I am going to tell you a story — most of it is true.
It could have happened to anyone: to a Jewish schoolgirl living in Newark, to a shy working-class girl from La Butte Aux Cailles. However, for good or bad, it happened to me.
This tale starts with a box in the garret.
During last Spring cleaning I found a mysterious container in one of the top shelves (no identification tags to be seen) and when I tried to grab it, a totally unexpected glitter shower fell down all over me. Now, I have no idea where the glittery dust came from exactly, and I can only suppose it was closely related to some Christmas decorations stored in the same room but, in any case, I spent the next ten minutes brushing myself until I finally managed to open the aforementioned box.
Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I have a soft spot for drama: my restless mind was already anticipating a shocking find, which could only leave me speechless and knocking on the doors of my own Gothic novel. After all, many great stories start with a girl finding something in the attic, don’t they? So I was disappointed, to say the least, when I simply found a pile of old magazines inside — thank you, Guillermo Del Toro, for my huge expectations regarding mystery tales and Tom Hiddleston on tight pants… But, where was I? Oh, yes: the box.
The secret was a bundle of about 40 Vogue Magazines, an entire lifetime in Fashion terms.
Some of them were my own, some were second-hand donations from friends. I had been putting off organization indefinitely, looking for a nice spot to display them on the living area, and then completely forgetting about their existence. I thought it was time to finally do it, and started dusting the pile a bit while flicking through. Before I realized, I had left the cleaning plans aside and was sitting Indian-style, a teacup in one hand, an old 2002 Vogue magazine in the other.
For some reason, there was something in the whole scene — the attic at dusk, the oversized ancient jumper I wore, the exhaustive look at the pictures — which made me feel nostalgic. But what was the source of such a mood?
I began thinking about the familiar feeling, a fragile Déjà vu of my school days, and suddenly it all hit me like a tidal wave: I was twelve years old and compulsively reading a pile of borrowed Vogue issues. I could see myself sitting in the exact same position, wearing long braids and a plaid pinafore dress. Memory was so vivid I could almost touch it with the fingertips.
It all looked so similar, but also so different. By the time of my flashback vision, as I said, I was no older than twelve and had just moved to a new little town with my mother and sister. We lived in a 60 square meters flat above a shabby corner store, my parents had just divorced and I felt the unhappiest young human being. Puberty is not the best moment for such radical changes in the state of affairs, since nature is already playing its own little tricks — I still frown upon the memory when I recall I was the tallest girl in the class, the one with the biggest knee bones, not a clue on how to walk gracefully on those new giant doe-like legs. As a consequence, my (very nice) schoolmates used to call me Betty Spaghetty…
Coming of age drama, anyone? It was a bit like The Virgin Suicides, only without all the flawless blonde hair, and fabulous white gowns, and obsessed boys. It was… well, ineffably plain, to be honest. And then it did happen.
My mum, who was also having a bad time to readjust, made a new friend.
He was an aspiring fashion designer — young, restless and absolutely gay. Also, he was the first sophisticated person I ever met. Every Saturday evening, rain or shine, he would come home with a few Italian films and fashion magazines, and we would spend the night chatting, watching Mastroianni masterpieces and sharing Chinese food.
And finally, one fine November Saturday, he brought a bag full of Vogue magazines.
It was the first time I saw one (provincial town girls rarely had any chance to get it in the local newsstand, anyway), and immediately felt in love with all those 90s goddesses from the Vogue magazine covers owning the catwalk — you did not know what chic meant until you saw Naomi Campbell on purple satin for Anna Sui. I spent the whole weekend checking them, and got a new pile next week, the week after that. Suddenly, my life expanded: there were no more lonely after-school evenings; instead, I got an effective shield made of designer dresses, lively colours and glamour. A whole entire universe of my own which no one could destroy.
It took me some time to realize how bitter-sweet my fantasy was. For a little working-class girl, there were very little chances to ever access the gilded heaven of haute couture. And then, I started thinking it would never be possible to incorporate sophistication to my own life.
Vogue gave me something to dream about, but was it possible to keep that dream alive?
As I entered adolescence, I lost all faith.
I stopped reading fashion magazines and watching classic movies. All those things belonged to the past — the lost paradise, the Arcadia of my own candidness. By fifteen, I had become a solipsist. When I started university, I was a fully-fledged nihilist.
But then again, I made new friends. We started going out together, having cheap cocktails and attending European cinema festivals. We met up at poetry lectures, and jazz clubs. We developed a taste for fine culture. And one early morning (on my way back from some party) I stopped to get me a takeaway coffee in the campus surroundings, and they were selling Vogue. It was like meeting an old good friend.
Like the glitter in my hair, you can try to brush out something you loved, but it will stick to you for some time. That morning, I finally accepted there are many forms of sophistication, many of them more subtle than a 10,000 euros Delacroix jacket.
From that moment, the twelve years old and the undergraduate made peace.
The woman who writes this is now in her thirties and does not care if she can buy the latest Tom Ford dress. Instead, she loves vintage and second-hand, visiting every gallery while traveling and yes, classic movies.
She is still looking for a place to display the pile of Vogue magazines gracefully, but for now, they live in the parlor library.