In many weaving cultures, the upper crossbeam of a loom is called, “the beam of heaven.” The bottom of the loom represents earth. Therefore what you have in the middle is the world of creation.
In all mythology, weaving is born in the divine world and so there must always be a single flaw in the pattern – to serve as a reminder of the imperfection of the physical world.
Which is why master weaver and Goddess Athena turned her mortal pupil Arachne into a spider when she boasted her weaving was superior to any goddess’s. Arachnids, the family of spiders (and expert weavers), borrow her name.
Clothes can be likened to language, where words are to the formation of syntax as threads are to fabric. “Text” and “textile” share a common root, meaning “to weave.” We have expressions: “the vocabulary of fashion” or “the fashion conversation.” We may “spin a story.” The Dogon tribe of Mali refer to the loom as secret speech and say that to be nude is “to be without words.”
Weaving is made up of a horizontal warp and a vertical weft, which criss-cross each other like time and space and result in the so-called tapestry of life.
With this thread of life, we weave mankind’s narrative and alter it. To dress ourselves can be to commit a sacred act. Our bodies are our altar, our weaving is our prayer. The clothes are our collective stories.
The cycle of life, from birth to death to the ritualistic period of fertility in between, is told in the threads we weave and wear. Women are the creators of life and weaving is women’s work. Therefore behind the veil of human history is a story about the feminine, creative magic of dress and the occult power of our everyday pieces.
When Hera needed to seduce Zeus away from the battlefield, she borrowed Aphrodite’s belt of one hundred tassels, and successfully lured the lovestruck god from Troy. Consequently, the power of the Goddess’s girdle played out among mortals, as Latvian women later adopted it as a signal of their fertility. Motifs like the sun or a cross-hatch star symbolized sexual readiness while fringe evoked what lay beneath, as told in a folk song.
Turn your back young maiden.
So that I can see if the ends of your belt are bushy;
If they are,
You will be my bride.
A woman’s shawl in early Slovak and Bohemian societies shared the same suggestive “bushy” fringe. Visually complex patterning contained motifs that promoted fertility and also protected it by befuddling the gaze of the evil eye. Later, during her disgraced, three- to six-week fluid emission period upon childbirth, she faced social segregation, and the bridal shawl became a protective screen that hung from her bed of confinement.
The Romanian blouse is woven by the wearer. She embroiders motifs of fertility and abundance, or may “write” her own love spell at the neckline, arm holes and any other entry point for evil spirits. She is a woman weaving and willing her own fate.
Shoes represent the power of the female sex organ and the story of Cinderella alludes to this. A shoe-fetishist’s account of Chinese footbinding in Records of Gathering Fragrance tells several stories of men stealing lotus shoes for masturbation. Shoes may signify sexual union when tied to the departing car of the betrothed after a wedding. The stiletto asserts domination.
Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols defines ornamentation as “a way out of chaos.” Jewelry ritualizes the human experience and provides extra weight to ground us. Earrings show a rite of passage into sexual maturation as the piercing of the lobe is analogous with the breaking of the hymen. A ring may mean fidelity, it’s cyclical shape ensuring eternity. Norwegians, believing silver reflected evil spirits back onto themselves, once wore brooches to protect their newborn babies from the huldrefolk, or forest-dwelling shape-shifters.
The color indigo expresses all stages of a woman’s life. In the Middle East, it is the color of mourning when used in funerary dress and textiles, or stained on the cheeks. Or it may signify new life when smeared on the face to announce a birth in the family. The Bedouins mark it on their bodies to display virility. In the dye hut in Asia, it shares traditions in obstetrics as the vat functions symbolically as the womb and the indigo blood, the fetus. This belief in this is so powerful that pregnant or menstruating women, considered a threat to the dying process, are banned from the hut.
Contrary to modern-day associations, the apron was once the seat and sign of supernatural and sexual powers. A bone figurine of venus wearing a string apron dates back to 20,000 B.C.E., noting its original relation to the feminine form, although Tantric sorcerers of Tibet and Siberian shamans usurped and masculinized it for more worldly power purposes. Folk beliefs well into the last centuryheld that strategically placed motifs on the everyday apron, notably near the reproductive organs, both safeguarded from evil and called attention to the area.
