Recently, back in San Francisco, I took in an exhibition of the Surrealist painter, René Magritte. Most of the way through the exhibit, I encountered a painting that struck me. And I had this thought. Surrealism reveals my approach to styling.
The moment I saw this painting, a rush of energy came over me. I can compare my lack of understanding Surrealism to the way most people do not understand my work. I have avoided a lot of Surrealism because I couldn’t wrap my head around the work. Whenever I’ve seen works by Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst or Yves Tanguy, I’ve made faces at the art. Most of the time, it just hadn’t made any sense to me. Or, in some instances, I thought the art was vulgar or crude. But that isn’t true of Magritte’s fine work. I needed more experience with Surrealism to finally get it. So, in two hours’ time immersed in the Magritte exhibition at SFMOMA, I finally got it.
Surrealism has a lot to do with expressing the unconscious mind. And I consider that style, for me, is also rooted in the unconscious mind. In my work over the last thirty years, my experience with clients has taught me that people dress themselves automatically. People don’t usually reflect on their thoughts and feelings about how they look or what they wear. Now that I get it, I believe that Surrealism reveals my approach to styling because it’s also about expressing the unconscious.
This painting, La place au soleil [A Place in the Sun] perfectly demonstrates how Surrealism reveals my approach to styling. Consider the butterfly and the lion each represent different archetypes of creatures from the animal kingdom. We know that they are not the same and this is why each is its own archetype.
I think of a butterfly as small, colorful, and nearly ephemeral in its paper-like thinness and how it just flutters away in the air. Maybe a good-sized butterfly is similar in size to the one Magritte painted here. Next, look at the lion. One of the most powerful animals to roam the earth, Magritte made my astrological symbol appear smaller than the butterfly. Plus, he superimposed the lion over the butterfly so that we really see the contrast from reality. All at once, we see an obvious yet subconscious set of contrasts. Soft versus strong. Light versus heavy. Happy versus serious. Free versus proud. You get the idea.
The reason this struck me so much is why I see that surrealism reveals my approach to styling. I work with archetypes and they are crucial to my personal styling work. More than giving each person just one archetype, I attribute two or three archetypes to each individual. The overlaying of varying archetypes honors the unique and individualistic qualities of each person. So, the moment I saw the butterfly with the overlaid lion, I finally had something visual to explain my approach. By overlaying animals in the painting, Magritte created an entirely new animal, as if he painted something he dreamt up. He took something from his unconscious mind and found a way to make it real in a painting.
Similarly, I take unconscious elements of a person, like automatic thoughts and behaviors, and translate them into style. In order for personal style to tell more complete stories about people, I rely on the interplay between archetypes. In fact, this is one of the most complex and crucial aspects to my approach to styling. Whereas many stylists ask their clients to take on the attributes of, let’s say, famous people, I take clients inward. Each of them ends up stylishly like a unique Surrealist painting, expressing the depths of who they are. I’m certainly not going to ask another famous or high-profile person to compare themselves to another. Moreover, low-profile people equally deserve unique identities without comparison to others.
Just as viewing the Magritte exhibition provided further discovery for me, my personal style profile offers clients additional self-discovery. I wasn’t expecting to get so much from my time at the museum. In a related way, clients never think they will benefit from such insights about themselves until we profile their styles. It’s an opportunity to express the unconscious mind by allowing it to show through personal style. So, as Surrealism reveals my approach to styling, I look forward to showing people how to reveal more of themselves.