comes to town observers won't just be looking at the clothes - they'll also be looking for a serious change in who's wearing them.

"I would hope some of the designers would mix it up this season. Unless you were Eastern European, white, extremely skinny ... you didn't fit into the shows last season," says Nigel Barker, the photographer and judge on TV's "America's Next Top Model."

"Some shows had just one black model," Barker says, adding that he found the shows monotonous, visually unexciting and depressing. "Fashion is about fantasy, and everybody's fantasy is not to be 6 feet and white."

"I think designers will be more mindful," says Jasmine H. Chang, executive fashion editor of O, the Oprah Magazine. Chang says the absence of black models last season made her feel "uncomfortable. Here I am seated in an audience with every ethnicity in the world, and I did feel it was wrong."

Efforts from the inside

If there is a change, it will be in no small part because of the efforts of former model and agent Bethann Hardison, who has organized three panel discussions since September on the lack of diversity on runways. And it's a problem that's been building, she says. "It's not just a bad year, it's been a bad decade."

Who does she blame for the runway whiteout? "I blame us all - the designers, the agents, myself. ... But for me it all starts with the fashion designer," Hardison says. "They've gotten very 'Stepford Wives,' lost in commerce, very conservative. ... Where is the glamour? The avant-garde? I'm trying to get designers to stop following the yellow brick road."

Though she particularly advocates for African-Americans, Hardison says the problem affects all races and she vehemently objects to the apparent new taboo of looking different. "Forget even a white girl with style and personality. ... Fashion is going backwards." Bottom line, Hardison says, "The fashion designer no longer relates to the model, and I believe this is where I can raise consciousness and generate a sense of responsibility. It's race-based, and race conscious and that makes it unconsciously racist."

John Mincarelli, a longtime professor of fashion merchandising at the Fashion Institue of Technology in Manhattan, who takes a sociological view of fashion, agrees. "There's a complete lack of personality and that has to come from the designer. It's a dictate. Black models always bring personality to the runway."

Designer Carmen Marc Valvo, who dresses plenty of women of color including Vanessa Williams, Jennifer Hudson and Queen Latifah, says he's well aware of the issue and makes it his business to include a variety of ethnicities in his show. "It's almost as if the industry dictates this blond, blue-eyed ideal. We are very cognizant of this and always include women of color. I think it's almost criminal that one-third of the shows were all white."

Blaming the agencies

But casting agent Jennifer Starr, who is also a judge on Bravo's "Make Me a Supermodel" and is casting for Ralph Lauren, J Mendel, Alice Temperley and Carlos Miele, believes the problem stems from the modeling agencies.

"It's not the designers' fault ... at least the designers I work for," she says. "Ralph Lauren, especially, is constantly asking me why there aren't more African-American models he can put in his show." Starr says the agencies don't seek out African-American women of the same level as the white women they take on. She says she would hope that designers would want diversity, but, she adds, "I don't feel anyone should compromise their aesthetic just to be more representational. They should use the girls they love, whether that girl is white, black, Hispanic or Asian."

Likewise, Kate Armenta, the bookings editor at Vogue magazine, says, "The black presence has somewhat faded and there seems to be a lack of up-and-coming black women. We see some, but not enough." She adds that other racial groups are underrepresented as well.

Daul Kim, 18, a Korean model also at Elite, has felt the cold shoulder. In Paris last season, she was actually told at a casting that they were only hiring white women. "I think it was so rude," Kim says. Not to worry, though. This season, Kim was named one of the "Top 10 Models to Watch" by New York Magazine and is, according to her agent, "surging a bit in popularity."

Not surprisingly, modeling agencies don't want to take the blame for the dearth of diversity. Roman Young, the director of new faces at Elite, says, "We are doing our part. This is a blended office ethnically and culturally. I'm really passionate about the beauty spectrum." Young says that when a client asks for "the girl next door," he responds that "the girl next door to me was Filipino. ... Can I send a black girl?" Although he says he's fully aware that the client wants a white model, he notes that in the end, "It's my job to sell beauty not ethnicity."

