I loved the idea of Venice more than the reality of it. When I look back at photos from our trip, I have difficulty reconciling my memories of suffocating crowds with the tranquil snapshots we took. The photos were well-timed, of course; the result of waiting, with varying degrees of patience, for the right moment.
The way we approach photography can, in many ways, be compared to the way I have approached composing outfits for this space over much of the past seven years. I grew up on a steady diet of fashion magazines – Flare, Vogue, InStyle, Vanity Fair, Nylon, Harper’s Bazaar and the list goes on. (As I type this, the September issue of American Vogue sits open beside me.) Those magazines made fashion seem like art. But they also made it feel like something that was out of my reach. Valentino dresses and Oscar de la Renta shoes were never within my means; they still aren’t. My inability to relate to the fashions I saw in magazines inspired me to start Coco & Vera. I wanted a space where I could explore and experiment with the fashions that were actually accessible to me. But somewhere along the way, something changed.
I started an outfit idea list. It seemed logical, at the time; I had so many ideas of outfits I wanted to wear that simply didn’t fit into my corporate office wardrobe. I didn’t want to forget any of them. Back then, I was in my mid-twenties, younger by a half a lifetime than most of my colleagues, often burning the candle at both ends and sprinting to the office every morning. I wore a lot of dresses; they were the easiest thing to throw on in a rush in the morning and easy to restyle in a less conservative way for the weekend, too. But I traded my desk at the corporate office for a laptop in my spare bedroom three years ago. My need to wear dresses dissipated immediately. But I kept the outfit list.
When we were planning our three months in Europe this year, I dreamed up this outfit as soon as we booked tickets to Venice. All the pieces were already in my closet. I considered, briefly, that I’ve barely worn the Miumiu flats because they’ve never really felt like me. I wondered how much I would really want to wear a mini dress while walking around an island in a lagoon. But the photos would be so beautiful, I told myself. And so I packed the outfit.
It was a mistake. The photos are as beautiful as I imagined, but when I look at them, I remember how I felt as soon as I put the outfit on. I loved the idea of it, I realised, looking in our hotel mirror, far more than the reality. In fact, it reminded me of those old magazine editorials I felt so disconnected from because while I appreciate the beauty of lace dresses and bejewelled flats, they don’t fit into my life.
Shortly after our return from Venice, I made a promise to myself. From now on, I decided, I will not allow anything into my wardrobe that I can’t feel totally comfortable in after we’ve put the camera away. But it was only this week while preparing these photos, that I realised I need to start my outfit from scratch, too. The long note in my iPhone was still full of outfits that I love the idea of but will hate actually wearing. I erased the whole thing and started it over. It was surprisingly thrilling.
It’s only natural that the styles I love now are different than the ones I loved in my mid-twenties. I don’t need the dresses I used to find so practical. And I want this space to reflect who I am, not a person I think it might be fun to pretend to be for an hour or two. Fashion is art. It is a powerful medium for storytelling. I don’t always want my travel photos to be full of groups of sweatpant-and-sneaker-clad tourists. But I want the story I tell about myself, through my style, to be true. Even if it isn’t always glamorous.