So, Fashion Week is finally over! One word to describe it all: inspirational. You know, right before the season begins you often hear the question from reporters, 'What inspired this collection?' You may hear a designer say, "Well it was my travels through Istanbul." Or, "The waters of the Mediterranean." Or even, "The birds of prey on my trip to Africa." Hearing these answers used to make me want to gag. All I could think of was the scene from Forgetting Sarah Marshall where Kristen Bell shouted out "Bull***t! Bull***t! Bull***t!" Do these designers really believe the words that are coming out of their mouths? I wanted to scream.
I have been working in the fashion industry for the past 20 years. My first exposure to the fabulousness of fashion came from my mother, Mrs. Adrienne. She is wicked, I tell you. Killer shoes and handbags, a vintage queen my mother was. I remember going to a small vintage shop with her in Boreum Hills, Brooklyn. Humiliated to be walking into a secondhand store, I would pray, "God please don't let any of my friends see me in this store with this woman. I might have to kill myself. Lord does she really have to take so long... But wow those shoes are amazing... Hurry up, mommy.""Shad ap (shut up)" she would say to me in her thick Haitian accent. "God," I continued, "why aren't you listening to my prayers? Hurry this woman up. Oh my God is that... yes its that girl from school. Now she'll think we're poor. Take me Lord! Just take me!"
Later it was the trips to Korvet (where Macy's Brooklyn now stands), Macy's on 34th Street, and other Manhattan stores. My mom was amazing. She rocked an Afro one week, threw on a sleek long ponytail the next, then a beehive that would make Jackie O look twice. My mom was and still is a badass. So no wonder I was destined to end up in fashion. You couldn't tell though when I was in high school. I know my mother was embarrassed about my shopping habits and me. Jeans, tube socks, sweat shirts and sweatbands on my head, were my occasional uniform. At times she would kill my look with those stupid four-box braids and shinny ribbons. "God why do you hate me so much?"
Not always being the fashion maven my mom would have wished for as a child... Look at me now. I still struggle not to wear a dress without my Converse All Stars. I'm grown and don't mind as much embarrassing myself or my children, who are probably saying the same thing I used to say: "God why do You hate me so much? Please don't let my mother come to my school."
As I mentioned earlier, being in fashion was my destiny. I always have to pinch myself when I find myself backstage at Vera Wang, Perry Ellis, Nicole Farhi and other of my clients' shows.
I see now that the designers and their statements of inspiration weren't so far fetched. Coming back from some of the most amazing places, these past couple of months I have grown a new found respect for designers. It is truly inspiring to travel and absorb your environment. Be moved by your surrounding, by the people, by the food, the culture, the art, the resources,the music, the daily routine of the people. Their sense of fashion, their interpretation of art. It is truly amazing. It is heart moving.
As I traveled back to Haiti this past summer to bring some much needed items to the girls at camp Bel Kan, put on by Diesa Seidel of United Initiatives For Peace, I saw the way the girls combined their colors. They feared not the brightness of an item as some of us in the fashion industry do. They made it work. Tim Gunn would be proud.
I had the opportunity to journey to Jacmel and meet with some amazing people like Pascale Faublus and Pierre (Hearts of Haiti), who represent various artists who use paper, recycled materials, metals, and whatever their environment provided them to create some of the most amazing items. The vivid colors of the island lent to inspirations for the artists for sure. The blue waters, slate color concrete, the red clay mud of the mountain sides, the clear blue sky, were among the influences of the artists that reside in Jacmel and Port au Prince. The poverty the media portrays of Haiti deeply affects them and their daily living, but it does not kill their joy and passion for the arts.
As I speak to each artist about his inspiration, it is all the same, we use what we have. We look around and see and create. From cuffs, necklaces, masks,vases, paintings, and other collectible items. These geniuses at work move me.
As I cross the waters entering back into the states again, I am moved by the ability of an artist to create based on their environment. Vera Wang, Perry Ellis, Falguni and Shane Peacock were all inspired by their environment, the knowledge of their clients' needs, the journeys they may have taken months prior to creating the collection.
Then moving to the UK, which by far was the most fun and exciting trip for me this season. Having the opportunity to work with Vauxhall, the group of young designers from all walks of life. Dubai, Japan, Russia and Africa etc. These young designers definitely brought about whatever their culture had ingrained in them. The beauty of their homeland, the history of its resources.
