My relationship with fashion dates back to the early childhood. Dressed in floral ensembles with glittery boots of matching colours, a tiny bow decorating the bob haircut I—to the horror of my mother—had insisted on getting, I daydreamed about becoming like the empowered, stylish woman that brought me up: always immaculately dressed with pastel-coloured pantsuits, sky-high heels, and long curls framing the beautiful smile that still manages to comfort me more than anything else in the world. The early ensembles were often replaced by full-skirted dresses for special occasions; later, and more permanently, by outfits made up of cropped tops, bell-bottom jeans, and 5-inch platforms; and eventually by pussy-bow shirts, culottes, and floral Gucci slippers. As I grew, the ways I fashioned myself changed, but one thing remained constant: the sense of empowerment that I give myself with clothes.
One of my favorite ways of researching fashion is documenting and reflecting on my own dress practices. In doing so, I undergo a process of introspection where I question not just the actual clothes I choose to wear—both on the day to day and on special occasions—but also the reasons that lie behind those choices. It is a process of self-ethnography that allows me to explore the relationship between my own body, its material extension in clothing, and the social context in which it lives.
I met Bill Cunningham on the day I like to remember as the first day of my life as an art historian. After months of hard work trying to show the art-history world that I, an economist, with little formal training in the history of art, could be part of it, this was my first day as a researcher at The Met. So, in a typical winter day in New York—sunny but freezing—I walked out of my home, Chanel boots on my feet, books in my bag, and my favourite coat with a floral pattern, trying not to let the nerves consume me and hoping to survive my first day as a staff member at the museum I so much adore.
It turned out that this was also the day that my department opened its most important exhibitions this year: The Power of Prints: The Legacy of William M. Ivins and A. Hyatt Mayor, and Wordplay: Matthias Buchinger’s Drawings from the Collection of Ricky Jay. Still new to the world of drawings and prints, and determined to absorb as much information as I could during my time at The Met, I spent quite a long while trying to see everything before heading to the reception for a glass of wine. And while I was looking at some of Buchinger’s drawings with floral designs, a wonderful man, with the widest smile on his face, approached me commenting how beautifully the pattern on my coat combined with the patterns in the drawings I had spent so long carefully studying. It was Bill.
Two—or rather, three—years ago, I embarked on what has been the wildest adventure of my life: getting a Master of Arts in Fashion Studies from Parsons School of Design. I still remember waking up one day and deciding to send my application, rushing to meet my Professors to get recommendation letters from them, trying to find inspiration to write my application letter, and even having to fly out of town to get the required standardised test done. And even if I tend to think doing things last minute doesn’t turn into positive situation, amidst the rush and the stress, I always knew I was going to get in. Somehow, I always knew I belonged to Parsons.
My sister has always been a character, especially when it comes to dress. When she was a little kid, she would hang around our home wearing a bikini, claiming that the perfectly cool weather of Bogota was too hot to wear anything else. She also was one of those kids that obsessed over her Halloween costumes and wore them for months. The most memorable one was of Bella, the Disney princess of Beauty and the Beast. The dress was made in a shiny fabric with golden sequins, and it brought a little crown and shiny plastic heels that matched with it. And I’m pretty sure my sister only stopped wearing it because it fell into pieces after years of use.
I wrote this article originally in Spanish, to be published on Inédito.co.
Much has been said in the history of fashion about high heels. Not so long ago, in the exhibition “Killer Heels,” at the Brooklyn Museum, over 160 high-heeled shoes, both contemporary and antique, were brought together in order to explore what is considered to be one of the most provocative of fashion accessories.