Culture / Fashion

The must-listen podcast decoding the culture of clothing

From exploring the evolution of punk style and the politics of pockets to the social symbol of plaid, Articles of Interest, (a six-part spin-off podcast series of 99% Invisible) is richly absorbing storytelling (that will appeal to even a self-professed “non-fashion” person). As Avery Trufelman, producer and creator/host of AOI, argues in one episode: “Clothing and fashion get trivialized a lot. But think about who, culturally, gets associated with clothing and fashion: young people, women, queers, and people of color. Groups of people who historically haven’t had a voice, have expressed themselves on their bodies. Through their style, their hair, their tattoos, their piercings, and what they wear.” HUNGER caught up with Trufelman to talk The Devil Wears Prada paradox, designer inspiration and what she’s learned from deconstructing what we wear and why.

On the starting point for Articles of Interest

I’m a producer on 99% Invisible, which is a podcast on architecture and design. The funny thing is the whole conceit of 99% Invisible is it’s suppose to be a show about architecture and design for people who think they’re not interested in architecture or design. It’s for everyone. It’s about making these big structures, transit systems and urban plans and pick it apart and really understand how everything was made by humans. If you want to put a positive spin on it – rather than a nefarious control for everything – you could argue there’s a lot of love and care around us. Like. I’m walking to work right now and I’m looking at the lamp post and when you notice it you’re like ‘oh, someone made these design decisions for me.’ And then it’s a little zen exercise. I loved it so much, but our show never really focused on clothing – which is a huge part of the design we all live in…

On Vivienne Westwood

I was at this museum in San Francisco when I was 16, [and] they had this travelling exhibit from the Victoria and Albert museum. I think it was a rainy day and my mum brought me there, and it was an exhibit on the life and work of Vivienne Westwood. Who I had never heard of before. First of all, it was the first time I had seen clothes displayed in a museum; I think there’s something about seeing clothes not on a model [and] you’re just looking at it as a piece of craftsmanship. There’s something so tied up about seeing something [on a] beautiful, perfect, able-bodied, young women, so it’s very easy to say I am not that, that is not for me. Looking at the clothes themselves, hung up on a personality-less plastic mannequin you can really observe them – almost like a painting. And it was there that I realized, similarly with 99% Invisible, ‘someone did this.’

Something that looks so absurd, expensive or outlandish in a boutique or on a runway, in time…You mentioned The Devil Wears Prada cerulean blue scene – even though it’s so perfectly and so simply said, it came out of the mouth of a satirical character. In the end of that movie she [Anne Hathaway’s character] walks away and is like ‘never mind, it doesn’t matter!’ And I was like, ‘wait a minute, what about that cerulean blue scene!’[laughs]

On the language of fashion 

I didn’t really know any designers names before I saw that exhibit. And then I was like, ‘this is important.’ We should know these. These aren’t just brands, these are people who shape our world. Vivienne Westwood has shaped our world as much as someone like Buckminster Fuller – people who created certain design languages, subculture and mainstream culture that’s just immensely important. Especially since they are so easily discounted, and they’re very often women or queers or people of colour.

The main thing I took away from looking at punk clothes was this was a language for people who hadn’t been listened to, who didn’t have a lot of many, who were young. Who looked to these expensive designs and basically ripped them off and copied them. So I guess it was just a matter of – when I began to work on a show about design – I was like these things are really similar. But I think the audience of our show tends to skew, in my mind, as kind of masculine and the topics are suppose to be quite ‘nerdy’ you know? Street grids, typefaces and things like that. The whole point of the series [AOI] was to boil the lobster slowly and work my way up to the Vivienne Westwood story. I was like, ‘okay we’ll start nerdy, we’ll start with materials, history, language, labour histories – the things that people normally want from our show but it just so happens to be about clothing. Gender-neutral, not exactly politically ambiguous, nothing too hot-button and then kind of slowly ramp it up over time so that at the end I finally got to tell the story that I wanted to tell – about style and fashion.

 

On how Instagram has changed the way we shop today

I thought fashion was something that was dictated to people; that fashion is a little worm that gets into your brain and you think ‘I have nothing to wear’. I feel like that feeling ‘I have nothing in my closet’ is certainly maximized with Instagram because it’s all about exposure to images of trendsetters that came from magazines, store advertisers, TV…and in a way beautiful that we’re getting more and more voices from the fringe and individuals rather than corporate entities. But there are so many influences that it’s a double-edged sword, right? There’s so many ways to change and grow, exert yourself and exciting new roads but it’s also paired with a world where you can buy anything instantly. You see someone wearing a fishnet bodysuit under a crop top and you can just go out and buy it that day. One of the things that really struck me about the punk episode, and interviewing people about punk, is how important shopping was. It was really this hunt – you had this thing in your mind. You’d watch an old silent film and you’d be like ‘I want round, old, tiny glasses.’ And then you’d have to go to a flea market and hunt it down or put the word out to your friends. You had to hunt. In a way I think it’s a treasure to have an overflow of influencers everywhere but it’s just this idea that it’s too easy to get something right away. And then you decide you don’t want it and you toss it and it ends up in the landfill.

On the endless joy of thrifting

I love vintage shopping – in a big way. I’ve been thrifting since I was a little kid. My grandma lives in San Francisco, I’m from New York originally, and we’d go up to visit her all the time and it was very luxurious as a little kid. From the time I was about 10 I’d just wonder around the city by myself and I remember my mum would be like here’s your $10, go wonder around and entertain yourself for the day! I always found myself on Haight Street it’s the thrift store central of San Francisco. It’s full of crazy, hippie clothes, giant high heels, Pucci mini shifts…So it was always a treat to go there and I think for most of my childhood my outfit was made entirely from crazy, strange, weird stuff that I bought in San Francisco. In high school I was really into sixties mini-dresses. Now that I think of it, I really wish I kept it. The materials were amazing; like gold lame, heavily embroidered stuff. Looking back on it now I’m like, ‘man that was so cool.’

Listen to Articles of Interest online here

6 February 2019