“Whenever I enter a thrift store, I imagine all the bodies, all the lives, that have worn these clothes before. What hidden stories do they carry? Sometimes before I leave a store, I slip handwritten notes into the pockets of garments on display…” Iris Häussler
Honest Ed’s, Toronto’s landmark discount department store, served as a retail and cultural hub for nearly 70 years. Opened in 1948 by Ed Mirvish, a beloved local philanthropist and the son of Jewish immigrants, Honest Ed’s would become a museum in and of itself, blurring the lines between commercial, public and exhibition spaces. It stood as a haven for newcomers to Canada and for those living on the margins. When Honest Ed’s closed in 2016, it was recognized for the important role it played in the city’s cultural history.
In 2009, Häussler envisioned an interactive public art project titled “Honest Threads” to be installed within the popular downtown department store, parodying its iconic signage, excesses, celebrity photography, and kitsch aesthetic. The premise was to create a space for shared experience by inviting local celebrities and ordinary Torontonians to loan items of clothing that carried some personal meaning–a story. Loaned garments were displayed on clothing racks and could be borrowed by visitors to wear for a period of time. Along the walls of the installation, the artist displayed framed photographs showing each item of clothing being worn by the owner, along with a caption that revealed something about the item’s story. Through the exchange of clothing and personal stories–allowing each borrower to step into the ‘skin’ of another–this project highlighted the ways in which the threads of our individual identities and stories are both woven into and out of a shared social fabric.