Back in school, being a nerd was deeply uncool, but now grown-up creative types are celebrating their inner dork. Kate Williams reveals why the geek shall inherit the earth. Photographed by ruvan wijesooriya
Recently, while researching Kid Sister, I clicked through the pictures on her MySpace page, and one, in particular, caught my eye: It was a group photo that included her, DJ A-Trak, Steve Aoki, Pedro “Busy P” Winter, and So-Me, which was taken by Mark the Cobrasnake. I was shocked that you could get that much cool in one photo without it spontaneously combusting. Had I not known, though, that Winter heads up Ed Banger, one of the world’s hottest record labels, that A-Trak worked as Kanye West’s DJ, Aoki is an internationally in-demand party DJ, and that the picture was taken by everybody’s favorite party photographer, I would have quickly dismissed it as just a bunch of dorky kids on vacation. But then, this just goes to show that in the world of music, the definition of what is cool and what isn’t is far from black and white, in fact, it’s more like a clashing multi-color plaid. Fashion and music are two realms that are defined and pushed forward by relentless creativity, obsession, and eccentricity. Coincidentally, these are all also characteristics of the nerd. For many of us, our teenage years are when we begin to develop the interests that sustain us as adults, and without pandering too much to stereotypes, it’s not without reason to say that nerds, dorks, geeks, misfits and other assorted social outcasts end up with more time
to devote to these interests than the kids whose schedules are packed with football games, dates, and keggers. “It is a well-established fact that most rock stars cut their teeth as sociallyostracized loners fixated on hobbits, tribbles, and such in their early years of bitter bedroom isolation. The transition from hobbit to Doom and then guitar is often a mere formality,” says Frank Portman, the singer of pop-punk band the Mr. T Experience and the author of the novel King Dork. A riotous account, the book is high school seen through the eyes of Tom Henderson, a loner who’s forced to fake an interest in guns to scare bullies away but finally finds salvation, and girls, in a punk band that changes names more often than it actually performs. “Rock ’n’ roll is one of the few areas in modern society where an obsessive-compulsive disorder and a sense of bitterness derived from childhood can actually pay off,” Portman continues. “If you can channel that hatred of your fellow man into catchy, romantic songs about how hard it is to explain stuff, so much the better.” Case in point: Nick Lachey probably didn’t get picked on in high school; Thom Yorke probably did. Growing up, I had an uncontrollable bookreading habit and spent most of my high-school lunch periods trolled up in the journalism lab darkroom. I definitely didn’t have it rough, but
myspace.com :/ luellabartley Check out nerd-inspired fashions by Luella.
rt stylist: charles manning. hair: lydia oâ€™carroll using kĂŠrastase. makeup: jordy poon using nars cosmetics. models: ashley brock at one, adrian at development, nyc. top by 3.1 phillip lim, skirt by karen walker, vintage glasses from eye candy, suspenders by chanel. opposite page: vest and shirt by built by wendy, shorts by thread social, vintage pin and watch from eye candy.
