Editor's Letter December, 2022
Solitude Text by
Stephanie Danan
Edited by
Amanda Fortini

A few months ago in Paris, as the leaves were starting to change and the warm days were gesturing toward the cold weather to come, I did something I never do: I walked to my favorite gourmet store in the neighborhood, bought myself a salad, and made my way to a small park in the area, where I sat on a bench and ate my lunch alone while watching the children on the playground.

At first, I felt uncomfortable. When was the last time I did something like this? I couldn’t recall. I’ve spent the past 10 years driving back and forth to work in traffic on the 101, doing school drop-offs, organizing playdates, cooking dinner—all on top of the endless weekend errands. I’m lucky to find an occasional moment to squeeze in a workout, maybe even a pedicure.

I sat on that bench unsure whether I should start eating or not. I looked around, searching for a comforting smile from a passerby, as if I needed reassurance that this was OK. I felt like I was being watched and judged. Turned out, I was. I was watching and judging myself doing something that felt foreign to me: spending time alone in a park in a city I had only recently adopted. I even found myself momentarily paranoid as I remembered a Parisian friend of mine joking about the stereotypical lonesome individual eating his or her meal on a bench as we walked through the park. Well, here I was. Alone. That was me.

But as I sat there, time started to slow down and I began to notice the colors of the early fall leaves—green molting into orange and yellow and scarlet. Experiencing the changing seasons was something I had longed for, having spent the last 22 years in California, and here I was witnessing fall in all its glory. I contemplated the gift—but also the discomforts—of this new experience of solitude. I sat there, in all of my feelings, observing each one as they passed: from the fear of an uncertain tomorrow to elation and hope brought by all the possibilities tomorrow could deliver. By the time I finished my salad, I felt surprisingly empowered by this small but radical act.

Experiencing the changing seasons was something I had longed for, having spent the last 22 years in California, and here I was witnessing fall in all its glory. I contemplated the gift—but also the discomforts—of this new experience of solitude.

On my walk home, I stopped at a Japanese flower shop I love on Rue du Bac and bought myself the most beautiful fall bouquet that echoed all the colors I had just seen. I continued my journey home with a smile on my face and a fall spring in my step. Summer was finally over; the seasons were changing; time was passing. I had a sudden, overwhelming feeling that my life was all starting to make sense. Like the trees, I was shedding the old for the new—my new life in a new city. Nothing stays the same.

As I walked up the two flights of stairs to my apartment, I remembered my beautiful 75-year-old neighbor, Nicole Mugler (such a chic name), who had welcomed me so warmly to the building when I first arrived, and who has lived in Saint-Germain-des-Prés for over 50 years. Every night, she smokes a single cigarette from her window ledge and tells me stories about her life selling antiques at the flea market. I decided to leave the flowers at her door as an offering of my gratitude because she had somehow made living alone in this new apartment and city full of charm.

This is the thing about spending large swaths of time alone for the first time in years: you start to observe and experience yourself, the passage of time, and even other people differently. You notice facets about yourself you never noticed before. If you let it, solitude will deliver your truth.

***

Everyone knows that time alone can be healing. Sometimes we find ourselves alone by choice, and other times it is because of circumstances such as loss or heartbreak. But we live such noisy lives that even on the rare occasion when we are alone, we usually have some accompaniment, whether social media, the news, a podcast, or some other entertainment playing in the background. What does it mean to be truly alone, and how does it shape us, change us, and help us find clarity?

I’ve always enjoyed escaping to my bathroom, locking the door, shutting out the noise and soaking in a bath for an hour. I love taking a weeklong solo trip to my favorite fasting retreat in Palm Springs, or even going on a work trip for a few weeks in faraway countries, as I often do in China and Japan. Those moments feel necessary, fortifying, and they reset my internal energy, but I’m always so grateful to return to my nest. It is an altogether different experience when you don’t know how long you’ll be alone for, and more importantly, when you feel afraid of solitude, or disconnected from your inner voice.

