The Event

In the beautiful surroundings of  Royal Irish Society of Antiquaries issue two was launched by the wonderful Sinéad Burke of Minnie Melangé on 21st October 2015. Sinéad gave an address on how fashion became her avenue for expression and the night ended with fearless revelry in the Blind Pig Speakeasy.

In the beautiful surroundings of  Royal Irish Society of Antiquaries issue two was launched by the wonderful Sinéad Burke of Minnie Melangé on 21st October 2015. Sinéad gave an address on how fashion became her avenue for expression and the night ended with fearless revelry in the Blind Pig Speakeasy.

Men Who Wear Pink

A personal essay on the hatred on pink

Image by Lauren Henshaw

Image by Lauren Henshaw

I’ve recently become fixated on modern workwear. The ‘why’ is puzzling. Why the sudden allure of this functional, utilitarian aesthetic? Is it an easier way for me to wear black? Or maybe a way to wear ‘tech’ clothing without having to venture into the world of the health­ goth? The only way I can explain it is that it pleases me somehow.

You could say that my desired guise is a dark one. I’m drawn to the deep end, to the pitchy hues, the bolder shapes, the distorted images. My reference point is usually music and I orbit around a dark star; Shoegaze, Punk, Industrial. Bands like Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and Iceage all flirt with this notion. So that must be it…Right?

Wrong. Much to my surprise, I’ve latterly become obsessed with the colour pink. Not salmon, not peach, but baby girl pink. The kind of shade you’d find festooning the birthing halls of a maternity ward in various degrees of saccharine sweetness. Maybe I’m moving towards the light?

It’s an aberration I feel comfortable with, but not something I can easily explain, especially given the colour’s divisive nature in menswear. This became apparent to me almost immediately, as I set my feet into a pair of pink Adidas Centaurs. Homophobic abuse is not something I generally heed; on the rare occasion that it’s directed at me, I just blow them a kiss. But the last time I was wearing my pink Adidas Centaurs I found myself subjected to a torrent or slurs from a passing child. “You look like a fucking queer!”, he declared, as Tayto detritus flew from the corners of his mouth. One thing became apparent; it wasn’t the denim jacket I’ve had for over ten years; it wasn’t my zigzag patterned Our Legacy shirt; it wasn’t my nylon Porter bag. It was the sneaks. It was the pink. Nevertheless, his puce­ faced outburst brought to mind that old cliché that ‘real men wear pink’.

Do they? You can’t be a ‘real’ man unless you wear pink. What is this phrase saying? Is it that pink is a colour to be wary of and ‘real men’ laugh in the face of such considerations? Therefore, in order to be seen as a man, you have to be seen as being without fear.

“His puce­ faced outburst brought to mind that old cliché that ‘real men wear pink.”

I don’t subscribe to this concept of what it is to be a man. That thought never entered my mind when I picked up those trainers. It was a fashion­ based judgement call. I just thought they looked exciting and unusual. In truth, men fear everything! Especially when it comes to fashion. With men’s fashion having been ‘outmoded’ for so long, only now is it emerging from the suspended animation of functionality over design. Perhaps it’s time to recognise men’s fashion as the thing in itself.

Healthy Eating

An essay on the cynicism towards health and Instagram by Elizabeth Gill

Illustration by Elizabeth Gill

Illustration by Elizabeth Gill

As a self-i­dentifying slob, I have looked at the current health trends with a rather hefty dose of both cynicism and distaste. For anyone confused as to what I mean when I use the vague and clinical sounding term “current health trends”, allow me to elucidate. My natural inclination towards all things easy, from food preparation to TV choices, seems terminally at odds with what I consider to be a whole new way of life. Words that have never entered my vocabulary before are becoming unavoidable in everyday conversations. Ones like paleo, or bikram. My rarely used Instagram is invaded with pictures of all things related to fitness, and everyone has a blog where they can regale you with exciting tales about how they made a delicious dinner for nine using nothing but quinoa and goji berries. The fashion media, which once extolled a hedonistic lifestyle that aligned with the interests of Champagne producers and drug dealers, no longer leaves its insiders’ exploits to the tabloids and has instead created a powerful alternative to the model-turned-actress cliché of the ageing beauty. Rather than lend their good looks and vitality to sell the products of others, models such as Karlie Kloss and Rosemary Ferguson have developed brands selling their own health foods, free from gluten and sugar, the newest evils to scandalize our modern times.

