February is all about fashion here at the ACF London. Britta Burger’s photography exhibition is already up, and the International Fashion Showcase opens its doors this Friday. This year Another Austria, our contribution to the showcase, combines literature and fashion design. We commissioned six young authors to write pieces inspired by the six designers featured in the exhibition. Amy Key, a London-based poet and editor, wrote a poem about DMMJK‘s latest collection. Ahead of our event on Tuesday, where Amy and the other writers will read from their work, here are Amy’s thoughts on the process of writing about a fashion collection.
When I had finished writing my book Luxe I sent it to some friends and asked them for tiny blurbs so I could make a book trailer. The poet Sophie Collins came back with ‘collection most likely to inspire textile envy’ which I really liked because clothing and all the paraphernalia of dressing are inputs to my work – I sometimes take the vocabulary of fashion as a tonal input to the work, or sometimes clothes are like the chalk drawings Mary Poppins enters into another world through. So this commission was very exciting to me. I feel sure I’d resist writing poetry as advertising copy if asked (I can’t see any satisfaction in having to ‘write to order’), but I enjoy being asked to respond to other artforms or genres. It creates a one-way collaboration, I am free to simply react. As I am always reacting to clothes and to fashion, this commission felt natural to me. I immediately loved what I saw in the look book. My first thoughts were of the artwork of Heather Phillipson and Anthea Hamilton. There is something juicy about the collection, I thought of a slice of watermelon floating in an Olympic pool. And the model standing there slant-wise on the half-moon, looking ahead. She’s about to move on, but to where?
As sometimes happens when I am asked to write about something I feel entitled to be able to write about easily, at first I had no impulse to write. I held the images in my mind for a few days. I thought ‘who would wear these clothes’? My own style is rather more embellished and old fashioned, being in cahoots with my body shape, so I knew I couldn’t project myself into the clothes. I thought of the musician Grimes. I thought again of my artist friends. There was nothing concrete about my thoughts, they were strips of parachute silk in the wind.
I wanted to know about the woman in the clothes – here’s what the designers say “sapir, a girl from the moon. alien in her own rights, it was her dream but now she has to move on. secret powers OH-So new to her. it’s adventure time – the zebras are watching.”
I was interested in this idea of a woman, fresh to earth. I’d spent three weeks in Kenya some years ago, it is the only place I’ve seen wild zebra. I took Sapir as my own muse and located her there, or an approximation of there. Muses are so often vacant, a vehicle for male desire and ownership. I wanted to avoid this. Sapir is ready for adventure. I wanted her essence to be not her looks, but her thoughts.
I wanted Sapir’s thoughts to have the expanse of the desert or the ocean. In my poem, even the moon, the moon she has left behind, is consumed by her thoughts. Sapir means sapphire. I love the idea that sand is made up of bone, shell, stone – even sapphires. I had a sensation of the poem being full of minerals, full of elemental things necessary for life, the ‘gentle spectrum’ of the title. And that her thoughts were what would give that life to them. In the end, the poem is very still, everything is preparatory – her thoughts have given their sapphire to the sky. Her thoughts are oxygenating the water. Her thoughts are the insect life of the plains. Her life before is melting, and she’s simply dressed, ready to go.
Join us for our event on 17 February to meet the designers and authors, featuring Amy Key, Alex MacDonald, Michael Amherst, and Rebecca May Johnson.