One of my earliest memories of racism was when I was 9 years old. It's a memory that's always going to be with me, but for all the right reasons (you'll find out why soon). It was during a time when I started noticing that I wasn't like most of my friends or the people around me even. I was darker. I studied Urdu, instead of Chinese, Malay or Tamil. I didn't eat pork, but people were quick to assume that it was beef I didn't eat. But mostly it was because the colour of my skin was not as light as everyone else's. Other children were noticing it too, and a day wouldn't go by where I wouldn't hear about it.
This particular incident happened in my primary school, during those twilight moments between periods where one teacher left and we waited for the next to enter. It was a classroom of 45 third graders with 3 minutes of unsupervised freedom. Some might call it chaos. Me and Deepika, the only other Indian* girl in my class, happened to be sitting next to each other. We were minding our respective kid-businesses, when this Chinese** boy comes up to our tables...
"Eeeeeeeeeeeeee. So smelly! Smelly Indians!"
Being the non-confrontational person that I am, I look back down and ignore him.
"So dirty, never take shower! Go home!"
I shoot up a quick glance and return to ignoring him, feeling annoyed and scared at the same time. I hadn't done anything to him, why was he here bothering me?
"So black! You are black shit!!! Chao da!***"
I feel a surge of anger rushing up to my head, on the verge of yelling something dumb like "go away". But before I have a chance to react, I hear Deepika's high pitched, Hermione Granger-esque know-it-all voice - tinged with fury. She was coming for blood.
"Excuse me? Are you blind? My hair, this, this is black. Look at me. Look at my skin. This is not black."
At this point already I was internally screaming and clapping for my homegirl. You tell him! Dish out those facts! But then it gets better, and the following words have ever since been engrained in my soul.
"My skin is the colour of gold. I am golden."
My jaw may have dropped. I didn't know it then, but I was like literally shook. That's what empowerment felt like. I had never in my 9 years of existence heard anyone refer to me or my skin as something so beautiful, so valuable, so universal. It was the first of many revelations to come. It was a declaration of self-love. What a profound thing for a child to say. I often wonder who instilled her with this sense of confidence. They would have been so proud of this moment. Even when I think about it now, it's still so pleasantly surprising to me. It was life-altering. My world turned upside down and I was seeing things from a new perspective - one that didn't involve me constantly wishing I was like everyone else.
Verbal abuse and taunting is an unpleasant experience for anyone to go through, especially children, and I wish I could tell you that this was my only experience of it. Incidents like these turned out to be far more common than people would like to acknowledge it to be. It gets swept below the rug under the guise of "just being kids". But when we grow up, it masks casual racism as socially acceptable behaviour. Thanks to Deepika though, I learnt an important lesson from the onset about self worth and not taking crap from haters. I can confidently say it was after this day that I stopped being ashamed of a lot of my differences. I started opening up about things that I would usually try to hide.
Like the fact that I didn't know any Western music. At that age, I only knew and listened to Bollywood songs, because that and BBC News were the only things that played in my parents car.
Like the fact that I ate with my hands at home. It was much more efficient than clumsily struggling with a fork and spoon, constantly switching them between my hands - I could never remember which hand was meant to be used for which utensil.
Like the fact that I loved to wear shalwar kameez, but I rarely would in Singapore. I'd be so afraid that I was going to be made fun of, that I only wore them on Eid, Diwali or at weddings. This year I wore one while attending the Mulberry show at London Fashion Week. What a long way I've come.
This post barely scratches the surface of all the important and varying race issues (and all it's intersectionalities) that still need to be discussed, but for now it's a celebration of those golden words and the significance it's had in shaping who I am today. May we all have such empowering experiences. Stay golden.
Artwork by me.
Wearing: shalwar kameez from Amir Adnan, Junaid Jamshed and my tailor in Karachi.
* In Singapore if you're any kind of South Asian, you're simply labelled as Indian.
** The racial majority of Singapore. Equivalent to white people in a Western country. Yes, Chinese privilege is a real thing, guys.
*** Chao da = Burnt
HERMÈS prêt-à-porter automne-hiver 2016-2017
As promised, I present to you my favourite moments from Hermès during PFW (read the full story at the Fashionide). Let's begin with Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski... there's so much I could say about this woman. Even more than that are the things I want to say to her. Why are you so chic? Will you be my friend? Are you a model? The designer herself may look like a Madonna right out of a renaissance painting, but her design aesthetic at Hermès is updated to the minute. Minimal with maximum effect. Meticulous, yet nonchalant. Ultra luxurious, but not loud. Let's not forget her past experience at The Row, Maison Margiela and Céline - this lady has some serious guns in her armoury. She may not be a big personality like her predecessors at the French powerhouse, but she's definitely rising above her contemporaries and making her mark. On the runway, I couldn't help but marvel at the silhouettes and forms of the clothes as they floated by. Up close at the showrooms, I could have buried my nose in every little detail. And the accessories... oh my god. I'll take all of them in every kind of leather, in every colour. Thanks.
In other news, I know this update is a little late, but it's better than never, no? There's nothing more I want to do than share my experiences with you, but sometimes inspiration runs dry or life gets in the way. Believe me, there are so many posts lined up waiting in my drafts folder (over a dozen), but for me, quality trumps quantity. I'd rather share a well executed story where I have something to say, rather than spew out slapstick photo diaries, even if it means I don't get to update as often.
