Dear Canadian Fashion Authority, Are You There? Don’t UnFollow Me or Hang Up, Let’s Talk, It’s me xobolaji

Vogue-Elle-Flare-2010

As evidenced in my [many] un/sent letters to Oprah, President Obama, the makers of Lays Potato Chips, both print and online newspapers, in addition to the comment section of the various blogs I fancy, let’s just say for argument’s sake, that I am prone to rather large pronouncements.

If I “love” you, I love you with my whole heart, if I simply “like” you, I like the best about you, and if through my extra-sensory scorpion receptors, I “sense” that you don’t “like” me [we Scorps are extra-feely, extra passion-y types], well then, I feel no ways about reciprocating that dislike, and I’m off you faster than you can say “wrong move.” Still, I tend to have a sixth sense about “things”—I see dis/honest people—and my head and my heart are inextricably linked. I’ll say right up front that what affects me “intellectually” usually affects me “emotionally” and try as I might, there is no fixing this condition.

As you might have deduced, given the urgency of my recent tweeting, I’ve had this intense, personal, and somewhat public dis/affection for Fashion. To me, it’s like the giant elephant in the room, but seeing as though no “sane” person would use the words “elephant” and “fashion” in the same sentence, let’s just call it a Snake, you know, as in The Garden of Eden.

Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure how or when this rage//rant concerning Fashion came about. Suffice it to say that it happened whilst perusing the myriad fashion blogs on the internet. I kinda got my FILL of following “amateurish” 30something fashion bloggers taking too-close a cue from “stylish” 20something fashion bloggers taking too-close a cue from street teenagers emulating Britney Spears emulating Taylor Momsen emulating Lindsay Lohan, wanting to be The Olsen Twins, emulating that youth-sucking media machine AKA, Holly’weird. And if I see one more blog of a mildly attractive white girl posing, posing, posing in what she thinks is style/fashion for umpteen entries, with little or nothing in the way of meaningful textual information beyond the “this is me before I got sloshed” featuring the uninspired, yet oddly ubiquitous: “this is me in my Naughty Girl Crotch Pose,” I’m going to hurl the contents of my liquid lunch.

Still, “legitimate” Fashion blogs/street sites and online pubs are the first majah radar stop with respect to immediate information regarding new trends, current happenings–according to Fashionologie, “it’s a good time to be a Chinese model”– and all the must have it Stylista news that’s fit to print. Just ask Anna Wintour [or Tavi, The Style Rookie].  There are many notable gems out there. Many of them with superb editorial content as well as that leading edge Fashion-y Fashion that we all want and crave. These Stylista Bloggistas certainly don’t need my endorsement to underscore that point. Still, call me old school, but nothing beats holding a behemoth of a fashion mag in your hands and flipping from page to page to page to page…

Personally-speaking, I like my fashion served straight-up with a generous helping of intellectualism, a dollop of whimsy, together with equal portions of creativity, originality plus fantasy, culminating in a heretofore inexpressible intangibility. Purist, thorough-bred fashion—whatever that is—for fashion’s sake, which is some respects keeps fashion “safe”— is not interesting to me. As a result, the awesome thing about the ‘net is that you can find a virtual smorgasbord from which to tickle your fancy. But as mentioned, the pickings vary wildly.

And so I swiftly took to the Twittersphere un/ceremoniously “dumping” on all of the Fashion blogs that I perceived to be lacking in form, content and substance, as if I had some personal stake in what was being offered. It wasn’t that difficult. There was/is a lot of cheese to choose from.

After that exercise, I felt I needed more. Purging, so to speak, does leave one slightly unsatisfied. I knew that Halle Berry was on the cover of September Vogue magazine having learned earlier on Twitter that her appearance marked something like the 5th time in over 116 years that a Black woman had graced its cover. Shelby Knox, the young white feminist writer had done a breakdown of the pathetically embarrassing stats, and comments were swift and unrelenting. Cool I thought, it isn’t “just me.” Read what Jezebel also has to say.

