The Dress That Started It All

A gourmet cookie induced Marcel Proust to discover his infamous "madeleine". Mine was a shimmering dress that my mother wore so memorably to a wedding in 1987 for which I stood as ring bearer, and she as the First Reader. Whose nuptial it was, I forget; yet the vivid memory of that dress burns brighter than ever, indelibly stamped in my mind. Every aspect of the dress, every delicate ruffle, where it was purchased, every seam of that dangerously haughty and "so-eighties!" frock, all feels as if it were worn by my mother only yesterday. Time may have elapsed and poked tiny holes through the silken fabric, but my recollection of it has never waned nor tarnished in any way. I can still recall, twenty-one years later, when my mother and I ventured out on an unusually warm, practically tropical, December evening to buy that dress. I remember how impatient I grew as any kid would when his mother has tried on every dress on the rack, figuring out the possibilities, every variation, every color scheme, Would this enhance my skin tone?, as if she were debating to buy a house and lot. Then, finally, she put on the dress and when she came out of the dressing room to make her grand entrance, I was floored. I marveled, with jaws dropped to the floor, at the frou-frouness of the dress. If only I knew, then, the impact that night would have on me, a dress which for over two decades has quenched and satisfied my greatest fashion longings. It was a truly life-altering moment. Like a person who has witnessed an apparition as a child in a forest somewhere, the vision and memory of that spellbinding dress on my mother has haunted and enriched my imagination and is solely responsible for forming the seeds of my childhood dreams and aspirations.

How profound and bold an impact that Carmen-inspired dress has had on my perception of fashion, too. A creation which is the epitome of 80's excess of the most opulent kind: An ankle-length, bracelet-sleeved dress cut in black and silver textured satin with a whimsical print that suggested the amusing characters of the commedia dell'arte, and featuring a drop-waist
reminiscent of the 20's, further emphasized by a sash in lipstick-red chiffon ~ but that is not all ~ the skirt portion of the dress was gathered abundantly at the hips so that it would flounce and flutter, flaunting into a three-tiered ruffle, which seemed to scream "Ole!" whenever my mother walked and sashayed and danced in it. It was truly a dress on the edge of creativity. It is incomprehensible to fathom how a couture-copied dress from way back in my history could still have the alluring power to haunt me in my dreams or whenever I see a production of Carmen, or see a replica of it, inducing me to fondly reminisce of my growing up years, one that was infected with an incurable obsession with the art of fashion and of dressing. Gratefully, I was born into a family that even though far from being extremely well-off, took the business of style with passion and with elegance, but above all, with dignity. The women in my family, which outnumbers the men, by the way ~ my mother bien-sur, my aunts, my female cousins ~ all fostered my obvious fascination with fashion from a very young age, happily and willingly going against the grain by buying me fashion magazines, even when boys my own age were preoccupied with Matchboxes and toy soldiers. That dress is still in my mother's possession after all this time, stored like a museum artifact in one of the many closets that house her clothes, documenting her many fashion "eras" for when she was sizes 4, 6, 8, 12, and up to the healthy secret size that she is now.

It is like a particularly unforgettable scent that could harken and bring the past back to vivid life in the slightest provocation. It will remain to reside in my memory, and in the closet, hanging there on a silk-covered hanger no less. Sometimes, when I think about it, I could almost smell it reeking of Lolita Lempicka, the perfume my mother was using at the time. Though outmoded in every sense, it is still as vibrant and full of life as ever, and beautiful and timeless, like a bird poised for flight, ready to take off in any minute. Staring at it today and stroking the silken fabric opened the floodgates of memory. It is the enchanting madeleine of my childhood. In summation, I think I was definitely born with a voracious lust and love for fashion, which along with my slavish devotion to music and art, I thank wholeheartedly whatever magical potion or enchanted fruit my mother ate during the course of her pregnancy with me, everyday of my life, always, and perhaps forever.

.... And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection. ~Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann's Way: Within a Budding Grove.