All this not-so-quiet seething is spurred on at least in part by my own petty frustrations at having all culinary endeavors turn out not so much like delicious meals, but what can only be thought of as ambiguously coloured nutritional pastes. What has brought about this hailing of all things healthy? Trends and fashions do not occur within a vacuum, but are products of surrounding environs. The dubiousness in my tone ought not to be seen as directed at the food or practices themselves: I love avocado smash as much as the next person. Rather, it is the proliferation of images of people’s self­-improvement that are in no way novel or interesting that are the source of my distaste. Because I would say this current “age”, if that is the right term, will be viewed as one that is more defined by the seemingly immeasurable expansion of social media, rather than the branding of yoga or the rediscovery of bone broth.

The idea that social media lends itself to narcissism is hardly groundbreaking. But the quality of narcissism has not changed with the advent of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, merely our exposure to it. Health and beauty have always joined hands as status symbols. Having a Botticellian figure during the 16th entury was certainly the best way to prove you were well­ nourished and had the means to plump yourself up.

The translucence of your skin was similarly a fine indicator that you were located in a class above outdoor manual work. Our human desire to show off in this regard is not new, merely changed. It is part of our wish to show others that we not just have, but are, things of worth. That we might be the sort of person who is healthy, well and of value. More than anything else, these online mediums afford us the ability to show just how every aspect of our life is under control.

The pressure to create an illusion of stability is not worth the stress. As people, we feel an understandable need to conform;  a true free spirit is someone who throws food at others, but it can develop to something that quells our individuality and creates fear around genuine self expression. We should value that we care about the opinions of those we respect and cherish it as a way to connect with them. But we should not become defined by it; trying to project a false image of nonchalance and ease. The limited ways that it’s acceptable to be individual  often fall into Instagrammable stereotypes. I sense behind this is the utter terror of not mattering. We try to establish relevance by creating a media presence; demonstrating our significance. There is an inherent value to feeling like you’ve witnessed something and sharing that, but you don’t witness your styled breakfast. When we tell the world what we’re eating, wearing and seeing, it should be because we are proud of it. Because it is something that gives us pleasure in that moment. Something to allow us to more richly connect with those we value and not to conform to what we think is expected of us by our friends and followers.

“Health is not a privilege of the elite and it shouldn’t be displayed as such.”

This “Trend” almost necessarily entails a high level of conspicuous consumption. It is clear to even the most uninterested observer that this does anything but enrich our lives. When something becomes about presentation rather than enjoyment, we have a problem. There are a hundred million ways that these images are branded, improved and bettered, no doubt with the help of some caring and altruistic multinational corporation. The products that people use to showcase their sculpted lives become just as much a part of a trend as the desire to show them off. When one looks at the marketing behind a lot of these products it can be hard not to get riled up. They go from the laughable to the genuinely anger inducing. The sale and consumption of overpriced, needless products is something that smacks of capitalism’s darker side, seeming both wasteful and elitist. Investing in an implement to perfectly fashion your courgettes may not end up making you a health god, but it will make you a retailer's dream.

