The Mythology of the Shoe

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.

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Dress for the Job You Want

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.

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Photo by Juhi Baig

The Psychic Life of Indigo

Indigo denotes the sixth chakra, the third eye, the doorway to the occult and the east.

Indigo expresses the beginning and end of life and period of creation in between. It is the color of death in funerary dress and textiles in the Middle East. Women of ancient Egypt would smear their cheeks with the dye as a mourning ritual. The mourning period in that part of the world is still measured by the length of time it takes for the last indigo stain to fade from the skin. In the Arab World, 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.

The indigo dying process shares traditions with obstetrics in parts of the world like Indonesia, where indigo dyers are medicine women who borrow from systems of menstrual regulation and fertility control. The same ingredients are used to control the “bleeding” of the cloth and the bleeding of women. The extract is used as a contraceptive and abortifacient in Nigeria. In Southeast Asia, the dye vat is seen as the uterus and the indigo “blood,” the fetus. Pregnant or menstruating women are banned from the shack as their life-giving blood threatens the black blood of the dead plant and both birthing processes can be corrupted.

Indigo dyestuffs are believed to have magical properties. Among the Omani bedouin, it wards off evil spirits and is nicknamed haras, or “the guard.” The indigo-dyed turban in parts of Asia prevents headaches and protects from the desert-dwelling, shape-shifting jinn.

In some societies, indigo is considered an agent for transmitting evil. Dyers using other dyestuffs seclude themselves from the indigo dyer. In India, he gets his own subcaste within a caste of weavers.

When he cuts down his plant, it turns black with death. In the dye hut, it steeps in the vat until it turns yellow and then green again before finally becoming a deep, soulful blue. Therefore the plant returns to life. He is in effect a kind of alchemist.

A dyer in A Thousand and One Nights  informs us that the secret to indigo is carefully guarded as it is passed down through generations. What other mysteries and paradoxes it contains is a many-fold riddle in this magical part of history.

The Mystico-Nuclear Jewels of Dali

Dali was obsessed with the Atom Bomb. When it hit Hiroshima, he suddenly had a new way of looking at the world. His paradigm had changed. This universe was now an energetic one, composed of things he couldn’t see with the naked eye but that had incredible power to destroy or create. Protons and electrons have form and structure, he thought-but how do you depict them? This was what he would set out to do for decades to come-to visually represent the elements of quantum physics and the unseen forces of the universe. This hybrid of atomic-age thinking and his already-established religious traditions was what he would come to call, “nuclear mysticism.”

He entered artistic mediums that went beyond painting but one collection-his little-known line of jewelry-was a singular interpretation of his new approach to creating. He considered its role as part of a larger experiment in what he often referred to as his “mystical manifesto,” or his general artistic mission to show the spirituality of all substance. “My art encompasses physics, mathematics, architecture, nuclear science – the psycho-nuclear, the mystico-nuclear – and jewelry – not paint alone,” he wrote. 

The language of Dali mysticism is esoteric but his jewels are such a tangible and impactful expression of the divine. Gemstones are an innate representation of energy and exquisite manifestation of sacred geometry-they are the perfect medium for him represent the quantum world. 

Tree of Life
Ophelia
Ruby Lips

He selected the stones with intention: rubies represented energy, sapphires tranquility and lapis and lazuli meant the subconscious mind. Some pieces were mechanical, like a diamond-encrusted flower whose petals opened and closed or a ruby brooch in the shape of a steadily pulsing heart. Common motifs through the collection are Greek mythology and Catholic iconography. 

The Gold Cube Cross
Pax Vobiscum
Tristan and Isolde

Each piece invites you to play and delight in his hallucinatory world and consider the potential for the mystical behind the everyday.

Psychic Prints: The Mandala

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:

  

Do Clothes Have Juju?

 

Barbara Hulanicki, founder of Biba, doesn’t wear vintage. She says she believes it can be haunted by previous owners. This blows my mind because when I think of Biba, I think of amazing vintage pieces from bygone fashion eras, but Barbara herself doesn’t wear her old Biba because it could have bad juju.

