Geek Chic

Nerd-inspired style gets an unexpected new look

Words: Rosie Goddard | Photography: Ulrich Knoblauch

Considered the sultriest of the Fashion Week sisters, Milan usually produces the kind of slinky silhouettes, low necklines and sheer fabrics reserved for after-dark encounters and the Hadid’s Instagram accounts. So it came as a surprise to many when Gucci, a brand known for its luxe, jet-setting aesthetic, sent models down the runway in what could be Austin Powers’ favourite outfit of all time: retro spectacles, intense prints, high, ruffled necklines, pussy bows, furry librarian loafers and long, pleated skirts. Many a fashion authority hailed the range as the future of fashion and I, being a highly sought-after authority myself, was inclined to agree.

“Furry loafers, necklines that resemble your grandmother’s curtains and intense clashing prints are the future of fashion?” I hear all two of the fashion-wary straight men that stumbled into this article cry. Hear me out. Once upon a time, this aesthetic might have been called frumpy, nerdy, drab or dowdy (charming) but this time round, it was about more than the clothes, it was about the girls – each of them intriguing, bold and liberated in their own way.

In an era in which fashion is increasingly defined by tribe and not just by trend (Olivier Rousteing Balmain army, Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel girls etc.) Gucci’s Creative Director, Alessandro Michele, is becoming a voice for the carefree fashion eccentric – and what a breath of fresh air she is. Unperturbed by the male gaze, she is the new nerd. She wears what she wants, loading up on layers because she feels like it, or stripping them off, all the while combining texture and print in unexpected ways.

While everything about Gucci’s geek girl is incredibly over-the-top in a Wes-Anderson-meets-a-secondhand-shop-meets-Willy-Wonka way, it’s clear that there are no set rules for interpreting this “look”, and that’s the beauty of it – the focus is on a sense of individuality possessed by the girl and her attitude towards life rather than a definable “trend”. You only need to consider the Tavi Gevinsons, Chloë Sevignys and Leandra Medines of this world to see that this is true.

With this in mind, I was inspired to create four different fictional personas, each possessing a fashion perspective as unique as their diverse personalities. These characters were the inspiration behind the shoot.

The jet setter

Let’s call her: Tumi

The look: Sensual, 70s, Gucci-inspired (specifically this look)

Top style tip: Rich colours and luxe textures are always a must.

Her natural habitat: A working brunch at Tasha’s Flamingo Room in Melrose Arch – it doesn’t get better than a pink marble floor combined with pink velvet chairs.

Life motto: I’ve never met a turban I didn’t like.

Favourite singer: Ella Fitzgerald

Favourite book: What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

Her story: It came as a surprise to everyone when Tumi developed an interest in business after a misspent youth involving one too many house parties and some unashamed swiping of her father’s credit card. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still partial to a Bloody Mary brunch, but the difference is she now spends her own money thanks to her thriving fashion brand.

The wanderer

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Let’s call her: Annabelle

The look: Bohemian, eclectic, beautifully undone

Top style tip: Suited to almost any occasion, a shaggy coat and a printed dress can be thrown on at the last moment.

Her natural habitat: Afrikaburn, of course

Life motto: “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark

Her music: Anything by Dirty Art Club

Her favourite book: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Her story: After four years of corporate hell at a big accounting firm, Annabel decided the 9-5 life wasn’t for her so she packed her bags and hit the road. Currently based on a small island off the coast of Nicaragua, she teaches English at a local school but things are starting to feel a little too permanent, so next month she’s off trekking in Nepal. She’s not too sure where the money’ll come from, but she always makes a plan.

The collegiate

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Let’s call her: Julia

Her look: Preppy, pulled together, Ralph Lauren-esque

Top style tip: Do something unexpected with a classic look and layer a shirt dress over a polo neck and flared jeans.

Her natural habitat: Under a tree, reading a book

Life motto: “Learning never exhausts the mind” – Leonardo da Vinci

Her music: Esbjörn Svensson Trio

Her favourite book: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Her story: After getting accepted to read her PhD at Cambridge, Julia developed a slight chip on her shoulder, but luckily she has a group of friends armed with enough sarcastic comments to bring her down to earth. Reserved, eccentric and highly strung, she once tried magic mushrooms at a house party in an attempt to let loose. After four hours of inappropriate comments, she decided she’d had quite enough psychedelics for one lifetime.

The high-flyer

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Let’s call her: Nandi

The look: Sleek tailoring, Jenna Lyons-inspired, androgynous silhouettes

Top style tip: Make a statement with bold, tailored separates and remember, a ruffle goes a long way.

Her natural habitat: The comments section of a particularly obnoxious Facebook post.

Life motto: There’s nothing some alone time with a glass of wine can’t fix.

Her music: Kendrick Lamar

Her favourite book: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Her story: When Craig started at the law firm, his commentary on other women in the office prompted Nandi to share some choice words. Whether he onboarded the point or was a little intimidated, she enjoyed the distance he now kept. Challenging the patriarchy is a daily struggle, but at home, she’s just like everyone else. An evening scroll through Pugs of Instagram always calms her down and Myog on Thursdays is a must, but Craig never needs to know that.

The art graduate

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Let’s call her: Clementine

Her look: Seemingly mismatched, offbeat, layered

Top style tip: Have fun with clashing prints and different decades – this look features a Victoriana blouse, a 70s T-shirt and a 60s A-line skirt.

Her natural habitat: She’s hard to lock down but more often than not she can be found in one of Cape Town’s latest galleries. Failing that, the Power & Glory. And failing that, napping with her new kitten, Mustard.

Her motto: “How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterwards” – Spanish proverb

Her music: John Wizards / Blood Orange

Her favourite book: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Her story: Currently applying for residencies around the country, Clementine makes some money on the side posing as a nude art model. Her parents found out the other day and reported from their home in the suburbs that they were none too impressed. Clementine couldn’t understand why they didn’t look on the bright side – at least she was supporting herself. They promised they would work on being more liberal.