Eight years ago in college, I started a fashion magazine.
Details of how that came to happen could fill a lengthy novel, and perhaps one day they will. Or maybe it’ll be a coffee table book. Hmmmmmm. Well, either way, for now I’m going to tell you the very basics: I had a vision of a more fashion-conscious University of Delaware. I had a burning desire to express myself creatively—and publicly. So I woke up one day (fought tooth and nail for hundreds of days) and started a fashion magazine. Michelle Joni Lapidos, Founder and Editor In Chief, UDress Magazine.
Hundreds of creative minds came flocking my way. Photographers, designers, editors, writers, event planners, publishers, model coordinators, stylists – all enthusiasts of my vision! I created an organized magazine ecosystem filled with masthead titles, media kits, student-run departments and launch parties. These were my people. My UDress family! With my team of editors we’d fact-check over wine on a Saturday night, and my designers and I would spend countless hours polishing the layout, bickering over millimeters of white space, watching the sun come up on too many occasions.
I surfed the wave of my UDress success to the shores of New York Fashion Week. Recognized as an official publication by Mercedes Benz Fashion Week (boo-ya!), my UDress photo credentials got me into pretty much every show I ever dreamed of. Marc Jacobs, DVF, Calvin Klein, Oscar de le Renta, Zac Posen, younameit. My seat may have been tucked away in the hectic rumble of the paparazzi pit, but those seats were perfectly wonderful to me! I made friends with middle aged men in cargo pants and photographers from Japan. I chatted with models backstage and on the sidewalks. I did fashion spreads like this:
UDress is now a full-color glossy ‘zine around sixty pages, fiercely designed and filled with campus style, fashion editorials, runway coverage, health stories, beauty tricks and love advice. The publication is now a recruiting tool, drawing in hundreds of fashion, editorial and magazine-minded young men and women each year. It’s a mainstay on campus and a launchpad for internships and careers. Yes, UDress was, bar none, the craziest thing I did in college.
Last weekend I was so excited to go back to UDel for the Seventh Annual UDress Fall Fashion Event, the big launch party for the Fall 2012 issue of UDress! My gay hubby Michael and I created the prototype for this event six years ago when we first became inseparable (see below), and now it was happening with us in the front row, run by students too young to have crossed our paths in school.
Now, as you know, I haven’t worn the afro in several weeks. I meant it when I said it’s more important what I’m putting in my head than on it. But why do the two have to be mutually exclusive? I’ve missed the fro in my life so much! That silhouette, that option to liven up my appearance on a whim. I look back at photos of me in the fro, and I can completely connect the dots to how I went from falling in love with it to taking it off: I don’t want to wear something that highlights my privilege and makes people mad. But you know what? Connect The Dots has always been a pretty boring game.
As I dressed myself for the UDress soiree, curling my hair like a normal person does when they crave some volume, I was getting upset. I wasn’t satisfied with my look. This simple floral jumpsuit needed something more. Oh, it would look SO much better with a giant round coiffure to dot my upside down exclamation point of an outfit! I had brought the blond fro along with me because Michael had never seen the beast in person. That’s exactly what it needed, and nothing else.
This is and always was about aesthetic.
Eight years ago I created UDress Magazine at this school so people could express their deep creative selves. How dare I attend the UDress Fall Fashion Event and not express mine?
I fashioned my bouncy blond wig securely on my head. It felt crazy after all this time without it. My face lit up and my lips puckered in the mirror. I twirled two or three or seven times, smiling from all angles. SO MUCH BETTER!! My spirit lit up again. I had to wear it. Anyone who could honestly be offended by such a thing after all this has got to reevaluate what’s important in life. This was nobody’s business but my own.
As I entered the venue, I felt like the freakin’ founder of a fashion magazine!
The theme of the Fall 2012 issue was “Looking backwards to move forward.” What a perfect sentiment: We must let history inspire and teach us, but ultimately propel us. We must learn from our mistakes, but we must power on anew. We must disassociate ourselves from certain discomforts to fit our modern lifestyles. We, my friends, must learn from spandex.
Before the runway show started, the hosts called me and my sister Jessica to the stage to say a few words. Jessica and her freakishly talented self took over as editor in chief of UDress after I graduated. She brought the magazine to the next level in ways I had only begun to – she is incredible, and the most stylish person I know! And she loves the fro.
I opened up on the microphone without much preparation. I just spoke from the heart, and what I’m pretty sure I said boiled down to this: How many of you are loving YOURSELVES right now?
The truth is, I am no smarter or sweeter or more understanding without a fro on my head. I am no less compassionate about humanity or the struggles people go through, hair-related or not. When I wear the fro my heart beats just the same.
I am simply expressing myself. Being myself. Loving myself.