Curiously, the shop itself is supremely lacking in glamour, with faded Persian carpets covering a concrete floor, two standard lamps lighting a drafty, curtained changing room with a little blow heater chugging its guts out against the wintry blast from the open door of the shop, whither the client repeatedly tiptoes to view her elegant array in the cheval mirror set where it benefits from natural lighting. No, there's nothing in the appearance of that dim room to suggest that the goods being sold are anything above the ordinary.
But the clothes! Satins, silks, and chiffons, sequined, beaded, and embroidered, feathered and flowered hats in glorious colour and inglorious disarray, a mountain of cloth-draped boxes behind the counter, hats piled on the floor, stacked as high as the dress racks, stacked on top of the dress racks. Those racks are crammed to an alarming point, the hangers threatening to shoot off the pole ends from the pressure. A large sign kindly instructs customers to let staff find what is needed.
I watched Sylvia zoom in on a selection of choices for a client, picking out a range of colours and styles appropriate for the shopper's special occasion. Unerringly, she found hats to match the garments that perfectly suited the client's features, a client who kept repeating, against the insistence of her reflection, that she couldn't wear hats. An ordinary, motherly woman in lace-up boots, wool trousers, and cosy polarfleece was transformed into a vision of charm and beauty.
Along the way, I heard some Helpful Hints for the Mother of the Bride.
- Wear the hat on a slight sidways tilt. Yes, it looks cute and saucy, but it also means when you're in the reception line, your hat won't pop off every time someone kisses you.
- Wear natural shade stockings, NOT black. Black seems to shout at the camera, "Notice me!" Ladies say, "But black makes my legs look slimmer". Sylvia says, "That's just not true."
- Ask for the corsage to be made for your wrist or handbag, not your lapel. Lapel corsages get rather roughed up in the reception line, putting pressure on your gown and encouraging stamens and petals to share their colour with the fabric - boths yours and whoever is hugging you.
What makes a design exclusive? Apparently, skirt loops featuring the designer's logo.
Sylvia sold her client two suits that elongated a short, wide shape whilst retaining a modest neckline, outfits in cheerful colours (not black or navy) for the two London society weddings she was attending.
When the lady arrived in London, she purchased another suit, a Paris design, just because she liked it. The above photographs are from her son's wedding. The day of the second wedding, her daughter's, dawned grey and gloomy, and she decided the Paris suit was a more cheerful colour than the wisteria blue New Zealand ensemble.
The Paris Suit
For those of us who strive to add the extra touches that make a gown super special, you'll be interested to note that the beading around the neckline isn't perfectly executed...a misplaced bead, a misplaced thread, a misplaced knot can even be found on a Paris gown. What a revelation.
"A woman whose smile is open and whose expression is glad has a kind of beauty no matter what she wears." Anne Roiphe