Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

News stories from the Renfrew-Collingwood community in East Vancouver

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All’Italiana: Italian fashion in the spotlight

The knit pom poms on these two outfits hark back to clowns, a popular stock character in Italian opera. Italy has a long history and strong heritage in professional theatre with Commedia dell’arte (“Italian comedy”). One of the most famous Italian operas is Pagliacci (Italian for “clowns” or “players”). Photos courtesy of the Italian Cultural Centre

New exhibit at the Italian Cultural Centre

Italian Cultural Centre
3075 Slocan Street, Vancouver
Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm


The latest exhibition at the Italian Cultural Centre focuses on the highlights of Italian fashion in the 20th century, featuring garments by Pucci, Schiaparelli and Fortuny.

Guest curator Ivan Sayers wanted to focus on Italian fashion because the spotlight is usually on French, American or British fashion. “Italy is extremely important, especially in leather goods and accessories but also with mainstream garments.”

The show is an opportunity to admire Italian ingenuity, wit, craftsmanship and quality, he said.

On display until April 25, All’Italiana (“in the Italian style”) is part of a celebration of craftsmanship by the Craft Council of BC. The theme of this year is “voices of craft.”

Sayers said, “Craft usually means handwork.” And handwork is visible in the handmade raffia lace of the Fortuny dress, he said, and in the decoration on the Schiaparelli coat. “It’s beading. It’s eccentric. It’s still labour intensive.”

He added, “When you look at the Prada suit, initially, it seems banal but when you start to look at the seaming and the skirt, you start to appreciate what’s gone into it, lifting it from boring to intriguing.”

There’s construction, decoration, ratio and proportion that people tend to ignore, but it still has value, he said.

Museum curator Angela Clarke said the exhibit explores craft because it often gets a bad name. “Craft is often looked at as something that you often find in your grandmother’s place. You know, doilies.”

It’s often seen as surface design without much in terms of artistic integrity, originality, a voice of the artist or social commentary, she said. “Craft is often recreating a tradition. There are often patterns incorporated into craft that have been used almost like a stencil.”

When you knit, you base it on a pattern, Clarke said. If you embroider, you base it on a pattern. “And that is sort of a counter to this notion that all art creation is individual and it’s a one-off. So craft gets a bad name for that.”

Garments are considered like that because they have a pattern. The world of fashion is changing because it’s the name of the designer that we come to for and that often separates craft from art, she said.

Historically, there were some names that were developing such as Schiaparelli through the 1930s and Christian Dior in the late 40s and 50s. It’s not to the same degree as today, she said, where the name is everything. “We now have celebrities with clothing lines and certainly, they’re not the ones designing and making the garments at all.”

She said, “Today, everyone wants to be a designer but no one wants to be a tailor.”

“The fact is that craft often represents underrepresented voices,” added Clarke.

Guest curator Ivan Sayers said Italy is the birthplace of lace. Italian lace comes from the fishing culture in small Italian towns, drawing inspiration from fishing nets.

For example, textiles and embroidery were considered the realm of women’s history, she said. “And for the most part, that’s all we’ve got of women’s history for the middle and lower classes. Anything out of the household, the domestic space, it’s all about women.”

Italian fashion also constantly refers to its own history from the materials to the construction. For example, Clarke said, Italian lace arises from fishing culture as an improvisation of the fishing net.

The fishing net has become part of the cultural consciousness of Italian villages because it’s the major industry. “You get these towns, these whole towns, that are in Italy that are devoted to certain craft industries such as Venetian glass and ceramics.”

It’s partially so they can share resources, she said. The other part is due to technology used for the flammable arts.

If you were to make anything glass or ceramic in Rome, Venice or Milan, the whole city would go up in flames in half an hour if there was an accident because buildings were made of wood, Clarke said.

Legislation was created, stating these industries had to be 10 miles outside of a major city centre.

Another sign of Italian heritage is the knit pom poms on the Paoli dress. The colourful fluffy attachments refer to the clown, popular in Italian opera, she said. The significance of this character spread across Europe by travelling Italian troupes.

“Clowns show up repeatedly because it’s the stock character of a figure that can say anything, do anything, and you feel compassion for them,” Clarke said. “It’s like the joker in Shakespeare. He’s the one who entertains the king but he’s the only one that can actually speak the truth.”

Rich Nguyen, an attendee, visited Italy last year and the selection of Schiaparelli and Pucci within the exhibit speaks to him the most as “Italian.”

This collection features garments from the collection of fashion historian Ivan Sayers, the Museum of Vancouver and the Society for the Museum of Original Costume.

Deanna Cheng is a freelance journalist and copy editor. Her work has been published in New Canadian Media and Vancouver Courier. She has also been a resident for the last 15 years. Contact:

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Eating Out in RC: Romantic eats with your Valentine


Greetings food fans. It’s February again, so you know what that means. You guys better set aside a few pennies for the chocolate and the flowers. Yes! Valentine’s Day is here again. February 14 falls on a Tuesday this year.

Now if you really love each other, you’re going to want to save each other from the unromantic hassles that come with eating in: the shopping, the work, the dishes, the mess. No folks, on Valentine’s Day you want to eat out. And there’s no better community to get your food-on than in Renfrew-Collingwood.

Here are some of my top recommendations.

Mezbaan's Valentine BuffetFirstly, Mezbaan. Why? Because they were smart enough to advertise with the RCC News. Secondly, because my man, Chef TJ, does have a nice, cozy romantic place whether Valentine’s or not. And, Mezbaan has been called by at least one handsome local food critic – The best buffet in town! I agree.

