So as is my usual course of action, once I get my anger off my chest, usually through the vehicle of a rant (poor Calvin), I generally figure out a pragmatic or creative way to respond. What came to me is that we need to articulate and find ways to represent the inner state of getting older in all of its fluid possibilities. Because society or the media, has not yet chosen to tell that story, this can be viewed as a creative challenge for my generation rather than oppression. I say this because based on your eloquent comments these possibilities can minimally be conveyed with words but also in what we chose to wear and why.
After writing my rant, I moved on and met with two groups of students from Parsons School of Design. The first, a duo interested in textiles, was looking for some guidance and inspiration as they were interested in not just the new but preserving the old, In other words, artisan traditions of textile making. They were being, according to them, discouraged from pursuing anything except something “innovative and new”. This led to a discussion of what we mean by innovation. I asked them to pull out their phones and look up the dictionary definition of “innovation” which includes the phrase, “can refer to something new or to a change made to an existing product, idea, or field“. In my own view, nothing is ever completely new; there is always a seed from the past. So I encouraged the students to think of what their professor told them with a nod to this different perspective. This made me remember how much I love thinking with students and how they make me think too. They told me these types of conversations where they could do some integration, think about what they are learning and be asked questions that trigger imagination, are often missing and they asked me if we could meet again.
Later in the week, it was back to Parsons, this time a team of four students who had the assignment to make a collection for “seniors”. They had asked me for an interview. They’d been around to senior centers asking what older people wanted in their clothing. The students were somewhat discouraged as answers came more around issues of fit, comfort, and coverage of signs of age. Though these variables are important, the students seemed to want an aesthetic of age that could inspire them to go beyond the now. I directed them to read your comments from last week and gave them some research on “perceived age”. Sure enough the issue of the fluid internal nature of age, the memories and experiences held and the desire to evoke them in what we wear were things they became animated and excited about, as did I. Transparent fabrics, layering, and a multitude of other imaginings sprang into the room and I have been invited to work with them on this collection.
Both of these experiences were not monetized ones but gave me pleasure, joy, and inspiration. They filled some of the loss I feel about not teaching anymore. And as always happens a number of amazing paid opportunities came my way the day after when I was no longer thinking about money or being literal about content. It’s like finally being at peace with being by yourself after trying to find a good relationship and you can’t. Once you are fine about being alone you meet the person of your dreams.
Speaking of the person of your dreams, Calvin and I were walking around Harlem taking photos and came upon what I believe is the only remaining Kangol Hat Store in the world. I’m not a hat person at all but I did have a Kangol beret I used to wear backward with overalls and a velvet shirt silkscreened with Our Lady of Guadelupe in the late ’80s, early ’90s when I was exploring my creative self. I was also coming to terms with the idea that I was really, really okay living and being by myself. The Our Lady of Guadelupe shirt was a nod to my preoccupation with Frida Kahlo, growing up Catholic and Latin dancing which I was learning and practicing every weekend. But I digress. The point here is when I walked into that store, there I was back in that time. I heard the music, remembered the galleries I went to and the books I read. So as I tried to explain to the second group of students, it’s not that I need to wear exactly what I wore then but rather clothes that evoke the feelings and memories I felt at the time. The outfit I am wearing here, with my brand new Kangol hat, is from a modern brand and is fairly new. Yet, more than the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s clones that pervade fashion today, an approach to style that comes from inside and our unique identities can convey a sense of time and place far more eloquently than a time period copy placed on a hanger or a body. An article of clothing or an accessory, like a Kangol cap contains history and is a device that can tell a story, one that is as different as the people who put it on. As my age peer managing the Kangol store said, “rappers, hipsters, nerds and church ladies all wear Kangol caps”.
Our young friends are curious about how we came to be empowered to wear what we want, resist trends, use clothes as devices to tell our personal stories and see style as being unique to each of us. What stories and words of wisdom can you share to assist them?