All right, I am here to admit that I spend at least a third of my day reading fashion blogs, pinning fashion images, and reading fashion related books. Not so surprising from a girl who had a subscription to Vogue when she was eleven years old. Why did I not become a fashion writer? Who the hell knows … thin skin, lack of drive, whatever, I’m not going to bemoan that fact that I’m not front and center at shows gazing with imperious rapture at greyhound girls striding with metronomic precision to trance inducing house music. Thanks to the Internet and YouTube, any provincial fashionista can scout the collections while eating PopTarts in her pajamas.
My life took a different turn. Because my budget never stretched to designer pieces, I happily turned to collecting vintage and thrift store pieces like a pig to slop. I have a vast, eccentric wardrobe that allows me to mix and match decades, fabrics, and textures at whim and will. Every day hatches a new costume. For years, I was a tiny size 0 to 3, and I could wear anything. Nowadays, “the menopause” has transformed me into a chunkier, curvier size 6 to 8 and I don’t photograph thin anymore. It sucks, but no matter. When I look at fashion editorials and watch Fashion Week shows, my internal thinking has shifted from “how would I look in that?” to “what is the concept behind these clothes?” My double chin is forcing me to have an “a-ha” moment with fashion, a moment I would’ve had a long time ago if I actually worked in the industry.
It’s commonplace for folks who live in the so-called “real world” outside the glass dome of the fashion industry to say “what the FUCK is that?” and ridicule the sometimes-outrageous visions they see on the runway. It’s a concept, people, it’s a concept! Like a prototype at an auto show, get it?!? This is one reason why, by the time we see designer gowns on celebrities, we see the pretty, safer, watered down version of the conceptually extreme, weird, breathtaking visions that were on the runway, and woe betide the celeb who dares to wear anything unusual, or that person is ridiculed in every laundromat entertainment rag from here to China.
My a-ha moment started with images from Dries van Noten’s fall 2013 collection. The informal tag is “the Fred and Ginger collection,” or “Night and Day,” because DvN sent models down the runway in feather and fringe confections reminiscent of Ginger’s Rogers’ famous blue feather dress in the movie Top Hat. Underneath the fringe, though, were men’s trousers and clunky oxfords. To a conventional eye, it ruins the effect. To a fashion eye, it is about the “Night and Day,” of masculine and feminine, the crisp swagger of menswear balanced by a frothy, feminine goddess. To me, menswear slouch is sexy, particularly on women, and many of us love to dress with both masculine and feminine elements. I feel powerful and sexy wearing a tailored suit with men’s shoes, although I enjoy how a beautiful dress transforms my body. Fashion is identity, and that is what Dries van Noten has captured. We all have masculine and feminine elements. It feels indulgent, but somehow evolved, to acknowledge both at once, in the same look!
In an interview with fashion blog star Garance Dore, Dries van Noten said he purposefully put his models in flat oxfords and watched their runway strides transform. They mutated from the hip directed, showy slink we see each season to a a quieter, more masculine stride. Van Noten also said something curious that I’ve never heard from a designer, and this was that he hoped his collections inspire people not only in the fashion capitals of the world, like New York and Paris, but in quieter places like his own home base of Antwerp, to encourage people who cannot even afford designer clothes to use pieces from their own wardrobes more creatively, to make changes and combine things differently. This seemed an incredibly generous and reality- based statement coming from a designer, who after all, creates transformative art but also must sell clothes.
Fashion notoriously and constantly changes, and keeping pace with it is just short of impossible. In reality, most of us wear the same white shirt for years, reiterating it under vests, tied, or belted in different ways. We find a pair of cowboy boots in our closet that all of a sudden, doesn’t seem so ridiculous, and we clean them up and wear them out. We don’t spend $5,000 or $500,000 a season on new clothes.
Okay, so if you see me walking down the streets of Cocoa Village in a feathered vintage dress over trousers and Doc Martens, go ahead and stare. I’m just having a Dries van Noten moment, letting my inner Tomboy and Miss Priss speak in the same sentence. Laugh if you must. Then go to a mirror, look hard, and ask, “Where is my imagination?”
- Detailed photos of Dries Van Noten Autumn (Fall) / Winter 2013 (fashionising.com)