Paula Varjack is an enigmatic performer. She has the energy, making her performance art accessible as it is fun without pretention. This is an incredible feat considering this show is about high-end fashion and Varjack has no shame in admitting she is a slave to it.
The problem is, like many of us, Varjack doesn’t really have the money for high-end fashion, supplementing her fascination, developed as a child surrounded by her Chanel No 5 Ghanian grandmother, with internet knock offs and premium fashion/high street collaborations.
When the recession hit people weren’t necessary wearing only premium clothing. They would throw in some high-middle high street like Top Shop with their Prada or Gucci and celebrities began collaborating with the high street; Beyonce and Ivy Park at Topshop (until allegations about Philip Green came out) for example but the biggest collaborations so H&M (which I consider low end because I can afford it along with Primark) began working with high end designers like Balmain, which created middle of the night queues usually reserved for the launch of a new iphone and chaos once people were in the store.
When Kenzo came on board to work with H&M in 2016 Varjack found herself queuing in the middle of the night at Westfield along with a motley crew of fashionistas and potential eBay sellers. In the Cult of K*nzo Varjack takes us on a humorous journey of her life in fashion, comparing it to getting into the hottest nightclubs as well as her ability to laugh, and allow us to join her, at how ridiculous the industry is.
I liked this for several reasons, this is ultimately about identity. Not just the sense of identity fashion brings but the identities it excludes with reminders that Naomi Campbell only got her first beauty campaign at 48 in 2018 and Oprah Winfrey facing discrimination because sales assistants didn’t believe she could afford it. Varjack implies she faces this discrimination as a woman of colour (born to Ghanian mother and British father in USA), dealing with sales assistants with confidence before leaving stores and googling how much those dresses cost. It is also about her identity, why she is drawn to these labels when cannot afford them and mocks the industry and also about the identity of Kenzo Takada facing discrimination as a time when men couldn’t be designers in Japan, moving to France and struggling to find work and eventually setting up this high end label based on what his friends were wearing in 1970 aided by Jack Severn’s beautiful narration. It shows a real respect for the man behind the label.
This is a fun piece of work, whether you love to shop or find fashion baffling (I didn’t know who Kenzo was) and Paula Varjack is one to watch; an interesting performer who has shared her love of fashion with us in a intelligent and funny way.
The Cult of K*nzo was on at the Croydonites Festival on 2 May https://www.croydonites.com/paula-varjack.html
The tour continues into the autumn across the UK