I have so many fabulous treasures but recently I found a vintage midnight blue silk dress by US-based designer Zoran that I love. I picked it up for $700 earlier this year. Zoran was the absolute master of minimalist luxury – so simple that his clothes are no more than squares of fabric but in the best possible sense. He was an architect by training and I think his simplicity came from that. This dress is basically a rectangle with a couple of tabs and a hole in the middle made from two layers of silk. It is lightweight gossamer chiffon. When you put it on, you can only just feel it on your shoulders. It’s obscene, really, how lightweight it is.
I first wore it at a friend’s 50th birthday party in Italy. You could wear it barefoot, frankly, but I will be wearing it in the city with a wad of gold jewellery around the neck and a pair of strappy sandals. It’s terribly feminine yet strong. When I wear it I feel that I’m part of a small elite of Zoran fans, such as Isabella Rossellini and Lauren Bacall. I’m very happy to be part of that romance.
Essentially all fashion is about dressing up; it’s costume for the role you play and the life you lead. There are days when I just know that this is how I want to look, and the next day I’ll just be in jeans and a black leather jacket. Fashion really affects everything, doesn’t it?
I was born and brought up in Kolkata in India, and we didn’t get very many clothes out there, though I really enjoyed going to the durzi [custom tailor] with my mother with some pictures that we’d torn from magazines to have clothes made. My grandmother was a great clotheshorse and very, very beautiful. I’d trot around in her bias-cut silk gowns from the 1930s as a child. I still have some of her things now. My father was very elegant too and had a very good eye. I think the whole thing about style is knowing what suits you.
I first got into working with vintage fashion when I moved to New York. After I’d had my first child I took a job at a thrift store on the Upper East Side called the Irvington Institute. It really was an institution. I’d be there doing the windows and running their charity auctions at Sotheby’s. Fabulous, fabulous job. My whole idea of vintage changed because of these lovely things that people were throwing away: Ivana Trump throwing away all her Lacroix! I mean, honestly. You never saw that quality of vintage in Europe then. Never. American Vogue’s Hamish Bowles and a whole coterie of his friends and designers would pop in but it was still a very small thing. I’ve grown with the market and it’s great.
I wear all my vintage stuff. Even the most collectable pieces, I just want to enjoy while I can. That is what distinguishes the wearer from the collector. The collector keeps garments in special condition so they increase in value. The wearer, like me, well, I’m happy for it to be hanging off me in shreds.
Clair Watson is director of content and concept at online marketplace 1stdibs.com
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