Bloody Fabulous: Stories of Fantasy and Fashion

Page 24


I have no idea what caused his fury but I adore it. My gaze drops to the racks and I finger a string of black beads. When I look back at Santiago it’s with a sneer from my arsenal of nasty expressions—a flash of showmanship for anyone watching. It’s something my family is very good at, being lovely while sneering.
Let the public believe in this ghost of the Nommos vs. Chantico rivalry. If it isn’t new it isn’t newsworthy and our feud is a classic. As long as the perception of it remains the same I’ll be saved the humiliation of fashion journalists seeking fresh takes and forcing me to relive Nommos’ fall.
My brother is bad press enough.
A solid weight strikes the back of my knee and I drop, grasping for the racks before I’m caught around the ribcage. Santiago is at my back, his forearm compressing around me.
“Tell me you haven’t forgotten, Nommos.” His tone is calm. Not even a whisper of breath disturbs my skin. But I feel his anger. He’d never touch me for any other reason. “Tell me you haven’t forgotten the 1920s when my grandmother CeCi’s little black dress-suit made your house an afterthought.”
Murmurs begin to volley around us. If I don’t free myself our families will make the pages again. I push up and away but Santiago holds me. “Say you remember the 50s Nommos pencil skirt and the way it drove our house mad. Or us striking back at you, after a decade, with super short metallic cocktail dresses.”
Yes. These skirmishes were as familiar to me as my parents’ faces. I’d been raised on these history lessons.
Remembering to maintain my sneer, I grasped his forearm in both hands and jerked. His muscles didn’t flex beneath my fingers and he didn’t let go. Instead he laughed. “Later, your aunt Soma triumphed with the women’s tuxedo,” he says. “It was unconscionable Nommos had created such an iconic look and it burned at me . . . until the night we took you down.” The skin of his cheek presses, cold, against my ear. “Tell me you remember.”
The fall of my house at Chantico’s hands is not a memory. It is my wakeup call and my lullaby. Two turns of the seasons have passed since that night: Pre-Spring, Spring, Resort, Pre-Fall, and Fall. Then repeat. And I haven’t left that runway.
Our last collection had been inspired; there could be no argument. How were my brother and I to know that earlier in the day the House of Chantico had beaten us to it?
Where we’d reinvented, their collection deconstructed pre-1917 Russian Revolution fashion, resulting in sensation causing silhouettes. In the finale they’d featured authentic evening gowns cut into jackets and frock coats worthy of rockstars. This was their skill, to take the trends of other eras and hurl them one step past the now into futuristic looks the rest of us could only follow. Chantico is what Imitation of Christ had aspired to. In that battle the former had ripped out the throats of the latter, just as they’d preempted our fatal collection and done it better.
It seems ridiculous anyone could out-innovate The House of Nommos. Yet history says Chantico did. Louder than history, the memory of the audience’s departure continues to spit our failure in my and my brother’s face.
The rejection. The shame. The guilt of bringing down my family’s legacy is ground glass in my intestines. The pain continuously works itself through my body.
Tell him what? I can’t speak. I’ve lost the part of myself who wore fierce in the form of flowing dresses and seven-inch boots. My latest wardrobe is structured and hard lined, built around men’s suiting fabrics—tweed and wool crepes. I masquerade in the armor of the businessman now, when before I’d been strong on the inside.
The rapid fire clicks of a camera sound and I slump against Santiago. He hisses and lets me go. I don’t feel it when I fall but I hear his knee-high motorcycle boots strike the floor as he leaves me behind.
Out at the curb my driver opens the door. I hand my purchases off to him as I slide into the car, ignoring the twinge of fresh bruises. Once the black shields of my Jackie-O sunglasses are patted into place I feel better. Best to forget the losses, disregard the press coverage I know is coming, and let it all go. At the traffic light a man in leg warmers pirouettes into the crosswalk. If his mind and body are still connected it is from a distance of light years. Best not to let myself go that far.
I turn away. Despite my effort to disconnect the dancing man reminds me of my brother. This could easily be Anwar. I smooth my hand over the twin buns at the nape of my neck and exhale. Diana Vreeland once said, “There is a glory to madness that only madmen know.” My brother must be living a glorious life. I can tell by the way he bites his thumb when agitated or by his insistence on going clubbing in only underwear, tailored in peek-a-boo folds of silk chiffon.
