I work in the archive of a designer-I’m afraid I can’t say who. Let’s just say he’s the arbiter of classic American style, starting 50 years ago when he got into the tie business and sold his designs from a drawer in the Empire State Building. He pioneered the concept of aspirational fashion and lifestyle branding and went on to build his own empire that would be one of the most recognized names in the industry. He helped customers see the transformative power of clothes-that with a smart blue blazer or crystal Dof glass, you could feel aristocratic.
He’s put his name on nearly every American closet staple. The bomber, the trucker, blue jeans, the camel coat, the Polo shirt, to name just a few. He co-opted the uniform of both the cowboy and British aristocrat and revitalized them to perennial status, making them wardrobe classics for almost every demographic. Hipsters, prepsters, and gangsters all permit to be branded by his name.
My favorite of his icons are his menswear-inspired looks. In the 70s he put his wife in tuxedos and Diane Keaton in suits and saw that women wanted to power-dress too. He assigned status where it wasn’t yet there-and then watched his muses find their place in a man’s world through dress.
What I love about his story is that this was his own process. What he is selling is what he has sold to himself. This scrappy Bronx-born son of immigrant Jews would one day outfit high society by understanding how to dress for success. He always knew that eventually make-believe becomes make-your-reality.
His goal in his high school yearbook reads, “Millionaire.” I am tickled by this. Even at 18, he understood the power of intention. At 78, he still does. He has never stopped believing in what he built, and continues to work on his dream with precision and passion.
A few weeks ago, I went to help dress models who would be presented to him in the latest collection. I dressed for intention that morning-to be noticed by my hero. I wore a flight suit (yet another one of his staples) and a headscarf-very 1940s workwear-and I imagined him seeing me from across the room, beckoning me over, asking who I was.
On set, I manipulated an opportunity to be in the same room with him, about 20 feet away. I felt his eyes on me and heard him say, “Hold on, hold on-who are you?” and wave me over. He asked me if we had met and where in his company I worked. He wanted to know what I thought of the collection. He then nodded, as if to signal that he’d gathered sufficient information on me and it was my queue to walk away-which I did, enormously pleased with myself. Later, his head designer, a friend of mine (who got hired when he noticed her outfit in an elevator years ago), witnessed the interaction and hugged me. “He loves you!”
The words we exchanged were just a few but I walked away understanding what he has been practicing all this life. That we can dress for the moment, the conversation, the life that we want. And maybe something as small as a drawer of ties can become an Empire. Just as a brief conversation might lead to…a new job, a new boss or maybe simply it’s an end in and of itself. I just got noticed by one of the biggest style influencers in the world. Anyway, I can’t wait to see what I create next.
My dreamy necklace by Alexis Bitter. The tilted moon and school of fish are steeped in associations with the subconscious (The Book of Symbols refers to fish as “the unconscious psyche” and our “invisible nature”). The moon is so large it doubles as a breastplate- I can see maybe a High Priestess wearing this (also connected to the moon and subconscious) while the fish relate to the astrological sign of Pisces (that’s me!). And are those bones or something dangling from the bottom? Making it all the more witchy! I bought this second-hand and don’t know what would have hooked to the top. Maybe I will add my own magical charm someday.
James Veloria, a vintage clothing treasure trove in Chinatown, New York, is a shop that feeds my soul. The emphasis swings from either black, parred-down Japanese and Belgian avant garde to wildly colorful, print-heavy European designs (think 90s Moschino and Gaultier). But everything on the racks gives me that transformative feeling that I seek in good vintage.
I stumbled on the pop-up version of JV at the vintage show A Current Affair (their kimono print Versace Jeans Couture trousers were the only thing I brought home from the show). But when I began chatting up owners Collin James Weber and Brandon Veloria, I saw that my connection went beyond the clothes. There is something special that they are doing here. I think the vintage market has become so corrupted-the days of happening upon 80 dollar vintage Versace jeans in a New York City shop feels over. The good stuff has become so marked up/exclusive and the cheap crap so prevalent among the vintage racks. But the offerings of James Veloria are intentional, artful and affordable. You have that long-ago feeling of having found something.
I spoke with Brandon and Collin about what they are doing here with JV and why it’s important. I love these guys and you will love them too when you read their words on the power of dress.
