Chapter One - Shooting Rachel by James Killough

by James Killough


I was standing in the Closet and my head was a blur because even though I was pretending I knew what I was looking at and that I could imagine it on Rachel Haymaker, I really couldn’t.  My idea of styling, when I did it once a month, was to just wing it after I got to the shoot and started chatting up the celeb.  I didn't style so much as I played Let's Pretend and Let's Dress-up with actors who were household names.  I never did fashion shoots, only celebrities who appeared in the features section of the magazine, and I had to do it myself because the fashion department was always too busy trying to get their own stories in on time to be on the set with me; I was lucky if I could convince one of them to go out shopping for my shoots, forget about actually being there to dress the stars.  

Sarah Moon
My trick was, while making the celeb my best friend for the duration of the shoot and subsequent interview, I would ask her to look at the clothes and ask what she felt like wearing and work it from there.  I was better at outfitting them with props and coming up with ingenious backgrounds than I was with actually getting them dressed.  If the celeb was heading in the wrong direction, I would pull out the dress she needed to be in and say, “Our fashion editor Natascha picked this out especially for you and made me promise I would get you would wear it.”  Which was a lie.  Like Natascha gave two shits.  Actresses were just too much of a pain in the ass for her to make look good.  She liked the sameness of models, their predictability.  Actresses were never the size their publicists swore they were, and that made them all “tomatoes,” as far as Natascha was concerned.  It wasn’t good to be a tomato in Natascha-land.  Worse than a tomato was a Hoboken Heifer, which was usually a model who had gone from a size zero to size two.


Luckily, Natascha was a huge fan of Rachel Haymaker’s —who wasn’t? bitch was a legend, two Oscars under her belt, used to be a model — so I managed to get her attention for this shoot rather than be fobbed off to an underling of hers. Which is why I was in the Closet with her trying to focus on what I was taking to London with me for the shoot. And my head was swimming, and then it was thumping amidst all of the racks of clothes and stacks of accessories and cubby holes of shoes, and I was just way to big and tall and non-female to feel anything less than the walls caving in on me.

“I think she’ll look fabulous in this de la Renta, don’t you?” Natascha said, holding a ball gown in front of her and fanning it out.

“Yeah, but it’s all lace.  Everywhere.  Looks really delicate to travel with.”

“Then be careful with it.  It’s a $13,000 gown.”  If you don’t think that’s much, remember this was 1995.  That was a lot for a frock by an American designer.

“How many set-ups do you have?” she asked, picking at the lace.

“Double-page spread to open, then two more full-pages.”

“Are you making me count for you?”

“That’s three pictures, but please give me lots of back-up. I’m not like you.  I can’t get it right just with exactly what I need.  Because I don't know what I need."

“You can’t take so much couture with you to London for a week. We’re not the only magazine in town.”

“Did you tell them it’s for Rachel?”

“And everyone’s really impressed.  But it’s still too long for the dresses to be out.” 

After we’d settled on six outfits, two by friends of ours downtown, she hit me with the terrible, crippling, head-thumping details: “You’ll need to fill out a carnet.”

“A what?”

“You’re travelling internationally with, like, fifty thousand in dresses and accessories.  You need a carnet for customs.”  It was already night.  I was leaving the next day.  I hadn’t finished my article about Napa.  I hadn’t even started my article about Napa, in fact.  Now I had to type up a laundry list of haute couture gowns and every trinket and shoe I was taking with me.  I had planned just to sail through customs at Heathrow like I usually did.  Just push trolley, walk, ignore the civil servants in uniforms and they’ll ignore the drugs on me.

“Can Patty do it for me?” I pleaded.

“No, Sass!  She has way too much work to do.  Don’t you dare.”

S’il te plait, Saucie.” Whenever either of us started with the French or Italian, it was either to have others not understand us, or to get something from each other that was not easily forthcoming.  Natascha and I had grown up together in Europe, and now we’d been hired by the same magazine, not just because we were young and talented and cheap, but because the owners couldn’t speak English, and they needed to scream at us and abuse us in their native Eurospeak.  To top it off, Natascha and I were living together as well, sleeping in the same bed; her husband was off in Los Angeles trying to get his film career together.  Or off in Paris trying to get his film career together because he was French, and members of his family were film producers with very important projects about to go into production all the time, but somehow never with him.  I knew Pascal was screwing everything that wasn’t nailed down because he was French, and pouty-mouthed and had a legendary eleven-inch dick. But I never said anything to her; breaking her heart would be like breaking my own. I hated standing in the urinal next to Pascal; my self-esteem just withered, and I was a bitter enough young closet case as it was.  

