The Accidental Icon on a Disruptive Approach to Fashion

The Accidental Icon on a Disruptive Approach to Fashion

64-year-old fashion blogger Lyn Slater talks about supporting burgeoning designers and what makes an "accidental icon."

64-year-old fashion blogger Lyn Slater talks about supporting burgeoning designers and what makes an "accidental icon."

Text: E.R. Pulgar

Lyn Slater isn't here for any constructed ideas of fashion you might have. The fashion blogger, who daylights as a professor of social work at Fordham University, founded The Accidental Icon as a way to highlight the "interesting but ordinary lives" of women in urban environments and explore her own relationship to fashion. Since receiving a lot of attention from both national and international press and appearing on the cover of several fashion magazines, a lot of coverage has tended to focus on her age as it relates to her unique position in the fashion world. At 64, Slater isn't interested in any of that. When you read her work, you can get a sense of her scholarly approach to couture and self-presentation: it's a matter of breaking down barriers, using your imagination, and feeling iconic in one's everyday life.

sat down with Slater to talk about her favorite young designers, how she views the fashion world now, and what it means to be an "accidental icon."

You’re very much influenced by Japanese designers, so I'm wondering what draws you to Eastern designers, and what you think is missing from Western fashion.

I'm someone that really appreciates complexity and I also appreciate history. Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo attracted me because of the way that they completely disrupted fashion. Yamamoto and his clothes are great material for me because they allow me to be a lot of different paradoxes and a lot of different selves. Ironically, the way his clothes are made and draped and move around your body, I can be completely covered head to toe in black and feel sensual because of the space in between the clothes and my body. I'm seductive, powerful, feminine, and yet covered. I can have a choice of what I reveal and what I don't. Comme Des Garcons is also disruptive, and I’m not fan of the status quo.

That's something I recognized about you as I read up on you, and it's why I didn't prepare any questions about your age. I see that you're asked about that often, but I get the strong impression you're not interested in talking about that.

It's irrelevant to me! I think now we're at a time where boundaries and categories are starting to disintegrate and power structures are being challenged. It's an amazing time for us to create new and different ways of doing things, including the kind of clothing we make and how we wear it.

Is that why you favor small designers?

I think I've always spent a lot of time around young people, and it started the moment my younger brother was born. I'm the oldest of six children, so my entire life, everyone was younger than me. In my first career as a social worker, I worked with young people, and I've been a professor for 17 years. Because I care about our communication, I have had to keep evolving and understanding how young people communicate and what is important to them. I see them as an area of expertise that I don't have.

What's the main thing you've learned from observing up-and-coming designers?

When they start out, they really do care about telling a story and being creative—they have something important they wanna say. We're at such a global time; people are crossing into other states and countries. We're in constant motion, and young designers are making clothes that speak to that feeling.

Any particular designers you're looking at?

There's a group that went to Central Saint Martins; they're Chinese, sort of a cohort that includes Angel Chen and Percy Lau, who makes the most amazing sunglasses. I love Masha Ma, they're a pretty brilliant group. Here in New York, there's a young designer who graduated from Parsons, her brand is Yajun Designs. It's very intelligent, interesting, and modern. We met when she did her senior collection and she's been able to get very successful. I love having relationships with designers and understanding what they care about and what they're inspired by, and then that makes me feel like I have a relationship with their clothes.

I asked you for specific names because your blog is more conceptual and about fashion theory than advocating for any specific brand. Could you talk about your relationship with clothes?

I guess for me, it's not necessarily about fashion. I would say I have a very performative relationship with clothes. I learned from a young age that clothes could make you experiment with identities and selves that you were at the time or wanted to be. When I was a child, I'd read books, and there'd be a character that I really admired. I would imagine how they were dressed and make something from that. I was always going through my mother's closet, and my grandmother had trunks of sheer curtains which I used to construct these outfits. I always used clothes to express who I am and who I wanted to be. I use clothes, always, to rebel, be disruptive, and to challenge the status quo.

You’ve previously used those words to describe an "accidental" icon; how would you describe an icon, period?

Somebody who's ahead of where we actually are in a culture, but the culture is moving toward that place. The icon is giving us some kind of a sense of what we could be. They get it before everyone else. I think people like Patti Smith, David Bowie... they're sort of ahead of the game, and give us examples of how we can live in this new space.

Would you say they arrived at that point accidentally?

I think I was very purposeful, and I did a lot of research, and I did read fashion theory. I think it's a combination of something intuitive in you; it's about what you've read, what you know, and how you absorb culture. The luck part of it is that you're putting yourself out at just the right time, and that's what I feel sort of has happened to me. I needed a way to write and express myself differently, and I wanted to study fashion. Everything I'm doing is a platform to do that, but the lucky accident was that I hit the culture at a time where all the rules about fashion and who should be in it are now done. It's irrelevant, and that's really my attitude.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Credits: Photos via the Accidental Icon

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