We’re here because we talk so much about the spiritual and emotional connection we have to clothes. What is it about clothing that elevates you?
Brandon: Well, take these ’70s 6-7 inch platform heels I’m wearing today – they literally elevate me! I can really feel like absolute shit and it can be 11 pm and I don’t want to get out of bed and friends want me to go out…but I put these on and I just feel super fierce and no longer give a shit and it’s totally empowering. I can be wearing my bedtime clothes like a big t-shirt and track shorts and go out in those and feel amazing and ready to dance all night.
Collin: He got me a pair of heels for Christmas last year. He can fit into the biggest size of women’s heels so he has options but my size-11.5 – is a little harder to find. He found some company that makes men’s heels and I was very excited about those. I finally got to be a little bit taller and it changed the proportion of everything and I could wear all these different things. But I think I kind of learned that from you (to Brandon). Like when you’re kind of feeling down, you’ll put some heels on and do the dishes. That’s your go-to: “I don’t feel good today, I think I’ll put some heels on.”
Brandon: That’s so funny – I never thought about that! I have a weird thing with shoes. I have a pair of Biba heels that are velvet with patent leather that spirals around the heel..they’re so beautiful…they’re like my “thinking heels.” Like if I want to re-do the shop or pick out clothes to bring to a show or if I’m styling something, I put those on and feel like a boss, immediately.
Collin: They’re like your house slippers.
Do you guys find you influence each other a lot?
Collin (to Brandon): I feel like when I met you…I always wore vintage but I didn’t feel like I had an identity that made sense with it. Just seeing you dress and the way you put things together…I learned to buy nice things, not just polyster stuff that I thought was funny. You had some Issey Miyake or Comme des Garçons that was nothing I’d ever seen before and changed my whole idea of how you could dress and how it can make you feel.
Brandon: Aw, that’s really cool.
Collin: You taught me a lot.
Brandon: Well that’s sweet! Fashion…bringing couples together (laughs).
Julia: Tell me more about what you’re wearing today and why you gravitated to it for this project.
Collin: Something that always catches my eye is prints and color. These Gaultier pants have that two-fold appeal for me. There’s the bright colors plus they have a great print that is kind of an illusion effect – you have to look twice to even figure out what’s going on. The eyeball sweatshirt and the bright-colored shoes and pants…I think I always have a strange attraction to clownish things. Even things with prints of clowns on it…and I have big feet so most shoes look clownish on me, especially if they’re re bright purple and have a giant round toe. I’m not sure where that comes from but it’s where I always go.
Julia: It’s like you are conjuring the jokester from within. And the eye is very Psychic Life!
Brandon: Anything with faces or eyes or body parts I feel like… Collin: Yeah I just have to have.
Brandon: Yeah I think that’s a very you-thing.
Brandon: For me, I feel like it’s all about characters. Like I’m becoming someone different. Every single day it’s someone new. I don’t know what that says about me but it’s empowering. Being in a silver space suit that is sort of disco cowboy …it just feels like I’ve put on armor.
Julia: I don’t know what that says about us either but I just think that’s part of the appeal of fashion. That you can decide who you want to be today or how you want to feel.
Collin: Yeah, you think about what you’re going to do and who you’re going to be and what the best version of yourself you’re going to present that day is.
Julia: That’s such a good way of putting it – “The best version of yourself.” Because we are all so multi-faceted. There are so many different personalities and characters within all of us and maybe it’s about who you choose to bring forward that day. Who comes forth. Who has the loudest voice.
Brandon: Who you are channeling.
Julia: I think what you’re doing really resonates with people. I wonder if you had any thoughts as to what it is about your collection that is hitting home with people?
Brandon: I think people love seeing other people living their lives exactly how they want to and having so much fun while doing it. Fashion is a great way to visualize that or show that.
Collin: People get so caught up in the serious side of it and all the rules on what you are supposed to do and what you can and can’t do and that’s something that we try to get away from.
Brandon: Yeah, what is trending or what Hadid is wearing.
Collin: Yeah, instead of like, “How do I feel today?” What draws my attention, even if I don’t know why? And giving it a try and having a safe space to come in and experiment with something you would never normally pick up…maybe you’ll like it.
