August 19, 2008

Pamela Anderson, vegan shoes and a guilt-free sole

Blame it on the power of Pamela Anderson. A chance encounter with the pin-up girl and PETA activist has JJ Lee thinking about leather-free fashions.

Q. From what I understand, you've had a consciousness-raising experience with Pamela Anderson. What happened?

A. Many of your listeners may not know this, but I'm an associate producer and director for Sounds Like Canada. That's my day job. A couple of weeks ago Pamela Anderson visited us to talk about her new show and a bit about her work with PETA or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

She walked in with an entourage of four or five people. Her eyes hidden by a pair of sunglasses and her nose in a Blackberry. More importantly, she came in well-turned out. No sweatshirts and yoga paints for Ms. Anderson.

But after she left the studio to carry on her media blitz, she got me thinking about what she wears for shoes and accessories...

Q. Being an animal-rights advocate ..... Does she wear leather-free clothes?

A. I spoke with PETA and they tell me she is in fact NOT leather free. Apparently, she keeps PETA up to date with her animal-cruelty index.

In the past, there have been “gotcha” moments.

For example, there is a picture of Pamela Anderson wearing UGG boots – those very ugly shearling boots that were in fashion a few years back. Dating from her Baywatch days, Anderson has renounced those boots.

You could say a ladder of leather-freeness.

Anderson does emphasize she buys from designers who provide vegan options and has endorsed the vegan fashion of Stella McCartney.

Q. Stella McCartney is a high-end fashion designer. Are there good, affordable leather-free shoes on the market?

A. Well, I've found quite a bit over the last few weeks. There are local sources and online sources that are quite interesting.

For example, a man named Jay Nathanson wrote to me from Boston. He's a Vancouverite who is a vegan. He now lives in the States. While his correspondence was about which vegan shoes would suit his body type (hard to explain but it can wait).

Jay drew my attention to North America's first VEGAN shoe store. It's in Manhattan and they have an online presence. It’s called Moo Shoes. Yesterday, I had a chance to talk to the owner about the quality of vegan shoes.

Q. What kind of quality can you expect from faux-leather shoes?

A. Sara Kuberski of Moo Shoes was frank with me. She said there's a history of awful vinyl or PVC shoes in animal-free shoes.

She says it’s not a very good material. They don't breath and they feel terrible.

You'll recognize these shoes by the fact that are are usually lined with a fabric on the inside to hide the humble material. She said one should avoid those shoes.

Instead, she recommends good polyurethane micro-fibres. She says they are breathable, durable and the micro-fibre has the give of leather. Plus as a synthetic product it's more environementally friendly in comparision to vinyl.

Q. That's the material. What kind of build may we expect?

At Moo Shoes, because they have practice ethical buying, many of their shoe lines come from shoe-making countries like Portugal, Spain and, my favourite, England, which in my opinion is the greatest nation of cobblers!
They are getting shoes made in some of the best English factories. Ironically, these manufacturing facilities used to make leather shoes, but like Clarks, they have since abandoned England to make leather shoes in India.

Any way, vegan or vegetarian shoes can be of very good quality and cost no more than regular leather shoes.

I personally haven't been able to check out Moo Shoes quality but Jay Nathanson - the guy in Boston - swears by them.

Q. What about Canadian and local designers?

A. In the field of leather-like accessories, I would give the nod to Matt & Nat. They're based in Montreal and have a very successful line of non-leather goods.

They use polyurethane micro-fibre. They also use cardboard to make brief cases and they've started to make felt out of recycled pop bottles. It's call the Feutre line and it's quite impressive for faux materials.

Q. What about in Vancouver?

A. Well, there's Boris Brothers - it's a luggage brand designed by Mike Jackson. His messenger bags are made out of recycled vinyl sheets used on billboards. It's a tough material with lots of colour -- no one will mistake them for leather. You can find them at the store, Thriller.

In the shoe department, John Fluevog has a vegan line of shoes called, D.O.G. or Disciples of Good shoes. They are vegan, crepe soled shoes with the fun style that you expect with Fluevogs.

They're also working on an entirely eco-friendly AND animal-free versions of their iconic Angel Shoes.

Angel shoes look like Docs and made Fluevog famous.

It's a big deal for them to go enviro and animal-free with their core shoe and they are constantly experimenting with vegetable dye leather (more green) and cruelty-free materials.

Q. What if you don't want a faux leather look? What should people look for material-wise when it comes to shoes?

A. Going back to Sara Kuberski of Moo Shoes, she says HEMP is the ultimate material. Like cotton shoes (think Converses), they breath and have their own material authenticity but hemp, Kuberski says, is more durable than cotton and has a better ecological footprint.

Sara says she has a pair of hemp Simple Skater shoes. She loves them and they've lasted four years.

August 11, 2008

Fashion Olympics - forget medal counts, who are the best dressed?

Canada goes for red, gold and white
chinoiserie - go to for more pics.

Gold, silver and bronze are the only colours that matter in the Olympics unless you're me.

Today, I joined On The Coast's host, Stephen Quinn, in studio to talk about Olympic fashion and about which country gets the high score when it comes to high style. Listen.

If you want a fuller analysis, read on.

Canada has yet to win a medal in Beijing but who cares? A opening ceremony fashion Q & A with JJ Lee...

Q. You've decided to focus on the Opening Ceremonies. What are you looking for when it comes to judging a county's fashion acumen during the parade of nations?

