My life so far has been centred around obsessions. I was saved from this unhealthy predilection for addiction when I was younger, but that period of hormones and transmogrification known as adolescence was the starting point for my temporary fixations. At one point I remember being adamant about wanting to learn the drums. I still fantasize about it to a certain degree, but the pattern thus far has been an endless series of substitutions and fads. Panic! at the Disco was one of them. I had a mammoth-sized crush on the pale, dark-haired, baby-faced lead singer. One of the less toxic obsessions I harboured was reading. I've got shelves of books at home that I always eye with pride and a certain fondness. Then came a time when the age-old cliche that style and clothes are an expression of our personality dawned on this little head and my focus shifted once again, like a gear lever in traffic.
So I've been (self-)diagnosed with AADD: Addictive Attention Deficit Disorder. The best, most lethal part of this terrible syndrome is that sometimes, two obsessions can go hand-in-hand. The resulting financial suffering is never-ending.
'Hyperbole' should be my middle name, but I really do feel that I've hit the mark with the three books whose covers are gracing the top of this post and my bookshelf in my bedroom. I've decided not to go down the traditional review route – you can follow the links to Amazon and trawl through the comments. In fact, the whole reason I've bothered with this post is because the three of them hit home on some personal level. From the scrapbook musings of an It Girl and the cringe-couture concoctions of a superblogger to a style veteran's reminiscences of "La Mode", the undersigned struck literature gold in what he likes to call Page-Turner Chic*.
It, Alexa Chung
The Chungster has done it again. Look at me, calling her nicknames like we rub shoulders all the friggin' time. The model-turned-presenter-turned-muse-turned-collab designer-turned-author has turned into a spinning top of win. I wouldn't be surprised if the headlines announced her demise to vertigo. If you're not a fan of Alexa, you'll find this book slightly intriguing but possibly pointless and self-indulgent. It's not. I would describe it as an outlet for a dabbler in art, photography and writing. Die-hard fans of Chung will recognise some of the photos from her MySpace days as a presenter on Popworld and founding member of Team Evil, hanging with the likes of the Geldof sisters and now-defunct girl group The Like. Presented as an amalgamation of a vintage girl's guide to life and an extended Take A Break advice page, the book deals with the arcane (Karl Lagerfeld) to the mundane (how to get dressed in the morning) and everything in between. But, among the precious doodles and portraits of her personal style icons, there was one mini-essay, so to speak, that stood out like a Peter Pan-collar dress at a rave party.
Heartbreak. I will not go into the details of her previous relationships because a) you're on the Internet, use it, b) it would detract from the candid and vulnerable nature of her experience. In any case, were it written by Alexa or anyone else, her words ring true because they are not proffered as a consolation or cup-of-tea sympathy, but rather as the stark, stone-cold truth about the unforgiving mechanisms of dead relationships. As she says with hammer-to-nail precision, heartbreak makes you inconsolable and unable to receive help. Whether it's a failed love story or unrequited infatuation, a broken heart is hard to mend, except with time. And among the scribbles and snaps and eternal style icons, there stood the pearl of wisdom delivered by her mother that is equal parts revelatory and blatant:
"Nobody goes through life without having their heart broken, and one day you'll wake up and it will be okay."
If you're not one for soppy silliness, worry not. For the most part the book is light-hearted and pleasant, and if you find yourself in a non-reading mood, you can simply opt to flip the pages and stare at all the Instagram-style photos of too-cool-to-be-real people in awkward, party poses.
Seeking Love, Finding Overalls, Leandra Medine
We all know and adore the Man Repeller, the ultimate paradox of unattractive apparel who bagged herself a man (and a book deal, too) against all odds. Thank God for Leandra. Amidst all the serious, glamourous ramblings of bloggers the world over, Miss Medine is to be credited with justifying women's (and possibly gay men's) love of FUPA, harem pants, turbans and other sundry items of clothing that the fairer sex loves, its male counterpart loves to hate and the general public fails (or refuses) to understand.
