It´s all about glamour in fashion, right? Well, not exactly. Anyone who has ever worked in fashion knows there are always two sides of a coin and we suddenly sometimes fall into a love-hate relationship with something that we initially loved. Because at the end every world, also the fashion one, is created by all the people working in it as well and therefore can never be perfect after all. And doesn´t have to be. “Fashion Weak” is the name of the promising series written by NYC-based fashion/music/travel writer Alex Catarinella that he has recently published in Dazed and Confused Magazine. “It´s all about falling into the NYC “fashion world” as a young and wild (AKA mentally ill) writer. It’s basically a dark comedy. Lots of sex, drugs and rock bottoms.These essays at their core and underneath the superficial are about feeling alone and not okay, feeling guilty about not feeling okay, and maybe or maybe not eventually feeling… okay!” That alone was interesting enough for us to get hooked reading it and wanting to talk more in detail with Alex on what he has to say about perfect illusions in society and the difficulty of being oneself.
“We present our often ordinary lives through fun filters and perfected captions. We write our own script, we star in our own play, etc. And it’s all fiction!”
“These essays at their core and underneath the superficial are about feeling alone and not okay, feeling guilty about not feeling okay, and maybe or maybe not eventually feeling… okay!“ is what you told us about your writing. How did you come up with the idea of writing this 5 part essay story, – was it in a moment where you needed some sort of outlet for what was going on inside of you?
I’ve been writing these kind of personal essays for years with the intention of getting them published. But I kept holding off, talking myself out of it. “Who gives a shit about what you have to say? Who the fuck do you think you are?!” I don’t make memes, I’m definitely not an Instagram model, therefore, no one will want to read this. Stick to interviewing reality TV stars. I was also scared that I’d ruin my “career” or whatever if these oversharing-heavy essays were ever published. Unveiling your crazy isn’t cute unless it gets you a New York Times bestseller or if you’re Lana Del Rey. That’s what I thought. So my maniacal ramblings would stay in my Google Drive.
In March, I was in Shenzhen, China covering their fashion week for Nylon, and then I extended the trip on my own dime and flew solo to my favorite place in the world AKA Tokyo. I was so ecstatic, but then the lonely and the semi-despair made unwanted cameos. The jet-lag and bipolar combo wasn’t helping. I don’t have any desire to do drugs these days and I hear it’s impossible to get them in Tokyo anyway. So, I self-medicated via writing. The final result was a fat ass essay that basically summed up my entire life. I knew it was way too long and manic as fuck, but I really REALLY needed to rid myself of it. All of it. Soul cleanse! I opted out of printing and then burning the pages, and I compulsively emailed my editor at Dazed & Confused. I felt safe-ish emailing her because I had never met her — Dazed is London-based. So, if my essay was rejected, I wouldn’t have to worry about bumping into her at fashion parties where she’d totally side-eye my crazy. Anyway, she responded enthusiastically and I nearly fainted into Shinjuku traffic. She suggested I split up the essay into five parts. I never really imagined I’d have the guts to click send. But I did. So ‘Fashion Weak’ the series was born. A frightening albeit happy accident.
I think society tries to create a perfect illusion and perfect ideologies. But isn’t that more like a dystopia at the end? Anger, Angst, Guilt, Loneliness, etc but also the opposite of it all, belong to our presence as human beings. Are we trying too hard to find a perfect solution when in fact the problem is only about accepting our nature?
Yes yes yes. All of the above. I hate when people say the shit that I’m about to say, but the truth hurts/will set you free! It’s a Facetuned world we’re living in. We present our often ordinary lives through fun filters and perfected captions. We write our own script, we star in our own play, etc. And it’s all fiction! It’s fine and fun if you don’t get carried away with it. But you’ve gotta be careful with the choices you make. Awareness is everything. It would hurt my insides so fucking badly when I was so desperate for the likes and the followers and the attention. I talk about this a lot in the series. I have some friends with 100K+ followers and, trust me, they’re not immune to misery. So many of us try to create this perfect world. We’re compulsive and we’re hedonists and we don’t think about the consequences of faking the problems and the pain away. We don’t want to think at all! We just wanna feel good 24/7. But suffering is inevitable in life. We’re all going to experience loss. That’s life. And you’ll definitely lose yourself if you choose to perpetually live in a bubble. All bubbles eventually pop! (LOL, I’m awful, I know.)
