In spite of the VampersandlandA's Versace festival, and books like Fashion Statements: Archaeology of Elegance 1980-2000,[*] I've never been convinced by the idea of fashion as art. I don't see why it has to be; it has so much else to do. When culture and art swan up and down the catwalk bedecked in 'fashion', I find myself scrummaging around in the oversized wardrobe in the spare room at the back of my mind, thinking about my lifelong romance with what I can't help calling 'clothes'. Call them 'clothes', and what some people think of as art and cultural studies become for me private history, memory and a grossly overspent youth and middle-age in search of the perfect garment. I recall a much-published novelist claiming in an interview that she would rather never have written a word than have lost the husband who divorced her a dozen years before. I gasped to read this. Give up writing for love? Really? World peace, maybe, social and educational equality, possibly - though I would demand firm guarantees. Then an image slithered into my head of a cupboard - let's call it a closet - stuffed with slinky Galliano slips of dresses, a handful of witty Chanel suits, a selection of madly deconstructed Margielas and Demeulemeesters, a St Laurent smoking section, an unworn sprinkling of sparkling Versace, an almost invisible beige shimmer of Armani, and beneath, all in neat array, row upon row of Blahnik, Miu Miu and Jimmy Choo kitten heels. Well, would I have traded work for frocks? Certainly I'd give my right arm for such a wardrobe (I'm left-handed). My soul, without doubt (but then before the tragic days of giving up, I once offered up my soul in return for a late-night cigarette when I'd run out). My integrity you could have for a song, though I value it enough to demand lyrics by Cole Porter or Lorenz Hart. My sanity I gave up long ago when I discussed with a friend whether it was preferable to be mad or fat. But I wouldn't give up writing. At least I don't think so . . .
LRB 14 November 2002 | PDF Download