Quad Style: JD
My name is JD and I’m a second-year Art History and Chemistry double major. I deeply enjoy reading and writing about art, which I get to do plenty of with the Maroon Arts Section, for artmejournal back home, and at Logan Center Exhibitions where I am interning. Besides that, I train and perform on the aerial silks at the Le Vorris & Vox circus at the Logan Center.
How would you describe your personal style?
Generally, I would describe it as metamorphic and experimental; it’s in constant state of exploratory flux. I feel a need to readily change my appearance in some way (last year, I went through four different hair colors), otherwise, I’d have some sort of crisis of identity. My current incarnation, I’d say, is heavily imbued with goth sensibilities: it’s somber, tragic, and existentially self-conscious, but powerful, metallic, and androgynous.
Where do you like to shop?
I don’t really have a go-to place to shop for clothes, (I lean towards hand-me-downs) but I like to support brands that respect labor rights and the environment. I use this app (and website) called Good on You to help me decide what stores to buy from. It’s quite a useful and simple application that rates the ethical practices of many mainstream and indie brands, such as the transparency of their production chain and any sustainable efforts they are putting in.
Where do you find style inspiration?
So many things and people inspire me! I look up to people like Alessandro Michele, Florence Welch, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, and Tilda Swinton as fashion icons in general. However, if I had to narrow the list to those who inform my current aesthetic, I’d say I’m inspired by goth subculture, especially figures like Siouxsi Sioux, Robert Smith, and fictional characters like Lydia Deetz (from Beetlejuice), Dream (from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman) and Ryuk (from the anime Death Note).
One character I’m particularly fascinated with is Nancy Downs from the 1996 cult classic The Craft; her personal style reflects the way she embraces and draws power from her status as an outcast, but it also betrays her fatal flaw: her over-ambition and the all-consuming desire to control something greater than herself. I don’t necessarily relate to the way she is shunned by her community (I feel quite a pleasant sense of belonging at UChicago), but I do relate to this self-destructive, even passionate self-alienation and lust for power that she has. I think part of dressing like her is my way of admitting this to myself, but also reminding me of her terrible fate -the result of her hamartia.
I have a vested interest in fashion that tells–or at least suggests–a story: couture rife with connotation. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that paintings also inspire my personal fashion choices. I’d like to somehow embody the drama of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, the angst of works by Edvard Munch and Francis Bacon, and the sinister mystery of Francisco de Goya’s Black Paintings.
Besides that, I’m inspired by the inexorability of death and the beauty in life, bolstered by its brevity. I surround myself with skulls–reminders of my impending doom–and flowers, both dead and alive, authentic and synthetic, to remind myself that nothing good lasts. I use these things as litmus tests for myself, and if I don’t still think the good things are worth it despite their ephemerality, it means I’ve grown too nihilistic. That’s one reason fashion is important to me.
What is your relationship to fashion? Has it changed over time?
My uncle, whose scarf I’m wearing, is a fashion sketching instructor, and I looked up to him a lot growing up (I still do), so I think I developed some measure of reverence for fashion as a child. It represented this vast desert of possibility, its dunes constantly shifting and writhing in sun, swallowing up lost caravans and rewarding others with oases of style. I never dared venture into it and explore it as my own, though back home in Amman, it isn’t that safe to be very expressive with what you wear in public, so I just stuck to a basic template of hoodies and t-shirts most of the time.
When my family moved to the States, and especially after I settled at UChicago, I became much more confident with my fashion choices and with trying different things out, (not all of which I would consider successful). Something we read about the writings of the French philosopher Lacan in my Media Aesthetics sequence last year has stuck with me. He said that the virtual mask people fabricate in a fictional space, such as that of a video game, is truer to their innermost self than the social mask they don in their daily, “normal” interactions. I feel like this campus has acted as that sort of space for me: a new checkpoint from which I can build any character I wanted. Last year I had colorful hair and wore oversized and colorful tie-dye shirts as ponchos. This year I’m exploring something a bit darker, sharper, and perhaps more intimidating. It’s far less cheerful but its also more mature I think, which is fitting seeing as that’s how I feel this year.
Why is fashion important to you?
Fashion is important to me for the same reason it’s important to humankind. We’re all alchemists, and fashion is our philosopher’s stone. You see all these makeover shows being so popular, and you may think it shallow to watch them, but I think we’re all innately fascinated with fashion’s ability to utterly transmute the human spirit. I’m profoundly obsessed with this transformative capacity and the boundaries I can take it to. It’s very exciting to test the limits of what you can say about yourself and about the world with the way you dress.
What incites you to take risks with fashion?
Back home, the menace of gossip is ever-present; a constant threat to the family name. In Chicago, no one knows me, and I find that blissfully liberating. I could be anyone. There are so many people, and each tend to mind their own business as they go about their days, experiencing their rich and complex inner lives. I’m nothing but a piece-of-furniture character in their biographies. I feel like that gives me license to be whomever I want to be. It’s terribly daunting but exciting.
All photos courtesy of Andrew Chang