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It was Fashion Week in Paris, and if it was Tuesday, it was Chanel. And if it was Chanel, it was my new black Manolo slingbacks with the two-and-a-half-inch kitten heels, to go with the charcoal-gray tweed A-line skirt I got at the Chanel sample sale last season and the perfectly Coco-esque black boiled-wool jacket with the delicate grosgrain trim that I had slipped out of my mother's closet years ago. It said so right there on the daily wardrobe schedule I had meticulously entered into an Excel spreadsheet last week: Chanel skirt, trusty black jacket. Black La Perla bra, the one with the light padding. Matching thong. Tahitian pearl choker. Mabe ring. The black Balenciaga bag. (The brown version was slated for Thursday.) Manolo slingbacks. Only on this Tuesday morning the shoes were nowhere to be seen among the contents of the three suitcases scattered around me.
What a disaster. This would throw off my week's schedule completely. I mean, I suppose I could switch over to the Wednesday outfit, but then I'd be wearing vintage Yves Saint Laurent-and we're talking Monsieur Saint Laurent himself, not the Tom Ford era-to a Chanel show, and that just wouldn't do. Not given the history between Saint Laurentand Karl Lagerfeld. I'm not stupid. I know better than to do that. And forget about the Thursday outfit. God and Anna Wintour know better than to wear Stella McCartney to Kaiser Karl's show. Nope, it was Chanel or bust. And without those Manolos, I was utterly, absolutely, fabulously screwed.
Never mind missing an appointment at John Galliano's showroom or getting lost in the stampede of fashion editors in black town cars herded from Celine to Louis Vuitton. Or even accidentally leaving my goodie bag under the seat like I did that one time at Fendi in Milan. Or, heaven forbid, being seated in the third row at Prada. That-that I could just almost deal with. Forgetting my slingbacks (or, my thoughts darkened, having them filched by some shoe-connoisseur bag handler on the Eurostar!) and messing up my entire week's wardrobe: this was unacceptable.
The Chanel show was scheduled for eleven o'clock, but with all the air-kissing and gossiping, followed closely by backbiting the very same people you'd just been kissing, it wouldn't start until noon at least. And you wonder why you almost never see watches featured in runway shows? If I found it in myself to be decisive in the next, oh, fifteen minutes or so, I could probably run over to the Bon Marche a few blocks away, pick out a new pair of pointy-toed black slingbacks without too much of an ordeal, and then make it on time to the show at the Chanel boutique next door to Coco Chanel's original maison on the rue Cambon. After a minute and forty-two seconds of indecision-a record low for me, I could be, well, almost sure-I gingerly tiptoed my way through the minefield that was my hotel room floor, trying not to step on the thousands of dollars' worth of Prada, Marni, Dior, and McQueen strewn here, there, everywhere.
Now, where did I put the Wednesday shoes? I slipped them on and-mortified as I was that the three-inch heels were way too high for the outfit-took one last glance at myself in the full-length mirror in the absurdly large bathroom. From the ankles up, anyway, that was one full-fledged fashionista looking back at me. Not bad for a Texas girl with big hair and blue eyeshadow in her not-so-distant past. I grabbed my scheduled Tuesday handbag and was off.
I checked myself out again in the ornate mirrors in the lobby of the old-world-posh Hotel Ste.-Claire. Ever since my first visit to Paris just out of college, when my editorial assistant's salary made a slightly shabby (bohemian, I thought at the time) little hotel in the Latin Quarter my only option, I had loved staying on the Left Bank. It wasn't always convenient for the shows-but then again, the avant-garde designers made a point of putting on shows at locations that weren't particularly convenient to anywhere. Leave the grand hotels on the Right Bank to the tourists. I'd take the narrow cobblestoned streets, alleys really, that revealed hidden gems of boutiques to the determined shopper. Of course, it didn't hurt that a Prada boutique was also right around the corner.
Once through the doors of the Bon Marche, I could finally let out a sigh of relief. The sight of the pretty little trinkets ripe for the buying-the sparkly lipstick-size Judith Leiber handbags side by side with some delicate jet-beaded earrings I could most definitely fit into my Thursday ensemble-reminded me that I was in my element, indeed my natural habitat. Surely Marie-Claude, my favorite saleslady largely because she deigned to understand my timid French, could find something just right to replace my misplaced shoes. And surely, I reassured myself, my editor would forgive me for expensing them.
