|Past Perfect Essay
by Nick C.
Having moved countries every 2 to 4 years growing up has left me with a heightened sensitivity to what people wear and what they seek to communicate by dressing as they do. A person’s dress, after all, will often tell you a great deal: the person’s likely nationality, social class, group affiliation, and possible interests. With regard to myself, this sensitivity and attunement to dress and appearance simply feed my neuroticism as I never quite managed to adequately match those around me, thereby failing to even provide a semblance of fitting in.The design for my coat perhaps reflects a surrender, a giving up of the dream of blending in, of becoming anonymous. In that, it also reflects an embrace of my individuality and uniqueness, in spite of the uneasiness and feelings of isolation they may bring up. Finding such a balance, between being and being with, is after all something that all people are faced with, whether they choose to be aware of this or not.
In wondering how I reflexively came up with the design for my coat, as my conscious awareness at the time was simply to design something that would look good and keep me warm, I realize that a fair amount of personal history has worked its way in. For example, I knew from the outset that the coat should be tweed, which is no doubt a reflection of years spent living in England and the appreciation for the look and texture of the fabric doing so must have engendered. I realize now that I also experience a profound tactile attraction to wool as protection from the cold. Yes, fleece may be lighter and less scratchy and a nylon shell might better keep the wind out, but the feel of wool affects me deeply, in the same way that a particular smell might trigger memories of some moment in childhood.
The silhouette of the coat was clearly meant to be that of a World War I officer’s greatcoat. Apart from being long and heavy enough to function as a snuggie that I could wear in public while still maintaining my self-respect and what confidence I do have, I’m aware that that particular war was quite present in my childhood. At school in England, there would be regular memorial services for the scores of former students slaughtered in the trenches. When visiting my grandfather in Italy, we would go explore the caves dug out of a nearby hill for artillery, in a place where the front line moved back and forth 11 times. To attest to the toll taken, 250,000 dead are buried under another nearby hill. And then there was the photo album of my other grandfather serving in the Belgian army. There is something vaguely surreal in the sepia-toned images of men setting up bizarre looking signaling devices in what is seemingly the only tree left standing for as far as one can see. Somehow, all these memories and images conflated in my mind in such a way that I thought such a coat to be just what I needed.
Lastly, the fur collar was simply a matter of self-indulgence: fur keeps you warm and is wonderfully soft to the touch. The tailor in Vietnam, however, did not have any available and so used some sort of synthetic fluff. Fortunately, I found an old stole at the thrift store to recycle into the intended collar.
While madly in love with the finished product, I do wonder to what extent I’ll feel self-conscious wearing it out, especially now that it has a full fur collar. My apprehension obviously points to my fear of standing out, despite my concurrent loathing of conformity. Exhibiting one’s individuality, after all, necessarily involves some degree of vulnerability. Safety, however, lays only in denial of the otherness we all share as part of this human experience. Given that such a coat is hardy the thing one should wish for in order to go about unnoticed, it was on some level apparently important that, in designing something warm for the Chicago winter, I give form to the sartorial sensitivity that my unique history has instilled in me. The need to give voice to that otherness was clearly stronger than the desire to remain safe in anonymity.
Bio Nick was born in Japan and spent the subsequent 22 years as an unwilling nomad prior to settling in Chicago. He was a composer, producer and DJ for 10 years before selling out to the corporate life. A couple of years were enough for him to see that continuing would have sucked his soul dry, and so he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.
|photo by Alix Lambert
drawing by Jamie Hayes
reference photo and fabric swatch
reference photo by the Satorialist