Ever since Homer wrote of the love goddess’s girdle, we have used clothes to connect with our supernatural selves. We dress our bodies as we dress our altar. To “dress a candle” is to imbue it with oils and herbs, giving it the power to do what you ask. To dress yourself is to call upon a part of yourself you want to show up or protect. With this in mind, we walk in the footsteps of goddess sisters Isis and Nephthys, history’s first weavers, and create with our will our own tapestry of life.
There has always been an impulse in me to jump the garden wall – a need to see what’s “over there,” or anywhere but where I am. Wherever I go, I want to go further. I don’t know if it’s a symptom of chronic dissatisfaction or just itchy feet. But I have been known to plan vacations on my vacation.
I think everyone wants to live forever..? We write songs, paint pantings, collect stamps in order to leave behind a legacy. We want to be connected to this earth for as long as possible and a song or film helps guarantee that (although not really, because permanence is an illusion). I feel like the reason the death of David Bowie was a shock is because he had already achieved immortality in his proliphic career-how could he die?
Travel gives me that feeling of living in the eternal. The universe feels infinite. I leave behind a legacy in the more places I go and fingerprints I leave. And in going outside my element, I no longer have those familiar cues that tell me who I am (my language, my street, my water pressure from my fancy western showerhead). So I’m forced to slay the ego-this idea of myself that I’ve been so attached to-and dissolve into a oneness with others. That’s that infiniteness I’m talking about. When you’re standing on a pyramid at Giza looking out onto the Sahara, you become that tiny grain of sand that makes up the whole desert. You gain perspective on your place in this world. “I’m just a grain of sand! Why do I give a fuck about that breakup when it’s just a blip on the cosmic plane!?” Nothing matters. Not in a nihilistic sense but in an existential one.
It took this writing project for me to see that collecting clothes scratches the same itch that travel does. When I can’t get away, I collect beautiful old things that I feel like have been somewhere. Through the folkloric prints of Thea Porter, theatrical colors of Zandra Rhodes, exotic silhouettes of YSL, I’m like an astral traveler. Clothes are transportive. They support the fantasy.
It’s kind of an exercise in conjuring. Like in meditation, when I invoke a deity for guidance on a certain prayer. “Empress, can you please give me some wisdom?!” and then I try to experience myself as inhabiting the Empress energy and being wise about the matter in question. Clothes work the same way. If I feel powerless, I put on Speakeasy-Era lesbian or Japanese Schoolgirl Assassin. You can transmute negativity to a higher energy. Or you can embrace the shitty feeling! Wear it with pride. Sometimes when I have an ugly or invisible day, I might surrender to it with Artfully Disheveled Waif. Loneliness gets Sicilian Widow (I really do this, think Dolce and Gabbana). Put on the clothes that get where you need to go-spiritually, emotionally, geographically. Wear somebody else’s ego for a bit. It’s a play on archetypes. It’s empowering.
That’s my axis of creativity-not in the classical, artistic sense but in the sense of spiritual creation. When clothes, travel and the divine can so strangely meet. Vintage and secondhand clothing is all energy. It’s been somewhere before you. And it contains magical qualities that can support you on this journey of life.
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.
The opening scene in the 1969 Soviet film The Color of Pomegranates, an abstract narrative of an Armenian poet’s life,shows three of the forbidden fruits bleeding through a crisp white tablecloth. Perhaps the scene alludes to the pomegranate’s symbol of the spilled blood of Dionysus, or it could stand for the holy trinity that bled for us and our sins. But the same color red mysteriously permeates throughout the film, notably in dress and textile: the towel of the baths masseur, the liturgical robes of the priests, the carpets woven by the eerie, wailing weavers, all display a stark red against an otherwise flat backdrop. And while the role of the fruit in the poet’s fate is ambiguous, its function as a signifier of religious sentiment is clear.
Such an example of the cryptic occult power of the pomegranate is in keeping with its history, as its meaning has always evaded man. “About the pomegranate I must say nothing,” notes the traveller Pausanias in the 2nd century, “for its story is somewhat of a holy mystery.”
