Tag Archives: Vogue

The Patterns of Life

The other day I was in a thrift store and stumbled across an old collection of dress patterns. It brought me back to the days when my mother and I would drive down to Gold’s Fabrics at Arbutus and 12th in Vancouver. My mother could sew and knit and despite trying to teach me numerous times, I resisted and instead suggested I just be her model. My mother was quite an accomplished  seamstress and spent countless hours at the sewing machine creating outfits for me, and sometimes my sister, various household items like curtains, and repairing the clothes of her large family in order to save money. The dresses she made for me, despite my creative direction however, never turned out the way I wanted.  I never had the heart to say I didn’t like it as she beamed up at me from cutting a thread off the hem of the finished dress. But I knew in my heart that was how it would always be because of our trips to Gold’s Fabrics.

We would walk in and to the right of the heavy glass doors were row upon row of drawers of patterns organized by designer. At the front were Simplicity, McCall’s, and Butterick, and other what I considered ‘average’ patterns that my mother liked to frequent. At the back were the more expensive patterns; this is where I skidaddled to in my hand-me down clothes and dusty flip-flops I may or may not have inherited from my brother.

I dove into those drawers and pulled out each package, turning it gently over in my hands, looking carefully at the evening dresses, the styling of hair and makeup of each illustration and lost myself in Vogue’s chic style. Sometimes my mother would come around and poke her nose over my shoulder and make her usual tsking sound and sometimes, if I pointed out how she could, if she tried, easily fashion a gown for me, she would start walking away saying with a small shake of her head, “oh no, no, no” as though I had just asked her to drive me in a convertible to the moon.


I realized I was up against a mountain that wouldn’t move. There was no swaying my mother over to my haute couture world. She was seeking simple, cheap, easy-to-make and I was hoping for Chanel. Sometimes I would try to persuade her to jazz it up with creative buttons or ribbon or coloured zippers which could be found for miles in the centre of the warehouse-size store. She would laugh as though my request was absurd and sometimes I found my foot coming down hard on the linoleum floor in my frustration. This would make her tsk again and say, “Margaret, you have champagne tastes on a beer budget I’m afraid.” This was always her go-to phrase when she felt I was reaching too far. As in a fuchsia zipper or rhinestone button.

Maybe it was because my mom grew up on a farm and lived through the Depression. Maybe because, despite living in Point Grey in a big house, she never had much money. Or maybe she was a simple woman who was content with what she had in life, something I am only now in my forties seeing the value of:  life as it is rather than life as I imagine it in my head.

But just to be clear, I’ll never be a Simplicity woman. I’ll always be Vogue.
vogue mermaid gown pattern


Filed under Memoir

The storyworld of your youth

I bought my first Vogue at the age of seven. I lugged it home, close to my chest, like a cultural flak jacket against my family, who I had realized early on were more focused on ball bearings, battles and my mother’s sourdough cheese biscuits. I think the storyworld of Vogue was incredibly influential to me in my experience of the world growing up and germinated core story themes that stay with me to this day. It wasn’t the fashion so much as the design that I found liberating and deeply satisfying to devour as I flipped the slim, slick pages sitting in my back yard in the shade looking at the advertising and editorial shoots. I never differentiated as one page being ‘better’ then another; they were simply colours and shapes and textures that I either liked or in very few cases, did not like. And despite what some may say, the essay articles in Vogue were incredibly well-written and opened up my young mind to a world beyond my small neighourhood and cloistered Catholic parish and community.

I remember looking at a risqué  shoot by the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once and being so transfixed that I didn’t hear my mother come up behind me. She snapped: ‘What is that?’ and I clutched the magazine in my hands and ran inside. I was so terrified she might take this precious world from me, I am quite sure I would have kept on running should she have pursued me.

The storyworld’s of our youth stay with us. They imprint, in ways both mysterious and obvious, a sort of lifelong spine of a story we can take comfort in as adults. For me, the fashion industry is doing interesting work in photography, motion, design, and converging art with technology and creativity in a way that is ever-compelling and continues to draw me into a bewitching storyworld of design, elegance, intellect, and beauty.

