Saturday, May 22, 2010

Minimal, elegant, or just easier?

In an interview, the artist Georgia O'Keeffe was once asked why she always wore black. In a time when the mode of dress for women was petticoats, corsets, elaborate hairstyles and lots of powder and rouge, Ms. O'Keeffe was an oddity, with her very plain minimal black wardrobe, no makeup, and long hair pulled back into a severe bun.

She replied that if she wore color, she would have to live up to it. She went on to explain that color greatly affected her mood and that she needed a neutral, non-agitating wardrobe so her clothing wouldn't compete with the colors she put on her canvases. Her answer was probably true, however, I'm sure she was also aware that her unique, un-fussy demeanor set her apart.

The infamous designer, Coco Chanel spent much of her childhood in a convent, and claimed that the nuns, in their strict, black habits, and the no frills school uniform that she wore daily, greatly influenced her tailored design style. She became famous for her use of somber colors with little or no pattern, menswear fabrics, unstructured silhouettes, and of course, for creating the perfectly timeless, little black dress.

Diana Vreeland, the noted tastmaker and flamboyant fashion magazine editor, once wrote, "elegance is refusal." When I first read her comment, back in the 70's, I had no idea what she meant. Refusal? At the time, my concept of elegance was indulgence and extravagance...something like, "if one flashy necklace is good, then adding the matching bracelets and a pair of dangly earrings is clearly better!" Also, since Mrs. Vreeland herself was a little over the top, I wasn't really sure where her observation was coming from. Why would a woman who wore kabuki makeup and whose signature color was fire-engine red say such a thing?

But, over the years, I've come to appreciate the beauty of minimal. I understand the allure of editing one's options...of limiting oneself to one color...or rather, sticking to the absence of all color...which is black. Black is my friend. It goes with everything, even itself. And I detest fooling with ruffles and extraneous frou-frou. Dry cleaning? No need. Linen? I don't even own an iron. Hairstyle? I roll down the car windows so my hair can blow dry on the way to work. I put on chapstick at red lights.

If indeed, elegance is refusal, then I truly must be one of the most elegant gals on the planet. Is that possible? Am I following in the footsteps of two of the most innovative, fashion forward women of the twentieth century? Am I an artist who doesn't want to compete with my work? Or am I just lazy?

I'll have to get back with you on this one. Right now, I'm going shopping for a simple pair of washable, no-iron, black pants that don't make my butt look big...

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