Sara Litzen on the Ritual of Dressing
There are many female designers who I look up to. As I see it, it’s only an advantage being a woman and designing for other women. Women designers are considerably more practical than male designers. We’ve dressed ourselves since we were kids. We know what women need.
Femininity is a great power all women should highly treasure. I believe that very feminine women are feminine and masculine at the same time: forceful and aggressive, yet also sensuous and mysterious. Femininity is beyond masculinity. As Vivienne Westwood once put it: “I’ve never thought it powerful to be like a second-rate man. Femininity is stronger, and I don’t understand why people keep plugging this boring asexual body.”
A few designers who stand out among all their male colleagues are Miuccia Prada, Rei Kawakubo, Donna Karan, Sonia Rykiel, Phoebe Philo, and Anna-Sara Dåvik. Here are women who make feminine clothes. But not by looking sexy or by just emphasizing the female figure, but rather by making it possible to be attractive with the mind.
I truly hate revealing clothes – they carry no secrets. I like my costume to be alluring, appealing and interesting. I’m crazy about luxurious, decorative, and, above all, seductive fashion.
But what I don’t understand is why so many people choose to dress themselves down. Fashion is a part of society and a part of life. It is my language and my window to reality. I am crazy about embellishing myself, and I’ve been like this ever since I was a little girl. But never in an exclusively playful way, it has also always been a matter of extreme significance to me.
My mother tells me stories about how heads were turned as I strutted down the subway platform, on my way to primary school in my latest creations. The commuters had never seen anything like me before, beyond words of course. They thought I looked crazy, but I didn’t care – I knew I looked marvelous!
I collected fabrics from my mother’s old clothes and my grandmother’s boxes and drawers. Then I spent whole summers at my grandmother’s house sewing new garments. I was quite unaware of how people looked at me then, I became more conscious of this throughout the years, but my fascination for experimentation only grew.
Even though I was really tiny you could see me from a far distance, since I frequently was dressed in bright colors and wore big hats. I could fit into one of the legs of my mother’s 70s jeans, which I made into two skirts.
I also had a hat collection, hats with big bows or flowers in velvet, straw or plastic. I wanted them as big and colorful as they could get. With every outfit there was a matching hat. I made a lot of my hats myself, using materials like fleece and tulle.
It is interesting how a piece of clothing can be a provocation to some. But to be stared at, or taken for a nutter, isn’t something that I find frustrating. My goal was never to look different, and drawing attention to myself sometimes puts me in a tough situation. But these days I don’t consider it a problem. My appearance is just something that alarms people, without me having to explain why. It’s an advantage that gives you both freedom and privileges.
But as you might know it’s not just about the clothes. The ritual of dressing is a way to appreciate and embrace beautiful things. Beauty is a positive force in our everyday life. Colors, materials, senses, emotions, shapes and attitudes. It’s the excitement of finding beauty in everything, decorating yourself and your life both in a material way and a spiritual way. Like the influential editor Carmel Snow advised: “Buy only what you need and put your money on the best quality you can afford.” To dress elegantly is something available for everyone; we all have the same tools to work with.
Many people are afraid to dress elegantly because they don’t want to be mistaken for snobs. However, being elegant and luxurious has nothing to do with money or snobbism. I’m talking about someone who’s sharp. Clothes are a way for people to express themselves and also a hint of who they are striving to become. I think people should be more afraid of coming across as boring and dull rather than posh. People are too afraid of showing off.
I strongly agree with Coco Chanel: mythology is much more satisfying than historical accuracy. Chanel lied to conceal a bitter past and to create a brilliant new persona. She invented her new life and she made her clothes represent that life, but it was also equivalent to the respect and control she wanted. Why don’t more people take that opportunity? Truth is overrated and sometimes rather boring. I don’t mind a white lie if it contains substance and humor.
I adore the procedure of getting dressed and doing my makeup – it is tremendously invigorating and stimulating for me. It’s my own private time to stop and think about what’s happened the past week or what’s been on my mind. If this holy ritual gets interrupted I have to start all over again. It can go on for hours or just 15 minutes. I go nuts if I haven’t had the time to have this session with myself at least four times a week. It gives me such pleasure, satisfaction and happiness. Time stops and sometimes I don’t know for how long I’ve been trying on outfits and therefore am missing the party.
As the divine Lady Vreeland put it: “I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity.” Vanity is healthy for you!
Article by Sara Litzen and photography by Erik Litzen.