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  • "For me, this summer will be pure gray
    50 Shades of Grey.
    To me, this is the big statement for this summer.
    Then we have 101 shades of Arabian pink
    From A Boy's Unique Story Pink
    To Life Of A Harem Boy Pink.
    To me, these are ginormous fashion statements
    For all seasons."
    Bernard Tristan Foong
    Fashion Designer

    Second Week of April 2012

    Mixed feelings rose when I read Aria's email. On one hand I was relieved to know Andy is well and alive but on the other I was afraid. I had not connected with my ex-lover for 40 years and the prospects of reconnecting was closing in by the minute. I wouldn't know how to react if and when he wrote? It had been extremely painful for us after our separation. I had plunged into the deep end trying to find the love we shared. For more than a year and half of living a double life through a series of licentious sex, often visiting underground sex clubs brought nothing but further depression. Desperately trying to find the kind of unconditional stability, mentorship and companionship my Big Brother had so lovingly provided. Me being insidiously stubborn faced huddles of difficulties without my soul mate's guiding presence. Not admitting defeat I told myself that if I can survive alone in a major metropolis, I can survive anywhere in the world. As much as I hated this hellacious experience it also strengthen my courage in the face of adversity. My single mindedness to succeed in my chosen career saved me from sinking into progressive deterioration.

    Now, a possible reconnection with Andy will open years of concealed wounds which I may not be able to reconcile. The best solution I knew was to sleep on my fears, meditate on the problem until an answer arrived without active participation on my part.


    At Valentino Garavani

    Early next morning Mario joined us for breakfast before 2 limousines drove us to 24 Via Gregoriana, Valentino Garavani's atelier. While a separate Rolls Royce ferried Gabrielli, Oscar, Devaj and the 3 Arab males menswear shopping. Like the Parisian couture l'ateliers our entourage was received with great comfiture as we proceeded to the 3rd floor for Val's haute fashion presentation. Instead of day dresses, the designer presented a mini evening and bridal wear collection for the Sekham ladies purview. After the private showing the head venduse sat with the women and me, discussing the styles we selected to add, alter or minus to accomodate a revision of suitable designs specially for Mais extensive wedding trousseau. Naira, Sabiya and I thought a soft vanilla pink would look fabulous on the bride's skin tone though the designer suggested a pastel sugar candy pink would be a better choice. Abu Dhabi being hot and sunny Thabit's wives advised a magenta color for one of the reception dresses which I agreed full heartedly. After battering back and forth for several hours an unanimous decision was reached; a blush bluish pink and a magenta colored reception dresses were the order of the day while an ethereal snowflakes ivory pink for her wedding ensemble. Mais wanted an all pink wedding and that was what she got.

    Zeba and Ula insisted that gold be incorporated into her ivory colored wedding dress. As much as Mais wanted a pure white ensemble she was out numbered by the women's votes. Personnally I agreed with the women that ivory and gold was a much better color choice for a gala wedding than brillent white. Secretly I was glad the women won the color vote of the day.

    Mario, a friend of the designer and his business and life partner Giancarlo Giammetti, acted as our professional fashion consultant, while our accompaning cultural attache spoke Italian to the 2 venduses servicing the ladies.
    Seeing my curiousity to explore the l'atelier the Count asked, "I know you are interested to see the workroom, aren't you?"

    "That will be nice. I like to learn the design and manufacturing aspect of high fashion."

    Over hearing my dialogue with the Count, Signor Giammetti said with a strong Italian English accent, "Young man, the business of fashion is equally important. A great design talent requires an excellent business mind behind the company for it to florish successfully. Fashion like all businesses is team work. Just like we had gathered an excellent team of pattern makers, seamstresses, craftsmen and women to complete an exquisite collection, we also have an excellent team of able staff in our various departments; from marketing, promotion, publicity to the hospitality service personals are housed under one roof. In order for our enterprise to run smoothly."

    Mario and Giancarlo's conversation switched from Italian to English as we conversed. The fashion photographer asked, "Possono Giovani hanno un tour del l'atelier? Egli è affascinato da vedere come abiti sono abiti haute couture sono costruiti (Can Young have a tour of the premise? He is facinated to see how haute couture gowns are constructed)?

    "I'll be glad to show the young man. Come with me while they (indicating to Valentino, the attache and the women) are busy discussing styles and models to order."

    Andy, Mario and I followed Valentino's business partner to the workshop. Similar to the Parisian l'ateliers I was able to have a glimpse at the workings of a haute couture sample room, affirming my determination to be a fashion designer after graduating from boarding school.

    Little did I realise while we were touring the premise, Sabiya was secretly gathering fashion information for her own bethrothal to none other than Gabrielli, my professor.

    At Sorelle Fontana

    Mario the fashion go-to man about town recommended we pay the Fontana sisters a visit. "They are couturiers to the Stars and they run Rome's oldest fashion house, the glamorous Sorelle Fontana story reads like a fairy tale," The Count announced before proceeding to give our entourage a brief history of the designers trio.

    "It is a story of three young women who made their way from a tiny town near Parma to Rome and then America, whose beautiful designs became highly sought-after by Hollywood stars and the Italian aristocracy.
    "The three sisters Zoe, Micol and Giovanna from Traversetolo were taught dressmaking by their talented mother, Amabile. In 1907 they inherited their grandmother's atelier and gaining popularity with their feminine clothes, opened a atelier in fashionable Parma.