I then proceeded to buy three September Issues of fashion magazines—a relatively small sampling considering what is out there, but I wasn’t conducting a scientific experiment here, I was simply looking at pretty fashion pictures preparing to be seduced by all things girly and sweet. In order, I purchased Elle, Vogue, and Flare magazines. All three didn’t necessarily “disappoint” per se.  Actually, it was my Elle purchase that prompted my Twitter breakdown and I decided that Asian Canadian Joe Zee was personally responsible/accountable for the lack of diversity.

That said, when one takes a cursory newsstand glance with respect to girth, substance, style and editorial content, you too will note that Vogue wins out. Elle runs a close second, and Flare, a disappointing and distant third. My reason for choosing Flare is because I am Canadian and it hails itself as “Canada’s Fashion Authority.” I have never subscribed to Flare, or Elle or Vogue. I buy them when it strikes my fancy, particularly if I like the editorial. Not just fashion editorial, but overall information editorial as well. If it has these two ingredients, then I consider it a Win. Remember now. I can get my fill of fashion eye-candy and info on the ‘net. For Free Ninety-Nine. I therefore assume that the printed fashion pubs will show and tell me what’s good. And make it all worth my precious time and money. Dig?

“September is the January in Fashion”

Consequently, as with all the Januaries of our years, the September issue [of Vogue, and any other fashion publication for that matter] comes with Great Expectation, and even greater Anticipation. The expectation that the fashion tone of your year will be set, and has been set in print and image, writ large. Any questions or queries or misgivings you may have about what to do, who to do, and what to wear whilst doing it— for the “beginning” of the fashion year, as it were, you need not fret because, the “Fashion Bible” as it is called in some circles, should be your go-to resource guide henceforth. Lastly, if you know nothing else of Fashion, and I’ll respectfully dis/believe you, if you don’t mind, you must at the very least cop to knowing that “September is the January of Fashion.” That’s a direct quote from the woman with the fake British accent in the Anna Wintour Vogue magazine “September Issue” movie. And she should know. So don’t argue.

But let’s be very clear here. The Grand Dame of fashion is American Vogue, helmed by none other than the beautiful British fashion Ice Queen herself, Ms. Anna Wintour. But don’t get it twisted. We are talking about one of this century’s most revered and inspired, sometimes reviled, creative geniuses. And if you think that fashion is all about fluff and filler, I respectfully submit that you should “fuck-off,” and think again. I daresay, I could attempt to get into the whys and wherefores as to the particular artistry and je ne sais quoi of Vogue magazine’s pop culture appeal, but that would be like breaking down The Oprah Factor in tidy digestible morsels and I have neither the skill, interest, nor the inclination to explain that in this post. Plus, yawn, forgive me, I’m a little bit bored with the Oprah Oeuvre. “Next customer please” as they say at McDonalds…

Cool.

Keeping Score

Now that we’ve covered ALL that, here’s where a little score-card action might come in handy. And if you still claim to know nothing else about fashion, other than that little stint where that disgusting brat and [s]pawn of a pathetic Mother, Lindsay Lohan “guest”-designed the Ungaro collection much to the snickering delight of the fashion cognoscenti, then I have absolutely no sympathy for you, particularly if you cannot spot the different between a jegging and a legging. Keep UP, please.

So, as mentioned I’m keeping score on Vogue, Elle, and Flare magazines. I like Flare because Fashion Director Elizabeth Cabral is wicked talented. She was photographed by and appears in The Sartorialist.  Her pairings say effortless rock n’ roll chic, and who doesn’t want to look sexy, stylish and effortless? She makes it happen and should the American pubs choose to snap her up, I wouldn’t be surprised. I choose Vogue, because Vogue will always speak for itself, and requires no editorializing from me, except I’m going there, ‘cuz that’s how I roll. And American Elle. J’adore Elle. Elle is the original chronicler of the rock n’ roll priestess. At least it was for me. When I lived in France, I loved French Elle. It was playful and sexy and had that French flair. But this is America, and 25 fun-filled years later, Elle has created an American swagger, in that oh so distinct American way that was/is hard to beat.

“Do You Really Think This is The Most Important Message to Put In the September Issue?”

