Written by: Frances Connolly
LdM Fall 2014 Fashion & Study Abroad student
I’ve experienced a serious fashion epidemic: I have officially become blinded by the label. It’s come to the point where I don’t know if I love what I’m wearing because I love it, or because it’s designer.
Slowly, I’ve begun to seek a ‘brand’ because it’s ‘cool’, translating to I ‘have-to-have’, especially ‘if it’s on sale!’ leaving the me to wonder… but did I really love this? The tag has become too powerful in modern day shopping, and it’s jeopardizing my personal style. Am I being dramatic? Maybe. But you are what you wear after all, right?
The concept of artisanship is something we’ve been discussing in my Introduction to Fashion class with Professor Ferroni. Learning more about the structure of Italian stores, and the Italian perspective towards clothing, it is clear to see that we have moved so far away from artisanship in the States, the art of preserving and celebrating what people make with their hands. But I think it’s time to go back. Since being in Florence, studying at Istituto Lorenzo de Medici, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty that comes with all things small-batch: the perfectly imperfect handcrafted mark of something deliciously artisanal. How wonderful it is to discover something, whether it be homemade sandals, or a beautifully made cover-up, or even a small cafe, that has a story behind it, one that I’m lucky enough to learn from my professors. I’ve learned that in buying something small, you connect with not only the person who made it, but its history as well.
I recount to you a story describing triumph in finding and purchasing a cover-up over a weekend trip to the Amalfi Coast. I bought this dress from La Bottega di Brunella, a store on the island of Positano. The island was bombarded with boutique-y stores that sold handmade sandals, beaded bags, and boho-chic clothing. La Bottega di Brunella is one of the boutiques on the island where the clothes are actually designed and made on the island itself. All of the clothing is made from pure linen and silks coming in variety of shades as dreamy as the island itself — think: fresh creams, dusty blues, pale pinks, and faded yellows. I looked at the dress in all its pastel glory, and thought to myself: I have to have it! This thought was fleeting, however, and quickly replaced with the reality of my situation: I am a student, abroad, on a budget. Food and water are necessities. Cover ups, however, are not.
But to my surprise and delight, the price tag read 20 Euro… how could this be? In the States, I have come to associate handmade with expensive… anything that required that much detail, was that special, had to cost you, no?
Amidst all my contemplative concerns (the curse of being a self-conscious shopper) I stumbled upon the solution to my fashion problem: I need to start shopping at more small, locally- owned businesses, similar to those on Positano. Let me explain. Chain stores are the norm in America, whether it be Nordstroms, Bloomingdales, J.C. Penney, or Neiman Marcus. Every store you walk into is the same, and this makes a lot of people comfortable, including myself. At each store, you can rely on the familiar go-to brands that are tried-and-true. You know the quality of the clothing because you have bought the brand before, making it easier to deem what is worth of purchasing and what is not. But with this comfort, we are also saying sayonara and kissing goodbye the possibility of innovation and creativity in regards to personal style. I have come to seek labels instead of love, and with this, I have eliminated fashion risks. But what I experienced in La Bottega di Brunella was unblinded, unprecedented love, reminding me of the pure thrill of loving a piece of clothing just because, regardless of who designed it.
And as a result, instead of looking like a model of a brand, Italians look like people with personal style. And it’s this je ne sais quoi that is often replicated, but hardly mastered. As is the case with my cover-up: it didn’t take an unlimited budget to find something that looks like a million dollars. And isn’t it much more interesting to look like the best versions of ourselves instead? At least I think so. Because that’s what fashion is, taking clothing and making it yours. That, my fashion friends, is truly priceless!