The Origin of Originality

I am always quoting people, probably because it is easy (and fun) to do so. By quoting people, I seem like an intellectual. Writing others’ words, their original ideas seem to be mine. But no, the words and ideas are someone else’s. It’s hard to be original, and it’s hard to admit that it’s hard. We all like to think of ourselves as special, unique. We want to be somehow different from everyone else, if not superior, because we think big, beautiful, and original ideas. But the fact is that “…everyone is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else” (David Foster Wallace). We go about our days suffering a sort of superiority complex, obliviously believing we are uniquely original. “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation” (Voltaire). And maybe this is true. But, then again, someone had to think new thoughts for the first time. Socrates created new ideas, Steve Jobs as well, Henry Ford and Tom Ford. Yet even their originality was adapted from or created in reaction to multitudes of past “originals.”

In fashion, everything is a copy of a past collection, a mimicry of another designer, and a repetition of another look, but with a different cut or color or whatever. Fashion is made by quotations of other designers’ art or a quotation of the world at another time. “What the really great artists do is they’re entirely themselves. They are entirely themselves, they’ve got their own vision, they have their own way of fracturing reality, and if it’s authentic and true, you will feel it in your nerve endings” (David Foster Wallace). This is what the great artists of fashion are doing today. Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons is piecing together different visions of the edge and the out-of-this-world into a vibrant decadent Japanese celebration of the fabulous and… given a French name! This is one original approach. This is the difference: there are those who see what’s already done and, by piecing together different original parts, create something new and unique.

It is important to recognize that we collaborate with the greats when we quote, reimagine, and create. This is the process of creation, the process of what makes the “new” and the “interesting” both new and interesting. “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation” (Herman Melville). It’s inspiring to aspire to originality. It asks you to dream big and to strive to interpret the world differently and thereby see it more fully. Trends are not original. However, those who first wore a shirt backwards, or layered shirts one on top of the other did so originally because they were the firsts. So, “If you want to be original. Be ready to be copied” (Coco Chanel). That’s what trends are. That is what, in large part, popular fashion is: originality monetized. “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation” (Oscar Wilde).

I like quoting people. Those I quote I admire most. Much of what I read is new to me and so it makes an original impression on my mind. Even though all is presumably not original, there is so much out there that I am amazed to read and hear and see. I am amazed by how much creativity there is. Many of the people I quote are original creators and visionaries. And many of these people realized that their originality was not solely wholly their own. I can quote what they said, and maybe, just maybe combining David Foster Wallace, Coco Chanel, Oscar Wilde, and Voltaire (as I have done composing this blog post) is just a little original. I like to think so. Still, all I did was open some books and follow my curiosity online. Stephen Fry says it better: “An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them” (Stephen Fry).


Cecilia Roses