Fashion, Licentiate Columns, The Reading List

Licentiate Column 21/12/11: Nostalgia

Is it just me or was Christmas better, y’know, back then? When Coke ads were more sleigh bells and less Bedingfield? When they still showed the Kellogg’s ad? When they still showed the Budweiser horses in the context of television and not a depressing, flaccid three-ring circus on a soggy afternoon?

Nostalgia is the soundtrack of our lives. We look backwards through a kaleidoscope; the moments we choose to focus on reflect off each other. They become distorted but wonderful, become one collective, prismatic, memorable whole.

I have always thought that fashion was an important factor in how a person latches on to and creates a memory. Some of the process is visual. A person’s style can literally mean the difference between being remembered or forgotten.

My thoughts were, I hope, validated by the release of ‘Nostalgia in Vogue’, a coffee-table tome. It is a collection of American Vogue’s ‘Nostalgia’ essays, in which a person of note talks about a particular picture or article in any issue of Vogue that helped to shape the way that person sees the past.

It can easily be dismissed as fluff, but to do so would be a disservice to ourselves. Fashion and style is all tied-up in a person’s self image. It’s hard-wired into us (not as much as sleeping or eating, but it’s definitely on a par with say, that switch that goes off in your brain when your favourite song is played on the radio).

Even literary heavyweights such as Joan Didion and Margaret Atwood have contributed to the book. Musician Patti Smith revealed that she would often try to emulate the graceful, dramatically silhouetted models of the pre-Vreeland era, turning her hats just so and fantasising about a different world in New York – a world that she would later come to inhabit and reinvent.

Anjelica Huston talks candidly about a double portrait of herself and her mother; Huston awkwardly post-pubescent but charismatic, her mother an older, reassured mirror. A few years later, after her mother had died, Huston became a model and did a shoot in the Connemara wilds, her ancestral home. It is preserved in paper for Huston, who now admits that she can’t go back there. It would be too changed from what she remembers.

The book is incredibly diverse. From it’s pages spill inspiration, disappointment, elation, heartbreak, despair, anticipation, achievement. Birth, marriage, divorce – all through the lens of Avedon, Ritts, Newton..

It’s odd that a magazine feature should be so backward-looking when fashion is all about what lies ahead of us. We find out what we’ll be wearing this Autumn every February and even that will change several times with the passing of every month. But, because of bi-annual industry reinvention, there is an astonishing body of work to look back and reflect on. It needs to be reflected on.

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