"Fabulous Fashionista Show, Bizarrely Important"
by Lexi Wolfe for remotegoat on 05/04/19

The Cult of K*nzo is a fun and rather deeper-than-it-first-appears one-woman play set, naturally, in modern times, offsetting the dystopian world of the fashion-conscious against the conscientious individual's lifestyle. A mixture of performance, video, personal photos, voiceovers, readings and choreographed movement pieces relate to us the wider story around an incident in the performer, Paula Varjack's life, wherein she waited in line from 4 am to be able to buy from the Kenzo & H&M collection at the flagship store at Westfield. Successfully gaining a wristband as part of the first people admitted into the store, she shops for ten minutes - all that is allowed. What some of us may view on first glance as a fairly trivial thing to construct an entire play about, however, has been augmented in quite fabulous fashion.

Varjack tells of her own childhood in Ghana with her glamorous grandmother, about Kenzo's personal journey to become a fashion darling, of her relationship and the widely-accepted-but-rarely-spoken rules of fashion and high street clothes shopping, all intersected with the charmingly told account of her high point of the Kenzo H&M spree. One can see, with her glamorous and visually-minded background, with many tentative forays into purchases beyond a reasonable price bracket, how Varjack found herself to be first in line at the collection's opening, paying hundreds of pounds which she admittedly could not really afford, in order to snap up jackets, dresses, and shoes that were only just released. The world of fashion is here sold almost as a cousin of the world of celebrity, except the celebrity Varjack and others, queued for hours to see is not a person, but a skirt. Or rather, a set of similarly-styled articles of clothing with a name attached. For those who are not particularly fashion-conscious, the performance is comedic but relatable. For those who may be far more able to tell their Gucci from their Louis Vuitton at twenty paces, this should hopefully hold up something of a mirror in a simultaneously serious and funny way.

There is a good initial setting of the comedy that is to come as Varjack's first appearance onstage is of her looking as if she has found herself somewhere she expected not to be, wearing what one might assume is a designer wig and a Moschino dress which declares (non-verbatim) I Had Nothing To Wear So I Wore This Moschino Dress. She wins over the audience with her minimal but unforced interaction with us with her props of make-up items, empty perfume bottles and shopping bags from the very collection she will relate to us. Purchases from this same spree hang on one side of the stage, a shelving unit adorned with high-end products, presumably Varjack's personal collection, rounds off the other end. A desk and chair are all else that is used, as her rather physical performance gets underway. There are moments here and there where, possibly due to the lack of specific intention in that particular moment, the piece can feel a little bit Final Year Drama Project, but these are very few and far between and are instantly forgivable by an audience who enjoys Varjack's use of props to set scenes and introduce characters (perfume bottles as security guards, lip glosses as H&M workers, set boxes as different locales). The videos of drawing constructions are a lovely touch. Her splicing of other moments she has experienced, always coming back to the central incident, keeps us engaged the entire time. In amongst all the funnier and even touching moments, she also finds a good moment to make a brief but necessary comment on race in the western fashion industry and indeed, our collective, consumerist community as responders to that industry.

Despite being a confessed fashion addict, she does a wonderful job of representing all angles, and anyone watching could doubtless find something very relatable and approachable about Varjack's own constructed character based upon herself. Her commentary on the price of designer items and the devastation that comes with trying to appear part of the elite New Bond Street shopping club, and realizing one has tried too hard, is all too familiar for it to not be great entertainment. Her work in these moments speaks to a greater issue that the present fashion industry is both a symptom and a cause of - Personal Worthiness is a great unspoken phrase running through the performance like an artery. Varjack also sells her story very well as an actress. Poking fun at both the fashion world and its' addicts, or, as the title might suggest, its' cultists, from the inside perspective is something of a refreshing view only otherwise fully explored in our favourite movie on the subject, The Devil Wears Prada.

Drowning us, her audience, instead of herself in both the ridiculousness and the sublime achievement of being the first in line at an opening for a collection of garments, gives us a nice rounded view of the fashionista mentality, then perfectly closes - if somewhat abruptly - on the realisation that one is not made unique or standout by fashion, but by its very nature, fashion condemns us to be only momentarily singular, until everyone is doing just as we are, and we become a world of people desperate to be noticed for our acceptable difference, subverted by the very thing we looked to, to help us attain that.

I enjoyed this performance far more than on first glance, I might have, and Varjack deserved more of an audience than for some reason she got, though the theatre was far from empty. A great little piece to prompt anyone's thoughts on the subjects of individuality vs. pack mentality, worthiness vs. self-esteem and obsession vs. religion. To anyone who has REALLY wanted that dress, then glanced at the price tag and then had that internal weighing up to see through, I recommend you see this play.

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