The Bible sees it as representing the the universe one oneness, where the multiplicity and diversity of all things (the seeds) is reconciled in a single unit (the shell). In Christianity, depictions of pomegranates are often woven into church vestments and wall hangings, the broken fruit bursting with seeds symbolizing Christ’s suffering and resurrection.
In Jewish tradition, it is said that the seeds are 613 in total, corresponding to the number of Commandments of the Torah. In the Old Testament, it is written that representations of the fruit were embroidered onto the hem of the robe worn by the Hebrew high priest.
The decidedly sexual-looking fruit appears often in relation to the divine feminine. In the major arcana of the Tarot, the robes of the pregnant Empress display its motif, as she signifies fertility for ideas and the creative bearing of fruit. The mythological priests of Attis, the castrated consort of the earth goddess Cybele, wore pomegranates on their heads in wreaths. The calyx of the fruit was first worn as a crown by the Greek Goddess Hera and would go on to inspire the tiara.
The pomegranate tree’s bark has been a source for tannin used in curing leather. Its rind and flowers may be used as a textile dye. In the fifteenth century, the Mesopotamia-born motif found popularity in Central Asia, Europe and the Ottoman textiles. In the 19th century Americas, Navajo silversmiths co-opted the form from Mexican silver ornaments found on clothing, horse gear and jewelry. It’s now an archetypal symbol firmly entrenched in the collective psyche.
Its arousing beauty explains its prevalence in dress throughout the ages while its luteal interior, abundant with life-giving seeds and blood-like juice, accounts for its enduring mystery. But history-long attempts at insight into its psychic life show it’s a code that can’t be cracked.
I wear a lot of headscarves. It’s a go-to in my closet for work, travel, errands, anything. It all started when my mother and I began collecting Hermès scarves and I couldn’t find a place for them on my body that didn’t make me feel like one of those basics who follow the Parisian fashion blogs, layering it with their pearls or blue blazer (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”). But wrapping them around my head made me feel worldly and enigmatic. I became a woman with a fascinating story, who has a lot of lovers and secrets and who maybe lives some exotic “life apart.”
Then the fixation grew for reasons of convenience/laziness. I have hair that I loathe-unfashionably frizzy and unruly in most weather-that I can simply renounce with the twist of a scarf.
And then I started traveling to countries where I’m expected to cover my head out of deference to the local culture. I grew up punk and feminist and the Riot Grrrl in me asked herself if this was a conflict-but I secretly liked covering my head in Egypt…and my ankles in Morocco and my knees in Thailand. I think my self-satisfaction over dutifully abiding by another country’s cultural/religious values in the end supersedes my rebellion against those of my own country. Like, I will question my own culture but not someone else’s.
So I began to associate the scarf with far-flung parts of the world that I wanted to be lost in. A relic of ancient civilizations and spiritual traditions I wanted to be a part of. I wore it and was transported to another place or time where I’m anonymous and left to my own devices (I don’t know if you call this fetishizing…Sorry if it is)
Then I started to like the act of shrouding myself. There’s something about covering your head that makes you feel safe. Archetypally, to wear a scarf or veil is to cloister yourself from worldly life. I had a scarf on at the bank the other day when the clerk asked if I had the day off-as if to assume that I had to just duck out of the house for a moment and my scarf signaled that I didn’t want to be too engaged in the world (I did not have the day off-I wear my scarves to work-maybe because I don’t want to be there?).
These days, I’ve assigned another meaning to the headscarf. It also signifies aging gracefully (the Riot Grrrl in me definitely does not like this expression). At 36, I think about how I will adjust to changes in my appearance and what pieces might not work anymore. But my scarf is ever more a staple. In it, I feel wise and Empress-like. In my knowing. I have a station in life. And if I am ever unsure or feel too exposed to the elements, at least my headscarf has got me covered.
