As someone who adores and covets tattoos, I should point out that I don't have any. Not because I'm scared, but because I know myself well enough to accept I'm always going to be reinventing my sense of style. I've insisted on dressing myself since preschool, and even conjured up an entire runway collection in a list to Santa at age 5. (It was a disappointing Christmas.) But it wasn't until this year that my style evolved in a direction that was thoroughly true to myself, and I credit a Dries van Noten skirt with the revelation.
The aforementioned skirt walked the brand's Fall 2018 runway, a collection inspired by Art Brut, which in broad terms encompasses the overall concept of "Outsider Art." For a specific item to really stand out — particularly by the time the international fashion circuit lands in Paris — says a lot. And for me, it did. The skirt's peacock-feather print (also splashed across multiple pieces in the collection), masterfully combines indigo, tangerine, and off-white hues, punctuated with a dramatic black stripe. The thick jacquard material sits high on the waist and falls stick-straight to the calf, creating a demure silhouette that balances the loud print. But the really showstopping feature is the fringe of delicate mustard feathers. Did they flutter as the model walked? Yes. Were they ridiculous? Most definitely. I had to have it.
I brushed past it at Barneys a few months later, having promised myself I was only going to scoop up a few tees, and suddenly it was sitting beside me in a taxi, carefully wrapped by a store associate who nodded emphatically when I extolled the skirt's versatility. I realized it was the first time I bought something solely for the way it made me feel, rather than what it communicated to the world.
I studied psychology for eight years, none of which I needed to recognize that my obsession with fashion stems from its ability to transform and communicate who you are, and the group to which you feel you belong. I moved to the United States at age 13, transferring from a tiny all-girls academy in England to a 3,000-student co-ed high school — and suddenly I didn't have a uniform to hide behind. My ability to make a first impression and find a group that would accept me seemed inextricably tied to what I was wearing. Thankfully I found great friends who welcomed me regardless of the fact I didn't have the coolest new Michael Stars tee. The experience did, however, ingrain in me the belief that clothing and trends were primarily a tool for belonging. The desire to fit in is one we can all relate to, and the reliance upon our outward appearance to facilitate that is, whether we like it or not, a familiar and effective strategy in our looks-based society.
Throughout college, I embodied a sloppy interpretation of grunge courtesy of Urban Outfitters. In my early 20s I worked for Stella McCartney and Gucci in their PR departments, which for me, normalized bold and creative style statements. (I remember attending a job interview in a bulbous Stella McCartney brocade cape coat that can now only be described as going too far.) It was still dressing to feel part of a group, albeit the more polished fashion industry.
Not until I hit my late 20s did I start figuring out what clothing made me actually feel good no matter where I was heading or who I'd be making an impression upon. Moving to Los Angeles had a lot to do with it, mainly because people dress up less here, but also because I had the physical and emotional space to properly find myself. As it turns out, I'm most comfortable in minimal, classic pieces paired with a healthy dose of off-kilter, art-inspired extras. I like having fun with what I'm wearing. It's a transition that has been happening slowly but is dictated by what I'm naturally drawn to.
So back to the skirt. I've long been a fan of Dries Van Noten's ability to make intricate prints and embellishments feel un-precious. His pieces never restrict or overpower, despite their boldness, and look as great with a T-shirt as they do with clashing separates.
Still, why is my obsession with it so enduring? Because it symbolizes the most accurate interpretation of my personality. It is maximalist without being too loud. It is feminine, without being saccharine. It communicates confidence; you don't wear Dries without having embraced the concept of taking up space. For most of my life my clothing helped me camouflage myself into my surroundings, into the group I aspired to call my own. Now I'm not only OK marching to the beat of my own style drum, but I feel emboldened by my un-sameness. Standing out is fun, it communicates my openness to others, and especially in the case of this piece, often sparks conversations with complete strangers.
The skirt has become my little wearable piece of "Outsider Art," but it also underscores the fact I don't take myself too seriously. How could I, bedecked in bright yellow feathers?
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