Witness the scene from the last 20 seconds of the trailer of The September Issue clip where Anna Wintour is sitting with two editors going through the editorial content. She has the magazine draft in front of her and as she flicks through its glossy pages she looks up and says to the two women: “Do You Really Think This is The Most Important Message to Put In the September Issue?” Which brings me to the issue I have with Flare magazine’s general editorial. In a [few] word[s], it sucks. Like it’s shockingly bad. Let me explain:

When I picked up my Vogue September issue I could read about cover feature Halle Berry [pg 648]; a story about Women who are also Mothers who work on the front lines in the military by Elizabeth Rubin [pg 380], a well-written expose by Julia Reed on BP Oil [pg 352], a story by Marcia DeSanctis about Activist Ophelia Dahl and her work to help rebuild Haiti [pg 448]; a story by Robert Sullivan about a new drug for people with MS [pg 556], and on it goes. Here’s the scorecard: A-List advertising for the first 100+pages, check; gorgeous fashion editorial, check; relevant, interesting and timely features editorial, check. Grade: A+ | Diversity Grade: D

Elle magazine gives you a much different fashion perspective/POV. While Vogue is the fashionable older sister, Elle is her hipper, younger more street-stylish sister. Don’t get me wrong, Vogue is ever much the stylish trend-setter, but Elle has its nose and ear firmly pressed to the ground and cares very much about youth/popular culture. They feature quite prominently on The City for goodness sake and prior to that on The Hills! When I peruse through the September issue of Elle magazine, I get a full length feature on America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts, the “star” [I loathe that term] of the biggest chic flic book turned movie turned marketing machine [don’t get me started], Eat, Pray Love. [pg472], plus not one, but 3 fashion spreads of her photographed by 3 famed and different photographers; in the “Table of Contents” on page 154, I get the usual info, but interestingly a smartly written book review, yes a book review, in addition to something called “Hot Content.” Let’s just say that not only does Elle capture the attention of our collective ADHD very well, it seems to move right along with what is relevant in a deliberate way. So while Vogue clearly has the first pick, cream of the crop, also known as the elite in designer advertorial, Elle runs a close second with its ads that showcase a more youthful modern line. And even mo’better, not one to rest on its laurels, it took out its own promotion page called Elle: Evolved “launching the next generation: ELLE for the iPad. Is this genius or what?

I like Roberta Myers Editor’s Letter. It’s warm, it feels personal, and she rambles, which I like. Amongst the well-written emerging and current fashion people profiles, one written by Canada’s own Katrina Onstad [pg234], there’s a shocking article that provides the kind of follow up material one looks for in culture-making headline material in the story of the American psychologist woman who falsely cried rape due to taking prescribed doses of testosterone; plus other stuff that keeps you in the know. If nothing else, Elle should pride itself on that. Here’s a breakdown: Elle Style A to Zee with Asian Canadian creative director Joe Zee [pg214]; Elle Fashion Insider featuring the creators of Opening Ceremony written by Ariel Levy [pg 226]; Elle Intelligence [pg361] featuring movies, culture reviews, books; Elle 25 [pg373] which features culture making news. Grade: A+ | Diversity Grade: D

The point? Elle is well-organized, and carefully considered, like Vogue. It’s compartmentalized in such a perfect way that keeps you heading back to either review an interesting story, or to find the shop they listed for that perfect bracelet. You get the sense that Roberta Myers and her team rested at nothing to bring us the goods. You get the feeling that like any insane creative offering, she didn’t stop until she achieved fashion nirvana. There’s a reason that publications like Vogue and Elle breathe, and a reason why Flare doesn’t.

How Flare Rates

Where Elle is at, is where Flare needs to be, the absence of a consistent display of Cultural Diversity, notwithstanding. At the very least, Flare “should” aspire to achieve what Elle has achieved. The thing about Flare is that it lacks a point of view. Not only does it suffer from a fashion personality disorder, but it is so overwhelmingly self-conscious in that too-polite Canadian way such that it crudely sustains the “fashion is credible metaphor” without any real material to back it up. I know, ouch. Sure, they’ve got the A List models, I mean, what model or actress wouldn’t want to be on the cover of a publication with a  sustainable readership even though according to a recent article reported by the Globe and Mail, the “majority of Canadian magazines are seeing a circulation decline.” Yes, it’s got kick-ass fashion direction thanks to Elizabeth Cabral, but that is not enough. Or is it?

