I met Edie when we were both about 11 years old on our first day of school. While most girls looked as though they had been dressed by their mothers, Edie wore a black t-shirt with the playboy bunny logo in pink glitter on the front. I think even then, I knew she was a bit different. I recently rediscovered a series of photographs I took of Edie for a GCSE Art project in 2006. I had just learned about the British photographer David Bailey and decided to take pictures of her dressed like Jean Shrimpton in mini dresses jumping around on a sofa. Little did we know that she would soon be sitting for the actual David Bailey!
We both took Rebecca Arnold’s course Dress and Identity in Twentieth Century Britain in our second year at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and I wanted to reflect with Edie here on how she recollects her time there and how the course may have impacted her current approach to writing and dressing.
Among other things, we took Rebecca’s course together in second year and, as you know, I enjoyed it so much I decided to take her MA (Documenting Fashion: Modernity, Films and Image in America and Europe, 1920-1945)! Do you think studying the history of dress has affected the way you think or write about fashion?
I think that academia, and the way that we study things in university, can be such a constructed system that it is impossible to continue to think about things in that same way once you leave university. I suppose that the academic way of looking and thinking gets tempered by ‘real life’. So those two modes exist at the same time in my head. Which is nice – it has given me the ability to look at things very objectively, as the products of a designer’s creative process, and as a continuation of the fashion ‘line’. But then equally, I really appreciate clothes simply as sensual objects, to be touched and worn and experienced on a purely intuitive, completely decontextualised level. Simply as clothes that make you feel good. I guess the course gave me a framework through which to think about fashion.
Your articles, like ‘Hidden Depths’ for Harper’s Bazaar (10 September 2013), and your recent work as senior contributing editor for Love Magazine, are a pleasure to read, where do you find your inspiration?
I never can! Which is probably why I don’t write more. I am really bad at thinking about what to write – nothing ever seems interesting enough. I think I am too cynical about what people might find interesting.
Do you miss The Courtauld?
Yes, I miss learning about things, and exercising my brain as if it was a muscle. I feel like my brain has become old and flabby. I miss hearing someone speak about the subject that they have devoted their entire career to.
When we were studying, we took trips to places like the Museum of London to reflect on subcultures. What do you think about the term ‘subcultural’?
I just don’t know if there are any subcultures any more. I’m not sure that anything gets enough time to properly incubate these days. Or maybe subcultures are just made in retrospect, and in 15 years time everyone will be going ‘ohhhhh, the cult of the hipster, what a great time that must have been’, and we’ll be looking on in horror and slight nausea.
You’re looking brilliant in the McQueen campaign at the moment and it made me think of the chapters we read about Britishness in fashion, do you think designers still trade on ideas of being British?
Oh yeah for sure! My entire career is built on plugging being British. In an increasingly globalised world, when designers are really thinking about how they are going to flog their product in Malaysia, something that is recognisable and locatable, and comes with the weight of history to validate its worth is incredibly saleable. I mean, designers are literally trading on it. So are models. The fact that the Victoria’s Secret Show is being held in London this year says a HUGE amount about the saleability of Britishness – VS is not a brand that would take a chance financially.
I remember your presentation in our Dress and Identity course about David Bowie’s album cover, I think it was Ziggy Stardust, and you recently saw a Kate Bush concert – why do you think fashion is so important to musicians?
Because if the music sucks at least they look good! Clothes are an extension of their self-expression, of the ideas and world that they are trying to push. Just look at how important the ‘makeover’ part of the X Factor process is. Especially when music is an increasingly visual medium, via YouTube and the greater importance of live shows (whereas previously perhaps one might have bought a record).
Do you enjoy dressing up?
I do. Some of the time. I spend my life dressing up at work so at home I really can’t be bothered. I might take to wearing silk pyjamas and dressing gowns everywhere. I do like fancy dress though. I like coming up with costumes more and more.