How to start a conversation using fashion
Have you guys ever heard of Whatzit in the context of conversation starters? Excuse my middle school teacher tone, but this one has totally changed my life.
Earlier this year, a Huffington Post writer invited me to cover a high-profile art conference. Jean Nouvel, Jeff Koons, Marina Abramović and Sheikha Al-Mayassa were just a fraction of the important (or shall I say, super famous) keynote speakers and panelists. Directors of game-changing companies like Google Cultural Institute, UNESCO, Sotheby's were also there to participate in the conference.
Totally no big deal, right? Me, sitting with globally known artists, curators, collectors, architects, journalists and even Royal people.
All the while this sounded like a truly exciting opportunity to me. I mean, tell me why should I miss this, why don't you? It's not gonna be all fun and games, I know. It was real work, if I'm being completely honest. But to put it simply, never have I ever thought I would get to experience such an enriching experience both mentally and spiritually; and to see these people in the flesh at 18 years old, let alone be in a real conversation with some of them.
Everything literally sounded like a Disney film cliche. A teenage blogger with the dream to enter art industry was one day emailed by a contributing writer for one of the biggest news websites to prep her for a huge art event. Uggghhh, that's totally a teen flick with a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But there again, if that's reality, and if it's all happening to me in my actual life... What the fuck else do I care about?
Get it, girl was my ultimate mantra. I had nothing to lose.
Or so I thought. Until I was told that prejudice against young people actually exists in the art world. That's where all fear and self-doubt started creeping in.
Can I really do it? Am I still 100% down for it?
There was literally no room for any mistake. I needed to interview some of the movers and shakers of the art world — HRH Prince Nikolaos of Greece and Denmark among all. I needed to be my best, best self.
In hopes of not making a fool of myself, I quickly read this book called How to Talk to Anyone. There Lowndes explained some cool, slightly helpful theories like treating the other person like a big baby or as an old friend you've always wanted to catch up with; the proper posture and eye contact; and other body language essentials.
But what changed my life above all was the Whatzit principle — something that has stuck with me ever since.
A Whatzit is anything you wear or carry that is unusual—a unique pin, an interesting purse, a strange tie, or an amusing hat. A Whatzit is any object that draws people’s attention and inspires them to approach you and ask, “Uh, what’s that?”
—Leil Lowndes, How to Talk to Anyone (1999)
Obviously this wasn't any use during the art conference as I needed to channel the professional, mature me. But in the context of dressing up as a fashion blogger, a Whatzit definitely comes in handy. Remember the twice-tied choker? That, and this top.
My recently most-commented Instagram post was of me wearing this funky blouse. Most of them were, well, complimenting this blouse — be it the ruffled sleeves or the polka dot print. Somehow the out of the ordinary sleeves and bold print caused a conversation, and gave my Instagram followers something to say.
People will always be interested in individuality, eccentricity, and in the extraordinary. I guess what I'm saying is that, if we were to translate it to fashion vocab: wear a unique dud and you shall be lexically celebrated.
So let your style be your statement, your unspoken introduction, and your Whatzit.