TIMES COLONIST, VICTORIA, B.C.

TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 2010

D1

LIFE
FASHION

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WEB EXTRA: Hello, sailor
Chic, timeless and easily adaptable — the nautical look brightens any wardrobe

Editor: Bruce MacKenzie > Telephone: 250-380-5346 > E-mail: features@tc.canwest.com ■ ARTS, D5

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TECHNOLOGY

Haute couture moves online
World Wide Web of luxury shopping
MARIE-LOUISE GUMUCHIAN Reuters
MILAN — With videos of

PHOTOS BY DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Qué Banh spent time browsing stores with Sarah Petrescu to explain what people with even a minor disability have to put up with just to go shopping. Banh, who requires leg braces to walk (due to polio in infancy) appreciated the ramp as well as steps to enter the Paper Box Arcade.

Enabling great style
Shopping trips hold huge obstacles for fashionistas with mobility issues
to malls. Cox has been in a manual wheelchair since she fell off a balcony at the age of 20 and broke her neck. She had to relearn most of her movement, including dressing, and is now a disabilities advocate. “Shopping is hit-and-miss everywhere, though,” she says, citing bad design and wheelchair accessible change rooms often used for storage. “I was in one accessible change room where the lock was really high. They changed it but not the hooks to hang stuff.” Cox buys most of her clothing without trying it on and takes it back if it doesn’t fit. The one item she covets is jeans. “I’m not big into fashion but I’m not wearing sweatpants just because they’re easy to get on. I’m a jeans and T-shirt girl — always have been,” she says. At Lululemon on Johnson Street, Banh notes the open double-doors, wide aisles and low display racks are welcoming for someone with a physical disability. While the change rooms are wide and have a seat, she says they lack one simple support. “A grab bar mounted on the wall is really important. It’s also cheap and easy to install,” she says. Other stores have the same problem. We pass several boutiques with a single step or curb at the entrance. “All it would take is a piece of wood to make it a ramp and make it accessible,” Banh says. One store has a closed door with a bell attached on the inside. “The bell lets them know someone is coming in but what about someone who wants to come in and can’t open the door,” she says, thinking of friends in wheelchairs. An entrance to Market Square is a steep set of stairs. “There’s no sign directing people to a nearby elevator.” An example of good design is the Paperbox Arcade, where the alley of stores is accessible by ramp and stairs. “It’s important for places to be aware that there are a

SARAH PETRESCU Ready to Wear
spetrescu@tc.canwest.com

W

hen Qué Banh is shopping for clothes, the latest fashions, bargains and even the items she’s hunting are a secondary thought. “I don’t bother looking at the clothes until I’ve seen the change room,” says the 35-year-old photographer. Trying on clothes is tough with the braces on her legs. She needs a chair, space and something to grab onto. “It’s even more difficult when I’m with my girlfriends in wheelchairs. Some of the motorized chairs are too big to make it through small doors of boutiques.” Banh had polio as an infant in Vietnam. Her parents were told she would be paralyzed for life and wouldn’t walk. They left Saigon as refugees when Banh was a toddler. A lifetime of surgeries, physical therapy, orthotics and determination has helped her walk with braces, and occasionally a cane. “My disability has never stopped me from doing anything,” Banh tells me. The avid equestrian has dreams of competing in a future Paralympics. Banh and I walk down Victoria’s fashion strip, Lower Johnson Street, to see what shopping might be like for someone with a disability. Banh admits she usually shops in malls and department stores because the stores and change rooms are more accessible. “They’re roomy and there is always help,” she says. Wendy Cox, 33, from the Disability Resource Centre later tells me she also sticks