    "Before long Zoe's restless soul wanted to move their design house but found it difficult to decide between Rome and Milan. Her instinct took her to Rome, the city of the Italian aristocracy. Her sisters and mother joined her at the start of the Second World War, opening their new atelier in the Eternal City."

    I asked before Mario could continue, "Why move to Rome when there is a war going on?"

    The Count reiterated an article in The Scotsman by John Davidson in which Micol said, "We could still hear bombs going off on the beaches when we moved into our first atelier. But that didn't matter. It was our dream to own a l'atelier."

    "Young, when we get to their fashion house you'll see that their glamorous clothes are often base on Christian Dior's 'New Look' that gained favor with Italian aristocracy in the late 40s. One of their famous client is the Russian e'migre', Principessa Irene Galitzene who loved wearing their designs.

    "Why open in Rome and not Paris since Paris is the fashion capital of the world," I queried?

    "Even though Paris is the principal center of fashion, some Italian designers decided to rebel against this monopoly. Believing their informal and sexier styles will appeal to American buyers so they made plans to attract the major store buyers. Marchese Giorgini, a dear friend of mine and several other Italian designers including Sorelle Fontana, invited eight American buyers and several leading fashion journalists to their fashion presentations. In the beginning their designs were greeted with 'silence' which Micol told me later. But they did love the designs and the sisters received substancial orders from this showing.

    "Before long Hollywood stars making movies here started showing up at Sorelle Fontana's l'atelier. Now their clothes are worn by Ava Gardner and Anita Ekberg in Fellini's film, La Dolce Vita, where she frolicked in a Roman fountain. Her's was the perfect dress for the film portraying our jet setting lifestyle," the Count said preening with pride before adding, "Their other famous clients included Linda Christian's wedding dress when she married Tyrone Power in "Made in Italy", and the American president's daughter, Margaret Truman's wedding outfit. The trio also dressed the young and gracious Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday". My friends Princess Grace, Jacqueline Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor wore Sorelle Fontana to perfection."

    "They must be excellent bridal wear designers," I chirped.

    "Yes! they are famous for wedding ensembles, evening wear, and full-skirted cocktail dresses. The Fontana sisters didn't just achieve their dream in opening an atelier they are synonymous with glamour and elegance. That's why I wanted the ladies to meet them," Mario advised with an air of panache through a series of exaggerated hand gestures before we arrived at L'Atelier Sorelle Fontana overlooking Piazza di Spagna.

    Flabbergasted with Sorelle Fontana's designs Naira ordered 5 evening dresses to wear to her sister's and brother's wedding. She had instantly become a Fontana haute couture fan the minute she set foot into their showroom to view the sister's private haute couture collections.

    At Giovanna Caracciolo Ginetti

    The last of our 3 stops for the day was Carosa, Giovanna Caracciolo Ginetti the princess-seamstress l'atelier. During the golden age of couture, this atelier was one of the most important places in a noble woman’s life. Fashion was representative of a great many things and the right dress could make or break your appearance in society. Noble women needed to trust their seamstress and her taste as well as the sense of occasion when choosing a dress. When they walked into Atelier Carosa, it was much simpler as Giovanna Caracciolo Ginetti the head designer was one of them.

    Born in Rome in 1910 to 'The' historical Italian noble family Princess Giovanna Caracciolo Ginetti was not an average noble woman. She had selected to signiturized her innate elegance and experience through socialising at the highest echelons of society to be of service to other noble women.

    After formal introductions at Carosa, our entourage was urshered into the fashion show salon for a private haute couture viewing. While the presentation was in session, Mario seated next to me began an ernest private biographical commentary as the head venduse introduced each outfit to her audiance. Knowing I was interested in every aspect of fashion the Count whispered as I watched mesmersied at each passing model. Each more beautiful than the next.

    "In 1947, Caracciolo and her friend Barbara Angelini Desalles set up Atelier Carosa. Very soon many Italian and international nobility became her clients. Her fashion to me is an intricately detailed revisitation of her two great loves: Balenciaga and Roman Baroque," Mario detailed.

    "Her aristocratic elegance and taste are supported by her eye for talent. Looking to the Domes of Saint Peters as inspiration for their collection proportions and volumes; Roman fashion came to life and Carosa is currently enjoying great success."

    I had difficulty concentrating on the Count's commentary as her menagerie of ethereal pastel colored dresses sent me into a state of euphoric ecstasy. Viewing each garment with awe and wonderment before the fashion show finale dress shook me back to reality. Only then did I realise the venduse was already taking Ria's measurements in a private chamber; ready for fabric, color and style selection for her custom-made petite wedding dress. Ria being 10 also wanted many shades pink and pink, pink and more pink was what she desired for her Big Day.

    By the end of the day, I had more than enough shades of pink coming out of my 6 senses. I was happy to be back in the mundane world of white, beige, cream, gray and black.

    The best fashion lesson learned during my visit to the Italian couturiers was the geodesy of team work. Spick-and-span the 3 l'ateliers functioned because every team member performed their integral task with precision, professionalism and love. As much as a designer is an integral part of a fashion company, without a robust team of artisans and crafts people; good designs will be wasted to shoddy construction and a disconsolate attention to details. Over the years I had the good graces to learn from many grand masters that great designs equates extraordinary teamwork.


    Book 2 of A Harem Boy documents this 14 year old adolescence's life during his service in his 2nd Arab Harem Household in the United Arab Emirate. Follow his adventures with new chapters posted twice weekly.
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