While Elle and Vogue and Harper’s put multimillion dollar actresses on the cover for their September issue, Flare decided to go with the “big boobed” Victoria’s Secret model, Doutzen Kroes boasting an “Exclusive A-List Angel” cover story with material that opens with the cover model’s diet description [pg 169]. Really Flare? You get an exclusive, and you think it’s important to begin the exclusive with what the girl eats? Elsewhere, Flare editor Lisa Tant writes that the bombshell has returned. No such “report” could be found in Elle or Vogue. Didn’t Flare get the memo? Or did they just make it up because there wasn’t anything else “relevant” to write about with respect to Canadian culture? Yawn. Doutzen is gorgeous, but big whup?! She’s got boobs and she’s hot. Next!

Other stories include the suffocatingly, self-reflexive first person account of a move to New York by Toronto native Hannah Sung on page 154. The first line reads, “Telling people of my impending move to New York, I was met with the same two words every time: “I’m jealous.” If this isn’t enough information to make a reader flip quickly to the end of the magazine and search for the nearest Elle/fashion editorial, I don’t know what is. The writer doesn’t tell us who she is, why we should care, why she might be relevant to our lives, but more importantly, why the hell she’s moving to New York! In the gorgeous pretty/sarcastic words–she used to be a fashion model, you know– of Calgary-based Canadian TwitterStar Kelly Oxford, “… bragging about living in NYC after you escape your small town is the most small town thing you can do.” I rest my case.

A few pages over on page 156, Rachel Giese writes about mean/girl bullying. This article belongs on the side lines of a daily newspaper such that the “story” could be summed up in two paragraphs or less. It has no business being a featured article, occupying what could be precious fashion real estate. The opening begins with a story about the experience of 26 year old girl writer, Dana Lacey. I’ve never heard of Dana Lacey before. A quick google of her name yields a blog of her freelance creative work, but the article doesn’t suggest why we might find her interesting other than she was a ‘victim’ of jealousy bullying. At the end of the article, there is a poll type paragraph bolded in black in which you can see if you fit into the 3 situations that are opportunities to experience mean girl/bullying. There is no suggestion that a psychologist specializing in bullying wrote these scenarios. Rather one might assume that the author herself might have created the scenarios based on personal experience.

To wit, under the AT SOCIAL EVENTS category it reads: “Whatever the get-together…you tend to dominate the conversation.” [Me: Last time, I checked, the person who “dominates” a conversation is usually the most comfortable with public speaking, and generally has the “confidence” to do so. If you don’t like the conversation, start one of your own!]. Under, the AT WORK category, the scenario reads: “You let an intern take the blame from someone else for a deadline that you missed.” [Me: Last time I checked, interns are the grunts of the office, and it is their “responsibility” to take all the abuse humanely possible without jeopardizing their career or anyone else’s. That said, nobody is ever going to believe a person who "blames" an intern, given their complete an utter low, unpaid status on the totem pole. You feel me?]. Lastly in the AMONG FRIENDS category: “You purposely ‘forget’ to invite one of the key friends in your circle when you make plans to hang out.” [Me: What the hell is a “key friend?” And what criteria is this based upon? People do genuinely "forget" to do alot of things, does that mean they are bullies and mean girls because they do so?].

Get with it Flare. Is this what you call September Issue material? Hasn’t the subject of mean-girling been done to death? [I even wrote my own post about Mean Girls months ago]. You decide.

But the biggest letdown of all is that Canada’s Fashion Authority is sadly anything but. Canada, Toronto specifically, is the second most culturally diverse city next to Amsterdam. We don’t support a “melting pot” mentality, rather we encourage, boast and pride ourselves on being racially diverse, and multi-cultural. Walk through any suburban or downtown residential area and you will instantly experience a reflection of this concept. We intermingle, we inter-date, we inter-marry, and our lifestyles reflect that.

