The catwalk would be saccharine sweet if there weren’t always a twist in the tale.
“Don’t you get sick of fashion?” I very frequently get asked and the answer is no. How could I tire of an industry that specks my life with adventure? I could never imagine working at a bank with three-piece suits marching past me day and night. Nor a school where conformation would be the basic dress code. I could never imagine working at an office or any similar place where I’d actually have to weigh the appropriation of my outfit, indirectly my personality every single day. I enjoy fashion for its lack of inhibition, its wild streak, its generosity in accepting all and condemning none. I love the savage beauty of it all.
I see two sides of fashion: bright and beautiful and dark and twisted. Ten years and counting, I’ve had a run in with both. As a writer I tend to write the bitter truth and have subsequently faced the fall-out. I’ve had a fictitious person circulate anonymous and very vicious emails maligning me. I’ve also had very senior designers complain to my editors about my stories, pushing for a ban or even better, termination from my job. In fact, one of them even bullied my mother, threatening that I would have to pay for writing against her. I know exactly who they are and chose not to name them here. There’s more.
I have received menacing phone calls from political parties ‘requesting’ for flattering coverage of their fashion weeks. I have had an influential politician’s daughter mobilize an entire hate campaign against me on the internet. And if I were to be paid a pound for the number of nasty emails I receive on my blog then I would be richer quite substantially. But I have learnt to love these twists in my tale; the catwalk’s colours would be so saccharine if they weren’t bittersweet.
It’s ironic that an industry so beautiful could simultaneously be so dark but it takes one creative mind to figure out the quirks of another.
Initially, as a young reporter, I didn’t get it. I thought everything in La La Land would be hunky dory. I mistook limp handshakes and fake expressions of euphoria laced with the jaani jaanu air kisses as essential fashion DNA. I soon learnt that this industry is as much about backstabbing as air kissing. You may be greeted with sweetness personified but that doesn’t mean you’ll be safe from the poison pricks, excuse the pun. After a decade on the field I have realized that men in mascara are not always as pretty as they may appear to be. In fact many of them constitute the deadliest of species. Do not fall for their batting eyelashes. Hanna taught me that valuable lesson.
All you of you have seen the fantastic Joe Wright thriller Hanna will remember the character of Isaacs played to perfection by Tom Hollander. Blue eyed, blond and choreographing fairy tale sequences for his night club, Isaacs is actually the most ruthless, cold hearted hit man in the film. His effeminate appearance is misleading. We automatically associate effeminate as the weak opposite of macho, manly and therefore dangerous but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Modern cinema has redefined stereotypes. Fairy tales are being given a dark and edgy element, thanks to directors like Tim Burton, Catherine Hardwicke (Red Riding Hood) and even Joe Wright (Hanna). They have taken childhood classics and turned them into contemporary thrillers. Hanna is clearly a twisted take on a Hans Christian Andersen tale. It’s where blond and beautiful characters take on an evil side, which is how I choose to poeticize the disturbing side of fashion.
I now categorize fashion creatures in the following three tiers:
The McQueens: The top of this pyramid is ruled by the very best: men and women who are nothing short of creative geniuses. These are people so totally engrossed in the magnificence of their craft that they have no time for anything else, least of all plotting against others. Their flip side effects only themselves; they eventually self-destruct, just like Alexander McQueen did.
The Evil Queens: The second segment also constitutes talented designers (not as brilliant as the McQueens though) who are talented but also have an equally predominant dark side that surfaces every now and then. These ‘evil geniuses’ are the fairy tale’s wicked step mother/ evil queen characters who are beautiful by day and ugly by night. You never know whether you are talking to the Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde in them.
The Queen’s (worthless) Side-kick: For every genuinely glorious individual in the fashion industry is one that shadows the lowest depths of misery. This antithesis of beauty isn’t a phenomenon but a group of side-kicks that attach themselves to Queens and suck off their glory. These side-kicks have no real talent of their own – they cannot design, draw, style, write, photograph, choreograph etc – in fact their ‘fame’ is limited to red carpets and guest appearances on TV shows that would feature your neighbor’s turtle to fill air time. These people drag fashion down and unfortunately they are often more visible than the credible.
Working in fashion is like working on a Roald Dahl plot or a Tim Burton set. It’s like being in Alice’s Wonderland or Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It’s unpredictable. It’s thrilling. And even if you never know what will strike next; there’s never a dull moment around. There is no place for Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers anymore. To learn you must go to Hogwarts. The Famous Five have been re-sketched as mutants, some good some bad but all fascinating.
That promise of dealing with the unexpected is exactly why I can never get sick of the fashion industry. If there are to be men in shining armor then let them be vampires. If fashion is to sketch fantasy then let it hold legends of woodland nymphs, half-man beasts and flying unicorns amongst other fantastical creatures. If some of them are to be evil, so be it. Give me fashion that excites, even if it be dark and twisted.