You have entered a narrow, white hallway, trimmed with red curtains and protruding vases of cacti. At any moment you may come face to face with a pluralism of people only matched by the Unitarian Church-going crowd — self-important Georgetown and Wharton grads, artsy Brooklynites, middle-aged men who work “security.” Passing a room on the left, you glimpse the red tufts of hair of the crazy Columbia comp-lit grad who swore he a) wasn’t gay and b) was just working in this “cushy fashion crap” for a few years before making the big bucks on Wall Street.
Fearing an encounter, you arm your vocal chords with the proper ammunition:
“What am I doing? Oh, just reflecting on how the new office decor is a sensuous hybridization of “Juliet of the Spirits” and Santa Fe.”
“Where am I going? To my office desk (it resonates Bergman).”
And (last but not least), “What am I wearing? Post-parodic prep with nods to traditional Eskimo garments and “The Decalogue” (But amongst the warm Santa Fe decor? Trans-national new earnestness, of course).”
Because nothing has any real value except in reference to other, better things. Why live passively in the aesthetic world, accepting the visual pleasures and traumas offered, when one can throttle the landscape with references?
“Mrs. Volte’s word usage? (for now it crescendos from the room on the left) Filthier than the filthiest truck driver’s mouth.”
And here it is, the eruption of the petite-upon-petite Mrs. Volte, THE Chief, straight from Milan — “Rose, these presentetione is crep! I dida not came from Milano to teeche everyone how to runanoffice! Now, weer going to do it thee correcte way.”
Slowly papers start rustling and blowing about like leaves, and an era is swept from the desk as Ms. Volte rearranges the magazine advertising calendar, occasionally passing judgment on magazine choices with: “Thees [expletive] [worse expletive] megezeene est [really quite bad expletive]!”
(Oh Rose, Rose, if only you could be free, my marketing boss, my compatriot; Rose, that hopeless Romantic who left Versace because she believed in “a better way” (and because she realized that all of the Italian men in the office seemed to be moving up much faster than her); Rose who yearns for the old office days of cognac shots and the Madonna “Music” fete like the yearning for a severed limb; Rose, my chanteuse, the only woman I have ever and will ever again duet with in Korean, in honor of our Koreatown Karaoke experience; How misunderstood we were before the masses, who scorned our international efforts with staccato pleas for “Madonna! Cher! John Secada!”)
Rose is in the roast and in the adjacent room P.R. girls are allegorizing the history of world conflict —
“You cen’t teeke cet dress! Aie need to messengere eet to Vogue eemmeediat-e-ly!”
“Don’t be such a [amazing splicing of expletives]! Naomi needs it for the MTV party!”
“You don’t be such a [the spliced explie again]!”
Remix — Rose is in the roast and somewhere in the office Naomi Campbell is nude, waiting for a certain dress because the leather pants make her butt look too big.
You stumble out onto the balcony before the discriminating eyes of the smokers on their 3rd or 7th cigarette break of the day. You beg them to understand — this is chaos, really! These are not working conditions — but all they can offer you are a set of furrowed brows, confused eyes and a broken Italiamerican, “Ceegarette?”
But consider this, your rumbling stomach tells you — the fashion world is content with its own solipsistic rewards. This is the industry, after all, that resolved its post-9-11 existential crisis (“The world was coming to an end, and we were making really expensive clothes. What purpose did our industry have?”) by tempering season looks to focus on “all-black pieces.”
Can one metaphorize the fashion industry? You have discovered the most radiant space in the office, with a white that slithers up from the underbelly of shelves and laps the objects it illuminates into a fine lather. You set to work scooping, dipping, and pouring, finally putting the Cartesian cappuccino machine on its predetermined course — that noisy, epileptic, but nevertheless ravishingly dazzling machine.
T. S. Coburn is a fashion “Do.”