Originally published in September 2010 in FT25
*FT25 was a magazine published to celebrate Fashion Television’s 25th anniversary
RIPPLE EFFECT: Douglas Cardinal
Architects become “starchitects” when they elevate a building to the realm of art and make our spirits soar. Alberta’s own Douglas Cardinal is a member of this elite priesthood. While fellow Canuck, the schlumpy-sweatered Frank Gehry, was slogging it out in the design trenches of LA, Cardinal — as elegant as Oscar de la Renta and as uncompromising as Maria Callas — had already found his voice stringing together bricks with gravity defying twists and turns. His debut design, 1968’s St. Mary’s Church in Red Deer, AB, busts out of the prairie soil like a ship full sail, but somehow it still manages to sway in unison with the land, a quality Cardinal attributed to his Métis and Blackfoot heritage. More hits followed, including the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Q.C. and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., two of many designs Cardinal puzzled out on the computer. One of the first architects in the world to use Computer Assisted Drafting and Design (CADD), Cardinal inspired Gehry and the entire industry to go digital.
CUTTING EDGE: Vidal Sassoon
The great modernist Vidal Sassoon understood the link between high design and hair. Before him, women went to the beauty parlor once a week and had their locks washed, teased and sprayed into giant nests (think Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray). Split ends and styling errors conveniently got lost in the volume or covered over with bows and wide headbands. But Sassoon did away with the rollers and choking clouds of spray — a cultural shift as big as losing the corset — and was the first to insist that hairdressers think like architects. His arresting angled bob, made famous by actress Nancy Kwan, was minimalist, low-maintenance and as sleek and shiny as a plate-glass window in a Mies van der Rohe skyscraper. Swinging London took note. They flooded Sassoon’s avant-garde Mayfair salon for the chance to sit in the master’s chair. But Sassoon also went home with his clients; a clever marketer, he made sure they left with enough products to maintain their look. Shampoos and conditioners, with the iconic VS stamped on the bottle, began appearing in showers as women took over washing their own hair. On the grooming front, nothing so revolutionary exists today.
C’MON, VOGUE: Horst
The ideal woman of the 1930s was an outdoorsy, up-for-anything gal who could fly planes, ski down mountains and swan dive into Olympic-sized pools. A far more ruthless and terrifying creature, however, slithered onto the scene in the early thirties in a variety of erotically-charged guises created by Horst, the German-born black and white photographer with the one-word byline. Working for French and British Vogue from the thirties until the early 1990s, Horst was a master of light and shadow who shot a parade of socialites, movie stars and artists (mostly female) against boiling skies, peering down on us through hooded lids. In between drags on their cigarettes, Horst’s women kicked off their shoes and cracked open their corsets, exposing lacquered toes and breasts, before reclining like Odalisques high on opium. They also performed in gender-bending top hats and capes, donned more lace than a Goya Duchess and emerged under shafts of raking light in skintight sheaths, hipbones leading the charge. Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich all live on as glamorous untouchables from Planet Horst.
YOU GO, GIRL! RuPaul
There isn’t a woman on earth who can compete with RuPaul Andre Charles in the leg department. Over 7 feet tall in stilettos, with the loping grace of a giraffe and more attitude than Miss Black America, this drag queen, actor, singer and author shimmied her way onto the club scene in the early 1990s belting out anthems like “It’s Raining Men” and her original MTV chart-topping hit, “Supermodel (You Better Work).” Her “love everyone” message was the first to take drag from the gay dance club scene to the supermarket newsstand and daytime TV. “You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathy Lee,” she announced, hand planted squarely on hip, “I don’t care. Just call me!” Her sass and winning ways led to duets with Elton John, a popular Christmas album called Ho, Ho, Ho, a modeling contract with M.A.C Cosmetics, a talk show on VH1 and, most recently, a reality show, RuPaul’s Drag Race.
SIGN OF THE TIMES: Bob Richardson
Three decades before “heroin chic” hit the runways, Brooklyn-born photographer Bob Richardson led the fashion industry away from catalogue-style shots of corn-fed models leaping in the breeze and dropped them into the decadent and tortured world of addiction and strained human relations. Marlo Thomas look-alikes lost bookings to poseurs sporting dirty underwear and floppy felt hats that could easily have been castoffs from Mick Jagger’s closet. While Vietnam and the drug culture raged on, Richardson was out there documenting what fashion editor Joan Juliet Buck called “the generation of young people left crying in their room, feeling lonely, hoping for sex.” Typically, models are shown straddling one another, feeding each other drugs or looking away in a post-fight silence. Sadly, for Richardson, life and art were interchangeable. Well into his fifties, he had to be rescued from his demons by his son, photographer Terry Richardson.
REAL WOMEN: Lillian Bassman
Women act differently around a female photographer: they stop competing with each other, fretting about their bodies and relax into their natural selves. Lillian Bassman, one of the few female photographers in the 20th century to rise to the top of the fashion heap, knew this and capitalized on it. The “go-to-girl” for Chanel ad campaigns and Harper’s Bazaar editorials from 1950-65, her classic duotones show women with balletic arms, swan necks and arresting hats laughing and leaning into conversations. The character of Betty Draper in Mad Men is portrayed as an avid magazine reader during the Bassman era and someone who understood all too well the pressure men apply to women’s body language. (“As long as men look at me that way, I’m earning my keep,” she told her friend Francine in Season One.) Bassman’s models thought about this a lot — a key component of the timelessness of her work.
