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Magazine Articles

Creative Non-Fiction




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--Cirque de Style
--Fashion at Fair Costs
--Recycled Style

Cirque de Style: Concert Couture

O lost moon sisters crescent in hair…
In tattered shawl do you wander…
With gloves, with hat, in rags, in fur, in beads
Under the waning moon, hair streaming in black rain
-Diane di Prima (LOBA, Memoirs of a Beatnik)

Sea of Dreams is a two-day “new years eve-oloution” music festival in San Francisco. The festival features a crowd of colourful music fans, a market place of strangely captivating artistic expression and an all around outrageously fun cultural experience.

With my first step into the parking lot a smile was slapped on to my face that was not about to fade for the next 8 hours. The environment I became entrenched in was perfectly peaceful, yet the space was painted with confusion, splattered in silliness and melody consumed the air.  The Sea of Dreams music carnival is not a mere concert or social gathering; it is an entire alternative culture of self-expression.

The concert couture of this San Francisco New Years Eve music festival is all about releasing “the real” and “strange”; it is about sensation, colour and creating positive reaction. Participants are saying “yes” to life, expressing the liberating innocence of one’s childish spirit.

The modern flower child of San Fran’s alternative music scene is found freckled in sparkles and adorned in layers of patterned flowing fabric, feathers and bows. These scenesters take fashion lightly. It is about having fun, through self-expression and stimulation. It is about laughing, but more importantly getting people to laugh with you.

The clothing one wears creates reaction. How can you not feel lively and amused while wearing crinoline tutus, embellished nylon wings, feathers and faux fur? San Francisco concert style is certainly embraced individually, but a general attitude of foolishness, youth and animation is obvious in the wide colour palette.

The eccentric music fans threw all sorts of recycled clothing treasures together in many unique ways. The result: a space filled with laughing, humming, dancing art. Most concert-goers create their own eclectic attire by piecing together handmade, colourful accessories. 

To get to the heart of concert couture I found myself in thrift heaven, at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, downtown in San Francisco.

Haight and Ashbury are the crossroads of free lovin’ music culture and style, home to music gurus such as The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. These days at the street corners of Haight and Ashbury one can find blocks of second hand shops, stores stuffed to the ceiling with rock oriented t-shirts, stacks of fun hats and racks of recycled patterned fabrics (many hand tie-dyed).

Reminiscent of past hippie styles, Haight Street is the perfect place to search for trash-to-treasure finds and delightfully hand made, unique wardrobe pieces. The strip of stores carry things from vintage mary-janes to Indian silks, feathered earrings (a big hit), patchwork skirts, suede fringe vests and many military influenced cuts. The shops had a wide-range of recycled goods.

Nobody seemed shy of mixing, matching and layering contradictory patterns, fabrics and styles. I loved the easy going, hand made concepts and the cool-comfortable clothing. It was a friendly environment and the many small accommodating shops offered a communal feeling of fair trade.

To suit up your own San Fran influenced attire hold no imaginative impulses back. It is not about fitting into trends. Do not fear the mirror. Do not suck into super skinny jeans. Let loose. Don’t be afraid to sparkle and throw on some glitter! Don’t doubt odd pairings. Pink and orange do match. Never fear an extra layer of colour or texture. Fashion should be fun. Feathers are your friends. Blush should be applied naturally through the healthy glow of laughter.

If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair."
-Scott McKenzie.



The walls are decorated in tribal masks, hemp messenger bags and hand-woven scarves. Wooden bowls filled with turquoise rings, glass beads and individually wrapped chocolates splash the counters with colour. Display cases house handmade jewellery, silver chains and intricate charms. The soft sound of bamboo wind chimes tickles your ears and the scent of patchouli oil tickles your nose.

No, you have not stumbled into the 1960s nor have you arrived on Thailand’s Southeast shores. You are in London, Ontario and the option to go fair-trade-bohemian is just downtown on Richmond Row.

Ten Thousand Villages and Tribal Mountain Trade are two shops that house hundreds of unique design-finds at a fair cost for you and producers abroad.

Ten Thousand Villages, is a non-profit organization that operates a successful chain of fair-trade stores. Providing a retail venue for partisans from over 38 countries across Asia, Latin America, Middle East and Africa, Ten Thousand Villages helps pay for food, housing, health care and education for many talented artisans who have the creative craft, but lack the connections.

Bonnie, the Richmond store’s manager, speaks about the ways the organization gets involved, not just with communities abroad, but also with local neighbourhoods here in London. “We were just at International Week at Fanshawe College and set up a shop out there,” she says. “We will go around to different churches, organizations and schools.”

