Bloody Fabulous: Stories of Fantasy and Fashion
I’m colder than I’ve ever been and I burn with need. Mine is not a transformation into monster. I am choosing to become a predator—a gleaming, well-heeled beast—because once you understand the world is yours, it’s easy to do whatever you want with it.
Touching my tongue to sharpened teeth, I wonder when my family will take first blood. I imagine it will be difficult but we’ll do it. We’ve always sacrificed for fashion.
The girl in this photograph, her name is Marie Bochert. You know this because across the white panel at the bottom of the square image, that name is written. It doesn’t seem likely that Marie wrote it herself. This hand is sure and forward-slanting, the pressure so confident that the pen point has engraved the paper with its en-guarde “t.” Marie looks softer than that. Marie looks more the 2B type, with her white, heart-shaped face and her pink, heart-shaped lips. Her dark hair hanging and her broad cheekbones, this is what you see in this picture. Her disheartened eyes, scolding you for noticing them first, for not seeing what is important.
“She’s certainly pretty.”
The woman turned the photograph over in her golden hands and regarded the square, black back as if expecting there to be additional information written there. She turned back to the image side and shuffled again through the handful of casting Polaroids, pursing and smoothing her lipstick mouth against her teeth, pursing and smoothing, deep in thought. She continued to the man at her side, “Marie Bochert. But is she now?”
The man shook a pen between two fingers until it became a fan-shaped blur. He looked at his hands, at the table top, not up. “What’s she done? Magazines—any catwalk?”
“London, spring collection, Holly Fulton: the silk jersey monochrome print.”
“Oh yes, I remember.” The man did not sound as if he remembered. He dropped his pen on the desk and pressed his fingertips to his eyelids. “I remember her more than the collection.”
The woman nodded. She slipped the glossy image labelled Marie Bochert to the back of a second pile. “We can’t use her. She takes attention away from the designs.”
“Agreed. Who’s next?”
“We have . . . Andrea Pollici.”
The man took the next offered image and peered. “Ah yes, much better—much, much better. Not so loud.”
Marie checked behind her, looking towards the now-open door where an assistant was beckoning curtly. Behind him, a girl cast like a shadow against the apple-white wall. With effort not to make a sound, Marie inched back the plastic chair she was perched on and stood, scuttling to the exit with a parting glance unnoticed by the agents.
First shelf: nothing. Second shelf: nothing appealing either. Marie picked out sardines canned in chilli tomato sauce and peeled back the ring-pull lid to eat them from the can in delicate forkfuls. When Marie felt hungry, all she could think of was couture. Ruffles like cream and icing-precise piping, a red-wine fall of satin splashing across the catwalk, biscuit-base separates in oat-textured tweed. She wasn’t trying to diet, it was just her calling. Fashion was her nourishment, her entertainment, her everything. The thing was: Marie Bochert really, really loved clothes.
When she’d finished school with quiet grades, Marie had told people she wanted to be a fashion designer. Her friends applauded her, her teachers hid smiles, and her parents raised their voices after dinner in favour of real work. Design was real work. It was hard. Marie struggled through “Fashion Portfolio” in a foundation-level wash of muddy ink sketches and pricked fingers. You’re so pretty though, people told her, you could be a model. She worked weekends in retail, ringing up sales of high-street versions of the clothes she should have been creating. It supplemented her parents’ payments of fees but it didn’t stem their complaints. On the other side of the counter, plain teens gawped at her one-track poise. Boys worked hard designing creative ways to ask for her telephone number. When her foundation year finished, Marie applied for an Honours Degree in Fashion Design and Development, even though research methods and concept initiation baffled and bored her; she just needed her ideas made real. But her grades were mundane and her portfolio muddled, no clear marketable path defined. The samples she produced seemed somehow never to sit right. Maybe not the ideal career path for you, the interviewers suggested gently, perhaps consider retail management? They said, you’re very pretty.
“Perhaps I could be a model,” Marie agreed.
