Fear and Clothing
Sad secrets sewn into the label
A reflection on the vagaries and charms of fashion
I am wearing my vintage Kate Spade skirt today. It is a silk pleated skirt in a bright abstract pattern. Big swathes of Yves Klein blue and haphazard white blocks. It has a 50s, ladylike, cheery appeal. But it is the stuff you cannot see that makes this garment special. The hem is seamed with a ribbon of lace. Along with her name, the label has a witty aphorism written on it: “Skirt the Rules.” Small secrets that make a relatively simple skirt seem a bit like a talismanic object. It has a little bit of magic to it. It bears a happy secret and I am wearing it. A friend was carrying her Kate Spade handbag yesterday and a brief chat confirmed that she felt the same way about it.
I am sure that these little amusing touches of whimsy are what turned Kate Spade’s name into a retail goldmine. And she really had a way with the sales; even after she sold the company, her name continued to ring in the profits. She had understood something fundamental about brand-building. The details are crucial. Kate Spade’s fairy dust was that she made everyone who bought into her brand feel complicit, and mysteriously part of a happy place, where clothes and hand bags and shoes could bring real joy through small affirmations, wit and care. They are really very special clothes.I cannot claim to know anything more about Kate Spade. I have now read dozens of articles about her – and how her exuberant public persona was coupled with a deep depression that she tragically could not shake. On the same weekend Anthony Bourdain, another seemingly joyous iconoclast, took his own life. And suddenly the conversation about depression was on the table. The book club dinner party got more honest – at least for a moment in time. And my significant other reported back from the post-rugby celebrations that a friend had spoken really openly for the first time about his struggle with depression.This is a good thing coming from a very sad place. I suppose the implication is that if these apparently super-successful, super-rich people, who have free agency to do what they want with their lives and presumably are able to pay for help due to their ostensible success, are still unhappy and cannot shake it – then it is okay to acknowledge that maybe you are also not feeling so great. Perhaps you too are living with an overwhelming sadness that threatens to wash you out to sea. I remember hearing in hushed tones that entire swathes of acquaintances were on anti-depressants and anxiety-hushing pills, and that they could not ever consider stopping the medication. Yet nobody would really discuss the issue openly. It would be a message that came through the social ether to explain blips in somebody’s behaviour that was otherwise mysterious or hurtful to bystanders who had no idea what might be going on. “Oh don’t get upset with her. She responds badly to her anti-depressants when she drinks!” But otherwise a deafening silence of secret shame about the relative lack of inner happiness and peace.I can only imagine that the reason marijuana has now become such a mainstream product has something to do with the unspoken stuff going on in people’s lives and a real need for gentle release from sadness. Even Gwyneth Paltrow, the queen of wellness juice and overpriced jade vagina balls, hosted a weed panel at last weekend’s Goop festival. Luxury cannabis is now officially a thing. If nothing else perhaps the tragic dark secret sewn into Kate Spade’s beautiful world can unravel – and act as a conduit to lay bare the pain people might be feeling. Perhaps they can skirt the rules and speak about it. That is a kind of magic too. Sympathetic magic.