Sunday, October 11, 2009
Waking while the night persists, with the sound of waves on either side of me, the stars old and drifting, the moon hot, but cut by the Earth’s shadow, and my body warm against the cold of the sea, I am pulled to thoughts of fashion, and how I might create something transformative. No amount of description is enough. I must not describe – but instead must transform. Without transformation, we have only text, not poetics - we have illustration, not art - we have memory but with no poignancy.
I design swimwear. This is my curse. If designers are at odds with the cultural hierarchy - with opera, painting, sculpture, dance, theatre and literature firmly at the top, and cinema, fashion, architecture, and graphic design somewhere further down - then as a swimwear designer, I am near the bottom.
A plain nude figure is not sexualized, but is instead anatomical. Pose the figure in a certain way and it gains the hint of a narrative. Partially drape the figure, and it suddenly reeks of sex. Desire is always in a state of partially revealing itself. If completely revealed, it disappears. It can only cast the shadow of it’s own making. A hint of a second intent.
All fashion exploits this tension. Swimwear, however, is mistrusted most, as it is so close to the final reveal as to threaten the elimination of the narrative and to send us back to the anatomy with no trace of the poetry. We desire literature. We crave story.
As a swimwear designer, I have to work twice as hard to find a way towards narrativity. The story of your own internal world is the one I’m trying to represent. The story of your body is already told; I must instead use the body as a landscape to reveal your intent, your thoughts, your desires, and your mind.
When I start a collection, I do not start by thinking of a woman, but instead I start by thinking of a gesture, a motion seen by accident that reveals the woman is thinking of something that unlocks her inner story. Sometimes it is how she places her hand around a cup or how she slowly slides her fingers into the pocket of her coat. Other times, it is how she shifts her weight from one leg to the other, causing a cascade of angles all the way up through her shoulders and neck. Mostly, however, it is how she covers or uncovers her eyes. Pulling her hair to the side, looking up when you would expect she’d look down, glancing sideways with a long pull across her own face – a woman will reveal her inward thoughts by how she reveals her own vision. Do not look to her hips or chest for clues - whatever signals emanate from those regions are decoys at best. Instead watch how she chooses to reveal her own looking. The gesture, if you catch it, will be brief.
Everyone thinks being a designer is easy, that my decisions are a capricious yawn I turn with fickle pleasure to declare this color or that silhouette to be the most desirable for a particular season.
Wallstreet goes up and down for specific reasons even if the results seem random or superstitious. The reasons are more complicated and fragile, however, when it comes to what to wear, as we are not concealing our desires, but draping them across our bodies.
Early encounters with social derision keep our senses on high alert when it comes to apparel. We know that someone is always around the corner ready to point out when we fail to get it right. But fashion is an aggregate wisdom; the group learns by churning upon itself. Mistakes are mutated into innovation. Dead ideas are pruned away, but never forgotten for long. New ideas take shape. New desires find their voice. The crowd rolls over the old and recycles the new.
Fashion cannot exist without a crowd. But it also cannot exist without instigators. Designers are both members of the crowd and mischievous outsiders who disrupt and disturb the old in order to perpetuate the new.
We claim our clothes keep us warm, protect us from nature, give us comfort, and keep us dry. We are even willing to admit that some clothes make us feel good through their intrinsic materials: soft cashmere, warm wool, ligneous, yet diaphanous linen. And yet - with the exception of the mountaineer sleeping in a cave of ice, we are not comforted by materials, but rather, we are comforted by ideas.
It is the idea of sensuality and the idea of beauty that drives the orrery of fashion. But we are cautious to admit taking pleasure in these ideas. We deny the sexuality of an overcoat in order to keep the power of its mystery intact.