Born in London and raised in Ghana, Natasha Nyanin is the creative mind behind The Ecstatic Flash. In this installment of 5 Days 5 Ways, she chronicles the journey of one yellow Tome blouse over the course of a recent work trip to Costa Rica. Scroll down to see how it went.
Despite my desire to be the perfectly put-together traveler who struts through the airport clad in imperturbable grace, I am, instead, the one you see at the check-in counter immersed in my hurried ritual of rearranging my clothes in an attempt to defy the laws of physics and reduce the weight of my luggage — because I am also the one too cheap to pay the penalty.
I am Natasha Nyanin, a writer and creative consultant who does not know how to pack light. When Amelia approached me with the idea of styling one item of clothing five different ways for five days, the memory of hand-carrying a six-pound silk taffeta robe aboard a flight from Casablanca to New York was still fresh. I thought it would present the perfect opportunity to whittle down the weight of my luggage on a work trip to Costa Rica.
Of course, I picked the lightest item possible — a yellow silk Tome shirt with blouson sleeves — and then proceeded to weigh down my luggage with myriad options with which to style it. So, you see, I defeated myself from the onset. At least I had an excuse: Four projects, one story to research and a wedding to attend in the space of five days demanded a girl have her options. Photographer Colby Blount and I stayed at Florblanca resort in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica: a conglomeration of villas a stone’s throw from the ocean’s roar. Inspiration abounded.
Day 1: Travel Day
I am living what I like to call my “Year of Yellow,” and as such, the hue had to make its unalloyed debut in the drama that is Travel Day. I usually travel in some form of a suit, but I don’t always do so as an incarnation of Katt Williams. This time I did, going full-tilt monochrome yellow in a Zara suit and comfortable Rothy’s flats. My travel suits are, in my private little fantasy, a petit homage to Yves Saint-Laurent’s Le Smoking and the influence that moment in fashion had on me personally.
The Tome blouse here exists only as a whisper, a suggestion, yet enough to make a statement. To address the small matter of the bitter New York cold, I broke up the sunny color and added texture with a brown teddy bear coat from Ducie London.
Most importantly: How was I going to transport a working closet to Costa Rica? Enter three carry-ons that I find as perfect in their practicality as their presentation: Lotuff Leather’s No. 12 Weekender is androgynous and all-American; Mansur Gavriel’s new travel bag speaks deliciously to my delusions of being a minimalist; and the suitcase sample from Globe-Trotter is steeped in history and yet somehow quite modern. I find each piece of luggage speaks to aspects of my personality and the confluence of the three serves the practical purpose of allowing me to pack far more than I could ever need for a short trip. And so the stage is set for the comedy that is traveling United Airlines.
Day Two: Lounging
To say I have no aversion to color would be an understatement, but I live for the simplicity of monochrome ensembles in crisp white or dominating black. Our home for the stay, Florblanca, inspired this look, which brings together the freshness of white and the joie de vivre of print: large swaths of uninterrupted color pitted against a swirl of pigments in a headwrap by Brazilian swimwear designer Adriana Degreas. The wrap skirt, with its whimsical ruffles, seemed apropos for Costa Rica. The white Zara crop top (acquired for £5 in a long-ago sale), worn back-to-front as a bolero, was a spur-of-the-moment addition as we walked out of the door of our villa.
Day 3: Married to Yellow
“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” – John Keating, Dead Poets Society
This corny quote is a cardinal point in my style. I don’t have a huge wardrobe — in fact, most of it’s in storage as I make a transition from my life as a Centers for Disease Control Scientist in Atlanta to a What-Exactly-Am-I? in New York. So I re-wear my clothes with pride, and am not married to what an item is advertised to be. I wore this yellow dress — which my Atlanta seamstress, Miss Anh, fashioned out of six yards of Marc Jacobs silk chiffon in the spirit of Rihanna’s ruby red Giambattista Valli dress — while Colby and I were working in Tuscany last autumn. When I was invited to an old friend’s wedding in Costa Rica (which I used as an impetus to devise this working trip), I loved the idea of wearing it against the greens and blues of a tropical beach.
Inspired by the prior day’s look, I decided the Tome top could be worn as a headwrap to re-contextualize the dress. (One of the best things about being African is learning the joy of headwraps at an early age.) I don’t wear earrings often, but I find this pair, given to me by Brazilian jewelry designer Bia Daidone, to be elegant with an unmistakable presence.
Day 4: Horsing Around
Borrowing Delpozo’s notion of unexpected color-play (or perhaps inspired by a pack of Starburst), I paired this geometric jacket, which the brand loaned me, with yellow and pink and ecru and navy and a hint of maroon for an afternoon spent riding through the Costa Rican rainforest. In the spirit of equestrianism, I thought the Mansur Gavriel travel bag would make a fine complement; it reminds me of the rigidity of saddles and saddle bags. I did not wear heels to ride (though the ridiculous idea did cross my ridiculous mind), but had I been sporting this ensemble on any other terrain, my much-loved navy No.21 bow mules would have been the shoe of choice. For all its cliché-laden implications, riding my mare, Blanquita, against the backdrop of the setting sun was the perfect benediction to our quick stay in Costa Rica.
Day 4, Part 2: Not Fishing for Compliments
In my opinion, there’s little quite so ladylike as a blouson sleeve. Ocean-bound for a morning of fishing, comfort and sophistication had to find their middle ground. The Tome top is worn here in its purest form over a white, wide-legged jumpsuit by Cinq à Sept. The hope with this look is that sophistication is borne of simplicity. But still, for a bit of added spice (and to keep the sun out of my eyes when I wasn’t saving the hat from the wrath of the wind), I added this jumbo hat seen ubiquitously atop the heads of market sellers in Ghana, which I implored my mother to source and send to me before a trip to Chile last year. Who knew yellow matched tuna so well?
Day 5: City Mouse
Back in the city and hitting the pavement running with one more day of yellow-blousing to go, I reverted to my uniform. I wear these black stretch leggings from Club Monaco like it’s my job, just as I do these sensible Jimmy Choo boots, which are the only pair of boots I own.
To mask the unflattering waistband of the leggings and to break up the blouse and the bottoms, I added a velvet and gold belt from Tara Jarmon, which I adore for its vintage-feeling clasp. But this look is truly anchored by the coat, which was made for me in 24 hours by the sweetest seamstress in Fès, Morocco named Bouchra. I’d been ambling through the medina searching for lining for a cape (long story) when the fabric merchant, Rais, pulled out 2.5 meters of striped wool to entice me. The minute I saw the wool, all I could see was a coat, and so Bouchra sewed the dream into reality.
Wearing the same blouse all week was more than an exercise in creativity, it was a study in sustainability: a reminder that I can make so much out of one thing. Most importantly, having to analyze my approach after the instinctive process of throwing things together made me realize just how incidental clothes are in my life (well, as incidental as something so deliberate can be). I’ve always thought of getting dressed as a situation in which the whole transcends the sum of its parts. Yet, in parsing the parts, I found that the memory each piece carries within it — whether a crazed day in Fès or the sound of a piano at my first Delpozo fashion show — holds the most water. Realizing that these pieces culled from all over are the threads that link my world and dissolve its borders brought me so much joy. It reminded me of my favorite quotes from The English Patient:
“We die. We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we’ve entered and swum up like rivers. Fears we’ve hidden in – like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. Where the real countries are. Not boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men…That’s what I’ve wanted: to walk in such a place with you. With friends, on an earth without maps.”
Photos by Colby Blount. Follow Natasha at @natashanyanin.