An Interview with Umar Siddiqui, Author of Candid About Couture

1. Could you explain the main idea behind “Candid About Couture” and how you use fashion in your life? Can you share a personal story that inspired you to explore the connection between fashion and culture?

Fashion transcends the idea of a single theme or single story; it has idiosyncrasies and nuances we should examine, observe, investigate, and explain. I suggest that fashion is inescapable and all around us. We engage with it every day and should view it positively. I engage with it every day, both effortlessly and consciously. It has become second nature to love my outfits, because I have found what works in my own skin. Sure, people will compliment your outfit, but ultimately you have to see that it flows with your image.

Personally, I would say one time a friend called me a “trendsetter.” That felt so amazing to hear; it was elating and empowering to me. It was said in a place where culture is more closed, and the fact that I inspired someone to be so public about it really helped me recognize that I am using fashion positively—as a vehicle to inspire others by setting trends!

  1. In your book, you mention that fashion is an extension of our bodies but not the definition. Could you explain this idea further and how it relates to your perspective on fashion?

Fashion, as I often say, begs to be defined. There is no one definition that explains fashion, nor is there a connotation of it that does it justice. What I mean by this is that it has so many forms and facets. Fashion extends our personhood and embodies our positionality and identity.

It does have implications that explain and define who and/ or what we are. It extends to our goals and aspirations.

  1. You talk about how fashion is influenced by time, space, heritage, and culture. Can you give some examples from your book that show how these influences play out in fashion?

Fashion is all around us and all around the world. It occupies space in micro- and macro levels. It has spanned arguably the beginning of humankind. It has a rich history and its own heritage. It also blends in with expressions of our own heritage as mankind. On another level, fashion expresses our heritage individually—namely our background.       

In my book, I generally refer to these but I can provide the example of my culture and heritage. I am a Pakistani-American and a Muslim. In my experience, although I was born in California, in the United States, I am exceptionally close to Islam and Pakistan. I have never clashed with my culture or religion. I am fairly liberal but also fairly practicing. With all this said, I would say I have been able to solidify my love for kurtas. That is one specific example of how I have always found fashion to be an agreeable state.

  1. You mentioned that fashion can bring positive change. Can you share instances where fashion has been used for good?

Fashion, in general, can be an awe-inspiring platform for voice and change. It is a vehicle of expression and perspective. In general, it can be a vehicle to inspire others to act. I volunteer with Fashion Revolution USA, and an example is that we network with leaders and figures that want to mobilize sustainable fashion.

Fashion can be mobilized for good or weaponized for bad; I say this in the book. It can draw stereotypes or combat them. It can be controversial but it can also challenge hierarchy and injustice.

  1. As a Disney fan and fashion aficionado, how do you see the influence of pop culture and media on fashion trends and expressions?

I got giddy when I saw this question. In my life, Disney and fashion have both always been my utmost happiness. Disney and fashion both have irrevocable histories that we should not try to rewrite. That would be ignoring or erasing that past; if we do that, history be more likely to repeat.

In media and popular culture, we see fashion in film and television. In fashion, we talk about how trends trickle across, up, or down. In the pop culture landscape, I would feel they trickle down. We are influenced by our favorite figures, and their influence descends. In alternative music, my favorite band is Florence + the Machine. I love how the lead singer, Florence Welch, is so brave. She dresses very eccentrically, emulating a fairy. In men’s fashion, I like Jared Leto or Pharrell Williams as my contemporary icons; I am always waiting to see what they will wear.

  1. In “Candid About Couture,” you discuss fashion as a spectacle. Can you give some examples of how fashion can grab people’s attention and interest?

My main idea with “fashion as a spectacle” is runway shows. Fashion is mobile and visible and dynamic. It is a focal point—we can narrow our focus onto it. I also talk about how it is a dreamlike phenomenon or state, and by this, I mean it is endless and endlessly imaginative. You can almost innovate anything (in fashion) that you devote your mind to.

7. As someone who appreciates both fashion and literature, how do you believe storytelling and narrative intersect with the world of fashion? How do you incorporate storytelling into your exploration of fashion in your book?

They intertwine and intersect because they are both arts. You cultivate them as you live, and they reflect how you live. Love for these is inborn and practiced. I have always been fascinated by fashion and literature both.

Interestingly, fashion tells stories; the stories flow and cohere in narratives. Fashion tells the story of the LGBT+ community with slogans and Muslim community with modest fashion. It can be instrumental in tackling mental health and positivity as well.

8. Your background includes a degree in Mass Communications. How do you see the role of media and communication in shaping our perceptions of fashion, and how do you navigate this influence in your writing?

The media is definitely useful, even indispensable, in circulating fashion and tweaking our view of it. I like to witness and observe this dialectic and use it in my writing. It is so weighted to write about.

9. With your appreciation for Disney and fashion, have you ever drawn parallels between the world of Disney characters and their iconic outfits to real-life fashion and self-expression? If so, could you share some insights?

In the book, I have a section on Disney costuming. I examine (with help from a book by Jeff Kurtti and others) these costumes. I regret that I did not deeply examine their influence and impact, which I can say they do have. I talk about Johnny Depp’s costume as Captain Jack Sparrow and Ramsley’s costume is the 2003 version of The Haunted Mansion.

Of course, I cannot end my answer without mentioning Edna Mode from the The Incredibles franchise. She motivates the Parr family, often with quotes about not looking back to the past. I delve into Disneybounding—a practice of emulating Disney characters with your outfits. Last Halloween I did R2D2 from the Star Wars franchise, Olaf from the Frozen franchise, and Flynn Rider from Tangled.

10. What new areas are you considering for your next book? Is it leaning towards suspense, or will you keep us in suspense until you’re ready to reveal it?

I am definitely not going to keep readers guessing-well maybe somewhat. I am currently working on a book about my obsession with Disney, but I need to give it an interesting and novel angle to allure readers! I am about 25 pages in, and this is the next book I want published. Of course, I have plans of writing a book on researching fashion and a book of essays on mental health.

11. What new insights have you gained after writing this book compared to your previous writing, and what advice do you have for new authors?

I grew with this and was so glad it was the first book that had a different theme than mental health. My first book, Weightless, Woven Words, is a poetry book but traces life’s journey of mental health. While this book does consider mindsets and society, it is not specifically oriented to discuss mental health.

With my books, I always am looking to start conversations. My advice is always to be yourself, and the best intentions and faces of your writing will shine through. I give this advice from experience. I would also say never be afraid to be vulnerable or creative. It is in you to be creative and can only be rewarded. Vulnerability is harder to navigate, especially for us men, but once you find your vulnerability, it unlocks new kinds of happiness.

12. “Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself”. This quote by Oscar de la Renta highlights the distinction between fashion and personal style. How would you describe your own style and the elements that make it uniquely ‘you’?

I have ascertained my style; I used to call it trail and error that I found it through, but I feel there is no error. I want to veer away from that term and inspire people to learn from it. If you believe you’ve made an error, term it differently so it does not pose as a setback.

My style is eclectic and lively. Ever when I go with a muted color, I let me outfit speak. My edgy details and/ or accessories always shine through. I try to add a touch of personality through adding Disney or color!

Discover the captivating world of fashion in “Candid about Couture,” available on Amazon. Dive into a thought-provoking exploration of how fashion influences our lives, cultures, and choices. Uncover the dynamic interplay between fashion and culture, and how it can shape both positive and negative outcomes. Don’t miss the chance to explore this engaging discourse on Amazon today!

Also Read: Weightless, Woven Words and Float Your Boat: You Have Power and Control ( Book Reviews )

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