In a world where pretty and sexy are standard adjectives for how women are expected to dress, true fashion anarchists derive the greatest joy from dressing like outsiders, see: Comme des Garcons’ monstrous cult, Maison Martin Margiela’s anonymous minimalists, Ann Demeulemeester‘s morose Edwardian romantics, and Rick Owens’ alien life forms. And for the loyal band of Paul Harnden fans- to which I reference the elusive British brand, known for dusty tweeds and cuffed wide-leg pants- in hues like “moss” and patterns like “hopscotch”- the ultimate outsider status is that of the turn-of-the-century British peasant. Deconstructed to resemble heirloom-worthy pickings from the remains of a grave and/or haunted attic, the clothes carry an unassuming anti-fashion allure matched not even by the renegades listed above, as only a handful of fashion insiders are even clued into the brand’s existence, and of those, none could popularize the classic look of the beggar to the logo-loving American populace, and hence, it’s relegated to devoted Instagram hashtags and a purposely useless website.
So last winter, when I tried on a Paul Harnden apron at If Boutique in Soho, puritanical in its modesty and five kinds of awkward in its ass-coverage, my scope shrunk to the singular vision of Harnden and his gang of directional misfits. I envisioned myself milking cows, herding sheep, and square dancing with my cheeks ruddy from fierce farm winds. G-L-A-M-O-U-R. The look, so very far contrasted by the popular streetwear of my peer group, combined with my eternal loner status, left me salivating, over both the idea of fresh gouda but namely the idea of being the pilgrim wearing a full-length apron with a button-up, oxfords, and a long bustled blazer through my neighborhood coffee shop. I had to have that apron, and dammit, I needed it now. The $1400 price tag, however, relegated my search to secondary sources: Japanese eBay. I sent my weight in monthly rent and any shred of dignity to a proxy service, and within a few days, the apron was at my door. It took me one month before I realized I’d been hoodwinked, like a classic fool, into looking like a blacksmith, for the grand total of $800.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time I’d paid a high price for a particular designer’s unfettered vision. As something of a young, avid Comme collector, my wardrobe may or may not resemble the start of a respectable Rei Kawakubo shrine. But when I felt my obsession becoming a bit unwieldy, i.e., when I spent the remainder of my Paris Fashion Week budget on a pair of this season’s Junya Watanabe patchwork denim, after which I spent the subsequent weeks attempting to flee from the travails of my fleeting finances, I had a revelation, and that revelation said: girl, no article of clothing is worth your peace of mind, to which I chuckled, brushed that joke off my shoulder, and got to the actual prophecy: I was so obsessed with the Comme ideal that I was forgetting my own ideal- and some days, that’s merely to afford dinner. So for a month, I avoided my usual wardrobe-pumping haunts, and turned to accessories not labeled under the Comme umbrella to both inspire and update my look, and lo and behold, I was none the less a directional weirdo for it, but #YOLO, I was doing it my way.
So why do we give in to the illusion, to the mask, the magic of it all, when we know it’s all a game of smoke and mirrors? At the end of the day, let’s be real: they’re clothes, and they’re replaceable, and, hello, they’re clothes. Most fashion is ultimately ridiculous, like most art, because we’re all biased hypocrites with bones to chew and nothing is not up for interpretation. The danger, then, lies in our own disability to separate the allure of a designer’s vision from what the clothes really are, attempting to fit into someone else’s box, no matter how rebellious a visionary or obscure a creator. An eye singular to the glory of one designer, regardless of their brilliance, still denotes conformity, and more often than not, is blind loyalty disguised as vision. A sheep is a sheep, sometimes just more expensively- and foolishly- outfitted.
So yes, ultimately I deserved a smack, or two, or maybe 800, but I sold the apron to another Harnden junkie for $600, because as they say, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, and next season it’s all about the hospital gown.