there were plenty of nights when “friends” didn’t call when they said they would, and the time when my homecoming date ditched me two days before the dance, and on such occasions, I found myself on the receiving end of some of my mother’s most famous advice. She always cautioned that, as much as you might think otherwise, you didn’t really want to peak in junior high, or even high school. (The other piece of her advice I remember most clearly was about hickies: “Good lovers don’t leave marks.” Equally wise, but kind of irrelevant here.) What she meant was that anyone who reached the height of their intelligence, power, and beauty at 16 probably didn’t have much to look forward to in the long slog that was the rest of their life. I didn’t believe her at the time, especially when stuck home on a Friday night with my little sister, who didn’t understand the importance of staying off the phone, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen that mom is definitely right. Especially in the worlds of fashion and music, the nerdy crop rises to the
top while the popular kids are often left behind to audition for reality TV shows. It makes me wish that I hadn’t spent those tormented evenings waiting for the phone to ring, but instead said ‘fuck it,’ gone up to my room, and tried to capture all my angst in some song lyrics or in putting together the perfect anti-establishment outfit. Popular music has always been peopled with geeks, from Cyndi Lauper and Lisa Loeb to Buddy Holly and Elvis Costello, and the current music scene is no different: Flip through the pages of a music magazine, and it’s one chessclub homage after another. From We Are Scientists’ name to Vampire Weekend’s ‘ourmom-dressed-us’ look, to Be Your Own Pet’s laid-back geekiness, musicians are the ones leading today’s revenge of the nerds. Kate Nash is a proper John Hughes heroine, with red hair and lyrics about skeletons and mouthwash (can you imagine Jessica Simpson singing “This is my face. Covered with freckles with an occasional spot and some veins”?); the Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger capitalizes on her eccentric family, and with her penchant for boyish thriftstore clothing is a sex symbol for the legions of boys for whom surgically-altered blondes don’t quite do it. And who doesn’t remember when Gwen Stefani got braces? Hip-hop has its own set of dorks, with Kanye West currently the reigning king. West grew up in Chicago the son of an English professor, and his first albums were all about going to college, and then dropping out of it. A-Trak, his recent tour DJ, first won the DMC championship at age 15, and though I don’t know for sure, I’m willing to bet he spent a lot of time alone in his room. The new class of underground hip-hop is nerdier than ever. Spank Rock busts on stage like a sophomore determined to scandalize the principal at a school talent show, and the Cool Kids most certainly took their name ironically. Kid Sister skips the played-out territory of Fendi bags and diamonds and instead raps about her pager, and Amanda Blank who dresses like Skipper on crack, spits lyrics that would make even a sex education teacher blush. Of course, nerds have shown up on the runways as well, in Karen Walker’s mismatched stripes and plaid, and Band of Outsiders’ sweater
myspace.com :/ gocoolkids Geek out, and become one of Chuck and Mickey’s 80,477-plus friends.
vests; and Luella Bartley’s spring collection was inspired by Thora Birch in Ghost World. “At Luella, we prefer the term “geek chic,” Bartley says. “The typical check list for us is cropped jacket, geek glasses, and T-shirt complete with a granny-style bag. A geeky look is a reaction to the mainstream—it has a twist and an underlying cool. Geeks don’t try so hard, so they end up looking unique.” For fall, Peter Jensen outfitted his male models in short-pants that would certainly have earned them an ass-kicking on the playground, and his female models in stripes, plaids, checks, and even a comic-book print top. Chris Benz paired cat-eyed glasses with coats that tied at the neck like scarves, and masculinecut blazers and cardigans (Annie Hall and her creator, Woody Allen, are also famous nerds.) While fashion trends come and go, nerds stay pretty consistent. Weezer has paid tribute to Buddy Holly in their look as well as in their lyrics, and the Donnas’ style isn’t too far off from Sleater-Kinney’s. “Nerds usually stick with one look and try their absolute hardest to make it cool,” says Shipley & Halmos designer Jeff Halmos. “It’s not unusual for a nerd to rock the same ensemble for five, even 10, years without progressing along with the trends.” Shipley & Halmos employed both bow ties and suspenders in their fall looks, and nerd style is something they have obvious admiration for, even if they don’t cop to being nerds themselves. “Oversized trench coats, lots of stripes, glasses that make you look dumber rather than smarter, a sloppy disposition, socially awkward behavior and just a ridiculous sense of humor,” are all hallmarks of nerdiness, according to Sam Shipley. “We’ve all owned up to a couple of these, but to be in possession of all of them, you’re a nerd,” he says. “Generally, the nerd has plenty of time to spend by him or herself, and this can lead to becoming one of two people: One who performs shirtless electric guitar solos on his dorm balcony—played through a Peavey practice amp—as a crowd of onlookers wonders why he’s drinking hard lemonade; or one who becomes widely versed in the French language, thus rendering him or her a talented, bilingual master of passion. In my humble opinion,” Shipley says, “both are tremendously cool.”
this page: on her: cardigan by shipley & halmos, top by cheap monday, pants by 3.1 phillip lim, shoes by rachel comey. on him: blazer and pants by spurr, shirt by steven alan, sunglasses by ksubi, shoes by generic man. opposite page: top by cheap monday, shorts by rachel comey, hat by the village scandal, stylistâ€™s own glasses.