When being healthy in itself becomes marketed as a luxury good it makes me uncomfortable. Health is not a privilege of the elite and it shouldn’t be displayed as such. When having a healthy lifestyle is conflated with the more silly and attention seeking indulgences of overpriced yoga wear and out of season exotic fruit, it means that we run the risk of dismissing the whole enterprise outright. This would be a great mistake. While the focus on an elite lifestyle no doubt taints the trend, it should not undermine the genuine and actual benefit of taking better care of yourself and appreciating the beauty in your life. While the number of places in my city that serve cabbage wraps and other such punishing and off-putting dishes has no doubt increased, so too has the amount of eateries selling good quality, fresh and often much healthier food in order to cater for the growing demand. We ought not ignore the fact that, once silliness is dismissed, the average quality of products, and our awareness of certain issues, has still risen.

“Investing in an implement to perfectly fashion your courgettes may not end up making you a health god, but it will make you a retailer's dream.”

The tide may be turning against those deemed too sanctimonious or preachy about their lifestyles, but the inclination to curate every aspect of our lives with disturbing, exhibition-like deliberation isn’t going away. So it becomes more about how we ourselves consume the trend. It is the easiest thing in the world to use some of the rampant silliness we come across as an excuse not to engage with things we find difficult to achieve, such as changing our unhealthier habits, or even just exercising more. Whether or not the craze for all things cold­ pressed will continue or not is anyone’s guess, but don’t be turned off it by smug converts, nor by self-righteous and cynical slobs like myself.

Losing Things

A personal essay on the struggle to let go by Isobel D'Arcy

Seven year old bra with worn elastic.Image Briony Somers

Seven year old bra with worn elastic.Image Briony Somers

Last year I took part in the annual and unholy pilgrimage that is ‘The Twelve Pubs of Christmas’. After Pub Number Seven, I had lost my voice and after Pub Number nine I was finding it difficult to locate my legs. Sadly that wasn’t the only thing I lost. Somewhere between several tipples, I had managed to mislay my mum’s jumper, which I had borrowed unbeknownst to her. Of course, this was no ordinary jumper. To my mum, this was of the highest sentimental value and was something she had treasured for years. My father had given it to her as a present in their first year of ‘courting’, a fact I failed to remember as I floated home that night from my pilgrimage legless and jumperless.

Having broken the news the following morning that the jumper was missing, I headed into town with said mum and embarked on what could only be described as a poorly-­budgeted, Irish version of The Hangover. Only this time there was no lovable wolfpack­ in sight; rather a dishevelled daughter and her bereft mother traipsing from pub to pub, the former attempting to retrace the steps and stumbles of the previous night, the latter uttering things that mums don’t normally utter.

Rummaging through the ‘Lost and Found’ section of any establishment on Christmas Eve is a grim experience. Amid a haze of secondhand­ smoke, sweat and neglect, we sifted through mountains upon mountains of coats, scarves, gloves and the occasional pair of boxer shorts. “How do you manage to lose a pair of boxer shorts in a pub?” my mum asked the barman. He didn’t reply.

Alas, we never found the jumper. It turns out I had accidentally dropped it the previous night on Camden Street whilst attempting to hail a taxi home. In fact, my friends had spotted it on the ground but, unaware that it was mine, had left it behind. Wishing I had been a little less careless and a little more compos mentis, I wanted to block out the memory of the previous night by pretending it didn’t happen. I felt bad for my mum because I knew I couldn’t replace the jumper. And I knew I couldn’t undo the damage of the night before.

I later recounted the experience to a number of friends who were both amused and surprised that the mislaying of this jumper continued to be a source of self-flagellation to me before I went to sleep. They laughed when I informed them that I still searched the charity shops along Camden Street, hoping that some Good Samaritan might have handed it in. They couldn’t see how important this jumper was to my mum, and by extension, to me.

Some friends would try to offer the advice that “everything happens for a reason”. I used to admire people who could successfully take such advice on board. Yet no matter how hard I have tried it has never really worked for me. Perhaps everything does happen for a reason but sometimes the reason is that you were reckless and made a series of bad decisions. I question the benefit to be gained from sweeping regrets under the bed, trying to explain them away by saying “the universe meant it to happen”. Unless we address our ‘misgivings’ head-on, they turn into mental clutter. And keeping clutter is a way of distracting ourselves from dealing with the present.

