A Material Conversation

Upon entering the Ryerson Research Collection, I witnessed an interaction between two lonely garments. Here is what was said:

A: Hi friend!

B: Hey! How’s it going?

A: Oh my gosh, great! I haven’t been out of my box in a while.

B: Getting some fresh air… kinda. We are still in this windowless room. I did get my first tag early today though.

A: That is exciting. I’m sorry if this sounds rude but what exactly are you?

B: I’m not totally sure. I know I was once an animal.

A: Me too.

B: So we were are both skin… I mean leather. I was a cow.

A: I don’t remember what I was. I must be getting old… I am called a moccasin though.

B: I don’t know what I’m called. When were you created?

A: I was created in the 1954, in Canada

B: I was made in Canada too, in 1991. I actually don’t think I’ve been far away from this place ever.

A: I came from Saskatchewan. I know that because of the tag someone stitched into my inside. I was made by Woodland Cree, so that probably means I am from Central or Northern Saskatchewan, but was sold to someone and brought here. Do you know who made you?

B: Yes, he was a Ryerson Fashion design student named Todd Lynn. I was one of the things created for his graduating project.

A: So you were handmade?

B: No, I seem to be completely machine sewn. Were you handmade?

A: Yes, you can really tell when you look inside me. My seams are visible. They aren’t all perfect even and I have a few loose threads here and there. Overall, I think I’m ageing quite nicely.

B: Definitely! You are a real stunner!

A: Aw shucks.

B: Have you been worn?

A: A bit, I have some dirt and wear on my bottoms, but it doesn’t seem like very much. Have you been worn?

B: Yes… but I don’t have any proof like you. I am pretty pristine… except for my front is collapsing in a little. I do have a tag: “DRY CLEAN ONLY” So, better be careful with me!

A: I’m not the one who is going to wear you. I actually don’t think we will ever me worn again. What else is on your tags?

B: I’m a size 8.

A: Me too, but I go on feet.

B: That’s a funny coincidence. I have a name on my collar, it says RED – like a butcher shop.  Sounds menacing. Do you think I’m menacing?

A: Maybe, you kinda remind me of a turtle. Which isn’t very scary. I don’t really understand what you are though.

B: I am built to cover a body.

A: Same as me.

B: I am soft and smooth.

A: I am soft and lumpy.

B: I’m definitely not called a moccasin?

A: Definitely not.

B: I glide across skin, cause I’m soooo smooth.

A: Whereas I’m a little grippy and textured, almost like I’m trying to hold the skin in place.

B: I rest on top of skin, because I am heavy, structured, and thick.

A: I caress skin and melt into it, if someone wore me enough I would almost become a part of them. Except for my hard top where my beads rest. They are heavy but surprisingly sturdy.

B: I caress skin as well because my straps twist into and around curves. Like you, one area of me is a hard top layer. They are almost shield-like, but they are kinda collapsing in because my insides are plastic.

A: Are you protecting something?

B: No, I am just calling attention my assets. I think they make me look powerful. See! How about you?

A: My beads are meaningful and symbolic.

B: My straps and stitching actually create a similar triangular pattern.

A: Yes, they do!

B: I smell rich and dusty, like a bookshelf of old bound books.

A: I smell earthy and sweet, like a forest after rain.

B: I bet we taste similar…

A: Probably not a good idea to eat us though.

B: I make a bit of noise. When skin slides over me there is a ‘shhh’ sound and when I move my buckle clacks and my straps thump together.

A: I am quiet. My soles are soft so I tread very gently wherever I go.

B: I am not gentle.

A: No, you are not gentle. I would call you rugged, but certainly not practical.

B: But so are you.

A: It’s possible to be both. But you are something, you make a statement… You don’t cover much skin. I think you have a female body too…

B: I can’t calm these tits!

A: No way!

B: I do seem to have a body of my own. You have structured shoulders, big boobies, straps like ribs, a spine, and a very convenient crotch opening.

A: You’re right! Let’s call you a body suit.

B: I like it.

A: Looks like I’m heading back into my box. It was nice to meet you Bodysuit! Goodbye.

B: You too Moccasins. I hope I get to see you again.


A Material Conversation

When presented with two examples of amazing leather work, I couldn’t pick just one. When examining the garments presented to me I had a strong reaction to their weight, smell, and texture. Based off these reactions I decided the take note of my personal phenomenological experiences. Using phenomenology and embodiment, this imaginary conversation between two garments reveal how two things that appear totally different actually have a lot in common.  “It is often taken for granted within Western cultures that our sense of bodily awareness is primarily structured through five senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing and vision” (Blackman, 84) therefore while I did my object analysis I took special care noting all sensory reactions (except taste, obviously). I also took note of my surroundings based of “the belief that everything is always encountered in a context and by a Being with a particular set of concerns, needs and expectations” (Thompson, 2005:6).

I developed the narrative of a historical garment and a contemporary garment, both made from a similar material and with the same level of intricate detail, having a conversation about who/what they are. The narrative develops an “exterior corporeality” revealing the relationship between dress and embodiment (Davies, 65), as well as giving the objects’ identity. Van Doorm speaks of how leather specifically has a relationship between memory and materiality, as it takes on the wearer’s body and takes on the historical space related to memories, pleasures, ceremonies, and communities (96). I also think it is important to acknowledge that leather was once a living body, and by wearing leather you are attaching another body to yours. Both the moccasin and the bodysuit have a strong connection to the earth and felt alive, which I why I selected them over the many other leather objects in the Ryerson Research Collection. With wear, I believe both garments would form to the human body, becoming unique to the individual wearer. The materiality of leather also gives the garment life beyond the wearer, as I believe both pieces have been used as decorative objects more than they have been used as garments.

The moccasins (2017.05.009 AB) speak of how they tread lightly on the world, while the body suit (2017.08.001) speaks of how powerful it looks – both of the comments relate to modes of bodily demeanour. This demonstrates the phenomenological impact and haptic experience (Negrin, 115), and reveals the greatest difference between the two garments. It is easy to attached personality to objects when they seem to tell so much about themselves through all the senses and “recognizing that “story as methodology is decolonizing research” (Sperlich & Brogden, 7) can help reframe the interpretation of historical garments. I hope my quick illustrations develop a surprising interpretation of two garments which possess a great deal of gravitas, can also have a good time small talking while being observed in an archive.


Images of the two garments depicted in the illustrations:


View Todd Lynn’s current work here: http://toddlynn.com

Works Cited 

Blackman, Lisa. The Body: The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg, 2008, pp. 83-103.

Davies, Cath. “What lies beneath: Fabric and embodiment in Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In.” Film, Fashion & Consumption, vol. 6, no. 1, pp.65-79.

Franklin, Alex. “Phenomenal dress! A personal phenomenology of clothing.” Clothing Cultures, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 83-91.

Mida, Ingrid, and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion, New York, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2015.

Negrin, Llewellyn. “Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Corporeal Experience of Fashion.” In Thinking Through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists, edited by Agnes Rocamora and Anneke Smelik, New York: I. B. Tauris, 2016, pp. 115-131.

Sperlich, Tobias & Lace Marie Brogden. “”Finding” Payepot’s Moccasins: Disrupting Colonial Narratives of Place.” Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 7-17.

Thompson, M.G. (2005), ‘Phenomenology of intersubjectivity: A historical overview of the concept and its clinical implications’, in J. Mills (ed.), Intersubjectivity and Relational Theory in Psychoanalysis, London: Jason Aronson, pp. 1–36.

Van Doorn, Neils. “The fabric of our memories: Leather, kinship, and queer material history.” Memory Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 85-98. 2016.

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