FACE TIME: Kevyn Aucoin
Sharon Stone was said to have lost her breath when the news reached her: Kevyn Aucoin, makeup artist to the stars, was dead at 40. The man credited with finally fixing Julia Roberts’ eyebrows died in 2002 from painkillers he took daily by the fistful to dull the effects of a pituitary tumour. Tall, but never intimidating, Aucoin had a chair-side manner so genuine that celebs such as Céline, Cher Audrey Hepburn and Gywneth Paltrow all called on him when they were feeling wobbly and unpretty. Sure, he was a master of the smoky eye and the nude lip, but his “life energy” was second to none. “You always have the answer within in, just do the work to find it.”
JUMP UP! Peter Minshall
The world is about change, and nothing will ever change if we stand still, so jump up! That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of Peter Minshall, the Trinidadian Carnival artist who turned what was once a rum-soaked street party in his native Port of Spain into an internationally renowned outdoor opera. Minshall’s giant puppets have swayed to the music in the opening ceremonies at three Olympic Games, one Miss Universe pageant and are the inspiration for Toronto’s Caribana, North America’s largest Caribbean festival. But there’s substance under “Masman” Minshall’s feathers and fluttering silks. His dancers throw their energy into symbolic battles of good and evil, acting out grand narratives on hate, selfishness and prejudice. It’s immense, intense and very baroque — and the vision of a man who calls himself “a mulatto spiritual freak,” no, wait, “an African, Indian European, Chinese, Syrian mix-up.”
SOLE MAN: Aldo
In 1972, when fashionable young women in Montréal were raiding the racks at Le Château for flared jeans, Biba-inspired billowing crepe dresses and giant-collared leisure suits, they flocked to the Aldo concession stand in the store’s shoe corner to complete the look, trying on the latest “glam” rock boots, cork wedges and wooden platforms made by Aldo Bensadoun, a Moroccan-born son of a French shoe merchant. Armed with a business degree from McGill, Aldo saw Montréal’s (and Canada’s) funky potential long before we did, creating knock-offs of the latest streets styles from London, Paris, Milan, New York and Tokyo at prices every student and secretary could afford. He opened his first store on Sainte-Catherine Street in Montréal in 1978, but waited for Toronto to drop its uptight attitude before setting up shop in the country’s financial capital. Three decades later Aldo stores are all over Toronto and in 45 countries around the world, or, as the CEO and founder likes to say, “We’re on every continent, except Antarctica.”
GETTING FRESH: Joe Mimram
Morocco has been good to Canada. Not only did it send us “sole man” Aldo Bensadoun, but, in 1957 Esther Mimram, a well known couturier who designed eveningwear for Casablanca’s elite, stepped off a train with her husband, Eli, and their two sons, Saul and Joe, to start life afresh in Toronto. Growing up to the sound of Esther’s whirring sewing machine, the Mimram boys were arguably the only preteens in Hogtown who ran around in scaled-down replicas of Sean Connery’s James Bond suits. But destiny would have to wait. While Saul went off and became a concert promoter, Joe worked as an accountant until his sartorial gene kicked in. In the late seventies, the brothers teamed up to open their first boutique and hired a 31-year-old named Alfred Sung to design a collection of elegant business suits for the era’s new class of working women. The Sung suits, then stores, were an instant hit, but Joe went solo in the mid-1980s to create Club Monaco, a chain for mid-priced togs that spun off into the lifestyle and house wares cult favorite, Caban. The Mimrams sold the whole shebang to Ralph Lauren in 1999 for a cool $52.5 million (USD). By 2006, Mimran was back with Joe Fresh, a “cheap chic” line of clothing, makeup and bath products available at Loblaws nationwide.
BLUE NOTE: Levi Strauss
Hipsters, boot-cut, wide-cut, patched, flared, distressed, skinny — is there any fashion staple more versatile than jeans? Like a trusted friend, they respect our mood swings, have us covered on our “fat days” and “skinny days,” accompany us on our adventures as sex kittens and sit with us on the coach when we’re feeling like “shut-ins.” We pay a premium to have them expertly ripped and re-stitched and pair them up with diamonds and stilettos as if to say, “What the whoo” to their proletarian past. Jeans, after all, debuted on the firm backsides of sailors working the docks in Geneo, Italy (bleu de Gênes to the admiring French). Levi Strauss, a Bavarian-born dry goods salesman, patented the trousers in 1873 as the work wear for California gold miners and probably would have balked to see women tinkering with his pants. Today, the standard of unfashion is right up there with the Little Black Dress on the list of wardrobe must-haves.
‘SUP, DUDE! Renzo Rosso
Today’s cool kids are a sick, stupid, scruffy bunch of alpha geeks. No, it’s a compliment. For an old dude, Renzo Rosso, the 55-year old founder and chairman of Diesel apparel and accessories, is just as sick (insanely cool) and stupid (risk-taking) ‘cause he’s put them all on the payroll. Twenty-something singers, dancers and webmasters mope and flirt in his campaign ads and online videos and make up the majority of his advisors at Diesel HQ in Movena, Italy. By listening to the demographic he serves, Rosso’s 32-year-old company now outsells Levis in the “couture jeans” sector. As Rosso puts it, Diesel’s irreverent attitude is about “lifestyle first, and if you like that, you can buy the clothes —or not.” Buy we are, to the tune of $ 1.7 billion (USD) in 2009. Still, growth for growth’s sake isn’t enough. Consumers aren’t sheep, they’re individuals, says Rosso. That’s why he insists on mixing up the décor and merchandise in every Diesel store and scaling back the quantity of each item. “Less global, more individual,” he shouts through the halls. In this day and age, individuality means “hyper local” and that’s as sick as it gets.