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A decade in dresses: Lorelei Vashti on ‘Dress, Memory’

Dress, Memory: A Memoir of My Twenties in Dresses (A&U, September) chronicles Lorelei Vashi’s coming-of-age era with a focus on her vintage dress collection. ‘Ultimately it’s the story of a young woman trying to find her place in the world,’ writes reviewer Portia Lindsay. Vashti spoke to Hilary Simmons.

What would you put on a shelf-talker for Dress, Memory?
‘The twenties angst of JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey and Lena Dunham’s Girls meets the redheadedness of Grace Coddington’s fashion memoir Grace. With a touch of The Artists’ Way style self-help thrown in.’

How did you balance the more frivolous aspects of fashion with the more serious themes of depression and anxiety?
The idea that fashion can be considered frivolous is interesting to me. Unless you live on a nudist colony, you wear clothes every day; and whether you’re conscious of it or not, they affect your mindset. So clothes are actually pretty serious. For me, fashion and feelings go together.

In terms of writing the book, as the narrative moves consecutively through my twenties, there’s a natural balance between some periods that were darker and others that were lighter. That’s the natural journey of an adult human; a mixture of dark and light times.

Do you think it’s possible to have a non-tumultuous twenties?
I think you do so much learning and growing up during that decade and, while your own personal period of tumult may not be formally bookmarked by the years 20-30, I think it’s fair to say most people probably have many more varied experiences and adventures during that time than in any other decade.

While writing can be a therapeutic process, it can also be fairly torturous. Do you agree or disagree?
I wholeheartedly agree, and I would cross out the ‘fairly’ with an almost violent flourish! I wrote this whole thing about how hard it was. A friend recently told me that the second book is easier, and I really hope so. Having said that, the writing process is definitely therapeutic. I had to shape and sculpt my stories in order to turn them into a narrative, and in doing so, I was forced to make sense of events in my past. By turning these events into stories, I was able to improve my perspective on them. Has this made me a better human? I doubt it. But, hey, I finished a book!

Do you believe everybody has ‘a book in them’? 
I think everyone has experiences that are worthy of documentation, but whether they have the discipline to sit down and write them for an audience is another question altogether. At the risk of sounding obtuse, while working on the book I often found myself puzzling over the fact that the only difference between people who have written a book and those who haven’t, is that those who have—have! It’s an undeniable truth.

What was the last book you read and loved?
We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). It’s an oral history filled with anecdotes from many incredible and awe-inspiring funny people, and it made me remember how much I love this ‘crowdsourced’ style of memoir. Another book I also adore in the same style is George Plimpton’s biography Truman Capote (Anchor), which is subtitled ‘In which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career’. The oral history is such a great way to tell a story; all the different voices make up each sparkling face of a brilliant diamond.



Category: Features