In conversation: Rachel Tashijan at the GQ supply closet, NYC
|Jan 26, 2020|
How is it going?
It’s going well.
[2 seconds of classical music are playing in the background of our google hangout, then fading]
Ooh, a bit of music, that’s festive for the beginning.
Yes, I know. I thought was yours, I was like, oh cool, a little intro.
Just a little thing I’ve prepared in advance [I did not, and I still don’t get where the music came from]. I’m really glad that you’ve agreed to do this.
Oh, yeah. I’m super excited.
Good. Where is that, the cool place where you’re at, if I may ask?
I’m in our supply closet, at GQ. There’s pretty much every issue of the magazine here. You have stuff like – I was just looking through this
Oh my god, that is very cool.
Lots of magazines. And then just a bunch of grooming products. For beards. Like beard oil.
Just the necessities, you know.
I’m recording this on audio and also on video. Is that OK with you?
Good. So you’ve been back in NY… Well, first of all, just like, hi, bonjour. It’s the first time for me doing this long distance, and actually it’s not that long distance because it’s been a very short while since you’ve left the city. Just a few short days. So I thought we can begin by having your very, say, instant point of view, of what you’ve been through in Paris. A basic questioner. So what was the best thing you ate, which was not like, in a restaurant?
You know, it’s funny – when you’re in Paris for fashion week, you don’t really get to go to the great restaurants. So definitely: champagne. Because everywhere you go, every fashion party has champagne. And in Paris, France, of course they have actual champagne, whereas here it’s like, “oh, we have that sad, slightly carbonated sweet thing”. And so it’s real champagne – it tastes dough-ey, sort of like bread – and every time someone offered me champagne, I accepted it.
That’s excellent. What would you say was the best, umm, I want to say “look” but it’s not the right word. Let’s say, you’re on the street, and someone passes by – not in a show, just on a Paris street – and catches your eye with his or hers, “look”, or complexion… A moment of seeing someone and saying to yourself, “yeah, that’s a good one”. Was there a moment like that?
Probably the best moment in that regard, I’d say that there were two things – one on the runway and one off the runway. We’ll start with off the runway. Just going to the Rick Owens show, and seeing the people that assemble, basically in worship of this incredible fashion designer, and they’re wearing — it’s not simply that they’re wearing head to toe looks, the really wild Rick platform boots, the really avant-garde unusual shapes, but that they’re also wearing the prosthetic makeup that he often has in his shows. So there’s a transformation of their body that is happening as well, and a lot of intense makeup. And while it’s not going on at nine o’clock in the morning, it is noon. And there are all of these people dressed as true aliens. I assume maybe some of them are friends, and maybe some are working in the fashion industry, but for the most part I think that they are just people who found, who discovered Rick Owens, and felt a real affinity for him. It’s a true convergence of all of these incredible personalities with these really wonderful looks. And then you also see it – that’s what I was referencing when I was mentioning the runway – you’re watching people in the show, and you say, “ok, I can see that this woman is going to wear that coat with these big shoulders”, “everyone’s going to want these boots”, or this sort of thing.
And was there also something that was not connected to fashion week which was like that, that you saw in Paris – not attached at all to the industry, to a fashion show?
Yes. Well, I’ve been obsessively thinking about socks —
Let’s talk about this.
What happened when I was walking around Saint Germain, was that there were so many women I saw, Parisians of course, who had a perfectly fitted trouser, that was cropped just above the ankle —
Oh my god.
And they were wearing it with a loafer, with a sock. I think that in the United States we don’t have – we just don’t have – the right socks.
And you end up seeing some part of the sock under the trouser, or bunching up, or making the loafer look too full. So just seeing these three pieces working together: trouser, sock, loafer. I saw three different women that really caught my eye – one of them was riding a bike, and I was like [rolls eyes], give me a break – where the shoe was fitting perfectly with the foot in the sock, and then the sock, it was just peeking out to meet the trouser.
This is wonderful.
I need to crop all my pants.
That’s a good takeaway. Thank you. Where did you stay?
I stayed in the 1st, in a hotel – everyone at our magazine was staying there.
How is it, the experience of travelling this way, with a magazine? Is it like a school trip?
