I am not a blogger, a fashion writer, a TV producer, a creative director for a fashioncentric creative services agency. I am not defined by my occupation. This is not a declaration of truth, it is a statement of intent.
This past weekend, I spent over four hours catching up on Tavi’s blog. And while nearly everything that precocious girl writes is compelling, one post in particular lingered with me long after I had finished reading. In it, she describes her struggle with beauty image, her rebellion against the au courant standards indirectly imposed on her by the industry of which she is fascinated. She realized that, despite her best efforts at bucking the conventional constructs, she may be growing into a position among those considered ‘attractive’. And it frightened her. Made her worry at what pieces of her she would leave behind, whether she would end up being known as the once-opinionated-ugly-ducking-who-is-now-’just-another-pretty-girl-in-Fashion.’
The piece struck me because I face a similar struggle: the marginalizing effect of being defined by my looks and by my occupation, and forever wondering at the true extent to which people think of me as just another two-dimensional iteration of the ‘fashionfolk’ archetype. Am I really drowning in the shallow end? Am I simply obsessed with pretty things? Have I lost my curiosity for the world and for art and replaced it with something less… substantial? These are very real questions.
Avoiding the pervasive effects of fashion’s limited lens is difficult, diligent work: the unfaltering fascination with artifice and its rigid definitions of beauty, the break-neck pace of the industry churning out new ‘it’ thing after new ‘it’ thing, the constant coalescing of egos both furious and fragile. It is a desperate race in this industry, and you must not only stay relevant, but you must stay ahead of the curve. A simple edict: kill yourself trying, or be killed by the many who will happily take your place.
It’s an intense amount of seemingly-superficial pressure, and the result is that it becomes easy to forget a great big world exists outside Fashion’s purview. Insular by nature, Fashion makes hermits of her extroverts — we in the industry learn to be charming when we need to be, but as soon as the gig is up, we quickly retreat to the fantasy world we create and cultivate for ourselves. It’s a fucking exhausting cycle.
In short, these are murky waters in which I wade. To pretend otherwise is to perpetuate the myth that fashion is all glamour and champagne, all beautiful people doing beautiful things in beautiful clothes. It isn’t.
But I cannot marginalize fashion for its faults any more than I would discredit the whole of academia for its archaic approach to learning, its insistence on the effectiveness of its dogma. It may not be a sample-size perfect 2, but the American public education system’s nearly one-size-fits-all approach is no less constricting. I know that much firsthand. Institutions of all variety guard their myths fiercely, how can one expect fashion to be an exception? Decrying the fashion industry’s focus on the superficial is too simple.
Instead, its myths must be exposed, explored, deconstructed. They must engage rather than exclude, in the way that Fashion used to. Avedon and Newton–two of the world’s most famous and celebrated fashion photographers– had plenty of popular myths: romanticism, beauty, wealth, freedom. But the images they created inspired appreciation and aspiration, not the crippling insecurity which our modern reader expects of Fashion. They respected their audience, begged them to feel something deeper than pristine vanity: beauty, imperfect and authentic and electric.
But Fashion, with its inexhaustible machinations, is an industry, a global force of economic might. While it may sometimes transcend into the world of Art–Alexander McQueen is an obvious but excellent example–Fashion’s primary purpose is to sell clothes. Mostly to people who have quite enough already. Style, and the exploration and exposition of such, is another subject altogether. The difference is not merely a matter of semantics.
Style is a purely personal thing, an idiosyncratic expression of yourself, manifested aesthetically. There are no rules of ‘style’ (despite what GoodMorning America may tell you), only risks to be taken or not taken. And you may borrow from fashion, but as I see it the real joy isn’t wearing a Reed Krakoff gown because it’s Reed Krakoff, it’s finding harmony between the person you consider yourself to be and the person you portray to the world, aesthetically.
Daphne Guinness, one of McQueen’s better-known muses, has said her eccentric wardrobe is a way of expressing her shyness. A form of armor to protect herself in the public sphere. And while it may seem paradoxical, I appreciate the thoughtful relationship between who she is and what she wears. It’s a delicate ruse, really, using her sartorial choices as a distraction. But, time after time, the attention does shift from her person to her persona, the clothes –the exterior she has engineered for herself because she both wants and needs it. So few of the profiles I have read of this incredibly sensitive, caring woman focus on anything else, so in that way, it would seem Ms. Guinness is successful in her charade.
But style is not just armor against the world, it can also be an invitation. Most of my friends consider my style schizophrenic, as my ensemble choices shift dramatically depending on how much and what kind of attention I want. Need to be noticed as an outlandishly stylish ‘fashion’ chap? Fine. Want to slip by perfectly unnoticed in a Red Sox Nation crowd? Easy enough (well, almost, anyway). Understanding the power of this medium is the key to using it to your advantage.
I do not regret the decision to become one of the fashion folk. I recognize fashion’s failings, but I also recognize it to be artful, inspiring, and often otherwordly. That said, I will not allow myself to be defined by fashion, limited by it. It is simply something I wear, something I do. Who I am is a far more complex matter altogether, and as elementary as it may sound I must remind myself of this regularly.
Watching the sun rise from my window, the harbor then one metallic sheet of sheer light, brings me more joy than I am able to articulate. What I’m wearing while this happens is mostly irrelevant, even if my career in fashion is the reason I’m still awake into the morning hours.
So, no, I’m not a fashion writer. I’m just a another kid in that fevered, hungry pursuit of beauty, of love, of some great, transcendent apex to which I could aspire: the all engrossing howwhyforbecauseofis. And yeah, sometimes, I do really like pretty things.
Until next week -
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