My mother died a couple years ago at one hundred and four, and she had macular degeneration. But she could see in her periphery and she could always see me. We’d go walking together. She loved me being green. I’ve had a long life and have been through a lot and have my design studio and this and that. But when people see me they just see the Green Lady. That’s fine.
In the L.A. Jobber Market, it is the potential of failure at every fleeting second of the making of clothing that makes fast fashion within the U.S. possible. In such a volatile global market of clothing where consumer taste is finicky, every single decision has the potential to collapse a line of clothing like a house of cards. All relationships of trust are held with suspicion; they are fragile and attended to, performed and maintained. Bankruptcy is palpable and embodied in the quickly changing nature of store names. It’s no wonder then, that this community of fast fashion manufacturers, garment vendors and traders are all so highly religious. For all the times one fails, left in debt or with nothing, one needs to have something permanent to hold on to – family, salvation, faith, and God.
Fashion should thus be considered as a symptom of the taste for the ideal which ﬂoats on the surface of all the crude, terrestrial and loathsome bric-a-brac that the natural life accumulates in the human brain: as a sublime deformation of Nature, or rather a permanent and repeated attempt at her reformation. And so it has been sensibly pointed out (though the reason has not been discovered) that every fashion is charming, relatively speaking, each one being a new and more or less happy effort in the direction of Beauty, some kind of approximation to an ideal for which the restless human mind feels a constant, titillating hunger.
We were poor and happy. And my mother was jobless but prolific. She woke every day between four and five in the morning, made coffee and began to work. That is: to sew. She did this for several hours a day, hunched over the machine’s dim yellow glow or splayed on the floor slicing swaths of fabric on a ragged cardboard cutting surface, her reading glasses perched at the end of her nose. She rolled her eyes at the type of women who frequented JoAnn’s, bored housewives who might fill their downtime embroidering pillows or – the hobby whose value it has taken her years to recognise – quilting. She often described those women as ‘beige,’ in other words, stripped of colour and couture.
‘Every Congolese child is a sapeur. You shouldn’t ask when I became one. The point is that I’m still one. Some practice a bit and others practice deeply. I’m very deep in it. For us, clothing speaks. Fashion in general is out of fashion. One day it’s enormous rings, the next day they’re gone. La sape is beyond fashion; it’s like the earth. You’re born dust and you die dust. You’re born and we lose you as well.’
Carlo is concerned about his looks; it’s important to him how his ‘outer shell’ – his coat – appears. Decent clothes make it easier to earn money, easier to approach people on a more or less equal level. But the coat also comes with a second purpose: it’s the smallest possible of homes, a sleeping bag and a comforter. ‘Since childhood we’re used to feeling something on top of us when we’re sleeping, something heavy,’ he says. ‘Turning a coat into a duvet is better than wearing it, somehow. It feels more secure and warm.’
You’re not allowed to fail in fashion – especially in this age of social media, when everything is about leading a successful, amazing life. Nobody today is allowed to fail, instead the prospect causes anxiety and terror. But why can’t we celebrate failure? After all, it helps us grow and develop. I’m not ashamed.