I hoard clothes in my wardrobe. Often it is because of the memories they evoke: a pair of pink, faded Converse runners adorned with the doodles of my friends; the cowboy hat I wore in a school production of Oklahoma at the age of twelve. I envisage some potential use for them in the future. What if I have a daughter who would like to wear a pair of pink Converse runners with doodles, or what if she auditions for a part in Oklahoma? It’s a fine line between cherishing something and not knowing when it is time to let go.

Some months later I was sitting at the kitchen table with my mum when the memory of Christmas Eve resurfaced. Wallowing in a sea of angst my mental clutter was causing a dusty heaviness. She said she had forgotten about it. That I shouldn’t worry any more. So why did the regret still linger? Maybe in taking responsibility I could begin to let go of my regrets? This requires more than a sincere apology and a promise to be more careful. I needed to recognise th value of the things in my life, whether that be a piece of clothing or, more importantly, the person who is wearing it. I wasn’t just remorseful about losing the jumper; I had allowed myself get into such a state of disarray that losing it was the inevitable consequence.

“It’s a fine line between cherishing something and not knowing when it is time to let go.”

I had always thought myself immune to such careless behaviour. For the past ten years I have kept a diary in which I have fastidiously recorded both the tepid and tumultuous experiences that have come to define my adolescent and young adult life. I question whether what I thought to be an exercise in self-awareness was in fact an attempt at self-protection — a way of gaining clarity and closure on events that so often seemed out of my control. These meticulous and daily inscriptions were like the Converse runners and cowboy hat that cluttered my wardrobe, waiting patiently to be of some tangible use in the future. That is not to say that absolving yourself of responsibility and simply ‘living in the moment’ is the answer. You may only live once but someone has to clear out your house once you’re gone! But constantly trying to prepare for every eventuality leaves no time from the present. You find yourself blindsided by the random moments that we have no control over. Entering a tailspin; convinced you are able to fix it, when we need to breath and let go. Of course, if anyone is charity shopping within the vicinity of Camden Street and happens upon a deep maroon sweater with mid-length sleeves and an elegant neckline, please do not hesitate to contact me.

 

Why Do We Fear Money?

An essay on our discomfort with commerce by Briony Somers

“Got Chucks on with Saint Laurent”, sings Bruno Mars in Uptown Funk. “What’s Gucci my nigga? What's Louie my killa?...What’s that jacket, Margiela?”, sings Kanye in Niggas in Paris. Aside from the evidence that the rebranding of YSL as Saint Laurent has sunk into public consciousness, these lyrics tell us a lot about the consumer’s relationship with luxury brands. It is infinitely cooler to have a bit of edge in your designer wardrobe. For each artist this manifests in a different style. The Mark Ronson penned lyrics of Bruno Mars convey a typically English, attitude of dressing down. Fully committing to a Saint Laurent Suit and matching shoes would not be as cool as wearing the jacket with Chuck Taylor Converse. Kanye, an artist known for his own fashion line as well as his general presence in the industry, infers his understanding of fashion beyond the regular Gucci and Louis Vuitton references common in popular culture. The Belgian deconstructionist label Margiela produces clothes that require understanding and move Kanye’s wardrobe choices beyond the superficial. In this desire to seem more than simply a consumer, lies the impulse to distance themselves beyond the experience of buying to something more noble and, certainly in the case of Kanye, artistic.

This is a worthy impulse. There is certainly something to be said for the examined life. But there is an extent to which doing this can make fear a guiding factor in our decisions. A fear of commerce, that our proximity to it will taint us. That we will be reduced to gullible consumers needlessly parting with our money. Rather than free us from engaging in considerations of image and facade, we are left with merely more abstracted considerations. As Lorelai Gilmore put it “Not going to a school you wanna go to just because your boyfriend is there is just as bad as going to a school you don't wanna go to just because your boyfriend (is) there.”

