Nadine Farag is the mastermind behind One Who Dresses, a fashion blog devoted to her unique finds in researching and musing on the topic.
Nadine grew up spending summers in Cairo and later returned as a co-founder of an incubator to support Egyptian social entrepreneurs post-Arab Spring. Amongst other journeys before fashion, she worked as a health policy researcher and also interned at the World Health Organization.
It’s this unique path, as well as her sensibilities in not only fashion, but the art of dressing, that make her a total inspiration. She’s also an excellent embodiment of the type of globally-conscious, curious and thoughtful woman we’ll be profiling in the Women Who Seek series.
1. Your blog, One Who Dresses, seems to draw inspiration from everywhere, even sources that don’t immediately register as fashion. What are some unconventional, unexpected sources of inspiration you find?
One of the reasons I started writing a blog is that I felt fashion had become too narrowly defined—as a term we use and also as a cultural construct. So it was important to me that I access and reflect a wide range of inspiration to draw and stimulate new ideas about what fashion is. It sounds cliche, but I find inspiration everywhere— in life, in art, in nature, in music, in food. By anything really, that possesses an inherent, intuitive elegance. I particularly love exploring old photographs and paintings from a range of genres of people in clothes. These always expand my understanding and sharpen my intuition about what personal style is.
2. You seem to make a lot of connections on your blog between fashion and style today and historical figures and bygone eras of the past. Why?
I am fascinated by the past. More than the present and more than the future, I suppose, I find the past a constant source of intrigue and fascination. So, I followed that curiosity. As I wondered about clothes and beauty and style and substance and womanhood and how these things matter and why, I knew I couldn’t be the first person to hold these questions. Artists and writers and fashion designers and women who love clothes and so many before me surely did. I wanted to know what conclusions they came to. I wanted to learn from their experiences. Also, in the past, the way societies thought about fashion wasn’t as shaped by consumerism as it is today, so it’s illuminating to get a view into how fashion might have been defined at another time and place.
3. As you mention in your blog, there’s a lot about the fashion industry that can be uncomfortable: consumerism, superficiality, normative beauty standards, etc. Despite this, what does excite you about the industry today?
So much is exciting about fashion today. I think digital media has enabled a broader segment of people globally to share their vision about what fashion is. There aren’t the same gatekeepers; the industry is more open and the future will be molded by all who offer their voice. On the supply side, I think the rise of small niche brands and independent labels is a powerful and effective answer to corporate, conglomerate fashion. I am amazed by the creativity and inspired design coming from small operations just pouring themselves into what they do. I think brands speaking directly to their customer, and selling directly to their customer, are positive developments because they make brands more accountable directly to the people who buy their clothes and foster a deeper connection between makers and wearers. On the demand side, I feel that people are increasingly committed to aligning their values with all of the facets of their life, including what they wear. All of these forces are working together to make this a great moment for the industry.
4. What does sustainability mean to you? Does it influence the way you live your life?
I actively think about this question all the time. I think sustainability is two things: an intention and a practice. I think the intention—whatever motivates the desire to live more consciously—is the more important of the two. I think the practice is an evolving thing and, at least for me, my ability to commit myself to living “sustainably” has ebbed and flowed a lot in the past few years as the parameters of my life have changed. For me, the intention of living sustainably is basically to live my life aware of my connection to all else—to other people, to animals, and to the earth. I know that when I buy something or eat something or throw something away, so much is affected by my small action. So I am mindful in all of the facets of my life, as much as I can be given the circumstances, to make my choices with these interdependencies in mind. I see it as a work in progress, and am more merciful with myself than I used to be when I don’t get it right.
5. You’ve got a knack for piecing together unexpected items and creating clothing from surprising sources. What do you look for when you’re pairing together different garments and pieces? Is it intuitive to you what works or is there a special approach?
Getting dressed is a totally intuitive process for me. There isn’t a formula or an approach I take. I think that’s what has always drawn me to loving fashion. As opposed to things in my life that required my focus or discipline or a certain degree of rigor, getting dressed has always flowed naturally for me.
6. How important is it to you to make an emotional and personal connection to your clothing? How do you dress with these intentions?
For me, this is critical. We live in a society where nakedness isn’t an option, so clothing is skin. I see it as that intimate, and that much a part of who I am each day. It wasn’t so at first, but now, it’s become the natural way I approach getting dressed. I treat getting dressed as an art form—with a lot of respect, with great care, and with intention. In the last few years, I have really come to see that, for me, getting dressed is a spiritual practice—a celebration of my individuality and my creativity and my spirit. This has infused my relationship with my clothes and my understanding of what fashion is with new life.
