We generally have five appointments a day that happen every ninety minutes. Before each appointment we begin with a brief discussion with the bride: her style, her venue, number of guests at the wedding and her budget. We breeze through this in a few minutes because, most of the time, once the bride comes in everything turns upside down anyway.
I came out of the era of the ‘60s and ‘70s. You had the Black Panthers, you had the Young Lords — they were like a paramilitary group. They were at odds with the status quo, with police. But then again, what we were trying to do was to provide public safety, so we were the opposite of gangs. In searching for a name, ultimately I thought that the group that seemed to have the most traction among inner-city young men and young women in the late ‘70s was the Hells Angels. They hated Black and Hispanic people, they were one-percenters. And yet young Black and Hispanic men idolised them. They were watching the B-grade movies, like Hells Angels Forever, in Times Square — you could get three flicks for five dollars — and they would emulate them. And I said, what’s the complete opposite of Hells Angels? Well, Guardian Angels. But still it didn’t matter: People thought we were a gang, thought we were vigilantes, thought we were Hells Angels, thought we were Charlie’s Angels. Everything other than what we were.
On a recent Saturday morning, I dream about clothes. On a single rack in a sparse space hang voluminous skirts in heavy, vintage fabrics of vermillion, baby pink, cherry red and monochrome; a jumpsuit in pastel stripes with rows of fringe; an off-the-shoulder dress of the softest silk in a rich, plum hue; and a collared shirt patterned with puzzle pieces. They are completely within my grasp… Then, just as suddenly as I’d drifted off that evening, the dream ends, leaving me with little more than fragmented images of beautiful garments in a white-walled room. A question lingers, too: What – if anything – might the presence of these clothes in my dreaming mind mean?
I love fashion generally – I’ve always loved it. On my Sabbath, I read InStyle sometimes. I mean, I read the Bible as well, but I do love a good InStyle. I follow ‘Project Runway’ and I love ‘What Not to Wear’ and all those sorts of things. I already had this teenage interest in fashion. Then I realised I would be given my work uniform, and my work uniform has a lot behind it – it carries a lot of weight when you walk into a room. That can either be a really good thing or it can be a really challenging thing.
‘You have to be relevant’ – thus spoke Suzy Menkes in a recent interview. But while Suzy Menkes remains one of the most publicly celebrated fashion journalists, is hers still a significant voice?
‘To create a being out of oneself is very serious,’ wrote the late Clarice Lispector in her 1973 work, Água Viva. The personal branding needed to attain commercial success and visibility in today’s fast-paced, oft-intersecting fashion and literary circles lends Lispector’s words a strangely prophetic resonance. For women in the arts especially, the necessity to carefully craft a desirable public image – particularly by paying close attention to personal style – so often determines the content of the conversations that arise around their work.