Fashion has a difficult time establishing credibility for what it is selling. When talking about the industry people can be very fond of deploying The Emperor’s New Clothes analogies. This is an interesting metaphor and it’s a pity it isn’t always given done service. The story ultimately seeks to undermine the Emperor for his foolhardiness in purchasing clothes that could not, in fact, be shown off. While this Emperor is certainly an egomaniac, and probably quite insecure, the story is more a challenge to the notion that the clothes we wear are for those around us. His downfall stems from trying to convince the tailors that, he too, was intelligent enough to see their mystical cloth. This is far more about lacking a sense of self than being swindled by sly fashion designers.                   

But today’s fashion marketing is viewed with the suspicion deserving of Hans Christian Anderson’s tailors. The fashion shows, campaign images and the luxury retail experience are seen as mere tricky to convince us that these new and ugly clothes are something to be desired. Many fashion items reveal something about what luxury fashion is selling that seems to be the source of this distrust. An raw edged Lanvin gown may defy “investment piece” logic. You are not paying €7,650 simply because the fabric and craftsmanship is of exceptional quality, although it certainly is. You are also paying for the design. For the process of its creation, which goes beyond small tweaks of computer generated trends.

Yet there is a hesitancy in recognising this as cultural output which should be valued for how it makes us feel. Commerce apparently detracts from fashion’s claim to creativity. There is no clearer illustration of this than in the industry’s language of “commercial” and “editorial”. Interesting designs on unusual looking faces are editorial, while simple clothes on pretty girls are commercial; a clear divide between what is done with a view towards making a statement and what is done to sell clothes. This stems from a notion of artistic purity. True art is not concerned with money. True art has integrity and does not go around hat in hand begging to be bought.

This is a misconception. In his book The Art of Forgery, Noah Charney makes the argument that since The Old Masters openly enlisted those in their studios to recreate their famous works, we should have a more open mind when looking at modern artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons who employ teams to produce their artworks. Similarly the work of Dalí tends not to elicit the response “Surrealism?! That’s just something he made up to sell us ridiculous pictures”. America’s National Public Radio is not viewed as producing radio shows just “to sell tote bags”, which it sells at exceptionally high mark ups.

What fashion produces goes far beyond the products it sells. It is the basis of a sizeable proportion of the media and its readership goes well beyond the ready to wear market. That fashion houses invest so much in producing content, not just clothes, shows that they see engagement with their wider audience as an important part of what they do. Prada describe luxury as intelligence, “an altruistic gesture of adding value to an object.” Altruism may seem a counterintuitive term from a luxury goods brand that is one of the highest valued companies in the industry. But this is a very self aware statement for a house run by one of the most consistently copied designers in an industry with an incomparable copyright structure which has little conception of ownership over design. There is a sense in which the corporatism of fashion is not all that corporate. Raf Simons’ first show at Dior, Haute Couture A/W ’12, was attended by numerous fashion designers from competing companies, such as Alber Elbaz of Harmonia owned Lanvin and Donatella Versace of privately owned Versace.

Ms Versace, in her iconic status, made a similar appearance in Givenchy’s A/W ’15 campaign. This was viewed as daring on both parts, Ricardo Tisci explained their desire to “break boundaries and give a strong message about how to think Fashion.” As with many progressions in fashion, it goes back to its fundamental values. It is interesting that many of the industry’s most influential people, be they in design, media or photography, often speak unfavourably about “fashion”.

"There is a hesitancy in recognising fashion as cultural output which should be valued for how it makes us feel."

Céline’s creative director Phoebe Philo developed much of the house’s aesthetic from her discontent with how much of womenswear is designed. Penny Martin, editor of the pioneering magazine The Gentlewomanhas spoken about her discomfort with the product heavy publications on the market. Fashion photographer Glen Luchford, creator of, among many others, the current Gucci campaign, the Rag and Bone campaigns and numerous editorials in the pages of international Vogues and biannual heavyweights such as Self Serviceand i­-D, has a well voiced discontent with the current state of fashion imagery. And yet each of these figures represent staggering successes in the industry. They may distance themselves from the industry but their ability to use their work to redefine fashion so powerfully speaks to the fact that they are resonating with something probably more “fashion” than their language would suggest.