Alex Catarinella photographed by Andrew Tess
“We’re compulsive and we’re hedonists and we don’t think about the consequences of faking the problems and the pain away.”
When you first entered the fashion world, what were your dreams about it? And looking back at your real experience, how would you dream about it now?
I never dreamt about the fashion world at all. I proudly own only two Vogues where the Spice Girls and Britney Spears are on the cover. Before moving to New York City, I was an unconvincingly closeted twenty-year-old on the verge of dropping out of musical theater school. I wanted to major in pop star, but that didn’t work out for me. Really, I was borderline addicted to feeling special. The fashion world was another stage for me, and I was always acting. I was undeservingly living the dreams of fashion students. It was all so intoxicating and so distracting. And I yearned for more and more. It made me forget about all of the shit psychotically circling inside my skull — I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar II and everything else under the depressed sun until I was around 25. It all felt like a constant dream, especially the fashion-related press trips around the world, always being on the list to fancy parties, interviewing a handful of my idols… The ultimate ego massage. The ultimate distraction. If only I could’ve gotten a BA in escapism.
If there was something you could change in the fashion world what would it be?
I’d remind the fashion world that there’s so much more out there beyond New York, Paris, Milan and London. You know, it’s a fashion world. I skipped NYFW for a reason this past season — I went to Hong Kong where I attended a fashion event that showcased mostly local designers. I’ve always been all about discovering and promoting emerging, exciting artists. That’s why I haven’t given up totally on the fashion writing thing, because I wanna see what else is out there. So far in 2017, I attended Shenzhen, Tokyo, Mexico City and Amsterdam Fashion Weeks. Diversity in fashion seems to finally be getting a bit better. But I don’t know much about what’s going on in the mainstream fashion world these days to be honest. I’ve never felt a true connection. (I cared about the after-parties, not the shows.) I wear discount thrift duds and Forever 21. If I go to shows, I bolt out of them seconds after the designer takes his/her bow. I still can barely pronounce Givenchy.
“The fashion world was another stage for me, and I was always acting.”
What’s your main drive to be writing? And who is your favourite author?
Remember that #WhyIWrite Twitter hashtag from a few weeks ago? I almost RTed someone who quoted Sylvia iconic Plath: “I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still.” GOD DAMNIT THAT’S GOOD. As for favorite author… I used to say I’m a writer who doesn’t read. That’s not true anymore! I’m just inconsistent. But I don’t have a favorite author. I have favorite books and favorite stories. I prefer non-fiction. And paperback only.
Self-exploring has always been an important part of humanity in each decade. We are all teachers and pupils throughout our lives. What has been the main thing that you have learned in the past few years? And what has been one thing that you have taught to someone else?
I joined a Buddhist organization a few years ago and it kickstarted my confidence and forced me to become comfortable in my own skin. The teachings talk a lot about “turning poison into medicine” and that’s stuck with me. Writing about pain, shame and all of that shit has been super healing and freeing for me. Like, I can now pump into a packed fashion-y event without having a panic attack/dying inside. And I won’t even have to wear a rehearsed smile or get shitfaced to get through it. I’m there because I feel good. If I feel like shit, I won’t go, which annoys some of my friends who I guess miss the days when I was a hardcore party monster. I’ve learned how to say no and I’ve learned the importance of taking care of my spiritual hygiene. My physical health needs some maintenance though.
I have no idea if I’ve taught anyone anything or if I’d want anyone to learn anything from me. Maybe learn from my mistakes? But if I could teach one thing, I’d like it to emphasize the importance of honesty and both the power and the peace honesty will bring you. That’d make me happy. I actually got a reading from a professional empath (it’s a thing apparently) the other day, and he told me that I’m at my best when I’m in a place of surrender. He said something like, “The more you interrogate what’s happening within you, the freer you’ll start to feel.” I think that’s universal. It’s just that some need to hear this more than others.