7. You worked as a health policy researcher and studied epidemiology at Harvard prior to pursuing fashion. What drew you initially to science and medicine and how does this part of your past inform your work or life at all today?
I was drawn to my work in global health and development for a variety of reasons—some of them internal and some external. The internal reasons were that I found the work both intellectually challenging and aligned with my highest values, which is important to me. I grew up outside of Boston, but I spent my summers in Cairo with my grandparents, so from a young age, I had the opportunity to see that the world was more complex and richer and more fascinating than I had ever imagined. My graduate studies allowed me to stay connected to that awe I experienced as a young child about how big the world is, but with the added benefit of helping me develop a set of tools to make a positive contribution to it. I also chose this work because, as a child of immigrants, I grew up in a way that narrowly defined what I might do with my life in terms of professional roles: doctor, lawyer, professor, etc. I don’t think my parents intended it, it’s just what they knew. At some point along the way, I realized how spiritually and creatively depleted I had become doing this work. I was in the first year of PhD program and I couldn’t keep going. So I took a leave of absence and started working with artisans at the intersection of fashion and consciousness and haven’t looked back.
Still, my past informs my work everyday. I have the same curiosity, I hold the same desire to find the truth, I approach questions in fashion with the same criticality I approached my studies, I have the same values, and I aspire for my work to make a similarly positive contribution.
8. When do you feel most connected with a global mindset? What do you consider to be a global mindset?
I think a global mindset involves knowing, at an intuitive level, that we are all connected, and then being actively and constantly curious about how. So many things make me feel this way. Of course, traveling, which is such a spiritually and intellectually expansive experience. But also listening to music from around the world, reading a great piece in The New Yorker, getting lost in a book, appreciating any work of art that strikes a universal chord. I watch almost nothing, but I make an exception to watch Anthony Bourdain when I need a reminder of how big and wondrous and interconnected this all is.
9. Where do you feel the collective mindset of women is most important in your life?
Women help me make sense of life. I rely on their collective wisdom to help me piece it together—what matters, what doesn’t, how to stay centered and whole. On a constant basis, as life ebbs and flows, and particularly at the low points, when I feel unmoored, the women in my life hold me up and support me and help me through. I am in reverence of that, always.
10. What are you wearing when you feel the most free and confident?
For me to feel free and confident, what I am wearing has to be in alignment with how I am feeling. For a brief moment in time, I wore something of a uniform. Black pants and a crisp white shirt, cuffed at the sleeves, with stacks of layered jewelry. Day in, day out, for months. But now, that feels so constraining and it feels important to me that my clothes can morph as I do. In general, I feel best when I am wearing something that is creative, layered, textural, and soft against my skin.
11. What piece in your closet do you think best represents who you are as a person?
My favorite piece of clothing is a silk robe-like wrap dress from The Row. It best represents me for so many reasons. It is an extremely luxurious piece of clothing, with such presence, but it doesn’t scream that luxury; it isn’t splashy. You have to look closely to realize how exquisite it is. It’s magical, really! Alber Elbaz says something wonderful about loudness being the new thing in fashion, but he prefers whispering. I think that’s so lovely, and I share his sentiment. This robe is chief among my whispering garments—it has an understated elegance stitched into its very essence.
12. How do you choose your audience when you dress? Do you dress for yourself or other women or a different audience?
It’s taken me years of practice, but I am in a place and space in my life where I dress for myself. Really, I dress for my own pleasure and I am constantly grateful that I have the luxury to do so. This means I am often overdressed, which used to bother me, and now doesn’t in the least.
13. Do you have a source of inspiration you return to often?
Many. A few that come to mind. I visited an exhibit about Balenciaga’s work in black at the Bourdelle Museum when I was living in Paris. It was a sublime experience and I am back there mentally so often. A work of art I love that I come back to always is Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Bashi-Bazouk. As is the image of a young Ouled Naïl woman by Lehnert & Landrock. I am constantly inspired by the experiences I had and magic I felt over countless hours treasure hunting in Cairo’s old bazaar. I am inspired by so many of the places I have traveled to and the memories I have made.
I suppose I’ve learned while traveling to try to be as present as I can. I am so activated by traveling—I want to see it all and do it all and photograph it all and write about it, and I think over time, it slowly started to become clearer to me that asking so much of myself when traveling takes away a little bit from the wonder of the journey. So I try to enjoy the moments of my travels, as they are precious and rare.
14. What's your most valued travel advice?
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