Those that exist outside of convention, who choose brazenly to live in a way that defies foundation, reference and reason. Visionaries, muses, seers, leaders. Yesterday I posted a video, Prince’s Raspberry Beret, and it got me thinking about the eccentrics of fashion. Show me a picture of Prince wearing jeans and a Tshirt and I’ll make my own Bjork swan dress from loo roll and insulation tape and walk the length of Long and Kloof in it.
Individuals like Prince are simply that: individual. Their independent vision is so potent that it must translate into all aspects of their lives – from wardrobe, to oddball, diva demands and outrageous self-indulgence. They choose to live fabulously, stridently. One of fashion’s most classic eccentrics, Marie Antoinette, was the first in a long line of wildly, irreverently decadent fashionistas. Add to that list personalities like Isabella Blow, Vivienne Westwood, Little Edie Beale, Anna Piaggi and John Galliano, and you’ve got a multi-hued cakewalk of kookiness.
Isabella Blow, famous walking showcase of Philip Treacy’s off-the-wall millinery, had as brilliant an eye for artistry and talent as she did for transcendent headgear. She discovered Alexander McQueen, Stella Tennant, Sophie Dahl and Treacy himself, buying McQueen’s graduation collection in £100 installments. Blow sat down to breakfast in full couture and attended soirees and ceremonies with everything from a life-sized lobster to a set of inflatable lips atop her head. Remarkable to the last, Blow tried to commit suicide seven times before tragically succeeding in 2007. Funeral-goers wore flamboyant hats in her honour, and her willow coffin was adorned with one of her favourite Treacy creations.
Anna Piaggi, fashion writer, icon and ‘the last great authority on frocks’ (says Manolo Blahnik), is said to own near on 3000 dresses. She has never appeared in public in the same dress more than once and delights street style photographers with her artfully haphazard arrangements, though she’s well into her 60’s. After Isabella Blow’s sad death Piaggi is one of the last remaining fashion eccentrics. Designers like Westwood and Galliano still live their eccentricity, taking to the runway post-collection in dress-up box treasures that only they could get away with.
But with that said, what eccentrics remain? Are there any truly unconventional individuals to be found amidst a sea of fashion-following, trendy celebrities? I’m not talking about people like the Olsen twins, whose style is unconventional, yes, but not completely outlandish, or someone like Pixie Geldof, who pushes boundaries, but not necessarily in a way that is stylish. They all just seem to lack the infectious charm of the true eccentric and the awe that they inspire. Some have posited that Chloe Sevigny might be our generation’s eccentric. I love Chloe’s style, but, to me, she is not so much an eccentric as she is a muse and an icon.
There is one person that I consider to be a true eccentric of our time: mysterious stylist and fashion clairvoyant, Catherine Baba.
Little is known about Catherine’s heritage, except that she was born in Australia and now calls Paris home. She has worked for the likes of Balmain, Chanel, Givenchy, Ungaro and publications like Dazed, Vogue and Vanity Fair and is the favoured subject of street style blogs like Jak & Jil and The Sartorialist. Her 1920s and 30s influenced style – jaunty cigarette holders, turbans, furs, feathers and her distinctive eyebrows (or lack thereof) – is tempered with a kookiness that defies era. Images of Baba pedaling elegantly around Paris in four inch heels and her trademark turban only add to her allure. She truly possesses the enigmatic aura and defiance that is characteristic of the eccentrics of old. I simply am this way.
A single-minded, innate commitment to aesthetics, spirit and art.
And why compromise? I find it so inspiring.