The plane lands at the Orly Airport and on her way to the fashion runway the New York Photographer thinks she sees The Girl With The Cloak. The dark cloaked shape spins through the river of traffic like a bateau mouche on the Seine.
The Paris fashion hall fills with double-breasted tiers of buyers and photographers positioning, flashing, networking.
A buzz of excitement merges with applause as Ooo la la in a slinky plum sarong takes the mike to introduce her new collection.
“Liang Chi’s Wife was a second century fashion setter,” she announces in flawless FrenChinAnglo. She breathes seductively into the microphone, dancing around the wire in high sling heels. “The Emperor’s wife put the Capital Huan-Ti on the map. She may not have been able to read, like most court concubines, but her compartmentalized make-up box with safflower and cinnabar rouge, rice face powder and blue-black and green for distant mountain eye brows was as dear to her as the scribe’s ink pots.
“‘I am tired of perfectly arched brows,’ she concluded one day. ‘From now on, ladies, we will wear Worried Brows like the peasants. Smiling faces are boring. From now on, as the Emperor’s favorite, I command you to wear Weeping Faces.’”
Ooo la la holds up a little red lacquer box. The New York Photographer flashes a photograph at the moment the box clicks open to display small colorful compartments and mirrors.
Buyers salivate with anticipation, feasting on the cosmetic appetizer. Gold Worried Brow sticks, Silver Weeping Face creams, and opaline Decayed Toothpaste tubes gleam in the spotlight.
Ooo la la adjusts a glittery rose butterfly on her chignon and strikes a pose. Power books click, cell phones ring, flashes burst like fireworks over Versailles.
Ooo la la smiles at the applause and continues with a flutter of lashes.
“Encouraged by the success of her cosmetic creations, Liang Chi turned her considerable talent to hair styling.”
With a dramatic flourish Ooo la la removes the butterfly clip and her waist-long hair falls to one side in lustrous turmoil.
“For centuries men and women had worn the butterfly topknot. The George Lucas of her time, Liang invented a hair style that took the country by storm. Like a floppy-eared Starwars creature, her Horsefall Hairdo fell to one side in lopsided disarray. And when my collection hits New York boutiques. The Horsefall will be as popular in America as the Pony Tail of the 50s!”
“Ooo la! Ooo la ! Ooo la! Ooo la!” they chant from the edges of their red plush seats.
She holds up a tattooed palm and continues.
“Like most women, Liang Chi’s Wife was cradled on the floor. ‘Why must I stand tall and decorous as a bamboo?’ she asked.
“‘See how my old slave bends and creaks. The hump on her back increases her height so that she stands taller than Emperor Liang Chi. I will fashion a hump to rival hers and stoop so low I’ll see the dust she sweeps under the couch!’”
Ooo la la dramatically lowers her voice. “Ladies and Gentlemen of Fashion, this year hems are long in back and short in front.”
Reporters on the fashion beat text, talk, and download with excited frenzy.
“The models you are about to see have been trained by certified dowagers and professional peasants to learn Liang Chi’s Broken Waistwalk. And I’m here to tell you, folks, the Lindy is out and The Broken Waistwalk is in!”
Ooo la la licks her upper lip provocatively with a long tattooed tongue and laughs for the camera. “But I want to assure you my girls have been taking their calcium supplements. The humps in my collection are made of the same dependable dust-mite proof fibers that went into last year’s Glass Ceiling Shoulder Pads patented by Ooo La La Labs.”
A press photographer crouches at her feet. She turns slowly, caressing the mic with rose tattooed lips:
“At the height of Liang Chi’s fashion career, The Instructress of the Women’s Court pronounced a Heavenly Admonition: ‘Your Horsefall Hairdos will tumble down and soldiers will break your backs for good. Women will no longer need to pencil their brows crooked or wear smudges as though they’ve been weeping.’
“‘Nonsense,’ said Liang Chi, ‘my ladies and I shall do as I please.’
“Within a year she and her husband were dead. A few women of her court survived because the soldiers mistook their high padded humps for heads.”
Ooo la la stares wistfully into the hall.
“And so, my friends, Emperors wore new clothes and the Bent Waist Walk was virtually forgotten.”
Not a bulb flashes or beeper beeps. She turns on a high heel, and arches an indicting brow.
“Ooo la. Ooo la. Ooo la!” they chant, with insistent clapping.
The house lights dim. Ooo la la steps into the shadow. “Forgotten, that is, until today.” Her décolleté voice curves through the darkness. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the fashion look of the century—The Liang Chi Collection!”
The New York Photographer points the lens at a model poised for take-off at the end of the foot-lighted runway. Her mouth is down-turned like a sad clown, her eyes blurry as though she has been weeping. She shuffles into the spotlight and leans on a cane; the switch of her hair flowing over a deceptively authentic floating underwired hump. The hunchback shadow on the curtain lurches as she crooks her arm through the sackcloth sleeve of a tugless tunic. “How adorable, yet comfortable and durable. And it comes in three knock-out colors: classic ash, horsetail dung, and blood red.”
Author’s Note: Emperor Liang Chi and his wife’s fashion trends are Ancient Chinese historical record: During the Yuan-chia period (AD 151-153) of Huan-ti, fasionable women in the capital affected the worn postures and appearance of their servants and serfs. The heaveny admonitions of the court Seer predicted that outside armies would breech the capital walls, seize them and truly maim and cripple the women. In the second year of Yen-hsi (AD 158) Liang Chi’s entire clan was executed.
Julia Older is the author of Appalachian Odyssey, and Boris Vian Invents Boris Vian. New essays-stories-poems appear in Uproooted, Poet Showcase, and Zoomorphic.