"Hey! I didn't know you were that type of girl," a broad impish smile and vaguely familiar almond-shaped eyes slid into my line of vision. My hand reluctantly relinquished the Dionysus shoulder bag. The memory of Eden-like print — a mesmerising combination of teal and pink — and a beautifully embossed snake clasp were already burnt on the back of my mind. It was like something that came out of Lana Del Rey's short film 'Tropico', and I let the tunes relentlessly swirl around in my head. It was that time of the day when Selfridges was at its least busy. The moment had been perfect.
I graced the smile with the ghost of my own and tried to dismiss the remark like a hand wipes at a familiar, indelible wine-stain; absent-mindedly and with a pinch of indulgence.
'That type' had connotations of superficiality and shallowness that I was used to, but, somehow still, my fingers felt heavy from the remnant pleasure of soft-grained leather. It dripped to the floor and pooled around me in a small, but lethal, quicksand.
As a student who prefers to wander the streets of sculptural Temple and walk aimlessly in the South Bank Centre instead of polishing the sentences of her dissertation, I often encounter rapture. People losing themselves in the beauty of street symphonies, brush strokes and moulds of cement and plaster. It's the same kind of awe and reverence that I am filled with in front of fashion; It encapsulates the art of disguising, revealing and dissimulating; all into one.
Fashion has always been, to me, a language that does not require the tediousness of conversation. Its syntax is a beautiful chaos that refuses that invites speculations of identity. My grandma's obsession with wild-anemone prints tells me stories reminiscent of her years spent in the South of France. My teenage neighbour speaks of his angst by wearing safety pins as accessories. I don't even know his name, but I feel like I know him. Fashion retraces the steps of people who stroll leisurely into vintage shops to admire old leather, and it recounts stories of people who are determined to live in a 90's fairyland of colours and sparkles. It is the form of expression for people who defy the everyday by deifying creativity.
More importantly, and perhaps selfishly, fashion is intricately woven into the fabric of my childhood (pun intended). Like half the kids of the developing/developed world, I loved to dress up in my parents' clothes. While I delved into my imagination to embody different personas (Mrs Thompson the school teacher, Mr Chung the shopkeeper or sometimes, simply Madonna), lipstick left trails onto walls and heels clip-clopped on the floor to the joy of the neighbours living on the first floor. I tripped and fell a few times, cried over bruises and got scolded more often than not. Those were the fun days. My sister was a more-than-willing participant in my ludic (and ludicrous) games. After hours of face painting and wardrobe ransacking, what would usually ensue was a "look at me" high-pitch musical until one of us would finally give up and concede to admire the outfit of the other. "Oh my, Mrs Thompson! Your skirt is beeeautiful," my sister would distractedly say while adjusting the pleats of her own dress. I'd revel in the compliments, and find a renewed incentive to create excessive and outrageous looks for Mrs Thompson.
My favourite piece, by far, was a silky white shirt with black cuffs and collar. The collar was fierce: large, pointy and crisscrossed in gold threads. Underneath the collar, was embroidered a bow and, what I now recognise as, a stopwatch. When I think of it now, it is one of the quirkiest shirts I have ever seen (let alone owned). No bottoms were needed for my small frame; I can still remember the ruffle of soft silk on my calves. It was pretty multi-functional too and would fit into many of my role-playing adventures; it was my business woman shirt as well as my sailor's attire. I did feel invincible as I stashed my paper money into a handbag. Years later, when moving to England, I discretely slipped the shirt into my suitcase. On the slightly nerve-wracking days where a meeting or a date is to be ploughed through, I pull it out of its corner of the wardrobe with a reverential flourish.
Sometimes, I wish I had told all the 'almond-eyes' out there why I was 'that type of girl', but perhaps it was never meant to be explained when he started speaking in a language that I couldn't understand in the first place. At least, fashion was a language that did not require the tediousness of conversation.