SCENE: Florence, Italy; famous menswear boutique.
Alan’s head is buried inside a jacket, where he’s scrutinizing the lining and trying to decipher the inner tag.
Apparently, the tag inside a man’s garment is the key to reveal whether a piece is worth the price or not. Just from looking at that 3-inch piece of fabric, you may be able to identify the maker of the item, and therefore judge the quality of a piece of clothing. Burberry, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren: these names don’t mean anything to a man that is into classic menswear, because he knows that behind them there’s someone else maneuvering the making process. And the first step of a purchase is identifying that maker.
I look around and I notice that two sales assistants are staring at my husband, debating whether they should offer him help or kindly ask that he removes his nose from inside the armhole of the jacket. After confabulating for a bit, one of them starts walking toward us. Alan doesn’t notice, as he’s now concentrating on pinching the jacket to understand if it’s fused.
“Good morning, may I help you?”
He speaks in English, probably figuring we are not Italian, judging by Alan’s English-looking suit and shoes. And, y’know – the beahvior.
The thing is that I am very Italian. Born and raised in the Piedmont region, and only recently relocated in California. I offer the man my brightest smile and I explain to him in Italian that my husband and I are looking for a light sport coat.
Meanwhile, Alan emerges from the inside of the jacket and gives the sale assistant a dazed look, his glasses crooked on his nose.
“We are fine, thank you,” he says. “I’m just having a look around.”
I keep smiling and nod encouragingly, hoping that the man will leave us alone. However, I know that this is not going to happen. Italian clerks are trained to be a pain in the customers’ ass, and there is no way he’ll let us “have a look around” without making sure we are receiving proper assistance.
Alan is back at pinching the jacket, this time with less conviction, clearly upset that someone is watching his moves.
The salesman frowns and turns to me. “What is he doing, may I ask?” he asks me in Italian.
I keep smiling but I freeze.
What is he doing? He’s inspecting the sport coat to make sure that there is no trace of fusing and that the maker is reputable. In order to do so, he has to decipher the code on the tag, check Styleforum on his mobile device, and then track back to the history of the fabric employed in the realization of the garment, to make sure that the latest production was not spoiled.
I can’t tell him that. The fact he’s a salesman and he’s probably used to weirdest requests from his customers doesn’t justify the mental asylum situation.
His eyebrows rise so high that I’m afraid they’re going to merge with the spare hairline on his forehead. My mind is desperately trying to find an excuse for the fact that Alan is now running his finger under the collar of the jacket, as if it were a bra he wanted to strip off a woman.
C’mon Ari. Think.
“Ahem. He is…a fabric trader.”
I don’t even know what I’ve just said, and I immediately regret it.
The clerk stares at me for a few seconds.
“A fabric trader?”
“Yes! My husband trades fabric for some of the biggest names in fashion. He buys only the finest on the market, for his clients as well as for himself. We are here in Florence to study the history of brocade, and its rise during the Renaissance.”
I still don’t know what I’m saying, but I feel suddenly thankful that I read the biography of Lucrezia Borgia in college.
“You probably know that brocade is the reason Italian silk fabrics became the finest choice in all Europe in the 15th century, as the demand for intricate designs forced the production to get better.”
I can tell from his vacuous eyes that he is not impressed, so I decide to make up an even more unlikely scenario in order to give my husband the time to decide whether the jacket is worth the splurge or not.
“We are considering working with some Italians mills in order to bring brocade back into favor. In fact, we are attending Pitti this summer to discuss the chance to create a whole collection of suits and tuxedos made of Italian brocades.”
Finally, his eyes brighten up and I silently rejoice. Ah! You didn’t expect that, did you, Mr. Grumpy Clerk?
He looks at me with new respect, as though I’m the wife a fabric trader deserves.
“That is so very interesting, Madame,” he says with genuine admiration, his pupils glistening.
“Uh-uh,” I mutter, “Big names. Kiton and stuff.”
Okay, I need to stop now. I don’t even know why I’m putting myself in this unpleasant situation only to allow my husband to indulge in his crazy operations.
My husband, the fabric trader. The thought is so ridiculous that I have to pretend to receive a funny text on my iPhone to justify my grin. However, the whole story starts making a lot of sense in my mind and I can’t help myself: I have to keep going.
