By Basil Gala, Ph.D.
In Search of Meaning
Great designers of clothes and accessories, such as Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, or Oscar de la Renta in New York, Versace and Giorgio Armani in Rome, wherever they are, they have cult status; they are demigods to lovers of new fashions. Designer names are on high-priced clothing, perfumes, menus, and even wall paints, handsomely rewarding the manufacturers with great sales. What’s in a fashion name, like Gucci or Bulgari? Big money, that’s what. Blessed are those who fashion popular designs, for they shall be called moneymakers.
Besides making money, great designers create art you can use; art you wear, eat, play with, sit on, lie on, live in, drive, or just flaunt.
Even the devil wears Prada; but not I. Oh, yes, once I bought a pair of genuine Bulgari sunglasses from an African-Greek vendor on the streets of Athens for all of 10 euros.
Spending a lot of money on fancy doodas, well, that’s best done by wealthy heirs, or people with access to other people’s money, known as OPM. In the end the heirs may end up homeless in the streets, and the OPM operators in other cool places.
My brother George, a man of affluence of his own making, thinks shopping in 99-cent stores is cool; if he wants to shop upscale, he likes Big Lots or Wal-Mart. He loves to celebrate birthdays of friends and relatives, not his own. If you are on his birthday list, you are likely to receive a handsome gift from Wal-Mart, specifically designed for you in China. He doesn’t like to celebrate his own birthday, as I said, not to be reminded of his years, and not to be subject to gift reprisals.
My sister and her husband go more upscale in giving gifts, such as bottles of Robert Shaw wine from Trader Joe’s at $1.99 each. Others prefer fine wines from the Bordeaux region of France; oenophiles sip rare old
wines like the nectar of the gods, each drop as pricey as a pearl. My ex-wife, who married well the second time, likes to drink and give wine in
bottles costing eighty or more dollars each. I do even better; I buy no wine,
giving a gift, not for imbibing but for inspiring, one of my celebrated (to be) essays or a copy of my self-published book, which some people nail, instead of a Sears catalog, on the wall of their outhouse.
A professional designer did the cover of my book at a cost of $500. Other designs cost more, like a Louis Vuitton handbag at $1,500, or more. My sister Alice once walked into a Vuitton store, because she saw a handbag in the window she liked a lot; it was just the bag she wanted for years. She was determined to buy it whatever the cost, which she figured about two or three hundred dollars. She walked out of the store empty-handed, pale in the face. My sister and her husband George inherited little money, but they made some of their own after a lifetime of scrimping, saving, and investing; she was in no mood to turn over a big chunk of her boodle to Louis for that handbag.
Famous chefs also are designers—of meals with varied colors, shapes, aromas, and tastes. Alice and George once dared to enter a famous restaurant with exquisite food. Several waiters in a row served them fifty-dollar platters with a few bits of colorful food laid out in the middle like modern art; after gingerly cleaning up the chef’s creation, they went to Norms for dinner.
Once I had a meal at a gourmet restaurant, Roys, of Roy Yamaguchi from Hawaii. Roys was packed with people enjoying fine thirty-dollar dinners. The famous chef presented us with a fish plate, about two ounces of halibut fillet on top of a small mound of mashed potatoes, three baby string beans, and a mushroom. We ordered salad, extra at ten dollars, a salad of three tiny leaves of romaine lettuce, a sliver of carrot, and a slice of red bell pepper. It was all very delicious, gorgeous to look at and I didn’t mind eating the dinner, because I did not pay for it. My brother, who was also in on the dinner, will not forget about Roys; for him it is a favorite subject of conversation.
You see, my family likes big servings of food, abbondanza, in restaurants, even if we can’t eat it all, taking most of it home in a doggy bag for next day’s dinner, since we regrettably have no dog. This tradition comes from my mother, who served huge meals to each one of us, enough for three people and a pig.
A big eater was the love interest of Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in “Sex and the City,” whom her three women friends called Mr. Big. The four ripe women sought love, romance, and fashion in New York City. Fashions from famous designers they found in New York, but the city has a surplus of women over men. Las Vegas too has a surplus of women, seeking business. Our heroines should have gone West, say Silicon Valley, where a plethora of affluent male engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs want relationships or wives, and usually find only call girls; but such men would be dull for the New York women, because they would not know anything about the finer things in life, like Rolex watches.
Smart girls don’t swoon at the sight of a rock-n-roll singer rolling his hips; they swoon at the sight of his Rolex watch gift.
I like the finer things in life too: sunsets, spring water from a spring, fruits from my garden, fresh eggs from my chickens, and classical music from KUSC, demanding only that such things are not followed by a bill; KUSC keeps pleading for donations; such pleadings fall on deaf ears—mine, when it comes to donations.
As for fashions, I am a country bumpkin. I have noticed, though, that fashion designers display their clothing creations using skeletal models. The models parade mechanically on platforms without a smile, placing one foot in front of the other, as if walking on a plank two inches wide. Models are living manikins. The designer wants a stylized presentation of clothes, no distractions from a sexy model, only display. The female and male models are beautiful; sometimes, with one of his models, the designer or artist has an affair, straight or merry. Who can resist a demigod? Picasso, the bald satyr, fathered children with some of his models—female ones, I think.
Female models are attracted to artists and designers like moths to dragon mouths. Great is the power of the artist, creator of worlds; women like to tan themselves in the sunshine of power, fame, and fortune, preferably all three combined. As for male models, usually they are attracted to other male models, or like Narcissus, to themselves.
Oh, beautiful female models with your fine bones, you stir me to great passion with your skeletons.
I’d like to go to Paris, the center of culture and luxury, to meet some of you skeletal models. Jackie Kennedy Onassis loved to dress in the haute-couture shops of Paris, France, when she was Onassis, charging millions of dollars for custom dresses. Aristotle paid the bills, not without squawking in pain.
Paris is a center for the design of fine perfumes as well as clothes. I read somewhere, probably a perfidious lie, that the French make their costliest perfumes, designed to turn the head of the coldest man, from the scent glands of skunks.
Luxury goods from Paris, Rome, New York, and London too, are designed for beautiful young women, who get them from their husbands, or boyfriends, usually much older and uglier; today, luxuries are also sold to handsome young men with rich girlfriends, older and uglier. There is also a luxury goods market for career women and men who buy and sell stocks and make fortunes; and a market for wealthy heirs of both sexes—and the gay set.
Include in the luxury designs, the little cars by Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Mercedes, each selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, with power to speed them at 200 miles per hour, whizzing on the roads of our busy cities at twenty five miles per hour.
Car designers, clothing designers, and perfume designers, what makes these famous designers so successful? Talent, hard work, training with a master, contacts, patrons—all are necessary for success. It is also helpful to be, like Versace, a little gay.
Some wealthy admirers of fine design also buy buildings; not for themselves to wear or operate, but for their alma mater or their community to display with pride. Such patrons were the Statas, who bought the Stata Center at MIT from Frank Gehry for nearly $300 million–with leaks, mold, noise, lack of privacy, and all, but a striking artistic experience for the viewer. Gehry also designed the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, sheathed in brilliant titanium sheeting, blinding and baking people on the sidewalks in front of the building. Ah, but in its design the art is superb.