ArtWrite 10/5: Mills Brown
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Before I left New York to live in Brittany for my senior year of high school, I fell in love with a Kenzo dress during a shopping trip to Bloomingdale’s with my mother. I loved wallpaper and fabric patterns, and the paisley motif on the tomato red dress reminded me of a vintage shawl.
My mother also loved the dress, but it was expensive, and she wouldn’t go for it. We’d been at war over 10 pounds ever since I hit puberty, and sitting at the counter at 40 Carrots, she made the kind of remark that I milked for years in therapy: she resented having to spend more money on me than she did on herself in order to find clothes that looked good on me.
The dollar was strong in 1982. If I found the dress when I got to France, my mother had agreed to buy it for me. With a Carte de Paris poorly folded to the 2nd arrondissement, I was on a mission. Other than knowing that the Metro stop, La Bourse, was the Parisian stock exchange, the area was unfamiliar. Like Wall Street on a weekend, it was notably quiet. Where were the commercial streets? Where were the people shopping? I was convinced I had the wrong address as I headed towards my circled destination.
When I reached the end of a long, narrow street, I was taken aback. Suddenly, I was standing in Place des Victoires, a ring of curved buildings encircling an enormous equestrian monument of Louis XIV. All the buildings shared the same elegant facades, mansard roofs, dormer windows, and wrought iron balconies.
If coming upon this beautiful circular square wasn't enough, I discovered that Place Des Victoires wasn’t just home to Kenzo. Thierry Mugler and Cacharel also had shops there. All by myself, I’d discovered a chic shopping enclave that seemed much cooler than the 16th arrondissement where most of the famous French designers had their shops.
While it doesn’t seem possible that Kenzo had the exact dress I’d coveted at Bloomingdales, it did. And when my mother learned that Thierry Mugler was next door to Kenzo, she instructed me to return to Place des Victoires the next time I went to Paris. She wanted a Mugler suit. Which suit? What kind? It didn’t matter, as long as it was in her size and the dollar was good.
I chose a scarlet jacket and skirt ensemble. The jacket looked like something Klaus Nomi would have worn -- 80’s shoulder pads, snaps instead of buttons, and a peplum to give it a feminine touch. My mom loved it, and it fit perfectly.
When I learned yesterday that Kenzo Takada died of Covid. I immediately went to my closet to find the paisley dress. I wanted to remember myself at 18, navigating a map with streets so tiny that I could barely read their names, making my way to the end of Rue Étienne Marcel, and the wonder of discovering Places Des Victories for the first time.