Fashion Masochist: Feathers

Aiming for avian flair, Rachel Baker wraps herself in down—and discovers life’s an itch.


In seasons past, designers merely flirted with the idea of feathers, using their form in prints or adding bits of plumage to their collections. This fall, though, the fashion crowd is migrating toward the real thing, showcased in heavily festooned skirts by Louis Vuitton and Thakoon, jackets by Isaac Mizrahi and Alberta Ferretti, and cocktail dresses by Catherine Malandrino and Dsquared.

[sidebar]

The Experience After scavenging the Internet, I settle on a vintage marabou jacket, which I imagine to feel like a piece of heaven and look as elegant as Marchesa’s swanlike runway models in all their plumed-party-dress glory. Upon arrival, however, these feathers turn out to be unrulier than I’d expected. The countless fluff-covered shafts have been roped together, then coiled and basted to a silky shell. That maverick feather that pokes through your pillowcase and into your skin? These are more aggressive, and give me a constant urge to preen (thank goodness I opted against the full-length Malandrino gown!). Only slightly less uncomfortable is the realization I look like I work at Centerfolds.

On the street, most onlookers squint in disbelief at my avian turn. But there are a few fashion-forward types who can spot a rising trend. One stylish twentysomething waiting for the T takes off her headphones to admire, “So Factory Girl. I love it.” The rest of my fans fall under the age of seven or over 70. When I briefly leave my jacket as a placeholder for an outdoor table, a white-haired woman chides me, “Take better care of that marabou!” Later, a starry-eyed preschooler rescues the jacket from the ground even before I realize it’s dropped.

Even if I weren’t itching and sweating, though, it would still be impossible to relax in my plumage: I’m molting. Feathers stream off me at the slightest movement. At the South End bakery Flour, a gust of wind comes my way and—to the horror of both myself and the staff—propels a cloud of downy pieces over the protective glass and onto the sticky buns. At work, both of my cube neighbors suffer regular sneezing fits. By the end of my experiment, my apartment, car, and desk are covered in white tufts.

The verdict I’m still pro-feather, but wearing this much at once feels overly high maintenance. Perhaps my jacket will reemerge from its current nest (a plastic grocery bag) for a black-tie event, or a trip to the zoo. Otherwise, I’ll get my fix with peacock earrings, well-glued-down headbands, and feather-mimicking clothing like Prada’s plastic-quilled jackets—which I’ll never be able to afford unless I get a lucrative side job. Hey, does anyone know if Centerfolds is hiring?