I never knew when or what I was going to lift. The Time to Take was a calm, concrete feeling that would spread like room temperature butter on toast. Walking around the store, my body would casually scan for cameras, peruse the aisles, and when the time was right, I’d surrender to an emancipation pure and brief: a feeling much like leaving the stove on while attending to a phone call in the other room. And though I knew what I liked, it usually wasn’t what ended up mine: somewhere I think I knew that if I began to rely on this method to fuel my actual desires, I’d be losing my own game. This was not about the things themselves, of course. Every so often I had to remind myself that they had no value, and that like most shoplifters, I lost attraction to them soon after attainment. To take was to feel oneself justifiably tampering with a system to find that it is the system itself that is flawed — a bit like opening a lock with the wrong set of keys.
They have a drink on her balcony. She pretends they’re sitting on the terrace of a bar, like they might have in virus-free times. Instead they’re alone, inside her home. Two strangers in soft clothes and plain faces. The sun sets. The conversation stumbles, accelerates. They talk of fears, politics, childhoods, their intimacy growing in the darkness. The street is quiet. The buzz of cicadas and their own voices the only sounds cutting the air. Until they run out of things to say, and the cicadas alone save them from silence. Yet they refill their glasses, and move inside. She puts on music.
Shop window displays serve to crystallise, animate and narrate various meanings of fashion. They provide information on sartorial items, and demonstrate how to use them, all while training us to view fashion in relation to lifestyle. We learn to fantasise, and to aspire to certain ideals. Their presence asserts that fashion is life, and spectacle. As in the past, they instruct us on how to look, at fashion, and dressed bodies in the form of mannequins. Moreover, we project our own likenesses on to the spectacle, literally, via glass panes, merging our subjectivities with the images projected out to the street. Today, as protesters march the streets of New York’s SoHo, the upscale fashion boutiques housed within the area’s familiar nineteenth-century white cast-iron Italianate buildings, have boarded their windows. How does their newfound lack of glass, without the capacity for reflected imagery, affect our lines of vision? Does it give passers-by some space for internal reflection, without the distraction of mirrored and brand imagery? Or does the new matte streetscape in all its flatness rob of us of our sense of urban alertness, our alacrity? Something is missing, and it results in a feeling of disconnect. I remember my own stroll through the SoHo streets, and how I looked at myself in car windows when I could. I was not reflected in the shops, and so I searched for myself elsewhere.
It could be easy to dismiss digital clothing as a poor replication of physical clothing or, more strongly, as part of the alienating aspects of disgust. A future in which we must circulate primarily online, led principally by the caprices of corporate-owned platforms, would provoke a reaction of disgust in many of us. As our attention has already been commoditised on platforms, self-representation would too. If digital fashion is an industry predicated on technological determinism, alienation from voices who suggest an alternative outside the bounds of this world is nearly inevitable.
As our real-life identities become blurred with those of our online avatars, so do our notions of work and play, and nowhere is this more apparent than within social networks like Instagram and on the resale platforms that mimic them. To many, influencer markets are essential to selling clothes, and the best way to tap into them is by making shopping networks feel more like social media. But beyond likes, shares and friendly copy inspiring users to ‘join the community,’ social commerce isn’t really all that social. In an era where trends proliferate faster than the seasonal shows that once spawned them, recommerce apps have the power to both dictate trend cycles and undermine them too. If you keep that Balenciaga City bag in your RealReal wishlist for long enough, you might forget why you even wanted it, especially if you couldn’t really afford it in the first place.
In a way, we’re just bags, full of spirit, and then somebody puts a label on and you get out there and you push the product. I’m just the container you know, that’s all I am. I learnt that from Joan Crawford. But I feel like a perennial; they planted me in the right soil and I just keep coming back year after year. I serve a purpose, you know me – I’m just a flag pole. People put their flag on me and I fly it proudly. That’s part of being a model. Beauty is my goal: to find the most beautiful things. Whether it’s inside a person, or a flower, or a place, or the clothes they wear, I try to find the most beautiful thing I can in the moment. I have this needle inside me like a compass that says, ‘due north, follow your star, this way, this way!’
It was her own life that was in the middle drawer. She was the person she was not only because of her mother but because, fifty-eight years before, in the little town of Oberelsbach, another woman, whose qualities she would never know, had died too soon. Death, she thought, absolves equally the bungler, the evildoer, the unloving, and the unloved – but never the living. In the end, the cicatrix that she had, in the smallest of ways, helped her mother to bear had eaten its way in and killed. The living carry, she thought, perhaps not one tangible wound but the burden of the innumerable small cicatrices imposed on us by our beginnings; we carry them with us always, and from these, from this agony, we are not absolved.