Banh is a young professional with money to spend, but not if businesses put up road blocks like this. ability doesn’t mean you don’t care about how you look or [you don’t] love fashion.” Banh has always loved clothes. From an early age, she insisted on wearing Levi’s instead of sweatpants. She sews straps into shirts so they are easier to pull on. Certain eras have been kinder to her than others. “The ’80s and ’90s were great because things were loose. I could rock the hammer pants and baggy Boys’ Co. shirts. Doc Martens were perfect with my braces,” she says, citing Twiggy, Audrey Hepburn and Cindy Lauper as her fasion heroines. “Then the whole skinny jean and platform heel thing came in.” Shoes have always been an issue for Banh. Her braces have a flat, bulky footing. “I skipped my high school grad because I couldn’t find shoes,” she tells me. “I had the dress but I wouldn’t go without

Love Productions Picture Shows

Sophie Morgan was one of eight participants in a BBC reality series featuring aspiring fashion models with a disability. It debuts in Canada this week. large number of people who want to come in and shop but might not be able to,” Banh says. “Just because you’re in a wheelchair or have a dis-

nice shoes. I wanted to look nice, to fit in. But I made up an excuse and didn’t go. I regret that.” She recently found a stylish pair of flat slip-on black ankle boots that fit her perfectly, and spread the word to her friends. “In the disability community we update each other, especially about clothes,” she says. This is how she discovered adjustable strap pants at the Gap and free alterations at Eddie Bauer. “I must’ve e-mailed 50 people about these boots and I’m sure Ingledew’s in Hillside mall sold out.” Banh wants the fashion world to be aware of people with disabilities for better accessibility and products, but also to challenge the notions of how we define beauty. “When I was younger I struggled to see myself as beautiful. Out with my friends, I always felt I’d be looked over — that I wasn’t sexy or dateable,” she says. That changed with her own self-confidence work and two good relationships with men. “There is something to that outside validation — to being seen — that makes you feel attractive.” Challenging perceptions is what disability advocate and model Sophie Morgan hopes for Britain’s Missing Next Top Model when it debuts in Canada this week on the One: The Body, Mind and Spirit channel (onebodymindspirit.com). Morgan, an artist who has been in a wheelchair since a 2003 car accident, was a contestant in the 2008 reality series that featured models with various disabilities — paralysis, missing limbs, hearing impairment — vying for jobs and the top model title. Morgan says the show ignited debate and was a catalyst to give exposure to more models with disabilities. “The press were complimentary, some found it patronizing but now there are [disabled] girls on High Street,” Morgan, 25, says from London. “What wasn’t expected were the debates about things like visible disabilities versus non-visible ones. It was interesting what came up.” spetrescu@tc.canwest.com

catwalk shows, pictures of glamorous models and a catalogue of chic products, luxury brands are creating “digital mirrors” online as they turn to the Internet to tap into growing e-commerce demand. The traditional print advertisement in a glossy magazine is no longer the only way to communicate with the public. Fashion houses are now reaching out to consumers through websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and phone applications. Having created brand strength by emphasising product design and quality and on their brand aura, fashion groups are seeking to recreate their exclusive store atmosphere online. “If it is done well, the web can convey a luxury atmosphere even better than traditional media,” said Michele Norsa, chief executive of Florentine maison Salvatore Ferragamo. The web and social networking sites present strong growth prospects for luxury groups as they emerge from the crisis and consumers grow more confident using the Internet to shop. Luxury shopping is usually associated with seeing, touching or smelling the product as well as a personal service, and this translates into a premium e-commerce experience online. Italy’s Yoox, which powers sites for names such as Emporio Armani and Valentino, says it seeks to create sites “in line with the brand’s heritage and DNA.” It offers sleek photo and video shooting — recently a project involving fashion photographer Nick Knight — and a top sales service. “Great attention to detail and a full understanding of each brand’s needs are key elements to develop a successful online store,” Yoox CEO Federico Marchetti said. He stressed that online stores must offer “unique shopping destinations.” Marchetti said a “large portion” of the orders from Yoox’s 18 mono-brand online stores came from cities where the brands have no or limited distribution. “A new level of exclusivity exists by offering items previously available only in large metropolitan areas such as Tokyo, Paris and London.”

CANWEST NEWS SERVICE

Fashion houses are increasingly turning to the web to sell luxury items such as this Prada handbag.

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