Saturday, 14 June 2008

Celebrating Being Different

When I was in the fashion business, I spent oodles of time being inauthentic. I applauded enthusiastically at runway shows in Paris, Milan and New York, even when I thought the collections were both uninspired and un-wearable. I went to restaurants, bars and clubs because they were ‘in’ not because they were any good. Okay, a few were quite good.

I never felt that I fitted in at any of these fashionable venues - I tried, but the reality was I just didn’t. I’d have been happier reading a book in my hotel room, or exploring the not-so fashionable enclaves of the cities I visited. One really, really sweltering hot weekend in Milan, I made my first foray into being real. I declined two invitations: one to go to the beach, the other to go to the mountains. In the summer, no one stays in Milan after lunch on a Friday. This time, I did.

I read the Herald Tribune… every page! I started to write a journal of my experiences that week. I explored the ghostly streets of Milan. They were void of (fashionable) people, most shops were closed and there was hardly any traffic; now, that’s a rarity in the centre of Milan. I lunched at a restaurant on the Via Manzoni, an elegant street that has a distinct feeling of understated luxury. During fashion week this particular restaurant would be mobbed with who’s who in the industry. However, on this clammy grey Saturday, there were just a few well-heeled Milanese families enjoying their lunch.

I spent time in an area known as the Brera, Milan’s Soho. This was long before it became known as a trendy area. I discovered antique furniture shops that specialised in late 19th century and early 20th century Italian furniture. Seeing mobili (Italian for furniture) of those eras was very new to me – unlike anything I’d seen before. The very dark wood of the large pieces seemed to exaggerate the bold, curvaceous design and unusually ornate fittings for that period.

As my weekend in Milan was drawing to an end, I chose to have a snack before returning to the hotel for the night. I happened upon a very ordinary looking bar that had sandwiches and coffee. I ordered a toasted Panini with cheese and a cup of coffee. A far cry from the trendy restaurants I’d be lunching and dining in the next day. I can’t say that the weekend changed my life, or that I’d suddenly become authentic. What I can say is that I woke up to the fact that although I enjoyed the business of being in the fashion business, I realised I was totally disconnected from its culture. I also had my first real lesson in what it means to experience feeling more authentic. And, as they say, the rest is history.


Phil said...

I was struck by how very personal this blog is - I guess that’s the whole point of blogs, but rarely happens. I believe the content is very timely, as in a harsher economic environment; authenticity will be of more value than bling and vacuous celebrity nobodies.

Thank you for sharing this, it really struck a chord with me.

S.McL said...

I would welcome a similar epiphany. So many of us in corporate life play so many parts that I think few of us know what is authentic and what isn't. Having worked with Marketing and Advertising Managers for many years I've noted that those that seem genuinely enthusiastic and passionate about their products and services seem to be the most successful. So a little authenticity goes a long way!

BTW - fantastic blog. It's already bookmarked into my favourites!