Flare reads with… Nell Freudenberger
With her first novel, the Dissident, garnering glowing reviews, Nell opens up about writing, success and how we use fashion to communicate who we are .
F: Congratulations on your novel! How does it feel now that it’s receiving so much positive attention?
Nell Freudenberger: Thanks. I haven’t been reading the reviews this time, mostly because I think that if you read the good reviews, you have to read the bad ones too. I found with my first book that I could never remember anything good that had been written, but that I knew all of the criticisms instantly by heart. That makes it hard to write anything new.
F: How do you handle media attention based on your appearance?
NF: I do notice that this is almost always aimed at female writers: journalists rarely comment on the physical appearance of young male writers. I also notice that it’s usually other women who write articles about female writers’ author photos. Why is that? Shouldn’t women be especially vigilant about avoiding this kind of criticism, which is not only sexist but irrelevant and boring as well?
F: How does what your characters choose to wear affect how they are perceived and inform us about who they are?
NF: This book takes place in part in Los Angeles — a very appearance-oriented town. I know that I had fun describing the personal style of one character, June Wang, a high school student whose creative interpretation of her school uniform is part of her development as an artist. The main character in my book, a Chinese painter who comes to Los Angeles on a fellowship, brings along a pair of silk pajamas because a friend at home has told him that Americans love the trappings of imperial China. I’m interested in the way that traditional national dress (saris in India, the ao dai in Vietnam, “Mao” jackets in China) appeal to visitors, while locals are often more focused on locating the most up-to-date imported designer jeans.
F: What is the role of fashion in communicating who we are?
NF: I think fashion is more often a costume than an indicator of personality or character. It communicates who we wish we were, and how we would like to be perceived, rather than who we actually are. Only once we’ve understood why a person has chosen a particular disguise can fashion help us begin to understand who she is.
F: How would you describe your own style?
NF: Um, right now I’m wearing some yoga pants and a T-shirt from a secondhand store in L.A. that says, “St. Catherine of Siena High.” But I do have better fashion moments! I like to shop in my neighborhood, especially at Alice Cheng’s great boutique in the east village and Otte in the west village. If I could afford it, I would wear Chloe all the time.