Getting behind change

Calling for an end to all the finger pointing, Ivan Bart, senior vice president of powerhouse agency IMG models who represents black supermodels like Tyra Banks, Alek Wek, Liya Kebede and Naomi Campbell, says this should be "about the industry coming together and recognizing what the consumer wants. There's a diverse group of consumers out in America and we should be listening to them."

He is optimistic that this season's runways will feature more diversity. In fact, he says IMG has a slew of new ethnic talent to help fill the bill.

Ford Models president John Caplan adds, "Our role, and the role of the agent, is to scout for interesting faces of all ethnicities. ... The responsibility for who is successful comes down to what the marketplace wants." Well in advance of Fashion Week, Ford's superstar Chanel Iman Robinson, who was often the single black face in shows last season, was already reserved for most of the major shows.

For its part, the Council of Fashion Designers of America is taking a hands-off approach to the issue, though it did send members a letter that touched upon it by saying that "fashion can impact how individuals define themselves so it is the responsibility of the industry to take action to celebrate diversity."

Will it? Elite's Young has noticed "more girls of color on the request list this season." And that holds true at Ford, as well. Hardison is hopeful. "If I was dealing with homeland security, I know nothing would change. But I think it's going to make a difference. You got to keep on, keep on, keep on."

So will 2009 be more of the same? You'd hope the Obama effect would sink in and the fashion industry would suddenly realize black supermodels aren't just sexy, they're cool.

Festive Silver - Decor for the Holidays

RELIGION - Whether you're into Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, the Winter Solstice, Yuletide or New Years the "in colour" this year isn't really a colour. Its silver.

Move over red and green – neutrals, metallics and peacock shades are the hot holiday hues of 2008.

This year’s decor is taking a cue from the runways. PARA Paints chose a royal-inspired festive palette of plumy purple, flat silver, icy white and cream and, the season’s rising star, cobalt blue.

For traditionalists, deep blue paired with silver and white is stepping up as a wintry alternative for the now oh-so-passé combo of red and green.

Metallics, including classics like silver, gold and bronze, are also popular again this season. Metallics in a not-too-shiny, midtone finish are particularly hot this year and mixing metallics isn't as hard as it sounds.

For the more adventurous host or hostess you may want to embrace the monochromatic trend. A combination of white, cream and silver can evoke a warm but wintry feel, while copper, beige and brown creates a natural-yet-chic atmosphere.

You don’t have to spend a gazillion dollars

When money is tight, holiday decorating doesn’t have to mean placing a single white candle on the table. Getting the house ready for the holidays on a budget simply means being a little resourceful, decorating experts say.

Carefully revamping or creatively using what you already own can create lush looks in lean economic times. Objects found in the home can be used to create a sense of richness and warmth in a family room. The idea is to convey a sense of abundance.

ie. Find a clear glass bowl and fill it with ornaments of a single bright colour for an eye-catching display.

Set a budget and follow it closely, reuse your stash of decorations, bring in the great outdoors, and remember that it’s supposed to be fun. Paint or glitter can refresh the decorations pulled out of closets and basements and spray paint can be your best friend.

Try buying a large roll of wide ribbon and making bows that can be placed on trees, garlands on staircases and gifts. Making your own bows is cheaper than buying new ones.

You can make wreaths look new by attaching new fake berries, sprigs or pine cones.

Try using nature to update your decor, for example, by gathering twigs, pine cones, branches and pine boughs and arranging the items in a vase, as though they are part of a flower arrangement. Spray painting the cones festive silver can also work wonders.

Teenagers cutting back on Fashion

FASHION - American teenagers are being forced to cutback on fashion this holiday shopping season. Why? Because their parents are cutting back on spending, and this means allowances are being cut, parents are reining in on their children's credit cards and teens are being told to GET A JOB whenever they ask their parents for more money.

All of this is the result of the current recession and credit crisis in the United States.

THE GOOD NEWS: The holiday sales this season are EXTREME. All the companies are DESPERATE for cash, afraid of going bankrupt and are offering 70% sales or better. This means for those of us who do have spending money we can stretch our budget a bit farther and buy more clothes (or more quality) than we normally do.

