Wednesday I went to the first day of this paid arts apprenticeship program in Downtown Chicago. I tried out to get into the Fashion program and well, I got in.
So I’m there. Downtown, with kids my age. Kids who either are well dressed or think they are well dressed and are all already friends with one another. The instructors make comments on the last session of this class and what are apparently inside jokes abound. Wow – you guys are hilarious, wait I don’t get it. And all of the sudden I have no idea what I’m doing.
I love to sew. I love to make things that no one else can. I don’t work in teams. I am unaccustomed to large groups of friendly people and great amounts of laughter. The only place I find these things nearly comfortable is in the school’s theatre, when I am with others working (or not working) on whatever show we’re producing.
But then it started to get deeper. Why am I here? I wondered more frantically. I am different. And I know that every fashion designer will say that they see things differently and whatever, but I mean that I am different than these kids and not in the fashion designer way. In a way I can’t describe. Maybe I was just nervous. Aren’t we all a little nervous heading into the unknown? But I wasn’t nervous before I got there. Not at all. When someone asked me “Are you excited [for class]?” I would reply, “I suppose.” Because “Yes” would have been a lie. Class simply was. A future thing.
The class later went to a fashion library type of room with all the books and magazines and movies of runway shows one could ever want. We watched runway shows of big designers who I had heard of. I sat there in the dark with eighteen other students. While they were engrossed in videotaped parade, my mind struggled with the question of why any of this fashion stuff matters. I did not come to any decisive conclusions.
“It’s art.” I said over and over. “It’s art that, instead of using a canvas and hanging on a wall or filling a space, uses the human form and adorns a woman’s body.” That thinking helped a bit. Color choice and texture is still essential and celebrated. Designers go through phases, just like artists. Placement on the canvas or in a room becomes placement and fit on a body. Fashion is no different from the fine arts except in the way it is presented: on humans, made to accommodate human movement.
I think we’ve lost sight of that. It’s just another art. So my own guilt and confusion must stem from my own superficial and societal view of it. There’s the controversy surrounding models (which I personally think is a waste of breath); there’s the fact that clothing and accessories are just the status symbols most obvious in a daily way; there’s the obvious and renowned bitchiness in the fashion industry which may or may not be equivalent to the bitchiness in the fine arts world; there’s the fact that televisions shows are made about fashion and nominated for Emmys, while I don’t think there are any shows about creating paintings (currently on air, I do remember watching The Joy of Painting with my parents when I was young).
I guess what all this leads to is: I hate the fashion industry but I love fashion. I love to make things and see other people make things and appreciate crafts(wo)manship and learn new ways to increase my power over making what was just a picture in my head into something to wear on my body.
I wish I could say that I don’t care what I wear. Some days I don’t. But of course I do. Even if I don’t care what I look like on a particular day or week or month, I did at one point because I bought the clothes I am wearing. I sifted through hundreds of similarly colored old second hand sweaters (in an array of shapes and smells) to find the one I’m wearing today even if I pulled it out of my closet or off my floor with nearly no thought.
So can it be okay that I take fashion classes? Can it be okay that I sneakily page through Vogues every now and then? Can it be okay that my enjoyment of Project Runway almost always conquers the intense guilt I feel for turning on the television the one night per week it is on? Some days I think it can, some days I’m not so sure.
Just another art. Just another art. Just another art.
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