When I was a six years old, I met one of my best, lifelong friends. We were both homeschooled. We both lived on farms with goats and chickens. We were both blonde. We both loved to draw and paint. We both loved to read and write. We both created elaborate, imaginary worlds to play in, both together and on our own.
Later we went to high school together. The transition into school life was a difficult one, and just as much as we were there for each other, we also compared ourselves against each other. We were both bright kids who got high marks – hers were higher, mostly because she tried harder while I tended to drift. Adolescence had not treated us equally – she became petite and feminine and desirable with long blonde hair – and I was skinny and awkward with unflattering glasses and bad haircuts. She had better boyfriends and better clothes than I did. Her artwork was more impressive than mine, and she won more praise. Mostly, those things didn’t matter so much. I loved having an intellectual and creative equal-or-better, someone who was talented and worked hard and encouraged me to do the same, someone who made me feel not so alone in a rural school environment where I very clearly knew I didn’t belong. We always made things together, just like we did when we were kids – constantly drawing, school projects, sharing clothes, she was, and is, someone who is always there for me.
The way I love her has always been mixed up with traces of envy. All the things we had in common just made it seem unfair that I wasn’t more like her.
In a way I didn’t expect, this friendship set the tone for my path in fashion. Fashion school is a unique, almost wholly female environment. It took me a while to develop friendships, and what I discovered is that I was still drawn to the girls at the top of the class. I really responded to the competitive aspect fashion school – somehow the camaraderie that was all mixed up with ambition was, to me, the best kind. I could clearly identify the girls whose talents matched or outmatched my own, and I truly cherished the challenge of beating them, or even being beaten by them, in a creative field that totally fascinates me.
After fashion school I found my friends through blogging. Again I found myself drawn to the friends who were my equals or better. Fashion bloggers are incredibly supportive, generous people, which balances out the weirdly measurable aspect of this arena. Hits, event invites, swag, money, collaborations, seat assignments – you are constantly susceptible to comparing yourselves against one another with these very tangible markers of success. I’m not going to lie – as fiercely as I love my fashion blog friends, at the same time I am racing against them. As we cheer on and support each other’s accomplishments, we are constantly raising the bar on our own efforts.
In fashion, there is no room for those who are not ambitious and competitive. Sometimes people ask me if fashion school is stressful – my answer is that any fashion school that isn’t hard isn’t worth it. This is not finishing school for princesses; this is a highly creative, difficult industry that will challenge you at every step. Everyone brings their own arsenal of advantages and adversities, but the one thing we all have in common is that we want to be here so much we’re willing to sacrifice the easier options we could have chosen. Your fashion friends will inevitably share your obsessions and your ambitions.
The general consensus is that envy is a bad thing, and I’m not going to disagree that it is a painful thing. Rather than assigning it value, I prefer to treat it as an unavoidable aspect of the human condition. Even more so, I think envy is essential to the fashion phenomenon. In the fashionmobile, desire is the internal combustion engine and envy is the fossil fuel. We are not in the business of making clothes; we are in the business of creating desire. Envy is just the other side of the coin. I don’t think we can ever eliminate jealousy; but we can philosophically make peace with it, even use it as a force that drives us to be better. When I think of the most positive, encouraging collegial friendships I’ve been lucky to have, not a single one is untouched by a lingering sense of longing.
Perhaps in male-dominated industries the competition is clearer and there are sharper definitions between colleagues and friends. I think in fashion, the competition is incredibly nuanced because of a natural, feminine empathy, and on the flip side, passive female socialization. Regardless, I enjoy the challenge of complicated, competitive friendships. I love my fashion friends. I want to be like them. I think they are the most amazing girls in the world.