My mother taught me the importance of nurturing time alone in the company of our breath and in nature. When I was 18 years old, she asked me to accompany her to an ashram in the Catskills. I resisted; it felt strange to me, and, in the throes of my turbulent adolescence, I couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting around quietly with my own thoughts. But I went, and the experience that weekend, meditating and chanting alone while in the company of others, turned out to be a revelation. My mother, by taking me, showed me the importance of quieting the mind and listening to the soft beating of the heart as a healing and grounding tool. Over many years, this would assist me in traversing the harder and edgier times of life.

During this past year of transition, solitude has played an instrumental role for me; it has been the catalyst for personal and creative transformation, in ways both large and small. Facing my solitude has been at once terrifying and exhilarating. I stand humbly in the face of its power.

During this past year of transition, solitude has played an instrumental role for me; it has been the catalyst for personal and creative transformation, in ways both large and small. Facing my solitude has been at once terrifying and exhilarating. I stand humbly in the face of its power.

***

I return to this essay three weeks later, as I have been unable to finish it. I am back in Los Angeles, back in the challenges of my work days and personal life, enjoying an occasional evening with my girlfriends, but most importantly in the company of my son and deep in the delicious, all-consuming experience of motherhood. I keep trying to reconnect to that feeling I had on that park bench but I cannot seem to find it; I can’t even find the time to try. Where has my solitude gone? Its beauty and its agony.

Even in Los Angeles under the sunshine, I feel the cold coming. Fall is rapidly transforming into winter. In a matter of weeks, I will return to Paris for yet another segment: My life is now broken into a voyage to and from my solitude. It is becoming clear to me that when I travel toward aloneness my creativity is awakened, and I am desperate to find it again.

When I get to Paris, it is grey and cold, but I feel the warmth of the festive holiday lights illuminating the city and the humming of the streets. Contrary to the summer months, when I escaped my apartment every chance I got to take long walks across the Seine, roam through a gallery or museum, or just contemplatively sit in a cafe, I don’t want to leave the cocoon of my apartment. So I wrap up in a blanket on my sofa and play Schubert on repeat.

I begin to realize that in the mad rush of creating a company, birthing and mothering a child, contending with heartbreak, battling the aging process, staying disciplined to remain healthy, confronting childhood trauma—and all of the other micro-challenges of everyday life—the creative process gets diminished until it occupies only the smallest fraction of one’s day. I think about when I was in my twenties and entering the movie business. I was Daniel Day Lewis’s Assistant for a quick minute on The Crucible, and I remember watching a real artist at work, one who took years in between each project. He believed that to create something unique you needed to live life, otherwise you have nothing authentic to offer to the world.

I begin to realize that in the mad rush of creating a company, birthing and mothering a child, contending with heartbreak, battling the aging process, staying disciplined to remain healthy, confronting childhood trauma—and all of the other micro-challenges of everyday life—the creative process gets diminished until it occupies only the smallest fraction of one’s day.



As my year of transformation comes to an end, the solitude I had feared and cried many tears over has delivered this magnificent reward: Alone in my apartment, I see so clearly the woman I want to be and cast in my work. She wears the depth and profundity of life in her eyes and smile. She lies in bed enfolding a child with love. She sits on a park bench alone. Or she is surrounded by friends and family, the sound of her laughter resonating across a courtyard. She no longer worries about how the world sees her but only about how she sees herself. With this newfound confidence, she stands unadorned, her face clean and glowing, in a simple black crepe skirt, a white cotton oversized shirt unbuttoned to reveal elegant lace resting on bare skin, a single delicate gold chain, a flat shoe.

She has traveled, endured, persevered. She has surrendered to her transformation and who she is becoming. She has shed the façade. She has mined very deeply and discovered her mission, her way forward. She will never betray herself again.

In 2023, she will come to life at CO as we continue the voyage of designing for her, inspired by her, as we weave more life, passion, beauty, craftsmanship, storytelling, and love into our clothes.

2022, you have been a hard one but you will also be memorable. You’ve beaten me down in ways I’d never experienced before but you’ve also granted me the opportunity to see the full spectrum of life’s possibilities. Most importantly, you have given me a freedom I’d never known.

Happy New Year to all~

Stephanie

Stephanie’s New Year Edit