This story was written for Man Repeller.
The first time I witnessed an act of rebellion against the stagnancy of everyday life, I was 14 years old. I was sitting on my grandparents’ patio when my grandmother handed me a review of the Chanel Fall/Winter 2008 Haute Couture show, which she had cut out for me from the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. She knew I was interested in clothes; I had practically spent my entire childhood playing dress-up, I loved to walk into her closet and try on her old fur coats and printed silk scarves, and I always had a very specific idea of what I wanted to wear. I was, however, not really aware of fashion – the designers, the photography, the magazines. I had never heard of style.com, and I definitely had never been to a fashion show. I lived on the outskirts of Hamburg and shopped at H&M and didn’t know who Margiela was. It was a boring life.
But then I saw this newspaper review – a full page – with a photo from the Chanel show at the Grand Palais in Paris. A group of huge, silvery steel pipes had been erected in the middle of a circular runway, and the perfectly coiffed, smokey-eyed model that walked around them wore a long, gray dress with tiny fabric tubes artfully draped around her shoulders and bust. It seemed clear to me that I would never get close to an event like this, or a dress like that, but that’s not what fascinated me so much about it. If my teenage years felt like waiting for a bus that never came, as Morrissey once famously put it, this show represented the exact opposite: the promise of a new beginning, a new life waiting somewhere, some…when. For anyone who wanted it.
From then on, fashion became my obsession. I asked for coffee table books about famous designers and fashion illustrators for my birthday. I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s and “designed” an entire collection based on Holly Golightly’s style on paper. I asked for a sewing machine. I asked for a Glamour subscription. I stole my very first Vogue from the dentist’s waiting room – I remember there was a big haute couture report in that issue, and while marveling at the shiny pictures of Christian Lacroix’s lavishly embroidered babydoll dresses and John Galliano for Dior’s candy-colored silk ruffles, I felt the singular peace of mind that comes with finding your place in the world.
My love for fashion grew out of a longing for the new and unknown. And every time this longing was satisfied a little bit, it felt as if I had just opened a door to a glistening new world: When I skipped literature classes in college to report on Berlin Fashion Week for Vogue.de (my first gig in the journalism world). When I was sent to Paris Fashion Week as a newspaper intern because the fashion editor didn’t have time to go herself. When I was hired by this exact newspaper as their new junior fashion editor. When I sat at the Valentino haute couture show in Paris in July of this year, still unbelieving that greenhorn me (I’m 25 now) was allowed to experience something of such otherworldly beauty in real life and time. But also when I watched this season’s Marc Jacobs show on my computer in Berlin, giddy with excitement at the sight of SO MANY NEW IDEAS I could try right here and now: Cowboy hats with flowers! Multiple belts stacked on top of each other! Crochet tights with glittery golden mules!
I am addicted to this feeling. Fashion is addictive, and it’s often criticized for that. But I believe that there is endless hope to be found in fashion, in the longing for beauty and the act of getting dressed – a hope that goes far beyond wanting to own some “it piece” or “must-have”. Every new fashion show I watch on screen or attend in person feels like a new beginning. That moment when the music starts and the first model strides onto the runway fills me with a deep sense of optimism. There will be a future, because someone is dressing us for it. The same applies to my personal approach to clothing. Every new outfit that I put together, whether created from new finds or old clothes, means a chance for a new discovery, every day, over and over again.
What is behind my endless desire for the new? I sound like I care only for what’s next. But I’m very nostalgic. I always have been. I cried on my seventh birthday because I wanted to stay seven forever. I fear the end of everything: summer holidays, family weekends, Christmases. I can barely look at childhood photos without tearing up.
In its ruthlessness to throw out the old and bring in the new, fashion poses a challenge to my relationship with the past, but at the same time, it also heals me from it. Fashion reminds me that, no matter how beautiful yesterday may have been, it is absolutely vital to make room for tomorrow – in my closet, but more importantly in my head – in order to create new stories and memories.
Every time I feel hopeless, or I’m unsure about where I’m going with my life, or I feel lonely or left out or desperate about the fact that everyone I love will die one day, I rely on clothes to comfort me. I spend an evening watching videos from the recent J.W. Anderson and Prada shows. I start putting together outfits in my head. I try on an outfit I haven’t worn before: I iron my shirt, I add a sparkly pair of earrings, I put a new belt on an old pair of jeans, I brush my hair, I replace a necklace with a flower brooch. And then I walk out into the world, hopeful and confident. Getting dressed gives me a prospect. It assures me that life always goes on – if fashion isn’t the best reminder for that, what is? It provides the materials for new dreams and fantasies. No matter how many dresses and handbags and shoes you own, no matter how much you know about style, there will always be great outfits and outfits that didn’t live up to their potential. Each morning that you commit to getting dressed for a new day, you get a chance to try again.
Header photo credits: Coat by William Fan, vintage clutch, Maryam Nassir Zadeh sandals