Thursday, November 28, 2013

Inspired Coords Part II: Non-Characters

Continued from last week's post, I have a third media-inspired coord type to show you.

Type 3: A non-character or setting

If you're doing this one, you clearly like a challenge.

This is, simply put, the hardest way you can take inspiration from media. Whether you take your inspiration from a culture or from a setting, you're taking a broader base of impression and trying to distill it into a single outfit. For example, while many people will say that the setting of a book “becomes a character,” you’ve got to admit that it’s hard to translate that setting into human form.

However, it can be done.

My favorite texts for this are works like Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Each of these offers dreamlike descriptions of places, not concrete but very vivid. They give a wealth of images, colors, and textures that can be translated easily to fabrics and jewelry.

For an example, I'm going to take my cue from the opening paragraphs of the aforementioned Palimpsest. I know this book isn't the most common thing in the world, so I'll reproduce them here so you know what I'm talking about.
“On the corner of 16th Street and Heiratica a factory sings and sighs. Look: its thin spires flash green, and spit long loops of white flame into the night. Casimira owns this place, as did her father and her grandmother and probably her most distant progenitor. It is pleasant to imagine them, curling and uncurling their proboscis-fingers against machines of stick and bone. There has always been a Casimira, except when, occasionally, there is a Casimir.
"Workers carry their lunches in clamshells. They wear extraordinary uniforms: white and green scales laid one over the other, clinging obscenely to the skin, glittering in the spirelight. They wear nothing else; every wrinkle and curve is visible. They dance into the factory, their serpentine bodies writhing a shift change, undulating under the punch clock with its cheerful metronomic chime. Their eyes are piscine, third eyelid half-drawn in drowsy pleasure as they side step and gambol and spin to the rhythm of the machines.
"And what do they make in this factory? Why, the vermin of Palimpsest. There is a machine for stamping cockroaches with glistening green carapaces, their maker’s mark hidden cleverly under the left wing. There is a machine for shaping and pounding rats, soft gray fur stiff and shining when they are first released. There is another mold for squirrels, one for chipmunks and one for plain mice. There is a centrifuge for spiders, a lizard-pour, a delicate and ancient machine which turns out flies and mosquitoes by turn, so exquisite, so perfect that they seem to be made of nothing but copper wire, spun sugar, and light. There is a printing press for graffiti which spits out effervescent letters in scarlet, black, angry yellows, and the trademark green of Casimira. They fly from the high windows and flatten themselves against walls, trestles, train cars.
"When the shift horn sounds at the factory, the long antler-trumpet passed down to Casimira by the one uncle in her line who defied tradition and became a humble hunter, setting the whole clan to a vociferous but well-fed consternation, a wave of life wafts from the service exit: moles and beetles and starlings and bats, ants and worms and moths and mantises. Each gleaming with its last coat of sealant, each quivering with near-invisible devices which whisper into their atavistic minds that their mistress loves them, that she thinks of them always, and longs to hold them to her breast.
"In her office, Casimira closes her eyes and listens to the teeming masses as they whisper back to their mother. At the end of each day they tell her all they have learned of living.
It is necessary work. No family has been so often formally thanked by the city as hers.”
– Catherynne Valente, Palimpsest
Okay, take a moment to breathe. I know that was a very large chunk of text, and gloriously evocative to boot.

All right, have we recovered sufficiently? Good. Let's move on.

There are a lot of great imagery terms in here. From the mechanical sounds of the factory to the "glistening green carapaces" of the vermin it churns out, this passage is filled with colors and sounds. Breaking it down into the same sort of outline as I did for Ophelia last week:
  • Colors (Most Prevalent)
    • Green
    • Copper
    • White
  • Visual motifs
    • Scales
    • Factory parts (gears, etc.) and other industrial details
    • City
    • Vermin
Granted, there is a lot more in there, but those are the things that were most important to me. Both the image of Casimira's trademark green and of green cockroach carapaces strike me, while the white of other scales and the fire alongside the copper of the mosquitos and, I imagine, the machinery highlight it nicely. As for motifs, these are pretty self-explanatory.

Moving on from that simple list, I can start to put an outfit together.

"Why, the Vermin of Palimpsest"

The whole outfit, really, is built around the jewelry. Made from the shells of jeweled beetles, this type of jewelry seemed a natural choice. It is green, scale-like, and made from an insect. It highlights three of the central visual elements of the passage.

From the scales, then, came the corset. It picks up the colors of the jeweled beetle shells, obviously, but it also features a pattern that looks slightly reptilian from a distance. The corset was also a natural fit for the sensual nature of the passage; corsets worn as outerwear are sexy but also only hint at that sexiness in shape and cultural expectations for the garment.

Going beyond the corset, chiffon and lace were natural choices. The shifting, semi-sheer fabrics are smoky and delicate. While they have shape, they are also lighter than a heavy cotton would be and they create a softer, more dreamlike feel.

I added the cityscape leggings to highlight the setting of the book as a whole, of which the factory of Casimira is just one part. The city is the central setting, and is as much a character as the people who inhabit it. If I were to do a series of outfits based on Palimpsest (something I have been thinking about, actually), they would all feature leggings like these.

The gear bracelet hearkens to the factory, and I would suggest adding a gear-based hair accessory to bring the industrial image up toward the head (I couldn't find one that was to my liking, but that's what craft projects are for). The shoes are also a touch industrial, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming.

And, of course, the clamshell purse is a natural choice. I wouldn’t put my lunch in it, but I certainly would put the rest of my stuff in it.

For hair style with this outfit, I'd go with a something a bit mori girl inspired, preferably a slightly messy updo or fluffed short hair. Nothing about the description of the factory seems particularly neat, so a loose, romantic feel is ideal. However, it's still a factory so the hair should still be out of the way as much as possible.

Like I said, this sort of inspiration isn't simple because it's translating a broad setting into an outfit. However, it is also a really fun creative exercise. 


  1. As I'm not a native speaker this part of Palimpsest was quite exhausting yet I want to read more. I guess I'm a bit mad. :D
    And this outfit... I'm so impressed. It's gorgeous. Just perfect. <3
    Now I want to do the same! :D

    1. It's a lot of words, but it's a beautiful book. If you're feeling brave, I'd highly recommend it.

      Thank you!

      :) Go for it! I'd love to see what you create.

  2. I love this outfit, especially jewellery and the corset :) You have very nice ideas ;)

    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad you like.