Dress Code

Y Lan’s flashy dress in her performance of Lam Phuong’s “Kiep Ngheo” on Paris By Night 88 has sparked an interesting discussion right here on Visualgui.com. In her well-articulated comment defending Y Lan’s presentation, Ms. Stephanie argues:

When we listen to good music and great singers, we should listen to the total performance with our hearts. If we let our biases (personal, visual or otherwise) get in the way, we miss the opportunity to enjoy creative artistry. Piaf, Sinatra, Bennett or Bocelli do not have to make costume changes between songs to effectively communicate their music.

Ms. Stephanie’s statement reminds me of a very intriguing philosophy Ornette Coleman made regarding to the way he designs and dresses himself. The following conversation between Ornette Coleman and Greg Tate is taken from Tate’s Flyboy in the Buttermilk:

“For me, clothes have always been a way of designing a setting so that by the time a person observes how you look, all of their attention is on what you’re playing. Most people that play music, whether it’s pop, rock, or classical, have a certain kind of uniform so that they don’t have to tell you what you’re listening at. I always thought that if that was the case, why wouldn’t I try to design from the standpoint of the opposite of that? Have the person see what you have on and have no idea what you were going to play. I’m not playing to represent what I’m wearing, and I am not dressing to represent what I play. In Western society most successful public images have to do with how people want to see them. A rich person goes around in jeans because he knows he’s wealthy. Well, I don’t dress to represent wealth, race, music, or nothing. It’s more like religion, really. I would rather play in a setting that’s going to allow the person that’s listening to get into himself by distracting him from how I look in relationship to what he’s hearing on stage. I don’t want to go on a bandstand and have people try to imitate what I have on to get them closer to me. Like I don’t try to see what kind of music they like to get them closer to me. I try not to think about either of those things. Yet for some reason it has made people more interested in me. They say, ‘Wow, those are some funny looking clothes, how did you come up by those?’ But I think that, in a world where I’m seeking to have an identity related to the universal person, my clothes have a universal appeal.

“I think the music is healing on many levels, whereas the clothes make the performer feel stronger before he even gets to the stage. The clothes enlighten the person to feel good. And with the playing and the music they both have this good positive effect on people.

“I heard that silk has something to do with making you less evil. I think it has something to do with light. I think from the time people began reading about human behavior in the Bible that someone had to invent fabric to cover all this evil up. But there is a light that is not related to electricity. If the sun didn’t exist or if you took all the stars out of the sky that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have light. It says in the Bible that in the beginning God created light, it doesn’t say God created the sun, right? Maybe human beings are the real true light. Silk could be symbolic of that. There is something that flows in human beings that is close to what people call the truth, like when people say, ‘See the truth in the light.’ For some reason, in the Western world, though, silk has been related to pimps and preachers, people of high social imagery who manipulate people.