*This is a fictional excerpt from an imagined autobiography of a well-known fashion journalist.
On an unseasonably balmy fall day in October, I returned to New York from Paris Fashion Week, ten pounds heavier (thanks to my insatiable daily cravings for Nutella crepes and fresh butter croissants) and one Matthew lighter. I didn’t expect to leave him behind in Paris, but I had absolutely no choice after the way our final days together unfolded. I couldn’t ever be seen with him again.
Not seventy two hours earlier, Matthew and I were seated next to each other in the front row of the Lucien Boulle show, flanked by Marguerite Frost on one side, with her signature red talons and head-to-toe black ensemble, and Tarragon Haas on the other, decked out in his oversized sunglasses, hair spiked to the heavens, and obnoxiously loud neon green track suit.
I was avoiding Tarragon because he had slighted me after the François Portier show the day prior, breezing past me without even so much as a “bonjour,” so that he could be first in line to kiss the ring of Sabine, Portier’s latest muse and the keeper of the realm. Haas knew better than to play like we hadn’t grown close after years together on the fashion circuit. One time, I had even given him my last emergency Xanax backstage at the Du Toit show when he spiraled into a panic attack after calling Gloriana Fabrizio, the newly appointed editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue, by the name of her disgraced predecessor. How quickly he forgot his once dear ally—moi—when the opportunity arose to ingratiate himself to Sabine.
“Ugh, Matthew, this seat next to me is reserved for Tarragon. Switch with me so I don’t have to talk to him. He’s such an obsequious little twit,” I whined. Matthew obliged, swapping chairs and allowing me to cozy up to Her Royal Frostiness instead.
“Hello, darling,” Marguerite said breathily from between clenched teeth as I scooted closer to her. “You’re looking . . . robust,” which I rightly took as a thinly veiled dig at my weight.
“And you’re looking like a frigid old bitch,” I retorted, not batting an eye.
After but a momentary pause, she erupted with laughter, I followed suit, and we did not exchange another word for the duration of the show.
Fashion: it’s a nasty business.
Tarragon took his seat next to Matthew thirty seconds before the lights went black over the runway, marking the start of the show. Haas’s tracksuit glowed in the dark. His mere presence two seats away from me was irritating.
The music started with a boom that made me jump out of my seat. It was a militaristic drum beat with an overlaid Gregorian chant. Suddenly the lights flashed on, revealing the first resplendent look. Lucien Boulle was known for his unique, controversial, post-modern, ultra-meta feminist perspective on fashion. He made beautiful, yet completely unwearable, clothes for women that rendered the wearer utterly helpless. His work was intended to drive home the idea that, without women, society would crumble.
This particular show was titled “Damsels in Distress.” The looks had a distinct Scarlett-O’Hara-just-survived-a-car-crash aesthetic. The models didn’t walk down the runway, because they couldn’t. Their hoops skirts were insanely wide at the hip and uncomfortably tight at the ankle, preventing them from being able to take even a single step without falling. Instead, they were carried by strapping, shirtless male models smeared with soot and pig’s blood. It was a breathtaking statement.
After the final model had been carried off the runway, Lucien Boulle appeared onstage in the arms of one of the handsome porters. He waved with a smile as the crowd gave him a standing ovation. To this day, I still consider this show to be one of Lucien’s finest.
Matthew and I made our exit without having to acknowledge Tarragon’s neon track-suited presence. Thank God. We scurried backstage in the hopes of catching Lucien before he departed the show. I saw him standing in the corner, surrounded by a flock of his adoring fans, and made my way over.
“Darling, I can’t talk now. You must come to my atelier tomorrow morning to tell me how much you loved my show,” Lucien shouted to me, in a heavy French accent. I agreed, then blew some air kisses in his general direction before grabbing Matthew by the arm and dragging him out of the backstage circus into the fresh Parisian air.