I expertly maneuvered past the busload of Japanese tourists manhandling the Vuitton bags on the ground floor, circumvented the perfume spritzers and makeover artists, and sprinted upstairs to my most favorite section of the store-of any store, anywhere. Literally anywhere. A few years back I managed to wangle a trip to Vietnam to do a story on the textiles made by a northern hill tribe that had inspired Donna Karan's resort collection, and I scored some intricately embroidered slippers from some cobblers five villages away. (Daniel Day Lewis, eat your heart out!) My seldom-tested journalistic ingenuity kicked in when in pursuit of one thing and one thing only.
It wasn't my fault; I inherited my weakness for shoes from my mother, who bought me my first pair of girly Mary Janes when I was two and went back to the store to buy herself a matching pair that same afternoon. And from my father, who has been known to order three pairs of the same shoe at once. I was doomed from the start. Oh, the many incarnations and variations of that most miraculous of inventions, bunions and fallen arches be damned. Dainty mules and sturdy-soled boots. Sexy stilettos and practical brogues. Manolo makes 'em and I buy 'em. How perfectly the world turns.
Or so I thought, until I scanned the third floor and there was nary a sign of the saleswoman's severe black bob and perfect posture. Marie-Claude was missing. Just like my poor slingbacks. Disconsolate, I imagined the shoe-connoisseur bag handler stuffing his big smelly feet into my beautiful shoes and prancing around Waterloo Station in them. I shuddered.
In Marie-Claude's usual corner I spotted from behind a dark-haired man in a Savile Row pinstripe suit and what I could tell were hand-tooled Italian loafers. I perked up. A salesman wearing hand-tooled Italian loafers couldn't be half bad.
"Excusez-moi, monsieur?" I said with a nervous smile.
When he turned around, I noted how his brown hair faded to gray at his temples and how the tiny wrinkles around his cornflower-blue eyes crinkled when he smiled back at me. There was something very familiar there.
"Oui, mademoiselle?" he said. Our eyes locked for a split second, and he paused as he registered my baffled stare.
"Mr. Billings? Monsieur Jacques? Eastview High School? Sixth-period French class? 1990? What on earth are you doing here?"
He stared back, did that thing he did with the crinkling eyes, and then burst into a hearty laugh. "Saints alive," Mr. Billings-Monsieur Jacques to his pupils-said in his Texas drawl. "Well, if it isn't my star student, Alexandra Simons."
I cringed. Prize pupil I might have been, but I'd figured out pretty quickly my first time in Paris that all those French pop songs we sang in class didn't help much when it came to asking a Parisian for directions to the Hermes store. But I would let Monsieur Jacques believe what he wanted to. "Oh, you're such a kidder," I said, pretending to be modest.
"Well, just look at you," he said, sizing me up and smiling appreciatively. "What a gorgeous skirt. Chanel?"
"As a matter of fact, yes," I said, certain I was blushing from head to toe. That was part of his charm. He always did notice one student's new haircut or another's favorite pair of shoes. I added hurriedly, "I haven't exactly kept in touch with anyone from back home. I didn't know y'all finally upped and moved to Paris."
I did a mental double take at myself. Did I just say y'all?
"Oh, well, you know, my wife and I split up last year," he said. "I was ready to start fresh, and I always did dream of livin' here, so I decided, by gum, I'd do it."
Monsieur Jacques was the most popular teacher at Eastview. His class was always overbooked with besotted girls-it reminded me of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the student in Harrison Ford's class had I LOVE YOU written on her eyelids. Only instead of being rough-and-tumble like Indiana Jones, Monsieur Jacques was as suave as you could ever imagine in suburban Dallas, Texas. He didn't reek of Old Spice like the other teachers, and he most certainly would never have been caught dead in the polyester pants and pocket protectors favored by our physics teacher. No, Monsieur Jacques was cosmopolitan. He wore these expensive custom-made shoes that glided down the hallways without so much as a squeak. His suits were bespoke before I knew what bespoke was. He smoked Gauloises out back behind the gym between classes. He spoke French, for God's sake! How he could have emerged from the primordial ooze of Houston, I could never figure out. His only fault, in our adolescent eyes, was his beautiful, sloe-eyed painter wife who would pick him up after school in her vintage red Mustang convertible. His tie finally undone and his hair flopping in the wind, they'd speed off into the sunset, or at least to some smoky salon gathering of artists and philosophers that we had only read about in French novels (in translation, of course).
