Friday, May 11, 2012

How to Buy a Wedding Dress

My cousin Helga’s daughter, Lilac, is getting married next year and it is a well-known fact that brides need to wear wedding dresses. To this end, Helga and Lilac came to NYC to shop and I joined them, not because I know anything at all about buying a wedding dress (I do not) but because I was so eager to learn. Plus I like champagne. But first we went to see Prada and Schiaparelli and wondered what sort of shoes we might wear on our heads, and then we slid into Ladurée for some life-affirming rose petal macaroons, knowing we would need all our strength for the adventure to follow.
Our first appointment of this marathon was at Pronovias, a Barcelona bridal fashion line. I had hitherto imagined that any fashion emanating from Spain would reference black mantillas and bolero jackets. I had much to learn. For instance, did you know that all the salesladies at all the bridal salons wear all black?
We went upstairs (the stairs were mirrored and circling – could be dangerous) and sat on sofas. Helga and I were very disappointed that no one offered us champagne. Where did we get the idea that this was de rigeur at high-end bridal shops? Neither of us knows the answer, but we know that we have clung to this notion for years, perhaps for as along as we have had marriageable daughters. Meanwhile, Lilac tried on dresses with the black-clad Alana, and then emerged from the dressing room, teetering on high heels, to parade for us. There was a lot of lace and a lot of crinoline. At Pronovias the dresses had names like Delta, Diciembre and Denver. Their shapes were variously described as mermaid, tulip, trumpet and cupcake. We discussed the merits of capped sleeves at length, and like rock & roll coffee pruning, this is a subject on which there can exist many opinions. Do you know the difference between French and American bustling? (Bustling is what is done with the train after the church ceremony, when the bride would like to dance and eat.) French bustling takes the train and hooks it up in the back, under the dress, while American bustling is done over the dress. Now you too know the difference.
On the way back uptown to our car we passed right by Lanvin, and it turns out that the bride-to-be to be is a devotée of Lanvin. As she herself said, “I could die for an exposed zipper.” So we went in and Lilac tried on 2 gorgeous dresses. This time the salesperson was a young man in a black suit whose enthusiasm for gorgeous gowns was delightful. I suspect him of being a ballroom dancer in his other life, because he often skated across the floor on his smooth paten leather shoes, and came dangerously close to kissing the hand of the mother of the bride. After that, were well and truly exhausted. How convenient that Ladurée is located very close by Lanvin, so that we were able to limp across the street and revive ourselves with doses of chocolate and praline macaroons.
The next day the first appointment was at Vera Wang. And yes, we were still clinging to our champagne expectations, like the shipwrecked Ishmael clinging to Queequeg’s coffin. Our consultant was another black clad anorectic lady. We had heard that Vera Wang had featured some black wedding dresses recently, and we were definitely hoping to see these. We did, and basically they looked just like the white wedding dresses, only in black. We learned the difference between Chantilly lace and Alençon lace. Vera too seems to use an alphabetical model for naming her dresses; Winter 2012 featured H: Hilary, Hayley and Hildegard. Maybe I missed the I’s, because next came J: Joan, Jane, Jasmine and Jellyroll.
The bride-to-be looked beautiful but kept complaining that the dresses were so heavy. Of course they were heavy; many of them required serious armature. Most of them boasted enough fabric for Christo to wrap a building with. They were architectural and gravity defying. But what did we care? We just watched her totter in Vera’s 5-inch heels, up and down the black carpeted, mirror-lined corridor.
Absent the champagne, a timely infusion of Ladurée rose petal macaroons was called for, and we complied.

As is so often the case, the best came last. And yet we almost cancelled the appointment at Bergdorf’s. In order to get there you must pass through Jewels and Handbags on the first floor, then take the elevator to the 7th, then walk past the gallery of photographs of Bergdorf’s through the ages, then the housewares department and the sailing department and the heavy machinery department, until you finally arrive at bridal. At first glance all the dresses appeared to be even more massive than the ones we had seen at Vera’s: strapless bustieres surmounted on crinoline and tulle shaped like Babylonian ziggurats. Our bride was daunted. She is neither a cupcake nor a bustiere-type of girl. She’s more of a hiking boots and cashmere cardigan type of girl. But we were nothing if not persevering, anxious to earn our next Ladurée macaroon, and so prevailed upon the unblushing bride to try on a few more dresses. She did, and Quelle merveille! We found something perfect, but that is the one dress I will not describe for you.
Meanwhile, just as we were wrapping up, in walks a young woman with blazing eyes, skinny pants, very high heels and jewels. She seemed to know just what she wanted, because she veered directly to what we had already deemed to be the hands-down, head-and-shoulders-above the competition, ugliest dress in the salon, a kind of miracle of ugliness. The top featured a damasked bustiere that laced in the back, in exactly the sort of way featured in French bordellos of a certain era; while the skirt had enough layers of tulle, satin, lace and glitter wrapping paper to provide shrouds for the entire House of representatives, or else, if stretched end to end, go all the way from Bergdorf’s to West Virginia. The woman – we dubbed her Vanda - pulled this dress from the rack and held it up to her chin in order to admire herself in the mirror.
“Perfect,” she purred, in what I guessed was a Romanian accent. (I was close.) Then she turned to the Bridal Consultant, Ellen. “Can I get it today?”
“Do you have an appointment?” asked Ellen.
“No. You can make one, no?”
“We have nothing available until next week, Miss.”
“But I need it this week! How much is it?”
“The appointment is free,” said Ellen.
“The dress! This perfect dress!”
“Fourteen thousand dollars,” said Ellen. “Plus tax.” (I should note that Vanda did not appear at all phased or dismayed by this number, which fact filled me with great respect for her financial acumen and her Transylvanian phlegmatic-ness. Not to be confused with her Transylvanian phlegm.)
“But this is floor sample, no? I can get discount, no?”
“You will need to make an appointment,” Ellen repeated.
“Vlad is in big Transylvania rush,” pled Vanda. And then it all came out, the whole romantic story. It seems that her affianced beloved, Vlad, the Transylvanian Plutonium oligarch, had just that afternoon texted Vanda to tell her they must to move up the wedding date. They need to get married very very soon. Interpol has had a breakthrough, and a wife cannot be forced to testify against her husband at his upcoming trial for price fixing on the black market for blood plasma, virgin kidneys, white slaves and Yemeni honey. They are so simple-minded, those Interpoliczi! They understand nothing of commerce! Really, Vanda’s plight was truly pitiable, and tugged at all our heartstrings. However, we hastened back to Ladurée for a pick me up of Madagascar chocolate, Blackcurrant Violet and Orange blossom macaroons, and soon recovered.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

