I did a fashion show recently called ‘Nothing New.’ It was based on criticism I got from another designer. So I took that statement and tried to unravel it and make it into a question. Does fashion have to be new? What is new anyway? Does fashion have to be new to be valid and relevant and important? People often lob ‘it’s been done before’ as a critique but without asking themselves those questions. ‘Newness’ has become the barometer by which we judge things in fashion. Does your jacket have three armholes? ‘New’ is a farce to me. It’s a critique intended to keep people like me out.
A Conversation with Miuccia Prada
‘Censorship is huge now. Basically you can’t say anything interesting on the record. I did an interview with a very important journalist some time ago, but then I told him to cancel eighty percent of what I’d said. I know that makes me the censor but I don’t want to ruin my life over an interview. I have responsibilities. It’s hard because whatever I do, someone ends up being upset. A company our size has to think about everything. I made the choice not to be niche, only for the sophisticated few, so I have to accept the limitations of that choice.’
A Conversation with Demna Gvasalia
‘I like playing roles; it makes me feel safe. Authenticity for me perhaps means something different than for most people. I don’t have one interpretation of authenticity when it comes to style; I like moving between them. When I wear a sweatshirt with ‘Monoprix’ on it, what am I signalling? Am I saying it’s cool to work at a supermarket or am I making people ask themselves why I’m wearing a Monoprix logo, when I could be wearing one from Balenciaga? Well, you tell me. Obviously everybody knows that I don’t work at Monoprix, well everyone who knows me does anyway. If a stranger sees me in the street wearing my Monoprix jumper, they might think I really do work there and I quite like that.’
Clothes are very important because people always look at what you wear. They don’t think about who you are, they only think about what you wear. I don’t like it, but I accept it. When I dress up, to go to a restaurant or to work, people look at me well, but if I’ve just woken up and haven’t made an effort they will judge me. They look at me like I’m bad. I don’t really like my clothes now, but I have to wear what I have because I’m living in a camp. I have clothes in Syria, in Turkey, in Greece, everywhere. The only clothes I miss are the clothes I was wearing when the bomb struck and I was hurt. I asked my mum to save them, and she did. One day I will come back for them.
All my clothes were taken: my jacket, a T-shirt that my best friend gave me before I left Syria with ‘Lamborghini’ written on it. They were my favourite clothes. When my backpack was stolen I had to buy everything new: I bought a jacket and a pair of jeans for €50. In the camps they gave clothes away for free but I couldn’t take them. I don’t know why. Maybe because I had some money, and I felt I should buy my own clothes. There were so many others without money; they should get their clothes for free, not me.
I only have a few things from home now. One is a cotton scarf, it’s black with a red stripe. In Yemen I would have worn it to cover my hair, but here I wear it around my neck. I have a silver necklace too, with a dark red stone. I wear that a lot, though I often take it off when I work with the Yemeni community here in New York. They are often simple people, and they’re not used to seeing a Yemeni woman without an abaya or a hijab. Many Yemenis don’t want to change, even when they’ve left Yemen. The Yemeni community in New York is very strict, so I don’t want them to identify me as Yemeni necessarily. It’s funny: I’m so attached to Yemenis on the one hand, but I also want my space.
Prison literature and theory often focuses on the oppressiveness of the system, the callous discipline enforced on the prisoner, the strict rules which often seem arbitrary in their focus and the often patronising attitude of the authorities. We often assume that prison is an environment so infused with control and discipline that the inmates have no choice but to bow to the authorities. This is of course not the case. Prison life is full of upturned collars and resentful squints, as well as a myriad of other ways to subvert the rules, however slightly.
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.
Poets hate the fact that I have a persona because poets aren’t supposed to have one. You’re supposed to be yourself, authentic, natural in T-shirts and jeans. To me it’s all show business. My whole poetic oeuvre is made up of falseness, inauthenticity, appropriation and plagiarism, so if I was trying to pass that off as an authentic persona, it would be contradictory. So I’m playing my role as a poet as much as they are playing theirs. My role is ‘inauthenticity’ and theirs is ‘authenticity.’ It’s all a construction.
I felt like an outsider because I wanted to be a part of that group but I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t go to Biarritz, I couldn’t go to Gstaad, I couldn’t go to St. Barts or to the places where rich people go to have fabulous luncheons and dinners, but I could afford to buy some cheap taffeta and make a ball gown and go to the clubs where those people went, and walk into them like I owned them.
Fashion is popular because it’s a mystery. It’s the ebb and flow of the subtle things we propose as designers, and that people respond to like flocks of birds turning all of a sudden in the middle of the sky. That’s what makes it fascinating. It’s all about instincts and subtle references that certain people can grasp in a very vague way. It’s a pattern or code that is understood by a group of people at the same time.
I’ve dressed kings, queens, beggars, prostitutes, lawyers, bankers. I dressed Gram Parsons, Dolly Parton, John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, The Rolling Stones, The Jackson Five and all four Hank Williams. I made Elvis’ gold lamé suit, and people say that I put Johnny Cash in black, but I’ve never in my life felt the need to be important or rich. I hate money, because of what it does to people. When Barbara Walters asked Johnny Cash about the black suits I made him he said, ‘I wore black before, but nobody put me in a better black than Manuel.’