Below is an interesting exploration of the Vogue storyworld with one of its great editors, Alexander Shulman:

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Filed under Non-fiction

Barefoot Vogue

I read my first Vogue when I was 7. I was at Dick’s market on West 10th, just up from the intersection of Alma and 10th Avenue. Dick’s served as our family corner store for decades; there was a big customer base just from our household, never mind our friends. I was often sent down with a note to pick up a pack of Player’s Light or soda for G & T’s. I was always happy to take on any nicotine or mixer requests and made myself handy and willing to take people’s cash. Inevitably, they would tell me to ‘keep a little for myself’ and so the ‘chore’ became a shopping trip.

Dick’s had uneven floorboards that could give you deep slivers so you had to pad gently along on the balls of your feet in summertime. It was a  long, narrow building and the smell of Chinese cooking floated out towards the front of the store and mixed with old sugar, dust, and exhaust from the street. There was a shelf for magazines above where the candy was so inevitably you looked up and had a glance. Ours was a family where reading trumped manners so it wouldn’t be unusual for several of my brothers to stand around reading and not buying, but Dick never seemed to get too chuffed about it. It was a little shameful–I’d seen Doyle’s stop mid-sentence to read something and never return to the conversation.  So, I always knew that if I took too long on my cigarette run, I could tell my brother I had ‘started reading something’ and likely be forgiven.

On this particular day, Dick was in the back and the store was empty, the only sound was the hum of the deep freeze pumping away to stay cool in the heat.  I counted out 5 little sweet banana candies which my brother said were so gross and stale but I liked the way I could keep one dissolving slowly in my mouth nearly all the way home. Then a word in red caught my eye above me: it was Vogue. I took it down and started to thumb through it. I don’t remember how long I was there but I heard Dick start laughing behind me suddenly and I threw the magazine up on the shelf and turned to hand over the note, the money, and the bananas. He said, “That isn’t for you! No! Not for you yet, not reading this stuff!” I smiled, like, oops, you’re right but I knew he was wrong. Dead wrong. That magazine was exactly for me. In fact, it was the only exact me thing in my entire world. With maybe the exception of my charm bracelet from Paris my mom and dad had given me.

I don’t remember exactly how long, but it was soon after that I cobbled together enough to buy my first Vogue. I’ve bought every month since. It was such an odd pairing, the pack of Player’s Light for my brother and me holding a Vogue but there was nothing like sneaking off and escaping into the September issue while the sounds of my house faded and Diana Vreeland and Pucci surfaced up and took me to Milan and New York. It became like a last line of defence for me throughout my life: If I couldn’t afford a Vogue then I may as well just pack it in.

This September is the biggest issue yet. They say that every year. They (namely Anna Wintour) literally have rolled out the same campaign since well, I’m not going to tell, it will age me. This year the lovely Lady Gaga is on the cover. I’m sitting down with it now so don’t call, I’m somewhere between Balmain and Chanel.


Filed under Memoir

Somewhere Over The Rainbow…

Somewhere over the rainbow really does exist. It’s in New York, way up high, where troubles melt like lemon drops and last weekend, my dreams I dared to dream really did come true.

My Friday night started in Washington, DC on the rooftop of the gorgeous W Hotel with Mr. W…there’s something about that letter that makes me…but I digress. We did a walking tour after dinner but I was wearing stilettos, not wise tourist gear. My evening in DC was lovely but alas, all too short, and before I could bandage up my blisters, I was in a cab and on the way to the airport to take a little charming jet to New York.

This was it. My long-distance love affair with New York was finally going to be consummated.

We took the subway into Manhattan and I felt butterflies as we got closer and closer. Emerging up out of the subway and onto the street I felt what only can be described as a resuscitative procedure being done on my small town heart. It was like the city put paddles on me and I came alive. The feeling made me burst out laughing and I found I couldn’t stop, it was the most joyous moment to feel the energy that is New York hit me with all its chutzpah glory.

In that instant, I fell hard. I knew I wouldn’t ever be separated from my soulmate-city again.

We made our giddy–my giddy way–to our hotel. Now, for someone with an obsession for hotels, you have to understand what going to the Plaza means. It’s one of a handful of iconic hotels in the entire world and for this girl, it was a dream come true to get to stay there. I tried not to skip towards the front desk where I was greeted by Marco with a lovely hand-written note from the GM and then good news, our room was ready early!

