Once upon a time, in an english garden by the seashore, a golden-haired princess sat on a velvet tufted pouf in her closet and sighed. Alas, the ball was only four days away and she had nothing to wear. She longed for something stunning, original, and magical, and as she gazed upon the beads, feathers, and sparkles surrounding her, she sighed again. None of this would do. And so it was that she called upon the great wizard, her bestie artist Tristan Govignon, and he came galloping in on his magnificent white stallion, waved his magic wand and … here is what happened…
So, the big MFA Gala was coming up to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Fashion Council and to raise money for the MFA Fashion department, and as it goes, it was four days away and I had nothing to wear. For me, the most fun part of any event from galas to parties to traveling, is planning my wardrobe. I love searching for the perfect piece, something unique and wonderful that fits my vision for the event. It’s like treasure-hunting.
For example, when I went on a Belly Dance Safari in 1999, I watched The African Queen with Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart and watched old clips of Rita Hayworth on her safaris when she was dating Prince Aly Khan. I went and invested in a wardrobe of khaki suits complete with pencil skirts, fitted blazers with pockets and of course, a pith helmet. But when I came home and laid out my wardrobe to show my girlfriends, they all shook their heads and said absolutely not. I needed to return it all—too hot, too itchy, too uncomfortable for sunrise jeep rides to see cheetahs and giraffes.
Sigh. They were right.
I returned it all for more comfortable safari clothes (silk tiered skirts and tank tops), but I still wore my cheetah print platform flip flops and my pith helmet!
Another example: at the PEM gala two years ago, I searched and searched and couldn’t find the right gown to go with my own personal theme which was “1960’s Italian movie star that just rolled out of bed.” George was totally on board with this theme and he had it easy with his tux and messy hair. It was the day of the gala and in a last ditch attempt to find the right magical ensemble, I dashed over to a consignment shop by the sea a few minutes from my house. That’s when I found a golden beaded Oscar DeLaRenta gown that fit like a glove. (A tight glove, but a waist cincher helped me squeeze into it.) Voila! I teased the hell out of my hair to give it that giant messy bouffant ala Sophia Loren, added black elbow-length gloves, and I was off.
The next year I ended up reworking a gorgeous black satin ballgown I had bought at a thrift shop in 1995 for $12. The fabric and cut were gorgeous, but the bodice had grown too tight. (26-year-old Marci had a smaller torso than 47-year-old “I’ve had two kids and no longer dance every day” Marci.) I had a seamstress cut the back and put in laces which adjust the fit whether I gain or lose weight. I found a butterfly headdress from an artist on Easy. The gala theme was Imagine and I like to imagine butterflies are fluttering around my head at all times.
So here I was, a few days before the Fashion Council Gala, and feeling totally uninspired. It needed to be “tech fashion” and I had it in my head I wanted a fairy tale gown. My fantasy gown was inspired by three different gown I had stuck in my head:
- The gown worn by Anita Ekberg when she dances around the fountain in Rome in La Dolce Vita (as you can see I am endlessly inspired by 1960’s Italian movie stars). I LOVE La Dolce Vita–the style is tuning–the cars, the sunglasses, the clothing, Anita dancing by the fountain with her long blonde hair and a kitten on her head–just fabulous! Here it is in glitter mosaic tile at Serendipity restaurant in NYC.
2. The gown worn by Deborah Kerr in The King and I in the dance scene. The first time I saw it as a child I felt like a choir of angels started to sing. The fabric looks like liquid when it moves under the lights and I thought it the most beautiful gown I’d ever seen.
3. The third gown in my head was the fairy tale gown worn by Cate Blanchett in Cannes—images of faces were digitally printed in gorgeous and unique colors—grays, purples, whites, blues and blacks.
I lamented to my darling Tristan, an amazing artist and Boston Bon Vivant and he swooped to my rescue. Tristan was my roommate at Harvard and constantly amazed me with his paintings, sculptures and photography. (You can visit his website if you want to be blown away by www.tristangovignon.com I told him my visions and he said he had a beautiful photograph he had taken at a castle in Chantilly. (Tristan is French and spends a lot of time there.) It looks like a fairy tale with swans swimming in front of it. He sent me his photo and I swooned–it was beautiful, except I didn’t want the realistic colors. He sent it to me in silver.
So close, but I told him I was thinking blue, black and silver and here’s what he texted to me five minutes later.
He is a wizard!
(To know what kind of a magical wizard Tristan is, here are some examples of texts I receive from him:
“Thursday I twirl to Texas for three days of museum and society black tie galas with Milty.”
“It has been quite the Texan twirl. I tore this town up and now it’s spitting me out!
“OMG you are jamazing. Sitting down to liquid lunch now. I see a chilled bottle of Sancerre heading our way.”
“Send me big magic at noon today. Big client making a decision… along with rainbows landing on me.”
“Thanks for the magic~ yay!”
“I’m supposed to start using the word no. You’re the first one I’ve used it on this week! Tell me to go to the studio and not to lavish lavender and coriander all over myself however yummy and perfect that does sound. Ta ta”
This is what Tristan looks like when he’s creating something magical for people.
