Il sorriso di Imogen

Imogen's Smile

The hills shone with shades of bright green under the spring sun. The evening before, the terrace lounge had been arranged to make room for the fashion show. Elizabeth had recommended a spacious and relaxed setup. The event was to be for a few selected individuals only. The choice had fallen on Monteverdi Tuscany, a hidden treasure in the Sienese countryside. No need for catwalks or carpets: the grid of squared stones, echoing the ochre of the farmhouse facade, would highlight the garments properly. The few steps would not pose a problem for the models.

"They will make everything more natural," Elizabeth thought to herself, noticing the hem of her skirt swaying with each step before turning towards the parapet. In front of her, beyond the tops of the larch trees, lay the fields of the Val d'Orcia, undulating gently.

Her end-of-year editorial was followed by a flood of response emails. She was not one to be distracted by criticism. In fashion, and narrating fashion, good taste was a quality honed over years of hard work and defended with every choice. The veiled accusation of provincialism, however, was what had surprised her.

"It's provincial to believe that 'global' means uniform, if anything."

For Elizabeth, who had travelled the world several times before settling in an editorial office in New York, each place carried something unique; a piece of a mosaic to be composed with others. A Briton, she had grown up with her grandparents' stories, traversing every place where her language was spoken before being captivated by Giovanni's enticements.

Responding to criticism with another edition would have given those comments too much importance. Better to change strategy, she thought, to stand her ground. In no time, she had decided to personally organise the Sartoria Toscana trunk show. An exclusive event, reserved for a crowd of colleagues and enthusiasts, happy to fly a few hours for an authentic spectacle.

With the arrival of the guests, the terrace began to come alive. The welcome cocktail was the usual opportunity to balance the sense of anticipation with the pleasure of a meeting among people united by the same passion. Different ages, different countries, and wherever they came from, the attendees shared a taste for good food, art, and beauty.

Elizabeth took a few minutes before making her entrance. Her measured pace had taken her halfway across the terrace before she headed towards a group of people she recognised. Her "Otto e Mezzo" dress fell on her with studied simplicity. The skirt allowed a glimpse of her well-defined knees. The subtly hinted slit gracefully anticipated every step. The top line was the exact definition of "just right": enough to pay homage to her bearing, not too much to be out of place. Hers was not just a dress, but a statement.

"Beauty is in the details, don't you find?" she asked, approaching the woman who had paused to admire the three beaten bronze buttons that adorned the waist of the dress. Imogen, a colleague from London, could only nod. As a demanding fashion correspondent, she knew genuine value when she saw it.

"Let me introduce you to Eleanor and Aditi. Mind you, Imogen, don't be too harsh on them: Eleanor is in cosmetics, you might have heard of her in some financial news, but as you see, she's already a devoted customer," she said, casually indicating the Uni shirt, whose soft sleeves ended in an encounter of elegant cufflinks. "...Aditi is a dear friend from my days in Delhi. As a good architect, she's more interested in the splendid work they've done with the borough, but I'm sure she can help you with the show."

Imogen, with her sharp critical sense honed over years of fashion shows, seemed the most reserved. Her gaze was analytical, while her husband James, a lover of Italian culture, tried to capture the essence of the local wine with a satisfied smile. Eleanor, a fine conversationalist, had started with some preliminary questions to gauge the correspondent's reactions. Elizabeth's implication in assigning her to the colleague had not gone unnoticed.

"I find such an intimate event ideal for presenting a collection. No unnecessary fuss, just the opinions of enthusiasts and experts. Don't you agree?" Eleanor asked a surprised Aditi. "Curious, in my case. But I agree with you. If the first impression is what counts, it's also important who it's presented to."

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen..." Elizabeth's voice called for attention to the start of the event. "...what you are about to witness is not a fashion show. Or rather, not in the way you might expect anywhere else in the world."

To James, the last sentence seemed a bit too pretentious, but he didn't dwell on it. From the side of the farmhouse, the first model had started to stride, her pace as slow as it was sure. The warm breeze, climbing up the hillside, had lifted the hem of her long Acqua Amara dress. An ethereal fabric that gave the model an aloof and evanescent image. It followed the perimeter of her neck, descended along the side of her breast to plunge into a deep neckline along the bare back. The cameo, fixed on the chest, shone in the May sun. Each of the attendees had at least one different reason to admire that image.

After an endless moment, the model had resumed moving. The first three steps, a brief pause, then the other three, up to the arch that adorned the entrance to the farmhouse. Stopping, she turned her gaze from the landscape to the entrance, from where a second model was about to come out. Eleanor felt surprised as she caught the model's glance as she turned towards her colleague. This one had a more sportive air, with a softly cut Siena Bermuda. Her slender bare arms lay relaxed along her sides. Her hands slipped into the oblique pockets and gave her an air of serene tranquillity. A breezy Grano Top completed this timeless summer image.

And timelessly, the two models had begun to talk to each other, oblivious to the onlookers. One might have thought it a conversation between sisters, given the similarity of their features and the style of the top, which echoed the crossed neckline of the dress. The two slowly made their way to the parapet. There, the first pointed out to the second the villages in the distance, standing out among woods and ploughed fields. The low voice did not carry the words to the guests, who were surprised by the turn of the presentation.

"Like this wine, these clothes are the product of this land," Elizabeth resumed. "The wind you feel moving these branches and animating these hems; the summer warmth that allows these cuts. Here, these are clothes you can wear anywhere because good fashion has no borders. But wherever you wear them, they will speak to you of these hills and this valley."

A veiled smile of admiration appeared on Imogen's face. James, who knew his wife all too well, recognised the sense of admiration his wife had for an elegant move, even without understanding what it was.

A third model had made her entrance from the side of the farmhouse. "Martina, Roberta," she called the other two before joining them with a pace only slightly quicker than the first. In perfect harmony with her ensemble of Cipresso Trousers, which fell softly along her legs, and the Raffaello Shirt, whose puff sleeves gave her a refined air. Joining them, she stopped in the middle of the two to embrace them with a studied pose. Aditi, remembering her studies in Italy, had recognised the Three Graces of Canova, in a barely hinted citation.

"Three different ways of being a woman. Three, among the many possible. Each one recalls the others," Elizabeth commented before the models mingled among the guests.