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To be a 'Fashion Person' is to love clothes, but also understand them as an art

What is a fashion person? I thought I knew but that changed when I listened to a recent Fashion Talks podcast on luxury. Retail wizard Nicholas Mellamphy and Globe and Mail contributor Nathalie Atkinson were each explaining how their interest in fashion came about, when Mellamphy declared, "I don't identify myself as a fashion person."

I nearly dropped my brow brush (yes, morning prep is my "podcast time.")

Mellamphy is one of Canada's most highly regarded fashion insiders. As creative director of Hudson's Bay's The Room, he transformed the moribund department into one of the country's most exciting fashion destinations with fresh labels such as Mary Katrantzou, Christopher Kane and Delpozo. When he left that post, he was courted by luxury merchants from New York to Dubai, but decided instead to launch his own soon-to-be retail concept in Toronto. He attended the couture shows in Paris in January. And he has appeared on the Toronto Life Best-Dressed list.

Nicholas Mellamphy attends an opening in 2014. Mellamphy is one of Canada’s most highly regarded fashion insiders.

If he's not a fashion person, am I?

Like Mellamphy, I have spent all of my career on the frontlines of where trends are born. In my former roles as a newspaper fashion editor and magazine editor-in-chief, I reported and shaped the news. I am fascinated by innovation, whether I personally decide to embrace a new look or not. And I love following fashion as sport. Keeping an eye on which designer is knocking it out of the park and who should be benched is part of staying current.

I have loved clothes as far back as I can remember, right back to the candy-striped cotton bikini I wore when I was 2. I have a clear memory of the leopard-spotted corduroy pants I wore in kindergarten (and wish they still fit!). And I still have the shift my uncle brought back from Africa when I was 6 because the exotic embroidery was heftier than any I had ever felt. While other kids were blowing their allowance on candy, I was buying Vogue.

I am sure there are many fashion lovers who can relate. We have an instinctual attraction to clothes that is very hard to override with logic such as "I shouldn't buy that black jacket because I already own 10." We can see the subtle newness in the line of the shoulders and the width of the sleeves. It makes our other 10 black jackets stale and slightly embarrassing to wear.

Mellamphy also has that eye for what's fresh. His explanation for not viewing himself as a fashion person is that he looks at fashion as an art form and cultural signifier. In other words, he's a big-picture guy. So maybe there is a distinction to be made between fashion leaders and followers, or experts and enthusiasts.

But it's possible to be both. Anna Wintour is probably the ultimate fashion insider and her nod can put a designer in the driver's seat of a billion-dollar brand. But she is also one of the world's best-dressed. She lives and breathes the subject – as editor-in-chief of Vogue, she should. She is arguably the quintessential fashion person. On the other hand, her counterpart at Harper's Bazaar, Glenda Bailey, is a brilliant editor who relies on the team around her to bring fashion cred to the brand. If there's such a thing as a fashion gene, Wintour has it, Bailey does not.

Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour lives and breathes fashion.

Wintour’s counterpart at Harper’s Bazaar, Glenda Bailey, is a brilliant editor who relies on the team around her to bring fashion cred to the brand.

There's a difference, it seems, between fashion people and Fashion People. Models and designers are fashion people, given that they work in the field. But not all are Fashion People with that innate connection to how clothes make them look or feel. Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell are Fashion People. Cara Delevingne and Daria Werbowy are not.

Victoria Beckham is both a fashion person and a Fashion Person. Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Victoria Beckham is both a fashion person and a Fashion Person. So is Kanye West, though Kim Kardashian isn't much of anything. No true Fashion Person would allow themselves to be dressed like a Barbie doll. The Queen is neither a fashion person nor a Fashion Person. But her style is awesome.

Some are self-appointed Fashion People, such as the blogger who never misses posting her OOTD. A select few have been anointed, such as the world's most influential influencer, Jackie Kennedy.

And then there are Fashion People who try too hard, the fashion victims who seem to need attention more than anything else. The arrival of street-style star Anna Dello Russo at any fashion show in Europe is almost an event in itself. For Dello Russo, a Prada chandelier dress is daywear.

Once in a while, I wish I had that level of commitment and the bottomless budget to go with it. But most times I don't. I am simply a fashion person, both upper- and lower-case.

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