Australian Fashion Week dumps 14-year-old model

FASHION - Last April 14-year-old Polish girl was dumped from Australian Fashion Week (AFW) after organizers bowed to public pressure to adopt a minimum age of 16 for its fashion models.

The controversial decision to feature 14-year-old Monika Jagaciak in the major Sydney fashion event was reversed "in light of industry and community concern regarding the acceptable age for models".

"Effective immediately, both male and female models participating in Rosemount Australian Fashion Week will need to be at least 16 years of age and must be represented by a model agency," AFW said in a statement.

Monika, who was to have been flown to Sydney for the event which begins on April 28, has previously fronted a campaign for French fashion house Hermes and has been photographed in a white swimsuit being sprayed by a shower jet.

Vogue magazine added to the pressure for an age limit of 16 to be adopted, saying it would not feature Monika in its AFW coverage.

BUT WHAT ARE THE AGE STANDARDS IN OTHER FASHION SHOWS???

Obamachic and Obamamania

FASHION/POLITICS - Like Barack and Michelle Obama's fashion sense? You're not alone.

Barack Obama is not just the next president of the United States. He's also the new face of fashion.

Thanks in part to sightings of A-listers like Ryan Phillippe, Brad Pitt, Beyoncé and Kanye West wearing Obama T-shirts, as well as the constant and prominent display of the politician's handsome face on the big screen at the recent MTV Europe awards, his image has reached the status of an international pop culture icon.

So it shouldn't be surprising that Toronto designer Kingi Carpenter, of the quirky label Peach Berserk, is making stuff emblazoned with Obama's face. Carpenter makes silkscreened hoodies, dresses, T-shirts, skirts and scarves... all with Obama on them. One woman even bought Obama pillows for her house.

The designer, a self-admitted political junkie, follows American politics obsessively and is an Obama fan. But her inspiration for the Obama items arose out of Canadian history. She once saw a dress from the Trudeaumania era emblazoned with the image of the famously attractive prime minister and was fascinated with what it meant.


MICHELLE OBAMA

Every time Michelle Obama wears one of her unusual dress selections on television, the item flies off the shelves.

The famous $148 sundress she wore on The View and the J.Crew yellow suit she wore on Letterman were huge hits with shoppers, while the red dress she wore on her first visit to the White House sold out within a week.

For women it will be Michelle who will be setting fashion and cultural trends when the couple reaches the White House.

Michelle Obama also nixed getting a designer pooch like a stupid chihuahua, saying her kids would adopt a rescue dog, and will continue this thrifty, socially conscious pattern throughout the term.

Obama's American-made family car, a Ford Escape hybrid, is a perfect example of this, as it is both patriotic and environmentally responsible. It sets an example Americans can live by.

This doesn't always work: Jimmy Carter tried to get Americans to wear sweaters during the energy crisis of the '70s and, even though he happily sported a cardigan, the style was only adopted by a few. On the other hand, he says, Ronald Reagan's love affair with the colour brown was widely adopted in men's clothing.

When fashions were adopted, such as Jackie Kennedy's clothes and J.F.K's refusal to wear a hat, the fashion fads were widespread throughout the U.S., regardless of political affiliation.

Michelle Obama's wardrobe differs greatly from the "very European and Anglo Saxon" outfits worn by Cindy McCain and Laura Bush, but instead features a more globalized chic.

Barack Obama's preference for white shirts and dark suits sends a message that he's honest and straightforward. We can expect white dress shirts to get a popular surge. Everything about the new First Family will be scrutinized and copied by an adoring public. Together their White House style will fit in with the new era of austerity, but will still have sparkle and energy.

Its definitely an improvement over George W. Bush and his shoulder pads.

Fashion Riot for Comme des Garçons

FASHION - Imagine if you will going to an H&M store at Toronto's Eaton Centre and standing in line for 12 hours waiting for the store to open... and then when the store does open a riot breaks out and people start fighting over the clothes.