He couldn't have been older than twenty-eight or twenty-nine then, I guessed, which put him in his early forties now and, I supposed, my demographic-group peer. I had reached that awkward age when it was technically proper to call my parents' friends by their first names, and maybe even socialize with them, but I would certainly never dream of it. Same situation with Monsieur Jacques. Here we were, both grown-ups, both single. So I had a mad crush on him back then, and the thought of his touching my feet, I will confess, might have once been the subject of a daydream that spanned sixth-period French class all the way through seventh-period chemistry. But put that in the context of his helping me buy some shoes-well, it kind of broke the spell, didn't it? And now ... and now all I could really think about was whether it would be okay to tutoyer him. It was just one of the many existential issues plaguing me in my beginning-adulthood crisis. And let's not even mention the fact that my parents already had two kids by the time they were my age. Of course, had I never left Texas after high school, that would've been all taken care of by now. I could've probably thrown in a divorce or two to boot.
"I'm sorry to hear about the split, Monsieur J-" I stopped myself mid-Jacques and laughed.
"You can call me Jack. Or Jacques. Conveniently interchangeable," he said.
"Well, Jacques," I said, "it is so good to see you here. I really do want to catch up, really ..." I looked down at my shoddily shod feet. "But I really, really need a new pair of shoes. I'm fixin' to go to this fashion show"-a quick glance at my watch might have left me panicked had I not been distracted by my use of the word fixin'-"oh my God, in, like, twenty minutes. Could you help me, please?"
"Well, aren't you livin' the glamorous life," he said, his eyes filled with laughter and what I, momentarily regressing to my girlish crush, giddily registered as impressed approval.
"Oh, you know," I said, grinning stupidly, "it's just a job. I've been covering fashion for The Weekly magazine for the past couple of years. I'm based in London." And for the benefit of my parents who paid for my $120,000 college education, I added dutifully, as was my wont, "I did hard news before. You know, earthquakes, transit strikes, the Winona Ryder trial."
I glanced at the dozen and a half marginally different variations of pointy-toed black slingbacks daintily displayed on the white Formica tables around me, and nodded at the one closest to me. "Now, do you think that Louboutin heel is too spiky for this skirt length?"
Fifteen minutes later, I left the Bon Marche with my Wednesday shoes in a shopping bag, some utterly demure black Louboutin slingbacks on my feet (I would have gone for something a little sexier, but somehow I thought that would embarrass Monsieur Jacques ... or maybe just me). And oh, yes, Jacques's cell phone number in my Palm. If the girls from Eastview High could see me now ...
... fighting for a taxi with a little old Parisian lady. Armed with a baguette fresh from the boulangerie, she was clad in beige Chanel tweed and D'Orsay pumps, a cigarette dangling from her scarlet-painted lips. I'd spotted her from all the way down the block, and between us was a man stepping out of what seemed to be the only available taxi in the arrondissement. As he paid the driver, I made my way, as quickly as I could while still taking care not to get my new heels caught in any grates-or more likely, dog poop-that might have been in my path. I never let Chanel Lady out of my sight. Oh, I could tell that she saw me, too. Our eyes locked at twenty paces. I sped up. She sped up. I flashed her my best Intimidating American look. She shot back a Haughty Parisian. If Coco Chanel had been looking down from heaven, she would surely have been tickled to see that two women wearing clothes bearing her name were playing chicken over a taxi.
In the blink of an eye-that is, had either of us wimped out and blinked-we both lunged at the door handle, as if it were the one and only Birkin bag left at the editors' preview night of the Hermes sample sale.
Luckily, I was younger-and more desperate. I felt the weight of the bread beating against my back as I slipped into the cab and locked the door behind me. Chanel Lady-and as it turned out, I had used that word loosely-was spitting venom at me. I tried to read her lips. Did she really just call me a putain? I have always been convinced that the ability to curse at someone in another language was the best measure of fluency, and now I was wishing more than ever that Monsieur Jacques had taught us something really useful. Instead, I did something almost universally understood: I stuck my tongue out at her and waved.
