I suffer from a sadly all too common condition – a form of clothing dyslexia, or fashion blindness if you will.
I laboured under the misapprehension for a long time that you got dressed to stay warm and dry and to cover up your body.
That’s three simple tick boxes checked and then I was off to school (and then work) with my flappy shapeless flared trousers, side parting and billowing oversized Harry Hill shirt.
It’s not that I wasn’t aware that the concepts of image and fashion existed but it was like a language belonging to another place.
Over the years I have needed the dedicated support of occasionally male but overwhelmingly female expertise just to make it possible for me to leave the front door without looking like I was trying to win a bet.
It was this level of instinctive ignorance I took to Graduate Fashion Week 2017 to see the work of the University of Northampton students.
For a number of years as a journalist in Northampton I had heard about their brilliant catwalk shows and bemoaned the lack of editorial resources that meant we never saw it for ourselves.
Now I’m my own boss there were no excuses.
#GFW17 or #GFW2017 (whichever you prefer) was taking place at The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, Shoreditch.
A couple of years ago estate agents struck an unexpected well of cool under the streets of Shoreditch and ever since the area has been spattered with chic graffiti and literary novels. You cannot walk ten yards from the overground station without stepping in a puddle of Zeitgeist.
As a Midlander I expect graffiti to be obscene, incoherent and illiterate – maybe funny in an outrageous way, like an infant who swears like a navvy. In Shoreditch graffiti is witty, thought provoking and dangerously articulate. It is ridiculous. It sounds like it should be good, and if there was just one piece of wit standing out against the raging filth of the streets then that one bit of graffiti would be good. But all the graffiti looks too good, so it becomes ridiculous: like a wolfpack with fantastic perms.
I was already out of my comfort zone when I arrived at the event security desk (I had to walk around three sides of the building to get there). I was allocated a wrist band which conferred me certain freedoms and certain restrictions. It’s main power seemed to be to allow me into the press area but this was counterbalanced by an inability to walk past rope barriers that everyone else was moving through freely.
There was a big map but it did not provide a useful amount of information, it provided a stylish amount of information. I pretty much accidentally saw every stand at GFW17 until I finally stumbled across the University of Northampton’s outpost. The map had actually been correct but you only realised that once you arrived where you needed to be. It was like a metaphor for the concept of cool. I was in a place governed by pixie science.
The UoN students at the stand patiently posed and reposed for me once I had worked out my camera settings and then we all seemed to be moving towards the Northampton catwalk show in a human tide.
A complicated maze of ropes held us at bay until we had generated sufficient buzz – VIPs were in one area (which I could enter via the press area but not via the public area) and everyone else was in another area (near the press area which they could not enter but I could). In the press area were loads of young people trying to look like the thing that is coming after hipsters. I disturbed them because my natural look actually has some natural bits in it, like flown away hair arranged in bald patches and messenger bags jauntily slung under my eyes.
Fortunately the queue decanted into the catwalk arena before the frosty young bloggers could have me decycled.
In the shadows surrounding the pristine white runway two people told me three times I couldn’t stand where I was standing. They showed me to a seat. A moment later I popped up again in the first place they had moved me from. Then they gave up and the music started.
In a try anything once kind of way, I would definitely say, go to a fashion show.
I realised as the blood, sweat and tears of 15 Northampton students was paraded in front of me that this was their moment. These clothes – draped off catwalk models without the visual or actual noise of reality around them, slinking along nonchalantly to their own soundtrack – would never look better. That was the one-shot-at-it drama playing out in front of me. Every step taken on the catwalk was defining the best something could be.
The freedom I have to buy cycling Lycra and novelty T-shirts means I will never be free of the danger of a fashion catastrophe. The quest for sartorial perfection is not mine but a little bit like my first game of rugby many years ago… I don’t understand the rules but I get what the fuss is about now.