Ten Thousand Villages imports highly-crafted home décor, fair trade coffee, purses, scarves and all sorts of unique accessories. The easy and exotic style of their products can help you add spice to any outfit—try a rich silk scarf over a plain-cotton-tee—or add charming touches to your home with their embroidered throw pillows and handmade quilts.

But, if you are planning on shopping fair trade don’t stop there. Just a few blocks south, is the handicraft haven Tribal Mountain Trade.   

Tribal Mountain Trade, owned by a local London couple,’ Les and Candy, is dedicated to offering some of the most original, intricate—and, of course, fair-trade—goods from around the world. The owners travel yearly and have built business-trade relationships with talented crafts people from places like Indonesia, Thailand and Mexico.

Candy explains that she hopes the store can offer Londoners unique crafts, but also raise awareness about different cultural trades abroad. “The philosophy behind the store is to bring art and treasures from different cultures to London so people can appreciate them bring them into their own homes and expand their knowledge of what other people do how they live and work.”

She says the business is “family-to-family.” After more than 20 years Candy and Les have worked with over 100 skilled artisans, maintaining close personal relationships with many of them.

The store is filled with handmade folk art, interesting instruments and crafty clothing, an easy place to pick out unique gifts for friends and family—or yourself—for any occasion. Tribal Mountain Trade brings home Southeast Asian-inspired ponchos, hand-carved bamboo place settings and do-it-yourself beaded necklaces.

Though no oceans are crossed, shoppers can travel through worlds of fashionable, detailed handicrafts and see the faces of producers behind them. Both, Ten Thousand Villages and Tribal Mountain Trade, offer visitors and consumers to walk-in and get lost in the rich and exotic designs. Best of all, before you buy anything you can find out where your consumer goods come from: a village outside of Chang Mai, North Thailand? A dedicated artisan in Bali, Indonesia?

Even if you don’t end up buying a lot, the shopping journey itself becomes an exciting experience and each piece you see is one-of-a-kind. The art of design lies not just in the product, but also in the process. So, with such obvious and interesting options, it’s easy to shop with a creative-eye and a friendly-conscience!



Recycled-Style: It’s the New Thing!

With the economy in a recession it's time to realize we’re all unable to live a life like young TV fashionista’s LC and Whitney Port. But, hey, that doesn’t mean we cannot live like fashionistas at all! Here in the real world—far away from The Hills—wemay have budgets, but it doesn’t mean we can’t get noticed.

It’s a fact that you don’t need to sport brand names to be stylish. Forget those incredible belts Marc Jacobs showed in his Spring '09 fashion show—they were great, I know—but it’s time to belt-up your own look. Find refuge at your local bargain-basement store. Forget the catwalk, strut your own cement sidewalk in hand-me-down purple pumps and recycled plaid blazers. They may not have the Stefani Lamb signature, but you'll still make an impression that sings: stylish and unique.

There are many well-priced, trend-setting options right here in London, Ontario; from commercial second-hand retailers like Value Village, to Mesh,a local vintage boutique tucked into the corner of Richmond and John Street, London dishes up a fresh take on recycled styles.

Many people feel overwhelmed stepping into used clothing shops and I can relate. Rows of squashed wool sweaters in blinding Christmas-glitter and used negligees can be quite a turn-off, but—like the awkward boy beside you in class, red-nosed and pigeon-toed—there are gems to be found beneath the tacky layers.

If you’re sick of disappointing price tags, but overwhelmed by the colourful world beyond organized-brands. Don't hesitate any longer...

Here are some tips on shopping for recycled-styles on a budget:

The first rule is to always sift through and pursue! Though the eclectic racks look intimidating, no one ever found half-priced-vintage-Fryes without a passionate eye.

Mixing a hangover and clattering metal hangers won’t do any shopper justice. When it comes to shopping second-hand you might be in for the long haul. I suggest bringing a good friend who knows what they are in for, or headphones with a hopeful melody.

Like any true professional one must always know what they want. Premeditate your purchases. Think inside the closet and outside the box. Know what you want, but also, know what you need. If your closet is filled with frumpy black dresses, go for Grandpa grey cardigans this season. Shop wise, but never shy away from an unforeseen prize!

Second-hand and budget shopping is hit or miss. Don’t drag your feet nor forget to laugh at your reflection in the puke-green pleather pants. Go with an open-mind and a sense of humour.

Okay, so it was a miss? Over-picked? Do not deny the recycled goods a second try. Grass stained? Purses with used tissues? Okay, I get it. This isn’t for you! But until Diane Von Furstenberg calls looking for your internship application, just think about it. You won’t only enjoy new looks for incredible prices; you will enjoy the experience too!