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A Moment With: Doreen St. Felix

A Moment With: Doreen St. Felix

If you're not familiar with Doreen St. Felix, it is very possible that you've already read her work. As staff writer at The New Yorker, Doreen unravels the cultural zeitgeist with intellectual grace, while interrogating all possible angles with sensitivity and nuance. Her writing complicates feelings that at first were static—often, what the best writing should do. 

We meet Doreen on a sticky afternoon in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. As we take photos on the wide avenues, people look over with curiosity as though waiting to ask, "Who is she?"

VSP chats with Doreen about political performance, beauty ideals, and the evolution of her style. 
You are a wonderfully prolific writer and critic. What are some themes that you often return to? 

Interesting diagnostic that you would use the word “theme,” because I’ve realized, over the past couple of years, slowly and a little painfully, that I fall for ideas quicker than I do subjects. I think a lot about the illusive, about political performances, the broken project that is America, American hegemony, Blackness as it relates to itself, and sometimes Blackness in its eternally reciprocal relationship with whiteness, and the uses of irony and humour.

How do you think the landscape of women-led media and art will change in the near future?
Women creators are menaced by corporate powers in a dynamic that sells itself as progressive patronage. This is not a sustainable arrangement. My guess is, as a protracted response to zombie corporate feminism, and the impending recession, there will be a deeper divestment from the patronage model. A lot of necessary upheaval [is] in the near future.

In your profile on INTO THE GLOSS, you mention that “beauty should be handled seriously, and it should be historicized.” How has that idea evolved for you over the past couple of years?
I wonder what I meant by that. That it’s difficult to historicize beauty because the nature of the archive is so vulnerable to rewriting? Possibly. I think a lot about blonde. It’s supposed to signify the overwhelming influence of the white beauty ideal, right? But I grew up idolizing Eve, Etta James, that one Sepia magazine cover of Dinah Washington. They were my blondes.

What is your relationship to fashion? And how, as a writer, do these worlds collide?
It’s still true that some people are suspicious of fashion. I’m plainly intimidated by it. For the first eighteen years of my life, I only wore uniforms. Kilts in navy plaid. My wardrobe fit, in like, a third of a closet and one drawer. I’d say only in the past decade have I been an active pursuer of looking good. I don’t necessarily draw to outfits that make me feel comfortable, or relaxed. Low-grade dysmorphia always threatens, which is not dissimilar to how I feel about writing. It is basically impossible for me to be fairly evaluative of anything I write. I still search for that seed of intimidation when I buy something. I like feeling like I have to prove myself to the outfit, like I have to engage in Doreen-drag. This is the mental state I enter to write, too. A slightly heightened, slightly aloof version of myself.

What advice do you have for someone looking to become a writer?
You’re already a writer, if you want to become one. So work on something else, in addition. Something with your hands, maybe. Writing requires a certain alienation from the earth, but I think you only earn that alienation after you’ve really immersed yourself in some environment or practice. Most of my favorite writers were excellent cooks, or there is something in the writing that leads me to believe so, even if evidence points to the contrary.

How have you grown into your style, and what are some influences / designers that have helped you get to where your style is now?
My mother used to be a seamstress, and one thing that she did impress on me is fit. The significant change I’ve made lately is to not buy cheap clothes anymore, because they never fit well, and when I buy things that don’t feel well, I get depressed. I purged recently, and now I have less clothes, but I would wear everything I own. My stylist friend taught me how to go thrifting. I save so much money this way. You have to go Staten Island and New Jersey. I stick to certain silhouettes that are flattering—A-line skirts, deep v’s, high-necks, wide-leg pants, but not wide-leg cropped pants. Absolutely not. I wear a lot of gold jewelry—I’m West Indian, duh—and it’s important to me that my hair is always done. When my hair isn’t done, I am ill! I love the designs of Raul Lopez, Grace Wales Bonner, Dries Van Noten, Kenneth Ize, who is young and doing incredible work. Stylists I follow are Jahleel Weaver, Corey Stokes, Emily Schubert, Jessica Willis. Any day of the week, I would do terrible things to look like a lady in a Sidibé photograph. And like any other precious person, my style inspirations often come from film. Blow Up, Belly, Xala, Touki Bouki, Cries and Whispers.

What projects can we look forward to seeing from you in the next year?
Keeping my sanity! That’s always a project. I did promise myself that I would think about a book. Naturally, though, I break promises to myself frequently.

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Doreen wears Christian Dior, Alexander Wang, John Galliano, and Versace.

Photos and Text by Marlowe Granados

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