Living La-Diva Loca – Part I – Haute Couture Ball Gown Shopping…

he Saturday before I left for vacation, after two months of serious ball gown shopping, I found myself in a bit of a tizzy. I felt like I was running out of time to find a ball gown for an upcoming Black Tie Gala at the Louvre in Paris. Knowing it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to dance and dine with The Mona Lisa in these sacred halls where kings have walked before me and where tourists daily are herded through like cattle, I wanted to look as sensational as my surroundings. This was my Cinderella moment!

I had already rented a back-up ball gown so that I’d have the proverbial bases covered, but found myself despondent as the dress did not measure up to the mood I was hoping to capture. We were being flown to Paris for 3 days of dining and dancing, being hoteled in The Intercontinental and lavished with buckets of champagne. I’d already booked a manicure and had orchestrated to have a Parisian hairstylist come to my room to do an “up-do”. But I still had not found a dress that stood up to the occasion. I didn’t want to just look appropriate. I wanted to look sensational – the type of Breakfast-at-Tiffany’s sensational that legends are made of.

The announcement that the President of France had confirmed his attendance at the upcoming fête upped the ante, causing my wardrobe stress to triple! Now it wasn’t just about looking good, it was also about looking appropriate to party with a head of state! Realizing that I was beat, a Kenny Rogers song emerged from a faded memory of my past and I found myself singing, “The Gambler“, “You got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em”…

I decided that I needed professional help – not just to help me break this habit of talking to myself and singing songs I’d be better off not admitting to knowing with such a fond familiarity, but also I needed a serious personal wardrobe consultant who would tell me what to wear. Before I could raise the issue to my darling husband who has a reputation to uphold as a bit of a tight-wad, he couldn’t have surprised me more when he whisked me off to an haute couture gown designer having already figured out for himself that I was in over my head. He too, in fact, grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and though we’d both come a long way, nothing in our life thus far had prepared us for a night like this. He’d asked around and heard that this little shop in Utrecht was the perfect place to appropriately attire me for the event.

Having never been haute couture shopping before, I wasn’t certain what to expect and the experience was certainly one worthy of a blog. I walked into the upscale boutique and before I could sit my purse on the waiting room chair a wildly attired, curly black-haired Couture Assistant wearing hoop earrings the size of a bracelet came to appraise the situation.

“What’s the event?” she inquired, looking me up and down and taking time to note the scuffed shoes I was wearing before pausing on the expensive designer purse I was carrying. I casually slipped my Chanel lunettes de soleil from my hairline and opened their case, putting them away, hoping to draw attention away from my practical and sturdy Geox loafers that had seen a summer too long. Alas, I couldn’t bear to throw them away as they really were so comfortable and “breathed” just as the commercial claims.

As I explained about The Ball, she cut me off and turned to my husband, inquiring with raised eyebrow, “And what will you wear?”

He responded in kind, ”A classic smoking.” (which in typical American talk translates to “tuxedo”). Dismissing him she said, “Really it’s not important what you wear, as the men all look the same.” ”A bit like penguins,” she pontificated. “Your wife will be your jewelry.”

The feminist side of me bristled in offense, not liking being referred to as an insignificant piece of eye candy, but before I could express my objection, Edith’s shadow fell on me as she continued, “You are the real attraction at the party. He looks good IF you look good and you’re going to look great.””Follow me,” she indicated with her finger in an exaggerated Rupaul-esque motion behind her back and I started liking Edith a bit more as I twirled around in my mind the image of me looking great at the ball.

“You will wear black, of course, but not any LBD will do.”

Without asking my budget, my dress size or style preference she pulled a half dozen gowns from around the room and took my husband and I downstairs into a room with a screen hiding a small corner where I could change. The walls were lined with silk curtains behind which hats, gloves, shoes and accessories peeked out tempting me to forget all about the ball gown and just play dress up in front of the mirror. A few chairs were positioned as gallery seating for my groom to watch my dis- and re- robing.

Edith said, “What are you waiting for? Take off your clothes.” And when I had undressed, she raised her eyebrows and opened her palms in mocking despair, drawling exasperatedly “Everything!”

Not liking to change in front of strangers, I slipped off my bra but wasn’t happy about the situation and a blush heated my face and neck. My husband stared at a crack on the ceiling pretending he was not in the room, embarrassed that I’d be nearly naked in front of both him and a dark-eyed stranger. Before I could find a way t
o casually cover my chest by folding my arms across it, Edith remedied the nudity as she slid me into a 100E bustier that fit like a glove and pushed and pulled in places I didn’t even know I had.

In one instant I was transformed into a beauty queen and I hadn’t even slipped on the dress yet. It just so happens that, when couture shopping, you don’t even need to dress yourself. In the one-size-fits-most world of mall shopping which I’m most familiar with, I didn’t realize what I’d been missing. As I stood trying to figure out what to do next, it occurred to me…. “This is haute couture baby and I don’t need to do anything but tell someone to bring me “un coup de champagne!” Before I knew it a full length black gown was wrapped around my body and as I lifted my eyes to the hall of mirrors before me, I stood mesmerized.

Was it really me??!

Edith began tucking pins and darts about the dress, literally sewing me into it, elongating an average body that’s not tall enough to be tall and yet too tall to be considered cute and petite. As her fingers worked, she accented the curves God granted me in ways I’m certain Mother Nature had never considered, and smoothed away a myriad of imperfections with the brush of her subtle hand.

All this and it did not even hurt to breath.

I felt beautiful and if the look on my husbands face was any indication, he agreed. Edith brushed her hands together as if to say “My work here is done” and started removing the other 6 dresses from my changing space. When we initially came downstairs she had lined up the 6 dresses from least expensive to most expensive (of course, she had no idea that my husband had peaked and knew she arranged the dresses by price). As with a wine tasting, the intent was to start me off with the lesser quality then slowly upgrade my palate so that I would consider the crème de la crème as the only dress that truly suited me. But somehow she’d miscalculated and the simplest dress she’d chosen suited me to my best advantage. She immediately began pulling the other dresses away knowing that I’d found my gown even though her commission wouldn’t be as high as she’d hoped.

But as one who always likes to have options, The Antiques Diva ™ insisted on trying them all. While it was great fun getting sewn into more dresses and feeling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman with a Couture Assistant catering to my every whim, we returned at the end of the runway to the little black dress where it all began.

You’ll have to wait for the party to see a photo my friends, as my coming out is a bit like a bride on her wedding day. In the meantime, you can picture me mummified by The Tailor who placed 10,000 straight-pins in the gown, molding the dress to my body before slowly inching me out of it. My compliments to The Tailor as once the gown came off, my body hadn’t been scratched even once. After I had dressed again and was slipping my feet back into the tired Geox, feeling a tad disappointed that the moment was over, my husband, who’d been nearly forgotten in the corner of the room, came behind me and kissed the curve of my neck. Edith and The Tailor whisked the pinned gown away saying; “We’ll give you two a moment alone. Meet us upstairs when you’re ready.” And then my husband whispered in my ear, “Tuxedos and Pearls, my diva, that’s what I promised you on our wedding day” and we climbed the stairs hand in hand feeling every bit ready to take on the world (and the President of France).

À bientôt,

The Antiques Diva

Check out the Living La Diva Loca Series!
Part 1 – Haute Couture Ball Gown Shopping
Part 2 – Shoe Shopping
Part 3 – Tuxedo Shirt Shopping
Part 4 –
Part 5 – Little Black Book