If there’s a line-up outside Mezbaan (and there should be), you might want to scoot down Kingsway to our trusted, tried and truly spicy Chili Pepper House. I am in love with the Chili Chicken and just about everything else on the menu. Not quite as romantic perhaps as Mezbaan, but the food here will also put you in your lover’s good books. Careful with that spice, Eugene.

Now, if your partner or spouse or friend has been especially good lately and you want to splurge a little, one of the slightly more costly but superbly romantic restaurants that I can think of is La Piazza Dario at the Italian Cultural Centre. And who is more romantic than the Italians, eh! Yes, I can still remember my last visit there for lunch. Classic Italian food and some wine in a really beautiful dining room. You Romeos will be set.

La Piazza Dario - Romantic Valentine Eats

Where more. Well it doesn’t have to be fancy. Wally’s Burgers would be a good choice for some. Or Off the Grid Waffles – very sexy. Or how about the Japanese Bistro Kamome, with their Japaninis? Mmmm.

Well, we have so many fabulous places here in Renfrew-Collingwood. It doesn’t really matter where you go, but this Valentine’s Day, give yourselves a romantic little break and go somewhere local and delicious.

Bon appetit.

Copyright (c) 2017 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

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New Il Museo exhibit by Shelley Stefan traces family lines and lesbian family heraldry

Shelley Stefan's bronze family crest. Photos courtesy of Il Museo

Shelley Stefan’s bronze family crest. Photos courtesy of Il Museo

On April 12, a new exhibition opened at the Italian Cultural Centre Museum and it will run until June 30, 2016. This exhibition by Shelley Stefan examines the history of family identity through heraldry and seeks to incorporate same sex-marriages into this traditional iconography.

Artist Shelley Stefan’s work has always referenced the past. However, her perspective is split into polarities and her historical lens possesses two filters. One filter acknowledges that historians are guilty of sins of omission, the other sees the past as it should be.

Stefan, in her new exhibit Family Lines: Lesbian Family Heraldry, An Achievement of Arms, sees aspects of the past that have been edited out of the public consciousness, a history often dictated by the dominant mainstream perspective.

Shelley Stefan's family heirloom belt buckles with the image of the armadillo.

Shelley Stefan’s family heirloom belt buckles with the image of the armadillo.

But history can also be defined by the experiences of the dispossessed, who reside in the margins of the dominant, subsisting under the social radar, yet finding ways to survive, thrive and find fulfilment.

Il Museo itself is divided into two parts to represent Stefan’s dispossessed. First, the medieval part of the gallery, focusing on heraldry and the achievement of arms of the Stefan household, rectifies history’s sins of omissions regarding queer history and same-sex families. Second, the other half of the gallery demonstrates how queer culture has thrived and has been able to celebrate itself despite the necessity of concealment and subversion.

The medieval arms area of the gallery evokes medieval knights, battle armour and family arms—the world of the fortress or castle where the military triumphs, medieval banquets and family identity become one and the same. Here also medieval knights embarked on dangerous quests to preserve social order against threatening influences, guided by the Christian virtues of the court and kingdom. Their function was to save their kingdom from the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride.

Stefan’s female warriors, or effigies, are destroyers of an alternate set of vices that threaten to destabilize the harmony of her kingdom. In Stefan’s estimation there are six, not seven, vices: despotism, greed, malevolence, infantile behaviour, monoheroism and entitlement. According to Stefan, the true vices corrupting humanity are acts of injustice against our fellow human beings.

In Stefan’s view a courtly society must devote itself first to harmony between ourselves, our world and the rights of our neighbours. To achieve this we must first cultivate respect for others within our own homes. It is home and family that must stalwartly preserve these core values.

Stefan imparts these values in the motto she imprints on her family crest: Perfect love, Perfect trust. She chooses the armadillo as a personal emblem to connote that, for all families, especially non-traditional ones, this state of harmony requires an unusually thick skin, an armour to protect against the dissenting opinions of those who carelessly hurl insults, leaving the family unit under siege.

The second part of the gallery conveys the secret history of queer life. On the picture walls of the gallery hang Stefan’s Masked series. This portion of the gallery depicts masked revelers, an iconographic reference to Venetian culture in Baroque Italy. In Venice masks enabled men and women to walk through the streets and conduct business in public without revealing their identity. As well, masks alluded to the subversion of the social order, especially during the celebrations of the carnival. A prince could assume the persona of a pauper and the pauper could dress in the guise of a king. Through the mask, the social order and established roles could be reversed.

For Shelley Stefan the mask conceals both her personal identity but also that of her family. While she celebrates with her family in a carnival-like atmosphere, she is also protecting their identity. Her revels must be contained within the safe walls of the castle.

The walls protect her family from the outside forces that can threaten the survival of her family in the guise of non-acceptance.

The final series in the Family Lines exhibition is the ephemeral and elusive Figurations. Depicted in black and white, the Figurations are an exact embodiment of chiaroscuro, shaded enough to be hidden, but light enough to be exposed for those who  care to look.

The Figurations are emblematic of the hidden history of queer life, fundamentally obscured from plain sight but able to be found by those who know what to look for.

Il Museo, the Italian Cultural Centre Museum, is open Tuesday to Saturday 10 to 6 pm.

Copyright (c) 2016 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News