So then I thought, OK, well Flare is not the only fashion publication who doesn’t fully support diversity–beyond the ‘token’ editorial here and there– they all don’t, certainly not in the way that they “should.” Awhile back a NFB film documentary on “the institutionalized racism in the beauty industry” as evidenced by  the alarming lack of diversity in fashion made the rounds and was featured on the blog Racialiscious. Some of the usual suspects, including Fashion Television Host @Jeanne_Beker weighed in, without much to add to the discussion than what we’ve heard in the past. “Covers with non-white models don’t sell;  designers prefer non-descript faces that are not too ethnic; ethnic faces need to fit the European aesthetic,” and on it goes. They follow a pretty Canadian model trying to break into the market. But she is 24! Old by model standards, and sure she’s pretty enough, but she’s no [Polish Canadian] Daria Werbowy or Coco Rocha. Even I, the general magazine reader could tell you that! What was most surprising to me is that Canada’s fashion heavyweights seem to simply acquiesce and succumb to the popular school of thought without offering any solutions, or corrections, or a plan about how to change it.

If as Canada’s own design guru, agent provocateur, and Glimmer wisdom-provider, Bruce Mau says, “Radical New Thinking Has To Start Somewhere,” what better place than “Canada’s Fashion Authority? Here’s what I suggest:

    1. Change the Editorial Content. Make it relevant. Make it good, Make it timely. Make it count.
    2. Get good writers. “Name” writers if you have to. But writers who have more to report on than the trivial content of the current September Issue. Granted, any writer worth her salt can peak the interest of a cynical audience and make the most trivial subject interesting. Put these writers through a rigorous screening process so that they produce interesting cultural content. For example, Toronto just went through the G20 brouhaha, where’s that? We host TIFF in September, where’s that? You couldn’t get a profile on Cameron Bailey, or his wife, the very fashionable filmmaker Carolyn Hew, who incidentally hails from Winnipeg, home of Guy Maddin and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet? She exudes fashion. Our Indie Movie Scene is huge. Toronto artist Safiya Randera and her film doc, “My Father the Terrorist,”  is big news on Facebook. Where’s that? James McCallum a member of the Philosophy Kings and the duo Sunshine State recently moved with his multi-ethnic family to London UK this past summer, where’s that? We also have a growing Muslim population with many young women who cover for various reasons, what about a regular feature talking about that as it relates to fashion ideas?
    3. Hire a Guest Blogger to give Good Column. There’s a very popular blog written out there called Bras And Ranties. She is a GIFT to the Toronto scene. Engage her very popular and with-it discussion threads. Another blog by Canadian Ex-Pat Murieann Carey-Campbell writes the Bangs And a Bun column. She’s been short-listed for a Cosmo Blog award and just recently started a blog called Field of Dreams that drips positivity. Do you know the Toronto-based Etiquette Doyenne, Lily Lemontree? She is a “lady” in every true sense of the word! I found her through my favourite “housewife,” Coryanne Etienne of @Housewifebliss who writes about the art of nesting with a modern twist.
    4. Get a Fresh Young Perspective on Foodie’ism. Have you met MadebyMariko? She’s a 30-something foodie scenester, and graduate of George Brown culinary school, who blogs about her various un/successful forays into food. She’s smart, cute and funny. She’s also a former fashion addict and the niece of ½ of the international design duo; Yabu Pushelberg which also happens to be her day job. [Tell me that you couldn’t get a food sponsor to support her column on a monthly basis, or pitch Pusateri’s or WholeFoods, heck even Loblaws to get involved using their gourmet ingredients. The food network is HUGE and fashionistas love to pick their salad and get drunk at all the best restolounges.
    5. Put a real marketing team in place to aggressively approach high income brands such that you get the proper lifestyle/fashion support a fashion magazine should have. Where are the big ticket advertisers? And if you have to have a Rogers ad in the magazine, couldn’t you have one that is sexy and projects a fashion image?
    6. Lose the weird Curly Q font that you use as the opening letter for each new feature. It’s ugly and distracting. And a bit “try-hard.” Speaking of try-hard, hire that bitch, LaineyGossip to report on Holly’weird. As much as I am loathe to “appreciate” her blog, she is relevant, Canadian, and Asian. In the context of the latest celebrity nonsense, her posts on her Mother, whom she fondly refers to as the “Chinese Squawking Chicken,” are priceless.
    7. Create a Bit More Desire. Make me want to purchase Flare over Elle or Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar, not because it is Canadian, but because it’s good. A good cover is only window-dressing, what else is happening underneath the cover models ahem, skirt, so to speak?
    8. Add some Edge. Canada is brimming with creativity. Our music scene has been the talk of the underground scene for years. Hot girls LOVE musicians. What should I buy and why? Why not get James McCallum of the aforementioned Philosopher Kings to post a diary on living in London? He moved there for a reason. Get that story.
    9. Make a strategic alliance with the likes of the sweet young fashion talent, Brittany Law, founder and editorial director of the online magazine StyleRepublic , who was profiled in ShopBop, and who recently contributed this writing piece to Bergdorf Goodman regarding Fashion's Night Out. Speaking of which, where is Flare’s coverage of that event? She also does a wicked Follow Friday column featuring fashion’s popular and most sought after.
    10. Mine the Fashion Blogs on a regular basis and tell us wassup! Or at the very least give us something they are not. Cathy Horyn recently wrote this article for the New York Times, called Fall Fashion: What Do Girls Want. It was essentially a profile piece on ShopBop founders and other with-it 20something/style trailblazers in the know. She goes on to say: “There is plenty of research about the so-called Millennials — people ages 18 to 29 — to suggest you can’t lump them all together. Not only is this group likely to become the most educated generation in American history, according to a Pew Research Center survey this year, it is also the most racially and ethnically diverse.” {My Italics}. If this isn’t proof-positive that Flare has an opportunity over and above the other fashion titles, I don’t know what is!

