If Anthony Bourdain Shined His Light on Fashion
A month after the passing of Anthony Bourdain, in his void, there are so many questions. Big, existential ones about life. His, and ours. About mental health and the human experience. About what it means to dance in light, and in darkness. Really, these are questions about what matters and what doesn’t. Questions we’re now forced to confront without one of the remarkably few figures in popular culture who helped us to make sense of these kinds of things.
I read a remarkable profile about Anthony Bourdain in The New Yorker a few years ago. Until then, I had erroneously assumed that anything happening on tv would inevitably not contribute to my desire to spend my time here getting to the heart of things. I was instantly drawn to the man and the vision. I was grateful for his work. But I never actually watched an episode of Parts Unknown until a few weeks ago, when it seemed urgent to understand what I had missed. And what we had lost. It was only after watching him navigate through the world that the enormity of his void became clear to me.
In a way, food is one of the more banal aspects of our existence. Its ubiquity—something humans around the world work for and gather around every day—could make it a tedious subject to cast one’s gaze upon. And the more mundane a thing, the more susceptible it becomes to being sensationalized, commercialized, fetishized.
Rarely, though, is it simply held up to the light.
“We ask very simple questions. What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions, we tend to get some really astonishing answers.”
– Anthony Bourdain, accepting the 2013 Peabody Award for Parts Unknown
I see so much in food that parallels fashion. Getting dressed is one of the only things we engage in with the same quotidian necessity we do eating. If eating makes us human, so too does dressing. And so, I wonder. What if, instead of food, Anthony Bourdain traveled the world asking people what they wear? What they want to wear? What makes them feel good? You could just as easily picture him sitting across the table and listening intently as people around the world delved into their clothes with the same spirit of openness that they shared their food.
what if, instead of food, Anthony Bourdain traveled the world asking people what they wear?
Imagine for a moment that he did.
What would we have learned? What would we have felt? Would what became unearthed have felt as important? Would the sense of shared human connection have been the same?
I ask not because I have delusions about changing the past, but because I’m vested in the present and the future. I ask because fashion is in need of these kinds of stories—big, audacious, ambitious ones—to help us in our quest to connect to our essential humanity. Bourdain showed us that we could infuse food with humanity, and end up better for it. What about fashion?
Fashion is as connective, as telling, and as human as food. Let's tell that story. And we don't have to wait for our Bourdain, for a one-in-a-million storyteller to share the tale. Each one of us is capable of participating in the human story of fashion. When we get dressed, when we travel somewhere, when we cross someone on the street. Let’s shine a Bourdain-style light on clothes. To honor his work is to apply his principles: any subject treated with respect, curiosity, and compassion can flourish into a vehicle that makes the fact of our existence, our humanity, softer. And more palatable.