Sign Language: From Mercury retrograde to cosmic charts, we uncover fashion’s strong connection with the zodiac
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, born on Aug. 19, 1883, was a true Leo. Bronze and marble lions litter the interior of 31 Rue Cambon, where she spent her life; in Lausanne, where she now lies, five lions sit etched on her tombstone. Beginning in the 1920s, the buttons of her soft tweed suits often bore symbols, including lion’s heads, and, as befits her leonine birthright, those suits won her king-sized fame. And yet, in the ’30s, Chanel found herself eclipsed by a Virgo.
Elsa Schiaparelli, born on Sept. 10, 1890, spent her childhood surveying the heavens. Her uncle, Giovanni, was a well-known astronomer, and it was he who pointed out that the moles on her face formed the constellation Ursa Major. In Schiaparelli’s 1938 Zodiac collection, the constellation glitters over the left shoulder of a blue velvet jacket that’s as lushly bizarre as Chanel tweeds are classic. Together, she and Chanel set up fashion’s organizing dichotomy—high art or expensive habit?—and they remain the century’s most important couturiers.
They loathed each other. Schiaparelli referred to commercial, streetwise Chanel as “that milliner,” while Chanel called the surreally cool Schiap “that Italian artist who makes clothes.” In fact, besides talent and mutual disdain, the only thing these two had in common was a belief in the very system that best explains their differences.
The planets won’t rule in the rivalry between Schiap and Chanel, but they do tell us that Virgos (judgmental, sensitive) and Leos (flashy, tyrannical) are likely to be star-crossed haters. If you’re rolling your eyes, you might be alone: Where astrology was once a dated New Age pastime, recent years have seen fresh passion for the zodiac among the killer-heeled set, making diehard believers of the world’s least spiritual aesthetes.
Fashion’s current preoccupation with the zodiac can, like most trends, be traced back to Chanel, whose creative director, Karl Lagerfeld, himself a Virgo, mounted a massive golden lion (in homage to the maison’s founding Leo) for his Fall 2010 couture show. Later that year, British Vogue ran an editorial starring model Siri Tollerød as each of the 12 signs, stunningly anthropomorphized: Libra as a balancing tightrope walker; Sagittarius as a white-gloved archer; Taurus as a matador in a pool of Funny Face pink. Last March, Charlotte Olympia took the archetypes one step further, releasing a Cosmic Collection of $700 suede flats with the signs reified in rhinestones. Not to be outdone, fellow British accessories designer Anya Hindmarch launched, in September, an astrology-based social media campaign called What Planet Are You On? (whatplanetareyouon.com). And if it’s true that scores of the fashion-famous (Anna Wintour, Alexa Chung, Chloë Sevigny) are Scorpios, the industry will eat up the scorpions in jeweller Pamela Love’s fall collection.
“Some designers are jumping on the astrology trend, but others are genuinely into it,” says Love, whose occult-classic designs place her in the latter camp. “For me, astrology was always very easy to believe in because, you know, I’m such a true Pisces.”
Love turns to AstrologyZone.com for horoscopes by Susan Miller, from whom she has also received in-person readings. That makes… everybody in fashion, apparently. In February, New York Magazine ran a 3,800-word profile of Miller that billed her as the go-to astrologer for the New York glamour biz, citing Cynthia Rowley, Kelly Cutrone and Joe Zee as fans. And in October, when the U.S. government shut down, ladyblogs like Jezebel and The Hairpin were quick to assert that Miller had “totally called it.”
Kelley Hoffman is a senior writer at Sephora and, like Love, she is a Pisces with a taste for the empyreal. In March, she began doing zodiac-based beauty picks for Sephora’s website. “A decade ago, astrology was more of a guilty pleasure,” Hoffman says. “Now, it’s in fashion to talk openly about it. This industry attracts people who excel at understanding the zeitgeist and predicting the future, so it makes sense that we’d be interested in our horoscopes. At Sephora, whenever something goes awry, the first thing my editorial team always asks is, ‘Is Mercury in retrograde? Someone look up Susan Miller!’”
For New York-based designer Mara Hoffman (no relation), astrology is more day-to-day business than guilty pleasure. “I am plugged-in on an ultimate level,” says Hoffman, who has used Mayan astrology motifs in her multifarious prints. “It’s not about reading my horoscope and deciding what to do that day. It’s about connecting with my signs as guides.” So devoted is Hoffman to her charts that she consults them for all major decisions, including hiring staff. “I wouldn’t hire someone without understanding their chart and how they fit in with my company, both elementally and astrologically,” she says.
Hoffman, who is an Aries with a Leo moon and Capricorn rising, says she dresses with “a uniformity and a pragmatic approach” that characterizes both Aries and Capricorn. “When I’m dressing to go out or have sex,” she says, “I’m more Leo.” Shelley Ackerman, an astrologer who pens horoscopes for New York-based culture site The Aesthete, maintains that you can spot a person’s sign by their street style. And the connections don’t stop there: According to Ackerman, any major “moment” in fashion correlates to a planetary movement. “Neptune, the planet of glamour, trends, fantasy and allure, changes signs every 14 years,” she tells me. “And that’s about how long it takes a major trend cycle to peak and dissipate.”
It’s easy to ascribe a belief in astrology to the drifty romanticism of the fashionable mind. “We gravitate toward a system of organization that is a little more fluid, or outside of the box,” says Love, speaking as a fashion designer. “We don’t have mathematical minds.”
Model Crystal Renn might disagree. The horoscope fan (she once gave me an off-the-cuff chart reading outside an East Village trattoria) loves math, reads Pascal and swears our charts are as certain as equations. She hasn’t read Theodor Adorno, the German philosopher whose book of essays, The Stars Down to Earth, attacks contemporary Western astrology as an irrational and intellectually regressive system of “disoriented agnosticism” that’s “easily accepted by supposedly skeptical, disillusioned people.” Nor should she. Adorno makes the time-worn assumption that scientific knowledge is incompatible with belief. I feel the opposite: There is too much information, and we are starved for meaning. “Studies show” are the bywords of our times, and yet studies, which contain neither truth nor beauty, do not make us see. They tell us how many humans are currently in monogamous relationships; they don’t tell us how to love. Astrology is neither science nor anti-science, but rather a defence against statistics. As Ackerman says, “The beauty of astrology is that it’s not just something that’s on Earth. It answers mysteries with the mystical.”