verbal croquis


awkwardness, product, and the cult of the personality

Posted in personal by verbalcroquis on August 16, 2007

Last night I went to a fashion-y event.  The event was lovely, at quite a cool venue.  The diet coke was an actual diet coke, as opposed to the usual ice-packed glass of cola-flavored water.  (I drink alcohol about once a year, which doesn’t stop me from hanging out at bars regularly.)

I had a miserable time.  I was overdressed, over-made-up.  I felt like a fat freak.  The recent ten pound loss seemed ineffectual.  The husband looked impeccable, however, dressed in a narrow navy blazer, crisp white shirt and straight-leg jeans.  Of course, once I again I succeeded in dressing others quite well while failing miserably in dressing myself.

I hid out smoking outside for most of the hour I was there.  I was there to support a friend but couldn’t manage it.  My friends didn’t show and so I felt like a bit of armor was missing.  My usual alacrity in mingling with strangers went AWOL, as it so often does during fashion events.  I didn’t know who this intimidating force, collectively more suitably dressed than I, was comprised of, and I had no courage to find out.  Embarrassed, I fled the scene.

Once comfortably, if not crankily on my part, at home, the husband and I changed clothes and he took me to a new dive bar he heard about.  I felt all my muscles ease up as I sank into the worn faux leather with my club soda, some nostalgia-inducing pop song playing in the background.

I’m just not hip.  I’m not cool, I’m overweight, which in fashion is a crime. I’m not a complete and utter dork, I just become one around fashionistas.

I am happiest poring over swatches, sketching up something new and fielding emails while some movie I’ve already seen fortyleven times plays on the left side of my computer screen.  Reading a friend’s hilarious email about sourcing a mannequin arm a la Winona Ryder (a complete joke, we’re not actually stealing anything) makes my day, while even thinking about what to wear to some event makes me nauseated.  It’s why I’ve never had an interest in going to fashion shows like a lot of other design students do.  I’d sometimes volunteer for the Gen Art events in L.A. when I was in school, but that was because a whole crew of us were going to make a night of it.

Why does it matter to me?  Because we live in an era I call The Cult of the Personality.  Product doesn’t sell itself, sex doesn’t sell anymore, personality does.  We love our elusive Margiela, our flamboyant Galliano.  Celebrities of varying degrees push product.  People famous solely because of who they are get asked to create fashion lines, perfumes, endorse this and that.

All I got is product.  Everything depends on my product–I have no sideshow, and I’ve got no money to produce one.  No, that doesn’t put any pressure on me at all.  Nope, none at all. Sometimes, this thought drives me forward, other times it stunts my progress.  My goal for the next few months while I make up my first samples is to achieve more of the former and far less of the latter.  We shall see.

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13 Responses to 'awkwardness, product, and the cult of the personality'

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  1. I know exactly what you mean, Zoe. I think all of us who decide to run our own show face exactly that — you don’t just have to do great work, you also have to be the face of your work.

    It’s distracting sometimes, but if that’s what it takes, I’m up for it I guess 🙂

  2. Emily said,

    But for every famous circus show pony, there are lots of hard working designers who don’t have an insane PR machine whirling around them and they make livings.

    Take a look at the bridge lines of any department store and you’ll probably find lots of no name brands that were all started by someone like you. They might not be glittery and dazzling, but those designers make a living with their designs and can occasionally change the way America dresses. I never saw a picture of Liz Claiborne and knew nothing of her life until she died but I’ve known her name since I was a little girl.

  3. Rebecca said,

    Hey, I totally sympathize on the matter of transforming into a complete and utter dork under the right circumstances. Ugh. For me it’s extended family gatherings. And wedding receptions, they’re the worst.

    But as to how that affects your business, I’m no expert, but my sense is that there is a place in this world for substance. Just because what you are doing doesn’t look like the fashiony world you see around you doesn’t mean it isn’t just exactly the new thing that is needed.

  4. jakey said,

    Yeah – welcome to the propaganda age, where marketing sells us more useless crap we don’t need so we can work jobs we hate to buy more crap we don’t need. A good product? Huh?


  5. if its personality they want, you have nothing to worry about. yours is very likeable ;o) shy while witty and opinionated is much more endearing than Loud Splashy and Drunk, no matter what Lindsey Lohan’s people must be telling her.

    i hear you on crowds, though. i live my life in constant terror of having to interact with other people. i hate parties and i hate small talk. i hate splashy. which makes me wonder why i live in new york… i desperately miss the laid back central texas coffeeshop scene, where we were all blissfully unhip.

