Fashion adds beauty and romance to life

Last updated 11:03 25/03/2011
Sonya Leusink-Sladen
COLIN SMITH
FAMILY COMMITMENT: Sonya Leusink-Sladen has learned and shared plenty about style, but now it's time to spend more time with her family, including daughter Harriet.

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After more than five years of sharing her thoughts on the essence of style with Nelson Mail readers, Sonya signs off with some reflections on her personal lessons from the experience.

The recent tragedies of the Christchurch earthquake and the tsunami in Japan have reminded me that the time we spend with those we love is most precious. I feel immensely thankful for all that I have, and wish to enjoy it mindfully.

In becoming a mother to Harriet and looking forward to the arrival of our second child, the time has come to simplify and give more of myself to family life.

I have always felt grateful and privileged to be a fashion columnist for The Nelson Mail. As some readers may recall, my journey began in 2005, 259 columns ago. Then, I came formally unqualified to either fashion or journalism, but with a great passion for a subject I wanted to share with others. While I may have had great enthusiasm for the idea of having great style, it was not something I felt naturally endowed with.

Particularly in the beginning, I struggled to feel the confidence and self-assurance befitting a style columnist in the way I dressed. Needless to say, I have learned much along the way.

One of those lessons has been that style has no substance if it cannot be achieved by ordinary people.

If I began my journey thinking about fashion design in the abstract, I have come to learn that it is, in fact, meaningless without people to buy and wear clothes in a way that meets their needs.

In this way, it is the ordinariness of everyday life and the way we dress ourselves every day that gives definition to the concept of true style. I have met women from all walks of life who posses great style, and many who do not. Style is not the domain of those with great natural beauty, wealth and time, but of you, me and the lady next door, should you choose and value it in some way.

On that note, I have also come to the opinion that the most useful source of fashion ideas and inspiration originates from the street – not designer catwalk collections, fashion editorial or glossy marketing campaigns, but busy cafes, weekend markets, airports and movie theatres.

Such places have always been style-watching haunts of mine, helping me to answer the question, "What makes a woman stylish?"

Today, internet fashion-photo blog sites such as Facehunter and The Sartorialist have made this process much more accessible and enriched.

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I continue to develop my own ideas about stylish brilliance through an extremely diverse collage of ideas from around the world.

An organic, as opposed to design-based, source of new clothing trends and directions, the street-style phenomenon has shifted the power of influence from high-profile designers, celebrities and movies stars to nameless, ordinary people going about their everyday business.

I hope this shift continues to grow in strength and influence. All power to the people.

From such street-style sources, I have learnt that perfection is not a goal of style. Perhaps even it is not a particularly attractive one when viewed in the context of everyday life.

Men and women who catch the eye are those who, while dressing well and with great charisma and individuality, are actually not wrinkle-free, airbrushed, super slim or designer clad.

I am struck by the power of style, which enables ordinary, plain people to shine more brightly than the young, pretty, and/or designer-clad fashion crowd.

Perhaps it is because we are able to identify with their ordinariness that the way they dress inspires us.

Certainly, a high-maintenance beauty regime and blow-out wardrobe budget are not for me. Elegance and style develop, not diminish, with age.

Whether or not style is a worthy pursuit has niggled at me along the way. People's expectations of me as a fashion writer have affirmed that there are many preconceptions about what it means to love fashion.

Yet I have always felt the need to defend my love affair with clothes against the perceived view that such an interest means I must be superficial, materialistic and self-absorbed.

For sure, I am aware that at times I depend a little bit too much on how I think I look, to feel good about who I am.

However, self-esteem is only part of my motivation for dressing well. I have come to an understanding about my passion for beautiful clothes as an everyday form of art and creative expression – not unlike a love of fine arts, great literary works and beautiful music.

Fashion and style are not essential elements for life and survival, but they add pleasure, beauty and romance to it.

Style is a personal, evolving concept, not a static, objective end point. It is a journey, not a destination.

As I sign off here for the last time, I look forward to challenges and change that will be an inevitable part of this new chapter in my personal and stylish life.

For now, though, I want to thank The Nelson Mail for its support and, most importantly, you, my readers, for your interest and loyalty over the last five years.

- Nelson

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