Brandon: Hopefully we’re helping people find that powerful person that doesn’t give a fuck and is ready to take on New York. People come here for the fantasy of being freaks and weirdos. You don’t come here to blend in. But I feel like there has been a lot of that crazy homogenization. A lot of those really cool downtown stores have closed so we’re just really trying to push that feeling again of…
Collin: Self-expression. Fearlessness in the way you dress. And it is scary. Sometimes you put something on and you know you’re going to stick out, you’re going to get looks. But when it’s right and you feel right you don’t care. And you’re like, “they’re looking because it looks so good, not because they think i’m a freak.”
Brandon: Exactly. They’re curious. They want to know where you got it.
Everybody: JAMES VELORIA!
James Veloria will be having a special Margiela Archive sale on October 1st.
There is a Venus/Jupiter sextile this week-a time to edit your life and state your goals/intentions-so I am cleaning out my closet. As I assess the project, I consider what my goals/intentions have been up to now. For starters, I am a collector. I save so much for it’s beauty-but don’t wear much of it more than a handful of times. Stuff like a fuchsia velvet robe from the twenties (mint condition), a 50+ Hermès scarf collection, a 1960s Courrèges dress suit that maybe I’ll wear one day to a wedding or worst case, have at hand if my retirement were to ever run out. I don’t know what my end game is with collecting. Only to possess and be surrounded by beautiful things that may serve me later in life. Like Carrie on SiTC says, “I like to keep my money where I can see it-hanging in my closet.”
What I do wear is pared down, easy-to-throw-on work/sports/leisurewear. Vintage jumpsuits and Acne sweatshirts. Converse. Nothing fussy or flamboyant or screams that I must get noticed. It says I have shit to do. The goal here is to be comfortable and feel cute enough doing it.
I think if you live in New York, so much of what you wear or collect or eat is all out there to see, even in the privacy of your own home. I live in a studio that can barely contain my wardrobe so I have to find a way to incorporate it into my decor. I just have to let it all hang out.
It’s amusing when a new person comes over, particularly if it’s a suitor. He sees your belongings, your closet, the antique purses hanging from the walls and sometimes gets up close to inspect it. Like it’s a clue or a riddle that reveals who you really are. Are the secrets to my deeper self hidden in my clothes? What am I saying with all this stuff? That I am worldly? Sensitive? The handmade tulle prom dress from the 50s that hangs from my closet door says I’m romantic, right? Do I want him to know I’m romantic? I feel exposed. What kind of intelligence is he gathering about me here? I have a Louis Vuitton weekender that I spent about 20 bucks on-will he think he doesn’t have to pay for dinner?
Your clothes send a message about who you are-your insecurities, your weirdness, your desires, which side of yourself you want to project that day or season. If you want to know the result of this exercise, the stuff I’ve edited out falls neither into the category of “everyday wearable” or “museum worthy.” They were some nice things that I don’t wear anymore simply because I don’t identify with the person who used to wear them. They feel like yesterday’s news, an old energy that I no longer occupy. I think that it’s a message to myself that I have moved on.
Shoes are transportive. They take us on trips. The God Hermes traveled between seen and unseen dimensions in his winged sandals. Cinderella’s glass slippers gave her access to an otherwise exclusive world. Dorothy’s ruby slippers took her on a journey of initiation.
They may also signify the erotic. The western stiletto or the lotus shoe of the bound foot of China connote the sado-ecstasy of another’s pain. After a wedding, there is the custom of tying a pair of shoes to the departing car of the betrothed to signify sexual union. Thigh-high boots mean sexual dominion over another.
They can represent agency, status or authority. If I were in your shoes; To fill someone’s shoes; to wait for a dead man’s shoes is to wait for entitlement achieved only by someone’s death. An expensive pair of shoes is a status symbol second only to the “it” bag.
Contrarily, shoes that are worn-out evoke pity. You’ve lost agency over your life and wealth. There’s the image of the tramp with his toes poking out-he is exposed to the elements and cruelty of fate.
In the German fairy tale, The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces, twelve daughters of a king descend to an enchanted underground realm where they dance with imaginary suitors. They return home with their shoes destroyed, reminding us that we must have our feet on the ground.