Sufism is the mystical form of Islam. It’s peace-loving and pluralistic and predicates that love is the path to the divine. Communication with God is a personal experience so you may dance, sing, or bang on a drum and that’s a way of speaking with God. For this reason, it’s been banned in many societies by orthodox Muslims and puritan powers-that-be, who consider ritualistic song and dance outside of Quranic Law. So Sufism is kind of the wild child of Islam.
The whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi Order of Sufism are probably the West’s first association with Sufism. We know the dance, or at least the expression – “like a whirling dervish” – to characterize a frenetic or spastic person…a funny thing to say if you know the dervishes are actually in a state of Zen.
Because these whirlers are not dancing but praying. They pray to one of the great truths-that everything in the world is whirling, from the smallest cell to the galaxies of the universe. Everything is turning. Everything is in a state of flux/vibration/change. So to whirl is to join in this universal prayer.
Their equally-recognizable clerical uniform also performs the role of conveying a spiritual message and prayer. If, for example, a member is on a higher plane, a sash is wrapped around the hat, signifying the gravestone that will one day stand at the head of their graves.
The long tunic denotes a dervish’s worldly life, and when he casts it off during the whirling ceremony, he is turning his back on the world in order to get closer to God.
The rida is a woolen, waist-length jacket that is worn by the sheikh of the dervish lodge. Made up of two equal pieces of cloth, the left side represents shari’a, or Islamic law, while the right side stands for education and truth.
A sash, or kemer, is used as closure and is wound around the man’s waist three times to represent the knowledge of God, the seeing of God and the stage of true existence.
After the republic of Turkey was established in 1923, a series of laws were promulgated to eliminate any reminders of the Ottoman Empire. The Dervishes were outlawed and went underground. Clandestine ceremonies are still performed. But you can no longer see the clerical garb in public save for tourist attractions.
But we have runways to thank for recreating the past through appropriation. Traditions are kept alive through designers’ reinterpreted creations. Carolina Herrera, Tia Cibani, Damir Doma, and Josie Natori:
The dervishes serve as a reminder that anything can happen. Today does not define tomorrow. Everything in the world is vibrating, including you and I. Our current situation is just that – our current situation. It does not dictate tomorrow. Let’s celebrate the mutable nature of the universe and the fact that we are constantly operating in the field of potentiality. And remember that anything can change/turn/go in reverse at any moment.
I’ve been meditating for about 2 years now. I knew I’d gotten to my next level in meditation when I saw what I later learned is called, “the Blue Pearl.” A luminous, spiraling ball of blue fire that centers itself in your crown chakra and overwhelms you with a feeling of peace and chill. I’ve only experienced the Blue Pearl twice since then. Once in another mediation and later, encountered it in Morocco.
It’s been a lifelong dream to see Tangiers. All my favorites found inspiration here – Yves Saint Laurent, Paul Bowles, the Rolling Stones. It’s known for being a bit of a salty city, and I love dark corners.
The souks are choc-o-bloc with everything I’ve ever wanted. If I had to pick a favorite design aesthetic, Moroccan is it. The latticework, complex geometry and talismanic motifs – it’s like they contain some sort of esoteric algorithm behind the meaning of the human experience. What are you really seeing in a mandala? It’s a plan that represents the cosmos and hidden workings of the universe. It’s man expressing his existence in print and pattern.
I trawl the souks and feel dizzy. I actually love the crap for tourists but it’s the older, artisan-made pieces that really grab me – those exude magic powers.
The Evil Eye is one of my auspicious omens. I carry one with me at all times, and look for it when I need a sign from the universe that it’s all good. This metal, hand-stamped purse makes a good wall hanging.
The Hand of Fatima wards off the evil eye and it’s another one of my omens. I don’t have to look far for it when in Morocco, home to the nomadic Berber people who know its powers.
Deepak Chopra talks a lot about the Law of Least Effort. Try too hard for something or be too attached to it and you will jeopardize your chances of getting it. Release that sicky, yearning, have-to-have-it feeling and let it come to you.
