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By Suzanne Comeau
from San Francisco,CA

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I promise you that this clothing collection is not my fault. I have to say that up front, because people get confused and think I am the genius responsible for the ketchup-colored pimp suits with the wide white stripes. The same outfit is available in zesty orange, but weíre still in the middle of unpacking and donít expect to put it on the rack until tomorrow.

The broad-brimmed red felt hat you saw in the Vogue advertisement is not part of the collection, so donít ask me to call them up and request it. My employer has this way of advertising things that do not exist, hoping that he will draw consumer interest and inquiry, and it always backfires. Last Valentineís Day it was a tiny purse in the shape of a heart and this past summer it was a turquoise wallet. We never got these items, were never told that the company had advertised these items, and as far as I know only a prototype model was made and then tossed into the historical archives. There was never any intention of making these items en masse.

Somewhere in middle Europe, either my boss or his brother or someone else with dastardly and mistaken notions about consumer response had come up with the plan to manufacture and advertise non-existent merchandise. They assume that customers will callóand they do callóand then we can trick them into buying something else from a catalogue they have never seen. If they would like to see a catalogue before ordering from one, it will cost fifty dollars, but damned if it doesnít look great on a coffee table, next to other hefty bookish items of presumed class. Or they can visit our store on Rodeo Drive, even if they live in Iowa. We have to keep track of these phone calls and explain why we have not sold anything, and the boss is terribly unhappy about our lack of sales skills. This is why we have been given the suits (but not the hats). It is an attempt at truth in advertising; they have had the bright idea that if they advertise an item, someone might call and actually want to buy it. This lesson was distilled from the purse and wallet trial runs.

More people call about the red hat than call about the red suit, so I have to refer them to Nordstrom or somewhere else that carries Easter bonnets. The suits are bad news, bad for us and bad for the people who are going to encounter them in our high-toned boutique. They look like nothing else out there; they are the most un-LA-like ensembles possible. But we are not selling Los Angeles here; we are selling a fictional, Technicolor France, even if the garments are made in Taiwan. In France, we dress up like giant bottles of Heinz ketchup and stick a plume in our chapeaux. We spend an afternoon arranging the suits in the window, draping them with our most popular model of handbag. Someone suggests putting red lipstick on our faceless mannequins, and before you know it weíve gone and drawn eyes on them as well. The resulting mess will be called taking creative license, and it does draw the type of spontaneous laughter a sitcom writer would give his left arm for.

I am a terrible employee. Much of the merchandise available in this part of Los Angeles I call ďRodeo drivel,Ē our own most of all. I not only am a terrible employee, I donít fit the suits either, which is something that is called to my attention by the national sales director. I point out that the suits are no larger than a sixóthis being large by Hollywood standardsóand that I wear a ten. A big fat ten, and the legs of the pants are way too short. I donít mention that we have noticed the large spit-knots that finish off the seams or the uneven buttonholes or the way the linings have been cut too large and are then flattened into irregular accordion folds.

The national sales director asks how I can work on Rodeo Drive and eat Fritos. Those arenít Fritos, I say; they are chicharones. They are a cheap and filling lunch. I have to save money because you are going to make me purchase one of those condiment suits and wear it to work, and because I am an employee I will have to pay six hundred dollars for it.

Seven hundred, he says. Your discount is only thirty percent.

At least I donít have to go shopping, I think. I hate shopping in LA. I have to go out to Riverside when I have eaten too many fried pig skins and need to stuff myself into a size twelve. At those times I am afraid to come out of my office, afraid to face the celebrity clientele. I leave this to my assistant, a young Chinese man whose waist measures twenty-three inches.

The suits do not fit me, period. It isnít even that the legs come halfway up my shins. The jackets wonít button, the sleeves come to my elbows, and my back threatens to explode the seams, exposing that rippled lining. I donít look good in red to begin with, but this particular red is especially upsetting. It makes my hair look like a wig leftover from a community theatre production of Cats. Mange is not my best look.

We have those suits in the window for a week before someone comes in to ask about them. We have had other customers, and we have diligently tried to direct their attention toward the suits, but most of them show marked disinterest and one of them says we've lost our minds. Iím advised that the next time I have to take some merchandise out to Fifi Hoohawís Bel-Air mansion, I should take both colors of the suit with me. I do these trunk shows once or twice a month, generally when the celebrity in question is going off to film in Hungary or somewhere cold and cheap. Sheíll need a couple of steamer trunks, several carry-on bags, and our nifty new bottle holders that go over the shoulder like a sling. This type of sale is easy money for the company; generally the question is only whether the celebrity should purchase our traditional brown color or opt for the more sophisticated black, which is less likely to show wear and tear. I donít want to take the suits out to Fifiís castle, but I know that my boss would kill, absolutely kill, for the opportunity to photograph Fifi in that red number with his fifteen-thousand-dollar coffin trunk. Our catalogue is full of such sightings, and the boss is always pictured next to the star, beaming and sweaty, corpulent as a kielbasa. He resembles a shorter Elvis and it is rumored that he had his humble beginnings in pornos, like so many of our clients.

The guy who comes in to ask about the suit (orange) says it is a real eye-catcher. He thinks his girlfriend might look pretty swanky in it, but he balks at the price. He offers us three hundred dollars for it and when we tell him that there are absolutely no discounts, he says we must be drunk and that maybe we need the reality check of the buttonholes.

Roseanne comes in, looking for a golf bag. Here is the perfect opportunity for me to show the staff how the big boys play, how to distill my years of retail experience into a single suave sales pitch. Watch and listen carefully:

Have you seen our new couture collection? I ask her.

Iíll take one, she says.

See how easy that was? She takes a red one and doesnít even try it on. Doesnít want it boxed up and gift-wrapped, so who knows where it will end up? Doesnít even say what size, but thatís okay because it only comes in Too Small and Youíve Got To Be Kidding. Itís the only suit we sell, although I heard that someone in Atlanta sold one, but on this basis they are already hard at work on a new collection that features dung-colored raincoats with flounced bottoms and matching motorcycle caps that are decorated across the bill with a chunky silver chain.

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