Heaven is truly a room at the Plaza Hotel. If you can do better, let me know. It’s worth every penny, from the elevator to the hallway to the gold tile, princess-worthy bedding and commanding view of competing skyscrapers–even a moment in a Plaza room is memorable. The staff make sure of it and I love them for it.


My first moments in my room...


While it was bittersweet to part from my aerie perch, Mr. W. wisely led me downstairs where we embarked on a mini-tour of the area around 5th Ave., including big name stores like Dior, Chanel, Escada, Tiffany’s. Oh Tiffany’s, you blue devil, you had me at your yellow diamonds, though I would have liked to see a pink diamond. Just once.

We toured all six floors and restrained ourselves, well, I did most of the restraining, before we left to saunter over to Central Park. It was a bucolic scene: dancers working the crowd and deservedly passing the hat, young brides laughing and posing, old ladies knitting, middle-aged men passed out on the grass, their shirts riding up to expose white tummies, students reading earnestly under trees, and first-time tourists, like me, falling in love with the city.

Central Park felt like a giant party, the kind you got to go to when you were a kid, where the parents ignore you because they’re having too good a time to care what you’re up to. Except this was so much more and I wondered, did these people know how good they had it? Coming from a town where I’m more than not walking alone in the woods or nodding to the odd passerby, it was intoxicating to feel like I was in one giant open market of human expression, thousands of voices telling stories about their beautiful, broken, loving, humanness. The light was like warmed Grand Marnier, as though it had a wink behind it, giving us a gloriously sunny day to bask in and as we made our way back to the Plaza I had already in my mind starting devising ways to come back to the party that is Central Park.

Back at the Plaza, I was faced with getting ready to go out to a swanky New York restaurant on Park Avenue. Luckily, Mr. W was content to peruse football games and a New York Times while I did my handiwork. There’s nothing worse than having your someone special tap their foot in impatience as you try to finesse your perfect pout. I don’t know if it was my glow of happiness, but I have to mention that the lighting was incredible. The Plaza really knows how to woo a girl.

We were going to walk to dinner but as luck would have it, the Plaza club car, a black Rolls Royce (about as sexy as it gets really), scooped us off the tawdry sidewalk and chauffeured us to our destination: the Casa Lever. As if it wasn’t enough to slide out of the leather seats from the Rolls, we had managed to score a banquette booth looking out at a dozen original Warhol’s and interior design that screamed Italian Vogue with the owner centre stage–you just know he sleeps less than most watchman at a difficult border. Everyone was ‘on’. As someone who has had a career in hospitality, watching great service is like going to the ballet. There is so much enjoyment in the delivery that you can’t help but revel in the product and in this case, my baby chicken and for Mr W., a deliciously sweet order of ribs, was just the way to do it.

I think Mr. W sometimes forgot there wasn’t in fact a 4th wall to our banquette but I didn’t dress for church, I dressed for New York so who can blame us? The city will have its way with you.

Back at our 5th Avenue home for the night, we sampled some wine in the famous Oak Bar, nipped into the Rose bar for some moody pink lighting, and sat in wing backed chairs in the Champagne bar fit for Dom and hushed flirting. I tried very hard at slowing down time, wresting quantum physics down to my black satin toe, willing time to stop, stop, stop, and allow me to savour every sip, crystal chandelier, blooming orchid, and warm kiss.

The rest of the night isn’t for you reader, but suffice it to say, it’s indelibly imprinted on my mind and heart, not to be washed away by any amount of the sands of time.

The next day I thought I had been hit by a train but managed to put myself together for a full day of walking and touring and eating and sightseeing.We had a great greasy breakfast at a diner and made our way down towards MOMA. As we walked, I loved hearing all the different accents and languages, what diversity! It felt like a rich tapestry, full and complex and exciting to navigate.

