Last Modified: Sunday, October 27, 2013 11:40 AM
Honestly, I was minding my own business when this whole diabolical plot was hatched.
It involved a fashion show, best I could tell, a very worthy charity event for the Imperial Calcasieu Museum, and, I was promised, coat and tie optional. Business casual, tops.
So what’s the harm?
I’d been to The Perfect Fit’s fashion show before, knew what to expect. That year it was held in the lavish lobby of the renovated Muller’s building.
It was one of those sparkling champagne and fancy wine affairs, which I really don’t mind, especially when good hors d’oeuvres (finger food) are involved.
Even got to sit in the VIP section (ringside, where they put slipcovers over the folding chairs).
That first time, I slipped outside and popped in down the street at Sha Sha’s for a quick pit stop and, if I say so myself, kept the resulting brown paper bag full of beer hidden very discreetly underneath my slipcovered chair for the duration.
Amazingly, I was apparently being asked back. This time at the L’Auberge main ballroom for “The Art of Fashion Design IV.” The Perfect Fit owner, Barbara DuBose, had even approved it.
But there was a catch this time.
Nan, a good friend and one of the organizers, came up with it.
“Why don’t you do a story on it?” she asked.
“Yeah, for the newspaper.”
“You mean, like, write about it?”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
“Yeah. It’s a fashion show.”
“You do realize I’m a sports writer?”
“But you do that ugly uniform column thing for the football teams.”
“Is Adidas debuting its daring new spring line or is this just going to be more Nike torture?”
“No, just cover it like you do a football game.”
“But my sense of high fashion begins and ends with khakis and penny loafers. I buy my dress shirts at Academy.”
“You were a judge in the pool party’s bikini contest at L’Auberge.”
“What can I say. I’m a sucker for civic duty. Just can’t say no.”
“So you can do it?”
“I don’t knooooow ...”
“We’ll give you access to backstage.”
“Yeah, behind-the-scenes stuff.”
“Did you say backstage?”
“What time is kickoff?”
“Sure you can handle it?”
“Backstage. I can fake it.”
Or, at the least, I figured I could Google my way through it.
Backstaaaaaaage. Me and the super models.
Yes, I believe it’s time to broaden my horizons beyond the press box.
I threw myself into this project. I was doing my homework. This was last week and I neglected my day job to the point I didn’t see the Ole Miss upset of LSU coming.
Early on I was studying up on fashion critics and their chores when I came across this little jewel:
“On a spontaneous trip to Morocco over the summer, (somebody whose name kept crashing my spell check) found herself short on easy clothes that travel well.”
I hate when that happens, but ... wait a minute. Who in Sam Hill makes spontaneous summer trips to Morocco? Where is Morocco anyway?
When I find myself on spontaneous summer trips to Omaha and also short on easy clothes that travel well, I generally just use the hotel washateria. But in Morocco, now, in Morocco it was such a crisis it sparked a whole new fashion line (which, best I could decipher, got fabulously smashing reviews).
I kid you not.
But I trudged on.
What I found was fascinating, illuminating, some would say subtly eponymous yet somehow boldly hinting of a classic age, with delightful sprigs of a flirty mixture of bold color and urban texture to wryly tease you into forgetting that, for all its redolence and splashy djellaba detailing, it once was just a piece of common cloth.
Sounds sort of like LSU’s defense.
But if this was what it took to take spontaneous trips to Morocco, I was diving in it with both feet.
I had to get inside the top designers’ heads. I studied them, devoured them, tried to slip inside their personas and find out what makes them tick.
I can’t remember their names, but they were mostly unpronounceable mishmashes that would make excellent website passwords — short on vowels, long on apostrophes and verily overflowing with those other doo-hickey whatchamacallits, the é thingies, where you have to break out the laptop manual to even figure out what three-fingered keyboard stroke makes them. They’re in the diacritic family of punctuation marks and evidently live mostly in the fashion world, along with more than a few stray umlauts.
I studied the clothes, a vast array of pant suits, popover frocks, sultry ruffles, risky pantalets and on and on through the camisoles and Pompadours, sarongs, tunics, gauchos.
My favorite was a “trompe l’oeil jersey,” which I have no idea what is, but I’m sure the Oregon Ducks will wear them against Oregon State.
