Haute Couture

Haute Couture

Originally published at Somewhat.org, February 2005

They first appeared at the Dior Fall show in Berlin, strictly a second-string show, weeks after the season was opened in Paris. The Paris show had not gone well–young upstarts from Barcelona and Lisbon were gnawing away at the old houses, stealing the glow of the flashbulbs with their daring hemlines and Third World models who still had the smell of refugee camps hovering around their sallow faces. At first the fashion press excoriated Dior for the publicity stunt, accusing them of making a grotesque farce with their three dog-faced, statuesque models wrapped in silk and cotton.

But that was when the press believed them to be Dior’s boring, bland models wearing Hollywood monster makeup. Before people noticed that these models’ legs had knees on the back, that they walked with the stiff gait of creatures new to bipedal motion. The delay was no doubt attributable to Dior’s line that Fall, which featured loose sarongs and high boots and long jackets. A less modest line would have caused the questions to be asked much sooner.

When the models were seen out in public, at a restaurant in Vienna eating beef tartar and fighting over the bones from rare steaks, rumors started to circulate. Dior’s spokeswoman refused to answer any of the questions about the models’ origins, saying only that they perfectly idealized the dignity and understated elegance of the season’s line.

But slowly, deliberately, hints leaked out to the press. Curly-haired Fifi was indeed French, and possessed a Gallic temper that matched her ethereal beauty. Cecilia was an athletic Italian as comfortable at the racetrack as on the runway. And while piebald, fun-loving Katie, the American, had tomboy ways and her mother’s coloration, her father was suspected to be a Dane who had contributed his height and grace to her intriguing genetic mix. Dior remained coy about specifics, though, and the press was happy to play along, running headlines like ‘The Dog Days of Autumn’ and ‘Can(ine) This Be the New Face of Fashion?’
Then the pictures started to circulate on the Internet, and Dior played a precarious game of denial and titillation. The first was a grainy, shadowy photo of Cecilia bent almost double, her long face obscured by a smooth gray flank. ‘The Enquirer’ ran it on the inside pages with a black bar further obscuring her open legs, over the caption, ‘Because she can…’ Dior admitted that Cecilia was very flexible indeed, but this was simply a yoga pose and had nothing to do with either grooming or self-love.

The next was a series of photos of Katie romping in a park with a gang of very obvious dogs. In one she was leaping high into the air, her body twisted like a spawning salmon, a Frisbee inches from her open mouth. In another, she was down on all fours with her nose under the tail of a German shepherd while a yellow Labrador sniffed at her silk-draped rump. Of course she loves dogs, Dior countered; who doesn’t?
Finally the chattery movie clips of Fifi appeared, dark and hazy, that showed her bent over a damask cushion with a pack of eager dogs–shepherds and poodles, pinschers and retrievers, even an absurd Chihuahua–lining up behind her. The most popular scene, about 30 seconds long, showed her looking back over her shoulder with an open-mouthed smile, long tongue lolling, eyes glassy, while a Great Pyrenees hugged her flanks. Whining and panting could be heard on the soundtrack, though it was badly synchronized and may have been added later.

Dior was outraged, demanding that the movies be removed from the Internet, arguing that they were clearly fakes. But that only made them circulate farther and faster, and they broke out of highly specialized bestiality newsgroups and onto the mainstream adult sites. Even Salon.com posted a link to the clips, labeled ‘Fifi Style’.

When Dior’s winter line was released, the star of the runway show was an ambiguously androgynous, though clearly human, Swede named Bobi. Dior dangled subtle hints of hermaphroditism with their carefully posed stills of Bobi shyly pealing a banana, but the press wouldn’t bite. They were intrigued instead by the distinctly simian features of Koko, the model from Barcelona, who handled her banana with playful dignity.

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