Then the historical trip for me was that to Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt. Unbelievable. For many reasons this journey definitely pieced together the entire fashion world has got to offer. Visiting the Pyramids, Sphinx, galleries, deserts, homes of the people, and spas definitely showed me how it is not the West the influences the fashion industry but in my opinion it is the West that is influenced by what is done in the East.
The brief study of Egyptian history that I can recall I see how the beauty industry is an empire. It is culturally engraved in them to believe that the art of face painting is part of their ceremonies of even entering into the afterlife. The tools they were buried with in the past have included combs, and beauty products to help the spirit identify the body in the joining of the two. Fascinating.
Our interpretation of Fashion and Art
Today as you walk down the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, beyond the burka, the women are well dressed. Perfectly layered up with Western clothing, makeup immaculately done up. If Maybelline could see the heavy use of eye makeup in this market they would have a plant right there in the desert. These women are beautifully made up every day.
I figured it out; the nail industry by far is major. Toes and fingers are perfectly manicured. If not with the ancient art of Henna Tattoo it is with bright vibrant colors of nail lacquer. Yeah.
Fashion is not the only form of expression. In all my journeys, probably the most under funded is gallery and young artists. As people still do not see this as a "real" job, they often classify it as a hobby, a pass time expression, and a stress reliever. But ask an artist, it is their way of life, they couldn't imagine themselves doing anything else.
While in Egypt, besides visiting the expected museums and monuments funded by the government, I had the opportunity to visit a quaint family owned gallery in Zameleck where a young French artist, Paul Beanti, born in Bergerac, who fell in love with Egypt like so many have, presently resides. This young man Paul was not traumatized by his recent arrest and horrible experience in Egypt's Revolution that took place this past February. But inspired by it and his love for the country he was moved to create. I had the privilege of attending his opening and was moved by his talent, his use of color, the message his painting expressed.
Also displayed was his fellow artist Hend Abdel Malik; this beautiful young artist is truly creative. Her form of expression was through fashion, clothing, accessories; jewelry, bags, and paintings. Her use of color was brilliant, would fit in perfect in our western fashion arena. How can anyone say this is not "real"? The ability to bring pleasure, to stir up conversation, to gather groups of people openly to enjoy conversation and fellowship. Only the art world can do so,peacefully, in my opinion where your interpretation of what you see is yours. It is neither right nor wrong.
The Threads That Unite
So again the common thread I found with all these people was one thing, inspiration. They were inspired, moved to action to do something about what they saw what they felt. As I journeyed back home to the United States piecing together all that I have seen in the past couple of months, I could not help but think of the people whose lives have crossed mine who exposed me to each one of these experiences.
Take for example Harry Hames, a gentleman who for the past 18 months lived in various hotels in Haiti all to help the children, and families in Haiti. Why? "Because all they need is a hand. A listening ear. The basics we take for granted are necessities for them." Hames has developed an extraordinary relationship with the children of the island and their caretakers simply by magic. He does the simplest magic trick and instantly their guard is down. It eases them and they begin to express their challenges, their needs, and collectively sit down to find solutions. Hames doesn't believe in the philosophy of handouts but is looking for ways to provide sustainable living. He puts together a group of medical personnel that come down to give the people their basics and advises them on how to maintain it. Brings down shoes, and garments donated by fashion houses. Brilliant.
Then there's Sue Rock Originals, a husband and wife team designer that creates their whole collection from fabrics donated by major fashion houses, such as the Van Heusen. Then they ship to women and children in different part of the world who are in need. Their Brooklyn store sustains itself by the sales made by local shoppers. Moving.
Another is the nameless men and women who are in Egypt who are looking for ways to give the women in the country a voice. They look not to cause division, but to inspire these women to better their lives and that of their families by respectfully standing up for their basic human rights and taking steps to bring about positive changes.
Or the one that completely melted my heart, the image of the young boy with a stamp titled Egypt on his forehead with the words "We must educate our children to become like young Egyptian people.. President of the USA Barack Obama."This is more than an advertisement; it is a message of hope, inspirational motivation. Not just to Egyptians, but to people of all walk of life. This shows the power of one. The success of one can empower a nation a race of people to want more, to do more, to themselves become inspirational.
So now when I hear the question "What inspired you for this collection?" it has deeper meaning then just the article of clothing or product they are addressing at the moment. It is life changing.