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Journal

What Wasn't and What Was

Zuzu Tadeushuk

And How They Met in the Middle

AH, at last. This is a satisfying feeling, this walking on moss, sinking the heels of my spindly black slippers into the sod with each step. This is a satisfying feeling, walking for Dior. It’s January and Couture week in Paris and I’ve never walked for Dior before. I came to expect I never would, and I don’t really realize I truly am until in the very act of it, rounding a bend of this forest runway constructed by famed florist Eric Chauvin within the walls of the Musee Rodin. 

“Look where I’ve landed,” I think to myself. “Smack in the greenery, and the couture fantasy of Dior,” and I fall into rhythm with the music and concentrate on kicking my long skirt out before me and gaze all the while just above the heads of the audience members. And just above their heads are hedges, a backdrop of leaves upon leaves upon leaves, and just a moment ago backstage I uploaded my last blog post, about Frida and her botanical bent and “the unbearable beauty of leaves.” And this particular detached line I’ve just typed unspools itself in my head at this moment, an unexpected collision of my literary and physical realities, I couldn’t have timed this better if I’d written it. It’s a symphony of strangeness in my mid-runway mind, and it’s heightened by another memory I can’t help but evoke, a rather less recent, but more related recollection…

My first ever couture fitting was for Dior. The year was 2014, the month July, and I was 17 and staying in a Montparnasse walkup with my mom and brother for the duration of the Paris couture season. At 10 pm one memorable Sunday night—the night before the Dior show, in fact—I was picked up by one of my agents and spirited across the Seine to the Right Bank of Paris and the grand, imposing Dior headquarters. 

With chic white sofas and walls all made of mirror, the interior struck me as one of those carnival funhouses that aim to get you lost. This, however, was not exactly a funhouse for me. I was petrified. Through a lobby of mirrors, down a hall of mirrors, and into an elevator of mirrors, I arrived at the basement fitting room awed and trembling. Dressed in one dress after another and sent into the inner sanctum to walk for then-creative director Raf Simmons, nothing worked. First the shoes I was given to wear were two sizes too big, strappy and spindly creations that had a habit of remaining on the floor while my foot moved forward across the showroom. Returning a moment later with my shoes stuffed and taped in place, it was simply that the overall effect of my outfit wasn’t what was desired, and this was the case also with the second outfit they tried, and the third, and the fourth… At last, the fifth look I donned hit the spot, whatever spot that is where an image, a draping of fabric and nuance of color, a synching and a sheen resonates as the realization, or near recreation, of a sublime artistic vision. 

What did the trick in the end was a black nylon jumpsuit, billowy and almost parka-like, synched at the waist with a black studded belt. A black nylon jumpsuit, and Raf saw that it was good. A black nylon jumpsuit, memorialized on me in a polaroid to be tacked to my rack at the show the next morning. 

Hunched behind a large glass table, Raf Simmons was a mastermind of modern couture. Throughout all the five hours I spent down in that fitting room he was chain smoking and pleating his dark, wild eyebrows. I recall wondering if he always looked so menacing, or if it was just because it was three am now and less than twelve hours remained before these looks, some of which were still held together by pins and many of which were as yet unassigned to models, would be sent down one of the most highly publicized runways of the year. Under those circumstances, I thought, I’d scowl too. 

When my outfit was in order, my shoes labeled with my name and packed away with the appropriate glues and tapes for the next day, I was dismissed, and stepped out into the cool, silent street. It was just before dawn in Paris. A car took me back to my apartment to crawl into bed beside my brother and fight the odds for sleep… 

But it turned out the next morning that the black nylon jumpsuit hadn't hit the spot after all, or rather that Dior had found someone taller than me with whom to hit it, and just like that my thrilling couture debut was off. I ascribe devotedly to the belief that something good blossoms from every hitch or mishap of our lives (increased citizen unity a silver lining of Trump’s election?), but at that time I was still getting used to the unglamorous nature of my occupation—the rejections and uncertainties—and I had to try hard to find the good in being dropped from Dior on such shatteringly short notice. 

I could, I thought, appreciate the fashion insight that my night in Dior’s basement had offered me: a closer look at an industry I had just been inducted into and was still considerably confused by. I had been given the chance to observe the inner workings of the most elevated and elite of our culture’s sartorial strivings, and I was struck by how just like everything else it was. Men and women rushing to pair shoes with dresses, trembling over a fraying serge and exulting at a harmonious marriage of hues. I remember wondering at the apparently trivial nature of spending hours, nights, debating the matching of a shoe to a dress when set against the bigger picture of the world today. But for those who work in fashion, wasn’t this their bigger picture, their world? A mode of expressing beauty, a yearning, human grasp at perfection…

I step buoyantly off the magical moss catwalk. I’m grinning hopelessly, happy for many reasons, not least of them the fact that I managed not to trip over my long dress or leave a shoe behind in the turf. Two and a half years after that initial nerve-wracked Dior fitting, I can say I still worry just as much about falling on a catwalk as I did when I got started, and two and a half years later I can say I take this job’s gains and losses in a bit better stride. I can say I’ve learned loads about la mode and the line of business I now call my own—many blog posts’ worth, in fact; sleepless nights’ worth, transatlantic flights worth and elusive jumpsuits’ worth. Two and a half years later I can say I’ve seen the intersection of literary and physical reality and the unbearable beauty of leaves. Two and a half years later I can say I’ve walked for Dior. 

Ah, at last.