I've just gotten back from a little trip through Europe (which I'm sure you've been following on Instagram) and that means fresh content and more time to curate this space better. I'm about to hold my breath and dive headfirst into the 5000 or so photos from the last two weeks through Spain, France and Netherlands. Wish me luck, guys.
Photography by yours truly.
TSUMORI CHISATO prêt-à-porter automne-hiver 2016-2017
My second gracing of Paris Fashion Week last March was a completely different affair from the first. More shows, more presentations and more parties meant more scheduling conflicts, more yoyo-ing between the left and right banks of the Seine and more moments of panic. Never before had I given any thought to the importance of a comfortable pair of shoes till that moment when it started pouring, Uber stopped working and I was late for a re-see. Believe me, I ran. And I have the blisters to prove it. But at the end of the day, how could you not love the whole experience? It meant more pay-offs. I'm in the fashion capital of the world, chasing my dreams, rubbing shoulders with the best of the best. It could be a whole lot worse, right?
Apparently I was wrong.
It's totally understandable if you've been doing this for years and find this whole shebang exhausting, but multiple encounters with a certain fashion editor left me flabbergasted. She was actually disgusted by the fact that I was completely excited to be attending shows. Each time I ran into her, her nonchalance started to look more like apathy. And with each roll of her eyes, she made it seem like she did not want to be there. Until she confirmed my suspicions and actually said she'd rather be at home in bed. Every time I opened my mouth to lighten the situation, she cut me off with a snide remark. "Don't be so excited. It's just work." Cue eye-roll.
Was I the naïve one? Was there something wrong with me for publicly displaying my enthusiasm?
The following day I made my way down to the salons at Maxim’s, the words of the Eye-roll-Editor still echoing in my head. I was standing inside what was, once upon a time, the most exclusive of restaurants in Paris. Around me were the most breathtaking Belle Époque interiors I had seen in the city, but I just couldn't bring myself to show the awe I felt. Strangely enough, I was feeling shy. I didn't want to look like a noob among the fashion elite.
It was here that Tsumori Chisato housed her intimate presentation. Compared to runways like those at Dior or Chanel, I felt like I was BFFs with every one of the attendees, except for the Eye-roll-Editor, of course. Before the show even began, she couldn't stop complaining and left, because she didn't want to be late for Balmain. I didn't mind at all - it felt a little easier to breathe in her absence. The remainder of us cosied up in the historically rich venue and got to experience a little magic.
Ombre-legged psychedelic nymphs transcended through time and space, wafting from salon to salon. She could be a cowgirl from the 60s, or she could be part of Rihanna’s squad in 2017. Chisato proved that it’s not necessary to have a time or place for everything. What's important is to just be in the moment. The models embraced a no-fucks-given attitude, which felt like a splash of cold water across my face. It was pure enchantment. I was reminded of the many reasons why I was drawn to fashion in the first place - it allowed anyone access into an environment where we could experience a freedom of expression. We saw an abundance of colour, we saw symmetrical prints that popped, we saw movement with the most delicate of fabrics, but most of all we saw the passion and creativity that Chisato puts into her craft. Humbled, she took a bow at the end of the show and you could see in her eyes the joy and pride she felt - as if it was the first time she was in a room full of people appreciating her and her vision.
If a great woman like herself, who's been in the industry for close to four decades, still wasn't overcome with cynicism, who was I to question my own starry-eyed behaviour? As I joined the scores of others in applauding Ms. Chisato, I realised that it is possible to remain madly in love with what you do. And why the hell should I be ashamed for it? I decided that perhaps the Eye-roll-Editor wasn't following her passions and ended up disenchanted over the years. Clearly she's the anomaly, not me. Sometimes haters are going to hate - you just have to take Taylor Swift's advice and dance to that sick beat. Which I did. With supermodels, no less.
CHANEL prêt-à-porter automne-hiver 2016-2017
You know you had a good time travelling when more than a month later you're still suffering from withdrawal symptoms, even though it was a work trip rather than a vacation. There were many little things that made my time at Paris Fashion Week so magical - the snowfall, the food, the company, the showrooms. But most of all, the shows. Ah, the beautiful shows. And Monsieur Lagerfeld, as always, lived up to expectations of a great show. One might think that it was a simple set, unlike the usual fanfare at Chanel... but let me tell you, to give all the guests a front row experience is by no means a small feat. To put it into perspective, the models took about 8 minutes to make it through the maze-like runway.
And speaking of models, I'm going to be blatant and tell you I was drooling over these gorgeous girls most of the time, instead of the equally stunning clothes. I'm sorry, but that's what you get when you put all of my favourite models in one show. You end up with a very star-strucked Faiyaz. Between them, Snapchat, Instagram, Boomerang and my camera, I was pretty dazed by the end of the show. Here's a little visual recollection of those fabulous moments front row at Chanel. You can read the rest of my thoughts on the actual collection here. Carry on, kids. I'm just going to be right here, transfixed on the perfection that is known as Gigi Hadid.
If only every day were like fashion week. We'd get to see the best of the best dressed in the best, bustling around town. What a sight for sore eyes. Out of all the major fashion capitals, London has its own distinct style on the streets - expressive, bold and unapologetic. No one, especially the younger generation, is afraid to express themselves.
Running around between shows and appointments with my partners in crime, I grabbed at the opportunity to capture stylish sidewalk stompers - from up and coming bloggers and designers, to the biggest names running the industry. Here, I present to you my little curation of London Fashion Week streetstyle.