reading the sartorialist and remembering helmut lang

I usually visit The Sartorialist blog every couple of days just to see what cool new dressers he's spotted and snapped on his wanderings, and just as importantly, to read the comments posted by other visitors on a particular subject. It's so great to hear fashion being discussed, like a global people-watching sesson.

These few days the reading pleasure just doubled because the Sartorialist has decided to organise a contest where the best responses to the question "What inspires your personal style?" win signed copies of Bruce Weber's new book, "Sex and Words."

Reading about people and their personal style stories was a delight, and it can observed that a lot of people who expressed themselves through not only did so for aesthetic pleasure, but also as a defiant gesture of personal assertion. A number expressed unhappy or awkward childhoods. Many mentioned family members as style mentors. It truly felt like personal style, as opposed to the "personal" style you see splashed all over magazines.

I left a comment (erm, more like an essay) not because I wanted to win the book, but mainly because I've never really sat down and thought about my own look. So it was a great introspective exercise.

Defining a look seems to deaden and narrow it, but sometimes it's great to take stock. I never realised what an impression Helmut Lang left on me until I thought about which fashion photograph left the deepest impression on me, and that photo of Carmen Kass in Helmut Lang sprang to mind immediately.

I did an earlier post on how my years of ballet left me unconsciously loving the muted hues of leotards and easy comfortable layers, but I never realised how even my years on the track team left me feeling the constant need to be comfortable and relaxed in my clothes. I want to look great but I don't want to be aware of my clothes.

Here's what I wrote -

"I have this photo I tore out of Vogue many years ago - a shot of Carmen Kass in a black Helmut Lang dress, a knee-length-sheath that ballooned gently with a long majestic train. It is stark, but has character. I want my wedding dress to look like that.

How did I get to this point where a Helmut Lang dress defines how I want to look?If I thought about what my style has been like over the last 22 years, it goes like this - crisp little linen dresses and neat little shorts and skirts my mother made me for when I was little. Those were good years.

Then the fashion pages go blank. I started on ballet when I was 6, and spent the subsequent childhood years in ballet leotards and tights, worn with skirts over them or sometimes shorts, and loose tops, because it was the most comfortable thing. That and my primary school uniform.

My teenage years on the school track team were a wilderness of school uniforms, track suits, running shorts and sneakers.

My mother was, and still is very chic. She bought those expensive magazines like L'Officiel which faithfully reproduced every runway show in photographs each season. She would then drop in on her tailor and have her favourite looks modified and reworked appropriately for our hot, Singaporean weather.

But it didn't rub off on me. I thought it was too much work. I wanted effortless dressing to suit my busy life. Getting dressed was function.

Something happened when I was 14 - I discovered American Vogue.

It was an April issue, I remember Amber Valleta was on the cover with two other models. I don't remember who shot the cover.

I remember the couture coverage inside. I remember it was the first time I had seen such luxury and artistry in fashion. Unlike L'Officiel, where I only saw photos, the accompanying text in Vogue made what seemed like mere theatrics to something that seemed possible, even wearable.

From dressing for functional purposes, I discovered that the act of getting dressed is an end in itself.

When I entered university and was free of school uniforms for the first time in my life, it seemed like my fashion pages bloomed again.

I still gravitate towards the tomboy style I unconsciously cultivated throughout those athletic years. Lots of jeans, tattered Converses, a perfect white T-shirt. A sharp black jacket. I don't wear make-up, and I prefer a clean, sleek silhouette.

At the same time I like ballet-ish, floaty layers, a slim pant, ballet flats. I like clothes with an ease of movement, but with an element of grace.

Preferred colour palette - dusty pinks, greys, navy, white, cream, the occasional gold accent.

I think of myself as a feminine tomboy, and I admire the style of those who fit this aesthetic and attitude - Francoise Hardy on a bike, Sofia Coppola in a tie, Milla Jovovich in Prada and jeans.

The idea is to be completely at ease in your clothes.

A little of my mother did rub off on me after all - I am VERY particular about fit.

Will I still dress the way I do 50 years from now? I don't know, but I have no doubt that the experiences of the years to come will inspire me in the way I choose my clothes.

To the sartorialist, thanks for prompting me to actually sit and reflect about my style.

And to everyone else, love your personal style stories. Long live individual style!"

Picture from


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