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 dumb 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 “professional” (expensive) but cool shoulder bag that maybe I would carry to my professional 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 models, print and pattern, silhouette, 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 say it. I said it so much that I just started believing it.
One uninspired day at home, I found myself hitting a wall. Studying with Suzy and Fairchild just weren’t doing it for me. I decided again-I had to do something aside from staying home in my self-made prison of discontent. And 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 pieces and designers 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 Andalucian gypsy.” Her pieces were treasures, each one more special than the last. And that’s when I pulled out…omigosh…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. I priced it and discretely threw it on our employee holds shelf (sorry, first dibs), unable to contain the thrill of knowing I would soon be living my cool girl dream, or at least look the part. Maybe I was riding that high 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 had to tell her my same-but-opposite story, ending it with the bold declaration, “I really want to work at Stylesight.” She looked at me, raised an eyebrow, and said with an amused interest, “I have contacts at Stylesight. We should meet for coffee sometime and chat.”
So we met for coffee, shared stories and traded contacts. I gave her pointers on how to get into teaching. She gave me a name of someone from Stylesight, which I was to use surreptitiously. I did, and I got myself an interview and a job, where I walked into the Stylesight offices every day with my Proenza Schouler PS II bag, feeling very pleased with myself. And grateful for the universe meeting me halfway and delivering my dreams.
And what do you think my two tasks at this new position were but to a.) catalog the runways according to model, print and pattern, silhouette, 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.
My Hermés Tohu Bohu scarf. It’s one of my favorite scarves, not just for its beautiful design but for the meaning behind it.
“Tohu Bohu” is Hebrew for disorder; primordial chaos; the state of the world before God created light.
The design is based on the mandala, a symbolic structure of the universe. The concentric geometric diagram of the mandala attempts to contain the formlessness of the universe.
There are three levels to the mandala: The outer stands for the human environment; the inner is those who live in this environment, or humans; and the alternate level is the teachings of the universe.
As a ritual object, its hypnotic nature can induce a mental state that supports spiritual evolution. Or more intentionally, it may serve as an instructional tool in which man moves gradually to the innermost zone, an act analogous to the the quest for the center in a labyrinth.
As mandalas may be identified with all figures composed of various elements enclosed in a square, such as the labyrinth, the horoscope, or the clock, it is not a surprise that Hermés associates its Zodiac scarf with Tohu Bohu, which happens to be another one of my favorite scarves in my collection:
I think a lot of us are struggling with how to make art under the current political climate, especially when it’s not overtly political. I was in the middle of getting this writing project off the ground when Trump won. And I felt like I had to change the direction of it, or just not do it altogether. I had this feeling that everything but screaming in the streets was futile. I felt so useless. Chaos was all around and I did not know what to do with it.
Then I understood that there is nothing wrong with chaos. It’s just a way of conceiving things. You can decide things don’t look right or make sense and call it chaos. And that’s a judgement we make to express discomfort with what we consider to be randomness. Or you can recognize that sense can be made from it if you just expand. Because chaos is actually just many opposing forces all happening at the same time – good and evil, destruction and creation, darkness and light. And that allows for a lot of potential. Anything can be born in these conditions and that is kind of thrilling. If we take the sixties-those were chaotic times. There was a lot of darkness and I think in that moment, people mostly saw darkness. So many assassinations and wars and -isms. But when we now look back on that decade, we see it more as a time for paradigm-changing and rebirth and revolution and love.
So I came out of my haze and returned to writing about clothes. Because I think that this is the stuff we are here for. If we aren’t free to create and think about beauty in the world then what is this thing of life all about? And what can I say-this is my moment on this earth. And it happens to coincide with Trump’s moment. But fuck it-I think I can still feel inspired in his world. So after a few weeks of crying and suffering and dreading what comes next, I just felt that I’d already given him enough power over my personal happiness and it was time to return to working on self-creation and love. Maybe now more than ever.
Clothes tell the story of human history. They express culture and subculture and our own personal or ancestral narrative. I think about Syria and what tragedies are taking place in that beautiful part of the world and the incredible cost of human lives. And among all that, when I view it through this clothing/textiles/cultural heritage prism, I think about the loss and destruction of all those weaving mills and centuries-old souks and the personal belongings…the stuff that stands for a people who live in the cradle of civilization. It’s a huge loss of history and culture.