This collection of essays by the Jewish megablogger from New York (I mention her faith simply because she herself speaks liberally about it within the pages of the book) sees her rise to fashion stardom from her first experience sticking out like a sore thumb at a party, to her tumultuous relationship with her menstrual cycle (which reaches its nadir in a Wall of Shame-worthy tale that will have you cringing with sympathy and pity, whether you're of the vaginal or the penal persuasion), to her marriage and the resulting struggle about its announcement on her blog. What do you tell an audience who finds comfort in a spokesperson for fashion-over-spinsterhood when your fictional, self-descriptive dictionary entry is made redundant by a circular piece of metal?
Amongst her many musings, Leandra (or Medine because, although my English teacher taught us that an A-student calls authors by their last name, in my head she is my future best friend) gives her take on the concept of timelessness. It comes as no surprise to her followers when she says that she does not comprehend the notion of fashion that beats the test of time. She raises an interesting point in declaring that she is not remotely interested in being timeless, because she feels that clothes should represent the zeitgeist of their time. Trends, good or bad, established or short-lived, gain significance when observed under the Man Repeller's microscope. Being a creature of change, but also a financial frenemy to my bank account, whose internal struggles when buying trend-based clothes are too frequent for sanity's sake, I felt appeased by the fact that someone would willingly reject the idea of long-term investment in favour of temporary appeal.
The memoir-of-sorts has its fair share of hoorahs and hahas. I would, however, include a disclaimer: if you are a consummate brand-whore, particularly for Hermès, I'd suggest skipping The Ostrich Skin Clutch. You'll be rocking your handbags in your lap, making soft, crooning noises and stroking their surface when you're done with the chapter.
The Asylum, Simon Doonan
The joint promotion of The Asylum and Seeking Love, Finding Overalls was a happy accident I came across after hitting the 'Checkout' button. I was looking for some interesting fashion-related books to read and Simon Doonan's latest work was a top recommendation, so I read through the first chapter and was instantly hooked. The premise of the memoir is, I dare say, the best part – and not because the rest of the book is subpar.
Au contraire, it was an overall pleasant read because it highlights the idiosyncracies of the fashion world with humour and panache, while educating younger generations about the history of this weird and wonderful industry. Among the glamour and glitz of Hollywood and anorexia, Doonan also opens the door to a different kind of fashion: the pre-Twitter, pre-blogging, pre-Rachel Zoe Project world of "La Mode", as he calls it (or her – big on personification, Mr Doonan), back when it was more exclusive and sheltered, yet still riddled with its own plagues and talents.
The opening pages of The Asylum introduce us to Doonan's psychologist friend who works in a mental hospital and who frequently has little tiffs with the auteur over the incomprehensible nature of Fashion**. Occasionally they find freaky similarities between their two professions. The following extract struck a chord particularly as it harked back to the Man Repeller's perspective on trends:
"Seeing patterns where there are none. In Lizzie's profession, insisting upon the existence of patterns of any kind constitutes a diagnostic red flag, a symptom of a fairly serious psychiatric disorder. But not for me. I have long since habituated to the idea of trends and have always taken great pleasure in catapulting them at Lizzie."
Doonan proceeds to recount various tales of insanity and kookiness within Barneys, where he works as Creative Ambassador-at-Large, and beyond. He dishes the dirt about the Devil Wears Prada movie (priceless) as well as singing the praises of geniuses past and present, including Rei Kawakubo and the late Lee McQueen, whose endless creativity was both a blessing and a curse. It is this fine line between the demons that haunt these incomparable creative geniuses and their awe-inspiring, breath-taking work that sets the tone for the rest of the memoir, both sobering and hilariously elating in its portrayal of Fashion as a refuge for the "different" and a bubbling pot of batshit cray.
If you think fashion and literature should be kept at a strictly informative level of association, I would recommend having a look-see at the abovementioned because what most avid fashion followers fail to remember at times is that the industry is driven by human beings, not robots, and the downfall of many people is leaving their sense of humour and levity knocking at the door.
I hope I'll get posting outfit photos very soon because the summer heat hasn't been kind to my sartorial creativity. I've got yummy pieces of clothing in my wardrobe itching to be worn and paraded.
* I am using the term 'chic' very ironically. My relationship with the word falls under "It's complicated".
** I feel that at this point I should capitalise the first letter in Being John Malkovich-style empathy.