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Fashion by Felicia Meets Fashion-Know-It-All: From Notre Dame to ELLE

Felicia Caponigri | Monday, September 19, 2011

Anne Slowey, Fashion News Director at ELLE Magazine and a 1982 Notre Dame alumna, is busy between shows at New York Fashion Week.  However, amid the bustle and glamour, her voice radiates calm, intelligence and thoughtfulness. Your very own Fashion by Felicia is the lucky recipient of this voice as Slowey graciously agreed to speak about what fashion means to her and the trajectory she’s seen it take in her own life and beyond.  Hold on to your stilettos, darlings, because fashion isn’t just about those runway lights. As Slowey shared, it’s all about communication.

Slowey remembered Notre Dame campus fashion in the late 70’s and early 80’s as “East Coast preppy, plaid, corduroy, monogrammed sweaters, double pleated khakis with high waists for men (which should never be seen again), lots of ripped denim and boyfriend and girlfriend matching styles.” (My, my, my how things have changed). Slowey recalled having a “slight” interest in fashion, and told a humorous anecdote of being labeled a “hippie” after she walked barefoot to and from campus during her first few weeks of class. Her overall style consisted of “fringed moccasins, ripped jeans and t-shirts.”

“Some girls were into dressing up, but not me … I was never interested in fashion for its social purposes — namely to get a boyfriend,” Slowey said.

Working at Vogue with the famed photographer Irving Penn for one year after graduating from Notre Dame with a B.A. in history furthered her passion for fashion for another reason  the beauty of the object. An aspiring writer, Slowey was transfixed by the “history, pageantry, and thoughtful, artful expression” of fashion.

“Great, more experienced designers are aware of this history. A sleeve can convey the Baroque period, for example, and draw you into a romantic history,” Slowey said.

Slowey agrees with the notion of fashion as a visual, nonverbal language, with fashion always “existing within a cultural context.”

“Otherwise it’s just clothes,” Slowey said.  

Slowey’s passion for adventure travel has highlighted these beliefs. Visiting countries as diverse as Uzbekistan and the Laplands, as well as multiple regions of Africa, India, Japan and China, gave her the opportunity to enter tribal regions, which designers such as John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld have visited as well.

“The roots of many designs we see are in this education — a consciousness rising”, she said.

And this consciousness rising applies to her European travels as well.

“In Europe there is a chic and sophisticated woman [that are] not here,” Slowey said. “They’re not so overtly sexual, but sensual with more attitude.”

She added that American women are “more open emotionally, while with European women there’s more affect.”

This doesn’t negate the fact that there is a clear European love affair with American style, epitomized by the popularity of brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, whose European presence conveys “an obsession with American sport and casual wear.”

From this historical and bi-cultural perspective, Slowey highlights a meaning of fashion, which has lately been gaining more consideration in academic circles. Fashion doesn’t just simply visualize a different culture or time period through patterns or simple design, but it also keys us in to a culture’s values and traditions, likes and dislikes.

So, where does this leave us?  College students carry heavy course loads, beaucoup extracurricular activities, not to mention social entanglements. Anne Slowey was once one of us, and is now the author of her own ELLE column, Fashion-Know-It-All, a former star of the “Devil Meets Prada”-esque reality show “Stylista”, a one-time critic of “The City’s Whitney Port”, a fashion aesthete and the Director of the Fashion News (which your very own Fashion by Felicia checks religiously every morning on ELLE.com, latte in hand).

Moreover, Slowey is no fashion talking head — her points are intellectual. One could even say she has an academic’s view on the world of fashion. However, she is quick to crush any opinion that casts historical interpretation as the only legitimate view.

“As I have gotten older, I have realized you use fashion to express yourself and what you think, to convey a sensibility,” she said. “Clothes represent who you are — if you’re moody, a romantic intellect or if you’re playful or joyful. This Spring, in particular, we’ve seen a lot of that with beautiful nature prints.”

Slowey believes your wardrobe has the power to set the tone when you enter a room.

“After all, you pick a trend and then you bring it to your own closet,” she said. “The bottom line is you pick something everyday that you like, for which you have a feeling.”

Slowey described her style as “a little avant-garde with the romantically intellectual.” She often likes to surprise people, incorporating a quirky or entertaining accessory into her ensemble. She cautions young women engaged with fashion to remember that if they begin to wax poetic on the historicism of fashion, like the architecture of a particular building, clothes can change the way you feel in a tangible manner. When asked about her favorite fashion item, Slowey was speechless (of course, as any true fashion lover knows, items of your wardrobe are like children — how could you possibly choose your favorite?), but added, “Anything by Balenciaga, or Pierre Hardy.”

Achieving our dreams is never easy, and it always takes us on unexpected routes. Did the young Anne Slowey dream of a place of power at ELLE Magazine as she felt the grass underneath her feet on that walk up to the Golden Dome? As she said, “I wanted to be a writer.” And so she is, and so much more.

The key to fashion lies in its ability to help us get there, to communicate our dreams and desires to the audience we wish to spellbind. Papers may be on their way, exams around that crisp fall corner, but with the right ensemble and accessories, you can feel on top of the world and visually shout that empowerment from the rooftops. Now that’s what I like to call fashion enlightenment.