Can a streamlined wardrobe amplify who you are inside?

Maia Kumari Gilman
Jul 25, 2018 · 10 min read
At the United Nations in Geneva wearing a Sandy Humby rose scarf

Can a streamlined wardrobe amplify who you are inside? I asked myself this when I was invited to be part of an international group of independent artists to present our artwork at the United Nations. I’d spent months creating art in my messy-happy-flow-place and was ready to share. But how to translate that good feeling source of creativity into a workplace setting, and an international diplomatic one at that? We would travel to Geneva. I was finishing one job and beginning another. Busy with kids and family obligations. No time to focus on wardrobe.

In that messy-focused-painting-flow in my black smock

I reached out to my stylist-friend Kerry Cordero and a flurry of text messages ensued and then a quickly scheduled closet consultation came next. Did I mention that shopping for new clothes was not part of the plan? With each artist paying their own way, spending more on clothing was not an option. Kerry had me covered. Somehow she managed to elicit the essence of my art work and and transform the clothes I already had, into a flexible, comfortable, recombinable and internationally business casual appropriate travel wardrobe that could also be used for my office work back in New York City.

Detail of one of my architectural fabric scrims

I had an amazing time at the exhibition surrounded by like-minded artistic souls and in support of a serious mission: our art, collectively part of the Domus Terrae show, was created to honor the world’s first negotiations around an international approach to migration and refugee settlement. These themes had been present, through the lens of climate, environment and architecture, in my work for some time. I felt confident about my work. I wanted to feel as confident about the presentation.

Working early from the hotel, on a 3D SketchUp model of the exhibition design

One day in particular comes to mind as I think of this: the day I completed computer design work on my laptop from my hotel starting in the wee hours of the morning, worked through to completion in the afternoon, and then at the UN with the artists we put the final touches on our exhibition. Within the same afternoon I pitched my eco-fiction novel to the UN Library and then the UN Bookstore, and finally did a last minute wardrobe adjustment to be ready for the opening of the exhibition that night. I don’t normally push through like that yet was both jet lagged and inspired, and so I did.

With the cover art of my novel, on display as part of the exhibition

It was so nice to not worry about what I was wearing and to also know I was perfectly appropriate while also eminently comfortable. I felt very much that I was in a superb flow, and felt it in every moment of the day and night. Jewelry was simple and functional and I had a change of shoes. What else was there to think about? I was curious to know some of the background of how Kerry helped me to get so ready, and so thoroughly. I asked her some questions of a general nature, questions specific to me, and questions that others might benefit from. If you are also as curious as I was, read on:

Maia: What did you first think when I told you I had this art event at the UN? Did you have a gut feeling about a particular response or did you wait to see what I would come back with? What was that like from your perspective?

Kerry: When I heard from you about an art installation and show at the UN, I was thrilled for you. I knew the exposure would be great for you. I also know that you’re an accomplished artist, an intellectual and your origins are international. What I needed to fill in was a specific image of your art behind you and knowledge of whom you would be meeting with at the exhibit. I also wondered how messy and dirty you would get while installing art. And of course, I needed to hear you tell me what you wanted out of the event and what story you wanted to tell about yourself.

An outfit from our session with a bag designed by a friend on a trip to India

Maia: How did you approach my wardrobe planning session around the UN preparation and also in light of my needing to tweak my daily work wardrobe into a capsule? And how did you manage to do that in 90 minutes?! Am I a typical client and how am I, or not? How might you approach another client differently?

Details, and jade/gold jewelry from my grandmother that I ended up not wearing, in favor of the silver necklace that held my ID badge all week

Kerry: That is the funniest question, the one about whether or not you are a typical client, because the answer is all so about you yourself. You’re both an intellectual and a creative soul and you loooooooves to talk and share your knowledge. So in my meeting with you, it was a lot about sorting through everything you were willing to share with me and all the pictures you showed me, while seeking out the most important points about what your goal was for the UN event. Other clients require that I ask leading questions and draw them out as much as possible.

What was similar between you and other clients is the process I use. I’ve developed it over many years and it works to both capture lots of info and keep us focused on a goal. We start out talking, we move to the three to five items I’ve asked the client to pull and then I delve into the other clothes in the closet to create outfits around those starter items. The goal is ten outfits in two and a half hours plus a plan for what’s next. You were organized and ready to go. You already had your accessories organized and your shoes out.

And back to your question about creating ensembles for the UN while organizing the closet into a capsule, all in 90 minutes. Here’s the answer: the ultimate goal for a client’s entire closet is that it’s organized into one or more capsules. Each capsule contains about ten to fifteen items that relate to each other in terms of color, pattern, texture and silhouette and they all flatter the client’s own colors and patterns, their facial features and their body shape. So, while I’m creating outfits for an event, I’m also sorting, eliminating and making lists of what’s needed for an entire capsule. In the end, you went to the UN with outfits that I created, but those outfits were made up of individual pieces that were related, so you could mix and match into new outfits, if you wanted to, when you got there.

