Skewed Perspectives

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

While we were studying abroad in Brittany during our third year of high school, some of my American classmates chose to go back home to the U.S. for Thanksgiving—that is, for all of a regular two-day weekend. From six years ago up until today, the very idea of going home for such a short amount of time, under such unusual circumstances, has represented an uncanniness I just can’t properly distill. It approximates being a guest—a visitor, a tourist—in your own home, collapsing two valid but separate realities in a way that simply shouldn’t be. It’s too close to home…and at the same time, too far. 

All of this to say that, personally, our study trip was more than privileged, backstage access to vaults and archives. After living in the city for four years, I experienced a shift, a disconnect, but above all, a sense of being home. This trip served as a reminder, after the tropical misery of last summer, of how novel and timeless and familiar and invigorating New York can be.

Between FIT and Brooklyn Museum visits, I complained about the L train and avoided subway transfers. I made the trip from 103rd St. into downtown Chinatown…several times, in a descent that only needs four words to justify (Nom Wah shrimp dumplings). I lay on my friend’s couch, drinking grapefruit with gin and fighting with her cat. I fell in love with another friend’s new pink velvet couch. I took my cousin out for boba and used up all his bath bombs. I raided my uncle’s attic for my down jacket, forgotten t-shirts and winter sneakers (yes, it’s a thing).

It looks like love, but he is trying to bite my hand.

All the while, I thought about my Courtauld friends’ impressions and experiences. Some had never been to New York; for some, it was the first visit to America. Is it possible to romanticise the MTA, the gritty yellow and 10-minute wait time of the NY subway? Were three days enough time to feel the grid layout, to become familiar with that sense of recalibrating your internal compass at subway exists and on unmarked streets? How American was America? What bars and cafés and thrift shops and hidden gardens did they discover to call their own? Can they communicate the essence of the city? I sure can’t.  

This is the idea: people can look at the same thing and, as individuals, receive it wildly differently. A city can’t be described or defined. It’s the people, memories and associations as they relate to me—or you—that make it up.

So there I was, on a third-floor walk-up on the Upper West Side as the other MAs found their home base in Chelsea. We assembled and separated according to schedule, our rendez-vous lighting up the map of New York’s cultural institutions. 

At the very end of the trip, I brought us together one last time, merging our existences again in the lobby of the New York Times building. My above-mentioned uncle, Marc Lacey, is the national editor, and he has cheerfully hosted groups of my friends at the NYT for the past few years. His talents and achievements as a journalist aside, Marc is a fabulous tour guide: charismatic, approachable, engaging, always ready with the unusual anecdote, dry comment or terrible dad-joke. We attended a morning briefing, gleaned an insider’s view—literally—of the NYT, took premier snapshots of the city skyline, spied a specialist ISIS reporter next to (shut) closets jammed with clothing for fashion reviews and came away with advance copies of the paper. The others returned to London that evening; I went home with Marc.

The MA class, minus your author, in front of a wall of other distinguished NYT guests.

I have been aware for a while of having several places where I feel at home: LA, Brittany, Paris, New York, London. But now, I am realising how strange and exciting it can be to overlap them and stretch their limits. Boundaries are bizarre…

All photos by the author.