I have been fascinated with death since I was a child. I grew up in a devout Catholic family, straight off the boat from 1960s Communist Poland. I would often hear my grandmother crying and lamenting over her sister who died of consumption and her “soul mate” husband, killed by the Germans.
She had no qualms telling a five year old “I can’t wait to meet Jesus and be united with my sister and husband.” Death, normally a topic dismissed, was always a point of discussion in my family. Consequently, I am fascinated with the inevitable–death, heaven and God. The irony is that I am young, healthy and will probably outlive everyone.
My closest friends are accustomed to statements I have made over the years regarding death. For example:
“I am sending you some files and fonts tonight for safekeeping just in case I die in my sleep.”
“Why shouldn’t I buy this designer coat? I could die tomorrow.”
“I hate driving because what happens if I am in an accident and decapitated? I just hope an experienced mortician will know how to sew my head back on without leaving visible stitches or sutures. I should research “Top American Morticians” on Google and leave a list in my will.”
And finally to my poor, patient BFF Mini, who is exhausted hearing about my funeral arrangements. “Don’t forget that I have to wear a hat in the coffin. Make sure it is a simple pine coffin and not some ridiculous overpriced sarcophagus which will be pawned on you by the shameless funeral director. I will be really pale so make sure my lipstick is in the red/orange family, not red/blue. Whatever you do, bury me in my most expensive outfit and shoes.”
Death and fashion have always been inextricably linked so when the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened the exhibit “DEATH BECOMES HER: A Century of Mourning Attire” last October, I had another reason to ponder the evolution of “funeral fashion” over the centuries. The exhibit explores what women in the 19th and 20th centuries wore during periods of bereavement.
To my disappointment, there were many road blocks which kept me from attending the exhibit, so my quest to draw inspiration from funereal attire came to an end. That is, until New York Fashion Week, February 2015.
Black was the primary color for many designers debuting their Fall 2015 lines. But one designer in particular, caught my eye. This designer also happens to be one of my top five favorite designers and always puts on a memorable and conceptual show.
Thom Browne drew inspiration from Victorian mourning attire. The show opened with a pale lifeless woman on a gurney surrounded by hunky, pallid men watching her body just before the angel of death pays her a visit. Soon after, a funeral procession of women wearing beautifully tailored modern mourning garb walked by. The designs featured low hemlines, visible zippers sewn into seams, satin, raffia, mink intarsia and culottes layered with boleros. Though the entire collection was shown in black against a morbid theme, each ensemble was versatile and could be worn for many occasions. Why, I’m game to wear it to a champagne Sunday brunch.
Alexander Wang was another designer who chose to feature black for his entire collection. Although I couldn’t find an interview in which he discusses his inspiration, I will go out on a limb and describe the collection as “Funeral garb for futuristic, downtown subcultures.”
I confess that even though I am a New Yorker, I am reluctant to add more black to my wardrobe. Pops of color are my raison d’être. So just as rigor mortis was about to set in after viewing so many black collections, the Libertine show brought me back to full consciousness.
All this macabre talk and questioning one’s mortality has drained me. In contrast, London Fashion Week is much more exciting, creative and adventurous than NYFW.
As an aside, I bet you are wondering how my complexion stays so dewy and is the envy of Sephora shop girls. I will clue you in to my deepest, darkest, skincare secret. I drink BLK water. Who needs to drink boring Fiji, Pelegrino or some haute monde green-colon-cleansing drink when you can drink BLK water? As you know, I am a sucker for beautiful product design.
With all these black-ness, I have an inexplicable urge to recite some Edgar Allan Poe.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore….
Only this, and nothing more.
Until then, swathe yourself in black, do some estate planning and write your epitaph.