the self project
After I moved back to Toronto, I lost the habit of shared self-reflection. In London, I had a lot of time to myself and spent a lot of time in the office. Money was tight and I was thinking about my work a lot, and what I was trying to accomplish, and how to overcome so many obstacles. And I was sharing my journey on Final Fashion. Then when I moved back in Toronto, I stopped.
In Canada again, I realized how much I missed my family. I felt so much joy in being a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a grand-daughter, again. I spent as much time with my relatives as I could after two years of being so far away. My cost of living had decreased so I found myself feeling somewhat comfortable, relative to the reduced circumstances I had become used to in London anyway. And early in the year, I met a handsome Canadian carpenter and fell in love. It has been wonderful to indulge in being a girlfriend again after being single for a few years. I felt more whole and content than I had in a long, long while. Being content doesn’t provide much content, though. Posts on Final Fashion began to space out, and as the summer wore on I experienced a slow season.
One of the things I love about fashion is its cyclical nature. I’ve come to recognize the recurring ebbs and flows as my career picks up and languishes in step with the seasons. At the beginning of my career, when I experienced slow times, I used to panic. It felt like my career was a fragile thing, and rejections and empty inboxes made it feel like being a fashion illustrator was attempting a doomed mission. Later, slow times became an opportunity to reflect and reinvent. I would revise my blogging practices and edit my portfolio. I’ve always found that when you share energy, it comes back to you. Doing things and making things is the best way to get out of a rut. A creative career is all about giving the best you can and trusting that someone out there is going to get it.
This time, I knew why the deceleration was happening. It was my own doing, because I was too absorbed in real life, I had let my online identity slide. Things have changed a lot in the blogging world since I started, and I felt ideological resistance towards the development of two vastly different extremes in the form. I didn’t want blogging to be all about status and appearances – being an object of admiration and envy just for being pretty and having nice things. Not that I can afford luxuries. And though I’m comfortable with my appearance, I don’t feel compelled to use my own image as a creative outlet. I also didn’t want it to be all about confessions – performing a virtual psychological striptease to win sympathy or provoke controversy. There’s no sense in using sex or psychodrama in my work – I’m a fashion illustrator, not a diarist. The middle route? That’s where I am now, the middle route is obscurity, becoming lost among so many voices. I felt posting paralysis this year – I wasn’t sure what I wanted to share anymore. Yet it had become clear that I needed to put more of myself back into my work, somehow.
The other major consideration I was thinking about during the downtime was the wonderful New York Fashion Week I had experienced in February. Attending amazing fashion shows, seeing my sketches in WWD, getting my picture on the New York Times website with the caption, fashion illustrator! I was living the dream, my dream! I knew I had to go back and capitalize on that momentum. What had I learned, and how could I possibly have a better season after such a high note? I realized I have to pack a bigger, better thriving kit than ever.
One thing that I learned last season, is that I am not just an illustrator any more. I am a performer. The act of illustrating is becoming just as important, if not more important, than the illustrations as products. And more and more I was finding myself in front of cameras, doing my work, but also presenting my work in person to people whose recognition matters. I realized that downplaying my own looks, as I had tended to do out of fear or contrariness or idiotic ideology, was a pointless form of denial. Of course how I look and what I wear matter! If fashion had taught me any lessons, it’s that you can use your appearance as a form of game theory – that looking good gets you where you want to go. My life is like an adventure – I’m the hero – and I need to dress for the part I want to play.
So instead of redesigning my blog, this time I decided to redesign myself very deliberately so I could put my face back on the blog to best advantage. I decided to take all my good features and just amplify them slightly – so I made my hair blonder, had my eyebrows done professionally, and selected more modern frames for my glasses. I upgraded my makeup routine to help me feel more confident in photographs. I very belatedly opened an Instagram account and started earnestly practicing the art of the self-portrait.
I also wanted to adapt my wardrobe to my work. Last season I had the chance to attend the Oscar de la Renta show, and while it was incredibly exciting just to be there, it threw into stark relief my biggest problem at fashion week – I never know how to dress. Surrounded by a crowd of people with money, taste, and access the the best clothing in the world, I very much felt like a scruffy interloper, and being very pointedly placed behind a pillar so I wouldn’t be caught photobombing inside the photographer’s frames made it clear that I needed to overcome this problem. It felt at that moment like there was a glass wall between me and the world I was sketching, and yet somehow, I need to walk among the fashion elite. How am I going to do that?
Buying designer clothing isn’t an option. However, I know how to sew and I have a studio at my disposal, so I decided I would design my own solution. I made a shirt-dress inspired by artist’s smocks. The idea was, I wanted to look as much like a fashion illustrator as possible. Most people have no idea what that looks like, so to a large extent, I get to define it for myself. I thought, why not look like an artist, but a bit more chic? I like the idea of wearing a working uniform – as far as fashion goes, I’m not a natural born peacock, and I love simple, practical clothing. I took my cue from people like Karl Lagerfeld and Bill Cunningham – creating a single signature look that can be repeated, until your image itself becomes a kind of logo. Above is the first prototype. The idea is, it is a versatile garment that can be worn belted or loose, open or closed, as a dress or as a shirt. It has lots of pockets for all my pens and stuff. This is just the first one, but I want to make many more variations in several colours. I like careful cuts and crisp, classic details, and though it was labour intensive, this project felt incredibly satisfying. This is the beginning of something.
I also made a purpose-built portfolio case for live runway sketching. I’ve decided on my ideal format after much trial and error – 12 x 16. So this bag is meant to hold paper of that size, but the main feature is a plexiglass window on one side that allows me to display my latest and greatest drawing to the world. Plus, the plexi keeps my papers from getting bent or damaged and offers a firm surface for me to draw on if I need it. I should have made this bag ages ago, I can’t wait to take it out to the field.
The upside of lean times is that I need them to grow. As an artist, I can’t keep a relentless momentum and produce consistent work constantly – sometimes it’s time to step back, live a little, take a long view and refocus. I feel more ready for a new season than I ever have before. I’m back in New York for the Spring 2014 shows, and ready to show my best work – and my best self.