Happy New Hair

Julien d’Y cutting Linda Evangelista’s hair. Photo: Peter Lindbergh/2b Management, via Vogue.com

I don’t want 2018 to slip by without recognizing the 30th anniversary of perhaps the most significant haircut in commercial fashion history.

I’ve been trying to pin down the exact date of the deed, but it has eluded me. My best guess is that in the fall (probably October) of 1988, the fashion photographer Peter Lindburgh suggested to one of his favourite models, one with a head of flowing chestnut hair not unlike Gia Carangi, Brooke Shields, Carol Alt, Joan Severance, and other popular models at the time, that she get a more distinctive haircut.

That model was Linda Evangelista, who walked out of hairstylist Julien d’Ys’s chair and onto editorial pages and show runways with a gamine bob. (Vogue looked back at the cut in a brief piece published in 2015.)

Evangelista was not the first famous model with short hair—Edie Sedgewick is probably the most famous for it—but Evangelista was the first to get a radical haircut in after she’d already hit some early-career milestones. And in an era of long, very big hair, Evangelista was bucking a trend that had been building for decades.

The new look could have been a flop, and she might have had to grow it out again. Instead, her bookings increased and so did her rate. Eventually, she would be to say about herself and her frequent modeling partner, Christy Turlington, “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.”

Evangelista, Turlington, and their contemporaries, including Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, went on to become the first generation of supermodels: models who became household names and made millions of dollars per year. Many of them went on to spin their celebrity into other lines of work as actors, television hosts, brand ambassadors, and other related occupations.

None had the kind of success that Evangelista enjoyed as the result of a single hairstyling decision. It’s really not a roadmap to success for a model or for life in general. Would one dramatic haircut really help the average person land a dream job? Not likely, but I like the things that the cut represented:

  • the actual and very real story of one person’s (Evangelista’s) success as the result of taking a bold step;
  • the idea that taking a risk will bring rewards;
  • that looking different is an asset;
  • that you can remake yourself and be recognized for it.

Evangelista’s haircut came to mind back in September, when I got a cut that was far less dramatic: I went from a chin-length bob to a slightly shorter one. On occasion, I took to curling it, reminding myself of the Marilyn Monroe or Sophia Loren hairdos that Evangelista often sported after her major haircut. Curling my hair didn’t seem like a big deal to me, but to some folks, the change was so dramatic, they wondered if I had gotten a brand-new haircut.

I thought about posting this back in September, but I’m glad I waited until today. The “message” of Linda Evangelista’s haircut seems very appropriate for a New Year’s eve, a night on which we say farewell to the past, and prepare to take bold steps into the future.

To close this post, I leave you with the words of Julien d’Ys, which seem like the basis of a plan for 2019: “This could be a disaster or be great…. I didn’t know what I was going to do until I started doing it.”

Arts, Reviews

Royal Double-Bill

During Christmas holidays, I try to see a bunch of movies all in the same day, preferably during the hours I would normally be working. This year, I managed a double-bill on Boxing Day, a fittingly British-origin holiday on which to see The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots.

The Favourite is set in the early 1700s and Mary Queen of Scots is set in the mid-1500s, but I saw them out of chronological order due to screening times. Both movies are about the same country—heck, they’re about the same family: Mary’s son James would be the first Stuart monarch of England, a royal lineage that ends with Mary’s great-great-granddaughter, Anne, the queen featured in The Favourite. Interestingly, Mary Queen of Scots is about Mary’s attempt to unify Scotland and England under her rule, while The Favourite is about the queen under whose reign Scotland and England were unified: Anne was Queen of England from 1702 to 1707 and Queen of Britain from 1707 to 1714.

However, these movies may as well been set on different planets. Mary Queen of Scots is about a long political game, with personal “B” stories. In contrast, the focus in The Favourite is on the personal ambitions of the three lead characters, Queen Anne (played by Olivia Colman), the Lady Marlborough, Sarah Churchill (played by Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s cousin, an aristocrat who has fallen upon hard times, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), with historical intrigue as a backdrop.

The stakes in Mary Queen of Scots are writ large: the fate of two nations, the life of Queen Mary, the legacy of Queen Elizabeth. The question of how to wind down the war with France underscores The Favourite, but the focus is on smaller stakes: the comfort of Queen Anne, the policies of Lady Marlborough, the career of Abigail Hill. And yet, it was The Favourite that had me on the edge of my seat. Every line spoken, every look given, upped the ante. Perhaps the most tense moment I experienced in cinema this year was during a scene in which Sarah and Abigail engage in a silent, competitive game of skeet shooting. Adding to the tension was the non-diagetic sound of a taut violin string being plucked.

