Monday, January 4, 2010

A Fashion Affair

In a society where our house of worship has a red carpet, blinding runway lights and Armani clad photographers, you have to wonder, are we a) sitting in our chairs at Temple or b) in our front row seats at New York’s Fashion Week?

…Or c), as the new age and G-d intended… both?

Could we have finally entered an era that can host both fashion and Judaism in one breath?
While fashion and Judaism might have once been considered disharmonious, and we’ve never mixed kippas with couture, I can’t help but see one unmistakable similarity between them.
To the naked eye, the two are, of course, a contradiction. A slightly offensive, incongruent, utter paradox. Judaism is of the mind. Constant, fixed, untouched for millennia. It’s rules remain unaffected by time, its traditions warmly familiar and its Torah hasn’t changed for over five thousand years. Fashion, conversely, is a fixation of the heart. It is unreliable, capricious; a game of musical chairs for our desire.
Yet here we are, imperfect, mouths watering, entirely enamored by the art of French and Italian gods. And as I walked through rows of designer dresses at Barneys, through the romantic lace, flawless silk, through both simple and intricate design, I had to ask, what is it about fashion that makes it so delicious?
And there, staring me in the face, by the display of the new Fall Collection, was my answer: It had come in the form of a beaten leather jacket. The masterpiece hung solo on a rack that had been occupied, just a few short weeks ago, by a champagne chiffon evening gown. That was the thing about fashion. The thing that had me kicking off my heels and chasing the ever-changing designs down the runway. It was the variety. The constant reinvention. Perpetual novelty and endless eye candy.
Even the classic Chanel is revamped every season, as is the outrageous Betsy Johnson, mod Zac Posen, and tres chic Oscar de la Renta. Every season is jam packed with the crème de la crème in unpredictable trends to jolt us from our seats, tickling our wildest fantasies. The catwalks are continuously transforming, designs brimming with unadulterated imagination, each collection more shocking than the next. And most crucial about the fashion world, if anything, is that nothing stays the same.
I must have been all of eight years old when I discovered my love for clothing. It was on one of those trips to the mall with my big sister. She accidentally left me alone in one of the departments in Macys. I didn’t care. I just lost myself in the colors and fabrics, looking and touching and imagining what these beautiful dresses would look like on me. And I didn’t care if it was at Bloomys or Abercrombie and Fitch. I fell in love with it. All of it. And as I grew up I fell even more madly in love with a religion that’s revolving doors changed with my moods.
In a way, Judaism is likened to fashion. In fashion there are basics. Shirts. Skirts. Pants. Dresses. Sweaters. You get the idea. These are the fundamentals of fashion. And as people, we all wear them. Every day. No matter what. But there are two types of people. There’s Plain Jane who wears a plain navy dress, a simple navy cardigan and sensible navy shoes. She gets dressed in the morning because she has to. She doesn’t put thought into her clothing, and instead of wearing her clothing with confidence she lets her clothing wear her. Jane is like the uninspired Jew. She keeps Shabbat because she’s told to. She doesn’t put thought into it, she doesn’t get crazy with textures and colors. She doesn’t wear her Judaism with pride; she lets her Judaism wear her.
We have the choice to be Plain Jews or fashionable Jews. We could light the Shabbat candles glumly or we could let our fires ignite with the wicks. We could go through the motions of the holidays or we could wait for each holiday, watching it in the display window until the day we’ve saved up enough money to make it ours. We could accessorize with scarves and hats, adorn with diamonds and pearls. Our passion can vary every season. We can get front row seats at Temple, pray with a different voice every day, learn with a new hunger. Each time we shake the lulav and etrog, we can move to a different beat. We can bring home the Torah every year like we’re bringing home a new Vera Wang wedding gown.
Now I don't know if you're aware of this but Nordstrom has an alphabetical list of like a million different designers on its website. And, frankly, if it didn’t, if there weren’t all these different designers, I don’t think I’d care much for fashion at all. I can’t bear to imagine a runway dominated solely by Chanel. Yeah, sure, Chanel is chic, classic, and ridiculously high fashion, but one designer, is a joke. We’d be bored to black Sephora tears.
Given, Coco Chanel may very well be the Moses of fashion, Chanel solo just doesn’t do it for us. Monotheism is not a belief anyone wishes to continue into the fashion world. Vogue monogamy is simply not with what we’ve fallen head over high heels for. It’s our affair with variety that keeps us on our tippy toes.
I view the sects in Judaism the same way. Just Chabad? Yawn. Sure, Chabad is awesome, but as Jews, we’re celebrated for our versatility. Our gaping differences and are ability to unite in spite of them. No, because of them. The truth is we don’t have to be exactly the same, or even see eye to eye to be bonded and made a sublime work of art. That’s what makes us so fabulous.
After the show, peek into our bona fide house of worship. If it’s as it should be, you’ll find Jews, observant and not, American and African, trendy and god-awful, but none the less, all swaying in one synagogue, vibrant and speckled, like the finale of a Marc Jacobs show. Perhaps they won’t be donning talatim tailored by the same designers, but they’ll all be united under a force that transcends customs, attire and religious views; a common past, a common destiny…and a common love for Jerry Seinfeld.