Are You A Conformist? Examining The Sad Disappearance Of True Original Style
Does true, original style still exist? The modern day dilemma of owning your own personal style is a constant battle in an increasingly homogenised world
A large neutral corner sofa — with a throw and about a dozen pointless cushions from Kmart — sits in the centre of the room. In the corner is a planter with a giant fiddle-leaf fig inside a brass planter. The walls are bone white, the neutral tone said to enhance a feeling of calm — bright colours just ruin the feng shui. A black Tom Ford book sits on the faux marble coffee table, its spine never to be cracked open.
Is this your home?
If so, you may well be the interiors equivalent of a "basic".
Not that there's anything wrong with this look, but it begs the question of whether we're being "fed" a certain style rather than "having" a style — something unique, evolved and laboured over in years of trial and error, scouring junk markets with horrible exes with a penchant for 16th century porcelain plates; or competing with house-proud friends who have just purchased their first piece of contemporary art.
Style needn't be confused with monetary value: some of the most stylish people around have an innate ability to pull themselves together with a capsule wardrobe of five things bought from a flea market. As the great couturier Elsa Schiaparelli understood, designing frugally in between two world wars required an inherent belief of what you really like, regardless of wealth. "Pearls, including cheap ones," she once proclaimed "are always good taste."
Reality TV Shows such as Queer Eye and The Block have merits, yet they have also signalled the death knell for original style. Yes Bobby Berk (interior designer on Queer Eye) might be the only one of the fab five who does any actual work on the show, but even his formula for renovating people's homes is predictable; ready-made packages of rustic farmhouse interiors or perhaps the Georgia O’Keefe Santa Fe special.
Since 2012, The Block NZ has been giving New Zealanders a glimpse into the realities of the New Zealand dream of buying and renovating your own home; yet judging by the final results, it's safe to say none of the contestants have a personal style beyond the popular preference for interior design fed from a mailer catalogue.
Buying a sofa from local vintage homeware retailer Babelogue prompted my wife and I to consider our personal style. We've often referred to the John Waters school of "bad taste is good taste" when it comes to our fashion sensibilities ("ugly" sweaters, loads of brown, corporate hippy), but when it came to furniture, we toed the line with every other hapless young couple and their first big furniture purchase, fumbling their way through the 'tasteful' sofa aisle at Ikea.
Our old/new sofa — a pink striped scalloped shaped wonder — elicited looks of horror and curiosity from family and friends. "This is your new sofa?" they'd ask, with raised eyebrows.
While a zebra-striped sofa atop a vintage Persian rug might not be for everyone, to us it represents a gradual confidence in buying furniture true to our personal taste. The eclectic mix is only the starting point of surrounding ourselves with objects we actually like.
So at what age do you reach the point of accepting your true personal style? Placing a post-modern Memphis group sofa against a mille-fleur tapestry because it’s your "thing", without a care in the world?
Fashion is also being fed a style via the tiresome scrolls of social media, permeating our everyday conversations.
Where once style was a personal choice wonderfully worn by the likes of Isabella Blow and her wardrobe of paid-for Phillip Treacy hats, these days there is a glut of "influencers'"peddling outfit posts of borrowed samples and Instagram models wearing tiny sunglasses and oversized sportswear with Facetuned pouts.
Meanwhile, the homogenisation of contoured faces has been made universal thanks to YouTube beauty tutorials and a certain Calabasas household beginning with the letter K. In a world riddled with anxiety about what everyone thinks of each other, it’s little wonder homogeneity has replaced true original style.
In an interview for The Cut's Interior Lives series with Wendy Goodman, doctor Joy Simmons, one of America's most prolific collectors of African-American Art opens the doors to her eclectic sun-drenched Californian home and reveals a sentiment that many of us can readily identify with.
"Your home is your castle. All of us go out there and we're slaying dragons. So you want your space to be nurturing, enlightening and supportive of you."
So consider Dr Joy's words when you're traipsing through furniture stores for your next big-ticket purchase. Take a deep breath and ask yourself “does this really represent my personal style?"
There's no such thing as good taste really (although I'll draw the line at Steampunk). True original style take years to perfect, and sometimes we never quite nail it. But ultimately, it comes down to connecting with things that make you feel like you're home, the things that make you feel good.
As American soul quartet the Ch'lites remind us in their 1971 hit We Are Neighbours: "If everybody looked the same, we'd get tired of looking at each other". And what a sad day that would be.