By the time the big night at L’Auberge rolled around, I was in and of the fashion world. I was almost tempted to wear a scarf and beret. But I decided to go with a gamine-gone-boho look, simple yet somehow boldly faux elegant and delightfully frisky and risky with a hint of urbane flirtiness (i.e., khakis and penny loafers).
Anyway, as promised, I was suddenly backstage.
I looked around, soaked it in, the hustle and bustle, the electricity, and to be honest I never felt so alive, so vibrant and so, so ... so ... danged SHORT in all my life. I never feel particularly tall, at least not since tiny Trindon Holliday left LSU, but this was ridiculous.
I was introduced to the assistant director, Pamela Lamb, who had to be 6-foot-5. She patted me on top of the head.
I stuck around anyway. She meant well.
Basically you could break the charity-show models down into three categories: the young teenagers and college students, the oh — how to say this? — more seasoned lovely ladies from around town, including a federal judge, and then there was former Mrs. Louisiana, Nomica Guillory, who flat-out knew her way up and down that runway and seemed to be toying with amateurs.
I knew several from category 2 and attempted some idle chit-chat amid the pre-show nervousness and frantic to-and-’fro-ing.
“If one person tells me to ‘break a leg’,” said one model whom I didn’t know. “I’m going to break their face.”
I didn’t say ANYTHING.
“I am just sassy enough to strut myself out there,” said Angie, who I happen to know last year gave up clothes-buying for Lent (and went through severe withdrawal pains). “And I get to wear these wonderful clothes.”
You go, girl.
I saw Suzé introducing herself to one of the younger models.
“Su-ZAY?” the youngster asked. “Is that your real name?”
“No,” Suzé said matter of factly. “It’s my stripper name.”
The look on the young innocent’s face was priceless.
I complimented Suzé on her accented “e” — an “acute,” I believe it’s called in the diacritic family — and noted it should give her an edge should she desire full-time work in fashion.
“Five minutes!” the director shouted.
Suddenly, two lines formed on both sides of the stage entrance. Just like that.
But if you want to know what really goes on behind the scenes I can reveal a dirty little secret. All of the models have three or four different outfits. All are numbered, according to order of appearance, and they have to remember what numbers they are to line up right.
Well, here’s what you didn’t see — almost all of them wrote their different three or four numbers, in ink, in the palms of their hands.
Tricks of the trade, I guess.
But they were off ...
“Remember, shoulders erect,” I told Judge Patti as she exited confidently.
One by one, they pranced out, all under my watchful, knowing eye.
Out there. Back. Mad dash to change. Back out. On and on it went, like an assembly line.
I soon tired of faking that I was analyzing each outfit with scribbles on a notepad and decided to see what aid I could offer outside the dressing rooms.
It was amazing, controlled chaos.
They’d disappear behind Door No. 2 wearing — I don’t know —say, a tiered mesh flounce pants suit and — whoosh! — 45 seconds later reappear in a black tea length gown with completely different jewelry and a new set of high heels.
These are not professional models. These are the same women who, if you were going somewhere important, like a ball game, they would be in there for 45-50 minutes while you’re pacing and double-checking your watch.
But here, zip-zip, they’re back and ready, streaking up those steps to the stage.
Back to the backstage, I tried to make myself useful.
Angel was next in line.
“Smile,” I said helpfully.
“They told us no smiling,” Angel said curtly.
“No smiling, what’s up with that?”
“It’s not professional, they said.”
“Be a rebel,” I said as she exited the curtains.
When Angel returned from her runway walk, she was smiling from ear to ear, and the mutiny was on.
Smiles were back in vogue, shoulders were still erect.
I think Nan actually waved to some friends from the end of the runway, unprofessional yet delightfully effective in faux tacky sort of way. The patrons might have noticed the numbers written on her palm.
“I’m getting this dress,” Nan said when she got back. “Even if I have to sell my house.”
And almost as quickly as it began, it was over, like a big sigh of relief as the last of 80-something outfits had been properly modeled, with one last grand promenade.
I was suffering from post-fashion depression.
But I guess I’m a fashion writer now. Or, as they call us in the industry, part of what is known collectively as the fashionistas. Next stop, Morocco.