Read an Excerpt
The Beautiful Fall
By Alicia Drake
Little, BrownCopyright © 2006 Alicia Drake
All right reserved.
Café de Flore was the essence of all that was desirable on the Rive Gauche of Paris. It stood on the corner of Saint Germain life, an irresistible mix of café society, surging with literary, artistic, wanton and fashionable ambitions. It was a mirrored place of entrances and encounters.
That afternoon in 1974 a young man pulled open its wrought-iron and glass-fronted door and paused to watch his beauty take effect. He was dressed incongruously for town and for his age. He wore an openneck sailor shirt with a blue-striped silk cravat knotted as a tie at his neck. He had on long cream shorts, leaving his legs bare and boyish, and in his hand he carried a slim volume of Montesquiou's poetry. His schoolboy pose was countered by a moustache, a Proustian affectation that swept from his upper lip in a manicured brush-stroke.
He stepped through the Flore afternoon, careless of but not oblivious to the accelerated voices and blatant stares, to take his seat on the leather banquette before a brass-framed mirror.
His reflection was flushed and exultant. He had spent the morning sitting for David Hockney in his studio on the Cours de Rohan, not far from the Flore. Hockney was living in Paris andsketching a series of friends and personalities that included studies of the American painter Shirley Goldfarb, herself an habitué of the Flore. And now there was to be a portrait of him, neither friend nor yet personality, but possessed of a certain timely allure.
Jacques de Bascher de Beaumarchais was the name he had chosen to make his entrance on the Parisian monde. He arrived in Paris with all the ravenous social ambition of Balzac's Eugène de Rastignac, only to discover he had arrived a century too late. The Faubourg Saint-Germain, that geographical stretch of elegance and intrigue that once described the salons and rituals of the grand aristocracy of Paris, was by now more of a nostalgic whim to indulge than a ruling class to conquer.
Paris society, like the rest of the world, was turning inexorably in favour of celebrity and youth. And in this new social order there was a new and thrusting arrival - fashion. Ironically the new fashion elite was consumed by all the familiar obsessions of the fading aristocratic monde: narcissism, devastating rivalry, power and wealth, although fashion took on an additional obsession: the insecurity of the parvenu.
By the early 1970s fashion designers in Paris were shedding their status as purveyors of grand wardrobes for elegant ladies and beginning to emerge instead as stars in their own right: puissant style arbiters and creators of fame, sex appeal and glamour that was accessible to all. They were years behind London and New York in making that transformation; they did, however, possess the profound advantage of being part of the myth and mystery that is Paris couture.
Designers, models and muses all came seeking attention at the Flore. There, bathed in the sunlight, were Betty Catroux, Loulou de la Falaise and Clara Saint, the female triumvirate of the most powerful and seductive fashion designer in Paris, Yves Saint Laurent. Yves himself was rarely seen at the Flore, although that never prevented the breathless expectation that today he might be.
On the other side of the room, behind the potted palms, sat a dazzling throng of Americans: model Pat Cleveland, Corey Tippin, Juan Ramos and illustrator Antonio Lopez, who captured the self-conscious enchantment of the Flore with pencil and sketch pad. And opposite Jacques sat Karl Lagerfeld, German ready-to-wear designer, lavish in wing collar and monocle, a fashion force in the making.
Jacques saw the arch glamour of fashion and he, like so many others, was captivated. Beyond its creativity, renewal or money, it is glamour that proves fashion's perpetual seduction: glamour and its reflex of idealisation on to which every hope and fantasy can be projected; glamour and its implicit promise of a life devoid of mediocrity.
Jacques could not create, he could not design, but he had youth and beauty, of which fashion requires a constant supply. Designers do not create in a vacuum; they need relentless stimulation, innovation and objects of fascination to stir the mind. To be that object of fascination is a coveted and hazardous place to be. At the age of twenty-two, Jacques de Bascher chose Paris fashion on which to stake his life's ambition.
Excerpted from The Beautiful Fall by Alicia Drake Copyright © 2006 by Alicia Drake. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.