Francesca Lia Block
When I was about ten years old I discovered the transformational power of fashion
magazines. I would sit in my rather dim, hot room with the scent from the lemon
tree coming through the window, feverishly going through the same issues over
and over again. It was the early seventies and there were a lot of black and white
photos of models in bejeweled sweaters and knits infused with shimmery threads.
There were the short fur jackets called "chubbies." Sonia Rykiel's pale
cashmere tops and wide-leg pants. Words like "luxe" and "chic"
seemed to shine on the page, almost as enticing as the photographs they accompanied.
Yves Saint Laurent was the king with the face of a poet and a certain regal kindness.
I remember one photo in particular of a model dancing across the page in a chiffon
YSL confection covered with roses. In some way that I would not have admitted
to anyone, I imagined my hair cascading around my face like hers, my nose a delicately
constructed thing, my body tall and graceful, my skin like peaches a la mode.
When I got my hands on some British issues, I was smitten in the same way by the
very young and wraith-thin Marisa Berenson vacationing on the Greek isles and
resembling nothing less than a goddess who had wandered up the beach. Her dark,
unusual beauty was a tiny bit closer to my own looks and I fell in love with her.
In another issue, I remember the blue-eyed, black-haired model being photographed
at the homes of the featured designers. She was sipping wine with them or reclining
on their beds like a real-life muse, borne full-blown from their imaginations,
outfitted endlessly in their satin men's wear suits and taffeta gowns. Nothing
could have seemed more delectable to me.
Yes, it was almost a visceral
hunger that these images satisfied; a hunger for the obvious beauty and luxury
that graced the pages, but also for the woman who was hiding inside of me. I knew
she had long dark hair, wore faded jeans, white shirts and beautiful shoes all
day, and stunning gowns at sundown. I knew she was a writer and lived with her
husband and two children in a small, charming house with a terraced garden. I
knew that she read fashion magazines faithfully, wrote articles for them occasionally
and even appeared on a few best-dressed lists.
When I turned thirteen,
any dreams of this kind quickly faded. I cut my hair on a whim, losing my second-best
feature in a few snips. My skin broke out. I was so depressed that even the shopping
sprees my mother was kind enough to take me on did not cheer me up. And reading
my favorite magazines became a painful experience instead of a heady fantasy ride.
As an older teen in the early 1980s, I discovered a way to express myself
through fashion that did not make me feel defeated-punk. The now-chic trend was
considered an off-putting deviation to most then but I adored it with the same
passion I had once felt for those YSL gowns. There was so much beauty in a five
dollar thrift shop dress, made of silk that looked as if it had been painted with
watercolors, worn with a pair of men's black steel-toed engineer boots! I donned
this ensemble and went to dark, smoky clubs where I thrashed around to ear-ringing,
heart-stopping music. I cut my hair short and bleached it as close to platinum
as I could. It was not flattering but it was, to me, the true essence of cool.
In dusty Salvation Army bins I found a pair of aqua blue satin pumps with the
sharpest points I had ever squeezed my toes into. I found a pink raw silk jacket
with covered buttons, a soft leopard vest and a cream wool shell covered with
opalescent sequins and beads. Not only could I afford these unique treasures,
I could wear them and not compare myself to anyone else. The beautiful people
of the day were interested in designers I no longer coveted and could not even
This punk phase was strengthening and fun but it was followed by
years and years of fashion depression. I didn't know where to begin to create
the image I wanted so I didn't even try. Instead, I wrote. I published about one
book per year and struggled along and had a few relationships and finally met
my husband and got married.
My wedding dress marked the beginning of
a change. I had never spent so much money on anything and I had never owned anything
so glamorous. It is a floor-length, body-skimming, sleeveless gown, slit to the
thigh, and is covered, every square inch, in tiny pearls. It slithers like a mermaid
when you touch it and even five years later I take it out just to feel its considerable
weight and hear the soft clicking sounds it makes. The dress, worn with a floor
length veil, did not transform me overnight but it was the beginning, as the perfect
dress can be, of a new way of seeing myself. There were also a number of people
who were instrumental in this process.
