I don’t read fashion magazines. I once picked up an Italian Vogue, but only to see how heavy it was. I’m more likely to discover the cure for cancer, than figure out how colours work together. And the one time I went to a fashion event, years ago, I spent the whole night flirting with my friend’s ex-girlfriend and stealing bottles of white wine.
So, it was with undue confidence the editors at Filler Magazine assigned me to cover Christine Phung – laureate of the prestigious 2013 ANDAM Fashion Award – and her Fall 2013/ Winter 2014 collection for Paris Fashion Week.
I wasn’t worried about producing a good “fashion story”. We had agreed in advance that I was simply to show up, and “do my thing.” That is, try to get my heart broken and, likely, steal some white wine. (Note: they probably didn’t want me to steal.) Filler had already produced an informative and insightful profile about Christine and her current status as one Paris’ hottest and fastest rising designers. So there was no pressure for me to learn a whole new vocabulary, and a bunch of facts – you know, “journalism” – to intelligently, and usefully tell you guys about the show.
No, thank god. Because I would have been terrible at that.
But there was one thing I was distinctly unprepared for coming into Paris Fashion Week 2013. What the hell am I supposed to wear?
My consumption of fashion advice had so far been limited – as a Ottawa-based hipster – to Gavin McInnes’ Do’s and later on his Street Boners. But I’ve always wanted to be one of those guys that get his picture taken outside a grand event like Paris Fashion Week. You know, those handsome Scandinavians, with the slicked hair, the no-collar button up, under an over-sized sweater, a cigarette dangling playfully in one hand, and, without fail, a pair of round black shades and a detestable, though enviable, “life is grand” smirk on their faces.
But I wouldn’t be so lucky.
After spending a weekend afternoon shopping for new clothes, armed only with a few jpegs on my phone, assembled from a Google search for “Adrian Brody + fashion” (I figured we have the same face shape, you know?) I came out of Les Galeries Lafayette a few hundred euros poorer and full of of buyer’s remorse. The only solace was the cold beer afterwards, and the fact that my new jeans fit pretty fucking incredibly.
(Not a word of a lie: after celebrating the above written sentence, nodding my head in self-approval, I spilled half a cup of warm coffee all over the crotch of the very same jeans. Can’t I ever win?)
Today was the day. I woke up early. I prepared my clothes by laying them out on the bed and using my cache of fashion tips from ex-girlfriends, I whittled down the options. I settled for safe and classy – a black pullover and white button up; my new jeans, and a pair of suede boots fit for Autumn.
The show was at the very same mall I had been shopping, on the roof of the Galeries Lafayette, one of only two American-sized shopping centers in the otherwise antique and stone-built Paris cityscape. The inside and out is a work of art. You find Dior and Hugo Boss collections assembled under magnificently coloured, gold, blue and red painted multi-archways, which could have easily been lifted from the Sistine Chapel.
I arrived 20 minutes early to line up outside. I’m one of the first to arrive, aside from lone fashion blogger Monroe Steel – a girl with pink lipstick and a shirt that says “bloggeur.” Next, a cute little girl, with bowl cut and black shades, waddles over in a yellow sweater down to her feet.
And then they came. The people from the fashion world I’d expected. Men with moustaches, wire-rimmed glasses, big boots, smokes, and cropped beards. Women in yellow jackets, grey hats, red and purple lipstick and bright blue jackets. Gothic chic. Kentucky Derby / London elite chic. Hipster chic. And then the photographers, followed steps behind by the name-takers. They arrive by the tens at a time. There are so many people taking pictures, of us, in the line, that they it forms a simultaneous, parallel line, who’s only job is to photograph the original line. One guy on the photog side scratches his beard, analyzing the crowd. Another tilts his head, trying to discern if the girl beneath his gaze is worth it. He’s a short guy, Asian, with an amazing bowl cut. And he’s approaching me.
Jesus this is really gonna happen.
He gets a few steps away, then kindly motions for me to move aside so he can take a picture of the girl with the pink lips. Then, directly behind me, he spots the girl with giant yellow sweater, and again he shoos me out of the picture.
“Well,” I say to myself. “They’re probably just shooting the ladies. Ladies fashion, after all.”
Not the case. My ego-driven hopes are soon dashed when the same photographer gushes over the boy in all-black, Adam’s family attire, complete with 3 inch platforms, and black lipstick.
Maybe I’m just too normal?
But it won’t be long until the throng of journalists, unable to photoshop me out of the line in real time, covertly send a beautiful, African transvestite to stand in front of me, veiling my presence with her insanely bright purple, red and diamond dress. She had nice perfume, I remember, as my heart sank a little lower.
Finally, it was time for the show to begin. We are led up the escalators through three stories of the mall, filling up the zig-zagging passage, inch to inch, like a snake with scales of silk, wool, and cotton, painted all the colours of fall, radiant and freckled with outreached, clicking iPhones.
The venue is the rooftop – an astro-turf terrace, half a football field, over looking the whole of Paris. The Eiffel Tower stands a hazy, sepia in the distance. The mid-day sun, bright. The September air perfect and cool.
The show begins as a live band starts to play. It is the iPhones, the cameras, the clicking that takes over. Everyone, except for a few of the older gentlemen and ladies, appears to be consumed with recording the fact that they are seeing what they aren’t really seeing. I feel bad, I admit, that I joined in too. The thought strikes me that I was more worried about letting people know what I was seeing, rather than actually seeing what I was seeing, or enjoying it, or understanding it. So, after a while, I put away the phone, and open my eyes.
