A Nomadic Identity

June 4, 2013

by Gracia Ventus


Stephan Schneider’s “From Rugs to Riches”


Yohji Yamamoto Pour Homme FW12



A member of a people who have no permanent abode and travel from place to place to find fresh pasture for their livestock.

Relating to or characteristic of nomads.

I’ve never had a place to call home. From the tender age of ten, I have lived in several different countries in three different continents, sometimes with my family, but often alone. Til today, whenever someone asks where I come from, I find it rather awkward to answer because the only link between my birthplace and my identity is a passport and some legal documents, while at the same time all the other places I’ve lived in, including the current one, is simply a temporary stop, and soon I might find myself moving away again for greener pastures. And in this increasingly globalised world where mobility has never been so fluid, I am probably a member of a burgeoning majority – the global citizens.

One always manages one’s appearance to present identities they perceive as congruent with their objectives and goals (as what I casually mentioned here) and these multiple identities are influenced by external factors, such as physical space, social circle, stage of life, financial standing, ethnicity, social class and status etc, especially nationality and culture. Whether we like it or not, people do take pride in the idea of belonging to a certain tribe they are born into, eg. being an American, English, Asian, etc, while some others attempt to disconnect themselves from their default ‘setting’.

Dressing has always been an important component in negotiating our identities, especially with regards to national or cultural affiliations, because it has the potential ground to associate – or disassociate – oneself to a particular space or idea of a place. For example, we always refer to certain forms of aesthetic as Parisian glamour, African tribal or classically English, and most recently Accidental Chinese Hipsters which combine multiple cultural references.

But what if one does not have any strong ties to any national or cultural identity? I am fully aware of my Asian heritage, but having spent years flip-flopping between being a member of a majority group in one country, and a minority group the next day in another – while simultaneously balancing old traditions and embracing new cultures in order to assimilate – I must admit over the years the dissonance simply grew alongside the ambiguity of my identity. A part of me became a jumbled mess.

What does this have to do with fashion, one may ask? Well if one’s identity directly affects how one presents themselves, then so too, does my fashion consumption. Having travelled back and forth between the East and West, I can’t help but to think that despite perpetually feeling like an outsider amidst a landscape of uncertainty (of never knowing where I might be next), the world is growing to be my own oyster. Being a nomad who embraces the fluidity and extent of globalisation allows me to explore dressing beyond my comfort zone.

On the surface, globalisation has created a homogenised world, where t-shirt and jeans and suits and tumblr-fashunz prevail. However, it has also brought light to lesser-known non-Western dress, such as the billowy kimonos, the embroidered drapes of saris, and the regality of Middle-Eastern kandora, just to name a few. Each of them has their own unique characteristics one can incorporate into one’s dress. In combining distinct characteristics of multi-cultural garments, hybridisation occurs – where neither fashion nor tradition dominates – resulting in completely new dress forms that defies spatial and historical locations.

[ I must stress that this is different from what the original Yves Saint Laurent and John Galliano were  fond of doing, that is lifting cultural garbs wholesale and blinging them up with the most ostentatious vulgarity imaginable to show off the ateliers’ power of craftsmanship. ]

Coming back to what I mentioned in the beginning, while dress has the potential to disassociate one self from a place, it can express non-attachment to any space. Dress also allows one to embrace the hybridisation of multi-culturalism that we as global citizens should welcome with open arms. The moment I fell in love with this Colombian poncho, I realised that we should not sit back and let homogeny take over, pushing less dominant cultures aside only to be brought up now and then for novelty’s sake. Rick Owens is one such designer whose works have time and again transcended time and space, especially his most recent FW13 show that has successfully married the east and west. While it is nice that the Orient is re-surfacing once again on the catwalks, let us not forget that there are many other equally important cultural garments that are slowly disappearing under the sweeping hands of Westernisation.


To end this long essay (whew!), I would like to present to you Yohji Yamamoto’s FW12 Men’s show which embodies the nomadic spirit quite perfectly. From the beautiful soundtrack provided by Jose Gonzales, to the way the models seem to be at a loss at the cultural crossroads, they remind me of my own personal battle in trying to find my own grounds, in the midst of the beautiful confusion the world has to offer.


2 thoughts on “A Nomadic Identity

  • The Dutch Lady of Fashion

    by The Dutch Lady of Fashion on June 4, 2013 at 2:45 am

    I don’t have words to express how much I appreciate this essay!

    Thank you so much for translating into words the definition of my own identity.

    You look perfect and gorgeous as always.

  • GlassOrganelle

    by GlassOrganelle on June 4, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    This is such an interesting and insightful piece of writing, and it really struck a bell with me. Thank you for sharing such wonderful thoughts!

    Opposite to you, I have lived in the same country and city my whole life, not having traveled very much at all (I long to be able to do so). Although I have friends from many different cultures and backgrounds, I don’t think I can truly appreciate different perspectives and ways of life without experiencing it firsthand myself. I often feel that even though I’ve been here my whole life, I don’t belong here forever and want to spread my wings and head to a more lively, diverse and exiting place. Then again, the grass is always greener.

    Like always you look amazing. I love the beautiful deep red colours.


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