The first thing to say about this show is that it made me re-think my (fairly nebulous) relationship with high-end fashion labels. The second thing to say is that it’s timely – right on the politico-cultural trend. The desire for designer trainers causes riots in places where people live on the poverty margin, and many of our youth grow up believing that certain brands will make them feel special - "worth it". As social inequality rises, luxury brands thrive.
Varjac shows up in a white sequin dress which shouts “I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO WEAR SO I PUT ON THIS MOSCHINO DRESS
Paula Varjac has written, and performs in, a one-hour long one-woman show, exploring the power and exclusivity of high-end designer brands, alongside her personal journey of enthrallment and disappointment at the hands of Kenzo. With the British fashion industry having a net market value of billions per annum, and Who Wore What being one of the most talked about subjects in popular culture, a theatrical examination of the consumption of fashion is long overdue.
Varjac shows up in a white sequin dress which shouts “I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO WEAR SO I PUT ON THIS MOSCHINO DRESS", and it isn’t long before I believe her and her message-dress. Surely her name is no coincidence…wasn’t Paul Varjac the name of the character played by George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Is Paula a modern-day Holly Golightly?
She tells and enacts true stories of growing up in awe of a glamorous label-loving grandmother; of later feeling excluded from the hallowed spaces of the designer stores of Bond Street; of her desperate and emotionally-charged trip to buy clothes from a collaboration between luxury designer Kenzo and high street store H&M as soon as a collection came out; and of her jubilant purchase of a designer carrier bag from a Brighton charity shop for 50p (apparently they go for a fiver on eBay). These tales are told with great energy and girl-next-door-ease by Varjac who simply uses carrier bags, designer boxes and make-up items from luxury fashion labels as props, with a stage backdrop playing imagery and clips, deftly used to add to these stories.
I loved Varjac’s impassioned descriptions of her long wait at the opening of the Kenzo/H&M collaboration to purchase a dress that would make her feel special – "a warrior", "a hunter" – only to find that ‘her’ dress is still on sale weeks later on Black Friday with its price slashed. The pathos is evident and sympathy oozes from the audience: she was promised a dream but has been sold a pup and is no longer "that woman".
I walked out behind a woman who had related so strongly to Varjac’s experiences that she said she felt "understood" by the show. The evening would benefit from more slickness around the timing of videography and sound, and more clarity around the stories being told: at one point one story seemed to merge with another which blurred the important take aways about consumer culture that the show holds up to the spotlight.
Overall I felt I’d witnessed the genesis of a thought-provoking and entertaining piece which is clearly SO this season. As it tightens up on timing through its tour this show should have tickets flying off the rails.