Or if he’s feeling especially playful, this is what he looks like making magic for people:
The next day I drove to Tristan’s art studio in the South End and met the “crazy genius tailor” (as described by T) who would be sewing my dress. Tristan gushes about “the best kept secret in Boston for all couture– Roger Hinds. I meet Roger and he accepts our challenge: to make a couture ballgown from digitally printed satin in less than four days.
And now that I’m in knee-deep I’m a little scared of the price as I forgot to ask.
I finally blurt it out to Tristan. “How much?”
“Nothing,” he says, dismissing my question with a wave of his hands. He hates to talk money as much as I do.
But I wasn’t letting go. I didn’t want to get stuck with a huge bill. “How much nothing?” I asked. “$300 nothing or $800 nothing.”
“Definitely not more than $300,” Tristan said, and so I cheered and skipped down the dusty hallway, delighted I was getting the deal of the century for a couture gown.
Roger held a measuring tape to the front of my body for about 5 seconds and told Tristan how much fabric we needed. That afternoon we drove to a slummy area of Somerville and had the photograph digitally printed onto 2 pieces of specially treated white satin. It came out a gorgeous drenched blue with silver and black accents. It was stunning and printed so perfectly you could see reflections in the windows of the castle and the feathers on the swans swimming around the bottom.
We took the fabric back to Roger. His workplace was a big room with piles of fabric and clothing and projects everywhere. He had a few different sewing machines, old sturdy ones. He took a measuring tape and took a couple of quick measurements, then pushed aside a sparkling bodysuit and stitched together 4 pieces of muslin and wrapped them around me. Voila!– a perfect-fitting bodice that would help him cut the bodice of the gown. He only had one chance to cut on the image—one false move and the image would be ruined.
And the entire process took him about 10 minutes. In between his stitches, he answered his phone, cheerfully tormenting the poor telemarketers who accidentally called him.
“Why don’t you just say no thank you and hang up?” I asked.
I can’t print his reply—it would make you blush. (But now you see what I mean…)
I was a little worried about any negativity getting into my gown, but I trusted Tristan to counteract it with his endless positivity and magic.
So I drove down every day to see the progress (none.). On Friday, I said, “The gala is tomorrow night. Do you think it will be ready?”
“Of course Darling! Don’t worry!” Tristan assured me. “I’ll have it at your house tomorrow morning.”
So Friday night, at 10pm, 11pm, midnight and beyond, I kept receiving texts about the sparkling tulle that Roger thought would work on the bodice but Tristan decided would cheapen it. I finally fell asleep and those two kept going until the wee hours of the morning.
They worked their magic and true to his word, Tristan showed up at my doorstep at 10am with the dress in tow…
And it was magic.
And the journey had made it meaningful to me so I felt wrapped in magic all night.
And I had looked for shoes during the week but couldn’t find any I loved so ended up with my black velvet suede wedges—they are not magical, but they are pretty and comfortable and the dress covered my shoes anyway, but in my mind I was wearing a delicate pair of glittering silver heels.
And the handbag—Tristan said al my gorgeous feathered handbags looked a little tattered next to the gown (he was right) so we finally settled on a retro handbag with crisp lines to reflect the architecture of the castle on the gown—the turret and lines of the roof.
I wanted my hair to be poufy like a princess, and normally I would wear a hairpiece to make it stay poufy all night, but alas I went with my own hair and even with the three types of hairspray I used, it fell and didn’t look very “fairytale-ish”. But c’est la vie.
The gown was everything I hoped for and more. And it ended up in the society pages of Boston Common Magazine.
We sat at a table with Megan and Robert O’Block–a most raucous and vivacious table. I loved telling everyone the story of my gown and I loved having Tristan with me to explain the details of the creation. I loved chatting with the bankers on my right and left, telling them about my belly dance/burlesque/circus days, and then hearing about their banking “Harvard” days—and then I delightedly tell them I graduated from Harvard too, and they stare at me for a while, trying to take this in. Then I asked them some of my favorite questions that let me learn the most fascinating tidbits about people:
Name your top three favorite books.
Name a book that changed your life.
Top three favorite movies.
Top three favorite places you’ve traveled.
Then let the stories unfold on their own.
In the end, the night was just magical—the flowers, the lighting, the conversation, and the exhibit—just amazing. (You could tweet a word to a dress and your word would light up across the front! So cool!)
(And by the way, the dress ended up being quite a bit more than “nothing.” It ended up being more “heart attack” price. When I stood with my checkbook and asked Roger the price, he told me and I choked. It was too late to back out at this point and it was my own damn fault for not being specific with price from the beginning. I had no choice but to write the damn check —lesson learned. At least when I texted Tristan (as I walked out the door) that I couldn’t talk as I was having a heart attack from the price, he said he was having one for me, so we got to have a heart attack together. And I did get to wear a one-of-a-kind work of Tristan’s art on my body to a fabulous gala, and when I told George, he said he wanted to buy it for me as an early birthday gift. And George and Tristan and I had a really amazing night together. So it all turned out perfect really. Sigh.)