The fact that fashion brands seek to go beyond the mere function of their clothes and convey something about the lives of men and women creates a form of communication. The power of art is in its ability to resonate with and arouse empathy in its audience, be they consumers or not. Few media structures can claim to do this as immediately or as widely as fashion. Alexander Wang has stated that he feels “like the real reviews are the sell throughs”­. Rather than be contradictory it would seem that, in fashion, creativity and commerce are symbiotic. For fashion design to sell it must be free of the stagnation necessary in other industries where, say, dramatic biannual changes the formulation of McVities digestives would cause consumer outrage and despair. The fact that design inertia at Gucci inspired a corporate reshuffle resulting in men being sent down the runway in pussy bow blouses shows fashion to be inherently expressive.

"Rather than be contradictory it would seem that, in fashion, creativity and commerce are symbiotic."

Discomfort with fashion as a commercial endeavour means giving no market worth to this form of creativity and expression. The irony is only valuing that which has a productive value is, in itself, a very capitalistic way of thinking. And it is important that we value these things. Kant saw freedom as being free from your desires. Choices made on the basis of need or desire, be it hunger, thirst, greed or indeed marketing are ones where we are secondary to those influences. To be free in this sense, not only of the functional needs we obey when buying a car or loaf of bread, but also of the need to fit in, is something fashion uniquely offers. Those who are the deepest in fashion, are often the least concerned with it. I don’t believe Iris Apfel or Daphne Guinness spend much time worrying about how silly they might seem buying Etro prints or Chanel feather jackets. Perhaps the Emperor would have led a happier life as a nudist, if only he had the bravery to embrace the feeling of the breeze.

The Consumer

An essay on the consumer's growing control over brand identity by Lauren Henshaw

Image by Lauren Henshaw

Image by Lauren Henshaw

In May of this year, Abercrombie & Fitch announced that it would be undergoing a phase of re-branding in an attempt to resurrect plummeting sales figures. The change brought with it revolutionary marketing ideas such as having lights turned on in stores and clothing their workers. Their sales figures have seen a slight improvement but still remain in decline. Solution has also been sought in the company’s product offering, executive Chairman, Arthur Martinez, has argued ‘customer perception will only  change when we improve the product lines and the product assortment’. Martinez is right on this of course, but the company’s issues go well beyond a style rut. Abercrombie need to lose the bad rep earned by former chairman Mike Jeffries. Originally hired in 1992 to get the company to ‘sizzle with sex’, Jeffries introduced racy catalogs and advertising in the hope of making the  century-old brand a must have for teenagers. Much controversy was stirred up in the process with the underlying implication that the brand’s clothes were made for ‘cool’ and ‘attractive’ kids and not for ‘fat’ people.

Attracting young consumers to a brand in 2015 is a completely different ball game. Simply hiring ‘hot’ staff isn't going to cut it. Improving the product is the easy, potentially unnecessary, part. Mastering consumer experience and customer interaction remain the primary way of securing and maintaining sales. Burberry is living proof of this. 18 years ago Selfridges and Harvey Nichols deemed Burberry not worthy of their exclusive stores, the trademark beige and red tartan had been tainted as the uniform of football fans and the nouveau riche. Under the guidance of Angela Ahrendts and Christopher Bailey, Burberry has since grown in both prestige and value to have a stock market value of 1.8million. Their beige tartan remains the exact same.

The success story of Burberry’s cannot be discussed without reference to their highly skilled use of social media. They have managed to regain and consolidate their exclusive, aspirational stamp. This is particularly clear in China where Burberry’s reputation as a classic, traditional, British brand is immensely powerful in a culture that venerates european heritage and craft. The Chinese influence is a powerful one, not simply because of the significant market it represents, but because of the huge importance of social media in the country’s commercial landscape. More than in most markets bloggers and personal recommendations carry extreme weight with social media representing the second most influential source of luxury information.

