My husband believes I am a hoarder. Down in the deepest, darkest depths of our garage, a tower of house-moving boxes have been lurking, yet to be unpacked. They have lived there for the last three years, patiently waiting for their time. 2020 it seemed was it.
This year has shone a harsh light over all of us, our society, how we live, what we value and who we really are. It has brought into question whether the things we thought were important actually are. What if those things were ripped away? Can we survive without them? Are we striving for the right things? How do we spend our time and are we happy spending such a precious commodity in this way?
Lost in the strange wilderness of this year, along with many others, I reassessed. I discovered something was amiss: for some years now, I have been asleep.
I have muted and toned down parts of myself, buffed down the edges and in the process, lost some pieces here and there. It could be the soberness that comes with age, the life-stage shift, navigating existence in a foreign land, being the new girl 80% of the time. When we are new, we morph to fit in, to survive and succeed. We save the extremities of our personalities for when we feel at home, safe, relaxed, amongst old friends. The guard goes down. But when you are new, you instinctively know it would be unwise to reveal all. Those peculiar extremities of yourself must remain hidden in the garage. For how long, though, before the change is irreversible?
Amid the life reassessment, this year brought an opening of those boxes and out with all the stuff: a wall full of books: Nabokov, Baudelaire, Jeanette Winterson, Ellen von Unwerth, Tim Walker, Schiaparelli, Dior couture, Victorian pin-ups, Ziegfeld’s girls, the Bizarre magazine anthologies, alchemical musings, ancient spells, some Wiccan books of shadows… A closet full of vintage bed jackets, intricate bejewelled feathered headdresses, handpainted Venetian masks, giant ostrich feather fans… And a sample collection of rather exquisite silk corset dresses and diaphanous 1930s gowns…
Frivolous unessentials, quite possibly. But lying under the dust of the garage stash, were the remnants of a person I once was. They were a reminder of what delighted me, what I would happily, literally smoother myself in all day long if I could. As I cleaned and aired these objects, I realised what was so precious about them, was that they are artefacts that came from inside someone else’s head. Words, thoughts, memories, experiences, images, dreams – they were things created from these intangibles until someone gave them life and passed them on for another to enjoy. They are connections to another soul.
I do not believe the box stashing to be the work of a hoarder. I like to see it as that of a collector – of expressions of beauty from one mind before passing them on to another…
I realised that in all of my creative endeavours, this is the core of what I am trying to do. In writing a story that takes ten minutes to read, gathering like-minded souls for a fantastical event that lasts one evening, designing a dress for someone to enjoy for years to come – they are different modes of taking the thing from inside my head and sharing it with someone else. They are ways of connecting.
Rediscovering the treasures in the boxes made me think of the fairy tale of the old witch of winter who takes in two stray children. They are happy living under her spell, but she has to keep flowers hidden from them lest they remember summer and all they have left behind. All is well, until one day the old witch wears a hat with a flower on it and the children suddenly remember everything and want to return home. I feel that is what happened to me this year.
Once upon a lifetime ago, before babies, I ran a fashion brand. Each garment held magical powers, unleashing the wearer’s own witchy potency, transforming her into a goddess of her choosing. The aforementioned gowns were the last collection to make it to sampling stage. But during the tiny baby years of being overwhelmed and underslept, I doubted my ability to pass on power to someone else through a piece of clothing. It was time to pause indefinitely until a murky time in the future.
It seems that time is here. I am very pleased to say I have been busy working on the relaunch of Mignonnette London. There will be a focus on the corset dresses and flowing gowns, made in England by the best couture dressmakers. Ethical and conscious, with proceeds supporting women in disadvantaged countries around the world. Pass on the good.
What this year has taught me so far is that if the world implodes, I want to be happy with what I obsessed over, how I spent my hours and with whom. I want to be my truest self – including all of my extremities. Doing what I love, creating something that touches someone else, makes them smile and feel they could conquer the world, to spread a little lightness, softness, kindness in the world. To try and make things a little better somehow, even if it’s just in a small quiet way. Isn’t that the richest life and best lesson to teach the young ones?
I have embraced this mantra from Elsie de Wolfe: “I am going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life.”
What about you? I’d love to know what the events this year have illuminated for you – either below or in a message.
For now, hoping you and your loved ones are keeping well and safe.
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Copyright 2020 Joon Haque. All rights reserved.