Bestseller, Docuseries, Emily Spivack, Greta Gerwig, Netflix, New Show, Worn Stories

Bestseller, Docuseries

Emily Spivack on Turning Her Bestselling Book 'Worn Stories' Into a Docuseries

The author discusses the difference between style and fashion—and why that matters.

4/1/2021 11:15:00 PM

In honor of the premier of netflix's ' Worn Stories ,' emspivack sat down with us to discuss the distinction between clothes and fashion, the process of turning her bestselling books into a series, and what we can all learn from good style.

The author discusses the difference between style and fashion—and why that matters.

Interviewto discuss the distinction between clothes and fashion, the process of turning her bestselling books into a series, and what we can all learn from good style.———JULIANA UKIOMOGBE: Where did your fascination with clothing begin?EMILY SPIVACK: I think that I’ve always been interested in clothing as a means to express myself creatively, not necessarily high fashion but the sort of one-off, off-the-beaten-path, vintage thrift store kinds of clothes ever since I was in junior high school. I was always dipping my toe into the fashion world, but never finding the right spots for myself, so I wound up creating my own niche.

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UKIOMOGBE: You publishedWorn Storiesin 2014. Did you always have plans for it to have a visual component, or did that come a little later?SPIVACK: So, the bookcame out in 2014.Worn in New Yorkcame out in 2017. I loved, and it was a very deliberate choice, that when you read the books, and you saw the image of the clothing. You filled in the gaps imagining who the person was, what they might look like, what they might sound like, everything like that. But there was a sense that there were some stories where I really felt like, “Ah, I wish there was a visual component. I wish you could see the person. I wish we could actually create fantastical recreations of what they’re telling me.” So, I started thinking about that once the second book came out. I was like, “Yeah, there’s more here.”

UKIOMOGBE: Was it all filmed pre-COVID?SPIVACK: No. Part of it was filmed pre-COVID. I was able to sit down and talk to a lot of people pre-COVID. But then, COVID struck, and we still had a bunch of shooting to do. I would say a third of it was shot during COVID and then edited and whatnot during COVID as well.

UKIOMOGBE: How do you see people’s relationship to their clothes changing throughout the pandemic? People are purging their closets and also refocusing on what it means to style themselves.SPIVACK: It’s such an interesting question. I think we’re holding on to things that are meaningful to us. My hope is that where we’ll end up from this pandemic is that when we reach into our closet to put something on, and we will be driven to put it on, we will be motivated to put it on, because of the story connected to it. As opposed to perhaps the designer or which season it came out or in style, but that we’ll be drawn to the meaning behind the clothing a little bit more than perhaps we were before the pandemic. That being said, I also think once this is behind us, we’re going to want to get dressed and have fun and put on some of the clothes that we haven’t been able to wear for a long time and go out and enjoy ourselves. I do think that it’s prompted people to be a little bit more thoughtful about their purchases and what they’re holding on to and why.

UKIOMOGBE: Going back to what you were just saying, what I loved about the show is that it’s not so much a focus on fashion and brands, but more so on people’s personal relationship to their clothes. Do you see a distinction between the word fashion with a capital F and just clothing in general?

SPIVACK: Absolutely. I think what I wanted to do withWorn Storiesis say, “Hey, it’s your wedding dress, or it’s a piece of a designer fashion with a capital F, or a pair of ripped jeans, and put them on the same plane and look at clothing as this equalizer.” There’s this commonality. We all wear clothing and there are things that happen to us while we’re wearing our clothes, and those experiences get mapped onto the clothes. So thinking about the universal nature of clothing, thinking about the equalizing nature of clothing, that it’s something that we all are putting on every day. My interest as an artist is taking something that’s commonplace like clothing or objects, and just looking at it through a slightly different lens and saying, “Well, what does this tell us about who we are?”

UKIOMOGBE: How did you find all your interview subjects? Were they all from the books, or did you broaden your horizons beyond the books?SPIVACK: I would say about half of them are from those books. I’ve been collecting these stories since 2010, so I’ve talked to so many people. I’ve accumulated a lot of stories. I just knew that there were more out there. And so, the show is organized thematically. It would be like, “Okay, we have a person who’s representing this niche or this part of culture. Let’s go and reach out to someone else and just accumulate stories.”

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UKIOMOGBE: Do you have a favorite episode in the series or a favorite segment?SPIVACK: Well, it’s so hard to pick one favorite. I think that all of these stories are doing different things. But I would say that one that really represents the series for me is Simon’s story with the biker shorts. It feels like, through this one mundane pair of biker shorts, we’re able to see a cultural history of Los Angeles in the ’80s. Through these biker shorts, we’re able to get a sense of what was happening with the AIDS epidemic told through the absurdity of the aerobics that he was doing while wearing these biker shorts. I feel like it’s a cultural history of a moment in time. That feels to me like something that’s really representative of the ethos of the show.

UKIOMOGBE: Were there any stories that shocked or surprised you? I’m thinking of the nudist episode.SPIVACK: What I think I continue to be surprised by is how much people will open up to me based on telling their story through a piece of clothing. When I started the project back in 2010, people were sharing things with me that I just had never heard them tell me before and I was blown away. What I continue to be surprised by is people who say, “Oh my god, I’ve never told this story before. I’ve never shared this with anyone.” That is always so satisfying, and it feels just like such an intimate experience to have with the person that I’m interviewing. I continue to just feel like I’ve been given access in this amazing way to the subjects who I’m speaking to. It’s also just been fun to get to know people who may have sat down with me for an interview for my book. We’ve gotten to know each other over the years, and then I call them back and say, “Hey, do you want to be on the show?” and get to sit back down with them. Simon is another example where I hadn’t seen him in years, and then we got to sit down again.

UKIOMOGBE: Is there a common through-line that you found with interviewing all of these people that connects them? Read more: Interview Magazine »

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