Express Yourself

Backstage was overflowing with activity. Make-up artists applied their finishing touches, hair stylists twisted brushes and straightened kinks, media teams got in the way, models flounced and design assistants tweaked. Above them all, on what he had coined his command podium, Michael watched over the proceedings. The eye for detail he was renowned for was not failing, even now in his one hundred and thirty first year at the Paris show. His commanding tone whipped out across the room instructing his horde of helpers; buzzing in their ear pieces as if an angry wasp had focused on making their life Hell every time they missed something.

Cass watched the great man and his minions from where she stood against one wall. She disliked his aggressive attitude but respected him as a designer. Why would she not when he had given her the break she had longed for. Without him she would not be here tonight.

She had been ready for the last five hours. There were no adjustments needed to her or the dress that hung from her shoulders. After attending to Cass personally, Michael had told her to wait out of the way. She dared not disobey him. Not just because of the debt she felt. There were also stories the other models told; whispers when he was out of sight.

Josie should have been at this show, but there had been an incident in New York last year and suddenly she was off the list. Cass had wanted to ask for more details but was too nervous of breaching some secret catwalk etiquette; that or she might find out something she did not want to about this man who was both revered and feared.

Cass checked the time; five minutes before it all started. Fifteen minutes after that the final model would appear. No one expected that woman to be an unknown and they would certainly never guess it was going to be her. The media vultures with their myriad of floating cameras paid her no heed. To them she was an insignificant prop placed against a wall. It was true that the dress she wore was stunning, but it could be a spare, or maybe it was one Michael had rejected. The reporters did not know and they did not care. Cass was not offering them an interview and in turn they were ignoring her.

An amplified clap washed over the room. Assistants straighten and models became silent. The media began to file out. Michael would not bring his hands together again. The journalists knew the routine as well as everyone else; two minutes before the show started the backstage was cleared of all but essential staff.

With just attendants and girls left the designer put his hands together and prayed. A minute of silence ticked by. The only sound was that of rustling fabric. Michael lifted up his head and let his gaze drift across the congregation, then he gave the signal.

The audience, who had been shifting in their chairs front of stage, fell silent as the first chords of music washed across them. The drumming beat grew and then the models were on their way. Michael gave a flick of his head to indicate when the next one should stride forth.

Soon the first of the parade was returning and the line of those waiting grew shorter. Cass began to feel her worries rising up. She knew nothing would go wrong, but that did not stop the thoughts popping into her head. Little of bubbles of doubt rose to the surface of her mind.

What would the critics say about her? Would the Parisians get up and walk out? Soon her face was going to be flashed around the world, but that might mean she could never show it in public again. Cass tried to quell these fears and for each one she pressed back down others rose up elsewhere to take their place. Was the dress sitting right? What if she stood on it and tripped? One knife sharp stiletto could tear the material.

Michael was looking directly at her; there was no one else left to go. A short brunette assistant waved, and Cass did not know if she could move. In her mind the hesitation stretched to seconds, then minutes; the gathered ensemble held its breath.

As if driven by some outside force one leg stepped forward. The other followed and she was moving; past the watching line of men and women, between the partitions and onto the spot marked for her at the back of the catwalk.

The audience were in near darkness. No one could see Cass as she stood at the base of the runway. A small spotlight played across one of her feet, another ran up her left leg before darting off. The music rose to a crescendo and then cut out. At the same moment the lights came back on again and Cass was striding forward.

For the first few seconds the only sounds to escape the audience were gasps, then the cameras sprang to life as photographers recovered. Cass continued her elegant walk, the long train of the wedding dress flowing out behind her, its black lace contrasting with the shining silver of her polished metal body. She kept her face still but inside she was burning with pride; other mechs would follow in her wake, the class of robots previously sidelined to undertake menial tasks had gained a new figurehead and there would be no turning back.

—————

26 February 2010
A stir has been caused in France by a modern interpretation of one of the nation’s classic symbols, Marianne, famously depicted by artist Eugène Delacroix among others. The new version, created to promote the country’s rise out of an economic slump, is rife with symbols that many find offensive.

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