I lean towards the man as I lower my voice to a whisper: “I just got a text from Armando at Kiton. They want to meet us at the Boboli gardens tonight to see some samples of brocade they just got from Venice,” I say, bringing my hand to cover the mouth.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t reveal too much. A few competitors are already trying to make contact with the brands we are in touch with and we suspect some insiders leaked the idea.”
The poor man’s eyes widen as he reassures me that my secret is safe with him. He gives me one more admired glance before apologizing and pacing away.
I turn to Alan and I notice with horror that he’s trying to bite the buttons of the sport coat, probably to make sure that it’s real horn. He hasn’t heard a word of my nonsensical dialogue with the salesman.
“What the hell are you doing? Can you please try on the jacket and make your decision?”
“Knock it off. I’m almost done inspecting. Then, I’ll try it on.”
I let out a big sigh, but I stiffen when I notice the clerk walking back towards us, with an old man at his side.
“Ciao!” I squeak, trying to hide my husband to their sight, as his mouth is still perilously close to the buttons of the sport coat.
“Madame, this is Ernesto Valanza, the owner of the shop.”
“Pleased to meet you, Ernesto”, I mumble while casually checking Instagram on my phone, as I always do when I am bored out of my mind. I wonder how long it’s going to take Alan to decide on the jacket.
“Mr. Valanza comes from one of the most respected families in Como; one of a very long tradition of yarn-making.”
“Right? That sounds interesting,” I jabber while taking in a picture of Kylie Jenner at Coachella. Perhaps I should dye my hair turquoise.
“He’d like to ask you and your husband a few questions on your project.”
“Uh? Sure…” I say as I put away my phone.
Wait, what? An alarm bell starts ringing in my head. Yarn-making? Como?
I look at Alan, who’s finally trying on the jacket and inspecting the length in front of the mirror.
“I understand you can’t reveal much of the project, but would you mind telling me the maker you’re in contact with? We are truly a big family of fabric makers in Como; I’m sure I am familiar with them.”
Fuck. Now what? I can’t confess that I have no contacts in Como, that I knew about brocade only because it was in Bloomingdale’s last shopping issue, and that I’m in Florence with my husband, watching as he goes on a shopping spree.
Thankfully, Alan approaches us wearing the sport coat.
“Hey, do you guys have a tape measurer? I’m not sure about the length of the jacket. It may be a few millimeters too short as it doesn’t seem to divide my body in half.”
The two men exchange a look that clearly says that my husband has a mental issue.
“I’ll fetch one for you, sir”, says the first clerk I spoke to.
“I think it’s time to go,” I say firmly, indicating the door with a gesture of the head like only an Italian can do.
“Honey, don’t be ridiculous, I’m almost done here. What do you think? Is it too heavy for California?”
“It’s perfect, amore. I love it. Now let’s get the hell out of here because I’m going to cry if you don’t feed me gelato within the next five minutes.”
“Alright, then. I just wanted to make sure that the length in centimeters is less than or equal to my average jacket length. I wouldn’t want to have to tailor the length.”
The sale assistant stares at me intensely and I know exactly what he’s thinking: If this man is as picky at choosing women as he is at choosing clothes, you must be a saint.
“Listen to me,” I whisper to Alan’s ear, “I’ve been in this shop with you for more than 40 minutes. The jacket is fine, and you know it. If you really hate it, you can list it online once we get back and you’ll probably make more than what you spent considering it’s a bargain.”
“Well, aren’t you cranky today? Alright, I’ll take it. Gentleman, could you please check me out?”
“Oh, sure. Come this way. Your wife was just telling us about your work here in Florence.”
Oh no. Please not again. I can’t deal with this.
“My job in Florence? Yeah, that’s like the ideal job, right? Shopping and everything,” mutters Alan reaching for his wallet.
“Ah-ah! Yes, I guess that us insiders can call it shopping after all, eh?” says the man winking at Alan.
“Thank you very much for your help. I’ll certainly visit your store again before leaving.” Alan shakes Mr. Valanza’s hand and I have a spasm of horror when I see that he is handing him his business card.
“Would you please give me a call if you get any more Caruso suits within the next 10 days?”
Mr. Valanza studies the business card for a few seconds, and then he stares at me for a time that seemed forever.
“Sure…Mr. Alan Jones, attorney.”
I squeeze my husband’s arm and I waltz towards the exit, encouraging myself with the thoughts of a big gelato.