Thursday, 14 February 2019

“the dream was so much more intense”: why fashion is more exciting as an outsider

For years I thought I would do just about anything to be in the industry, but the world of the teenage fashion fan alone in their bedroom is what inspires me most.

My teenage journal

“The dream was so much more intense when you’re off the grid,” says revered fashion journalist Tim Blanks, reminiscing on an adolescence spent longing to run away to New York to join Andy Warhol’s Factory.
The world in which Blanks wished to live in trickled down to him through his subscription to Interview magazine, though his New Zealand hometown was so remote, it only reached him once every eight months.
“We weren’t into fashion so much as we were into David Bowie,” Blanks continues. “We’d prance around in glam rock looks that we’d cobbled together. We were doing what we thought people in New York and London were doing. It turned out we were doing it better. The dream was a lot more fantastic because we didn’t have access to anything.”
Being an insider is overrated. Blanks’ sentiment is shared by many, especially in fashion. As an industry that still seems impenetrable to outsiders, it remains distant yet exciting. Fashion people, real and fictional, have a wealth of outsider stories from adolescence to share.
Gareth Pugh always felt on the edge of something in his seaside hometown in the North of England. Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli’s youth was spent in an in-between realm in a town just south of Rome. Christopher Shannon grew up reading magazines based in fashion capitals, but it turns out that Liverpool has provided him with the most inspiration.
The trope of the outsider becoming the fashion insider is so common that it even features in The Devil Wears Prada — probably the most accessible fashion film that even those with little interest in the industry have seen. Nigel, stylist at Runway explains how the magazine is, “a shining beacon of hope for a young boy growing up in Rhode Island with six brothers, pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight.”
This story resonates with a new generation of fashion critics too. Central Saint Martins MA student, Micheàl Costello grew up in rural southern Ireland. “Growing up in the country gives you a more creative mindset,” he says. “You’re forced to get an imagination much sooner. We have to come up with our own games, come up with our own stories.”
For me, fashion has rarely seemed more exciting than when I spent evenings alone in my room reading Vogue. This month, I am attending my first London Fashion Week. I am looking forward to it. Yet part of me misses the days of being undeniably on the outside.
As I write, I am sitting in Starbucks, drinking a skinny latte — my favourite drink aged 13 when I basically just wanted to be Anna Wintour. I used to dream of spending my days drinking it in cafés, writing about fashion rather than picking it up on the way to school.
I once overheard some girls in my class making fun of me when they found my blog. They were saying, “Let’s go to Starbucks with Sophie and drink skinny lattes and talk about fashion.” I wasn’t offended because I would have actually loved to do that.
It wasn’t until I was in sixth form that I had a friend to talk about fashion with, and even then, we didn’t go to the same school. It was a very solitary interest. When I started blogging, it was partly so I had a place to discuss things that no one was interested in at school.
The internet created a community for teenagers obsessed with fashion and the cultural and historical milieu in which it exists. Social media means that even the most geographically isolated teens are much more connected than Tim Blanks was in ’70s Auckland.
So when do the outsiders become the insiders? You could say that you become an insider once you’re an editor, a creative director at a major brand, or once you have over a hundred thousand followers. Yet these milestones don’t mean you are suddenly on the inside.
Creative industries are largely about observing the zeitgeist. Working in fashion involves, literally, watching from the sidelines anyway.
For Blanks, Andy Warhol was the insider of the ’60s and ’70s. He influenced every creative industry, had connections in high art and pop culture. He was at the centre of every cultural happening, yet the artist himself lived a lonely life. You get the impression he was an outsider’s insider, observing the scene he created.
Access, democracy, representation. These are all vital for the industry to move forwards. Yet there is so much joy in being on the fringes of it all. That needn’t be lost. Being an outsider is mostly a state of mind.
In an industry obsessed with what is in and out of style, there’s something punk about staying unapologetically out. That’s where all the fun happens.

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