That is what on November 13th 2008.

210 people + Limited edition designs by avant garde Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo for fashion label Comme des Garçons = RIOT.

Kawakubo, the founder of Comme des Garçons, is often credited with being one of the first to introduce a predominant use of black, asymmetrical hems and frays seams when she first launched the label in Paris in the early 1980s.

Rei Kawakubo is untrained as a fashion designer, but studied fine arts and literature at Tokyo's prestigious Keio University. After graduation, Kawakubo worked in a textile company and began working as a freelance stylist in 1967.

In 1973, Rei Kawakubo established her own company, Comme des Garçons Co. Ltd in Tokyo and opened up her first boutique in Tokyo in 1975. Starting out with women's clothes, Kawakubo added a men's line in 1978. Three years later, she started presenting her fashion lines in Paris each season, opening up a boutique in Paris in 1982.

Comme des Garçons specialises in anti-fashion, austere, sometimes deconstructed garments. During the 1980s, Rei Kawakubo's garments were primarily in black, dark grey or white. The materials were often draped around the body and featured frayed, unfinished edges along with holes and a general asymmetrical shape. Challenging the established notions of beauty she created an uproar at her debut Paris fashion show where journalists labeled her clothes 'Hiroshima chic' amongst other things. Since the late 1980s her colour palette has grown somewhat.

Rei Kawakubo likes to have input in all the various aspects of her business. Rather than just focussing on clothes and accessories. She is greatly involved in graphic design, advertising and shop interiors believing that all these things are a part of one vision and are inextricably linked. Her Aoyama, Tokyo store is known for its sloping glass facade decorated with little blue dots. This was designed in collaboration between Rei and a Japanese architect. Rei published her own bi-annual magazine, 'Six' (standing for 'sixth sense'), in the early 1990s. It featured very little text and consisted mainly for photographs and images that she deemed inspiring. In 1996 Rei was guest editor of the high art publication Visionaire.

Rei Kawakubo is known to be quite reclusive and media shy, preferring her innovative creations to speak for themselves.



How to Convert a T-shirt into a Dress

FASHION - Ever wanted to turn an old t-shirt into a dress? Well, with a little help from a Fashion MacGyver (GiannyL.com) you can, and its not that hard.




OR A BIKINI



OR A BABY-DOLL SHIRT



OR A MINI-SKIRT


Chocolate Fashion

CANADA - Using pounds and mounds of chocolate, 10 local designers created outfits – ranging from a hat, to a bikini, to a wedding dress to jeans – incorporating the decadent dark stuff for a runway show at the Carlu in Toronto on Wednesday night.

It was the fourth annual Cadbury Chocolate Couture Collection that sees the confectionery company invite fashion designers to each create an outfit – under the direction of a chocolate artist – comprised of 70 per cent of the sweet stuff.

This year's theme was the global passion for chocolate and each look referenced a different international culture.

Some of the designers seemed to subscribe to the true chocolate aficionado's credo: go with gusto and eat the whole bar, and choose only the really good stuff. While some creations looked merely spray- painted with Dairy Milk, others seemed gleefully and wonderfully overindulged.

Izzy Camilleri's African Queen was influenced by the continent's royal tribes, with a costume featuring a bodice made of twigs executed entirely of chocolate. Even stacks of arm bracelets were chocolate-dipped.

Design duo Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong, of red-hot label Greta Constantine, took the silk route with their Thai Temptress, which incorporated six metres of stringed, solid-chocolate beadwork.

Milliner Karyn Gingras of Lilliput Hats fashioned a towering chapeau in the shape of the famed Sydney Opera House.

At the reception that followed chocolate fountains and chocolate martinis helped soothe chocolate cravings.














Spa and Masseuse Do's and Don'ts

When visiting a spa to get a massage here are some helpful do's and don'ts when it comes to spa etiquette.

HEALTH
/FASHION - Arrive at least fifteen minutes early for your appointment, to give yourself time to check in and get into your robe. If the spa has special facilities like steam or sauna or whirlpool baths, you should arrive even earlier to enjoy them.