“The young Chinese middle classes see luxury goods as a way of showing the world that they’ve made it.”

In less than a decade, Chinese luxury consumers will be on average 10 years younger than their European counterparts and more than 15 years younger than consumers in the US. If projections hold, Chinese shoppers will account for more than half of all luxury sales by 2025. Erwan Rambourg, a HBSC analyst and author noted that "They're not only much younger and super-demanding, they're also extremely well informed. If you're complacent and don't communicate the way they communicate, it's going to be difficult.”

Luxury shopping is not simply a case of going into a shop and leaving with an item. The young Chinese middle classes see luxury goods as a way of showing the world that they’ve made it. The internet is full of comments and recommendations of luxury goods as many consumers vocalise their experiences . While we may view online communication as a western and generational phenomenon, Chinese consumer culture operates with a much higher degree of integration. Websites such as Fashion Sohu , Haibao and Yoka provide a place where people can rate their shopping experiences as well the review e -commerce sites. KOLs (Key opinion leaders) have millions of followers on platforms such as Instagram and snapchat. One photo of an item from one of these pages can translate into thousands of sales. In the same way, a few elitist comments or a bad shopping experience can go viral completely tarnishing a brand’s name. The power of social media is a double edged sword, we know that if a brand gets it right it can earn them millions, get it wrong and it can be the start of their demise.

Burberry have mastered communication with this new, younger, group of shoppers. They’ve made some simple yet effective moves, including documenting their fashion shows through Snapchat, offering their younger consumers virtual behind the scenes access and cleverly selected guest lists that always  include the new group of online YouTube celebrities. Burberry understand what consumers want and how to attract them. They’ve managed to balance mass appeal with luxury exclusivity while Abercrombie still seems to be struggling to find it’s feet, if anything, over focusing on exclusivity and subsequently turning themselves into a uniformed elitist gang.

Both brands show that companies have to now make sure that they’re walking the right line. They have to keep on their toes, and can no longer simply provide the product and the luxury store to match. They need a multifaceted digital experience and they need to maintain good online image. Keeping their customers happy has never been more important, one disgruntled consumer can find solace and support in the thousands online. Johann Rupert, Chairman of Net-A-Porter, Chloé and Cartier owning Richemont, has said “If you have a healthy dose of paranoia, you survive’. As we enter further into an age defined by technology and growing consumer power he has perfectly captured the trepidation of many in the industry.

 

Sexuality

A personal essay on healing through clothes by Clementine Yost

Image by Briony Somers

Image by Briony Somers

I wanted to escape more than anything — to be rid of this body I loathed and to seek shelter from the cruel words levied against me by a loved one. I feared his words, but one more than the rest: SLUT. Sometimes the shaming was direct, ”you are such a slut”. Most often it was subtle, in my boyfriend’s refusal to hold hands with me. It was a bleak period of my life, head hung low – shuffling about in fear of bumping into or even catching a glimpse of the dreaded few, whom I was convinced shared those thoughts. My library desk of choice was next to the fourth floor window with a view of the cricket pitch. From there to the stairs felt like the longest walk of my life. It was, at times, unbearable. I called it ‘the gauntlet’. Clothes helped me to survive. I would pretend it was a fast-paced short distance catwalk. In my head, I was a model and it was my duty to show off this garment. At the same time, my dress was my armour. As Bill Cunningham once said, it protected me against “the reality of everyday life”; in my case, the onslaught of insults I had been told I deserved. I could, through fashion at least, feel fierce.

