The OFF Aesthetic

Natalia.gifFrench journalist Philippe Labro must have been channeling Oscar Wilde when he said “A woman in her thirties is a twenty year old who isn’t quite forty yet.”

Having first passed the thirties divide, I expected anxiety to hit me hard — but it somehow never did. Instead, I learned that a girl of my generation could enjoy her thirties without worrying much about what comes next. Thanks to the general decline in family values and simultaneous improvements in cosmesceutical industry, we can continue to confuse our parents by juggling boyfriends, wearing Converse and feeling hurt when called Madame.

That said, I have an advice for any thirty-something who will listen: slim and wrinkle-proof is not a recipe for being up-to-date. Not changing, you see, is hardly a formula for staying young in anyone but your own eyes.

Perception is the key. Not how they see you, but how you see things. I believe I have discovered the ultimate watershed separating the old generation from the new, and it is  in how we take pictures.

When you point your digital shutter at someone, do you move them to the center? Do you ask them to smile? Do you make sure the exposure is right and the composition betrays years or art education, as well as the cultural landmark in the background? Say yes to any of this, and you are an old hag– and are likely to be matching your bags and shoes too.

Like first wrinkles, glimpses of aesthetic aging have hit me subtly, through magazine pages.  It started with occasional layouts that would seem slightly “off “– nothing like the mainstream advertisements, which still maintains a safely centered point of view. Then, flipping through the Italian Vogue last summer, my eyes opened wide at Steven Meisel’s photo story “Super Mods Enter Rehab”. It seemed so shockingly, perfectly “off”, held together by something more than a touch of a mad genius. For the first time I had to admit that there was a new visual language I would probably never muster – like learning to do cartwheels past twenty five.

With a sinking feeling I decided to consult Facebook, where everyone shows off their best angle. It was then that I realized that all those pictures, off-center and off-focus,  were not posted by mistake, and I should not feel sorry for the poor bastards who never went to film school. They are just that much younger than me.

Stubbornly, like an aging girl in search of a miracle cream,  I went on a newsstand rampage. I spent a fortune on a range of hip publications, hoping to train myself in this new worldview.
“Dazed and Confused”, “Another Magazine”,  “Standard”, even seemingly cool though hopelessly bourgeois “Jalouse” – having tried them all I have finally discovered a cultural Botox called WAD (“We are different”). It is a hefty quarterly which I now lug proudly around my apartment on Sunday mornings, and analyze every page.

To summarize what  I have learned so far: the quintessence of the new “off”-sthetic is off-center, bright, campy, dirty, sexy, subversive, inclusive, self-conscious and ghetto. By de-centering and urbanizing, it can take any image, from Audrey Hepburn to Britney Spears, and make it extremely fashionable in a surreal sort of way.  Beyond the off-kilter framing and colors, the new generation snapshot always tells a story. There is no posing for its own self, especially not to show off a designer dress – or, on Facebook, the nice location you visited as a tourist. A story has to be urban and unsettling – Diesel ads come perhaps closest to capturing this rule in the mainstream media.

Did it work? Can one rejuvenate oneself by drinking from the fountain of Urban Culture?  I briefly considered getting a neon pink hat and Cutler and Cross glasses. I settled on banishing anything that matches. Other than that, I have realized that jumping the generation gap is a self-defeating proposition. In our fast-changing urban society cultural codes are not there to indicate your age, but, rather, to let you recognize quickly those who belong to your tribe. Do not try to look ghetto unless you are ready to rap.

And so, fondly dusting off my Louboutins, I contemplate the true benefit of living in our day and age: no generation is forced any longer to feel old and resign to un-adventurous life. Not the Rolling Stones happily jumping towards their seventies, not our perky fifty-something rulers of state, not even pretty girls stepping past that murky FOUR-O –  just look at Carla, god bless her, blazing the trail.


Ses brillantes études l'ont amenée à Harvard et au MIT. Depuis, elle s'intéresse à l'évolution de la télévision. Elle vient de lancer une chaîne musicale sur IPTV.

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