Barbara has become my new fashion god. I first saw her riding an upright, old-fashioned bike, looking over her shoulder, hunted and haunted, on posters that were pasted all over Toronto. This was during Paulinagate (see our reader letters in the March issue), so I felt a kinship and wanted to know more about this mysterious blond. It turned out to be a German film that was playing at the TIFF movie house.
Barbara’s poster promise was fulfilled by her filmic reality. The movie, about a doctor communist in East Germany who’s been forced to leave Berlin and work in a provincial hospital for an unmentioned infraction, is good, but I was distracted from the riveting plot by Barbara’s riveting wardrobe. It’s 1980, and she doesn’t have a lot of clothing options—her gorgeous West German lover smuggles pantyhose to her—but what she makes of her limited notes is an exquisite symphony. Only below-the-knee, A-line hems, boxy button-up shirts, tailored but tight-ish cardigans that hit below the hip bone, button-front shirt-dresses and T-strap mid-heel shoes—feminine but unfussy, everything in muted browns and blues.
Okay, the straight-backed Grace Kelly-ish Nina Hoss, the actor who plays Barbara, could make a Hooters uniform look restrained and expensive. Nonetheless, I left the movie convinced that if I imposed East German style sanctions on my own closet, I’d always look perfect and I’d make all the right choices (as Barbara does).
I was disappointed to find that I already had a few Barbara-ready pieces in my closet; a denim wrap skirt and oatmeal sweater in particular could have gone on-set. (I had been hoping to impose these sanctions after a delicious “would Barbara wear this?” shopping spree.)
Was this another trend I was chasing in the guise of a rigorous cleanse? Partly, but something else was going on. The Barbara diet was an attempt to put off the terrifying but exhilarating fall into Spring 2013 runways. Oh yes, I would long for the Bottega floral dresses, the Dries sheer plaids. It happens every season—I’m objectively watching the designers’ new work, then, wham! There’s some piece (or five) that I am driven to distraction by, needing painfully, like a lover.
The reference in our cover line “March Fashion Madness” to college basketball mania known as “March Madness” is intentional—readers, do we not follow fashion the way fans do their game? Fandom is exhilarating, but it’s also hard work and heartbreak. And just like sports, with the players getting plucked and dropped off in some new city so you don’t recognize your team half the time, fashion has gotten complex (Alexander Wang at Balenciaga?), as has shopping (should I track it next year on eBay?). Plus, any era or persona can be made to look cool now.
It’s easy to idealize externally imposed limits. But on the flip side, choice tests your style mettle and lets you get to know yourself better: What’s really “me?” is always a question work revisiting. In this issue, we hope you’ll revel in all the possible answers—whether you’re drawn to the bikinis in Harmony Korine’s controversial new movie Spring Breakers; or the Japanese influence. I bet if Barbara had the option, she would have broken form for that Donna Karan kimono dress. Maybe she would have been an even better Barbara…