As someone who is not in the rag trade, you may be surprised to hear that I’m sometimes asked by the media about my views on fashion. I cannot honestly say that I’m very up to date with the latest trends. After all, I don’t follow closely the latest catwalk shows and can only guess at what’s in or out from looking at advertisements or browsing through whatever’s available in shops.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t take care over my appearance. So, yes, I do have some views on how to dress.
I’m certainly conscious of the fact that there’s a method, if not an art, to dressing in style. Whether we like it or not, dress is a form of personal expression. If you’re sloppy, you’re sending out just as much of a signal as when you’re in a smart suit. Even if you’re intentionally dressed to not make a statement, that low-key act in itself is already a statement. So there’s no escaping that old cliché: you are what you dress.
If that is the case, I guess you may as well take control of this sartorial medium and convey to others what you really intend.
Let’s go back to a media interview I once gave. I recall one of the questions was: “What essential item would you have in your wardrobe?”
I thought long and hard about this question, trying to avoid the real answer (T-shirts and jeans) because it would simply be too boring. So I decided to take a slightly philosophical approach. I started to ask myself: when I make an appearance, what kind of reaction would I like from people?
I know that I’m not the type of person who could pull off a real statement piece. I am no Lady Gaga. Besides, on many occasions, shock tactics can offend people. But then, I’m not content not to express my individualism by being in a uniform either. I realise I’d always need to strike the right balance. I would like to be different, but not in a way that would shock. I would like to acknowledge trends but would not like to be seen to be a slave to them. I would like people to see me and have a mental question mark hovering above them. I would like them to be curious and unable to categorise me into an established type. I would like to be provocative at a subliminal level.
So the answer to that simple question, “What essential item would you have in your wardrobe?” is “irony”.
I recall during one dinner party, an acquaintance suddenly quizzed me about my T-shirt. It must have irritated him so much that he just couldn’t resist asking any longer.
I was wearing a regular T-shirt with a huge branded logo printed across my chest. The brand was one that was hugely popular a couple of decades ago but has been on the wane ever since. It was, at this particular time, more or less universally considered completely “out”. However, the brand had taken on some new creative people and had been putting out marketing material that I’d consider edgy. I had faith that this brand could be revived, so I decided to make an uncharacteristically brazen endorsement of it.
What the person at the dinner party really wanted to know was whether or not the branded T-shirt I was wearing was a fake. Perhaps it was something I picked up from a Bangkok street vendor? Of course it wasn’t a fake, but luckily it wasn’t too expensive either. But the price was worth it, because it elicited exactly the sort of emotion that I crave for in my audience.
It’s for the same reason that I enjoy shopping for second-hand or vintage clothing. I yearn to find that piece that makes people question if I’m “in” or “out”.My idea of being at the height of fashion is to exist in neither of these two states. As my favourite Rod Stewart lyric goes: “Once you think you’re in, you’re out”.