In a wonky Wordfest mashup of fashion and literature, Calgary’s book festival (on right now!) held an event last night devoted expressly to an anti-fashion book on style: Women in Clothes.Held at Theatre Junction GRAND, festival-goers got to experience one of the coolest venues in the city. Built in 1912, the Grand Theatre was a glorious space for live performance. Gradually, though, it sank into disrepair. In 2004, its existence as an indoor golf driving range embodied the depths of its despair. To top it off, developers were about to turn it into a parkade. That’s “parking garage” for my American friends.Luckily a few forward-thinking citizens stepped in to save the heritage building. Some of the old despair is woven into the uber-gorgeous design of the current re-vamp. The box office attendant told me countless people have asked her when the ceiling will be repaired. Sigh.The space is also home to WORKSHOP Kitchen+Culture. Opened just last month for lunch and dinner, it’s named for the original theatre company at the Grand.But I totally, completely digress. Upstairs, the audience was getting warmed up for the Women in Clothes event with a clothing swap, which reminded me of my old YEG days, when my friends would take turns hosting closet-cleaning giveaways. Items not snapped up by the girls were donated to a worthy cause. Same principal here, but perhaps less wine. In a Wordfest-y twist, the swappers were encouraged to pin a note to the clothes they were trading, explaining the specialness of the items.On to the main event, inside the Flanagan Theatre: a reading of some of the stories edited by Sheila Heti and Leanne Shapton (Heidi Julavits was unable to attend). The book is based on a survey of women’s emotional connection to what they wear. The stories have a depth that takes us way beyond the glossy pages of fashion mags. In one, we heard from a mother who wears her mom coat, a puffy black-grey or grey-black number. While it has the bonus of bounteous pockets that can carry goldfish, sippy cups and other items needed for her kids, she yearns for a wardrobe that is exclusively Comme Des Garcons and causes constant confusion. In another, we heard from a garment worker who will never wear the intricate and expensive bras she sews. Hilarious and poignant.
The reading was followed by a sit-down with surprise special guest: internationally-renowned-yet-Calgary-residing fashion designer Paul Hardy. He recently upped the style situation at Calgary Stampede, check out my one-on-one with him this summer.The resulting conversation, moderated by Shelley Youngblut, was philosophical and funny at the same time. But I couldn’t keep my eyes off the swap leftovers Paul had brought up on stage with him. Those green pants looked like they would be a perfect fit.I was distracted by the man sitting beside me — one of the few in attendance. It was Calgary’s Poet Laureate, derek beaulieu. FYI that’s not a typo, he prefers the e. e. cummings mode of moniker. The second only poet laureate for Cowtown, he’s already started his two year term with a digital bang, bringing poetry into the everyday on Pattison billboards around the city. He’ll be hosting Wordfest’s Poetry Cabaret this Friday.The evening wrapped up with author autographs, while the final unswapped items remained onstage. I swooped in and got lucky.