Above photo : Hikaru Kiyonaga, bottom row, middle.
The Story of Fashion Initiative, in my timeline of life, started about 23 years ago, with this photo, from my wonderful and most humbling experience, as chair of OCAD’s first mentoring committee, driven by the OCAD Alumni Council, in which I was treasurer as well at the time, with the incredible support and faith from Assistant Dean of Design, Steve Quinlan, Thomas Fairbairn our Head Student Advisor, the heads of Art, Design, Faculty Administration. There I am in the above photo, with hair at the time in the bottom row, in the white shirt. It was a momentous time for students, faculty, alumni, and our renown graduates such as Barb Woolley of Hambley & Woolley, to come together as one, in support of our students. To give them a program that builds a bridge to the professional world through the connection of our own alumni.
In my career thus far, for the next 20 years, this feeling of mentorship, community and education has never left me, and has influenced the way I mentor our team, in the manner that all the work I have created in the past years was truly for education, and the creative spirit, more than as a money making endeavour. I also privately taught art and design for about 20 years, from giving 4 year old’s clay, to Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, to visiting Catholic Schools in Mississauga in the 90’s, teaching pottery, soapstone carving, and clay. I am most proud of my own portfolio development students, whereby I spent weeks, even months with them, mainly 16 to 18 year olds, to help them find their own signatures, who they are inside, to discover their strengths, to create with this realization. Many of my students are now in their 30’s, and I think my Millenials are going to make it, because I got them off of social media dependency, and yes a few did break down from being overwhelmed by the slightest of pressure, (from a generation used to instant gratification and winning medals when they lost), but I gave them a sense of purpose and self drive, and I hope can last, to motivate them to this day.
In the 90’s I worked as a docent at the Art Gallery Of Ontario, and I gave many educational talks centred around the Canadian Collection, Emily Carr’s famous painting Stump and Sky, and The West Wind. Also the Pop Art Collection, with most notably my tours around Robert Ryman’s minimalistic art, and yes, the Klaus Oldenburg Hamburger.
But the exhibit that struck me the most and has made it’s impact on me to this day was William Morris’s, The Earthly Paradise. Because it spoke to me as a metalsmith, artist/craftsman personally. It gave me a place as an artist in society, which is what William Morris endeavoured to do by forming the Art & Crafts Movement in the UK, right at the height of the British Industrial Revolution, where people saw the end of things made by craftsman and skilled proprietors and artists. They were now made by huge concrete buildings, billowing with toxic fumes, products mass produced by machinery and factory lines. The very smoke gave inspiration to a line in William Blakes Poem, “And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time”, calling the factories, “Among these dark satanic mills”, which later was adopted by Hubert Perry for the famous English hymn, Jerusalem. One of my favourite songs as well.
Constantly working to bring groups of AGO visitors to guide them through the exhibit and speak about all its aspects, from his wallpapers, to the works by the other members of the movement inspired me a great deal that the embers of a counter revolution, or a response was made by these group of artists, to the incoming industrialized world to come. It was a small movement, a small flower in a huge park, and this comparison still exists today. But today we have social media and more ways to reach the public than the late 1800’s. Still though, with fast fashion at every major mall, fast food, the instant gratification from social media, which has caused so many problems in our youth, and for people to not be able to appreciate long term relationships, to have patience, to invest in long lasting quality.
I feel we are on to our 2nd or even 3rd Industrial age, one of technology and constantly being connected to our phones and one of fast fashion and too much spending on throw away commercial goods, that are building in our landfills and oceans, leaving the legacy of a very wasteful human existence that is harming the planet. I believe that if we made the effort to purchase instead longer lasting products of quality, pieces made by conscious design, by hand, with eco-consideration, then with that 1 piece we avoid buying 10 more that won’t last. Then we not only live with more meaning, but we appreciate quality, the things we have, and if it is a quality piece or even an experience, then we tend to pass it down to the next generation.
Thus, I hope we can usher in a new Social Movement, to bring back the values of a quality lifestyle, to match our current Industrial Age. Whereby we find a way to educate the public, to support new products made by handcraft or design, with long lasting quality in mind, to maintain a low ecological footprint, and an encourage the ecological stewardship of our planet in mind. In my opinion, we can only do this with community collaboration, through education, outreach and our work through our events and our publication. Unlike the time of William Morris, where the Industrial factories kept growing, overshadowing his movement. Today we do have a growing return to buying from artists and craftsman, empowered by online reach, and in various shows. The appreciation of the chef is back!, thanks to the foodie crowd, as well as bespoke suits.
But this needs to be fun, engaging, interactive, and community building. About twenty years after my docent years, the name Story of Fashion was created for this very reason. To bring a new modern story of fashion, of how we can live now, with quality, substance and care for our environment as a human race.
Hikaru Kiyonaga aoca