Lately I have been enjoying the works of Diana Ross. Listening to her albums (and buying the deluxe version of diana. to boot), reading her biography by J. Randy Taraborrelli and even watching her film Mahogany (which you can view here).
In this film, Diana Ross plays an aspiring fashion designer with a penchant for sequins, rhinestones and dresses with rainbow-coloured ponchos attached to the shoulders. As Diana’s character is plucked from obscurity by a crazy photographer, she becomes a model and celebrity whose ostentatious designs are ridiculed by the majority, only to be upheld by one man who propels her further into stardom. I won’t spoil the plot for you in case you want to watch it, but ultimately the resolution flies in the face of self-belief, independence and feminism in favour of providing a happily-ever-after ending that requires that the viewers deactivate their brain cells and embrace the saccharine. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable watch if only for the campy kitsch value, and for the audaciously unbelievable fashions contained therein.
Earlier this week, I was reminiscing about when I was a child. I have always hated wearing any kind of uniform, from school to work (although I recognise why one must), and I always try to retain a semblance of my own style despite any kind of dress code. Everyone tries to put their own spin on the clothes they wear, but I suppose that some of us have more “spin” than others. For my part, I became quite opinionated about choosing the clothes I wanted to wear, even as a small child – it was not long before my mother (herself quite a stylish creature) relented and gave me autonomy – to a certain degree – over my fashion choices. As I grew older, I remember spending maths lessons designing clothes in my exercise book. Now, it’s probably fortunate that these clothes were never made, as in retrospect they may have been forward-thinking but probably wouldn’t have looked that good – men’s long-sleeved t-shirts with stripes of sheer material running across the stomach, and jeans which had one leg made of tight blue denim, the other leg made of black pvc. Interesting, but probably not practical or flattering! Who knows.
I also remember Aaliyah’s video for “More Than A Woman”, and the sexy black leather trousers she wore with the laced-up cutouts going up the legs. Visiting St. Phillip’s Sunday market with my nan, one time I came across a biker leathers stall with a pair of dark brown leather trousers with similar laced-up sections going up the sides of the legs. I was immediately enraptured, but of course the trousers were expensive, and my nan (who has a conservative dress sense) refused to let me buy them. Again, in retrospect, this was probably a good decision! But in youth, most of us have been drawn towards fashion errors at one time or another.
What is important is to nurture our own fashion instinct, even if we don’t acquiesce to it every time. These days, I like to think that although my style is more ‘classic’, I rarely make any fashion errors and I still keep an eye out for clothes and designs that excite and intrigue me. Somehow, my friends refer to me generally as “the fashionable one”; Toby and I were joking about our future child, and I said that he could teach our child science! His response: “and you could teach it how to dress!” At Les Senteurs’ amber masterclass with Ruth Mastenbroek the other evening (which was fantastic), I was wearing fitted blue jeans, a plain black t-shirt with a tiny Armani logo (which is actually from their underwear range), and a zip-up cardigan with a houndstooth pattern. Standard fare for me, but a lady with whom we were chatting afterwards asked me where I was from. “Bristol”, I replied – and she was surprised, because she said that I looked European! Now, although I am half-Italian, I have not been lucky enough to inherit an olive-skinned complexion (and neither was my blonde, fair-skinned mother) – so it had to be my clothes. And I wasn’t wearing anything special! I guess that it was my natural sense of fashion that drew this kind of response, and another example of nurturing my innate style.
Which brings me back to Mahogany. Whether we achieve fame and fortune, or whether we continue to live our everyday lives, we wear literally our hearts on our sleeves, shoes and accessories. We don’t need to eat every carrot our fashion whims dangle in front of us, but we shouldn’t ignore the journey that they take us on, while absorbing the surroundings and influences we see on the way. That’s how we develop as people. And at the end of it all, no matter what happens to us or how we end up, hopefully we will be able to say “I lived.” And maybe even follow that up with “…and I looked good!“