Fear and clothing: Dresses fit for a diva at SA Style Awards


Fear and clothing: Dresses fit for a diva at SA Style Awards

A weekly column on the vagaries and charms of fashion


Clothes have always had a peculiar talismanic quality. Think of the robes placed on countless sculptures of the Virgin Mary in rituals practised all over the Christian world. By dressing the wooden Virgin, believers somehow animate her; her clothes make her more real. This ancient animistic practice of dressing the goddess perseveres in latter day religions.
The animating quality seems to work in reverse too. The essence of being appears to inhabit some clothing. So a king or queen’s ermine robe and crown are symbolically invested with values and meaning and portent that go far beyond the constituent fabric and metals, and last for generations. The raiments are essentially the reign –wearing the robe and crown is to be the crown.
These things seem to run deep with us. Consider the way mourners will bury their noses in the clothes of the recently deceased and attempt to conjure their missing presence. Giving the clothes away seems an irrevocable act of finality.
The SA Style awards have just unpacked a whole lot of vintage dresses that feel like votive gestures defying time and space. Audrey Hepburn’s 1950s dress by Irene Galitzine, a Russian-Georgian fashion designer, is a small pale pink shell. I almost want to bury my nose in it and catch her fleeting essence. Or lay it to my ear and catch her voice through time. This piece of inanimate fabric, at once structured and feminine, seems to resonate with her spirit. I can almost see her elfin and delightful self dressed in it. It is just an illusion, but such a powerful one.
Looking at these garments – which belonged to all sorts of modern deities such as Gisele Bundchen and Sophia Loren – is a bit like sympathetic magic.
Here they all are in some ethereal mysterious way. See for yourself – the clothes are in SA for the Italian Retrospective at the launch of the 2018 SA Style Awards on Sunday at Diamond Walk, Sandton City.

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