When you model, you bring alive someone else’s vision. That was one way to look at it; another was, in Marie’s experience, that models were little more than animated clothes hangers. She was “so pretty,” but she was so little often right. She wasn’t expressive enough, or else she pulled the wrong faces. She put her feet out of line. She was too obtrusive. Really, she was none of these things—or rather, all models are these things. Marie was as good at showcasing clothes as any of her peers. And what clothes!
Suedette fringes like peach skin on budget-brand festival frocks, the popcorn bobble of autumn/winter’s kitsch Yuletide knitwear. Marie pouted for the cameras and blanked for the runway and worked her way up wishing for high-end designer gowns.
The lettuce-crisp of starched satin between her fingers; an edging of filigree lace, stiff as spun-sugar.
“No, all wrong.”
Marie let her mind wash clear and fixated on the feeling of the satin rosettes beneath her palms. “Go again,” the photographer’s voice instructed her. She lifted her chin, set her hands at a jauntier angle on her blossomed hips. The studio with its sheeted walls and hidden kitchenette might as well have existed to someone else; she was transported. “No good, no good.” Marie’s exhale of breath was not impatience, it was dismay. Never good enough. “No—not the dress, the dress is perfect: her. Her hair is wrong. Yes I know this was what we discussed, but I see it now.” As two stylists descended to pluck at her, Marie tried very hard to disappear.
Marie tried very hard indeed. More than that; she worked very hard. Standing around wearing an ever-changing array of delicious clothing that is rotated like dishes on a kaiten sushi-go-round takes not only talent but also practiced skill. It’s a matter of stamina and patience: these outfits will not wear themselves, and Marie had both patience and stamina in bellyfuls. She could stand still as a sculpture; walk with long, gliding strides whilst appearing to not be moving her feet. She could rival a Volto mask for expression when she tried.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
Marie smiled slightly at the woman who, squinting, continued, “Are you meant to be here?” She gestured around her at the pieces prepared for display and Marie nodded a noncommittal nod.
“I’m modelling the collection tomorrow.”
“Right. Sorry, why do you need to be in here right now?”
She must have been an assistant to somebody, or more likely an organiser. Marie said, “Do you know who’ll be wearing which outfit?” and the woman looked at her as if she’d asked if there was any chance of borrowing a couple.
“Which are you interested in, in particular?”
“That dress.” She got the sarcasm OK, but then Marie was used to being talked down to. The dress wasn’t hanging, like most of the other pieces, wrapped in plastic on the racks of freestanding rails; it was displayed on a form. In the chilly fluoro lights leaking in from the adjoining corridor the dress looked alive, draped in potential. Its contoured velvet held the shadows, deep red as dead meat. The diaphanous puff of stuff at the shoulders shimmered in the dim light like a fine, hanging mist of blood.
The woman shuddered. The whole room was suddenly as cold as a walk-in freezer. She said, haltingly, “It looks about your size. Don’t hold your breath though.”
Then with an aggravated head-jerk of a gesture, she ushered Marie from the room. Marie had wanted to stay and looked longingly back at the dress, snug in the darkness. As the door closed on it, it seemed to be waiting. The woman turned off each light in turn as they walked down the corridors towards the exit, the building tipping dark like dominoes behind them. When they were almost at the foyer, Marie hung back and the woman kept going. She gave one confused-looking glance behind her, her hand poised on the last light-switch and then she shook her head and Marie heard the pop of the last light and the blind rattle of keys.
Marie held her breath and hoped. She prayed to the ghosts of Versace and McQueen. When the door clicked shut and the beeps of the burglar alarm ceased—its red eye blinking blindly at her passing—she crept back along the corridor and let herself into the dressing room. In the tailored dark the walls seemed to breathe. She sensed the dress like a watching thing. When she found it and laid her hands on it, it was warm.
“Two minutes, OK—two minutes.”
“Where’s makeup? Get me Rob over here now.”
“Andrea, then Meena, then . . . OK, Andrea then Stefanie then Meena.”
“Who’s in the red Gespenst gown?”