The Aran fisherman sweater-a deceptively simple piece of clothing that is actually steeped in Irish lore and symbolism. Named after the Aran Islands, it was knit for local fishermen primarily to keep them warm at sea. But its complex patterning performed a deeper purpose, as knitters stitched designs that functioned as charms and spells as well as an indicator of local clan. The Tree of Life is one of the original patterns, and is unique to the earliest examples of the Aran knitwear. It reflects the importance of the clan, with branches to represent long-lived parents and strong children. The honeycomb is a symbol of the hardworking bee, the lattice or basket stitch symbolizes a bountiful catch, and the diamond pattern is a symbol of wealth. The cable stitch, resembling a rope, represents safety at sea or the fisherman’s life itself-something always in jeopardy, as he often lost his life to the waters. The unique design in his sweater helped identify his body.
The sweater has since then become a perennial staple and has seen many classic moments since its birth on the British Isles so long ago.
I believe the act of creating is a two-part process. It is one part our doing while the other half gets handed over to the universe. We initiate the process by creating the kernel. It could be in the small form of having a vision for something and declaring your intentions. Or having an image in your head and picking up a brush or pen and materializing it. And if that action is in congruence with your authentic self-which is to say it really brings you joy or some sort of creative fulfillment (as opposed to doing it because you’re realizing someone else’s fantasies for you), then the universe responds to your action. It gives what you put in; reaps for you what you sow. If you are in an honest act of creation, you are in alignment with a sort of cosmic plane where events and people conspire to get you closer to your goal.
It was a few years ago that I had a sort of existential riddle to solve. I was leaving my job as an ESL teacher and back in school, trying to figure out what was next. I needed to upset the system, my system. I needed to start again and make sure it was what I wanted and not some idea I wrongly got from somewhere. But I didn’t know what I actually wanted. I had only scattered ideas of things I loved/loved to do…clothes, writing, organizing information…It was hard to think of a way for all those things to add up to a job title but it at least felt good to begin to know what brought me joy.
I kept my dreams alive in various and sometimes silly ways like fantasy-shopping for the bag I would have when I would get to my next level. The Proenza Schouler PS II bag, a very “pro” (professional and prohibitively expensive) but cool shoulder bag that maybe I would carry to my pro but cool job.
One day I decided that if I was lost, the only solution would be to do something, any action that took me out of my state of inertia. Thinking about bags was nice but what did that bag really mean? I needed to explore that wanting and see that it represented a more evolved, fulfilled version of myself that was living out her creative impulses and desires. So I bought The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion and started memorizing fashion terms (words for clothing silhouette, print and pattern, etc.). I read Suzy Menkes’ runway analysis in the International Herald Tribune and kept notes on all the evocative expressions she used (Calvin Klein Collection represented a “pared down elegance” while Prada’s oversized paillettes were “an innovative proposition”). I had no idea why I did these things other than it made me feel happy and productive. I was just following my inspiration.
I also approached a friend of a friend for career advice. She proposed I get into fashion forecasting. She mentioned a few firms but one stuck with me: Stylesight. The hugely influential trend-maker and predictor that seemed to sense what bubbled up years before Ms. Menkes referred to it as “an innovative proposition.” For some reason this idea of a firm that told the future resonated with me. Like a fortune-teller for fashion.
So I consumed my dictionary and the International Herald Tribune and Stylesight reports and told people-just to feel I had a real-life tangible goal-that I wanted to work for Stylesight. I didn’t know how I would go about doing it, only that it felt satisfying to profess an endgame. I said it so much that I just started believing it.
One rather uninspired day at home, I found myself hitting a wall. Studying with Suzy and Fairchild just wasn’t doing it for me. I decided, again, that I had to do something aside from staying home in my self-made prison of discontent. So I went in to work a shift at my vintage/designer buying job, where I buy clothing outright from the public at a shop in New York.
I was at the buying counter doing a buy for a client who seemed to know everything ever about the designer pieces she brought in to sell. “Oh that’s a sample from Manish Arora Spring 2011-they ended up doing that in a floral” or “I love it when JPG does Andalusian gypsy.” Her pieces were utter treasures, each one more special than the last. And that’s when I pulled out…gasp…the Proenza Schouler PS II bag. I was in disbelief. No one had ever known a PS II to come through the shop. It was like seeing an apparition, to see this holy grail of “it” bags grace the buying counter. I priced it and discretely threw it on our employee holds shelf (sorry, shoppers – we get first dibs), unable to contain the thrill of knowing I could soon be living my cool girl dream, or at least look the part.
It might have been due to the confidence of my shopping buzz but I also got curious about this well-heeled, fashion-fluent woman who was selling her amazing closet and asked, “What is it that you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I was in fashion but I’m thinking of leaving it to become an ESL teacher.” The Twilight Zone theme played in my head. I felt I had to confess my same-but-opposite story and did, ending it with the bold declaration, “I really want to work at Stylesight.” She looked at me, raised an eyebrow, and responded with a casually amused interest characteristic of a fashion power, “I have close contacts at Stylesight. We should meet for coffee sometime and chat.”
We met for coffee, shared stories and traded contacts. I gave her pointers on how to get into teaching. She gave me the name of a VP from Stylesight, which I was to use surreptitiously. I did, which got me an interview and finally a job at the Stylesight offices where I proudly entered every day with my Proenza Schouler PS II bag, feeling enormously self-satisfied and also aware of the power of our word and intentions. And grateful to the universe for meeting me halfway to co-create my dreams.
And what do you think my two tasks at this new position were but to a.) catalog the runways according to silhouette, print and pattern, etc. and b.) write runway analysis.
It’s up to us to create the life we want. And when we’re lost, we only have to plant little seeds that make us happy, and watch with awe as they bear fruit.