Fashion as Memoir

By lisa gulvin — August 19, 2014

POTS-DE-CREAMIn my other life, the life before the birth of my daughter, I was a fashion designer.  It was a career choice, a commercial way to be creative and pay the rent. I loved designing. And throughout my twenty-eight year career, I designed for all markets.  At one time, my work was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (under another designers name) and another time, Fredericks of Hollywood.

I have designed for every class, from the 2 percent to the percent, minus a few in between.  My own design label, Lola C. & Co., when it was a functioning company, was used on the set of the Sopranos, purchased in Soho boutiques in NYC by Yoko Ono, and Britney Spears, and distributed by countless Beverly Hills boutiques and upmarket department stores– once even finding its way onto Eva Longoria during a Desperate House Wives episode.

I have heard, and heldhundreds of opinions on what fashion is, or should be, and I have at one time or another, loved, envied, and hated it simultaneously, so much so that I am provoked into considering what my real passion is on the subject of fashion  -and do so in writing.

First and foremost I believe that advertising ultimately destroys the true meaning of fashion, which is the art of self- expression. Advertising – a necessary by- product ofthe fashion “industry” uses the art of cloth and imagery as a way to entice buyers.  Unfortunately, this opens up a Pandora’s box of low self -esteem, and vulnerability.  Subconsciously we can be strong -armed into following a trend, or desiring to look aparticular way.

Having said that, I also believe that fashion is a mysterious crossroad between imagecreativity and glamour, almost bazaar in its extreme, and exclusive to none.  Found inbetween the glossy pages of magazines, promoted as haute couture, and displayed on tragically thin models, it can be severe in style, exorbitant in price, and available to few.

At the same time, it can quietly emerge as self- expression.  Artists and bohemians alikedig through discount racks, trash bins, and thrift stores looking for the perfect combination of color, texture, and silhouette. Just rent Grey Gardens, and study the style of “Little Edie” as she uses sweaters as skirts, and turbans as accessories – large vintagebroaches covering imperfection.  In her day, she was unofficially nominated a fashion visionary, standing in the foreground of her ramshackle Hampton’s home, infested with raccoons and cats. She was chic non-the-less.

To some it is a way of life, to others it is a dispassionate, meaningless waste of money, yet like it or not, all of us engage in it on a daily basis.  One way or another, we practice fashion every time we put on our clothes.

Fashion is tactile. It invades the senses.  It can inspire or offend the eye.Sometimes it even creeps into our sense of smell – after all, fragrance is as much a part of fashion as cloth.  When we get dressed, put on jewelry, spray a fragrance on our neck; we make a statement – give the world a glimpse of ourselves.

Before my daughter, I wore my hair in a severe Vidal Sassoon precision cut.  It was dyed blue-black, cropped close to my right ear, then swirled around my head like lacquered silk until it ended asymmetrically below my left jawline. My wardrobe contained impossibly chic styles:pleated skirts, elaborate lace stockings, crisp tailored, white shirts embellished withstrands and strands of faux pearls.  I was a fashion designer, a follower of the late, great Diana Vreeland.

Today I am a clear case of “ who did it and ran” – a mom.  My hair isimpossibly short to avoid disasters; my wardrobe is bulging with knits that are meant to hide baby weight that will not go away.  If it were not for my wedding band, I wouldnever wear jewelry; my Christian Lacroix necklaces and John Hardy cuffs relegated to the back of the jewelry box – yet this too is fashion.  I tell the world I do not have the time – I tell the world that others come first, and the uniform I wear implies the ease I need to complete my task.   But that is just my situation.

imageI know mothers that remain effortlessly chic, mothers who wear classic J. Crew clothes to cover decade old tattoos(permanent symbols from a different life) and mothers whose entire wardrobe is purchased at Target.  Our fashion is ever changing to accommodate our lives.

What we wear can be political, inciting both riot and love affair. Most of us choose our fashion. Others are dictated by religious practice as to what they can wear–and still others pay ridiculous amounts of money to high-priced stylists who dictate the same thing.

Ironically, both are comparable to slavery. Whichever way it comes to us, it is the skin of our clothing that tells our story, who we are, what we choose, what we don’t.  Are we free, are we slaves, are we part of a group, or perhaps a loner?  Does art hold meaning in our lives or would we rather fit in?  Our fashion is our life story– go on take a look -open the photo albums, it’s all there.  Your story.  Your history. Your fashion.

Images Courtesy of Jazzy Vegetarian and Lisa Gulvin

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