Yet Anwar’s resolve to remain in the press is not the worse thing he’s done. Six months ago he moved out of the family manor to live across town with his lover. Until then I hadn’t realized how well our home reflects emptiness back at a person.
Inside the manor’s grand foyer I kick off my shoes, I can’t stand the echoes that bounce off the marble when I walk. One housekeeper or another takes the dresses I will never wear and I take the stairs, stripping as I ascend to the second floor. Santiago’s smell has dogged me since I left the vintage shop. These clothes must come off. His scent is as metallic as his skin, coppery and overwhelming. A chill licks across my neck but when I spin on the stair I am alone, only me, memories of Santiago’s anger, and perhaps a haunting of my brother’s madness.
All the things—the statues, paintings, and family portraits—that used to give me comfort surround me, but the manor has become more a vault than a home. Lately there is a stillness here, indistinguishable from darkness.
It seems I am the last in our fashion line. The old guard are all dead, the auntie seamstresses, and the fabric sourcing uncles. My parents have gone as well. The few remaining cousins aren’t interested. They’ve built social networks and hotels, opened chains of bakeries or become film stars. The family business is old hat and they’re far too fashionable for it.
My aunt Soma wouldn’t have allowed this. She’d have designed a must-have collection, been invited to appear on Project Runway, and Nommos would live on. Strange how I didn’t appreciate her until after she’d disappeared. My traitorous adoration had trained on another fashion-noble, yet Soma Nommos had been the one to innovate the women’s tuxedo in 1975, two months after turning fifteen. Another of my regrets lies in not learning all I could from her.
The curtains in my rooms are open, and the sunset descends behind the twin mansion across the street. Both are gothic revivals, stone with arched windows and turrets, but I prefer our reddish facade to the Chantico’s tan one. Our homes have stood in perpetual face-off since grandpapa decided to build across from our rivals and, as a bonus, obstruct their view. He’d hoped to annoy them. It worked. Their fall collection that season flopped like live bait on the runway.
Ground glass continues to twist in my guts. As prevention against it I walk to the bed and slip on the slim cuffed trousers and blouse laid there. Draped in my own scent again, I flip back the duvet to expose a keypad. The series of numbers I encode is long but soon enough the drawer to the safe beneath the bed slides open.
Aunt Soma’s last sketchbook crowns the stack of things I cherish. I settle onto the floor, using the bed as a backrest, and take her sketches from the drawer. My fingers sift through, trace her pen strokes. Occasionally, I lift the pages and breathe them in. Setting the sketchbook aside I pick up my second treasure out, a signed copy of C’est CeCi, the autobiography of CeCi EnChant.
I’d robbed Auntie Soma of my adoration and given it to this woman instead. The beauty of her profile, her signature sapphire ring, and the fact she is still synonymous with style, eighty-nine years later, are my drugs. I am a traitor in this but if I could I would run Nommos in the same manner she did her own house. I would create something as singular as her little black suit-dress. If I could I would be the modern Cecilia Chantico.
A second chill bites into my spine and, scanning the room, I warm it by massaging my neck. I’m alone in the still and darkness.
The last of the things I keep hidden is the most shameful, my own sketches, designs I’d been too small or too afraid to bring to my brother. A looping Luciana crosses the pages and mocks my lack of pride. The designs here are edgy, unexpected. I don’t know whether or not we could’ve succeeded with them. I hadn’t tried. And these phantoms of what I haven’t done haunt me more then the specter of our failure.
“Luciana,” the voice says, drawing the “ana” out into a taunt. My flesh chills. The voice is old and knowing, vaguely familiar. I don’t turn around, but I wonder if I’ve died and Hades calls. Before I can ask who dares to invade my home Galen Chantico appears between my bent knees. He grips me by the shoulders and we are gone.
What has depth or what is shallow are matters of perception. Fashion is often labeled the latter and although I don’t see it as a contribution to this belief, I have chosen the ensemble I am to be buried in.
Galen Chantico drags me down the path on one side of his family’s manor and deposits me in their courtyard. I try to rise but he mashes me back to my knees. With the method of my death becoming ever more apparent, I wish I’d also picked an outfit for the police to find my body in. Of course, if mine is the same end as my aunt Soma’s I will not be found, so it doesn’t matter.