At the age of 64, social justice professor Lyn Slater became an “accidental” fashion icon. With her striking sense of colour pairing and exacting style choices, Slater is one of a few women helming a new “grey-naissance” of fashion. Joining the ranks of models such as Yazmeenah Rossi, Mae Musk, and even author Joan Didion who helmed the 2015 Celine campaign, Slater is living testimony to the the longevity and diversity of style.
Grabbing unexpected attention in the streets of fashion week, Slater started the popular online destination “Accidental Icon” that is part personal blog, part platform for style discourse, and has since gathered a growing tribe of over 500 thousand followers. In an exclusive interview, we speak to Lyn on finding “accidental” fame, the true tenets of style, and what it takes to be an Accidental Icon.
The Bod Edit: What was the moment that inspired you to create Accidental Icon?
Lyn Slater: It wasn’t one specific moment. It was kind of more a sensibility I’ve always had and how I live my life. I’ve always had this element of wanting to express myself in different and creative ways. At this particular time, I was feeling very stale and bored in academia, and I started to take some courses in our local fashion school. They were really odd things like how to open a vintage store or, introduction to textiles. And in every class I took there – and it often happened to me when I would be shopping or in the street – people would come up to me and say, you have really great style, you should write a blog. I had been trying to find something that I could do to express myself, so I kind of asked, ‘what could I be in fashion? What am I already good at?’. I know how to write and I have style, so maybe a blog is a good idea.
The person that I wanted to speak to was anybody; no matter who you were, no matter what your nationality.
I started to do a lot of research as to what is out there and I was already very disillusioned with the mainstream fashion magazines, 90% of them were indistinguishable, and they followed this very formulaic, ‘this is what I’m wearing today, this is where you can buy it’. So I decided that I was going to do something very different. I decided that I was not going to have a target market. The person that I wanted to speak to was anybody; no matter who you were, no matter what your nationality.
My blog was – still is – very clean. My good fortune is that my life partner Calvin is someone who’s a scientist, but is also creative in his other life as well; so he became my photographer. We decided to shoot only in black and white for the first 8 months and I think because I was quite different, I stood out and so I got attention a bit more quickly than I might have if I followed the rules.
Because I was quite different, I stood out and so I got attention a bit more quickly than I might have if I followed the rules.
What inspired the name, the Accidental Icon?
It really was accidental. I was meeting a friend for lunch, and my campus is like a block away from the Lincoln Center. It was during fashion week and the photographers were around, and they started taking my picture. When my friend showed up she was laughing because I was surrounded by these people, and she said ‘oh, you’re like an accidental icon’. I had the first post ready but I could not think of a name for my blog, and when she said that, I thought ‘that’s perfect’.
Why has The Accidental Icon been such a success?
I really love clothes, I love writing, I loved creating content, and so I’m just following my passion. At the start, I had no idea what could even happen to me. I had no contacts in fashion, I knew nobody in fashion. So I just started to put myself out there and see what happened. I guess the best way to say it is, is that I became a paradigm or I challenged categories of age in fashion. But that was never my intent, it happened coincidentally. I think in a way, because I focused on being a creative first, when you are showing something that resonates with a cultural moment, people respond to it.
What do you hope to achieve through being an ‘Accidental Icon’?
I have no goals. My only goal has been my only motivation in doing it, which I think has probably made it successful. It is the pleasure I get from being creative. I started this expression because I found academia to be increasingly more constraining, especially in terms of how you can express yourself, how you can write, it’s becoming very corporatised. And so, i it is important to me to express myself as a creative person in the world.
I never mention age. I don’t do age things, because I think that for me, real inclusion means that designers and beauty products and cosmetics are being made for all women. All women love fashion and beauty and get pleasure from it. And I think that’s why a lot of young people are very drawn to me because I’m challenging a category in the same way.
You know, I always wanted to experiment with being.
How do you explore creativity in your life?
I always used clothes. Even as a little kid, I had this perfect, formative relationship to clothes where I was always dressing up. I would dress up to imagine myself to be the character that I read about in books. You know, I always wanted to experiment with being. I always thought about and loved clothes as a tool to sort of play around with different characters and identities. I was always interested in performing. And particularly, when I was in school, I would be in plays, I would write plays. I always loved writing. I guess I’m really into communication. Because of my work as a professor, and before that, working in social work and social welfare, I had to be a really good communicator. I also had to understand how other people communicate, and learn. So I think I was always interested in communication. I’ve just always been in that world of wanting to experience and learn and tap into the different ways that we can use signs and symbols and communicate about our culture.
I want to control my own representation, which I think is the most important issue for our time.
What is it that you think makes fashion so important to individuals?
For me, fashion is a system. It’s like government. That means there’s a lot of power attached to it, it’s very evident how much power fashion and clothing have in terms of how others perceive you. And for me, I always like to know, who has the power in this situation? What is my power? I want to control my own representation, which I think is the most important issue for our time.
For me it’s always been a powerful way to say what I want to say without using words.
So for me, it’s a way of expressing your personal identity.I think it is something that for many women, fashion can be a real pleasurable experience. I think that there are designers who for them fashion design is an art. And I think it is a kind of art form. For me it’s always been a powerful way to say what I want to say without using words.
Does age play any role in shaping your work and image?
No, I think for me what I’m doing now has nothing to do with age. Many of my characters and their sensibilities, I have kind of had my whole life. As a small child, I would put together outfits and perform certain roles using clothes. So I think I always looked different, and because I was always rebellious, I was trying to find a way, even when I was wearing a school uniform, to look different from everyone else. I think that comes from the time I grew up in; it was a very revolutionary, rebellious time. I always had that trait and it always transferred into the way I thought about dressing.
Lessons from The Accidental Icon
You can take the same Chanel suit and put it on two different women and one will look just amazing, and the other you could barely notice.
What does true style and beauty mean to you?
I think style is a way to express your personal identity. I think when a woman has that vision of style and is are aware of who they are and what they want to communicate, they have true style. Those are the women who you would say, ‘wow, they really have style’. You can take the same Chanel suit and put it on two different women and one will look just amazing, and the other you could barely notice. My hypothesis is that the one who is really wearing it, their whole personality is involved in choosing that Chanel suit to make a statement about who they are today. The other one is just putting it on because it is a Chanel suit.
In terms of beauty, for me, beauty is a condition of health and wellness. I think that real beauty comes from a place of you taking care of yourself and being healthy. It just impacts how your skin looks, how your body looks. That for me is what I strive for, not to be pretty, not to be thin but what is a healthy condition for me.
Really spend time trying to figure out what your passion is about. And then go out and start finding other people who are passionate about the same thing.
What’s your favourite piece of advice?
I think my favourite piece of advice is to really spend time trying to figure out what your passion is about. And then go out and start finding other people who are passionate about the same thing. And it doesn’t have to be, and should not be, people in the same field or area. So for example, I’m passionate about fashion but I don’t hang out with other fashion bloggers, I hang out with young fashion designers, I hang out with photographers, I hang out with technology people. They’re all passionate about fashion, but we’re looking at it from a lot of different ways, so for me that is how I am. I think that it really helps me to be more creative.