Alex Catarinella by Carlos Santolalla
“Our value should not be tied to our social media presence.”
Where do you see yourself in the future and what do you think is the most important development as a human?
I don’t even know who I’ll wake up as! Hi, I’m bipolar. That’s why I try to do my Buddhist chanting right when I wake up and before I go to bed. The chanting is sort of like setting intentions or daily affirmations, except the thought of setting intentions and daily affirmations makes me a bit gag-y. Chanting is what works for me. It chills me out, it motivates me. I’d describe it as looking at your reflection in your spiritual mirror — if you don’t like what you see, Windex that shit and chant about it and change it. I don’t have a solid plan about where I’ll be in the future, but it’d be great to be happy or at least stable. As for what’s the most important development as a human? I don’t know. I think not knowing can be a great thing — the uncertainty can/should keep you curious and keep you searching, learning, growing, all of that fun shit. I also heard in a Buddhist meeting that the heart is what’s most important. LOL. I’m so into that.
“I think not knowing can be a great thing — the uncertainty can/should keep you curious and keep you searching, learning, growing, all of that fun shit.”
Do you want to get old in New York?
I used to always say that I’d move to Tokyo or somewhere surreal for a decade or two, and then return to New York City and die here alone in a deteriorating walk-up in Chinatown. Now, I’m not so sure and I’m not worrying about being unsure.
“The more I lied on the outside, the more my insides got sicker.” Is a line out of your essay. What´s the way out if one has created a different personality of himself, than what he or she really is? Why is it so hard to really be ourselves at times, to show our real selves to people, what´s the thing we are so scared about?
I think all of us wear a “mask” at times, mostly for some sort of protection. Maybe you’re in a bad mood and you don’t want to bring others down, whether you’re at your job or your friend’s birthday party. I think that’s fine and normal. But for me, throughout most of my twenties while lost in the the fashion world/the big rotten apple, if I wasn’t behind my apartment walls and bed-ridden cuddling my cat, I was acting. (And probably high.) When you’re faking it, you’re just digging and burying what you’re really feeling and who you really are. And you’ve buried everything so deep that you no longer recognize your reflection. Or your reflection scares the shit out of you. So, you might self-medicate the self-hate away via your drug of choice. My drugs were mostly actual drugs, awful sex with strangers, and open bar-flowing parties surrounded by celebs and famous below 14th street types, which caused my ego to be on high alert. In my second essay from the series, I quote what my ex-therapist once said to me: “You want the spotlight so badly and when you get it, you want to hide. Because you’re afraid people will see the real you.” I don’t really have solid advice re: how to fearlessly be yourself. Therapy, talking to a real friend, caressing crystals and stuff like that might help. Whatever works for you. I think you’ve gotta work on yourself and along the way you’ll learn to tolerate who you are… and eventually/hopefully you’ll even like who you are. It takes a lot of practice. The whole “the truth will set you free” thing really is so true. I think taking off the “masks” actually protects you more than wearing them. You’ll begin to see clearer, you’ll detach and lose the toxic losers — but you will no longer lose yourself! Barf, I’m so cheesy today. But in short, faking it ‘til you make it is bullshit!
“I think you’ve gotta work on yourself and along the way you’ll learn to tolerate who you are… and eventually/hopefully you’ll even like who you are.”
Was life without social media easier?
I feel like here’s where I’m supposed to say that social media is so great because we’re so connected and we can become rich and famous just by like uploading videos of our skincare routines onto YouTube. Instagram poets! Instagram models! All one’s wildest dreams can come true thanks to social media! It would’ve been nice to have someone to talk to through social media when I was miserably in the closet. There are definitely positives. But, as of late, it all drives me fucking insane. It can make me feel alone. A single tweet can trigger me and ruin my day! It’s a mess! Our value should not be tied to our social media presence. I think there needs to be a class where we’re taught how to use social media in a healthy, fulfilling, anti-mind-losing kind of way.
With whom do you feel you can be most yourself?
My out of shape, anxiety-ridden cat. Like father, like son.