I work in a fashion library for a certain American designer-I won’t name names but he’s been designing for 50 years now. Half a lifetime’s worth of designs is kept in my archive, as well as 200 year old vintage. Most of the pieces have been worn by those no longer with us.

We have parameter security so that we are notified if anyone tries walking out with items that haven’t been checked out. A funny thing is, there are reports at night of clothes making it past security. And the pieces that seem to “haunt” the library halls the most are contributed by the same person-a late relative of the designer.

Can clothes be “haunted?”

One of my coworkers, a Filipina, says her grandmother’s generation holds the belief that vintage can indeed be spooked and to stay away from a dead man’s clothes. I’ve heard that the Jewish tradition refers to it as “mashugana.” Bad vibes. One girlfriend can’t bring herself to wear her grandmother’s engagement ring for fear that she might inherit the marital problems of her grandparents.

Similarly, I have friends who swear they feel an energy in their clothes, whether the previous owner is alive or dead, happy or unhappy. One friend says it’s why she’s so drawn to “party girl” attire-she loves clothes for clubbing-think Katharine Hamnett crop tops and DKNY denim-anything that would’ve given the wearer a good time. She’s also a divorcee and is recently eschewing what she calls her “mourning attire,” or what she wore when she was married. Black, Japanese avant garde pieces you may cloister yourself in. I think she is sensing her own former-self vibes?? One vest she had to get rid of-her ex-husband’s favorite piece on her-because she had too many bad times in it. She sold it in to a second-hand store, only to rediscover it months later among the very same racks.

I don’t know if ghosts exist, or there’s such thing as a “haunting.” But I do believe in “juju.” Energy. Vibratory echos of long-lost matter. And so many things can be a vessel for these psychic remnants-a house, library, a well  in a COS store in Soho…so why not something that was close to the wearer, like a piece of clothing? Clothes may contain pieces of our selves, our experiences, and maybe even those of our dearly departed. And while that point might be spooky, it’s mostly something we should just be aware of. Ultimately, your sixth sense will tell you how to feel. And if it feels good, wear it.

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Dior X Motherpeace Tarot

I realize this blog is becoming Dior-centric but I am totally bewitched by all the magic Maria Grazia Chiuri and Co are brewing up these days. For Resort 2018, Chiuri referenced the Motherpeace tarot, a feminist, Goddess-based deck dreamed up and drawn by artists Karen Vogel and Vicki Noble in the 1970s. A serendipitous side note is that when Chiuri reached out to Noble for permission to use her images, Noble realized she had recently borrowed from Dior’s “We Should All Be Feminists” tee in a collage. “Magic stuff was going on in the background,” Noble wrote of the new collaboration.

Death, the Five of Swords and the Priestess of Wands are to name a few of goddess cards conjured in the collection.

    

Dress for the Mood You Want

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been in a bit of a funk or I might even call it an existential crisis. Which has lead to this writing/creative block which brings me back to why I haven’t been posting.

Then the other day, I put on this vintage Missoni kaleidoscopic jumpsuit and immediately felt elevated. Like I was playing the role or inhabiting the spirit of a happier, more carefree girl. With a rainbow aura to match. It was out-of-body. Like I was watching myself from the outside in. Wherein I gained a spiritual objectivity and realized that nothing really matters anyway in this game of life. We can choose to operate on a higher or lower frequency and I am opting for higher. People noticed this energy too. I got a lot of compliments on the jumpsuit. I felt good and people around me seemed to gravitate to that.

I don’t know if I’m exactly out of this funk forever-there’s more work to be done-but I’m turning out my technicolor look today and feel like, how seriously can I take life? I don’t want to indulge in the heaviness. It seems silly.

Fashion is important! Clothes can transform.

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Peace, Love and Chaos

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.

The Mythology of the Hat

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.

Isabella Blow by Mario Testino