Yesterday I was checking out the Paris fashion shows tucked away in my local cafe with a steaming green tea at my elbow when a head appeared at my shoulder. Uh-oh, I thought. I’d seen her around the neighborhood. I knew she was a little unspooled. From her slight frame hang five or six stuffed bags and grubby backpacks twisting around her torso, shoulder straps strangling her; one had a picture of The Beatles on it, another images of the TV show Glee. She has hanging hems, poorly inserted zippers, and wears lurex tights––winter and summer––with white plastic pool shoes.
I looked up into her face, so much wider and open than I would have imagined. She had smeared lotion on before she came out but hadn’t rubbed it in well enough so a grey pallor veiled her Asian skin. A white glob sat big and fat on her collar.
“Do you work in fashion?”
I nodded cautiously.
“What do you do?”
I told her in a few words. She smiled and placed her white-coated face uncomfortably close to mine. A conspiracy theorist, it turns out.
All the world’s fashion designers were copying her, she revealed. They were finding a way to get their hands on her sketches, her vintage clothes and jewellery. She had had her apartment locks changed 7 times (hence she carried her belongings around with her) and was now at her wits ends. They were all at it: Giorgio Armani, Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenburg, Comme des Garcons––the last two she needed help with the pronunciation.
As I pressed myself into the wall and her face loomed closer, she pulled from her bags of rags an iPad and insisted I see for myself, but not before she covered her screen with a seventies print handkerchief while she entered her password. I was grateful––I didn’t want to be the brunt of her accusations next.
As a sketch instructor I am used to freshmen attempts at illustration but these were infantile in their crudeness. Three-second scribbles, so vague that any designer’s work could successfully be traced back to them. She lined them up with catwalk images from Valentino and stared at me, wide-eyed. Conclusive evidence.
“Can you believe it?”
I shook my head.
“I just don’t know what to do.”
There was apparently a middle man involved. He follows her around, knows the cafes she frequents, breaks into her apartment, and passes what he steals to Marc Jacobs and his peers. I told her I’d never heard anything like it.
She’s here again today. I notice she has the same handkerchief close at hand. I try not to catch her eye but she calls to me anyway. Waving her iPad, she rails against Christian Dior whose show had happened merely hours before.
Is Raf so short of ideas already? I ask her.
“I don’t know what to do about it.” Her shoulders are up at her ears in a gesture of helplessness.
“I don’t know either, I’m sorry.”
I thought I was safe in my little neighborhood coffee shop. But never far from the madding crowd, am I. On the radio, snippets of Kanye West, the “designer” whining because Fendi rejected his leather jogging pant designs, comparing himself to Hedi Slimane. Self-delusion is a recurring theme in fashion. An old boss of mine, a momentously unstable sort, who inspired the character of Lynda, Kat’s first boss, in my novel, proudly called herself a designer but only ever copied other designers work and couldn’t draw a straight line. I have any number of stories.
So maybe the question I should ask myself is this:
Is it the fashion industry that attracts the crazies or is it me?
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