At 3am on any given morning when I am awake – and that is often – I turn to my robotic friend – the remote. My animals and I trundle downstairs and turn on a function of my cable service that allows me to review and play evening fare that I may have missed. The dogs and cats would rather be in bed – mine and theirs – but they feel an obligation to remain with me at this hour. This is the hour most people pass, did you know that? They are uncomfortable for me being up and about at that hour – as well they should be – and try to be of comfort by their presence. Mostly, they offer that soft comfort.
One winter morning on the Sundance Channel, I watched a documentary about fashion – featuring Yves St. Laurent. Yves was ill at that time; noticeable and painful to watch. The camera followed him through his last fashion show. With him, next to him, in front of him, behind him, holding gently on to his hand if he looked unsteady, offering him tea and food (which he often refused) – was his “assistant,” one of those Parisian women who are probably in their sixties and look ageless. She was thin and always looked well put together; it wasn’t solely her clothing, but her carriage and small items that set off her persona – a scarf, a piece of jewelry. I’ve seen this so many times in Europe, in Rome on the trains. In Padua, in the food shops. In Norway and Sweden – in their winter best.
She had been with him for more than 30 years, and this was apparent in the way they spoke to each other – in that shorthand workers develop – the looks and gestures that say paragraphs. And they were workers together, no? Working in the world of fashion for 30 years – fast paced, catty, delightful, full of art and awe, and let’s face it – a business. Look, she knew fashion. She walked into the workroom and spoke with the women at the sewing machines knowingly and often stopped and pointed out a seam here, a stitch there. They like her – you could tell. They respected her – you could tell. They were older women and there was little tell they worked in fashion. (You may smile at this – but she and they were full of a concentrated grace and proud of their part in Yves fashion life.) She walked into the hat room, spoke briefly, changed a bit here and there – she herself sat down with a young man who was sewing a lace trifle at the neck of a model and showed him how to work it. He was grateful, not huffy. She checked the stills, the dresses, the photographic lights and then reported to Yves – who sat during most of the documentary – they conferred. He made some suggestions. She went out to the workrooms and executed them. Look, she was a star period. And we know he was and remains a star. I doubt this woman or any of the other workers made huge salaries, but their pride was apparent, their calm and knowledge shone through.
As the show neared, the pace quickened; the younger people started running – it was exciting. The models were tired, the make-up people were frazzled, the stylists were drama queens, but she remained a calm force in the rooms – as did those women in the back sewing. They fed off each other’s confidence.
Maestro, she’d say, with a reverence I’d not seen except occasionally at a high mass in Latin at the Cathedral here – here, have some tea. You look tired Maestro. She’d whisper “maestro” “we can do this tomorow.” Yves waived her away gently. He was tired. This was his last fashion show.
The show was a success – the clothes were beautiful, stunning, signature. Yves summoned up enough strength to be with people for a short time after the show. The woman remained backstage thruout the show making small changes, holding models’ hands, offering confidence to each and everyone backstage.
When Yves came backstage, each and every person involed in the show clapped and clapped. As the camera panned their faces – you could see they all felt a part of this art show – they all made a contribution. You didn’t have to read a book about Yves, or hear from several people being interviewed beforehand what kind of a man he was – it was there on those faces, some crying faces- most relieved. They’d done it again. Yves and they had done it again.