Speaking of Blogs, you did read this article online @VanityFair, right? It states that "Fashion Has Gone Viral."  And it lists the top blogs that fashion-followers should check out. Just sayin'

  1. Think Outside the fashion box. Round table a discussion on print magazine relevance from somebody other than your 6 degree circle of friends. Don't lie. You all know, exactly what I’m talking about. Whenever Canadian fashion wants to “invite” women in to discuss Topic ABC, you girls always invite the usual suspects who also happen to be your close friends.  And really, that insider/clique business is so irritatingly "Gossip Girl." Please grow up, and please endeavour to get the 'hello' OVER yourself!Why not conduct a little random poll at the go-to places in every city. Get a skinny jean sponsor like J Brand or something and ask random stylish Canadian women, like the this 20something Canadian girl BrittanyDefhr from style+substance, recently featured in Vanity Fair and described as a "favourite," what they want from their so-called “Fashion Authority.” If Flare’s Fashion Director, via Twitter says she: “hates chick flics,” “hates the term fashionista,” and “hates the term foodie,” consider enlisting the services of someone who “loves,” understands and appreciates those terms in the context of today’s popular-culture-speak, and roll/[role model] with the good times!
  2. 12. Fashion is an “elite” sport. Create the illusion that there will always be something about fashion that I am not “worthy” of having. To that end, slapping a $2.99 red sticker at the top right hand corner of the magazine cover of the Biggest Fashion Issue Ever is so not incentive for any self-respecting chi-chi bitch in her right fashion mind, to make a purchase.  Truthfully, she might be more inclined to quickly skip over that pub in a trendy heart beat. [Kidding of course. The price-tag is totally "on-budget" for fashion students, and students of fashion, but Fashion is not charity, never has been, and if all of a sudden you expect me to believe that "fashion has a conscious" beyond making a profit, well then you must think me more gullible than the rest of 'em].

Finally, I don’t claim to have “all” the answers. Mine is but one opinion, but I think it’s one worth considering. Call me anytime. And let’s round-table this and flesh out a real proposal that’s gonna live up to the “Authority” you so boldly claim.

I’m at your disposal. Love you! xobolaji





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