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Horror Fiction Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

I have a theory: there is, for any given moment in time and space, an outfit so fashionable that it will only work for that one moment.

Probably not the ensemble I’m displaying right now, a loose-fitting black jumpsuit with gold hardware and flowing emerald green frills. It’s not bad, of course, or I wouldn’t be seen wearing it. Especially at the Met Gala. But it could work as a basic look at almost any party for years to come. It is a law of physics that the stylishness of an outfit has an inverse relationship with the length of time it is in style.

Usually the shortest period of time we’re talking about is a year. Maybe a season. An outfit could be completely perfect one year ago, say, Autumn, 2046, and then, once winter hits, those quad-belts and chain skirts are humiliating. Total exultation for a single moment, only to be burned on fashion’s altar when the time comes. But for that moment, you shine.

Blair Blaise, the pop star, saunters past me. They appear to be naked under their clattering, beaded shroud. Some people use the Met Gala as an excuse to show off their bodies, rather than their clothes, but I can forgive that. What I can’t get over is that each individual bead is a half-red, half-white oval. Capsules. The Met Gala is not a themed costume party.

Even if it was, that is a particularly boring interpretation of this year’s particularly boring theme. Back to Basics: Reimagining the Capsule Wardrobe.

With the constant stream of bad news — famines in Africa, flooding in China, the heatwave in India, poverty in Europe — I can only imagine that minimalism is on everybody’s mind. A lot of people want to make their consumerism a bit less conspicuous. I can’t see why else this theme would be chosen. 

Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, I recycled one of my old ideas for the event. Something that was part outfit, part performance piece. At one of my gallery showings a few years back, I had a team follow me with racks of clothes and boxes of accessories, not to mention pins, needles, thread, a handheld sewing machine. All the equipment for battlefield tailoring. The team of stylists was outfitted with AR goggles and smart watches, all tracking social media reactions to my look in real-time.

Unfortunately, my stylists were only human. Their information feeds had to be limited to a slow scroll of the social media of whoever was nearby — a compromise to prevent them from going into sensory overload.

I hate compromises.

It meant that they were only riffing off of my original outfit and the reactions it generated. To be truly fashionable, to really hit the peak of stylishness, their feeds would need to cover everything. Fashion blogs on the other side of the world, red carpet looks right now, what’s trending on Netflix, the death tolls and latest scenes of carnage from Brazil, everything.

So I came up with a new plan. A collaboration with X Æ A-12 Musk — well, let’s be honest, his company. It wasn’t hard to get him on board. Some people say that if you’re not invited to the Met Gala, getting your brand there is the next best thing. Some people.

But between me and a team of engineers, we did it. A fleet of drones armed with needles and scissors, their hive mind with its robotic finger on the pulse. As I glide past Zara and Preet Surinam, dressed to the nines in perfectly tailored tuxedoes — I’m not one to stick to classics, but if you’re going to do it, do it right — a drone speeds ahead of me and then darts behind, wrapping a gauzy shroud around my shoulders. The Surinams’ phones come out. Not that there aren’t enough photographers here to document the event, but half the point is to prove you were here on social media. You can do it by posting your favourite looks and tagging it #MetGala. Or, you can be everyone’s favourite look. Judging by the fact that I’ve seen the back of everyone’s phone before I’ve seen their face, I know where I stand.

I reach out a hand to pluck a flute of champagne from a serving tray. One drone buzzes at my wrist, scanning with a bright red bar of light, instantly taking a measurement. If I was going for efficiency, I would have pre-programmed my very precise measurements into the hive mind. But when is efficiency ever fun? Besides, half the point was making something that anyone, theoretically, could wear. 

I could pick any of the gig workers milling around outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hoping to sell any pictures they get of the attending celebrities, strap my wrist band to them, and the drones would obediently shroud them in high fashion.  Anyone in India could go home, press a button on a smart watch, activate the drone swarm, and be ready for the evening in minutes, provided they survived the deadly temperatures that only began to ease after the sun set. The bloggers who would be writing about the event tomorrow would not even have to change a single setting, as long as they could somehow scrape together the money to buy my castoffs.