Both films took liberties with history, but The Favourite is up front about it, with its use of modern idiom and costuming (design legend Sandy Powell used a restricted, black-and-white colour palette and laser-cut vinyl to give the female leads’ characters an iconic look in the Scott McCloud sense). Smoothing away these hallmarks of traditional historical-fiction movies allowed the film, and the audience, to focus on the characters and dialogue, much as stage productions do. If you’ve ever seen a show like Hamilton, you will notice iconic costumes and a mostly static set with enough stage dressing to hint at the era in which the show is set. The hip-hop soundtrack, like the contemporary language used in The Favourite (which was written by written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara) brings the story to the present day: the concerns seem immediate because they’re presented in a language that you feel you can engage with. Director Yorgos Lanthimos also sets the camera low, uses a fish-eye lens, and deep-shadow lighting, giving the movie the feel of a film noir in which we are looking through peepholes to try to piece together a story of intrigue. (Indeed, Abigail is an interloper in the great tradition of film noir in which a stranger from the past upsets an already precarious apple-cart.)

In contrast, Mary Queen of Scots, looks more historical, with accurate-looking sets and costumes (but with the twist of colour-blind casting). However, the movie (written by Beau Wilmon of Netflix House of Cards fame), saddles its cast with speeches rather than dialogue. Although Saoirse Ronan as Mary is given the lion’s share of the film’s lines, she is not given much characterization. As a result, the film feels more like an overly long, unfunny episode of Drunk History. (DH dialogue I imagine would go with this movie [includes mild spoilers]: “Randomly, Lord Darnley is gay! And these maids don’t age in the 19 years that Mary is in jail because we forgot about them!”) The characterization of Queen Elizabeth is even more problematic. First, I have to say that the prosthetic nose they gave Margot Robbie was extremely distracting. The more serious complaint is that Elizabeth gives a mauldin speech in the end that is a throwback to the old career-or-motherhood saw. Sure, she’s England’s longest-serving monarch, but she’s sad that she isn’t a mother! The textual epilogue notes that Mary’s child, James, went on to become king of both Scotland and England, while Elizabeth had a long reign, but no children. So this film about two powerful women reduces them to their reproductive functions. (In The Favourite, Queen Anne’s 17 miscarriages is significant to Anne’s characterization, but she is not defined by her marital or motherhood status.)

I mentioned how The Favourite managed used some theatre-inspired storytelling. Mary Queen of Scots was directed by a theatre director, Josie Rourke, but some things that might have worked on the stage did not work on screen. The most egregious example takes place during a scene in which Mary and Elizabeth meet for the first time (they never did meet in real life). It takes place in a cabin in which reams of material are draped. They follow each other’s shadows, like doing a dance of the veils, until Mary gets impatient and rips down the drapes to see that Elizabeth is *gasp!* ugly. Seriously! The moment is both corny and sexist.

For me, the battle royale between these two films was a rout. Mary Queen of Scots was a dud. The Favourite was my favourite.


I am so enamoured of the purposefully anachronistic costumes in The Favourite! Vulture interviewed Sandy Powell, who bought a chenielle bed spread from eBay to make Queen Anne’s robe, and denim from thrift shops to make the kitchen staff’s uniforms.

Powell also spoke to Vogue magazine about her inspirations for the costumes and about the director’s decision to eschew make-up and hairspray for the female leads.

And here’s a Vulture article to read after you’ve seen the film (do read the comment from ettada). I would add that in the end, Abigail realizes that she is doing the same kind of work that she did at the beginning of her career to survive.

Arts, City, Reviews

DIS: Thumbs That Type and Swipe

Some of the images by Drew Zeiba &  Chris James for the DIS Collective series, Onboarding: Thumbs that Type and Swipe (2018), at Plug-In ICA, Winnipeg. Photo by Suzette Chan.

This past summer, I visited Winnipeg for the first time in years. I lived there for a winter in the 1980s. I had never experienced a colder winter in my life—and I’m from Edmonton! However, the people were warm and the cultural scene was a hotbed (see: Guy Maddin, the Crash Test Dummies, Carol Shields). So I’ve always had a place in my heart for the city.

Thirty years later, the city seemed to be as creative as ever (I arrived during their Fringe theatre festival), and I saw some great art, including a fascinating exhibit at the Plug-In Institute for Contemporary Art in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The show featured the work of the DIS collective, which pushes the envelope of “edutainment”. I had an opportunity to write about the show for the Fall 2018 issue of Luma, a quarterly online publication about independent film and media art.

Here’s a link to my review of Thumbs That Type and Swipe. Be sure to check out the embedded videos!