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Slean embarks on Recession-ista Tour

Published in the Victoria Times Colonist


Forget fashion lines like Gucci, Chanel and Versace.

Sarah Slean has a different definition for the word “glamorous.” And it involves old judges’ robes, linen scraps and perhaps a few vintage hockey jerseys.

The Toronto-based piano pop songstress and three-time Juno nominee has dubbed her latest Canadian cruise the Recessionista tour in light of, well, the most popular water cooler topic today. According to Slean, you don’t need a swanky new wardrobe to be beautiful.

And to prove her point, Slean has co-designed gorgeous gowns made entirely out of second-hand clothing, which will be unveiled at performances across the country.

“Creativity got us into this mess in the first place, but creativity is going to get us out of it,” Slean says over the phone about how the recession can also be seen as a positive thing for our planet. “We have to rethink things. It doesn’t mean you have to say, ‘Oh forget fashion’ and forget all of these things we think are extras and luxuries. No, it just means you have to recast them.

“Come at them from a different angle and you can still be doing wonderful things for your corner of the universe. You can still be cleaning up the universe by doing what you love. And it can be done in an ethically, environmentally responsible way.”

Slean brainstormed inexpensive, eco-friendly ways to illustrate the notion that beauty and art don’t need to come with a four-figure price tag or a Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint. So she consulted Toronto designers like Comrags, Sunny Fong and Susan Harris about creating gowns out of old judges’ robes, garbage linens and pieces of vintage hockey jerseys.

When you add nine Canadian concert dates to the mix and an eBay auction of her dresses (proceeds will be donated to the David Suzuki Foundation), you’ve got the Recessionista Tour.

“What is valuable? What do we place value on? And what is garbage? Waste? I love the phrase ‘Throw it away.’ Where’s away? You can’t throw something out, because out is still here,” she says.

“What I think is going on is a shift in consciousness in society. We’re shifting away from this crazy, unsustainable consumerist culture and we’re starting to realize the things that are really important: our environment, our food sources. A ceaseless growth is not feasible, and I think that’s really shown by the economic state of affairs right now, obviously. If it’s not sustainable, it’s going to eat itself and explode in our faces.”

On a related note, Slean also explains how the current recession has shaken up the music industry and prompted her to re-evaluate how she wants to grow as a musician.

As of now, Slean is officially indie. December 2008’s The Baroness Redecorates, an EP of string-based outtakes from last year’s The Baroness, marks her last stint as a major-label artist.

She professes nothing but fondness for her ex-label Warner Music, but keeping with the vein of simplicity and efficiency, Slean says that you don’t need all the glitz and glitter of a major label to be successful. “We’re human beings, not brands. The relationship between a performer and audience member is perfectly human. As human as it gets. It’s my breath and your breath. It’s the soundwaves from my throat hitting the little tiny hairs in your ears. I feel like that’s so much more real.

“It doesn’t require all this infrastructure that’s largely invisible to me. It’s going back to my independent roots. It’s the DIY ethic that you’re sure you can be proud of. Yeah, you have to work your ass off, but at the end of the day I love what I do and I believe in it.”

For Slean, it’s all about making the most out of an ugly situation. There might not be many people optimistic about finding that silver lining in the black, billowing recession cloud, but she’s going to try.

“I don’t work for the Peace Corps. I’m not a marine biologist. But I’m going to use my gift to somehow clean up my corner of the universe.”

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