There was a single shop in the city that I had been trying to find in the winding, Kafkaesque passages of the casbah that I had spent hours looking for when I finally gave up. The next day, I wandered aimlessly into a space with the most beautiful collection of objects I had ever seen and realized – this is the place I had been looking for! I spent the afternoon talking to the proprietor, a man who had been collecting treasures around the world for decades until he turned his collection into a shop and showroom. I asked him what his favorite piece was when he showed me a colossal amber necklace made of beads the size of golf balls (not for sale). He served tea and told me a story about how it took him 10 years and one sacrificial goat to convince the owner – an African tribesgirl who needed money for a dowry – to sell the necklace bead-by-bead. I was forbidden to photograph but I surreptitiously got in a shot of some wall hangings.
Another serendipitous occurrence: The single restaurant on my to-do list was a little seafood place I’d heard about. It had like 10 colloquial names (the Saveur de Poisson, or Restaurant Populare, or Popeye’s, to name a few) and was run by this eccentric Moroccan man in a Fez who haphazardly circles the floor repeating the words, “waka waka waka.”
My first day in Tangiers and I was exhausted from the flight and struck by a sudden need to eat. I ducked into the first restaurant I could find and sat down. And what do you think I heard but, “waka waka waka”! I looked over and saw the lovely man in a Fez and knew this was meal was meant to be.
The food was amazing but the best part was at the end of my feast, “Popeye” approached my table and wordlessly beckoned me to the back of the restaurant (maybe he’s been saying “walk-a walk-a walk-a” this whole time?). I followed him to a storage room, where he thrust over my head a vintage 60s caftan, exclaiming “antique!” Tiny – just my size – with these swirling arabesques and a satin-ey finish. It had an unusual, otherworldly scent – something like a combination of flavored tobacco and clay (and it filled my suitcase and then my apartment for weeks after my return). And I walked out of the restaurant in it, joining all the other caftan-clad ladies of the casbah. I’ll never know the meaning of this gesture. Maybe he’d been saving that dress for just the right petite-sized magpie to pass through his door? Or maybe he was concerned I wasn’t dressed modestly enough (I wasn’t). In any case, it was the perfect memento of my magical time in Morocco.
I make a shopping pilgrimage to Chefchaouen, a town in the Rif Mountains (read: “Reefer;” it’s the epicenter of Morocco’s weed industry). I hear there’s good deals on Berber relics and I’m on a mission for an authentic Berber headpiece. Chefchaouen is a strange, Seussian world of ramshackle, blue-tinted buildings that give it a sort of supernatural energy (or maybe it’s all the pot).
Weeks after this trip, I look into what the blue was all about. I learn that the original Jewish residents established this tradition of painting the town top-to-bottom sky blue to mirror the heavens and remind them of God. And low and behold, I learn the nickname for this paranormal place – The Blue Pearl.
There was once this dress that I wanted. I found it in a secondhand shop in a size too large. But I coveted it. Like, this was my spirit dress. An ombre pleated shirt dress in all colors of the rainbow. It radiated magic. It spoke to me.
I hunted all over the internet to no avail. I was crestfallen.
I also had this boyfriend. Who I loved but on a daily basis I wanted to strangle. He’s an artist, with the classic handicap of an artist’s ego. I was always competing with his art for attention. In the end, I think it was a losing battle. You can never win in a battle against art for the attention of a lover because art will always win. I know that now, though. Because at this stage in who I am, anyone who would fight against my life’s purpose for my attention would lose. I didn’t understand that at the time I was with Christopher because I struggled with my creative self. And that was the crux of our problems. I wasn’t developed enough as a complete creative person so we fought (Also, he was just a dick-Christopher, I love you but you are also a total dick).
Back to the dress. I would will it. It was difficult to imagine how-it was out of production, from another season and a relatively small clothing label at the time. But the thing is, we can’t get caught up in HOW our wishes will be served. Manifestation/magical thinking isn’t logical. It’s not your business how the universe will arrange itself according to your desires. Your job is just to desire, set your intentions and believe. So I wrote a letter to anyone that would listen, putting in a cosmic order form, so-to-speak, for my dress. I lit a candle and said some witchy words.
