s someone who works in fashion, I get to see and write about some of the world’s most exciting garments. I also buy a lot of clothes. Searching the internet for a particular pair of vintage Dries van Noten cargo pants is my idea of a relaxed evening. I saved for months to purchase some of the pieces in my closet. And yet, the clothes that mean the most to me, the ones I would take with me if I were to be exiled to a desert island for the rest of my life, aren’t the ones I spent the most money on or found in some chic Parisian vintage boutique.
I realized this the other day, when I misplaced my boyfriend’s T-shirt in a hotel room. I had been “borrowing“ it from him for awhile, and liked to take it on trips to have something with me that reminded me of him. It wasn’t a particularly pretty T-shirt: striped, bleached out, with frayed hems and holes under the sleeves. Whoever cleaned my room probably mistook it for a wiping cloth. But I loved it. It was much more than a piece of clothing. It carried emotions of deep attachment and intimacy. It was, in fact, an object so personal I was too ashamed to ask the hotel if they could try to find it and ship it to me once I realized it was gone. Only I knew its value.
A garment always has to tell a story; if it doesn’t, it’s just fabric. The fashion industry invents these stories every season: stories about glamour, power, Parisian nights, exotic deserts, rock stars, princesses. A brilliant designer is a brilliant storyteller. But runway fashion can’t replicate the connections to other people that are woven into certain clothes — the memories that make a garment vivid, emotional, even human. Just like the smell of the sunscreen my mother used to apply on my face when I was a child, or the song that played in the background when I had my first kiss, these particular pieces hold the power to remind us that we’re not alone.
Losing my boyfriend’s T-Shirt made me reflect on which other clothes meant that much to me; which ones I would take with me if someone knocked on my door right this minute to forever dispatch me to a lonely Pacific sandbar you’ve never heard of and said I could only pack a handful of things. Here’s my list:
1. A printed scarf
My mother’s printed scarf, which always smells of her Giorgio Armani perfume. When I was a little girl, I used to visit my mother’s closet approximately once a day to try on her cocktail dresses, bras, shoes and this scarf. Entering her closet felt like exploring a new world, one filled with unknown smells and possibilities. Born in Lebanon and living in Germany, my mother has always had an aura of glamorous alienness. She fled her country during the civil war in 1975 and has lived in Germany for over 40 years, but still speaks French and Arabic, cooks kibbeh and yells “Yalla” at other car drivers. This scarf reminds me of two things: her striking elegance, but also a sense of melancholy and longing that has always surrounded her.
2. A beaded bracelet
A beaded bracelet my sister made when we were kids and spent our weekend afternoons making jewelry on our bedroom floor in a rare state of harmony. Like most older siblings, my sister wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about my arrival. When I was three days old, she bit me in the face. Throughout our childhood, we maintained a strange mix of companionship and competition. But it was also her who introduced me to all the good things in life: knock-a-door-runs, camping in the garden, the spot where our parents hid the TV remote, the art of making bracelets, fashion blogs. It was actually my sister who encouraged me to start my own blog, which eventually made me realize I wanted to be a writer, which brought me where I am today, right here!
3. A cashmere sweater
My father’s beige cashmere sweater, which he’s owned for longer than I have been his daughter. It’s elegant and protecting, just like he is — a man who reads every single one of my articles (and the comments) five minutes after they are published. I used to believe that my father was always right, but recently, our relationship has changed. We fight. I challenge his beliefs and values. Maybe that’s the hardest lesson growing up has taught me so far: that my parents don’t know everything, that they don’t have a master plan. Sometimes, they are as clueless as I am, even though they instinctively act as my protectors. Whenever I see my father now, I try to remember that he’s not an omniscient being who fails at being omniscient, but rather a human with insecurities and fears, just like me.
4. An orange Jacquemus skirt
My best friend’s orange Jacquemus skirt, which she gave me in return for the exact same skirt I owned in a smaller size (we swapped them when she lost weight and I put on some). It’s our common denominator, probably the only piece of clothing we mutually love. Our styles, like our personalities, are very different. Our biggest fight happened when she told me about a life horoscope that was written for her when she was born and I dismissed it as esoteric nonsense. The fight was dramatic, with shouting and banging doors, et cetera, but in the end, we both learned something about each other and ourselves. This skirt reminds me that friendship is not only about being on the same wave (and skirt) length. It’s also about opening your mind.
5. A DKNY T-Shirt
My boyfriend’s DKNY T-Shirt, which he gave me the first time I slept over at his place. Before I met him, my weekends weren’t actually weekends. I typically woke up at 8 am on a Sunday, unable to go back to sleep as the panic creeped in. I had so much to do! Have a fancy breakfast, go to the flea market to find a cool chair, schlepp that chair back home, stop to meet friend A for a coffee, clean up my apartment, go for a run, start working on a story, meet friend B for dinner, watch a great movie. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I used to joke. And then, along came my boyfriend to introduce me to the concept of Chill Sunday: Never wake up before 11. Don’t get dressed, stay in your sleep tee. Drink coffee in bed. Eat toast and jam in bed. Go back to sleep. Read the newspaper in bed. Go for a little walk, have another coffee, take a nap. It changed my life.
And all of this fits in a beach bag! I think I’ve never travelled lighter. Now, tell me: What clothes would make it onto your desert island packing list?
Illustrations by Meredith Jensen.