Victoire Doutreleau started working with Christian Dior in 1953, at the height of his fame, when everybody from Marlene Dietrich to Princess Margaret…The Day I Met A Fashion Legend
In 1773, the people of Boston were quite fond of tea, as a matter of fact, they drank so much of it, they could no longer afford the tax imposed on it by the British parliament, decided to no longer pay them, dumped 342 chests of tea into the river, and consequently founded the United States of America, a country famous for Starbucks coffee (a company famous for paying no taxes at all). Tea leads directly to financial independence, one could deduce. Of course, financial independence is just college talk for liberty. Liberty, I say! So today, I decided to no longer pay taxes, either, and had a little tea party myself. I shall inform the treasury after my next cup.
One has to watch one’s diet, hasn’t one? But not today, today’s the weekend, it’s Saturday, I have better things to do than to watch anyone’s diet, I’m me today, and me, myself and I, we all want carbs! “One” is therefore overruled. And let us tell you, “us” being the carblover’s pluralis majestatis, we had twelve of those little sugar-coated things, and they were just great! On Monday, we shall turn into decent people again as one has to watch one’s diet, hasn’t one?
As nobody, and I mean nobody at all, has given me any flowers for Valentine’s Day, I had to present myself with something a little more soothing than some tulips (it’s quite pathetic to buy red roses for oneself, isn’t it?) and so I went for some cheesecake, the most soothing cake there is. Sooth and smooth. Nonetheless, I added a little more vanilla than usual, just to make sure of it. Vanilla has quite soothing effects on my mind, too. The cheesecake turned out fine. Quite yummy. Very soothing, indeed. Almost mind-numbingly soothing. You see, I really have totally forgotten all about these flowers I didn’t get today. Today, not just any day, no, on Valentine’s Day! I need more cheesecake. Now!
I’ve read somewhere that the fewer ingredients food has, the better. The healthier, too. Nothing could be less healthy than the overprocessed stuff supermarkets sell in these shiny, poorly designed, ever so colourful boxes, one might think. Reflecting on this, I was asking myself what I could possibly have for lunch that consisted of not more than one or maybe two things. Hmpf. I gave up immediately and made my notoriously famous risotto. It’s really yummy. And truth be told, I am still convinced that my risotto is not only yummy, but also quite healthy despite the fact it has way more than two ingredients in it. There’s rice in it, obviously. And then there’s chicken broth, broccoli, graped parmigiano reggiano, salt, white and black pepper, white wine, Italian Chardonnay, to be quite precise, butter, and olive oil. That’s an awful lot of stuff, isn’t it? Still healthy, though. I think it’s not the number but the quality and origin of the stuff one puts together for a meal. So, don’t you listen to what you learn on the internet! In order to stay healthy, just follow my advice: eat more risotto!
You wake up, not because you wake up but because the alarm goes on, you get up and out of bed and realize it’s raining again, it’s cold, too, you can’t find your favourite sweater, the mirror tells you you look tired, you resent that although it’s true, you can’t even keep your eyes open, you try to do push-ups nonetheless, stop at 1.5 and after that you’re just about to reconsider getting up at all. But then there’s the smell of freshly ground coffee and, even more intriguing, the smell of croissants fresh from the bakery. You dodder into the kitchen and find a nice breakfast served on your favourite china, the one with your best friends on it. You sit down, eat and smile. Life’s good, even at 7:30 AM.
It’s been just another grey winter’s day in Berlin, quite depressing. The moment, I woke up, I knew I needed something to cheer me up big time if I wanted this Monday to be a day worth living. That’s when I started thinking of tart. A very special tart, actually. A tart, I couldn’t bake myself. A tart, I had to get out of bed and run into town to get some at the KaDeWe, short for Kaufhaus des Westens, Berlin’s high-toned department store whose food halls took in some French people answering to the name of Lenôtre, the very people that own that very tart’s recipe. A tart so yummy, I would not dare to wash it down with milk or tea or coffee, not even champagne, just to make the aromas linger forever on my tongue. A dough rich of pistaccios and cherries to make it irresistible, some vanilla custard to make it creamy, a crumble topping to make it crunchy, and some maraschino cherries and powdered sugar on top to make it look fancy. This was the very tart that got me through the day. I’m still high on serotonine, so I guess, it’ll get me through the rest of the week as well…
Some time ago, when going through my secretary’s drawers, looking for some stuff for my tax declaration, I found an old wallet of mine, made of Louis Vuitton’s nice Épi leather, in a yummy chocolate brown, I instantly had to eat some, luckily I always have some bars at home, but that’s not the interesting part of my find. Inside the empty wallet was a single note, issued in February 1962 in the Congo, shortly after it had become independent, after the Belgians had lost their colony, and many, many a year before Hergé’s comic book “Tintin au Congo” had become ever so politically incorrect. A friend of my mother’s gave the Congolese note to me after giving account of her African adventures when I once visited her in Munich. She had spent some time in the young country in the early sixties, and during dinner she had all these funny anecdotes to tell, all of them much to her husband’s disapproval, who was sitting next to her when she talked about her African years but wasn’t part of any of the stories, she had only met him many years later. Males must feel important. Anyway, I remember most vividly the one about her arrival: picture a very young woman, very stylish, very vain, very concerned about her looks, having left Europe in mid-winter, in a top notch red bouclé wool ensemble with matching coat, made of the same red bouclé wool that one, too, and finding herself all of sudden in the tropical heat of Leopoldville, on a gangway and an airfield ever so close to the equator, lost even more in perspiration than in translation. You have to dress destination appropriately when you travel, she told me with great gravity when she handed me that note as constant reminder of her wisdom. I wouldn’t know. You see, I’ve never been to the Congo.