I was in grad school at the time when one evening I was chatting with a classmate who had lost her glasses at school. I told her what I thought she might do to get them back-just believe. Like I believed about my dress. I told her-believe you will find them, see in your mind’s eye the security guard greeting you one day with glasses in hand, saying “Aren’t these yours?” Don’t worry about what the odds are or how this will happen. The odds are so often not good. Imagine all the times you’ve said, “It was just the right place at the right time.” Just walk this earth plane and engage and sooner or later you’ll find you’re walking the cosmic plane when you find yourself in right place at the right time.
And as I’m telling her this, I’m on my computer, mindlessly browsing the website of a store I actually loathe (but I like their candles) when I come across my dress! It’s been manufactured under a collaboration with said-dumb store (I just can’t tell you, it’s too embarrassing). But there it is. What are the odds?? It was like the universe had conspired to give me my dress in the form of a completely unlikely collaboration between a small-time fashion label and giant clothing retailer.
I don’t need to tell you that I bought it, immediately. I had it hanging on my wall for months when it wasn’t on my body. I liked to just look at my magic rainbow dress.
I have a Part Two to this story. Getting back to the fact that I wasn’t yet a fully formed, self-actualized person who was creating to her highest potential. So I was in the middle of finals when Christopher decided it would be fun if we put on an art show. The timing was terrible, as I was in my last weeks of graduate school, but I complied just to get him to stop bullying me. I hate to put it in such responsibility-evading terms but you have to understand Christopher is very tenacious when it comes to the needs of his ego and sometimes it’s easier to agree to do things with him/for him just to get him to back off. So I shouldn’t have but I agreed.
Here’s what I didn’t agree to: He wanted to use my dress in one of the pieces. He wanted to drape it over a framed painting and mount the whole situation on the wall of the gallery. No fucking way! My dress could snag, it could tear, I wasn’t willing to tolerate even a wrinkle for the cause. I said no.
A week before the show and in the midst of finals, Christopher asked (ordered?) that I buy some supplies for the show. We needed more pink and blue tape we were using in the design, and could I pick some up. Actually, I couldn’t, as I was studying for the most important exams of my life. We fought. He really needed that tape and wasn’t going to hear it. He announced with his usual authoritative tone, “I’ll be back in a few hours and I’m expecting to have that tape” (he literally talks like that). And shut the door behind him.
I stood in the middle of my studio, with a rage coming up from inside me that I thought might send my fist through the window. But instead I grabbed: the tape. I approached my front door. And began taping it shut. I taped all the cracks between the door and the frame, the door knob, the lock, I taped up the whole thing so well that no one from the other side stood a chance of getting in. Which was the idea. I wanted him the fuck out of my apartment, out of my finals week, out of my life.
Then I took my dress. I lay it against the door and mounted it with the pink and blue tape. It lay flattened against the door, like a kite caught in a tree, and I would’ve felt more remorse if it hadn’t felt so good to have put it up there. Like, “You want my fucking dress? You want some art? You want my soul? Here it is! Just don’t come back into my life. I have finals.”
A feeling of quietude washed over me. I sat down in a chair before the door and admired my creation. I was pretty pleased with myself. It looked good, but mostly it felt good. That was the first work of art I had made in ages. And it had come from such a deep place in myself that I guess it took the person I loved and hated the most in the world to inspire it. In a weird way I was thankful to him.
A few hours later, I heard him open the door to my building. I was still in the chair. I heard him come up. Use the keys in the lock. Try, try again, to open the door. My heart started pounding and I felt a lump in my throat. “Julia…?” He said. “I can’t get in, the door must be locked.” I started crying. I don’t know why. It felt good. I wasn’t mad at him anymore but still needed a few minutes of having that door between us. I just wanted to savor my newfound sense of self for a bit longer.
Christopher and I ended up having the show. With my dress in it. We also broke up. I treasure it all. Two years later and I can see now what that dress meant. I laid eyes on it and saw that it captured my soul/future self. And I also needed to be driven to madness and self destruction and also the destruction of my dress in order to build myself up again and be a creator of my own life.