It’s interesting, I never worked at a place where I liked the people as much as I like the people that I work with now. Where it’s, if we’re not doing the thing that we’re there to do, the work part of the trip, I would want to hang out with them outside of that. If we weren’t going to shows, or between shows, we all wanted to spend time together. So it doesn’t feel like a consulting trip, when you’re in a soulless town, and you go “I guess I have to go that restaurant – how am I going to get out of that?”. It’s a lot of fun, and the best part about it is, in between the shows, once you leave the show, you take a car and you all get in it together, and you’re all like, “ok, what did we really like about that”, or “what do we think was different and interesting”, “how is that new”, “how is that rehashing what this designer has done before”, “what do we think is going on there – are they using a new stylist?” or that sort of thing. This type of conversations is so interesting,
That should be a podcast. Press record right when you get in the car.
I know. We can also all get fired.
I found that it was a lot easier to write about what I saw, because you could talk things out with everyone. And also, in menswear, people tend to theorise a bit more about what they’ve seen.
That’s interesting. Really?
Yes. You may not know the person sitting next to you, but they’ll just start talking to you, and say “oh, what did you see that you liked”, “did you like that show that was somewhat controversial”, blah blah blah. When I was covering women’s fashion, which I did for three years before this, you would go to Paris, and you sat down next to someone, and you’re given an assigned seat, and it was like, ugh. Much different experience.
Regarding ‘writing about what you saw’, that’s a good moment to say how much I appreciate, and like, and love your writing. Texts, words, it’s a commodity that has never been so superfluous, and that’s why it’s hard and precious to find a voice in the noise. I think I even told you that, the first time was when I was reading Garage magazine, just swiftly eyeing things, and even the subject wasn’t that interesting – Art Basel, t-shirts, whatever – and I remember reading the first paragraph, and it had, like, capitals, and it had exclamation points, it just had an energy. In the true sense of the word, not abstract, it really had energy. And from that I was like, “who wrote this?” – it was very intuitive, to pay attention to your writing. Writing, for you, is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
For sure. When I was really young, I wrote fiction a lot of the time. When I was in the second and third grade I would write mini-novels.
I’d pay to read that.
My parents must have some of that. I always kept a diary, since I was in middle school – I just find that it helps me make sense of things, unpack things, work through ideas, things that are happening around me – whether it’s someone who’s mad at me, or a fashion collection, or a work of art, or something that’s going on in the culture and I’m like “oh, what’s really going on with that?”. The idea with a fashion week piece, whether it’s criticism, or reporting, is to give a snapshot of what is happening in that season, and what people are talking about. What are the kinds of issues that the designers are thinking about, what are they working through. The runway photographs are wonderful, and now anyone in the world can look at that, but I think that it’s such a helpful supplement, to know that for instance, everyone, at least this season in Paris, were really thinking about – not sustainability per se, because people are feeling a little cynical about that – but about doing less, and maybe feeling a bit more restrained in their designs, and more purposeful. So I think that the goal is to give that kind of context. To compliment the imagery and the clothing that you’re seeing. I know in just three minutes I jumped from being six years old to being thirty —
And when you were six years old, what were your mini-novels about?
They were fictionalised versions of what was happening in my life.
Which was like, what? First love? Teacher problems?
I think that the first one that I wrote, we were getting ready to move from Delaware to California. And a lot if was about what our life was like at Delaware, and how it would change when we got to California.
When I was at about that age, my mom wanted to renovate the apartment where we were living at, and I did something very French. I’m not French, I got here a few years ago, but now I know that it was something very French to do – I manifested. I had a dollhouse, a kind of a ‘Barbie in Hawaii’ vacation house, and there was the main pole of the dollhouse, so I took that, and attached to it a piece of paper, so that I can have a real sign, and I wrote something like “we don’t want any works in the house”.
Yeah, so I also as a kid, I really objected to the idea of changing the environment that we were a part of.
I don’t know what it is, if it’s that we’re attached – it can’t be that we’re attached to something as it was, because you’re only six years old, it’s not that long of a memory – but maybe it’s just the human fear of change.
Yes, more of an instinct, it’s not sentimental at all.
There is also something really sacred about where you live. So the idea that that is somehow mutable is incredibly threatening.
Exactly. And so, did you move to California?
We did. I hated living in California. It’s pretty awful – I don’t know why so many people want to move there. And French people want to move there, too. I don’t know what’s going on with that.
Right. Even though I think that it’s very deep, the French mythologizing of New York – I mean, sure, in the past few years obviously there’s “L.A.” in the sense that you get that it’s the zeitgeist, you understand that, but the connections of Paris-New York, as a mythology, in films, or in music – you know, the whole “jazz was born there but here it’s been ‘received’.” And also I think that it’s still true in the sense that Americans can only go abroad if it’s to Paris.