Clothes are an extension and reflection of our psychic interior and our communal exterior. Trump’s regime is divisive and destructive to personal identity and there is no time like now to assert who we are creatively, ancestrally, culturally, politically, etc under what looks like a New World Order. Because if we continue to live for love and beauty, and remember and practice who we are, there really isn’t actually a New World Order. It’s just a failed attempt. Meanwhile, we can still grow flowers in the dark. That is an expression of resistance.
A hat covers our crown, the highest chakra and summit of our selves. It broadcasts who we are, or who we want to tell people we are. When we wear it in deference to a god or team, the message to the world is direct, as on a nun or Yankee. Or it’s symbolism may be associative. The meaning of a chequered keffiyeh can change from an Arab nationalist in Palestine to a hipster in Brooklyn.
It can cloister one from the outside world. It creates anonymity as it hides the physical face; or on a deeper level, one’s individuality, such as the cap of a nurse’s uniform, baseball team, or flight attendant. In a hat, the ego self now represents a unit of many.
Contrarily, a hat may point to personality. A cowboy’s stetson connotes his unyielding individualism and roaming spirit as he sets off on the hero’s journey. A woman in a wide brim has an air of worldly mystique and inaccessibility. A possessor of many hats may be a possessor of many personalities. The suicide of hat enthusiast Isabella Blow shocked-how could a woman with such spirited headwear suffer melancholia?
A hat can signify ideas, which spring forth from just beneath it. An old hat is an old idea. To wear a lot of hats indicates many talents or skills. To keep something under your hat is to store a secret in the dark recesses of your mind. In Meyrink’s novel the Golem, the protagonist takes on thoughts and experiences of another man whose hat he has put on by mistake.
Hats give us agency in an otherwise volatile, ego-attacking world. When we wear our hat, the shield is up and sense of self intact.
Some hats allude to the phallus, such as the Phrygian cap or KKK hat. The mere wearing of a hat may scandalize and we take it off as a sign of respect. Perhaps the feminine answer to such an offense was Schiaparelli’s high heeled shoe hat, that dared to take a symbol for the female sex organ and quite literally turn it on its head.
Not to be overlooked is the practical necessity of a hat-to shield from the elements or danger. Absractly, they protect us from judgement, as we wear them to signal who we are before others can decide for themselves. With this in mind, it stands that hats at once protect us from the physical world and contain us to our own psychic condition of self-defined, ego-driven identity.
Magic and superstition have always worked behind the scenes in the world of couture. Anything from pricking a finger, dropping scissors or sewing a hair into finale wedding dresses in hopes of getting hitched are just some of the mystical beliefs woven into fashion lore. Then there were the designers themselves, like Gabrielle Chanel who deferred to her lucky number five or Yves Saint Laurent who thought any fabric that his bulldog Moujik sat on would be the season’s best-seller.
Christian Dior was among the more overtly superstitious of the couturiers. He always kept two hearts, a four-leaf clover and piece of wood in his pocket and consulted his long-time fortune teller Madame Delahaye before any runway show. In fact it was she who pushed him to start his own line when he was approached by a benefactor. “Accept!” She ordered him. “Accept! You must create the house of Christian Dior. Whatever the initial conditions, anything that they could offer you later on could not compare to the chance of today!”
He wore his lucky heart on his sleeve, so-to-speak, as his talisman become part of the Dior DNA. Lucky number “Eight” was the name he gave to the debut line of his Spring 1947 Collection. The house was located in the eighth district of Paris, in an eight-floor building with eight workshops. Eight resembled the female form, with its sensual curve that emphasized the bust and cinched the waist and it became his signature silhouette that heralded a new era in fashion.
The lily-of-the-valley was his favorite flower (considered a lucky charm in France since the 1600s) and he had a sprig sewn into the hem of each dress of his runway models. He based his first perfume, Miss Dior, on its sweet scent and the salons were sprayed with it before each show.
For the last Spring/Summer 2017, Dior designers referenced the house codes with the number eight, clovers and hearts throughout. Tarot motifs also spoke to his superstitious ways.