When you looked at Pascal he looked back at you with sex.  He flew planes, rode motorcycles, wore well-tooled leather and Yohji and Gaultier — all owned by him, none borrowed from the Closet, like mine; he was married to Natascha, the only fashion editor in New York who just needed one name, and therefore he had limitless access to the world’s most beautiful women; when he wasn’t planning to make films, he took nude art photographs, in a style that was sort of a cross between Sarah Moon and Jean Loup Sieff, but make any reference like that to him and you were in for a fight all night.  
Jean Loup Sieff

I doubt Pascal was as serious about his own work as Natascha was about it. He just used it as foreplay to bang the girls, and as a way to present himself in public, to give himself a raison d’être beyond being simply rich, pouty-lipped and horse hung. Natascha was convinced Pascal was faithful, and that he was pretty much up there with Avedon in terms of talent, an opinion I backed her up on dutifully because we’d known each other since childhood, and she was my whole world: my social life; the mirror in which I reflected my poor self-image and tried to make it better because she was so cool and my best friend; the person who copped smack for us.  I didn’t want to know how to cop smack in New York; my excuse was that if I got used to it, I’d become a full-fledged junkie, not just a weekend one.  In reality, Avenue A and environs, into which Natascha fearlessly stomped like it was nothing more than a tedious, routine department store sale, scared the fuck out of me. It reminded me of deliberately walking into a nightmare.  Heroin was the one thing you couldn’t get delivered by posh dealers like Fat Maggie.  Smack was wack, as Keith Haring reminded us from a mural in Harlem, a mural which always made me snigger in defiance.

T’as pas une petite ligne?” I asked her.  Don’t you have a little line?   Natasha huffed and zipped the shoes in the carry bag.

“I thought you had two packets.”

“That was three days ago.  I know you went downtown again.  Don’t lie.”

“I was saving it for when Pascal gets back this weekend.”

S’il te plait?”  I whined.  There was no use resisting me.  She handed me a little wax paper packet with a red devil stamped on it and I helped myself to a petit bump.

It took me another half hour to convince Natascha’s assistant Patty to type up my carnet the way it should be done in case I got stuck in customs on some technicality with fifty grand worth of couture gowns like some klepto drag queen.  I was just barely smart enough to know that customs was not the place to be cavalier and practice one of my favorite lines: “Which part of ‘civil servant’ don’t you understand? The civil, or the servant?”  

I had no assistant because I was the features editor of a woman’s fashion magazine, which I kept pointing out to people was actually the lifestyle part of a woman’s fashion and lifestyle magazine, as it said on the cover, except let’s face it, nobody read the lifestyle part, no matter how grand I tried to make it seem, no matter how many celebrity tomatoes I strapped into gowns every month and had snapped by the edgiest photographers.  It was all about Natascha and her brilliant groundbreaking fashion spreads.  She made us the hippest kids on the block. I just swam in her wake, warmed her bed, sat with her at dinner, did drugs with her, told her stories and made her laugh so hard she once peed herself between cars in the Marais.  Natascha insisted I share an office with her, too. Thankfully, I travelled two weeks of the month on assignment, or we would have become physically entwined like two vine plants climbing the same brick wall.  Natascha hated being alone.  I had to coordinate my trips with Pascal's so that her bed was never empty.

As features editor, I maintained a stable of over twenty freelancers, but I had no assistant, just an artless copy editor who delighted in just slapping my articles up there without making many adjustments, only to humiliate me. I was so flat-out, balls-to-the-wall busy all the time, so behind on work, sliding in at the last minute with everything, that I could barely read my copy over twice before submitting it.  I couldn’t share Patty as an assistant because she was also overworked.  But this time she helped me out after I had a meltdown in the editorial office.  Crying is really easy when you’re cranky on a combination of no sleep and good smack; it’s genuine, it's organic.  I managed to get Patty to sell me twenty dollars worth of coke, too; I kept nodding out over the Napa article.  Even though I thought the wines I drank when I was out there pretty much sucked from my Euroview, I extolled their virtues, mimicking the language of some oenophile’s book I’d picked up at Barnes and Noble.  I finished at 3 a.m. and crawled home to Natascha’s side, got her to give me another bump and passed out.

