Where you can wear Wear’s wares

Local artist opens shop

Nathaniel Christopher Arthur [Peterborough, Ont.] Volume 38 Issue 16

Magalsal, Alison Wear’s downtown clothing store offers Peterborough residents an opportunity to be fashionable and environmentally conscious. For years we’ve recycled paper, pop cans, and plastic. Now you might consider putting out a blue box for fashion.

I walked into Wear’s store on a freezing cold Saturday and gazed intently at a gorgeous Oriental painting high up on the wall. In addition to pondering the jaded visage of the figures in the painting, I was also imagining how it would look in my bedroom. My contemplation was interrupted by Wear’s calm, inquisitive voice.

“Those are the five sisters of destiny,” she commented. “They are supposed to be in charge of our fate, but look at the bored expressions on their faces. They look like they’d be more interested in taking a bubble bath or filing their nails than dealing with our fate.” The five sisters are a daily reminder to the reclamation artist that she and indeed all of us are responsible for our own fate.

Alison Wear breaks a by-law.
Photo: Nathaniel Christopher

Magalsal is the worst nightmare of tasteless, big box, corporate clothing concerns. She is using her weapon of clothing reclamation and design to turn George Street and Peterborough into a veritable Carnaby Street (1960s London’s mod fashion district). Bad taste meet your doom! Her name is Alison Wear and she’s out to create something beautiful.

Wear’s project is to revive old, and sometimes unusable clothing. Reclamation is the reconstruction, recreation, and dissection of old or ‘vintage’ clothing.

The clothes at Magalsal are unique from second hand stores’ as they have been altered and improved by Alison’s devoted fashion designers. “I have a beautiful brown dress that looked like someone climbed over a barbed wire fence with it – nobody would buy it in that condition. But if I sew up the holes and put applique on it it looks great, and I can sell it as a new, reclaimed dress.”

The need to reclaim clothing goes beyond fashion. Canadians collectively create a lot of ‘garbage’ clothing – when we get sick of something, we donate it to the Salvation Army or Value Village where it is resold or turned into industrial fabric. In this process, the fabric is bleached of all colour and re-dyed, leaving a recycled product of inferior quality.

Magalsal in the former Thomas Flower building at 410 George Street North.
Photo: Nathaniel Christopher

Wear tries to protect clothing from this fate. Whereas industrial processing involves chemicals which find their way into our water, all of Wear’s dyes are organic inks made out of things like beets, tea, and saffron. “Anything that won’t mess with nature- that’s huge.”

There are a lot of nasty but good clothes out there that need love and attention, but what about old clothing that is in good condition? Wear’s answer was thoughtful and fresh: “Take shoulders for example,” she said. “Back in the 1980s, most Canadian women had smaller shoulders than they do today so many shirts of that era were designed with shoulder pads. So when I reclaim a woman’s shirt from that era, I might rip out the shoulder pads.”

To my eyes, Magalsal is a material extension of Wear’s spirit; every corner of the store has her mark on it. She stained and varnished the old wooden floors so that the pattern would flow with the grain, and she painted the elaborate Victorian ceiling a coral red. The changes are so striking that people are asking if the ceiling was there before.

Vaulted ceilings aside, I saw many things in Magalsal that I have never seen before. In my twenty-two years, I have patronized countless thrift and so-called ‘vintage’ stores. The quality and presentation of the products in these stores vary greatly. In some cases, old clothes are haphazardly tossed into a nasty pile, and in other cases the valuable articles are preserved behind glass as in a museum display.

The displays at Magasal are done with care and dignity, rivalling those of any boutique in Toronto’s trendy Yorkville. The clothing racks are intuitively placed in such a way that one could find exactly what they are looking for without sorting through mounds of fabric.

Unlike high-end retailers, who can only claim that their designs are original, Wear’s really are. She takes particular exception to Calvin Klein’s work.“If you look at a lot of clothes they are designing now, they are reconfiguration and reclamation. Calvin Klein blatantly rips off the small scale reclamation designers. He’s the worst! Most other designers add something to make it distinct. They add something of their own. Calvin Klein’s actions disgust me.”

A cosmopolitan artist, Wear embraces Peterborough’s illustrious artisan history, noting that potters’ guilds were started here as far back as the 1850s. “There’s something so creative in and around here. It’s in the air – it bubbles. The per capita amount of creativity here is astounding.” One of her dreams is to buy some row housing and turn it into an artists’ archive and/or co-op.

Wear knows the history behind each article that is donated. “People like to bring me their parents’ or special occasion clothing because they want it to be appreciated. There’s a history there, and they feel that by bringing their parents’ important clothing they are somehow insuring the clothing. Somehow, I am going to make sure it’s going to a good place”.

Magalsal, located at at 410 George (between Hunter and Brock), is now open. The grand opening is Friday, February 27. To commemorate this event, Wear will be offering a 50 percent discount.

I am a resident of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, who has been blogging here for nearly 25 years. I enjoy sharing my thoughts and feelings on my own online platform. From 1998 until 2017, I worked as a journalist, and I have posted most of my articles in the 'News' section of this website.