What a harridan, I thought to myself as I brushed the baguette's flour off my jacket. Catching my breath in my cab, I took a moment to contemplate how, in Paris, there really was no going gently into mumsy housedresses and early-bird specials. Women there would give up their cigarettes and red wine before they relinquished short skirts, lipstick, and heels (but no pantyhose, perish the thought). Chanel Lady, at least, had impeccable taste.
"Numero vingt-neuf, rue Cambon, s'il vous plait," I told the driver. I could have sworn that was a lascivious look he gave me. No matter. I had become accustomed to being chatted up by taxi drivers during fashion weeks in Paris and Milan. More than one had asked me-all 5'5" of me (in three-inch heels)-if I was a model. They must figure that one day they'll hit the jackpot. Usually I just played along to practice my French or Italian. But there was no time for pleasantries today, not when the show was about to start and I was still across the Seine. "Je suis en retard," I told him, trying my most flirtatiously pleading face.
He stepped on the gas. I could see his smirk in the rearview mirror. "Et vous etes mannequin, n'est-ce pas?"
I tried, I really tried, not to roll my eyes and instead just gave him a tight smile. I guess my smackdown of Chanel Lady had only increased my standing in his eyes.
Excerpted from Some Like It Haute by Julie K.L. Dam Copyright © 2006 by Julie K. L. Dam. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 19, 2006
For this review (and for personal interests), I chose to read Some Like It Haute by Julie K. L. Dam. In my opinion, this book was very cute. It was sappy, cutesy, girly and very fashion- geared. Combined with important female relationships such as mother- daughter and girlfriend- girlfriend, many women would find this book amusing and a good summer poolside read. For the true fashionista, however, I don¿t think that this book does the fashion world justice. The author frequently looks at the industry superficially, and despite the fact that it is a superficial industry, there is more behind the scenes work involved that most could imagine. Another issue that disturbed me (a fashion- designer- to- be) was the fact that, to the shock of some, designers do exist beyond the range of Christian Dior, Manolo Blahnik and Coco Chanel. I kind of hoped to see a broader range of styles and ideas on the fashion spectrum than the book granted me. However, for those who aren¿t designers and designer wannabes (and even some who are), the main character was funny and helpless and dorky (sometimes with a hint of attitude) just like the majority of the female population, and she was easy to relate to and laugh with. It was a quick, fun read that flowed well and was fun to keep up with.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Texas expatriate Alex Simons writes fashion articles for the London-based The Weekly. Currently she covers Fashion Week in Paris with it¿s Tuesday it¿s Chanel. However, she makes an unbecoming entrance when her face and the left breast of six foot Latvian model Kayarina collide in a catwalk incident that makes the news. Humiliated, Alex wants to hide, but her editor tells her to write it up and get back to covering the shows. --- Alex attends the debut gala of designer Luis-Heinz, whose talent has everyone salivating. She tries to interview the brilliant recluse, but he refuses to talk to the media. Instead American consultant Nick Snow, the anti-fashion centerfold hunk, distracts her. The New Yorker is in town as a reality TV show star trying to obtain dates with models. When she learns why he is in town, Alex distrusts him even though he dumped the six foot models for her. However, when Heinz vanishes, Alex begins a quest to find him hoping to be compensated with one of his magical designs. --- This lighthearted satire is fun to read starting with the boob accident and never losing one Manolo step along the way in spite of some strange seemingly out of the fashion mainstream sidebars like the appearance of the French teacher and the hunt for Heinz. The story line never takes itself serious using the cast (except Nick) to portray the graveyard dead seriousness of the industry for instance Alex uses Excel to dress properly. As the glaring exception Nick is a big dark stain on a white blouse. Fans of fashionable chick lit tales will enjoy this flippant reverence to fashion. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 27, 2005
While well written and fast paced, Dam takes her heroine, Alex, on a melee-filled romp through the Paris shows. OK, so picture running into your high school French teacher and remembering his face or even his name, and then running into a gorgeous guy who absolutely listens to your every word - right. That's what Ms. Dam has Alex doing. Implausible in your life, just a little to cute for this plot line. However, given that this book will be coming out at an appropos time for books of this genre, we can expect to see Alex in some form speeding by the shows, maybe not in Paris, but in...Bryant Park, of all places, for a sequel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 6, 2010
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Posted March 13, 2010
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