Natascha was ‘Saucie,’ and I was ‘Sassy,’ or Sass.  I got the nickname when we were on location in West Africa; I often travelled with the lead fashion story of the month because I would write the travel articles that would be bartered for the air tickets and accommodation.  Some bellhop at the hotel we stayed at couldn’t pronounce my name, Sebastian, correctly, so he kept calling me Mr. Sass.  I think he was flirting with me, too.  And the more the grinning idiot saw how everyone on the crew laughed at ‘Mr. Sass,’ the more occasions he took to call out for me, like I was going to tip him hugely at the end of my stay for letting him make me the agent of everyone’s giggles.  Natascha was Saucie because that’s what her southern mother called her, and few things gave me more pleasure than imitating her mother’s southern accent calling her Saucie.  And when dropped into a sentence in French, Saucie had a vague sense of pork product about it, which was cute in a juxtaposing way because Natascha was super thin and hyper elegant.

We were way too young to be senior editors of the American version of a major European magazine with supermarket distribution and nearly half a million readers.  I was twenty-three, Natascha was twenty-four.  Pascal was almost thirty, but behaved younger than we did.  Natascha and I took our roles as senior editors very seriously, and we screamed a lot as a consequence of how seriously we took ourselves.  Well, I screamed at everyone I didn’t think was cool or funny, or wasn’t afraid of.  She was more subdued.  Together, we fought like brother and sister from a hot-blooded, dysfunctional Sicilian family of fishmongers in front of anyone, anywhere, because we could do it in three languages fluidly and the only thing most people could understand about our fights was the rage and the passion, never what it meant. 

The next day, somehow, I made the Virgin flight with my fifty grand in gowns, as usual unprepared for my interview with Rachel Haymaker.  I had lied to Natascha — we always lied to each other a little when it came to drugs — I still had a packet of smack on me, so I did a petit line and slept all the way across.  At Heathrow, I had to go through the red channel and declare my gowns, the red channel that felt appropriate to my blood-shot, pinned eyes.  It didn’t even dawn on me that I had half a wrap of smack in my Filofax that might have been better off swimming in blue fluid in the plane’s septic holding tank than inches away from a pair of cops who could incarcerate me for bringing it in to the UK.  I’d been crossing borders since I could remember.  I was a child of the American empire.  Forget the drugs: I was more embarrassed that the customs officials marking off the items on Patty’s meticulously itemized carnet were thinking that the gowns were really for my use.  So I name-dropped my way out of embarrassment.  “I’m here to do a story on Rachel Haymaker,” I said nonchalantly, suddenly conflated to twelve feet in height by my association with a two-time Oscar-winning actress in front of these civil servants.  “These gowns are for the shoot we’re doing with her and Lord Hemdale.”

I had their respect.  Everyone loves Rachel Haymaker.  As a real drag queen might say, "she's fierce."

“Love her,” one of the officials said.  “Especially in that one she got the Oscar for.”

Plexus,” I said. “Yeah, she was brilliant in that.”  And I was brilliant for being associated with her.  I shone like Icarus there in the red channel at Heathrow.

“Aren’t she and Lord Hemdale married?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “Well, sort of.  The rumors are it’s not going well.  It’s apparently going to be an amicable divorce, but … you know …”

Having impressed them with the inside dish on people I hadn’t yet met  — I was only regurgitating Rachel’s own publicist’s gossip — I was promptly zipped up and on my way, my petal-delicate masculinity intact now that the customs officials were satisfied the gowns weren’t for me, but a higher purpose.

To be continued ....

James Killough is a writer and filmmaker who edits the lifestyle and entertainment blog Pure FIlm Creative.


Proposed by diane pernet on Tuesday 19 April 2011 at 07:31 PM

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