“What are you doing?” my mother hisses under her breath, huffing and puffing, trying to keep up with my confident stride as I step inside the Dior flagship store on Rodeo Drive. She is probably thinking I can’t even afford a pair of knickers in there.
“There is something I would like to try on.”
Two adorable and immaculately behaved Chinese children are sitting around a gorgeous composition of hydrangea, while their parents, the lone customers, are evaluating and comparing purses. The store is hushed and filled with oversized bunches of hydrangea that give it a dreamy Alice in Wonderland appearance.
Every single store on Rodeo Drive does not live on the expectation of selling clothes to actual customers. They are more like showrooms, occasionally closed to the public for the odd celebrity, and fashion stylists’ paradise when choosing outfits for photo shoots. It used to be hijab covered Arab women who would drop their cash on the occasional handbag – now it’s the Chinese. I walk around checking out Raf Simons’ wondrous collection: the photos on-line do not do justice to the wool and the cashmere nor to the sinuous way the clothes move even on the hangers.
It’s not long before the manager approaches me, asking whether she can help, trying to decide if I am a potential customer, and she is probably mildly surprised when I describe in detail the dress I am looking for. She sizes me up and down professionally: “Let me look for it in the back. You are a 38.” I would like to reply that no, I am actually a 40 but it’s a good thing I shut up – she means a French 38.
Abbey, that’s her name, comes back with the dress and a suitable pair of high heel pumps – discreetly letting me know my orange flats will not do – and ushers me in a changing room the size of my kitchen. I am left alone with THE dress – and my mother, now speechless in front of my gumption. As if reading her mind, I volunteer: “It’s not as if they have anything to do. They might as well help me.”
I slide the dress on: a soft dark gray wool lined with silk, the stitching – in front and back – a bold periwinkle. I wobbly climb on the heels (Abbey got the shoe size a touch wrong, too big) and I look at the woman staring back at me. The dress hugs me but not so tight to make me look tarty. My shoulders, one of my best features, are front and center. The softness of the fabric on my chest, once I hide a push up bra in there, would even make me look busty.
I look sophisticated, poised, daring and utterly myself all rolled into one. I look exactly how I feel, which, these days, happens rarely. In one word, one that I use very sparingly, amazing. What THE dress has done, it has changed my perception of me. And I think of Raf Simons who imagines a woman and is able to visualize what I see in the mirror and turn it into reality.
Abbey lifts the curtain, trailed by the rest of the sales staff: either no one ever tries clothes on in here (likely) or they have even less to do than I thought.
“It looks made for you.” I am aware she is trying to close the sale but she is actually correct.
“How much will this thing set me back?” I ask. One of the sales assistant giggles. Is it because it’s bad manners to ask for a price? Nobody seems to know how much things cost in this slice of the unreal world. I am the one who finds the dangling label, tucked somewhere in the folds of the silk. $5,000. Inwardly, I laugh much harder than the sales assistant. If I win the lottery, I think. Funny thing is, even if I had the money, I would probably put it to a different use, one that would appease my conscience more than a couture dress could. Or, who knows, once in a while, I would spend it on a dress I am in love with. After all, I have argued for the existence of couture time and again.
“Is it for a special occasion?” Abbey asks.
I have the satisfaction of offering: “No, I just love it.” And I regain a modicum of respect, even if she knows now I won’t buy it.
The dress I love, for which I had hoped to see a Zara knock-off I would now never buy, makes me ponder on how to hold on to that feeling of realization that $5,000 could (apparently) buy. Even if only temporarily. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone? Pretending to be how I want to feel regardless of any bad day that comes my way? Finally accepting that I am all of that even without Raf Simons’ aid? I will try to implement the latter.
On the other side of the street, my other favorite fall dress beckons from the window of Valentino. But I decide not to mess with the staff.