Wednesday, June 29, 2011

why i love new york.

New York, I love you.

I didn't used to *love* New York. In fact, during the two years I spent living there while I was at F.I.T going to school, I had a lot of "hate" days. It's 2 a.m., you haven't slept in 2 days because of some insane puff sleeve project, and the E train just decides it's not going to come to take you home. Ever. Or you get stuck in a crowd full of people somewhere between the garment district and times square, someone smashes into you while talking on their cell phone which causes your bag to drop and your new fabric swatches to scatter like leaves all over 7th avenue. You watch as muddy shoes step on your silk organza. When you lean down, scrambling to collect them, because they are needed for a project due in 45 minutes, someone smashes into you and spills coffee on your new vintage leather jacket. It's always too hot, too cold, too smelly, too windy, too snowy, or too something. You don't drive when you live in New York, so you're always INSIDE New York. Engulfed by it. A piece of it. Moving among the sea of bodies, becoming a single living breathing thing, that is the city. When I lived there, I lived alone for two years. I had a few friends, but my boyfriend was still in Michigan, my family far away. For all purposes, I was alone most of the time. I battled cockroaches, rats (both in my apartment, yes), missing trains, crazy cab drivers, rude people, emergency rooms, strep throat, laryngitis, anxiety attacks...and more.

When my time had come and I graduated from F.I.T. and my boyfriend proposed, and I weighed out all my options, and decided to move back to Michigan with him. I also had big dreams that I needed to accomplish immediately (launching my own line, having a show...feeling free to do what I wanted with my business) - which was much easier to do in Michigan. I graduated when I was 30 - I had no time to intern for free with other designers for 5 years before finally getting an offer to *maybe* get someones coffee while they abused the new interns. I missed grass and backyards and my family. I wanted a dog. Less people, less of a fight. It all felt too hard. I was exhausted. Plus, I wanted to make everyone else happy. I came back.

While I still don't regret that decision, a giant piece of my heart remains in New York. I'm not sure I even realized to what magnitude. Last month I went back for the first time since I graduated, it had been two years. I revisited my school, walked the halls, peering into the dark classrooms over the lumpy shapes of rows and rows of tattered dress forms and lines of beautiful industrial sewing machines. The lump in my throat grew. I left school with an aching heart, and walked up 7th avenue to the garment district, where I had spent two years feverishly running from shop to shop looking for the "right" fabric for some new project. I went back to the neighborhood I lived in my first year. Williamsburg, even you had changed. Once a mecca for hipsters and artists, now overrun with baby carriages and screaming children. But still, the lump in my throat grew even more when I saw my favorite taco truck, and the dive bar my boyfriend and I shared many giant beers served in Styrofoam cups, and had great conversations. I went inside, and for old times sake, stole another "out for a smoke!" Rosemary's Tavern coaster. The coasters hadn't changed.

The train stop for the L - which had been my nemesis for so long, now seemed somehow friendly and inviting. Come stand on my platform. I'll probably make you late for something once I finally get here - or better yet, I'll arrive so full of people that you will have no choice but to just stand and watch me go by! Someone will probably sneeze on you. It will smell. It will be uncomfortable. But you love me, unconditionally. And it's true, L Train, I do. You were the first train I ever learned to ride alone.

Long story short, the thing I love most about New York, is the comfort in loneliness. In Michigan, I am constantly reminded of my loneliness. It stares at me, smugly. I don't have many close friends, if any, other than my husband. This is of my own doing because I have a hard time finding people to relate to. But here, you're forced to look your loneliness in the face, and ask it lots of questions. In New York, your loneliness is not only shared and embraced, it's celebrated. You and your loneliness are invited and encouraged to step outside your door and be surrounded by a sea of other people who are alone. You and your loneliness have endless museums to go into, shops to browse at, people to watch. You can ride the subway all day and just read or listen to your ipod and be alone, and it's fine. There is Central Park, the MET, Union Square, Soho, the lower east side, Bryant Park. The best books, the best magazines.

Sometimes I would just walk around Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library. I would stare into the window displays of Chanel, YSL, McQueen, and just dream. Being lonely is okay in New York. It feels good. It feels right. No one stares at me, asks about my tattoos, or judges what I'm wearing. I'm not on display, I'm part of the display. I am weird and New York says, hey, it's totally fine to be who you are. Be weird, we don't have time to care. I never felt this kind of freedom until I lived alone for two years. I think in the years I spent in NYC, from ages 28-30, I grew more into myself than any years of my life before.

So that, I miss with all of my heart. I miss being swallowed up by a city, completely consumed by it. Being allowed to just be "me" with no questions asked. Befriend my loneliness and celebrate it. So in my love letter to New York, I'd just like to say thanks. Thanks for letting me be a part of you. I leave a part of me, with you, each time I come back.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Savage Beauty

I am in New York this week, and attended Savage Beauty, the Alexander McQueen Tribute exhibit at the Met, on Sunday. I intend to go back again tomorrow morning. It was overwhelming, sad, and devastatingly beautiful. I can't leave New York without seeing it at least twice.

Alexander McQueen, since the moment I first looked at his work - which was the No. 13, spring/summer 1999 collection where Shalom Harlow rotated on a platform in a white muslan dress and robots sprayed her with yellow and black paint. - has long been my favorite artist. I don't even think he should be called a designer - while he is obviously an incredible designer - I think artist fits him better - speaks more volume for what he really has accomplished. He doesn't just make clothes. He makes you think, he makes you feel. Sometimes its bad, and sometimes it's good, and usually it's both.

Anyway, like everyone else in the fashion world, I was obviously devastated when he committed suicide last February. It was a huge loss. But I wasn't completely surprised. His mother had died a few years before, and he was very close to her. In interviews, he constantly referenced "when I am gone", and you could tell he didn't mean when he was 89.

I purchased the book Savage Beauty at the exhibit, and I read something in it that really struck a chord with me. He was talking about the shows, and how they were always the most important thing to him. He never really even cared about selling the collections.

(From Savage Beauty:)

"I need inspiration. I need something to fuel my imagination and the shows are what spur me on, make me excited about what I'm doing. When you start getting into the mindset where this is a business and you've got to bring in money, when you're designing with a buyer in mind, the collection doesn't work. The danger is that you lose the creativity that drives you....I want people to see that this is what fashion is about. This is what we're here for. This is why we're unique. There isnt anyone doing anything like I do. It's taken me fifteen years to come up with a concept as a designer, to become fully aware that what I'm doing is personal to me. I don't think I always do it for the people in the audience. I do it for the people who see the pictures in the press afterwards, in newspapers and in magazines. I design the shows as stills and I think that if you look at those stills they tell the whole story."

Reading this passage in the book made me feel extremely comforted. I felt like I finally found someone I could really relate to in this way. The shows are what I love most about being a designer. I make no money off of them - I don't even charge a thing for people to come watch. I just make a collection to tell a story. To be completely honest, I don't even care about selling it. I don't care about reproducing it in 4 different sizes. I don't get off from seeing it in a store. I am not a business woman, as much as people tell me I need to be, I just can't do it. Sometimes, and definitely in the case of certain pieces, I don't even want to sell it. I just want to put on a show, and tell my story. Alexander McQueen may be gone, but his work will continue to live on - through his past collections, and the amazing translation of his work and his vision from here on out executed by the incredibly talented Sarah Burton, creative director for the McQueen house. And I am just grateful for everything he has done for people like me - encouraging us that we in no way, need to follow any fashion rules in order to be great designers.

This photo is part of a set taken by Chris Asadian at my 2011 Fashion Show. See the rest here.