If you want to gain weight, for whatever reasons, do the following: buy eight to twelve large packages of assorted chocolates, pick your favourites from each package, arrange them casually in a bowl (you want to refill the bowl with chocolates as soon as it’s emptied) and start devouring them during at least four episodes of any show interesting enough to make you stay put in front of the TV no matter what happens or who’s at the door. I do recommend Killing Eve for such purposes, watching people kill other people always gives me an appetite. With that show (season 1 and 2), you have Sandra Oh (oh so gorgeous) and Jodie Comer (she’s gorgeous, too) in sixteen thrilling episodes, offering the most fattening effect. Do not forget to wash each chocolate down with a generous helping of caffè latte with non-skimmed milk in it, or a huge glass of Baileys, or, (or “and/or”, why not), some protein-infused banana milkshake. Repeat. Bon appétit and bonne chance!
Victoire Doutreleau started working with Christian Dior in 1953, at the height of his fame, when everybody from Marlene Dietrich to Princess Margaret wore Dior. Merely twenty years old, she had become one his models, one of his mannequins. In these days, every single look of a collection, all of these wonderfully elegant day-time dresses and suits, all of these lavishly adorned evening and ball gowns were created on a mannequin’s body before they were finally presented to the press and the designer’s customers, in a rather modest surrounding compared to today’s over-dimensional fashion shows whose costs often exceed China’s GNP (well, maybe not China’s, but definitely the one of some African state), in these days a simple room filled with lots of chairs would do, in Christian Dior’s case, however, the walls were painted in some fine grey, a shade of grey so exquisite, that a Dior perfume now bears its name, Gris Dior. The people that were sitting in these chairs had fine names, too. Victoire Doutreleau paraded past le tout Paris, the international press, Harper’s Bazaar’s Carmel Snow, the one who in 1947 came up with the iconic expression New Look for Dior’s very first collection, photographers like Richard Avedon, and at one time Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn with husband Mel Ferrer. This is where I came in.
I posted this photo on my Instagram account, writing a little story in French about this fashionable encounter, about Audrey Hepburn’s infidelity, she was Hubert de Givenchy’s muse after all at the time and not Christian Dior’s, but all in all it was rather a tribute to Victoire Doutreleau’s charme, her smile and grace in this photo had amazed me much more than the chicness of the Dior dress she was flaunting. And just by chance, or divine intervention, who knows, it just so happened that Victoire Doutreleau read my story on Instagram and found it most amusing. And by that, she won my heart.
Many a story later, I had moved from Zurich to Berlin in the meantime, and had written little somethings about her friendship with Yves Saint Laurent whom she followed when he left the house of Dior to open his own couture house in 1962, her best friend Karl Lagerfeld whose death she mourns deeply, and the great dresses she has worn, we had become sort of acquainted, and this December she invited me to tea in her Paris apartment, an elegant pied à terre where she stays when she’s not in Switzerland or at her 18th-century mansion in the South of France. I arrived the day Paris went on strike, my flight was over three hours late, there was no métro to take me any place near or far, it was raining heavily, but Boy, did I not mind! Imagine the joy you have when you learn all about Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé (that one not so charming as one might have thought), Françoise Sagan, Helena Rubinstein, The Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Princess Margaret, Jacques de Bascher, Karl Lagerfeld, nights at the Paris opera with Alain Delon at her side and Maria Callas on stage, showing Olivia de Havilland, one of Dior’s most loyal customers, how to walk tête haute, learning about all that straight from the horse’s mouth! However, no expression could be less fitting. Straight from the goddess’s lips, this has a much better ring to it… A goddess dressed in a red Chanel, too. Designed by Karl Lagerfeld, that one, not Coco, who she has met as well, of course, un génie et un monstre, so she told me. She wore Mademoiselle’s suits in the years between, between being dressed by Dior and Saint Laurent, the time when Yves Saint Laurent was hospitalized during the Algerian war. We talked for hours, over champagne and snacks, only disturbed by texts from her sons and my mother. Both our closest family weren’t so sure about this internet connection of ours and wanted to be sure nothing awful had happened—who the hell had she invited? Who the hell was I seeing? But we told them to trust our guts just like we did. Unless all of it was a dream, I can only say that one meets the most wonderful people on Instagram.