In April, Fashion Pulse Daily reviewed Linda Grant’s latest book, The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasures of Shopping, and Why Clothes Matter. After editor Julia DiNardo was able to stop gushing at how fabulous Linda is, the novelist and journalist was kind enough to field her questions regarding the genesis of the book, advice to young fashionistas, and who are Linda’s favorite bloggers.
Fashion Pulse Daily: Your latest book, The Thoughtful Dresser, essentially explores relationships; ones that we have with our clothes, relationships that tie us to others via these objects, as well as memories and self-reflection that can be very personal that relate to garments. What brought about this awareness in our more intangible ties to dress, and the decision to write the book?
Linda Grant: I had just finished writing my novel, The Clothes On Their Backs which had made me think about clothes in a non-fashion sense. One of the main characters is a Holocaust survivor and I was thinking about clothes in the sense of the phrase, I came here with just the clothes on my back or I had nothing but the clothes on my back. In later life this man loves flashy clothes, mohair suits, diamond wristbands, so I had already been thinking quite deeply about the significance of the clothes in our lives. I was very tired and knew that I didn’t have the mental energy to even think about another novel. I was having lunch with my publisher and my agent and when we got to dessert they said, So what do you want to write next, and it just popped out of my mouth – a book about clothes. Not fashion, clothes.
FPD: The mystery of the red heels peering out of a jumbled pile of shoes at Auschwitz that you ponder at the beginning of the book is so haunting, and I still think about the memories of clothing, accessories, and shopping associated with your mother – it was so reminiscent of my, and I think a lot of mother-daughter relationships. What was the process like, putting together this book, with all of these concepts and emotions surfacing, and to you, what is the most poignant antidote from the text that really sums up The Thoughtful Dresser?
LG: I think it is a quote which someone else found for me, about the British officer who was part of the liberation of the extermination camp, Bergen-Belsen, who discovered at first to this horror that he had been sent a consignment of lipsticks. Then realised that the women survivors fell upon them. The lipsticks were, he said, the way for them to restore their humanity. A devastating indictment of anyone who says that fashion and cosmetics are trivial things.
FPD: I think as we grow older we naturally develop more personal sentiments associated with our belongings; a final gift from a now-deceased loved one, from an old beau, from our wild and crazy college years. What do you think is important to consider when evaluating these attachments?
LG: I think objects become more touching as we grow older. Often what goes out of fashion has a deeper meaning because it has a personal attachment. The ugly can seem beautiful.
FPD: I constantly provoke my students (I teach and advise fashion-related majors at New York University) to analyze concepts about dress beyond the latest trends and runway looks. They will definitely be reading your book, but besides that, what is something about dress that you wish you would have realized or acknowledged when you were their age – any sage advice to impart?
LG: Colour!!! In your teens you discover black, partly because you aren’t allowed to wear it as a child. Then you hear about Chanel and the LBD and it seem like the height of sophistication to be an edgy, moody black-clad creature when actually you look like a sad crow. There is nothing like colour to cheer you up and to cheer others up, to be part of the aesthetic of the street. And at 20 you can wear any colour you like without worrying about your skin tone. Do it. Live!
FPD: Do you think ‘speed chic/fashion fashion’ such as the mass proliferation of extremely inexpensive, trendy clothing via retailers such as Forever 21, H&M, TopShop, etc will eventually change the way we treat and think about our clothing?
LG: I hope not. I really dislike this trend. It was exciting for a season or two but it’s ethically indefensible. A lot of clothes made of artificial fibres are now forming mountains in landfill sites. They can’t be destroyed.
FPD: Speaking of brands, I love the interjection of storied Brit brand Jaeger throughout your book, and smiled at how your mother just wanted you to be sensible and wear the brand in the 60s. What is your relationship with the brand now, since it, and you have changed! (BTW I LOVE Jaeger!)
LG: If my mother could see me now she would cry with delight. Jaeger (which is soon coming back to the US) was a very sophisticated brand in the 60s which women in their 40s then went on wearing and younger women didn’t buy so it turned into an old ladies’ brand. Since its total overall and first collection at London Fashion Week a while back, it has been pretty much all I wear. It’s really doing it right for women who want fabulous pieces which don’t scream ‘this season.’
FPD: When can we expect another book? Are you thinking of writing about something completely new, or expounding on ideas found in The Thoughtful Dresser?
LG: I’ve just finished another novel which will be released in the US next year, but nothing about fashion, I’m afraid.
FPD: On a different note, I love that you blog! What made you decide to start, and what is the thing you most love about blogging?
LG: I started the blog as a research tool for the book and I did love doing it. What was so fascinating was ‘meeting’ all the intelligent, thoughtful women holding down impressive jobs who were as interested in fashion as I am, but it’s very time-consuming, and I have had to give it up to concentrate on other projects.
FPD: Your biggest peeve about blogging?
LG: The occasional unpleasant, aggressive comment.
FPD: Do you have a favorite comment that you’ve received on your site?
LG: Too many to mention.
FPD: Who are your favorite fashion journalists, authors, critics, bloggers?
FPD: What was your most recent fashion-related splurge (or amazing bargain)?
LG: A terrific jacket from Jaeger. I love this season’s neutrals trend but having very pale skin I really can’t wear them, they just wash me out. I saw a black jacket with a really broad band of warm beige at the bottom and though I wasn’t even looking for a jacket, the microsecond I saw it, I knew I had to have it.