Sartorial and Literary Envy
Zadie Smith: Darling of two Worlds
By now, you’ve probably already read Swing Time—or White Teeth or On Beauty or NW. (Note: I haven’t read The Autograph Man but from what I gather, it’s not up to par with the rest). She’s been published frequently enough in The New Yorker and has been photographed often at events, earning both major literary credibility and grabbing attention for her smart style choices.
Or, you’ve likely head of her. Gorgeous, talented, brilliant, half-English, half-Jamaican wunderkind with a natural knack for style. Spends her time between New York and London. She has a partner who is perhaps her literary equal and though I’ve never seen photos of her children, one would imagine that her progeny inherited her brains and beauty and other hidden talents because of course, they’re her children.
I love you Zadie. I love you not. It’s not personal. It’s jealousy.
Let me backpedal a bit and explain the roots of my feelings. My first introduction to her was upon the release of White Teeth, and I knew this was just the beginning. What made me realize this? It wasn’t just that Masterpiece Theatre produced a film based on her book a few years after its publication. Her novel was unlike anything at the time, and it was as if she sat down in 1970s East London and captured the world back then via recording—except it was all in her head and then transferred to paper. But what got me was the black and white portrait on the back of the book where her gaze just exuded beauty and a certain knowingness. She wasn’t a one-hit wonder--she had staying power and even back then, she knew it.
Then Vogue featured her. Not on the cover, mind you, but a small article that may have caused you to raise an eyebrow and notice her. A fashion magazine! I kept thinking to myself: how could someone my age achieve that kind of success so early and have this covetable wardrobe? Vogue recognized her literary talent AND style power. Her eye-catching frocks, use of brooches, occasional clash of bold patterns and the complementary turban elevated her to this crossover icon and of course, my heart swelled with envy. If I forgot to mention the dark frame eyeglasses, yes, she wears them like a badge. “OH, I’m upping my accessories game and showing how I’m straddling the two worlds of fashion and literature and indeed, it comes seamless to me—I didn’t have a team of stylists helping me behind the curtain since writing, like fashion, can be a solitary, creative process.”
When I worked at ELLE years ago, my British coworker couldn’t even bear to speak her name because her jealousy was beyond measure. Weren’t all writers supposed to be frumpy, sitting behind some outdated computer using Windows ’95? Not her. But even if she had embraced old typewriter technology, the press would somehow spin it to be a new literary movement or a style trend to embrace: maybe they would call it retro leitmotif.
And despite all that I have written here, this is a roundabout way of saying these words: I am a fan.