Yesterday we made our way to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a talk for the Costume Institute‘s Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibit. It was a conversation, and an entirely possible one at that, between Tavi Gevinson and Iris Apfel. And yet, a discussion about personal style between a 16-year-old and a 90-year-old did seem rather impossible: how could two women so far apart in age have a cohesive exchange about something that transforms so much with the passing of time?
But as soon as the internet wunderkind and the formidable style icon walked into the auditorium for the event, which was called “Good Taste/Bad Taste: The Evolution of Contemporary Chic”, all of that perceived impossibility dissipated. What was left in its place was an exceptional talk about drawing strength from wearing what you love.
The afternoon kicked off with a discussion of each woman’s personal style and what it means to them. Gevinson, who was as cool as a cucumber — incredibly self-assured for a teenager and yet completely unassuming — showed up in dark lipstick, blunt blonde bangs, and a Prada lip-printed skirt. She first spoke about the pressure that can come with getting dressed in the morning. “What’s sad to me is when fashion can become a source of stress. The idea of it ever becoming something that is stressful or a burden is terrifying to me,” she said. “It can be a really nice outlet.” Apfel, who had to be aided across the stage but still managed to appear positively vivacious, strolled in wearing her signature massive glasses, a grey boa thrown over one shoulder, and a neck full of turquoise baubles. “I think the really important thing is to not give a damn about what anyone else thinks,” she quipped. “If someone else didn’t like how I put myself together, it was their problem, not mine.”
The conversation quickly turned to Prada and Schiaparelli themselves. The moderator, journalist Judith Thurman, called them the mothers of surrealist fashion and the ugly/beautiful aesthetic that is the hallmark of so many fashion houses today. Gevinson talked about Prada’s point of view versus the points of view of other designers. “So many of Prada’s clothes feel like they exist in a vacuum that’s sort of outside of cultural references,” she observed. “So many of her ideas are just very basically about human nature, and that’s interesting to me, too…She’s interested in the back because that’s a part where a person is sort of like an animal, or she talks about power, and I guess very much the way things feel.”
When Thurman asked Apfel to weigh in on what she called “mutant fashion” — clothing that essentially changes the shape of the body — and the “mad scientists of couture” such as McQueen and Martin Margiela, Apfel had no problem saying exactly how she felt. “Schiaperelli worked on clothes, she worked on a woman’s body. I think some of these other things are absolutely insane,” she said. “I see no sense to pay a fortune and end up looking like a freak…Basically, no matter how far out you want to be I think a woman still wants to look attractive.” She then added, “I can look ugly on my own and it won’t cost me a penny!”
The idea that kept working its way back into the discussion was the concept of dressing for yourself, or as Gevinson said, using personal style as “an opportunity to create your own fantasy” and finding what she called a “similar group of weirdos” to share in that fantasy. The idea that we can all use fashion to be who we want to be (whether others consider it to be in good taste or not), and that the rest will fall into place after that, is truly inspiring.
Photo via @rookiemag Instagram