I first met my friend M. two years ago at a fashion event in Berlin. While engaging in small-talk, we realized that we had gone to the same high school, from where she had graduated a few years earlier than me. I instantly felt connected to her, despite the fact that she appeared to be one of "the cool girls" - you know, one of those girls that can’t decide which party to go to on Saturday night because there are too many invitations to choose from.
M. seemed fun, bubbly, she worked at a fashion company in Paris, was well-dressed and beautiful: the textbook cool girl. As we grew closer over the following months, went out for dinner and dancing together, I remember feeling secretly honored that she had picked me to hang out with.
The other day, M. told me that she’s felt like an outsider for most of her life – even among her longtime gang, a group of girls she’s been friends with since university. "I’ve only recently started to feel like I belong", she said. Over the past two years I myself had come to notice that M. in fact misses a few crucial cool girl features: she is reliable rather than flakey, invites me over for spontaneous Friday evening dinners instead of going to exclusive parties and doesn’t get tired of telling other people how cool she finds them. Still, I was surprised to hear that she considers herself an outsider.
Could it be that we all are outsiders?
The fashion world, an industry I tried to enter first at the age of 16 with the foundation of my first blog, is based on the concept of "inside" and „outside“ more than any other branch. In fact, it lives on that concept. There wouldn’t be fashion if anything from plastic bags to embroidered dresses was "in fashion", and the industry wouldn’t radiate glamour if it didn’t have that particular atmosphere of exclusiveness. The fashion industry is like a nightclub, all want in, some have to stay outside which makes them want to get in even more.
When I travelled to Paris Fashion Week for the first time, I only received one show invitation, for Jacquemus. As I entered the venue I felt like I was sneaking into a forbidden place, like I wasn’t actually meant to be there. I spent the rest of the week standing outside the shows, watching all the people I knew from Tommy Tons streetstyle pictures: Giovanna Bataglia, Anna dello Russo, Mira Duma, Susanna Lau, Hanne Gaby Odiele. Here they were, the cool girls of fashion, known and loved by seemingly everyone, occupying the front rows and streetstyle picture galleries, dressed like I would never be able to dress because Balenciaga handbags and Aquazurra sandals were far out of reach for me. When I stood outside the show venues, rejected by harsh PR agents, overlooked by photographers and ignored by the show guests waiting for their drivers while looking busy, I felt taken back to my first day at the South African high school I once attended as an exchange student for one semester. On that first day, I had been standing in the middle of the schoolyard, watching groups of students sitting in circles and chatting happily. No one noticed me. Never had I felt so alone in my life. It wasn’t that bad in Paris. But I didn’t feel particularly happy there either.
I’ve been to a lot of fashion weeks since that first time, and thanks to my job as style editor at German ZEITmagazin, I have managed to get tickets for quite a few great shows. Yet I am still far from considering myself part of the inner circle. The funny thing is, the more "cool people" I get to meet in Paris and Milan, the more I realize that I’m not alone. "I am such an outsider", Leandra Medine once told me. “I still think of myself as a real outsider", Tim Blanks once admitted.
Not everyone is as blunt, but many seem to be surprisingly insecure despite their top positions in the industry. During Paris Fashion Week, the crowd rushes into the restaurant Caviar Kaspia as if they were offering free food there. They don’t: the famous caviar potato costs around 80 euros. Still, people eat there on almost every night of the week to make sure they are being seen and to proof they are part of the cool group. There are hundreds of other amazing restaurants in Paris where you can eat your fish in quiet without worrying what Valentino Garavani may think about your outfit. But even "cool people" know the fear of not getting invited, of missing out and eventually becoming irrelevant. They’ve all fought for the admiration and respect people pay them, they’ve all had their tough years of apprenticeship, have been rejected at fashion show gates and yelled at by senior editors. They’ve worn the wrong clothes and felt awkward. Now they are determined to not let that little nobody that suddenly sits next to them in the front row strip them of their victory.
And I get it: after all, the fashion industry doesn’t sell dog food, but beauty, a product we all want to identify with. What I’m tired of are people who are so afraid of not getting their share of that product that they try to exclude others from it. There’s a German journalist of medium importance who insists on being seated front row at every fashion show. If he is seated elsewhere, the responsible PR agent will receive a not so friendly phone call afterwards. A deeply embarrassed PR woman once had to ask me to leave my seat so he could sit there. I was rather amused than offended.
I stopped feeling intimidated by fashion people fighting for front row seats or looking straight through me instead of saying hello when I realized that we actually all want the same: being loved. I just don’t understand why we don’t want it together. "The biggest danger for fashion is its own conceit", my colleague Tillmann Pruefer, style director of ZEITmagazin, once said. I guess this speaks for every circle, not only for the fashion world.
Anum and I met on the internet. I read a feature about her on Vogue.com, fell in love with her eccentric style, saw that she lives in the Middle East – a region I have a special connection to because my mother is from Beirut – and decided to contact her right away, despite the fact that again, I considered her one of the cool girls who may be too busy being cool to answer. Anum replied within half an hour. We became pen pals, then real pals. Another proof that cool girls can be really cool – and that the anonymous, often dark universe called Internet can be a beautiful place to make friends if used in the right way. The internet often depicts a constructed reality. Social media is a tool that has helped hundreds of probably very insecure girls become world famous influencers by staging their perfect lives and wardrobes on their platforms. Their fans think they must be the ultimate insiders, but who knows? They themselves probably still consider themselves total outsiders.
How do we turn the circles we navigate in into communities we don’t feel excluded from, but appreciated by? Communities are based on two principles: speaking up and reaching out. Many people think they're being honest when they talk about how much they work and how exhausting it is to travel to the world’s front rows all the time and how being an influencer is much more challenging that it may look. Nobody benefits from such information. What we need are people who speak up about issues that matter, be it on their blogs or anywhere else. Since Leandra Medine opened up about her struggle to become pregnant, she’s probably helped hundreds of women to feel less alone with their fate. She could have told us about a handbag she got for free, or bragged about a show where she sat next to Beyonce. Instead, she chose to connect with people rather than to make them feel like outsiders.
Because in the end, we’re all outsiders.
Image Credit: Liza Donnelly - Cartoonist & Writer