Next I take out my morning suit – made in 1938 by Airey and Wheeler of 129 Regent Street for my grandfather, GM Jeffreys. Gordon Michael. English. English. The jacket is a beautiful thing: dark and matte and felty black, quilted interior, swooping lines of tails. Two rear buttons a legacy of some long-lost functionality. Like an appendix, a vestigial organ of tailoring evolution. I recently had the sleeves lengthened by an inch and a half, the beautiful stitching around the (non-functioning) cuff buttonholes replaced with a perfunctory line by a person who did not have the same skills or time or who was simply working for a client (me) with significantly less money than the original client (my grandfather). The trousers have been widened at the waist and taken in again. The legs have been shortened, then lengthened again. The waistcoat, dove grey, double-breasted, is oddly backless – compensation perhaps for the warm weighty heft of the trousers. I examine it all closely with a sense of trepidation, And, sure enough, the tell tale signs of mothery.
Catwalk shows hardly ever begin on time. Delay, anticipation and deferment are traditionally part of the routine. Waiting for the show to begin is, in other words, an integral part of the experience of the catwalk show as a live event. But time is precious and waiting not only exemplifies anticipation, but also holds an explicit value in itself. The time spent waiting for a catwalk show to start can be described as liminal, a moment that implies transition or passing from one state to another. In the age of information technology and instant image production, waiting – as both process and ritual – is, however, a rare occurrence.
Flagging is a way of communicating basic information without needing to speak. Bandanas are soft introductions. They are self-labelling devices, material imbued with meaning, intended to provide enough information for cruising parties to determine the likelihood of an erotic match. In many cases, they provide a way of making an initial connection. Like any system of underground communication, it is community specific, and does not travel well. Where do you wear them and what does that mean? Subcultural meaning stays local.
Irene Silvagni died on March 23 after a long illness, but throughout her long career she was one of the fashion industry’s many éminence grises: one of those rare few who spoke fearlessly about fashion, as she saw it.
“Fashion designers have traditionally been men and their employees women, starting with Worth. And at the risk of sounding simplistic, male designers do often exercise power over their female employees by being callous or cruel; there is nothing new under the sun there. Women always have a second life that men don’t, family and children that perhaps help to bring some balance. I think there is something about this industry that attracts people with very strong egos, male and female, and that can unleash a sort of hysteria at times. Fashion designers are ‘artistes’. There is something about all types of creation that is about putting a piece of yourself into your work, and that can be very draining.”
We practice what we call ‘security with a velvet touch.’ We stay in the shadows. The PRs check people in, and most of them don’t know what they’re doing but that’s another story. Anyway, we stand behind the PR people. If we see them lingering with an individual, we might catch the individual trying read the guest list. People do that you know – they can read upside down. If we see that one of these PR persons is taking more than a minute or two with someone, then there’s usually a problem. Basically, we play the bad cop. But we always try to give people a gracious way out, like, ‘Sorry you’re not on the list, obviously there was an issue with your invitation, maybe you didn’t RSVP in time?’ You never say, ‘Oh get outta here,’ even though you want to. But you can’t, because like I said they cry very easily and you never know who they know.
In a plane of crisp sunlight that angles down through the door frame, and dissolves into rust-coloured shadows settling across the dark floor, unease spreads along the walls of this wooden interior. A woman in the centre hugs a small infant close to her breast. Next to her, another holds a child on her lap. To their left is a muscular man dressed in light yellow work trousers and a waistcoat: he watches them, his face expressively surly. Seated in a semi-circle the women stare intently at the stove, or let their eyes settle on something outside the room. They are dressed well in respectable printed cotton dresses, their sleeves billowing out from under stiff white aprons. Four white men – one in the background and the other three conversing in the doorway on the left – like sentinels, stand watch. And as they watch and we watch them, these slaves, neatly arranged on rough wooden benches, quietly wait to be sold.
How many miles of endless asphalt haven’t I covered in these shoes, and in how many cities? This pair of nondescript sneakers that sustained me for a year while I visited doctors, being prodded and poked, legs in the air and feet in stirrups, learning to inject myself until my belly and ass were both bruised and painful, messing up right at the end and having to do it all over again, hoping wishing yearning for a baby. It’s a highly intimate story, out of sight mostly, the one about becoming a mother through artificial means. Being fertile is to be productive, abundant, creative – being barren feels shameful. You need comfort, tenderness, compassion, so you look for it wherever you can: in people, in your environment, in the objects that surround you and hold you. My sneakers did their part by letting me forget that I was wearing anything at all on my feet, one less thing to worry about.