Christine’s show is beautiful to me. And as you would expect, I don’t have the words to accurately describe why. But her models are sleepy and distant-eyed, yet glowing at the same time. They criss cross between rectangular basins full of water that reflect the Paris sky. Their somberness makes it seem as if they were strolling in a moon-lit forest. Maybe elves, or faeries, or, better, ghosts. And the clothes: cold geometric patterns – spacey, circular cuts, with triangles popping up occasionally – are made to feel wearable, and warm, with the colours: all kinds of pale and pastel blues, and whites, silvers. This warmness is boosted by Phung’s flowing textures of silk, and cotton. The music is perfect to match: a soft female voice and a subdued, hypnotic beat, brought to life with the richness of real guitars and real drums. The whole show is a mix of coldness, of coolness, and warmth, of logic and of fantasy.
Though now the sun is starting to burn me, and I figure I’ve taken enough selfies and street fashion shots. It’s time for my adventure to begin.
Since arriving I had my eyes on a fresh orange juice and espresso bar, tucked away on the opposite side of the terrace. I walk over and I see the bar is placed behind a velvet rope, protected by a rather large, and mute bouncer.
“Ahh,” I say to myself, the heart buzzing. “Time to do a little sneaking in.”
I am an avid sneaker-in of events. And there is nothing better than mingling with the VIP’s, drinking their champagne, slapping them on the back as you giggle recklessly at all the Neanderthals – the normal folk – who couldn’t make it past the gate.
I was waiting for a chance to enter, standing near the velvet rope, when a young lady approached the oafish, truck sized bouncer, asking him if she could smoke. He turned his back for a second and I dashed through the entrance. Instantly, I enjoy that sweet honey taste of “getting in.”
Though soon, I would discover I had it all wrong.
The juice bar is not free. There are at least five people eating McDonalds, the scent of French fry grease striking me into a state of panic. A homeless man, missing his left shoe, is begging for change.
“Jesus,” I realize. “I’ve just snuck out of the VIP. I was in the VIP.”
It takes some haggling with the thug at the door – I had to show him all my pics from backstage – but eventually he relented. The tide of relief washed over me as I joined, once again, the upper echelons, the serious looking fashion people, on the glorious, VIP-side of the roof of the Lafayette.
The show finished a few minutes later. Christine comes on stage and the crowd erupts in applause. The models, all lined up directly in front of the Eiffle, break their serious act and smile, and hoop and holler for the woman that had dressed them so fantastically. Christine is very young, very beautiful, very happy. She does a little hop as she leaves the scene. She pumps her fists in the air. She’s proud, and you can tell.
I start walking toward the escalator, to leave, but something didn’t feel right. I hadn’t yet really done what I was supposed to do. I hadn’t yet had any kind of adventure worth writing about – not enough.
So I halt, turn around, and start to mingle again.
And then I see her.
She is the tallest person on the terrace – man or woman. She is tanned. She is wrapped in green silk like a Chinese dragon. And I could spend a few thousand more words trying to describe how striking she was, but the photos below will do more justice.
I over heard a French man speaking with her. She is telling him her name, he doesn’t recognize it, and she tells him to “Google it.” He nervously asks to have his picture taken with her. She agrees with no hesitation, happy to do him him the favour.
I can’t help myself. As I wait for the man to be photographed, I ask her assistant if I may too.
“No problem,” she says, with a Spanish accent.
It is my turn to stand with the green jewel. I think my heart raced a second, then I told it to shut the fuck up, and just relaxed. We had our picture taken with my hand on her unimaginable waist. She smells like every damn beautiful moment I’ve ever had in my life.
After the picture, that could have been the end of the story. But what kind of story would that be?
“De donde eres?” I ask.
She smiles, she gets closer. She is not older than me, I can see.
“Y tu? Eres de aca?”
“No, I tell her. I live in Paris, but I’m Canadian.”
“Oh, but you speak Spanish very well.”
“Thanks, I spent a lot of time in Buenos Aires.”
And her head tilts, probably with the weight of those tremendous lips curving up into the corner of one cheek.
“And you are here for Fashion Week?”
“Yes,” she says. “But just a guest this year. In 2011, I was Miss World.”
My eyes light up.
“Just Miss World London though.”
She laughs. I laugh. The sun comes through her shades, onto her face, etching her beauty in shadows and all kinds of olive.
“Well what do you do here?” she asks.
“I’m a writer. But I’m here making a movie.”
“Oh a writer?” she says. She steps forward a bit. Her hand slightly touches my forearm.
“I’m here studying. To be an actor.”
She is a student. I love that she is a student. And the fact that she is a student makes her, all of a sudden, not so high up on a pedestal. The nervousness and the anxiety goes away. She is incredibly beautiful, I’ve never seen anyone like her, not this close, but she is my age, and she is a student. And there’s no point being terrified. Just ask her, I tell myself.
“Well look, I’m new here. And I’m looking for friends.”
“Absolutely – “
“So maybe we can grab a drink some time –
“Absolutely,” she says. “Here, give me your card.”
I nearly drop my bag. My hand is shaking.
“Look I don’t have a card. I’ll write my number for you.”
I’m nearly blind now, rummaging through my bag. But again, the confidence comes back. You are being a child, just chill out. Nothing to lose.
“Here,” she says. “Give it to my assistant. It was nice meeting you.”
She walks away and her assistant approaches me. We chat a bit. I can tell she goes though this kind of thing all the time. I imagine her throwing my card out the second I turn my back.
“Look,” I tell her. “I know you deal with this a lot. But she’s an actor and I told her what I do, that I’m a filmmaker, so she said we’d grab a drink.”
The assistant smiles.
“Great. I’ll give you her number in that case.”