At MOMA I really wanted to see the Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography exhibit and we did. But there were pictures that popped my happy balloon instantly—women with children starving during the depression, starkly haunted faces of young mothers unable to afford garters, their nylons rolled down around their ankles as they waited for handouts. Juxtaposed with the sorrow however, were pieces by Cindy Sherman, and Diane Arbus, full of wit and sexual candor that made you step back and think for a minute. I adored the sheer number of people enjoying works by Matisse, Van Gogh, Klimt and many more, collectively paying homage to masters and giving ourselves an artistic respite in a city nipping at our heels to hurry up.

Next we hit Times Square and it truly is deafening to the senses—holy mecca of branding! Your eyes just go up and up and up, everywhere you turn, another movie, another product, another video. It gets a little harder to walk in Times Square and as we made our way to the Garment district I was longing to see a neighbourhood that had a little less in-your-face-look-at-me-logo-mania going on.

Stepping out into Greenwich village was like getting into a cab after a nightclub, hushed in comparison, with stately brownstone’s that reminded me of Hannah and Her sisters, and I half expected to see Woody Allen in neurotic conversation gesturing to Diane Keaton about a tumour he’s sure he has. If you go to Greenwich village, don’t miss Washington Park. Music and artists everywhere and it’s like ‘community’ on steroids—there’s so much life here you wonder at how you lived with your life so dialed down as to barely notice other people. We saw an artist by the name of Joe Fortes and as I chatted with Joe about his brownstone illustrations, I found one I loved and had to buy. Turns out, it’s right across from Carrie Bradshaw’s brownstone  (’cause isn’t she a real person by now?) and this was kind of fitting.

We ducked into a pizzeria and I have what is so far, the greatest pizza of my life. I’m not sure if anything is not going to be ‘the greatest’ in New York because everything, absolutely everything, is to me.

Returning that night to DC on the Amtrak, I felt, to paraphrase Lady Gaga, my heartseams pop, one by one, track by track, light by light, as New York slipped away, behind me, then into the dark.

I took solace in Mr. W’s shoulder, leaning into the night, the sway and bump of old rails humming a kind of sad tune. I was trying to put on a brave face but the fact of the matter is if I could have stopped the train—I would have.

So, yes, now I know, there’s somewhere over the rainbow, and it’s a real place and I may have been born in the west but baby, I’m all east coast now.

Give it a little listen to Judy’s jubilant live rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow–you’ll get just what I mean.


Filed under Memoir

Why I won’t be disappointed in New York

Some people go to Church....others read Vogue.

I’m going to New York and all anyone can say is: You might be disappointed. Maybe because when I talk about my trip I look like a one of the short folks in Wizard of Oz when Glinda arrives, fairy dust coating my eyes, with visions of lunching with Carrie and shopping with  Hepburn at Tiffany’s. I know what they’re thinking given my childlike demeanor but no amount of sober reality will deter my experience from being amazing. Here’s why:

  1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. When I was around 6 or maybe 7, my dad had a heart attack while he sat across from me at the kitchen table. Luckily, my Uncle Murray was there and took him to the hospital along with my mom. For some unknown reason, my house was not in fact full of a 100 people and I snuck into the den perhaps in part to escape the afternoon’s tragic turn of events and turned the television on. I entered a world called Breakfast at Tiffany’s and in no small way I very likely have never come back from that fabulous place discovered on that eerily quiet afternoon.
  2. Vogue. I bought my first Vogue at around this same time, and have devoured approximately 45,000 fashion shoots in New York and know full well that Paris may be where the couture is, but the Queen of Fashion, Anna Wintour, lives in New York as well as her creative genius, Tonne Goodman. Both are up in those Vogue offices dreaming of the next issue and I’ll be thrilled to be in their storied world however briefly.
  3. Art. Lots of art. Street art. Ancient art. Fashion art. Dance arts. Theatre arts. Architecture. Some of the greatest art in the world. Humbled and joyous will be a mix of what I’ll feel I’m sure.
  4. Central Park. How can you go through life never having kissed in Central Park?
  5. The Plaza. C’mon, do I need to explain this one? I grew up in a crib that was then made to resemble a bed, with ice on the inside of my bedroom windows, and linoleum floors so ugly my toes curled up in disgust.

I won’t be disappointed.

I will love, love, love New York and fingers crossed I even have the wherewithal to leave the promised land after I arrive.


Filed under Humour