Romania-my father’s country-is a place so mystical in beliefs and traditions that it’s really known for little else. Fortune-tellers, vampires and gypsies are generally people’s go-to associations (much to Dad’s resentment-he’s a scientist and long-time American citizen, eschewing any witchy, old-world identity). But there is actually a deep spirituality in the people that goes beyond the Disneyfication stuff and it plays out in really authentic, magic-making ways.
The blouse is the totem of Romanian folk dress and most people’s idea of a peasant top, with dense bands of embroidered geometric motifs and long, exaggerated sleeves. It’s has been co-opted up and down the fashion spectrum, from dumb, fast fashion brands like Urban Outfitters to amazing designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier. It got art world glory when Matisse painted it so vibrantly in his “La Blouse Roumaine” as an antidote to the darkest wartime years. Queen Mary of Romania made it her signature to show allegiance with her people.
But beyond the pop celebration of the blouse is its secret life-a mystical narrative that has gotten a bit lost in so many generations of appropriation.
The magic is in the making. Designed and woven by a woman essentially writing her own destiny, it’s a powerful tool for manifestation. Every stitch in the motif is intentional and meaningful as she embroiders her wishes and will into the piece with symbols of fertility, love and spells against evil. There is an alphabet to it. A tree or branch represents wisdom and renewal. The sunflower means abundance-an especially meaningful symbol if you understand the importance of the sun in Romania, a traditionally agricultural society.
On the rather witchy national holiday of Sanziene, or the Festival of Fairies, village women wear their blouse and handwoven crown of flowers, grab their love interest, and dance with them around a bonfire. Then a bizarre and somewhat macabre tradition ensues: the crowns are thrown onto the roofs of the village houses. If the crown falls, it’s said that death will befall the owners; if it stays up, then they see good harvest and abundance.
It’s said that later that night, the heavens open up, making it a favorable time for magic spells. Also, plants harvested have magical powers.
I own a few Romanian blouses. And a strange thing about wearing it is I feel more…intrinsically me. Like I’ve become a stripped down, transcendental version of myself. I exist in relation to nothing. I feel free of references. Or maybe I exist only in relation to myself. I am my own source. So is this an ego-dissolving exercise? Or maybe a reinforcement of cultural identity (the opposite of dissolving the ego I guess…maybe there is conflict there..hmm). It’s not a new idea, to clothe ourselves in the dress of our ancestors in effort to connect with them. In any case, I feel at home.
A funny thing happened as I was searching for images for this post. I stumbled upon a photo of Smaranda Braescu, the first Romanian pilot and record-breaking parachutist, nicknamed the Queen of Heights. She is seated in a cockpit, perhaps about to take off. I studied her image: her expression-a devilish grin-shows she is immensely pleased with herself. The twist of her body as she seems to be turning to onlookers and saying, “Goodbye and fuck you, I am going to go live my life!” Her hair, tied into two braids, so nationalistic and proud. And then there is the blouse. An odd choice for a flight suit, totally out-of-context and yet fitting because it supports this powerful air of defiance and irreverence that she has.
So I stare at this image-and burst into tears. She looks free. Superfluously happy, uncaring, ready to soar into the sky, conceding to no one’s idea of what it meant for a woman to fly and to jump out of airplanes in the 1920s. She’s who I aspire to be. And this moment is all wrapped up in these other beloved associations I’m having right now: The blouse and this girl-they are about Dad, about roots, about the divine feminine and probably a bunch of other stuff but I’m too emotional to sort it out completely.
And the blouse is this billowy, breezy armor shielding her from any outside crap. It shelters and separates. Like the proverbial veil between two worlds-the physical and the spiritual. She should be in her bomber jacket, being protected from sub zero temperatures but right now she is shrouded in a more spiritual kind of protection.
What can I say-this post is coming out differently than I had thought. And this blouse feels even more transportive than when I set out to write about it. I want to be this girl, and that’s why I’m getting myself into a tizzy, but really these are kind of cathartic tears of love. I have love for her and I want to inhabit such a kind of place in this world as she. I want to find all the joy, autonomy and creative fulfillment that she has. But I’ve got my blouse, and the protection of my ancestors and my own kind of magical narrative that I write for myself, so I think I’ll get to where I’m going. Xo