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Prada and Prejudice: My Adventures in Couture

My laborious brown handbag/suitcase/overnight bag with its padded zippered compartments came to me as a couture item from The Container Store, manufactured by Lug and once heartily endorsed by Oprah. It carries the catchy name of Puddle Jumper although mine is packed to the gills and so heavy I’d land, as the Brits across the pond would say, flat on my arse after making a hearty namesake attempt. 

With this bag in hand or rather shouldered, I entered the Prada store in Soho. Why? you ask. For a woman whose style evolution requires a quizzical look plus imagination once you get past the birdcage dangling from her neck, it was certainly out of context. By why not?

Standing on the corner of Prince and Broadway in Soho and sandwiched between endless food carts and gaggles of tourists dressed rather haphazardly, I doubt that anyone shopping at Prada devours much more than a morsel from these wheeled diners, let alone be seen near one. Dresses from the upcoming remake of The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo –You-Know-Who drew me in. It was no longer just a store but an expedition to a museum of style.

Women applauded when I said that I had gained entrance to the hallowed grotto of Prada. After giving this some consideration, I’m thinking that it just may go back to that primal fear of not being good looking enough or thin enough and that we could be rejected. But confidence and nerve go a long way. My biggest fear was that security would wave me away as I staggered in under the weight of my bag. After taking a deep breath, I pulled the door open and cheerfully announced, “Hello! I’m in the neighborhood and came to see the The Great Gatsby costumes and look around.” 

Perfectly coiffed, thin, and dressed in sophisticated black but not overdone, a saleswoman pleasantly pointed out that the exhibit was down the steps and that I was welcome to look around. She looked me in the eye, which means she missed the pen and grape fruit juice stains. Considering the other two tourists there, I was as sophisticated as Holly Golightly. One pudgy woman huddled in a corner next to a mannequin, chatting on her cell phone. A young woman, wearing an outfit that looked like several wrinkled valances sewn together paired with cowboy boots, oily brown hair and bangs, looked confused. Walking down the steps to the bottom and looking up at the mannequins, well, the craftsmanship of Miuccia Prada was stunning, with meticulous details and beadwork.

Saleswomen and men politely eyed my look, which was definitely outrĂ© for Prada. Black pants, essential in any stylish women’s wardrobe, can be worn all year round. Mine were plucked from a neat pile of same black cotton pants at Kohl’s. So they were a little wrinkled—
ironing is not my forte—and the ends of the cuffs were a bit frayed from dragging on the sidewalk. Once I came home to find someone else’s candy wrapper hidden in the cuffs. Hopefully, no cicadas will find a home there once they emerge from the soils of the city. Perfectly matching and comfortable shoes hiding my burgeoning bunions were by Merrell so I could pick up and run on a dime, even though nothing costs a dime anymore except the pretzel sticks at Dichter's Pharmacy in Inwood.

A DKNY black tank top started out being tucked into my pants but somehow made its way above my waist. Adding to this swanky ensemble was a beige linen tunic circa Eileen Fisher with two large pockets filled with tissues for my allergies, a five-dollar bill, two pens, and a small notebook. I like pockets. But nothing is called beige anymore. The label called it something like Sahara sand or light stone or sidewalk cement. A streaky blue pen mark added a sense of mystery and the Rorschach style grape juice stain on the bottom hem added a bent of wild abandonment. A black cardigan by J. Crew tied it all together. So far, no one has commented on the pink embroidered circle that hides a hole in the pocket. Martha Stewart approves, since she gave me the idea from her magazine. And, yes, there’s more. A brown Cole Haan jacket that I’m still trying to close was tossed over my look for the finishing touch. Snap!

Thankfully, I didn’t clash with mannequins adorned with costumes, shoes, and jewelry designed for the movie. The mannequins were so thin that they looked hungry. They’re more dazzling than me but in a more standoffish way. Of course, they ARE a size two and I’m so sure they can be seen if I’m parked in front of them. But no one in the store was there to see moi.

Security men in dark suits peered over the balcony and stood on the outskirts of the exhibit. One directed tourists like me to an alcove where a video was being played. Catherine Martin, the costume designer for the movie, spoke about Prada clothing as clips from the movie framed her interview. I would prefer to see the cutters and sewers and hemmers and fitters at work. It was really a commercial for the movie but you could discover the sense and sensibility of Prada’s 100-year-old style and how the fashion house adapted vintage styles and made it their own.

Seguing over to the retail side of the store, I discovered that there were no price tags on clothing, shoes, purses, jewelry and sunglasses. It goes back to that old axiom that if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. A dozen of their exquisitely made purses could fit into my bag, although at this point there’s not an inch for another darn thing.

Let’s face it. I’m not the Prada demographic. Friends of mine think that I’m closer to a size ten but it depends. From each of my four sides, I look thinner. But the dimensions of my circumference do me in.

No one eyed me suspiciously as I moved around the corridors of clothing with just a few items of clothing on each rack. If they did eye me, either in person or via security camera, it was done discreetly, certainly the hallmark of good taste. A salesman wore a sharp dark gray shirt and I could see over the top of his head. I approached him thoughtfully, but he was too well trained to be startled.

“I’m just curious,” I announced, placing my suitcase over my stomach so that

my tunic didn’t look so, well, beige. “What’s the largest size that you carry?”

“We go up to about a 46,” he replied, explaining that this European size translates into an American size 10 or a 12 depending on the cut. And the cut at Prada is quite slim.

“Hmm,” I said, thoughtfully. “What would someone like me do? I mean, I’m a comfortable 12 but usually veer into the 14 and sometimes 16 range. Would I have to lose weight?” I deftly suggested.

“I can’t say that to the customer,” he said, looking around nervously.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” I reassured him with a hearty midwesterness that belied my New York City roots. Cawfee and chawcolate, anyone?

He deftly suggested back: “That could be an incentive if you’d like to wear this line.”

I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.“Perhaps. But would your seamstress or tailor be able to make any adjustments?”

He didn’t miss a beat. “We don’t do special orders.”

Do you believe that? If Nicole Kidman were 150 pounds heavier, they wouldn’t leave her hanging by a thread.

I thanked him and continued to peruse through the racks, gently stroking some sort of hairy stole that WOULD fit and a clear crystal dress that was an outtake from The Great Gatsby. Special order, my fat tuchus. Even if I lost 60 pounds, my hipbones would have to be removed for the garment to glide on. Stunning s
hoes look like they belong in a museum. Shoes with six inches heels or higher look delicate and chic on a size six. A size nine on feet with the previously mentioned bunions connected with someone whose balance is jeopardized by linoleum could be dangerous.

The only item that would fit would be a pair of sunglasses. I thought of Paul Gallico’s novel, Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, the story of a British cleaning lady who scrimps and saves every penny for a Dior gown. That’s an idea. Maybe I could start a Kickstarter or Indigogo campaign. But I’m much too practical for that. I could go couture for my next book signing and see if they, meaning Prada or Bergdorf’s, would loan me a dress just like they offer celebrities and other women who can afford it but don’t pay for it.

Or like Mrs. ‘Arris, I could start saving now. But money isn’t the issue. The pastries and croque monsieur (I could eat two) at Francois Payard Bakery on Broadway and 58th Street are too good to pass up. At least until La Marina on Dyckman Street starts serving them again.

Prada will just have to wait.


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