I learned a new French term, la rentrée. It means a return to work and school after a time of sunny days and vacations. For professors this is really true as we are fortunate to have our summers off. It also signifies a time for new beginnings: the first day of class, a new enterprise like a fashion blog and the desire for new clothes that seems to accelerate the collective excitement about Fall Fashion Month. Since becoming Accidental Icon, my life is a split screen: the very same week I am polishing and posting syllabi on Blackboard, I am writing my first blog posts. As you can see, I am very relaxed about the first day of class, even though there is always anxious tension in the room as I meet the students and they meet me. In this arena I have the experience to know that eventually class will go quite well.
However, my first foray into NYFW, this time as onlooker (I confess next year I want to be an insider!) was filled with anxiety and increasing doubt as I stride past lovely amazons with long flowing hair, perfect make-up and see through skirts surrounded by knots of photographers snapping madly. I walk around the fountain and feel rather invisible and sort of small in my flat shoes (even though they are Yohji Yamamoto for Robert Clergerie) compared to the girls and boys running around in six-inch stilettos or platforms and almost decide to leave. Even those toting cameras with grey hair in ponytails do not seem to bite. I rest against the white walls resigned to just watching and all of a sudden… the “you know what” hits the fan!
First slowly but soon so fast my head is spinning, young photographers approach and ask to take my picture. Before I knew what was happening one of those knots surrounds me, so many shutters going off collectively it’s a loud noise in my ear. They ask for close ups of my watch, my bag or my ring and keep saying, “love your style”. Hands take my card and push cards at me. I’m interviewed for a magazine article to be published in Japan, my photo appears in Downtown Magazine and I’m Instagramed like crazy.
Hysterically, tourists ask to take their picture with me because they think I’m some celebrity.
Again, accidentally, people seem to think I am a fashion icon even at freaking fashion week! BTW the photographers with grey hair still ignored me. Love you young people!!!
IF You are Curious…Why I Think This Happened
Despite potential for creativity there is also potential for boredom in fashion and I think people “saw” me because they were getting bored and I was different. The number of young people I observe with dyed grey hair wearing vintage speaks to the complexity of why that may make me different in an interesting way. Despite the ease and comfort of many of the clothes shown in the collections there was a palatable feeling of desperation in the air about what one was wearing (one day you’re in and the next day you’re out) and despite initial hesitation eventually I projected what I usually do: that I love the clothes I have on, they give me enormous pleasure and wearing them is a performance that tells the story of who I am, who I will not be and who I could be. Many (not all) people admire independence and confidence.
It became clear to this fashion week neophyte that fashion is full of contradictions and the best and most exciting spaces during NYFW2014 seemed to be those where these differences were engaged. There were live streaming runway shows with future Carine Roitfeld Icons and non-stop street style shows featuring, you guessed it, Accidental Icons, creating an exponentially wider world of style and fashion possibilities for anyone looking. Traditional static runway shows with human mannequins went on in tandem with performance pieces such as Olivier Saillard’s “Models Never Talk,” full of affect, gestures and untold stories thus honoring clothes and people. Carol Lim and Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony (through the words of Spike Jonze and Jonah Hill) could reveal the darker side of the fashion industry in 100% Cotton because it’s so clear how confident they are, how much they love clothes and have fun when doing what they do (check out what they do at Kenzo too). Debates about whether celebrity or street culture should influence fashion and style abounded and respectfully sorry Bill Cunningham, it does not have to be either/or. As Anna Wintour might say, wouldn’t fashion want to influence the “influencers”?
This implicates questions that are similar to the ones posed on the first page of this blog and revolve around whether a fashion show can serve two masters. Can a fashion show meet the objectives of art and commerce, combine historical reference and modern technology, convey technical perfection yet provoke feeling in the observer, reference old but be completely new, appeal to celebrity style and street style, engage young and old, be profitable and sustainable and feel nostalgic yet modern all at the same time? These are some of the questions some people were grappling with this fashion week and to someone who accidentally became a fashion icon, seem to be the most interesting ones to think and talk about.