There’s a new feeling in the air here in Toronto, and it’s one of comfort. Finally it seems, residents of the city have shifted into the groove of standing up for Toronto’s “cool.” Whereas before, everyone wore Yankees hats and only dubbed something worthy if it was “so New York,” we now see Blue Jays apparel proudly sported, and the aforementioned reference faded out.
This sense of pride has even gone viral, with independent publications sprouting up, each dedicated to spotlighting and supporting the city’s local unsung heroes. Amongst this fresh online perspective — sitting somewhere in between The Coveteur and The Selby — you will find Boots & Pine. Launched in the fall of 2012 by photographer Arden Wray, the site temps its audience with an intimate look into the life and styles of Toronto’s up-and-coming movers and shakers.
We caught up with Wray recently to talk about the inspiration behind her latest project, where she likes to hang out in the city, and who we can expect to see featured in the future.
What do you think about Toronto’s fashion/arts scene?
Toronto just has so much creativity and energy — this city is bubbling over. Right now, so much is growing and changing all the time. And even though this is a huge city, I think there’s a small town sensibility that permeates in some ways. In the fashion and arts communities, there are so many friendships in the mix, and I find that generally people are really excited for each other and by each other’s work. There’s an amazing climate of generosity and support and interconnectedness, which is remarkable for a city of this size. It feels like anyone can come out to play. When you spot someone who’s doing something unique or bizarre or just really lovely, it’s a pat on the back, not an eye roll.
I think you’re right, there’s definitely a sort of small town feel to the arts and fashion community here, but in the best way possible. Why did you decide to launch this project?
I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a project like this for quite a while now, but it was in May that I finally committed to it. I was working long hours as a merchandiser for a brand that I loved, but I felt that by the end of the day, I didn’t have enough spark left over for myself. I realized that I hadn’t taken any photographs outside of commissions in months and it made me sad. So, starting work on Boots & Pine was my way of committing to producing new work on my own terms, and of getting to explore and meet amazing people in the process.
About those amazing people, tell me about how you find them. What do you look for in a subject?
I’m much more interested in style than fashion. I love when someone has a unique take on dress and décor that is just intrinsically part of who they are as a person. It’s wonderful to walk into somebody’s home for the first time and think, “Of course!” Because it fits them seamlessly, and it makes perfect sense, but you could’ve never done it just right yourself. So…that kind of distinct presence is what really appeals to me.
So no particular style that you’re especially on the hunt for?
My favourite is when someone is dressed in treasures – not necessarily expensive, not necessarily designer, but an assemblage of special, wonderful, interesting pieces that they’ve collected and which are each fascinating to look at. I like sometimes if you ask someone about what they’re wearing and to think on each piece, they’ll tell you they got one piece from a marketplace while traveling, another was inherited from their grandmother, one was found on the street, one was outrageously expensive, one was a gift from an old lover… I’m inspired by stories that we can tell with dress, and the history we carry around with us.
Your sort of street style photography is an incredible way to capture that history. How did you first get into this type of photography? Long-time hobby?
When I was in art school, a criticism of my photography was that it looked too much like fashion photography. It was never glossy, and I only really picked up digital in the past year or so, but I think it was probably clear that what I love more than anything is creating a beautiful image. I was always less interested in communicating an agenda or a statement through my work, and it always felt somewhat disingenuous when I tried to do so.
Seems like the passion sort of presented itself to you. What’s your favourite part about it?
I love the feeling when you’re looking through the contact sheet (or clicking through, more often now), and you find a frame that sticks out, and you feel yourself just naturally come to a pause. And you know that you’ve created something, in that split second when you took it, which stirs something in you to look at. It’s thrilling, and addictive, and wonderful. I love the surprise of looking through your shots at the end of the day and discovering those gems.
What sparked the idea of shooting portraits of people in their own neighbourhoods?
This city is notorious for being a hodge-podge, and one neighbourhood really does look strikingly different from the next. For me, I see that as a strength. I’m inspired by how diverse this city is – visually, culturally, everything. So, I guess I wanted to acknowledge those differences from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, and celebrate them.
If you could choose anyone to shoot, who would it be?
Iris Apfel. I’m obsessed with her. I have this thing where I fantasize about myself as an old woman, and I think about how I will do my hair, and how over the top my structural clothing and costume jewels will be, and how I will grow to peak in fabulousness somewhere around 85. Iris Apfel is definitely my idol in that regard.
What’s behind the name “Boots & Pine”?
I wish I had a good answer, but honestly…not much. I was thinking of Canadiana, and I just liked the look and sound of those two words.
Fair enough! How would you describe your personal style?
I’m attracted to anything a bit romantic, a bit complicated, and with a bit of a 60s shape – patterns, embroidery, lace, leather… Lately I’ve been really into wearing patterned trousers with my boyfriend’s tailored shirts.
Favourite shops in Toronto
I love Penny Arcade and 69 Vintage because I can pretty much always go in and find something I can’t imagine living without. I find the clean, sharp aesthetic of Robber very inspiring, although I’m rarely put-together enough to pull it off.
What about food, any favourite restaurants?
I crave Enoteca Sociale and have been known to overindulge in their delicious Bucatini Amatriciana a little too often. Lil’ Baci in Leslieville is also amazing. Otherwise, I really love some of the great local spots around my neighbourhood, like Pam’s Roti and Nazareth (although I am being swayed to African Palace).
Those are all pretty delicious spots! Favourite hangouts?
I can be found huddled by the fire out back at 3 Speed pretty much year-round. I love The Common for coffee in the day and wine at night. I’m also a big fan of Bakerbots, a sweet bakery, which is a dangerously short walk from my home.
Back to Boots & Pines, what do you hope people will take and enjoy from a visit to the site?
I hope that people will find it inspiring and a little bit optimistic. I hope that it excites people about the city. And I hope that it encourages people to play with the way they dress a little more, if they don’t already. Style is such a powerful tool for self-expression.
And last question: what can we expect next from Boots & Pines?
Generally speaking, my intention is to grow and diversify, and I have a few goals to that end… more men, more people of different ages, more business owners and designers, and more people beyond the city proper.Published February 1, 2013