I don’t mean it at all as a “world traveler”, like, not at all. Obviously, I’m speaking of it as an idea, as “what is abroad”, “what is foreign to you”. Americans, you are hegemony, and so once you’ve changed the world’s culture, what now. You’ve made it, but now how is it going to be special for you. And so even in the silliest movies, in the 80’s comedies, I found that Paris always pops up as the idea of abroad.
The housewife always wants to go Paris, right? I mean, they don’t seem to want to go to Rome that much. That’s all I’m saying.
I see what you mean. The only people who want to go to Rome are like, Beat poets, or might-be communists.
Exactly. So, you’ve moved as a kid, you always had this connection to text, and now you’re in GQ, a big magazine, a big name – but it does feel like you have the freedom to write, to engage in things that seem interesting to you.
It’s definitely true. At GQ, our editor-in-chief, Will Welch, has a really specific vision, and also likes weirdos. He likes interesting people, and he likes smart people. Someone actually said to us, at one of the fashion shows, “you guys have the most non-corporate magazine staff, it’s so cool”. I think that there are a lot of magazines where it works a little like an advertising agency, which is good because I guess you’d be making money, but it can be bad because it’s not necessarily… I guess the thing that is so wonderful here is that when I have ideas, there are so many incredible editors and thinkers and other writers around, who are able to help me shape them, and make them better, and give them a sense of direction. With the jobs that I’ve held previously, that wasn’t necessarily the case. What I felt was the big benefit of coming here was that I could be ambitious, and try to push myself to do new or more interesting things; but also that there would be people who would say “ok, take it in this direction, hold back a little bit on this, have you thought about talking about it with this person”. So, I have a lot of freedom, but everyone here helps me to maintain that in a certain way.
Yeah – it’s a good definition of what an “editor” or a “magazine” and all these functions can do for you as a writer. So you have that freedom editorially, but with you, what is interesting to me is your style of writing. Like, a style. This is a very hard — I mean, it’s an issue. I feel like it’s important for you to say things – not to talk about things, but to say things. How do you see style in this sense?
The development of how I started writing, when I started to write about fashion – there was a lot of mediocre fashion writing. I don’t even know if there was a lot of mediocre fashion writing, if it’s fair to say that, it’s more that there was all of a sudden a lot of fashion writing, because a lot of people started to blog, and there was a lot of what, as you were saying, “describing things”. And I thought that that’s weird, I mean, I can just look at the picture. So I started going back and reading earlier fashion writing – I had grown up reading Judith Thurman in the New Yorker. She’s a staff writer but she has primarily written about fashion. So I grew up reading her, in the very classical New Yorker style: very erudite, elegant, where there’s a great amount of time that is spent with the subject, and sentence construction is laboured over. I felt that I could probably write like that, but it wasn’t natural to me, even though It’s a really luxurious place to be in, the New Yorker, but also everywhere that you spend that much time with a subject and really work with your sentences in that way. When I went back and read things, the things that were really exciting to me, there were two – one was Kennedy Fraser, a longtime reporter for the New Yorker, and Amy Spendler, who was Cathy Horyn’s predecessor at the New York Times. And with the both of them, well – Kennedy Fraser is a pretty elegant writer, but there was something almost punching in each of her sentences – every sentence was like, “bam, bam, bam”. And I was just, “wow, instead of describing stuff, I could just really say what it is that I mean”. I can just push away the weeds of trying to say what this gold amazing couture dress looks like, and just say the effect that it has, or what it made me think. Because also, I’m a pretty normal person, so I think that a lot of the things…
What do you mean by that, a normal person?
I think that generally I try to keep my engagement with fashion pretty – it’s not even “limited”, but I try not to get too deep into that universe. There is this terrible thing that some people do when they look at art or look at fashion and they just say, “well, I would want to wear that” – and of course you don’t want to do that – but it is about having a sense of “ok, when I think of myself, with dignity and respect, looking at this garment, what do I think of it, as a person with a little bit of taste.” This, rather than “well, you know I know that this designer was thinking of x, y and z”. That’s important to know, contextually, and I think your work always gets better if you know those details, but it’s really essential to be able to look at things not as a fashion insider but as someone who just, well, likes to look, I guess.
