It’s been a year since my first miscarriage, and the summer sales have returned. I buy a loose kaftan, I buy a pin-tucked denim dress, I buy cotton shorts with an elastic waistband, I buy skin-tight hotpants. There’s no coherence in the silhouette or materiality of this selection of garments, no vision of what I want to be. The pandemic rages on, and in the convergence of societal crises it has caused, I find myself escaping into consumerism again, despite the ways it has failed me. My vision of how my life will unfold is no longer progressive or linear, I don’t assume it will just heighten and widen and deepen.
Karl loved paper and reading was his truest joy. His protestant work ethic helped him shine in the fashion industry. He was known to have said that he is a fashion nymphomaniac who never gets an orgasm. Very few people remember what Lagerfeld looked like as a young man; it is as if he arrived in his prime in old age with his snow-white ponytail, and dark glasses that hid his sympathetic eyes.
Peacocking: ridiculous, beautiful, moving. No coats, even in sub zero temperatures. A lot of belly buttons on display. Crowds moving in unison, phones held aloft to catch a glimpse of a celebrity you’ve never heard of. Stern-looking men in dark suits surrounding beautiful young women with perfectly applied make-up and professional hair. Bumping into people you never see, except at fashion shows. Waving to friends across the catwalk, then losing them in the crowd. A swarm of shiny black cars with tinted windows blocking the street. Bored-looking drivers lining the sidewalk while smoking and drinking coffee from paper cups.
In the 21st century ‘little doubts’ have entered the field of fashion at its core: from doubts about the necessity of the fast-paced rhythm of fashion to doubts about the sustainability of its production models. Yet none of these little doubts challenges the actual paradigm of the fashion system, rooted as it is in the temporal dynamic of rejection (advancedness and backwardness) mirrored by the fashion system in all kinds of ways: body types, skin colour, social class. So where might the paradigm-level change in the fashion system come from?
The great black and gold stoppered boules of Lanvin—Arpège or My Sin on Bette Davis’s vanity in All About Eve, the towering factice of Robert Piguet Bandit in the Paris bathroom from which Ann-Margret applies in delight in Made in Paris spoke to some secret world. Perfumes became the ultimate luxury in my eyes, and the ultimate femininity. My assumption was that this near-mystical sillage, like the distraction of a magician’s smoke, would transport me to womanhood. But I learned a scented path is as complex in its revealings of desire and development as any perfume’s structure.
Viewed from a distance of more than a century, the nineteenth-century beard fashion looks like a basic historical fact. And yet the arrival of this fashion came as a great shock for those who lived through it. Sweeping much of Europe, North America, and Latin America after roughly two centuries of clean-shavenness, the beard movement was almost certainly the most dramatic development in nineteenth-century men’s fashion – every bit as shocking as if knee breeches and ruffled shirts were to once more become the dominant mode of men’s dress throughout the so-called ‘Western’ world.
Fashion is often characterised as a representation of society, its ‘most precise reflection.’ Yet, specular reflections are optical illusions based on light and its energy. Standing in front of a mirror, we see not only a virtual image, but also a fundamentally distorted one. Underlying this metaphor seem to be two prevalent perceptions of fashion: that fashion communicates accurately and that what we wear is indicative of who we are. This reading of fashion implies that if fashion were a mirror of society and its members, the mirror can be read.
To age in public for a woman is, despite all woke societal efforts to the contrary, still hell; to age in public as a star is worse. A roll-call of the sex symbols of my youth in the noughties – Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Christina Aguilera – is notable for the fact that many of them dared to suffer what the tabloids saw as lapses in their promised hotness: weight gain, insanity, shaved heads and bad haircuts, cheap fake tans, bad plastic surgery, each mark against them more or less a problem auto-generated by the fact of being female, famous, femme and fuckable during a wave of (dubious, commercial) feminism that mistook the marketing of slogan thongs for self-empowerment.
American Apparel and American Apparel advertisements, CSS, New Young Pony Club, Urban Outfitters, headbands worn across forehands, leggings, Steve Aoki, Alice Glass, The Klaxons, neon, Kate Moss at Glastonbury, early Hedi Slimane, the video for Fuck Forever by Babyshambles, complaining about people wearing band shirts when they don’t listen to the band, insincerity, The Teenagers’ Homecoming, ballet pumps, Cory Kennedy, Purple Magazine, bangs, The Strokes, Agyness Deyn, heroin, ecstasy, squatting, squat parties, looking like you live in a squat, lenseless glasses, plastic shuttered sunglasses, an absence of politics, deep V-necks, nostalgia, Topman militaria, high street romanticism, recession glamour, home counties Americana.
In the summer backyard, the child poses by a garden chair wearing a long red cotton yukata printed with tiny white fans. The gleaming metal of her hair, now tightly plaited and coiled, is as reflective of light as her mother’s is absorbing of it. One small hand flickers out from the cool sleeve like a fin; a small fish playing in the waves of Midwestern grass, an unconscious recollection of the gilded koi that swam in the Sapporo pond.
The idea of time as a crumpled handkerchief offers a welcome alternative to the notion of time as a linear trajectory that is moving in the direction of progress and continuous betterment. Perception of time as linear is one of the legacies of the Enlightenment era which saw history as moving away from ancient barbaric, uncivilised and primitive times towards perfection based on rational thinking and efficiency. Time, according to the ideals of Enlightenment, is not just linear, but also competitive – whereas some are closer to the perceived ideals, others are believed to be losing out, those are the people steeped in timelessness, unaffected by change.
Next I take out my morning suit – made in 1938 by Airey and Wheeler of 129 Regent Street for my grandfather, GM Jeffreys. Gordon Michael. English. English. The jacket is a beautiful thing: dark and matte and felty black, quilted interior, swooping lines of tails. Two rear buttons a legacy of some long-lost functionality. Like an appendix, a vestigial organ of tailoring evolution. I recently had the sleeves lengthened by an inch and a half, the beautiful stitching around the (non-functioning) cuff buttonholes replaced with a perfunctory line by a person who did not have the same skills or time or who was simply working for a client (me) with significantly less money than the original client (my grandfather). The trousers have been widened at the waist and taken in again. The legs have been shortened, then lengthened again. The waistcoat, dove grey, double-breasted, is oddly backless – compensation perhaps for the warm weighty heft of the trousers. I examine it all closely with a sense of trepidation, And, sure enough, the tell tale signs of mothery.