Eminently mix-and-matchable-black-and-white, plus the silver necklace that became my daily accessory

Maia: What do you see when you approach a client — what do you see when you see me? Not fishing for compliments, just curious! Others might find this interesting. I personally find your approach very intuitive yet also well structured. And to that end — how does Fashion Feng Shui play into the big picture?

Kerry: Wow! That’s an interesting question because often I hear my clients before I see them! Usually, I have a phone call and a nice chat with someone before meeting them so they can ask me questions and we can get a feel for each other. That allows me to get an impression of them from what they talk about, the language they use, their energy or their pace and flow. Sometimes, they tell me what their challenge is with their clothes and sometimes we really get to the heart of what they want or need from their lives.

And then I see their pictures and we meet. Sometimes my impression matches their look and sometimes it totally doesn’t. That’s where my training in Fashion Feng Shui becomes important. Fashion Feng Shui is about understanding the essential and true inner self of a person by using what we call the Transformational Triangle. Once I’m able to understand a bit of the client’s nature as well as see how they look, I teach the client to honor that self through their clothing choices. We use clothes as a “North Star” or a path toward self-understanding, self-expression and self-acceptance. It’s an amazing experience and if you really delve into it, you can change your life path, fall in love more deeply or even change your name to suit your genuine self more authentically. I know someone who did that!

So what do I see when I look at you? I see high contrast between the colors in your light skin and your dark hair and eyes. That contrast exudes power and strength, especially since your eyes are shining black or nearly black. And that matches your personality since you’re such a go-getter, full of ideas and movement and creativity and greatness. I also see a deeply caring person and that is supported by your apple shaped body. In Fashion Feng Shui, an apple shaped person has a strong sense of commitment; values practicality and consistency and he or she loves to help others. You are stable, focused on community and have a sense of tradition about you. Of course, you could be secure and peace making without an Apple body, but I would probably see it elsewhere in your colors and shapes. That’s where the intuition comes in!

As I’ve delved deeper into Fashion Feng Shui, I’ve become more aware of my intuitive ability and my need to create. To satisfy those aspects of my nature, I’m developing playing cards out of the Fashion Feng Shui system. Also, I’m publishing a book about how to choose clothes that reflect your personal style words as well as how to wear outfits that support you and transform you.

I find this all so interesting. I’ve studied Feng Shui and Reiki and I see the connections of the subtle and the very apparently material. I bring this through my own work, and of course, my creative work is a big part of my self expression.

Laying out one of the scrims on the floor

In my daily work life as an artist and architect, this is a regular focus. In my preparing to hang the art at the UN, I asked myself, how does this architectural fabric scrim want to hang on this stone wall? I had thought the scrims, sheer fabric, would be hung, stained glass in their effect, with light passing through them. Instead, I had to grapple with a large stone wall. A stone drum that embraced conference spaces inside. And so for the first day, I came to terms with the texture of this wall and the probable intentions of the architect who originally designed it. Eventually I laid the fabric on the floor, and played with it in different configurations. It became very clear: the fabric would hang on the textured wall, hugging the stone drum. The art pieces were created as a testament to the inner spirit of humans and communities that grow with interconnections. It seemed only appropriate to connect that work to the conference spaces, directly.

Coming to terms with the solidity and texture of the stone walls

I saw the building as our vessel, and our opportunity. Really, no different than cladding a body, at least, in my architect’s eyes. What amplifies what? Can art amplify a space? I think so. Can art created in a certain spirit, amplify the intentions of a set of negotiations? Yes. This was the work of our group exhibition. This was a big undertaking, and I wanted to be prepared to meet our audience.

Feeling pretty satisfied with the hanging of the scrims on the stone drum

Thank goodness I had the clothes all planned out ahead of time, and with a flexibility that allowed diversions from the plan. I knew I would be photographed in front of my colorful artwork and wanted to be complementary in my style. I have lots of colors in my wardrobe and also lots of black and white. I focused on the black and white as I prepared for Kerry’s visit. And when I paint I am often in a black smock, so black as an outfit base felt natural in sharing the art work. I wore more color and pattern on the weekend when sightseeing, away from the exhibition environment and the backdrop of my art. That colorful art backdrop that I felt so comfortable with, ended up being a backdrop for photos and videos from other NGO presenters at the UN, much to my pleasure and surprise.

The scrims as a photography backdrop for NGOs

I have more selfies than anything of these outfits, and so you get glimpses here and there. The soft silver chain necklace became a central point to every outfit, unexpectedly: it became the lanyard on which I hung my UN identification badge. The rest of the outfits came together with ease since they had been planned to mix and match, and for individual pieces to be reworked, reworn.

A day off, in Montreaux, on Lake Geneva

What do you think? I found my answer; I leave you with this question: who is the you inside, wanting to be expressed on the outside?

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.

Maia Kumari Gilman

Written by

Architect | Artist | Author #adaptivereuse #architecture #mixedmedia #ecofiction #solutionsjournalism www.maiakumarigilman.com

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.

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