Primped & primed

Fashionistas battle for realness

I knew Jeremy laing was cool when he wore a homemade Chanel SARS mask out to Club 56 one night, at the height of last month’s health hysteria. He appeared to have drawn the interlocking Cs of the Chanel logo onto the mask with a black Sharpie. There was something really powerful in the gesture, that called attention to how sacredly we regard clothing labels, and labels of all sorts. Why is it so upsetting to think of Coco affiliated with a disease and its prevention? It seemed possible that the police might be on Chanel’s side and that they might arrest anyone so bold as to tarnish her name. This made Jeremy Laing seem dangerous.

Talking to him about Big Primpin’, a monthly gay rap party in Parkdale that Laing recently started throwing with his roommates, Laing gets excited about the idea of “realness.”

“It’s about the power of an outfit to create your persona,” he says, looking at me sharply through the thin red frames of his glasses. “That’s something I’m interested in with Big Primpin’ and in general. It’s about aspiring to actually be something to a certain extent, but also poking holes in it.”

The word “realness” was coined by black and Hispanic drag queens in New York City in the 1980s, who used it as a category in drag competitions that they called balls. One could “walk the floor” at a ball, attempting to exhibit “executive realness,” or “British aristocrat realness,” revealing, if they succeeded in mirroring them, how contrived and arbitrary these positions of status actually are.

With the Big Primpin’ party, Laing and his co-promoters are giving Toronto a chance to come and walk the floor themselves. Working collectively as The House Of 114, Laing, Andrew Sutherland aka MC Texass, Mark Buck, Derrick Yong and Francey Russell are encouraging people to come out and be fabulous – to be “awe-struck by each other” as they recently told the Toronto Star.

The party kicked off last month in fine form, with a packed patio of fashionistas jumping at the chance to strut their stuff, much of which was made by hand. Breaking new territory for the gay dance club scene, Big Primpin’ happens inside the pink-neon lit walls of the Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen St W) on the first Saturday of every month (next one is Sat, Jun 7).

Laing, who is the only graduate among the group of promoters (the rest are still students; Laing just graduated from Ryerson’s fashion program) is not interested in the fashion industry as much as he is in art and happenings. Little square white pieces of paper he has tacked above his desk betray his philosophical and intellectual approach to making clothes. He’s written things like: “Your figure is your fortune,” “Cultivate the ridiculous” and “Couture Club.”


In addition to helping throw the Big Primpin’ party, Laing works as a fashion designer for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and recently started his own sewing club called The Westside Stitcher’s Couture Club. The Westside Stitcher’s is a group of Toronto’s most imaginative and weirdo fashion-artists, who get together to sew sashes, costume quilts or sheets of fake money that someone needs for a film. Laing emphasizes that he likes to work with his hands – that he prefers to make clothes rather than design them on paper.

He also likes to wear them, and to use clothes to challenge notions of class, authenticity and gender. At his quietly furious pace of working on projects, meeting new people and sewing, Laing is driven by a great well-disciplined desire to create.

Laing lived for four years on an army barracks in Germany where his father was posted, but grew up primarily in Peterborough, Ontario. In Peterborough, he shared a room with his brother, who was a cadet. He moved to Toronto to attend Ryerson for fashion and did a placement in England with Alexander McQueen.

“I wasn’t cool until last year,” he says. “The whole time I was in school all I did was work.”

Perhaps it’s because he’s actually had to work for the life he now enjoys living, that Laing is aware of how his role as a clothes maker can effect change in the world. When he talks about the future, he is excited and driven like the general of an army. “I want a whole bunch of houses to show up for the Pride Big Primpin’. I want to lay out the red carpet and have a battle! Yeah – a red carpet realness battle, guy.”


$2. 10pm doors. Sat, Jun 7.

The Cadillac Lounge.

1296 Queen St W.

(416) 536-7717.

Read More About:
Culture, Style, Toronto

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