Fashion Beyond the Grave

Currently hanging off from the pull-up bar above my bedroom door (a relic from the athletic tenant who previously rented my apartment) waiting to be box-framed is this exquisite hand-made blouse. Since receiving it as a gift last Christmas by a great friend of mine here in New York, I have been obsessed. Despite being an objectively flawless example of hand beading, embroidery and how sequins do NOT need to (only) be classified as gaudy and disco-esque, it is its past life that has totally seduced me.  How can an inanimate object like a piece of clothing have its value indelibly heightened after being possessed by someone of, perhaps often ‘perceived’, importance in its prior lifetime?

The renowned, if not infamous, New York socialite Brooke Astor is named to be the previous owner of this garment, purchased by my friend for me at famous vintage market housed in an old parking garage in Manhattan. Having married the heir Vincent Astor, who inherited 200 million dollars following the death of his father during the sinking of the Titanic, Brooke’s story is fettered with death, divorce, an array of love affairs well into her 80s and a style that his been described as embodying what it would be to be the ‘Queen of New York City’.

For me, there is something wonderful about the fact that a love and eye for fashion defies age, reason or rational thinking.  Despite developing Alzheimer’s and living until the age of 105, Brook continued to dress as glamorously as if she was still in her 20’s, with pearls, sequins, feathers and embroidery embodying her style. Without a sewn-on label, I am guessing this design to be by the American Couturier Arnold Scaasi of whom Brooke was a personal ‘made-to-measure’ client. He was defined by his opulent and highly adorned aesthetic.

Now, when I look at the glowing, bewitching, sequined design of Brooke’s blouse, I don’t just see a piece of clothing. Instead, I imagine myself possessing, or maybe being possessed ‘by’ (like a ghost of fashions past…), Brooke’s generosity, tenacity and vivacious sense of style. It has been said that at one point in her 90’s, Brooke was found wandering around the luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman’s. Dazed and confused, she supposedly had no idea where she was. I don’t think you could find a more inspiring way to get lost in the city. Drawn to the soul of New York highest forms of couture fashions, not knowing where you are but where you wanted to be, and perhaps wearing the sheer pink blouse with pastel floral beading and embroidery now in my possession.

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