I am getting to the age where I am realizing that I may not visit all the places I once imagined I would. I am also getting to the age where half of those places have dropped off of my list. Maturity makes you choosier, I guess (could have used that with a few early boyfriends.) Japan is still on my list, as is Argentina. But a safari in the Serengeti… that is my dream.
I sent three of my daughters there ahead of me when they were teenagers. They went to work together at an orphanage in Tanzania for several weeks. I happily took them to the pharmacy for the cheapest vaccinations we could find (I am good at that sort of thing) and had tears in my eyes dropping them off at the airport, hoping I could live vicariously through their adventure. The ultimate mother sacrifice because I felt proud instead of jealous! (Although I did hope that when I finally got to take my own trip, it would look a little different… a true safari where I could sleep under the stars.) While I would be happy to see the animals, it is really the giant landscape that I am dying to see. The remoteness and the scale of it. I once heard Neil Armstrong speak about the incredible feeling that every astronaut gets when they go up to space and look down at the earth and feel their own smallness. Space is not on my wish list. But I think I would feel similarly if I could get out there under the enormous African sky.
Until that day, I will just be going on safari in my mind. In that fantasy, I think of that famous photograph of Veruschka from 1968. She is holding a gun (!) and dressed in YSL's famous safari minidress. Patch pockets, big utilitarian buttons, sexy lace-up front. There are many more photos of this look that year – Betty Catroux with Yves himself in Paris – so it turns out you can go straight from the savanna to the city.
This visual has been in my head for a long time… probably not as far back as 1968 (I was in elementary school and not yet fantasizing about the wilderness,) but back to when I first opened my shop. Other than classic menswear-style shirting, this safari-style top and dress was one of the first things we designed and made for the shop. I had seen the image so many times and I just wanted to own it. (The true impetus for most things on my line… I just want to wear them.) It wasn't the only African-inspired item that found its way into our collection. I have written before about the Ralph Lauren ad campaign from Spring 1984, and Out of Africa came out the next year to add another layer of romance to this look. It wasn't so hard to copy. Lots of whites, khakis, brown leather belts. The first year I worked at Vogue, I ran up and down the halls in a pair of vintage khaki jodhpurs I found downtown at the Antique Boutique, with a white linen men's shirt. Unbelievably, I sometimes added a turquoise bolo tie to this look. Can you imagine? I am blushing as I write this… I guess I was mixing Ralph's Santa Fe thing with Out of Africa? Was this even allowed? Is it a little like the kosher no-no of mixing meat and dairy? The cheeseburger equivalent of an outfit? By the way - I highly recommend the Ralph Lauren documentary. It is impressive and touching at the same time. All the stories Sid told me over the years came alive when I saw him in his showroom, surrounded by his team all dying to please the master. I was surprised at the realness of his marriage and his commitment to family… his natural shyness came through much more than the powerful boss that had been described to me in all those "waiting on Ralph til 10pm" stories.
We have lots on our line right now that could absolutely make it into my imaginary suitcase on my imaginary trip to the Serengeti – especially with Ralph's brilliant photographer of choice from that era, Bruce Weber. We would shoot outside, with the savanna in the background. In reality, our style here has always been more scrappy… even if we did have the budget for extravagant fashion shoots, it has never really felt like "us." We've always had a DIY spirit around here but the world has become more that way, too, with the ability to put "content" out there instantly. All that to say… images from major photographers can last forever and truly qualify as art. (Proof: that Veruschka photo from 1968 that is still in my head!) But it just feels more modern to make creativity happen with less excess.
So the photo shoot is imaginary, and let's say I am the one packing the trunk. The first thing I would bring is those amazing lace-up pieces. They are even better than the first ones we ran so many years ago, in garment-dyed canvas with just a little bit of crinkle to it. If the photographer wanted a profile shot, this shell top – with the lace-up detail up the side rather than the front – would be perfect. I would pack this heavy linen wrap dress, and this breezy black poplin shirtdress. The leopard print version would be very on the nose in kind of an amazing way. I would plan the sheer organdy pioneer shirt with the wide-legged ivory Hutton pants (and no way would I be tempted to add a bolo tie this time… even if there were a collar to tuck it under…) A romantic, lace-trimmed Isabel top or two would also make it on the shotlist - very Isak Dinesen. And while there is this skirt, which is SO safari-feeling with those pockets, I would probably keep it at home because it has more of that "Betty Catroux in the city feel." I am dying to wear it right now with a t-shirt and sandals, but know it will be great for fall with a turtleneck and knee-high boots.
You can carry the zebra-printed Paola bag (I have been carrying that one for the last two months, not that I'm really going anywhere) – and if you want the real thing, we have a zebra belt that Sid and I both wear so often that we have to try not to match some days. This little bit of exotic is fantastic to me. My favorite styling is just with a classic oxford Schoolgirl shirt and short jeans. Prep school meets Sahara. I have always been a bit obsessed with this kind of look, but it feels extra timely right now. Recently, I was so sad to see that the photographer Peter Beard passed away. He was famous for his African wildlife photography and collaged journals, and he was handsome and wild and creative in his youth. In particular, the scrapbooky stuff is my favorite – he sometimes used his own blood to paint on the pages! Talk about DIY.
None of us are going anywhere soon, but as I've said here before… we can travel in our minds. And the reality may be that even during non-pandemic times, most of the world doesn't get to travel very much at all. It is a luxury. Maybe this time has encouraged us all to dig into our imaginations and remember the delight of seeing a picture and experiencing a longing for the place it shows… or maybe the clothes we'd wear there! I think we all need a little of that.