It's not easy to compare what the countries are wearing -- though I think it's patently obvious to anyone when it comes to figuring out who looks good and who looks bad.

The reason why it's hard is because the delegate nations pick clothes for different reasons.

Generally, there were three genres of clothes at the opening.

1. National costume - this is where athletes are forced to wear clothes as if it were multicultural day at their local high school.

2. Athletic wear - this is where countries dress as if they are ready to take the field at any moment.

3. Traditional sportswear - Not to be confused with track suits, this is the prevalent neo-traditional approach that evokes the time when athletes wore blazer, white pants and cricket sweaters when they weren't on the field of battle. One of the most iconic examples of that style of dress is - historically speaking - is Rene Lacoste or Le Crocodile, the French tennis star of the 1920s who later became a fashion giant.

Q. It sounds like you're comparing apples and oranges -- who do you think came off the best in terms of fashion?

I thought I could break things up in categories like weight classes for boxing -- for example "BEST in RED".

Q. Okay, which countries made it into the Best in Red category?

Angola did. They went with a hybrid look of patterned pants with red tops that seemed to straddle athletic wear and national costumes. It was a nice red. The shirts featured an rather delicate detail at the neck line. It was a circular opening below the neckline like a peekaboo that would show cleavage on a woman -- but it was predominantly the men who were wearing it. It's just a blouse but the circle is a nice detail.

Q. What did you think of China, the host nation, in red?

They were unfortunately one of the WORST. They went with red blazers, white pants and yellow shirts for the men. They looked terrible. Wear red or wear yellow but don't wear them together.

The women looked better with yellow blazers, red kerchiefs and white skirts that went BELOW THE KNEE-- but I think they should have deviated from looking exactly like the Chinese flag and picked a yellow that was softer and more forgiving.

I think though there should be a rule where hem lengths should only be determined by body type and not by designer edict. If you have the legs, you should show it. If not, find a length that suits you. Say "no" to totalitarian regimes and uniform hem lengths.

Q. Did anyone look good in red?

My favourite team in red was Serbia.

The men looked lousy but the women wore ruffle v-necked front buttoned blouses.

You have to understand Serbia has tennis star Ana Ivanovic on the team. She just dropped out of competition because of an injury...but she looked absolutely gorgeous in her blouse during the opening ceremonies. She showed showed some clavicle a bit of skin below that.

Q. And isn't that the whole point of the Olympics?

It is. If you look at the classical roots of the Olympics, the display of the body, naked, without adornment, in physical struggle was the whole point.

And despite the National Socialist baggage of the Berlin Olympics, Leni Riefenstahl's film of the Olympics really suggests a modern template for the cult of the body in the Olympics. She had images of athletes in the nude much like Greek statues -- it's kind of corny but it makes a good point. We need to see more skin at the Olympics.

I used to disdain the uniform rules of beach volleyball because they forced women to essentially wear bikinis but I've come around. I think celebrating young athletic bodies is a good thing...I would even suggest eliminating the jersey for men's boxing. Let us see heaving chest muscles. I think that would be a great first step in the right direction.

Q. What marks do you give to Team Canada?

Six point five or a seven out of ten.

My reason, I think track suits are a cop out.

The reason why I don't talk about designers who make hoodies or t-shirts is the reason I don't think Team Canada looks so hot...track suits are boring.

There's none of the flare of let's say, Mexico's ruffle skirts which had a flamenco-mariachi feel to them. That was nice.

But Canada was entirely invested in it's graphic approach.

And it's bad. Some people have complained about the chinoiserie of the uniform -- which is understandable but what is worse is how the pattern of red and white and degrade - which means fading - gold number "eights" on the clothes obliterates the sense the human form.

The more I talk about it the more I dislike it.

Q. Which country did you like?

I think you have to give credit to Ralph Lauren for creating a consistent vision of Gatsybyesque sporting elegance.

And remember, Ralph Lauren did the costume for the film version of The Great Gatsby.

The other film reference was Chariots of Fire - the motif was simple. Blue blazers, white buttons, white pants and newsboy caps -- which are not as nice a the trapper hats Canada did for the Turin Olympics nor are they as nice as the Roots Cap of the Nagano Olympics -- but they do the trick.

A lot of countries went this direction but Ralph Lauren did it the best. Though the look was a bit androgynous on the women. They did fit nicely enough. Unlike the Chinese blazers. Terrible.

Q. Enough stalling....give me your fashion winner...

My flat out my favourite would be....okay, the women of France wore seersucker and red sashes...that was okay

Hungary had skirt-suit combos with a bold poppy pattern which was interesting...

But I have to say I like Poland because the women wore red dresses with a red peek-toe sling backs and the men wore black and white wing tip shoes.

So, the red dresses are nice but they only favoured the fittest of athletes

They didn't wear read but I think Brazil gets the gold. Their women wore dark mini skirts with green jackets and black lapels. They didn't look like flight attendents, and they showed some leg.

Definitely, I award Brazil the GOLD.

August 6, 2008

Pamela and PETA and fashion

Just met Pamela Anderson on Monday. I took her pic with Sounds Like Canada host, Steve Burgess.

It's obvious why Anderson is the pin-up and not Burgess. But Burgess had quite a bit of fun with the former Baywatch icon - he donned a lick-and-stick tattoo which explains the open shirt.

It would be great to speak with Anderson about leather goods replacement consdering her work with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

I think my next column for VBD on radio will be on leather replacements.