I was due to meet him for lunch. Popping back up to the library to retrieve his notebook, he returned, face twisted with disgust. Treading on eggshells, I tried to cheer him up. He told me “I had to walk past two lads you fucked on my way up the stairs.” Heart pounding, cortisol swirling through my blood, a panic attack began. The only thing keeping back the tears was the simple calming joy I got from feeling the raccoon fur of my Anne Klein parka. I tried to imagine I was Cara Delevingne in her oversized Phillip Lim parka. I tried to be strong, at least in my head — but he interjected — “Don’t you know how awful that is for me? To see lads you fucked and have them see me? They probably think I’m so desperate to be dating you.” These comments struck deep self­ loathing chords I knew I had, but had never met. That evening I contemplated cutting myself.

"...my dress was my armour. As Bill Cunningham once said, it protected me against 'the reality of everyday life'."

Instead, I resumed my bulimia full throttle. I ate without feeling able to stop — I desired the pain in my stomach, to be overly full. The pain took my mind from the shame I felt as a slut only to hate myself for being fat. This was supported by his matter-of-fact charge that I was disgusting. I know my way around the word, ‘disgusting.’ It was something I lived with everyday, fearing others would know I knelt again, praying to the porcelain gods, fingers clinging to the back of my throat as I purged the food I believed was too much. I popped laxatives like candy and drank my weight in diuretic tea. Because drinking tea wasn’t the same — drinking tea meant that I wasn’t actually bulimic.

My first year in college was confusing. After fourteen years in uniformed Catholic school, I hadn’t a clue what to wear. As the years rolled on, I began to come into my own. I loved the freedom of fashion. I could combat my confusion towards his love-painted hatred with the growing flicker of self-confidence I felt from pretty clothes. Unable to conjure true happiness within, I wore cheer on my sleeve. My style was a blithe disregard for floral’s usual residence in spring collections. I was as goddamn floral as I damn well pleased.

“I could combat my confusion towards his love-painted hatred with the growing flicker of self-confidence I felt from pretty clothes.”

The crippling shame was overwhelming at times. I felt the simultaneous desire to apologise and to fold away into nothing — to be as small as possible. I wanted to apologise for being disgusting — for putting them through this, through me, for being here, for ruining their day by the sight of me. Then my mom bought me a pair of Vagabond black leather creepers. With them on, I became a towering 5’11 and vanishing became rather out of the question. I found strength, when my will to exist happily, if not at all, had forsaken me. He told me these were my “lesbian shoes”. I found pride in his attempted slander. I saw power in my queer shoes. As my mom had said when I came out as bisexual — “more to love!”.  These shoes did not let me apologise for myself. At 5’11, they crowded his masculinity with brazenly unwelcome self-confidence. His control was slipping.

My anxiety-riddled brain could never fathom my own likability. Yet, fashion saved me from my self doubt. Getting me through my body dysmorphic hatred of too skinny thighs, fashion focused attention on me — instead of the distorted image I had come to have of myself. It was like a neon sign shouting to the world, in its blinky fluorescence, “I’m ok!”. It helped me reach my goal of actual confidence, on the outside for a start. The old adage, “look good, feel good, be good” seemed to actually hold some water. I felt powerful in my clothes. Like Valentino’s A/W ’15 collection, I had carefully shielded my vulnerable silk chiffon with something stronger. Courage, like heavy felt, fortified my exterior. While not as clearly reminiscent of armour as Sandra Backlund’s chainmail like bodices, I was nevertheless ready to fight. I would fight for my worth. I was able to realise that my  strength went deeper than my peacoat and that I was worth more than his fickle love. Stepping out into a world where I, for so long, had merely feigned self-assurance; I finally believed I was worth something. I did not know quite what yet, but I was starting to realise that just as my grandmother’s Alaskan fur coat can never be belted, I should never ever let anyone, especially myself, try to subjugate my sexuality. Calling someone a slut is to take away their freedom. It means to waive their autonomy with the logic of a deeply ingrained double standard. Finally able to love myself, it was clear I had been living a rose -tinted lie. Pushing my Jackie O glasses up onto my head, I could see him for the toxic influence he was and, like any good spring clean, I purged him from my life.