PARIS, May 2006 - At precisely five in the afternoon, the red light on my cell phone flickered. And this was a most inopportune moment to receive an incoming call, especially as I was seated at the Hemmingway Bar at the Ritz sipping my third-from-the-last Sapphire martini. And to make matters worse, I was in the presence of a young bartender named Hachib, with whom I had struck up a protracted conversation. As that phone flickered, I wondered who it might be: Seignior Faggiolini needing help with Godfather Armaniís most recent privé couture flop, Mr. Chrysler up to his Gucci arm warmers in slow selling makeup, or could it be Mr. Bolton from the White House, flustered with poll numbers lower than whale doody at the bottom of the sea. Curiosity eventually got the better of me, and so I turned my attention away from the young Adonis behind the zinc bar, and took the call.
And oh heavens, oh woe, oh horror - it was none other than Ms. Nuclear Winter from New York, issuing a summons to appear before her by week's end. At first I resisted the suggestion of flying over, given that the Concorde had been retired, and you never knew who might sit beside you on a regular commercial flight. But, Ms. Winter was persistent, and I knew there would be hell to pay if I did not answer the call of duty.
So it was that two days later I found myself in Ms. Winter's penthouse office in the Condor-Nest building in midtown. With a view of the skyline discernible through the windows, she sat behind a large mahogany desk, Ms. Grace Coddled-Cream placed to her right, and Mr. Antonin-Leroy Talbert to her left. Ms. Coddled-Cream's hair had taken on a life of its own that day, and Mr. Talbert's three hundred pound plus silhouette was squished into a military-style tunic replete with golden epaulets. Ms. Winter wore a raspberry-colored two piece suit from the Dior spring couture collection, which she described as 'one of Galliano's gifts'.
"It's war," Ms. Winter announced. "After all I've done for Hollywood, for these worthless money grubbing starlets I plaster on the cover, after all Iíve done promoting the red carpet, this is what I get in return. Theyíve gone and made a movie based on that shop girl's tell-all book insulting my reputation. Youíd think money was all that mattered to those people."
Ms. Coddled-Cream nodded her approval, and Mr. Talbert's stomach growled.
"Lies, lies, lies!" Ms. Winter screamed, her visage becoming apoplectic. "What did that little tattling trollop think Fashion was? I realize she comes from nowhere, no style, no taste, but by damn, this is the top of the world. Just look out - look at all the people who grovel before me, begging so much as an acknowledgment of their worthless presence. And here I am, Queen of Fashion, and subjected to a media blitz for this damned movie. And what timing - the release date is the week before the CFDA Awards!"
She pushed the intercom on her desk. "Giocomo," she yelled. "Bring me a cappuccino, pronto!"
Before Ms. Winter had even released the intercom button, the door opened, and lo and behold, in came Giovanni's older brother, carrying a crystal cup carefully placed atop a silver platter.
"Oh," said Ms. Winter, noticing my gaze. ďIt was a gift from Godfather Armani. The boy, not the crystal, that is."
I noted that Giacomo had far more staying power than his brother, with whom I was once on intimate terms, but then again, perhaps Ms. Winter took longer.
Having trouble concentrating on Ms. Winter, I realized after some length that she was speaking. "You are my last resort," she was saying, her voice shrill and penetrating. "I called up Mr. Chrysler and asked him to use his Hollywood connections to stop that movie. And I even told him to get Mr. Dick Buckfuster to pull strings on my behalf. And what happened? The production company moved up the release date!"
"Giocomo be gone!" she yelled, suddenly noting the boy's continued presence. "And don't come back in here until you've changed into John Lobb dress shoes."
"Now, where was I Ms. Coddled-Cream?"
"Mr. Chrysler and Mr. Buckfuster came up short," Ms. Coddled-Cream replied.
"Oh yes," Ms. Winter continued, collecting her thoughts. "So I realized the only reasonable thing to do would be to start my own image makeover, for which I need the fashion press. Well, I can tell you Ms. Unicorn is out, after the way she referred to me as a 'comforting bob' in January 2003, not to mention the back stabbing slander she gave my Costume Institute gala the other night. And I quote from the Times 'both parties are outlets for egos....She (and that means ME) is part Barnum, part Elsie de Wolfe, and her taste, whatever one may think of it, has become the taste of the museum's largest fund-raising event'."
At this point, Ms. Winter began to scream, a sound that resembled an air raid siren.
"There, there," said Mr. Antonin-Leroy Talbert, bending over her petite frame. "Poor Nuclear. Sip a little Cappuccino." He was fanning her as she put her tiny little hand around the crystal cup and pushed it to her lips.
When Ms. Winter had regained her composure, she said, "And so I moved on to the IT Queen. But S. canít stay out of the champagne, and you just never know when she'll smell an open bottle. She took such delight in describing that PETA moment in Paris last spring that I canít trust her. And besides, she's... well sheís frumpy and past it!"
Turning to her right, Ms. Winter said. "Ms. Coddled-Cream, book me a table for lunch at Alain Ducasse - make sure its discreet in some low lighted corner - I donít want another pelt in my soup. And for godís sake, this time make sure the body guards havenít been sniffing something.Ē
Now," she said, turning her attention to me. "It comes down to you - my last hope of transforming a lamentably tarnished image. You've helped others - you've helped Kerry, that giant. You've helped Stepmoney, his most chaste wife. Youíve even helped W., that piece of work - and just look at him now - the ultimate success story. And so I know you can do the same thing for me." Her final sentence sounded as if it was more an order than a query.
As I was somewhat speechless over this turn in the conversation, I stalled for time. I asked what it was about the film that so upset Ms. Winter.
She pondered for a moment, and then pounded her tiny fist upon her mahogany desk. "I suppose the absolute worst of it, worse even than the depiction of me as cold and heartless, worse than the insinuation that I mistreat subordinates, worse even than the suggestion that I think highly of myself - well, it's the poor casting of the character who plays me. Have you seen the trailer? Oh, of all the unkind insults - that woman is old and bitchy."
Before I realized it, I had already made a faux pas - I said to Ms. Winter that rather than launch an image makeover campaign, it might be easier if she just asked the film's post production team to airbrush the images, the same way she did her photos published in Vogue.
Well, the incoming missile siren must have sounded across Manhattan, for with one abrupt gesture, she was on her feet. It was only by the greatest of luck that I survived a succession of objects being hurled in my direction - notably, a Prada bag, a Kelly Bag, a Cartier tiara, two Lalique vases and an Christofle silver platter. She even threw a tortoise shell fan, once having belonged to Karl Lagerfeld.
As I was running for my life down 46th Street, I had nearly given up hope of salvaging anything of merit from my New York sojourn, but that's when I noticed that Giocomo was chasing after me, John Lobb shoes in hand. After some initial hesitation, two Dior Homme suits, a new IPod case, and a three bottles of Taittinger Reserve as enticement, he bordered Air France Flight Number 2 with me from Kennedy airport back to Paris.
And now at home once again, quite content with my new acquisition, I've had a change of heart, and have decided to help Ms. Nuclear Winter in her time of utmost need. I can safely testify that the true Ms. Winter is not the fictional one portrayed in the film, but the one who received me so warmly in New York, and the one who has dedicated her life to fashion in such a self effacing manner. The Devil, you say...