“Material Girl Mystical World” is the tagline of The Numinous, a website started by Sunday Times Style contributor Ruby Warrington, who believes that, despite living in a material world, we can combine new age (or “now age” as Warrington asserts) thinking and post-modern spirituality and still enjoy the aesthetic pleasures of fashion. Or to sum up this unlikely combination with a handy bit of alliteration, one Numinous article title reads: “Chanel Boots and the Fashion Chakra”
“I’ve always been obsessed with astrology and all things ‘mystical’ but coming from a fashion magazine background I always found a lot of the imagery around it really unappealing,” said Warrington. “So much crushed purple velvet and dorky unicorn drawings! I decided there was a niche for a site that married mysticism with a beautiful, stylish aesthetic – as I was aware that so many people in fashion world were also into this stuff.” Warrington cites astrologer Susan Miller’s website as an example of being aesthetically unappealing but absorbing content-wise (although you could argue, that Miller’s web 1.0 hyperlink-blue style is making a lo-fi trendy comeback all by itself if you delve deep enough into the myriad of hipster Tumblr ages).
You could view this as a surface-level chic repackaging of a lifestyle choice and belief system that has long existed. Astrology, crystal healing, yoga, meditation – these are age-old belief systems and activites that have undergone various waves of in or out. The current vogue for this holistic lifestyle though neatly coincides with an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle, dominated by a frenetic online presence and an inability to switch off. “I like to call it ‘now age’ thinking – as I feel like a lot of the hippie ideals of the 1960s are coming of age with the current generation,” said Warrington. “Our lives are so ruled by technology that any way to feel more ‘human’ – be this through yoga or meditation, eating a more natural diet, or looking to holistic healing modalities, is more and more appealing.”
Take my own interest into the “unknown or the “unknowable” as per the meaning of numinous, which is something that has developed over time as well as with age. The more chaotic my work life has become, the more I want to escape into spaces, where the very force of Mother Nature moves you. If I had read that line seven years ago, I would have cringed and berated myself for being a pretentious twat. Thirty-year old me now insists that going out to Joshua Tree and looking up into the sky is incredibly important to my well-being. I haven’t quite stepped up to the spiritual plane that Warrington and her friends are on but it may only be a matter of time.
It’s easy to see the relationship between spiritual enlightenment and fashion as a straightforward dichotomy. One seems to naturally repel the other. I’ve seen former editors and fashion PRs in the industry turn to more holistic enterprises or careers be it floristry (bigging up Taylor Tomasi Hill Blooms as an example), raw juice creation or even embarking on courses to become spiritual life coaches. It’s fashion burn-out akin to the way City bankers and financial workers up sticks and move out to the country to start making cheese or craft beer. “I think the way fashion is sold is designed to create / exploit feelings of lack – i.e. the notion that only by acquiring this seasons ‘must-haves’ will you somehow feel whole,” said Warrington, when asked about her thoughts on this idea of fashion burn-out. “It’s totally possible to keep this in check and appreciate fashion as a way to enhance your experience of the world and express your whole self – but working in the industry it can be difficult to maintain this sense of balance.” Or to use a notorious example, look at Lynne Franks, the infamous London PR, upon which Jennifer Saunders’ character Edina Monsoon in Ab Fab is based on. Her 1997 autobiography Absolutely Now!: A Futurist’s Journey to Her Inner Truth chronicles Frank’s emotional and spiritual journey since leaving the world of PR and has since ventured on to projects promoting female empowerment, sustainability and social responsibility.
How do fashion and spirituality co-exist then? Warrington asserts that looking great can be equated to feeling great, which I certainly agree with. “If our body is our temple, then surly how we chose to adorn it is an intrinsic part of our spiritual experience.” Fashion, and in particular the high street, has already mined the surface of mysticism for its benefit. Look at the festival trends that pop up year after year such as psychedelic crystal prints, fringed kimonos and the ever-prevailing feather head dress. But when the likes of Pamela Love describes her creations as “deeply spiritual and intuitive”, you believe it. Her jewellery is rooted around and genuinely influenced by astronomy, astrology and alchemy and this idea of keeping a dose of mysticism close to your being, be it a ring, a cuff or a necklace, is what has made Love so successful. Same goes for the likes of Sydney/New York-based jewellery label Mania Mania. Their Tumblr pages and inspiration images combined are unified in their aesthetic. Where the rest of the fashion world is fleeting and in flux, the likes of Love have a consistent source of imagery that sums up what they’re about.
The Numinous introduced me to IAmVibes, a label started by songwriter and spiritual sage Tom Hardless, which features clothing printed with the Islamic symbol of the Hamsa to provide defence against the Evil Eye. According to Hardless, “I had a channelling of the word “HAMSA.” When I say channelling I mean that in opening your mind fully to the universe, it shows you things and makes you feel things to help you be a creative, happy, balanced human. With a little bit of research and learning, I came to understand what this symbol stood for, what it meant to me and how I could incorporate my energy into this symbol to make it my own.” The end gist of that? That creativity equals happiness. That’s something I can get onboard with.
Retail-wise, we’ve seen Tena Strok’s Celestine Eleven in Shoreditch, touted as an “alternative luxury store” where you can feed yourself aesthetically and spiritually. It’s still one of the most interesting retail concepts to have come up in the last year or so and approaches fashion and spiritual well-being with a notion that looking to the “alternative” side of things will ultimately make you more enriched. I can’t deny that the combination of new season Meadham Kirchhoff, Niels Peeraer and Rachel Comey with wares from Celestine Eleven’s well-stocked apothecary as well as tomes from her brilliant book selection don’t make for a heady and nourishing combination.
Last week, we’ve also seen the launch of a pop-up “modern mysticism” venture in London. She’s Lost Control is “free-flowing concept space” which “fuses the synergies of urban style with modern mysticism, taking an unconventional view of art, music, fashion and lifestyle.” Created by jewellery designer Jill Urwin and fashion designer Cheryl Eltringham, again they talk about creativity as a way of advocating spirituality – an easily dismissible bit of tosh – but when you meet them in their temporary space on 99 Morning Lane Hackney, it’s clear they have conviction in their beliefs. How else to explain the little jars of gold leaf, sold for no purpose other than to bring good fortune to the receiver? Or the aura potions kept in metal vials. In addition to Urwin’s jewellery and crystal terrariums and loose kimonos from Eltringham’s Velvet Johnstone label, She’s Lost Control is showcasing art aura art by Lauren Baker and Burning Man-appropriate headdresses by Sister Rebel. They’re also taking it a step further by holding meditation sessions with spiritual healer and life coach Jody Shield. She’s Lost Control is at 99 Morning Lane until the 25th August, before it moves on to the Unknown in Croatia. As in the festival called the Unknown, not the real unknown…
Hard nosed cynics will still find it difficult not to write this all off as merely an faddy aesthetic. But is there anything fundamentally wrong with we’re trying to have our mystical cake and eat it with an awesome outfit on, especially when that outfit has been borne out of love, principle and as an affront to fashion’s mainstream. Warrington’s advice on how to combine our material world with a spiritual one? “Don’t blindly consume things – make considered material choices that will enhance your world on a deeper spiritual level.” Right on…