The Thoughtful Dresser

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The Thoughtful Dresser
With Linda Grant and Catherine Hill. Chair Linda Kelsey

This event took place on 26th February 2009

Posted by Lana Citron

The Thoughtful Dresser

The Thoughtful Dresser

High end fashion and Auschwitz, are not, one would imagine in any way compatible, yet it was there that Linda Grant, on a visit to the camp, noticed in amongst the heaps of shoes, a red stiletto. What woman one wondered would wear her party shoes to a death camp?

I came to this session expecting a frivolous evening of the superficial, female kind. Personally, I have healthy disregard toward the world of fashion especially the way women seem to follow herd-like the whimsies of designers, magazine editors and celebrities. How gullible are we that so much of our self-esteem is bound up in our outward appearance?

Alternatively, perhaps I am missing the point, and having listened to Catherine Hill speak, I realise I am indeed, missing the point.

Catherine Hill was, up until a few years ago, the doyenne of the Canadian fashion world. Considered a fashion diva of Toronto, she introduced the well heeled to avant-garde European designers such as Versace. Fashion for her is about style, individualism, and not jumping on the bandwagon of mediocrity. Linda Grant whose book features Hill was fascinated by her remarkable story, as too were we, the well dressed, JBW audience.

A Hungarian Jew, Hill was deported as a teenager to Auschwitz in1944. She recalled standing in line, letting go of her mother’s hand, to then be tattooed, stripped naked, deloused, head shaved and finally issued with a pair of stripped pyjamas. Alone in a sea of hundreds of other women, she realised that this process had in essence stripped her of her identity and instinctively she bent down, tore a piece of cloth from the hem of the pyjamas and tied it round her head as a ribbon. The guards laughed, and wondered why she had done such a thing to which she replied, ‘to look pretty’. This gesture, she believes marked her out. She was not one of the herd but an individual and directly contributed to her survival, as she was chosen from that group to work in the camp kitchens.

Today Catherine Hill remains a most elegant and eloquent woman, her life remarkable and her testimony inspiring. The evening was far from frivolous and I now imagine that the type of woman who would wear her party shoes to a death camp, as a free spirited rebellious sort with an infinite sense of humour.

Lana Citron

Lana Citron

Posted by Lana Citron, author of five novels; Sucker, Spilt Milk, Transit, The Honey Trap and The Brodsky Touch, Lana Citron has also appeared on TV,  theatre, film and performed as a stand-up comic.

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