Home CommentaryStudent Life Canada’s Council for the Arts says fashion is not an art. This zine begs to disagree.

Canada’s Council for the Arts says fashion is not an art. This zine begs to disagree.

by Archives March 4, 2008

On the walls of Serah-Marie McMahon’s apartment you’ll find a prized collection of handbags and shoes. The plethora of purses and heels, mostly comprised of vintage finds, is a testimony to McMahon’s philosophy. “I’m a fibre arts major, it’s brained into my head that fashion is just another art form,” explained the Concordia graduate.
McMahon is the editor and founder of Worn fashion journal, a Montreal-based magazine that was launched three years ago. Unlike typical fashion glossies, her zine examines fashion as a media of visual art, something Worn readers adore, but Canada Council for the Arts disagrees with.
“Canada Council ruled that a fashion publication is not an art publication,” said McMahon, explaining why Worn had been denied a major grant allotted to Canadian art and literary magazines. Worn wasn’t turned down because of the quality of its content, but because of its topic.
“I never thought that it was going to be an issue. I didn’t spend those five pages (of the application) justifying why a fashion publication is an art publication. I just justified why my publication kicks ass,” said McMahon. She isn’t allowed to re-apply.
“That kills me, because theatre and dance magazines get accepted. All these non-visual arts magazines get accepted, but not fashion magazines,” said McMahon. “That’s one of the reasons we started the magazine, to look at fashion as art.”
One of Worn’s contributing editors, Risa Dickens, remembered the irony of the moment when they received Canada Council’s answer to the grant application.
“We were in the midst of planning the art-themed issue,” she said, laughing. “We were like ‘hello, have you not read any of the magazines?'”
When contacted, Canada Council for the Arts’ media and public relations representative refused to comment on the case, or on the council’s view of fashion.
“I had no idea of the extent of the bias on the fashion industry,” said Dickens, a Concordia communications graduate. “Fashion designers work ridiculously hard to design complex collections and are faced with an attitude of ‘fashion should only be looked at and not talked about’ or ‘fashion is only superficial.'”
McMahon, who reads every fashion magazine she can get her hands on, believes that this stereotype stems from the homogeneous content of conventional and popular fashion publications.
“Just like in music, there’s the mainstream, like, I like the new Avril Lavigne single, but there’s more than that too,” added McMahon. “It’s just assumed that everything is the Avril Lavigne of fashion.”
Emily Raine, a copy editor and contributing writer, pursued the thought. “After that grant, it felt like a lot of it also had to do with the fact that fashion is a women’s issue,” she explained.
“Fashion gets locked in with all these other things that are sort of silly girl hobbies, like ‘of course it’s an art form, dear!'”
The Canada Council incident was a huge disappointment for Worn, because unlike the majority of Canadian magazines, the publication is completely independent of advertisers.
This allows the magazine to be free of complimentary copy, a common practice in fashion publications where advertisers dictate content. It does, on the other hand, make funding a large preoccupation. The magazine is at a point now where it is covering its cost as it goes, largely possible because Worn’s contributors aren’t paid.
“It’s a privilege to have a whole lot of people put in a whole lot of work for free,” said McMahon’s husband and contributing editor to the magazine, Ted Kulczcky.
McMahon now prints 2,000 copies per issue, which is twice as many as before. She attributes the magazine’s success to Montrealers’ open mindedness regarding fashion. “I don’t think we could have given birth to Worn anywhere else,” she said.
“It seems there are a lot of people here (in Montreal) are obsessed with fashion, but don’t have any connection with what is happening trend wise,” added Raine. “You can’t play Vogue to people who don’t change their wardrobe every season, it’s not even interesting to them. What’s interesting to them are the lines and the history.”
The vibrant magazine’s 48 pages overflow with witty, in-depth features on everything from the history of Bakelite to the complex relationship between feminism and fashion.
It includes recurring columns such as “Material girl,” which looks in detail at the history, composition and provenance of a specific fabric, and “Everything I know about fashion I learned from my mother,” which explores the psychology behind personal style and the way mothers influence it.
Worn distinguishes itself by not instructing readers to wear this and not wear that, instead investigating why they wear what they wear.
“It’s about the little choices people make everyday when they get dressed,” said Dickens.
“That’s what’s beautiful and that’s art.”

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