Paul was one of them. He had been
a cutting edge New York designer in the early eighties. We became friends after
he designed and sewed my wedding veil and bag adorned with silk flowers. In a
slightly bitchy tone he eyed my cheap purse and talked about the importance of
a "real" bag: "You won't believe how different it will make you
feel." He looked askance at my choice of pink suede, cork wedge platform
sandals and talked about "real" shoes. He waxed rhapsodic about the
joys of vintage Pucci and Chanel. He irritated me repeatedly but I knew he was
right. I started to listen. I renewed my subscription to my magazines.
is a director who was hoping to create a film version of my first novel WEETZIE
BAT. She is probably the most gorgeous woman I have seen up closea tall,
slim blonde with a sensual fairy face who was chosen to adorn VOGUE's best-dressed
list one year. These are the outfits she wore when I met with hera baby
blue trench coat with jeans and snakeskin boots and a Louis Vitton bag; a dark
green T-shirt, camouflage print mini-skirt with frayed hem, high-heeled sandals
and rimless sunglasses; faded Levi's and a short-sleeved red and white peasant
blouse and red Dr. Scholl sandals. I also saw a picture of her as a bleached-blond
punk teenager wearing dark eyeliner and a shirt that looked as if it was made
of chain metal. When I told my agent Lydia (a fashion icon and shoe fetishist
in her own right) about how Theresa intimidated me, she told me that she thought
I had my own unique personal style. I began to thinkI am not young, tall,
blonde, beautiful, but I can write things that very stylish people admire. I have
a creative mind and a fit body, even after giving birth to two babies who look
at me lovingly no matter what I am schlubbing around in.
My babies are,
surprisingly, my other guides on the path to find my inner fashion goddess. Of
course, you wouldn't think so on the surface. As a mom I have even less chance
to dress up. On the one occasion when I was daring enough to wear white while
sitting on my front porch, freshly manicured and pedicured, reading fashion magazines,
feeling incredibly glamorous, my nursing baby splattered poo all over me. But
in spite of this incident, my children inspire me. They both have blue eyes full
of mystery and sturdy strong little bodies and luminous skin and heart-wrenching
chuckles. Their beauty makes me feel truly beautiful for the first time. The wonder
of them makes me feel truly worthy at last. I nurture them with my milk; they
came from this body. It deserves, at least, to be adorned accordingly.
And there isn't all that much time. Upon seeing an article entitled, "Elegant
At Any Age," in one of my favorite magazines, I was struck by the short duration
of each decade we are given. I realized that I had lost my opportunity to express
myself through fashion in my twenties and my thirties. My forties will be gone
in a blink, too. Seize the dayor the Dolce, or the Dior!
was dining with my dear friend and editor, Joanna, at the elegant hotel where
she was staying. We were talking about our struggles with issues of beauty and
I was telling her about the changes I am trying to implement in the way I see
myself and about how important a bag can be in my life now. As I said this I noticed
a gorgeous handbag walking past. It was attached to a petite dark-haired woman
in a pink and green Pucci top and white pants. The woman flitted over and began
to compliment me on the embroidered silk jacket I was wearing. She told us about
a book she had written, THE POWER OF BEAUTY, and offered to send us free make-up,
which she did! Her charm was like a perfume you savor. I realized laterthe
fairy of adornment. And she has blessed us.
Well I did find a gorgeous
watermelon pink bag on sale a few weeks later, not to mention matching pointed
mules with buckles. And I just woke up at four in the morning after a night of
nursing to write this in its entirety.
But do you know who else helped
me with this piece of writing, this culmination, or should I say launching of
my quest? Taylor Thorne and Hedwig.
In college I was introduced to a friend's
friend, a short, cute, hirsute writer named L. who drank too much. I liked him
but nothing came of the encounter and we lost touch. Years later I received a
package from a mysterious someone named Taylor Thorne. Inside was a manuscript,
a journal by Taylor, who was once a married man and is on her way to becoming
a full-fledged woman in New Orleans. As a woman, Taylor's writing is even better
than anything I had ever read when she was L., and so is her hair. But what I
loved most about her funny, touching journal is that Taylor knows what she loves
and who she is and she is going to become that, even if it means giving up everything.
She will try to sell her book and make money to have electrolysis over most of
her body. I would like to try to help her find a publisher. She has helped me
learn to work with what it is I've got.
In HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH,
the hero/ine Hedwig says, when her lover finally reaches down to fondle her wounded
body, "It's what I've got to work with, honey." And work it she does.
In a plethora of platinum wigs, sexy fishnetty glam costumes and lavish red glitter
lips. Adornment saves the beautiful, heart-broken Hedwig from despair. At first.
But then she needs more; she needs her music. And when she fully owns that, she
can be naked and wigless, wandering off into the world, at peace. For Hedwig,
becoming meant stripping down and I love her for it. For me, it means dressing
I love clothes, okay? I love them so much that I salivate over Dolce
Gabana ads as if I am a dieting woman staring into a confectioner's shop window.
I lie awake at night thinking of satin trench coats belted with studied ease,
elegant white leather bags with heavy metal hardware and Lucite stilettos. I imagine
finding the Chanel suit of my dreams in a resale shop. And I hope, before I die,
to have at least one original YSL in homage to that great man who once said that
any woman can look elegant dressed in a black skirt, a black sweater and on the
arm of the man she loves.
Call me superficial. But when my soul is fully
expressed by my body, she can leave her dark room, sing her stories out loud and
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