Exactly. Likes to look, likes to live. In that sense, it’s interesting to me to hear about your influences outside of fashion writing. It seems like you read. You read. What do you like to read?
I like a lot of stuff. Once or twice a year, I’ll pick an author and read all of their books. I did that last year with Evelyn Waugh, and I did that the year before with Nabokov.
It’s actually really helpful, because you always know, “this is the next book”. There’s no “what am I going to read next”. But of course in between those things, I read other things.
I like your twitter – it’s not a craft, but it’s something – and it’s not something that writers would do in the past. You know, Nabokov wouldn’t have this communal stage of transcribing, of notes that are public. How do you find it, how does it sit along with your process of writing?
It’s almost like a scratchpad – you’re suggesting ideas that maybe at another point you would carry forward in some other way, in a longer, more critical or analytical way. I don’t cover womenswear anymore, but I do follow – not so much the ready-to-wear, but I follow couture closely – so it’s fun to identify certain themes, shifts that designers have made, or if someone had a particularly interesting season. It’s also because it’s the part of women’s fashion that is the least available in a certain way, yet I feel that people are fascinated by it, obsessed by it. And also, a lot of times, when you say “oh, I looked at this collection and I felt this”, people will respond – not a full-fledged conversation, but it’s always interesting to see what other people think. Usually, people will DM me, and say “well, I actually hated that”, or things that they wouldn’t be putting on the main timeline. It’s not something that I take super seriously. I know it’s a great source for a lot of people of intense anxiety, so for the most part, there are at any given time five to ten people that I will I look up individually – and I might glance for two minutes at the feed each day. But other than that, I don’t really look at it.
That’s a good strategy. Checking it individually, the retro Google Reader way, the RSS feed where you choose what to read, and avoid being afflicted by the algorithm, and the feed’s power to determine your mood. Going beyond that, there are three words you’ve mentioned in our conversation up until now, which I think are interesting as keywords: review, then the S word – sustainability, and then the L word – luxury. I feel that these three words have a certain connection. With reviews, it’s just funny how in fashion, it’s like a force of nature. I mean, in films – the Safdie brothers will have inspiration, they’ll work on a movie, it gets out, whatever. I mean, how come fashion has a schedule? It’s crazy in a way to think about it. When the French invented it, I mean, what were they thinking? And this force of nature, you as a critic are supposed to react to – does this format of gathered reviews, “this show had tees, this show had big collars” – do you feel restricted by that? Is the system broken?
I think that the system of writing traditional fashion reviews is pretty broken. But I think that the system of writing restaurant reviews is also broken.
Right. In what way?
In a bad or boring fashion review, you are knowing as a smart person, “ok, this is all happening one day and each of these shows is fifteen minutes”, but also, air quotes, this is “determining” things for the next six months, so you have to write something that at once captures that moment, but doesn’t make it seem so indesposable. It’s just such an impossible thing to do. With the fashion reviews which I like a lot, which are mostly written by Cathy Horyn, she’s looking at the evolution of the clothing itself. It’s something that not enough people do. Not looking so much at the atmosphere, at the soundtrack, the changes that are currently happening at the company – with her, all these things somehow link together to inform what the clothing looks like. It all comes down to the clothing, the changes in the silhouettes, the innovation of the fabric, the construction. That, I think, is really incredible, but I think most people can’t do that. It’s the same as in any place – many people who write about art can’t approach it that way, either. There are very few people who can. The way I tried to approach it, is having this understanding that it is a momentary thing that happens, it’s a day that you’re writing about, a handful of 15 minutes shows you’re writing about, and you’re able to convey that sense of tempo… Not temporality, but temporariness, instantaneousness, spontaneity – while you’re also thinking about how there are things that go into that, and that are coming out of that, that will say something larger about what is happening in the world right now. That can be a delicate balance, and I think that most people approach to that is to say “oh, everyone’s gonna wear these boots now”. But there are more emotional calibrations and recalibrations in these fashion seasons.
In one of your recent pieces, “what the heck does luxury mean right now?”, you obviously looked at the shows, but it was definitely also about a vibe, a concrete one. Luxury is a curious word, ridiculous – no one who is rich would describe an item to his or her rich friend by saying “that’s luxurious”. It’s kinky. I found that in what you wrote, in looking seriously into this word, the S word, sustainability, also came up in that context. And it’s funny, as these things might seem contradictory, but basically you put them together – you said, let’s treat ourselves with more restraint and have things that mean more. And on your twitter, you said that you wept at a Yohji Yamamoto store. So I got something from all these things together. In which part of the city was the store?