  6. j said,

    i have a sinking feeling that this was my fashion-y event. for whatever it’s worth, i thought you looked absolutely fantastic and it made me really happy that you guys were there.

    but you’re right that there was a pretty solid contingent of fashion-y people in attendance. that part of the crowd showed up first, before any of the people that i’m actually close to, and i went through about 30 minutes of feeling like the least cool person in the room–even though i was supposed to be the host for the evening.

    as someone with virtually no previous connections in the industry, i’m happy to scrap together any connections i can make. my first few collections went basically unnoticed–but thanks to the PR machinations of the past couple of months and the buzzings of all those fashiony people, things have definitely started to pick up. so if fashion-y events are required for me to get a quality product out there, i’m with the bargain queen… i’ll do whatever it takes.

    then again, i went to a gen art party last night and only stayed for about 15 minutes because the crowd was alarmingly and kind of off-puttingly hip. i don’t think anyone’s immune to the awkwardness of feeling like the biggest dork in the right (well, wrong) circumstances.

  7. Rachel said,

    This human awkwardness and your willingness to admit it can be your strength, though, as there is a huge audience who feels the same way.

  8. ayomide said,

    I feel your pain with the succeeding in dressing someone else and failing miserably to dress yourself. I totally understand the being uncool but that is always what is in your head. Other peoole never see you as you see yourself. They think you have a wonderful personality and look great, ( as noted from people that know you above)

    I myself cringe at interacting with large groups of people and having to indulge in small talk. That is why I call myself a serious introvert and that doens’t help in the fashion world. Probably why I haven’t had much success with getting connections here in the East Bay yet.

    Anyway, don’t be hard on yourself you will have that time where you will shine as a star with your new collection and your product will sell.

  9. Karen C. said,

    Darlin’, I bet you looked just fab! Now, I’m overweight AND old, but not the least bit intimated by these kind of parties. I got over it by living with ALL those kind of people in a residence hotel while studying in Milan (wild story I have to tell you in person). Lots of times I felt really unhip, and then I’d find out how all of the kids I was going to school with (median age 23; me: 49) really looked up to me about what was cool, chic and the fashion world. And you know what really intimidates the fashion crowd? Construction techniques. Start talking “fashion techno speak” and watch ’em sweat and babble LOL.

  10. Andrea said,

    Hey Zoe:

    Don’t feel bad…in May I was in SF for Capsule and was invited to one of those shi shi parties that you have to wear high heels or they kick you out. I am at least 30 lbs heavier than everyone in the room and not as well dressed, so I took a deep breath, looked around at how painfully hard everyone was trying (not to mention they looked like cool automotons), smiled and schmoozed my little heart out. I personally believe that in a battle of cool you’d probably win with about any group of people. I realized that night that if you believe you’re cool, everyone else will too.

    Good luck next time. I can’t wait to hear more about your business and how it’s progressing!

  11. Edubya said,

    Seriously. Zoe, you are completely charming. The fact that you stand out as *not* one of the stepford designers can totally be to your advantage. I’d rather see a branded individual than a flock of people trying to be different in exactly the same way.

  12. S said,

    Thanks for another really insightful post, miss.

    The more I find myself around “hip” people the more I realize it’s all just posturing and hand waving. I feel that same dork discomfort, but I always try to remember: I can’t let a crowd of people with a cookie cutter attitude towards life (because hipness is nothing if not an attitude du jour) keep me from making valuable connections that will promote my work. You have brains and a unique perspective going for you, and there’s no way anyone could see that and not respect you.

    But I’m sure you don’t need to hear this; your priorities are perfect as they are. What keeps people coming back to a brand is ultimately how they look in the clothing, and that’s the flaw of the fashion cult of personality.

  13. dosfashionistas said,

    Hi. I jumped over here from fashion-incubator. I can so relate to this posting, being overweight, and old. But I have been in the rag business all my life, and from this end, honey, being overweight was not that much of a detriment to my success. My attitude toward it was. Let it be part of your persona….as the celebs who are overweight do. In the end, it is the work you do that really matters. Good Luck!

    On the personal side, you have a husband you obviously loves you the way you are. What do you care what those little skinny stick women think about how you look?


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