Authors: Studio Saint-Ex
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
Copyright © 2013 by Ania Szado
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Studio Saint-Ex : a novel / Ania Szado.
“This is a Borzoi book.”
1. Triangles (Interpersonal relations)—Fiction. 2. New York (N.Y.)—
History—1898–1951—Fiction. I. Title.
PR9199.4.S99S78 2013 813’.6—DC23 2012032018
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental
Jacket photograph © Estate of Horst P. Horst.
Reproduced by permission of Art + Commerce
Jacket design by Jason Booher
For my family
“You will have five hundred million little bells, I shall have five hundred million springs of fresh water …”
—The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I haven’t even brought a book. I rarely do for the flight to Montreal, so short there’s hardly time to finish a page without a pert stewardess interrupting with a buckle-unbuckle update or to stuff you with another canapé. While I wait at the gate, I do what I always do at JFK: watch the flow of close-shaven businessmen, triangulated teenagers in A-line dresses or the new bell-bottomed jeans, well-heeled wives with this season’s travel bags, exasperated fathers, preternaturally patient mothers with faded eyeliner, cranky children in tow.
Today the tide of travelers, like the rain clouds, has swollen and stalled. The gate is crowded and stuffy. Twin boys chomping Now and Later candy share the seat next to mine. Pan Am Flight 108 is delayed, ladies and gentlemen. And delayed. And we’re sorry to inform you that this flight has again been delayed. Due to weather—as though we ever don’t have weather. You might as well say due to clouds.
You’d think they would figure out a way. Man has been flying, after all, since before I was born. Even Antoine was far from the first, and he soloed in 1921. Maybe that’s him up there, hurling torrents from the sky.
Rain hits the tarmac nearly sideways and skids across, leaping over itself in its hurry to set the terminal afloat. I dig through my bag. As I do so, it catches the interest of a tony woman walking past in Balenciaga. Yes, miss, my bag is a Mignonne NYC. As are the dress and the hat—but not the shoes, which are Beth Levine.
She breaks stride slightly as she recognizes me, then continues,
self-satisfaction adding a lilt to her gait. Thank you, miss, yes, I am Mignonne Lachapelle.
Equal parts gratifying and embarrassing. To conceal my habitual blush, I pull out the pamphlet for Expo 67, the world’s fair. The twins’ mother notices the pamphlet as she reaches across her boys to pin them to their chair.
“ ‘Man and His World.’ ” She says the name of the fair’s theme as though the words are sour in her mouth. “Can you believe that, in this age?”
“It suffers in translation,” I begin, but she goes on.
“I’m waiting for the day there’s a fair called Woman’s World.” She shoves the smaller boy into place with more force than his squirming demands. “Or better, a world called Woman’s World.”
Even Antoine might have balked at the translation of
Terre des hommes
, the title of his novel that earned the
Grand Prix du Roman
in France and the National Book Award here. Man and his world? I’m not sure he himself ever made a claim upon the earth. He used to say we don’t inherit the planet, but borrow it from our children.
children. We had no children—except for that which we made.
They say that everything comes around again, to be borrowed, stolen, honored, adored, abused. That fashions—and politics and the songs tucked into babies’ ears—lie dormant until the time is right. Is nothing allowed to die? God forbid some of my first works are resurrected. We didn’t know how blessed we were to be spared greater notice in our early, earnest days—when I was plowing ahead as boldly as that Amazon strutting there (hip-slung fringe purse pulling up her mini-dress, exposing the muscle of her thigh). Or how lucky we were that the American fashion press was as new and naïve as we were. Or as was I. Clueless about man, naïve about his world.
I’ll sit and wait for this flight because in Montreal my mother waits for me. As does Star Pilot, my retrospective collection on
short-term display at the fair. Tomorrow, if the heavens dry up, I’ll give a talk in the United States Pavilion. “Inspiration and Antoine,” I plan to call it—but that’s all I have written so far. The studio has been so busy. I haven’t had a moment to myself, no time to think.
My toes tap, impatient, unused to being made to stay still. I take out my notebook and my favorite Cartier pen.
I settle the notebook on my lap and gaze at the rivulets that stream down the windows. They undulate, come together, separate. They are sequined snakes. They are runnels, seashores, racing cars, spittle, piping, phone lines, falling jets, falling stars. Let’s not point out the obvious: being raindrops, they are tears.
Beyond the glass, an intrepid swallow swoops through the rain, turns sharply at an edge that only it can see, and returns to inscribe its back-and-forth trajectory, measuring the width of a sheet of water, embroidering the span of a panel of sateen.
Let’s say it draws a story: of a flower, a little prince, Antoine, and me.
In April 1942, I returned to New York. Not to the apartment that had been home to Papa, Mother, Leo, and me, but back to the city after a year in Montreal. Back to stake a claim in the Garment District, where everything had its place: the design studios and showrooms, the fabric, bead, and notion stores, the furriers, the milliners, the shops selling equipment to the trade, the pushers hauling racks of swaying garments, the loading docks holding clues to the concerns of the floors above. And New York Fashion School. The building reached for me with its brass handrails as I passed.
. Class of ’41. I tried to draw confidence from the thought. It had been a year since I had presented my final portfolio to Madame Professor Véra Fiche and she had ravaged my work. Her performance had been convincing. I had taken it to heart in a way I would never have done had she offered equally vehement praise. It had shaken me deeply. I had been hopeful until then. I had been twenty-one.
A flustered student hurried up the steps and through the doors, likely rushing to his own portfolio ordeal. I would rather have been in his shoes than do what I was about to do.
I walked on, turning the wrong direction automatically before conceding that Madame’s building must, in fact, be the other way. Why would she have taken a studio so close to the Hudson River, when just a couple of blocks over she could have been in the heart of the district? Promising designers didn’t locate here—among merchants hawking shelving units, pressing machines, and dusty mannequins—and Atelier Fiche was said to be a fashion
house to watch. At school it had been rumored that, before coming to teach at NYFS, Madame had had several shows without making even the smallest splash. But if those unremarkable and unremarked-upon collections had existed, they had been excised:
Women’s Wear Daily
designated Madame’s January ’42 collection a notable “debut.” At fifty, the designer was no debutante. Still, Véra Fiche’s aesthetic, and therefore mine, had been noticed. The American fashion press, obliged to come up with some sort of news in the wake of the vacuum left by Paris—for France had fallen to the Nazis—had begun focusing for the first time on the offerings of domestic designers. The industry had no choice if it was to survive. I suspected the press was pulling at straws or suffering delusions as it found its way.