Sensing something coming, I pass the champagne to my left hand, holding out my right as I take a sip. Another drone, this one trailing a long strand of white tulle ribbon, glides to me and perches on my hand to fasten the ribbon around my wrist. I feel like a Disney princess. AI drone swarm, songbirds — close enough.

“Seen Twitter in the last few minutes?” I overhear Lilith Stewart asking Ray Dyonne as I pass. I’d shake my head, if it was anyone else saying it — or if my head weren’t surrounded by drones, constructing some sort of draping headdress. Stewart is a fashion writer, in many ways as much a taste-maker as the designers. In a few weeks, all the red carpets will be studded with knock-offs of her long black dress, with its cascading train piled on the floor to her right, and its left shoulder pad towering up above her head. She’s probably live-tweeting the whole gala. It would be inevitable that an irrelevant tweet or two might stumble into her gaze when she opened her phone to comment on another look.

“The — what do you call it? — self-immolation in front of the White House?” Dyonne replies. “Awful. Just… completely awful.”

That gives me pause. Stewart checking her phone was one thing, but Dyonne? A photographer? The smooth, twisting, branching glass wrapped around his eyes was an AR visor by Apple’s fashion division, a stylish way to do his job. It pained me to think it was being used to doomscroll.

“Apparently she wore her wedding dress,” Ver Oberon, the socialite, chimes in. In a hushed voice, he adds, “Her fiancé died a month ago, fighting in Alaska.”

The drones whirl around me in a frenzy. Some of them trail fabric like the tails of comets, some of them brandish scissors and needles. The buzzing, snipping, sewing vortex catches the attention of the crowd. I finish my champagne and set it down on the nearest table before striding out into an open space. I hold my arms out wide, my palms up, to allow the drones access to my entire body. And to give people a good view.

Cocking my chin up, I can’t help a slight smile. More and more people turn to look. The movie stars and the pop idols. The supermodels and the designers. The people the world pays attention to and worships, and all they can think about is me.

A white bolt of linen slides up my body while black shreds of my jumpsuit flutter to the ground. A drone runs a needle along my side, the thread diving in and out of the seam, before a single pull bunches the fabric around my waist. I relax into the tailoring as layers and layers of material tighten around me, taking shape. White ribbons wrap up and down my arms and legs, trailing off in wild flyaways. A lacy sheet drops over my face like a bridal veil.

I have the attention of the entire ballroom now. The people in front gasp, speechless. Others behind them stand on their toes or make the most of their stilettos, craning their necks to get a glimpse. A buzz of voices asks what’s happening. Hundreds of phones loom over everyone’s heads.

There’s a click. A flash. I frown. One of the drones holds its laser etching tool to the base of the flowing white gown, the beam of light still searing into the flame it just started. Fire shoots up the flammable, natural linen. In a split second I am sheathed in choking heat. The blast of rising air flings the veil up to flap like a flag, revealing the pain shining in my eyes.

I open my mouth to scream — and then I see. Everyone in the ballroom is enraptured. Captivated. Reverent.

And why wouldn’t they be? The light, airy ribbons flutter around me, whipped into whirling, wild patterns by the backdraft. The gathered bunches of linen form cascades that flow downward, complimenting the waves of flame rippling up my legs. The ivory fabric is opalescent under the fire.

I did it. I am infinitely, impossibly, perfectly fashionable. I am enshrouded in haute couture, engulfed in good taste. I am a glowing beacon of style, an inspiration to everyone. Pictures of me will plaster every magazine and fashion blog in the world. The history of the world is told in a series of snapshots, and now, on every timeline, I will be there. You will be able to divide fashion history into before and after this moment. Everyone will remember where they were when they first saw this ensemble. I wish I could be alive to see the styles that will erupt from this event.

The head of Anna Wintour, floating in the tube of nutrient-rich preservatives installed in the centre of the ballroom, slowly swivels to gaze down on me. “Don’t you think it’s a touch past tasteful?” she asks.

May 10, 2022 01:39

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1 comment

Cindy Calder
13:36 May 19, 2022

This was such an interesting and different read. Thank you.

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