You will usually undress completely for massage and body treatments, but your therapist will keep your body draped in dry services and only expose area to be worked upon. Some spas use draping in wet treatments like body scrubs, while others do not.

Give the therapist feedback as to your comfort and special troubled areas. You can talk or be quiet, and he she should follow your lead

Relax, enjoy and allow others to care for you.

Understand that you are getting therapeutic massage, which is not a sensual experience.

Don't talk loudly in the public areas.

Do not bring children and leave them unattended.

Gratuities of 15-20% are typical.

If the therapist says, "take your time getting up," it means not to get up so fast that you get woozy. You generally have five or so minutes. The room must be prepared for the next client unless she or he says otherwise.

Give honest feedback to the therapist, owner, receptionist, etc., as operation personnel cares to know if your spa experiences was as expected.

Finally, and this is a big must, avoid eating gassy foods before getting your massage! The last thing the masseuse wants is for you to break wind in their face.

United States Election T-Shirts

These shirts must have been designed by a man, but whatever. I like them.





Palin's Shopping Frenzy worse

Sarah Palin Fashion - Palin's shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported.

While publicly supporting Palin, McCain's top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost.

An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

Regardless, Sarah Palin's horrible fashion sense and overspending provides us with amusement and a reminder of how NOT to dress.

Election Map looks like Red High Heels

Is it just me or does the election map of the United States look like red high heels?



Obama Wins US Presidency

Congratulations to Barack Obama for winning the US Presidency!

He was always well-dressed, as opposed to McCain who frequently sported some fashion don'ts and Sarah Palin who just plain dressed like trailer trash.

Voter turnout has been very low in recent years, but this year has seen a huge boost to voter turnout. Left is a dress made by a Japanese designer out of voter cards.

US Voter Turnout by Year

1980: 52.56%
1984: 53.11%
1988: 50.15%
1992: 55.23%
1996: 49.08%
2000: 51.30%
2004: 55.27%

I think the dress is pretty kewl and it stresses the importance that EVERYONE should vote. I know people think we fashionistas are a bunch of dumb blondes/etc, but its not about intelligence. Its about loving your country and wanting to make a difference. Sometimes only 1 vote can make a difference.

My dress is Ringing

TECHNOLOGY - The '60s TV sitcom Get Smart brought us the shoe phone, but what about a dress phone?

It's the M-Dress – a silk garment that doubles as a mobile phone. Produced by UK firm CuteCircuit, the M-Dress works with a standard SIM card. When the dress rings, you raise your hand to your head to answer the call.

This futuristic fusion of fashion and technology is becoming more common as clothing designers are increasingly incorporating electronics into their garments.

Jane McCann, director of Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology at the University of Wales, says the clothing and electronics industries are collaborating in an unprecedented way – what she describes as "a new industrial revolution."

McCann predicts that, in the next 10 years, clothes will have all kinds of functionality. "A garment might have devices on it to help you find your way somewhere, or to tell you how fit you are. It could tell you where someone is to help you meet them, or tell you what's on at a museum or club."

She notes the sports and fitness industries have led the way in wearable technology, producing shoes with built-in pedometers and active wear with iPod controls.

"Wearable technology is coming through into useful everyday clothing more than it is on the catwalk. The catwalk still treats wearable tech as flashing earrings or sensational things," McCann says.

While high fashion may be slow to adopt practical technology, designers have been quick to embrace technology in order to create dazzling new styles. Hussein Chalayan, twice selected as British Designer of the Year, has used his shows to experiment with dresses that glow with built-in LEDs or emit spectacular red lasers.

Others, like Angel Chang, have produced beautiful designs using thermochromic inks that change colour when you touch or breathe on them, while Montreal's XS Labs has used a shape-memory alloy called Nitinol to produce extraordinary dresses that change shape while you wear them.

As well as functionality, McCann believes mass customization will emerge as a major trend in clothing. "You can already go into a sizing booth and get measurements of your size and shape."

Perhaps you could store that information on a card and that could be used to customize clothing.

