Lilah James: Complex PTSD Recovery on the Runway
by Glenn Holsten
Recovery and creativity are a powerful combination. It’s always a thrill when we are able to connect with someone’s artistic expression journey in ways that defy traditional vocabulary—something instinctive inside of us says “Yes—that’s EXACTLY what I was feeling!” Words aren’t necessary, but we feel something that we recognize as a truth, or a truth about ourselves. For me, that mysterious and wonderful phenomenon in the presence of art is, frankly, one of the joys of being alive.
I had such a moment when I first encountered the works of fashion designer Lilah James. Lilah is a young designer who recently graduated from Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia. The college had hired me to create some video portraits of some of their awesomely talented students, and Lilah was on my list of terrific young people to meet one day when I arrived at the school with my video maker colleagues.
At first meeting, I was taken by her thoughtful approach to mental health and her passion for using her fashion training to express some of her journey. I was interested to hear that she wrestled with complex PTSD, and it was an inspiration for her collection. However, when I saw the first piece in her fashion collection titled Shame and Guilt, I was surprised how strong my response was to her creativity. Shame and Guilt features yards and yards of black tulle, onto which Lila hand wrote words on fabric, some highlighted with red thread. I didn’t need to read the words to know that they were from some kind of diary, and that through this creation, Lilah had found a way to clearly say something that spoke about her personal journey with a universal expression. I was moved by her creative invention, and, though I’m by no means a fashionista, I loved the statement and wanted to know more.
Lilah’s collection titled “Anxiety Descending”—is really a remarkable autobiographical look at a period of her life, though quite dark, illuminated through fashion. I hope you enjoy this documentary that explores her experience.
So many thanks to Lilah, and to the faculty, staff and students and Moore College of Art & Design for letting us document their exciting fashion show.