Tuesday, October 31, 2023

fashion review: Dressed To Impress at the Bata Shoe Museum

Review & photos by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A-

I grew up in the eighties and have been trying to forget them ever since. Yuppies, pastels, shoulder pads, Reagan, Thatcher, AIDS, the nuclear race, junk bonds and drum machines. Those were the eighties. Yech. Well, now the Bata Shoe Museum has revived that garish decade through a collection of shoes.

Yes, shoes. 

Music and film, yes, but can you tell the story of a decade through footwear? Through Air Jordans (top photo), Princess Di heels (below) and John Fluevog Winklepickers? Dressed To Impress: Footwear and Consumerism in the 1980s comes close. It's the new exhibition at the Bata Shoe Museum, opening Nov. 1 and running through March 16, 2024. 

Eighty pairs (get it?) have been grouped to evoke '80s themes of working women, nouveau riche chic (remember Dynasty?), the workout fad and most interesting for me, sneakers. Signs accompanying each pair do a good job of summarizing yet detailing the shoes and their cultural significance. 

An example here would be women's office shoes and work outfits that needed to be assertive, professional, yet not threatening to men, but remaining somehow feminine. 

The eight sections and middle displays, which feature designer shoes, are gathered in one large room that looks exactly like a shopping mall from 1985. Lots of plastic and pastels. I commend the designer.

A mini-theatre in the back had ZZ Top's video, Legs, running silently. That video was chosen, I presume, because one scene takes place in a shoe store. If there's on critique of Dressed to Impress it's that the sound could have been turned on this righteous tune and the screen could have been a little bigger. But this is a minor quibble.

Some will take to the Gucci loafers or Susan Bennis/Warren Edwards power pumps, but I was drawn to the Air Jordans, which came out in 1985 to revolutionize streetwear, launched the collections of countless sneakerheads to this day and catapulted Nike to the top of the sneaker jungle. The Jordans coincided with the rise of hip hop giants like Run-D.M.C and their collective impact is seen on feet today.

Shoes? Yeah, they can tell a story.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

book review: Dressing The Beatles


Virtually everything has been written about The Beatles by now, but their impact on fashion has been largely overlooked. Renown Toronto arts journalist and Beatlesfreak, Deirdre Kelly, has taken a deep dive and just published a highly detailed study of the band's sartorial impact on culture in the 1960s and beyond.

Kelly's done her homework, interviewing former tailors, including the cutter of Dougie Millings, Beatle experts like Piers Hemmingsen. and even the band's ex-hairdresser. Her book describes the wardrobe of John, Paul, George and Ringo in exquisite detail that fashionistas will respect and Beatlefreaks (like myself) will enjoy. 

The four Beatles dressed in stylistic unison, starting with their punk look of leather jackets and sneers c.1960 (15 years Punk Rock itself), through their elegant-yet-hip Mod phase of the mid-1960s (dogstooth jackets, turtlenecks), and into their Indian-influenced psychedelic phase where they raided Carnaby Street. Each time the Beatles changed their look, so did Western youth. Kelly's book credits the band for boosting the British fashion industry, something that few historians have done.

Kelly isn't afraid to dish out the dirt on some questionable characters. Dutch designers, The Fool, represented hippie excess and exploitative behaviour. Similarly, the Apple Boutique, which showcased The Fool's garish clothes, was a short-lived money pit that proved The Beatles were genius musicians, but lousy businessmen.

Fashioning The Beatles offers the most revelations in the final years of the band (White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be), a period that is hard to define sartorially. John went through his white phase courtesy of wife Yoko Ono. They all sprouted grew beards and wore denim (the working class uniform). Formalism lingered though, as there are three Beatles sporting suits designed by Tommy Nutter on the cover of Abbey Road. In this period, their fashion choices reflected the members asserting their identities, though their overall casual style remained uniform. (Ringo emerges in this book as the sharpest-looking Beatle.)

Fashioning The Beatles bursts with detail (there are 20 pages of sources) and is highly accurate. Kelly knows her stuff, and her book is an enjoyable and illuminating read.

Friday, October 13, 2023

CD review: Good Day Good Night by David Deacon

Local blues veteran, David Deacon, unveiled his latest album at the fabled Rivoli Toronto last week. He previewed a handful of songs from Good Day Good Night, his fifth studio album and second this year, in a showcase lasting about 30 minutes. Deacon's gravelly, deep voice (think later Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits) was joined by vocalist Renee Rowe and guitarist Andy Ryan, who also co-wrote four songs off the new album. Both did admirable jobs accompanying Deacon on blues, rock and even reggae-tinged numbers such as Little More Light and Moments of Joy.

Deacon's vocal delivery is more spoken than sung, but that suits the material and the styles of the new album. This vocal approach goes for both his live performance as well as recorded album. Overall at the Rivoli, Deacon and his mates delivered an enjoyable performance of original numbers, though performed to a pre-recorded drums and bass track. I would've performed a full live band. The live songs themselves were more rock than traditional blues, reflecting the material on Good Day Good Night

The album features seven original compositions plus a cover of Bob Dylan's Knockin' On Heaven's Door (dedicated to the people of Ukraine). Stand-outs include the gospel-flavoured And They All Sang  and Along The Penthouse Electric Attic Blues, a gritty Chicago blues featuring a fine harmonica, but the song mysteriously fades out just when it begins to cook. Another misstep is the intrusive spoken introduction to Knockin' On Heaven's Door.