Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Simon Doonan is a feminist
The titular conclusion is the result of my reading Simon Doonan's ECCENTRIC GLAMOUR: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You. As the name suggest, this is a book on style, but it is oh so much more than that.
First of all, Mr. Doonan is a clever man who enjoys a well-turned phrase, and who is honest to a fault. After lamenting pornification of mass culture in general and women's fashion in particular, he presents a shocking notion: that women should dress to please themselves rather than men around them. He talks about his experience on America's Next Top Model, and observes that it has never occurred to the contestants that a) clothes send a message about who you are and thus a prime vehicle for personal expression; b) clothes can express anything other than sexual availability or "a general commitment to porn industry".
He then takes a few swipes at the multitude of products that promise to reduce fine wrinkles and lines, and correctly traces the problem to Hollywood. He also points out that Hollywood actresses/models HAVE to look young, otherwise their careers are over -- a limitation most regular women do not have (although he DOES overlook the fact that even for the regular women so much value is placed on looks that this pressure exists -- although not in terms of employment.)
He talks about the looks-ist fashion industry and the loss of joy in fashion, and all the while encourages the reader to develop on individual (preferably eccentric) personal style -- and as such, the book is light on practical advice (because how do you write a How-To for something so deeply personal?), but offers a few well-chosen and startlingly appealing suggestions, like buying a crate of lipstick. Why? Read the book, he explains it better than I could. He advocates including burritos with goody bags at fashion shows and discourages female proctologists from wearing Comme des Garcons while on duty. Believe me, it all makes sense.
Then there are interviews with people who achieved that fabulously individual eccentric glamour -- Tilda Swinton and Isabel Toledo, my personal favorites, were included and their interviews (as well as a slew of others, not limited to women -- Hamish Bowles, for one, is also featured) offered a marvelous perspective on style and individuality, and the relation between the two.
So the book is funny (with chapters titled "Frenchwomen Don't Know Diddly" and "Dressing Down Is a Crime Against Humanity", how could it not be?) and cooky and all sorts of cool, but what struck me after I finished it is how deeply and unconsciously feminist it is. Mr. Doonan doesn't dwell much on patriarchal oppression -- he only encourages women to focus on expressing themselves rather than pleasing others, on shunning all sorts of mandates; he talks about exercise but doesn't demand weight loss, he seems frustrated with fashion industry's self-importance and disdain for regular women. And regardless of whether one might get inspired to start wearing conceptual fashion or decide that self-expression through clothes is not one's thing, one can take away from this book a firm believe that it is all right to buckle the trends and go against the mainstream.
(Thanks a lot to Deb Layne for the tip).