"In theory, if you've got technology that's cutting out garments one at a time it could produce clothes informed by your own size requirements," she says.

But mass customization could extend beyond getting the perfect fit – you might also be able to customize the technology in your clothes.

Says McCann: "You might want built-in controls for an MP3 player but I might like heartbeat monitoring."

"I'd like mine to have a digital print of the (album) sleeve but my friend wants a picture of her boyfriend on the back."

"Some of that could happen in the next 10 years."

Fashion for Neglectful Fathers

CANADA - Check out the shirt of the guy to the right who is currently pleading guilty to criminal negligence in the deaths of his two daughters. Christopher Pauchay, 24, is being charged in deaths of daughters Kaydance Pauchay, 3, and her 1-year-old sister, Santana, who became separated from their father after they left their house on the Yellow Quill First Nation reserve in the early morning of January 29 2008. The temperature would have felt like -50 C because of the wind. They froze to death.

The single charge of criminal negligence causing the deaths of both children was laid to address a failure "to provide protection from exposure to the elements."

And here he is, the "grieving father", dressed like he's going to a rock and roll concert. You'd think he would at least find a suit and tie to wear. Its believed he was drinking the night his daughters wandered out into the cold and died.

Granted, the Yellow Quill First Nation has been plagued for decades by alcohol abuse, high unemployment, a lack of suitable housing and almost no government programs to promote employment or treat addiction problems. The closest addiction centre was a 5 hour drive away.

FASHION NOTES:

WEAR PROTECTIVE CLOTHING IN THE COLD CANADIAN WINTER AND MAKE SURE YOUR CHILDREN WEAR IT TOO.

WHEN YOU'RE BEING CHARGED WITH MURDER OR CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE, AT LEAST WEAR SOMETHING PRESENTABLE.

Fashion industry being hit hard by economy

FASHION/POLITICS - The recession in the United States is affecting the fashion industry and results are dire for some of the big fashion brands and for new designers alike.

In Canada retailers and consumers are pondering one big question: Will Canadian fashion designers survive today's tough economy? And if some fail, who will survive?

Arthur Mendonça, one of Canada's most promising designers, is closing business. A casualty of today's uncertain economy and "big brand" era, Mendonça's luxurious clothes once made him a stylish find at Holt Renfrew and other select Canadian boutiques. His sexy designs were often worn by Canadian singer Nelly Furtado.

"What happened with Arthur is not uncommon for young start-up designers," says Barbara Atkin, Holt Renfrew's Vice President of Fashion Direction. "Arthur's announcement came out, unfortunately, at the same time that the economy started to make a downturn. But the problems started long before that."

Those difficulties, says Atkin, mimic the age-old David and Goliath story. Huge monopolies now run the world's major design houses. Smaller designers simply cannot compete with the resources, marketing campaigns and brand awareness these giants generate around the world.

Carried in Holt Renfrew's World Design Lab, which is devoted to small, innovative collections that lack "big brand" financial backing, Mendonça earned a strong Toronto following after he launched his label in the fall of 2003.

Outside of the Toronto market, however, Mendonça's success was modest.

"You need a big company and a marketing machine behind you that can tell the world who you are," says Atkin.

Inevitably every designer's career will be tested. When that happens, "you go away and refine who you are and what you're doing," says Atkin.

"Look at Marc Jacobs. He opened and closed his business several times before he became the Marc Jacobs we know today. The same can be said of Izaac Mizrahi," she says.

"I'd like to say that talent always wins out. But that's not so today," says Atkin. "Until we get out of this grand brand era the problems will continue for small designers with little financing."

Start-up designers battle big challenges around the world.

Whether other Canadian designers follow Mendonça remains to be seen. It's something that Sandra Pupatello, Ontario's Minister of International Trade and Investment, hopes won't happen.

"Half a billion dollars of Ontario's GDP comes from the fashion industry," says Pupatello.

"That may not compare to manufacturing but it is significant in terms of what it represents," says Pupatello. "Ontario is known for the level of innovation it brings to design in all areas. Fashion design plays a huge role in how people think of Ontario."

