I made a dress today. To be more specific I made a black evening dress for the CCT (my graduate program) Prom. In the weeks leading up to today I have often thought I’d like to just find a nice dress and buy it, but part of me knew I wanted to make a dress. I had seen a dress in my mind and I wanted that dress and no other for the event.Whenever I complete any project like this, one that goes from vision to completion through my own ingenuity and commitment I think of my Mother.
Sitting on my desk is a picture of my parents at their wedding. It was taken on a sunny March afternoon in Harare in the 80’s, and they both look effervescently happy. I keep the photograph on my desk for two main reasons: firstly, I am very close to my parents, and I barely ever see them because they’re in Africa and secondly, because they way they both look, but particularly my Mother is a constant reminder of how I strive to live my life. My Mother’s choice of wedding outfit, though certainly not traditional, is remarkable in every possible way. It consisted of a tea-length, pencil style bright blue dress, simple with a scoop neck, a pair of white high heeled pumps and a white hat. Pinned on the dress is a corsage and she is speckled with bits of white confetti. (My Father is similarly simply dressed, in a black suit and tie, button hole and more confetti.)
The simplicity, elegance, grace, innovation, disregard for convention, and personality in my Mother’s wedding outfit is everything I want every day of my life in everything I do (and of course, I everything I wear.)
I do not hesitate to think of my Mother as an artist, and when people ask what she does, that’s what I say. It is so much more than that. She has ideas about clothing, furniture, painting, bags, jewelry, knitting, crocheting, beading and every possible incarnation of art, craft, and visual manifestation you can imagine and somehow transfers those ideas into amazing, beautiful objects. She’s been doing since well before I was born. As a child I remember her telling me about sewing a dress for a job interview and when she got the job, going home and sewing dresses to work in. My Mother sense of how clothing works, both technically and visually is inspiring.
She always told me, “it doesn’t matter what you wear, it’s how you wear it.” And truthfully, she could go out in a trash bag and a pair of black heels and make it look great. Anytime anyone has ever told me I can wear things that other people couldn’t pull off, I am exceptionally flattered because I learned that from my Mother.
There have been times where I’ve found my Mother’s sartorial endeavors to be questionable at best, but I think this is primarily due to the fact that few 17 year old children see eye-to-eye with their parents with regard to fashion choices. Even now, there are moments when she and I are out shopping (for her) that I offer my opinions or dare I say, advice. She almost always listens to me, but I think mostly, it’s a matter of her humoring me – she knows that anything I know about style I know because of her. Despite this my Mother enthusiastically encouraged me to design my own clothing, from the time I was a small child she would help take party dressed out of my imagination and into real form.
She never questioned my choices when I was a teenager wanting nothing but black lace and velvet in a tropical climate. Even now, whenever I am at home the most wonderful place to be is at my Mother’s kitchen table surrounding by beads, fabric, ribbon and a myriad of amazing designs waiting to turn into projects.
I try and keep things my Mother has made over the years around me all the time, they are the things that inspire me everyday. To not be afraid to think up ambitious projects and to be willing to take risks. While I really strive to embody those goals in my projects, it’s also something that deeply informs the way I write and approach my research. A defiant willingness to buck convention, embrace new ideas, take on difficult and challenging material, to not be afraid of failure and always be able to learn as I’m working.