The next morning, Matthew and I enjoyed a delightful continental breakfast at L’Hôtel Lutetia. Matthew, who was lactose intolerant, received sniveling looks from le garçon when he politely ordered an oat milk café au lait because, apparently, in France, dairy alternatives are viewed as extremely American and thus extremely uncouth. Following breakfast, we made our way to the black car waiting out front to transport us to Lucien’s atelier in the Eighth Arrondissement.
Once inside the atelier, we found Lucien perched on a Baroque brocade chaise in his studio, still in his nightgown. Though he had invited us the day before, he seemed less than thrilled that we were disturbing his morning respite. He begrudgingly stood and kissed me and Matthew on both cheeks, a heavy sigh with each movement of his head. I could tell right away: he was in one of his infamous foul moods. We must not do anything to upset him.
I knew how to flatter Lucien by showering him with the type of praise about his collection that made his ego swell. “Oh Lucien, I’ve never seen models look more pathetic! They were completely immobile! Such a spectacular display of helplessness! If you dropped those women off in the desert, they wouldn’t even be able to crawl to find help!” He was glowing.
I realized that I hadn’t seen Matthew in a few minutes. I spun around nervously to find him pacing in the opposite corner of Lucien’s studio, a look of consternation on his face. Before I could ask what was wrong, I saw a look of terror wash over him. In about 10 seconds, I understood what had happened.
I can’t bear to write it out.
He had, as the French might say, passé le gassé—right there in Lucien’s studio. RIGHT NEXT TO LUCIEN’S MAGNIFICENT CREATIONS.
If there is one thing everyone knows about Lucien, apart from his unique fashion philosophy, it’s that his biggest anxiety trigger is the thought of his beautiful textiles absorbing bad odors. It’s why he insisted that hospital-grade ventilation systems be installed at every venue before his shows, and instructed his ushers to turn away any audience members with overtly obnoxious perfumes or B.O.
I knew that the dark cloud of Matthew’s making was mere feet away from descending upon Lucien. There was nothing I could do by way of damage control. It was too late.
Lucien, who was mid-sentence explaining that his next collection would feature shoes that were fused together to prevent the models from being able to take steps, stopped dead in his tracks.
“Quelle est cette odeur horrible???” He asked, with a look of terror and disgust overtaking his face.
“I’m so sorry, Lucien. I think my oat milk café au lait must have had cow’s milk in it.” Matthew admitted, sheepishly. “My stomach is in knots.”
“YOU DARED TO ORDER AN OAT MILK LATTE IN FRANCE? AND THEN UNLEASH IT IN MY ATELIER?!?” Lucien screamed. “GET OUT….NOW!!!!!” He boomed.
Matthew and I fumbled to collect our handbags and coats and raced out the front door, nearly tripping over ourselves to exit before Lucien slammed the door in our faces.
Never before and never again in my life, have I been so mortified.
That is, until I looked up and saw none other than Tarragon Haas standing before me on the sidewalk. He was about to enter Lucien’s atelier and find out what fresh hell my associate had unleashed in Lucien’s sacred space.
I knew then and there that the only way I would ever salvage my relationship with Lucien, and thus preserve my standing in the fashion world, was to completely turn my back on Matthew and publicly disown him in Tarragon’s presence.
I turned to Matthew, shook my head slowly with a look that conveyed both disappointment and pity, levied some cruel and biting words at him (loud enough for Tarragon to hear, of course), then left Matthew standing there on the sidewalk in front of the atelier, never to be seen by me or anyone else in the fashion world again.
Looking back, I am not proud that I contributed to that young man’s career demise over an unfortunate bodily mistake. But as I’ve said before, fashion is a fickle business. One must learn to suppress all bodily and emotional outbursts to preserve one’s dignity. Matthew just didn’t have what it takes. He made his choices and had to live with them. Call me cutthroat, but Matthew learned an important lesson that day: there is no room for unbridled lactose intolerance in fashion.