Attending the L'Oréal Fashion Week - the third largest show in North America - for the first time last week, Pupatello says, "The fashion industry faces the same challenges all over the world in this economic climate. I don't think Ontario is any different than what designers are facing elsewhere."

Those challenges are impossible to avoid even for industry giants, says Dana Thomas, author of "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster."

"The bankers running today's luxury design houses want a fast return on their investments. That mentality is having devastating long-term effects," Thomas said from her home in Paris, France. "Look at Bill Blass in the United States. He went under. Halston is barely hanging on. Valentino will likely take a hit. These are big companies we're talking about. Even they're feeling the impact of today's economy."

Some luxury brands continue to do well, however, by selling middle-market goods to the emerging rich in China, India and Russia. "These virgin markets are filled with people who want all the trappings of luxury. It's helping to make up for losses companies are experiencing in the United States and Europe," says Thomas.

Yet as plunging markets continue to evaporate retirement accounts around the world, funds, not fashion, will concern people more, says Thomas.

"Clothes are necessary. Fashion is not," says Thomas, who predicts that consumers will dial back on unnecessary spending for the foreseeable future.

Real solutions for today's fashion industry?

For Calgary-based designer Paul Hardy, one of Canada's success stories, tough times mean greater opportunities.

"It is possible to be creative within challenging financial times. But you need to think outside the box and turn obstacles into possibilities," says Hardy.

Coming from four generations of bankers, Hardy and his advisers foresaw the economic depression on the horizon. They implemented strategic plans to withstand it, beginning with restructuring Hardy's knitwear, a collection staple.

"In lean times consumers tend to purchase more 'investment upgrades' versus 'fashion updates' says Hardy, who operates in the heart of Canada's gas and oil industry - a plus, he says, for sustaining his business.

"The reality is that Canada is not widely known for fashion," says Hardy, who would like to see government-subsidized agencies support a collective of Canadian fashion designers showing in Paris and New York rather than in separate shows in various provinces.

"It would be good for the country...It might expand the designers' brands internationally and make them more financially feasible," he says.

Any measures that help recapture the strength of Canada's fashion industry from the 1950s through the 1970s would be welcome.



FRUGAL FASHION TIPS


1) Don't limit yourself to second hand stores and garage sales only. You can find sales and good deals anywhere and everywhere. The trick is having a budget and knowing what you need. You still want quality after all.

2) Stay away from private labels at department stores. It may be brand name, but its not necessarily discount or a fair price.

3) Keep abreast of things at least 1 season ahead. That way when you spot something on sale that you'll need for next winter or summer you'll be ready to snap it up.

4) Take your Tween and Teen Fashionistas with you when you shop. Buying something they won't wear because their "mom bought it for them" isn't kewl. Take them with you and buy what they will wear.

5) Know when to buy. Pick a good time to buy, like during Back to School or Boxing Day Sales.

6) Know when to stop. Don't go overboard when you know you can't afford it.

7) Do It Yourself. Do your own manicure and pedicure. Color your own hair. Cut your childrens' hair. Maybe even make your own clothes. You'd be amazed at how much savings you can pocket.

Sarah Palin Fashion


Sarah Palin spent more than $150,000 on a fashion makeover in preparation for her vice-presidential campaign.

So what?

Critics have been down on Palin for a September spending spree, paid for by the Republican National Committee, which provided her with a complete wardrobe for the campaign, plus hair and makeup consultants, and a few extras for her kids and husband.

The governor of Alaska, who used to campaign wearing fleece, is now apparently donning designer duds, purchased at retail prices from high-end department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, according to financial disclosure reports.

While a wardrobe costing $150,000 may seem over the top at first glance, style insiders say the fashion math makes perfect sense when you consider Palin's previous small-town lifestyle and wardrobe, the media glare that is focused so intensely on her appearance, and the high-powered global role she's going after.

"We hear the number and we say, `Wow, that's a lot of money.' And it is a lot," says image consultant Diane Craig, who as president of Corporate Class Inc. has helped political leaders style themselves for the campaign trail.