“It took 12 nail-biting minutes and five eager bidders for Edvard Munch’s famed 1895 pastel of “The Scream” to sell for $119.9 million, becoming the world’s most expensive work of art ever to sell at auction." NY Times, May 2
The art world is agog and rumors are flying around like grand pianos in a tornado. Who is the mystery buyer of The Scream? Who scrimped and saved and finally just embezzled the Church’s Golden Halo fund to acquire this iconic painting?
I can tell you right now, she is not a financier, a tycoon or a Qatari royal. She is me, a beekeeper upstate with a bad case of eczema that even multiple beestings have not helped, which is why I chose to conduct my bidding over the telephone.
Ever since my third husband gave me a five-foot inflatable Scream for Valentines Day,
I knew I had to have to real thing. Or soon thereafter. I still remember how he got up extra early that morning. Later, I realized that was because he was blowing up the Scream, and the truth was that his lung power was not very good after two decades of smoking unfiltered Gauloises. So he used the bicycle pump, which would have been a perfectly reasonable solution if he had not broken the middle finger of his left hand while pumping, which impaired his ability to signal his displeasure to fellow drivers on Route 19. Because the truth also was that his arm power wasn’t all that much better than his lung power, after two decades of professional curling.
Once inflated, he brought the Scream in to our bedroom, so it was the first thing I saw when I woke on that fateful February morning. It there is anything I like better than Demolition Derby and Corn Dogs, it is Angst and Ennui made Manifest in Paint.
Over time, I called her Sally Scream and took her everywhere with me. But let’s face it, she was a cheap inflatable toy and after a while she started leaking air. Then in the summer Butch, our dog, had an unfortunate altercation with a porcupine and in the throes of misery he ran straight into Sally Scream and punctured her beyond repair. Poor Butch. I had to give up my stash of Valium to get him calm enough to let me remove the quills. There were a lot of quills.
My husband offered to get me another inflatable Scream, or a set of Scream finger puppets, but I said, No more. I want the real thing. If my Angst is real, then the painting should be too. But I knew it would be hard. I wasn’t exactly opposed to stealing one of the versions of the paintings, but I knew they were in Oslo and I have always had a problem with herring, and Oslo just seemed too far to go during bee season. I also knew that in the normal course of events we would were unlikely to come up with the requisite millions to buy one of the paintings at auction. I started selling things on eBay, and while the clutter was demonstrably reduced, my PayPal account never got into the 4 digits. Then the Evangelical Church of St Feliximas and Her Thousand Haloes built a cathedral in our town, and they needed a bookkeeper. I altered my resume ever so slightly, changing double e’s into double o’s, so that beekeeper became bookkeeper, and voila, I had myself a job managing the finances for the Church. You may not have heard of St Feliximas and her Thousand Haloes, but you should know that she had many fine qualities, so fine that the members of the church like donate large sums for the gilding of her haloes. The thing is, they can’t tell the difference between real gold and fake gold, and the thousand haloes are way up high in the apse. Since Saint Feliximas hasn’t caused the skies to open or the earth to be rent, I am assuming she has no problem with my re-direction of the fund.
In no time at all, I had the money squirreled away in the Cayman Islands, and it was only a matter of waiting for the next Scream to come to auction. You know the rest. Though I should say that those twelve minutes were not so much nail-biting as hair-pulling, but that is just my way. The Scream hangs in our bedroom now. I told Fergus - he’s my new husband - that it is a reproduction, and as he’s more of a Mannerist guy himself so he doesn’t pay it much attention. There are still days when I miss the companionability of Sally Scream, riding shotgun with me in the Tahoe, but they are rare.