I find myself constantly revisiting thoughts about what it is I love about fashion, and what it is that I don’t enjoy about the narratives of theatre and film. I’ll remind you that my friends know I generally don’t watch movies, and I have earned myself a reputation of being the very first to fall sleep at the mere mention of a blockbuster rental. I maintain that I do well with documentaries and histories and accounts of all things real
– the fictional inventions of a novelist, playwright or filmmaker however rarely keep me engaged.
On the same note, when presented with the worthwhile challenge of designing for the stage, I end up searching for ways to make the utter and complete artifice of it all somehow genuine and real. I suppose my use of this word “real” gets a little wishy-washy from time to time, and know there are academics out there who would love to harpoon my lack of distinction between varied layers of semantics and perception (there’s my “real”, your “real”, a culture’s “real”, and on a fun Saturday night a Virginia real…err….reel) the assumption of the truth behind all of these is risky business, but ultimately I don’t care. This is a blog, folks.
As I think about what I am designing and who I am designing for, I seem best served by considering what appeals to me the most; which of the many facets of clothing design give me the most prolonged sense of pleasure? Which approach doesn’t feel like work? Which lets the hours disappear with the most ease and pleasure?
Fashion remains the answer, and fashion seems to somehow
function as the space with the fewest rules – the fewest demands for me to answer to others, the shortest list of predetermined variables. When people ask about my design projects for theatre, I find myself talking about the luxuries of the stage – often ample budgets, and no need to convince the guys on the street that what I have made needs to go home with them. The invented character doesn’t exist in the first place, so generally they don’t talk back and wear what you decide they wear.
Ultimately I have decided this is not at all true. While a certain degree of freedom can happen in theatre (in contemporary dance, for instance) the narrative of theatre makes all of the decisions before I even sign on to a project. We know what the character will sound like, how they move, in which time period they are living, who they interact with – the designer gets to choose cuts and colors as mere servants to these rules. A caveat to this arrangement does turn up from time to time….the likes of Robert Wilson, for instance, offer aesthetic freedom in a way conventional theatre does not.
That said, I want my narrative to be the lives of the people off the street who may end up wearing my designs. I want the voices they use to be their own….I want the emotions they feel to be something no one else has and something they never needed to affect or invent. I want the clothes they wear to be the silent visual expression of something they love or something they feel or something they believe in. If we don’t have clothing in our lives that does this, we’re likely to be denying ourselves of yet another powerful and important means of expression – another voice in our collective cultural chatter.
And for those of you men who often tell me “I don’t really think much about fashion or care about clothes,” I don’t believe you for one second. If you didn’t care and your choices were truly arbitrary, unimportant and unconsidered, you’d find yourself with a colander on your head or in a women's flannel night gown way more frequently than you ever have before. You all think about it. You all care. You all make choices.
A resolution for 2008: MC is going public.