I watched a Youtube documentary recently in which Frederic Tcheng, director of Dior and I, was talking about fashion. How it is often deemed superficial – and how it absolutely is. He states the fact that clothing is literally on the surface. However, he also notes the depth of fashion that many do not care to appreciate.
Lately, I have stumbled upon many examples of how clothing is linked to memories. How it can stir up a delicious nostalgia within. These supposedly surface garments come with stories that transform them into fabric woven with meaning.
I was touched by a piece in the fall issue of Porter magazine, by Ruth Behar. Ruth and her parents fled Cuba for New York after the Revolution turned communist in the 1960s. As they were considered traitors for leaving their country, they were allowed to leave with only a suitcase and the clothes on their backs. Although Ruth’s father never looked back, her mother could not hide her yearning for her home country. When Ruth returned to Cuba in the 1990s, her mother sent her in search of a woman named Caro who had taken care of Ruth and her brother as children.
“Try to find her. Tell her I never forgot her.” Ruth’s mother told her.
Ruth did find Caro and at the end of one of her visits, the woman gave her a gift to give to her mother. When they fled Cuba, Caro had saved Ruth’s mother’s honeymoon nightgowns.
“It gave me goosebumps to hold those pale peach and pale yellow gowns to the light. They still carried the shape of my mother’s 20-year-old body, when she weighed 99 pounds and had a tiny waist and mermaid hips.”
According to Ruth, in 1950s Cuba it was common for women to have modista sewn for them. “…magical outfits that caressed their female curves.”
Ruth described the moment she gave the gowns to her mother and the tears in her eyes. She goes on to state beautifully…
“I often think about everything Caro could have saved for my mother and how she chose the nightgowns. In the beautiful gesture of friendship, it was made clear to me how important garments are to women. The garments united two women of different backgrounds, two women separated by revolution and exile.”
Two days later, I was home in Christchurch, sitting on the couch inspecting a black and white photo of my grandmother and wishing on a star that she had saved the amazing coat she was wearing. It looked as though it was made of a heavy wool blend and it had big oversized cuffs. As I flipped the photo over in my hands, it read:
This started a conversation in the lounge about clothes ‘back in the day’. Mum recalled the time she went to visit Dad in hospital in a pair of white hot pants adorned with a silver chain belt – how she clip-clopped down the sterile halls in her high-heels. She also wistfully remembered a backless jumpsuit made for her by Dad’s sister – the fabric was the palest yellow polka dot. Dad whispered to me that this very jumpsuit caught the attention of every man in the rugby club-rooms.
After this conversation, I sat down to write this post and I stared at the ring on my finger. An amethyst that my Nana Peggy gave to my mother on her 21st birthday and my mother gave me on my 30th. I realised that clothes and accessories may be on the surface – they may be superficial by definition. But if you want them to, they can mean so much more than looks or status. They are time portals full of identity and emotion.
Top – Ruby Skirt – Paper Scissors Shoes – Country Road Hat – Street market
Much love XX