"But in the end, with the work she has to do, the people she has to see, the places she has to go, it's not unreasonable.

Even considering the hefty $150,000 budget, Palin is probably not buying at the high end of the designer scale, says Suzanne Timmins, fashion director for HBC.

Speculating that the vice-presidential hopeful might need 10 gowns, 40 suits, and 20 pairs of shoes for the arduous campaign, Timmins estimates Palin would have spent about $3,000 on each gown, $2,100 for each suit, and up to $500 on each pair of shoes.

"It's the starting point for designer labels," notes Timmins. "It's not design-design, like Chanel ... She's not buying Louis Vuitton."

Forty suits might seem like a lot, but Craig notes that repeats aren't necessarily practical on the campaign trail.

"It's not like you can send it to the cleaner. You've gotta have it the next day and you're in another town."

While agreeing it wouldn't be hard to spend $150,000 on spotlight-worthy clothes, Fashion magazine editor-in-chief Ceri Marsh says the amount Palin dropped on designer duds runs counter to the image she's trying to create.

"When you look at how she's trying to sell herself, there's a bit of a disconnect," explains Marsh. "When you are a conservative Republican, who has criticized (her opponents) for reckless spending, when you're painting yourself as queen of the hockey moms, you're opening yourself up to attack."

Whatever she spent, female politicos agree it's unfair to focus too much attention on Palin's wardrobe.

"Women are really judged much more on their looks than men are," notes Marsh, who admits she's a political junkie and has been following the U.S. campaign closely.

But whether Palin's high-priced makeover created a style that will go down in the history books is up for debate.

Craig calls her look "fabulous" and "appropriate for her." But others beg to differ. For example, Marsh's biggest compliment is that Palin hasn't made any major fashion errors.

"I don't love her new look," says Timmins. "She looks like she's trying to achieve a midwestern lady going to the PTA.

"I think Hillary Clinton was held to a different standard in her primary race," Palin said in an interview.

"Do you remember the conversations that took place about her, say superficial things that they don't talk about with men, her wardrobe and her hairstyles, all of that? That's a bit of that double standard."

"It's kind of painful to be criticized for something when all the facts are not out there and are not reported," Palin said.

"That whole thing is just, bad!" she said. "Oh, if people only knew how frugal we are."


Frankly, to be brutally honest... I think Sarah Palin looks really badly dressed. She dresses like my mom and its embarrassing to think about how my mom dresses. Socks and sandals, that sort of thing. She looks like her fashion consultant is a redneck.

How she managed to blow $150,000 on clothes and still look like a redneck is amazing.

The Hemline Effect


FASHION - Spring-summer 2009 collections – the current season in the always mad, seasonally dyslexic world of fashion – are showing short skirts and dresses that scarcely cover the important bits. The mini skirt is the message.

Traditionally there's been the belief in the "hemline effect", which is reputed to be an economic indicator created by U.S. economist George Taylor in the 1920s, suggesting that when hemlines go up, the economy is likely to improve. Meanwhile the United States one of the worst economic climates since September 11th, and its in a credit crisis.

But will women spend their hard-earned money on mini-skirts just because the fashion designers think the economy will improve? Or is this just fashion designers trying to cash in on the philosophy of showing lots of leg?

Designer and bespoke dressmaker Rosemarie Umetsu of R.U. boutique in Toronto agrees that there is always a market for short-short-short.

"I always have short in my collections and, for spring, it is the really big news. Knee-grazing or thigh-grazing, the skirt is the focus for next season."

For her, it's the shape that takes short from Bada-Bing to boardroom.

"Next season, the shape is strong without being girlie," says Umetsu, and it may be true. As she sees it, the new mini isn't tight and tarty, it is either a sort of shortened '50s or '60s wide or in such wonderful fabrics and treatments that less is more.

Still, if we are in a recession time, then short and sweet is a good sign right?

Not so, because this is a classic conservative look at short skirts... so its more about being conservative and yet trying to be optimistic. Wow. The psychology of fashion is kind of deep when you think about it.

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