In the 1st. The Yohji flagship, the 3-story corner of building. It was in the morning, and I had actually been thinking about the things that I ended up putting in that piece. That Yohji show has been one of my favourite things of the week – the Yohji show, the Loewe show and also the Emily Bode show. I’ve always loved Yohji, I have a couple of vintage Yohji pieces, and I thought – “I want to go in the store, just check it out, see what they have”. I really like to go into stores – really, really like that.
Yeah. I was going to say “if you can’t go to a fashion show, then…”, but they’re actually better than fashion shows, because you can look at everything, you can pick it up, you can see how it’s made – and then, they’ll let you put it on!
That’s crazy, actually! Now that you say it…
I remember looking at Comme des Garçons’ flat collection from 2012, how I saw it online and thought it was so crazy and cool. Then, six months later, I walked into Barney’s and they had it. I was like, “wait a minute! Wow, these stores, they have all this stuff!”
I tried a bunch of things on, and felt that I had a totally different understanding of what that collection was about. I just can’t recommend that enough, going into stores. So, I decided to go into the Yohji store, which was not far from where I was staying – a five minute walk. I walked in and there was a really wonderful woman – I went to second floor, where the women’s department is, and she followed me, and said “if you want to try anything, just let me know”. We were talking – “what do you do, what are you working on here in Paris”, that sort of thing, and then we talked about Yohji. You know, the cool thing about stores – especially about a monobrand store – is that the philosophy of the designer is practically drilled into everyone who works there. If you go into a Prada store, at least Prada in downtown New York, everyone is obsessed with Rem Koolhaas and are like, “Mrs. Prada would say”…
It’s today’s video store.
So I’ve been in there for about an hour: she explained everything I tried on, “he really likes asymmetry, so you can wear it like this – but Yohji-San would really wear it like that”. It was just really fun.
Fuck. Stores, man. Were there other stores in Paris which you’ve found exciting?
I like monobrand boutiques – going into flagship stores. I’ll always go to the Dries Van Noten store, I’ll always go to Chanel. And I like to go into specialty boutiques – where you go into the place and you can tell that the people who were putting it together have a real point of view. Obviously, Collette was the great one, but The Broken Arm has cool things, and there’s a place called Anatomica that I really like. I’m not as well-versed in this kind of stores in Paris as I wish I were.
And in New York?
I would say that the very best one is Dover Street Market. Unbelievably wonderful. I mean, yeah, it’s cool and all, but it’s also just wonderful. Everyone is so kind, and it’s somewhere where you can discover things, and find new designers, and they have a lot of special pieces that aren’t in any other stores. So, that’s unusual. Overall, though, we need better stores in New York. If you want to come here and open up a store – be our guest.
That’s cool to know. When you look ahead – I mean, you talked a bit about art criticism. In a recent piece, you’ve also mentioned the art discussion as, and excuse this expression – a lifestyle [this is Rachel’s quote that I was referring to: “Your clothing doesn’t need to have a “higher purpose” other than the one that clothing was created for, and your job doesn’t have to be who you are. You can wear this perfect, slightly oversized corduroy coat, and take some time on the weekends or during your lunch hour to see some art, and ask interesting questions of smart friends. You’re doing great.”] Do you see yourself expanding in this direction, thinking of venturing beyond fashion?
That’s an interesting question. When I think about “talking with your friends about art”, I think that what is really important is to have these kinds of interests, and passions, that don’t become a part of your work. It could be because you have an amateur awareness of them, or simply because some things are just for the mind, and for conversation. It happens often where I’ll find myself thinking, “oh, wow – I wish that instead of saying that on twitter, this person would have brought it up with their friends.” There are so many things that are just bizarre, and controversial, and inappropriate – that should be said aloud amongst a comfortable group of people, but not necessarily said online. Actually, I feel that those opinions are often expressed when people are talking about art. I find it valuable that you can just sit down your friends, and it’s not even about being pretentious – because being pretentious is the worst thing in the world – but just trying to reach for the highest and most rewarding level of engagement. Whether it will be analysing a bizarre thing that your friend said or did, or “oh, did you see that thing at the Met – it’s so good”, or “did you see the Da Vinci thing at the Louvre – it was way too overwhelming” – those types of conversations. Let yourself go. Just talk about stuff. I think it is so important.