|The Politics of Fashion|
|Summary:||Marsei and her tailor, Orsino, consult over a new dress. Sometimes a dress isn't just a dress.|
Northwest Suite - 7 - The Hightower
This is one of the smaller of the Hightower's suites, but it is still grand. It offers a unique view from its large window — from the opening one can overlook the city and see the seven domes and seven towers of the Starry Sept, and the Maidenday Gardens in the middle distance. The window has a wide padded sill large enough for one to sit comfortably and watch the city. In the large sitting room are velvet-cushioned chairs and couches. The dull gray stone flooring is covered with a dark hunter green Myrish carpet trimmed in black.
On one side of the suite is an arched doorway leading to a bedroom. In the sleeping chamber a large four poster wooden bed stands against the wall, with a green and black coverlet and lavish pillows. A matching wardrobe and nightstands are also present in this room. The wall that leads to the sitting room is equipped with a hearth that heats both rooms should it be needed.
Lady Marsei's suite is warm, cozy, and quiet. The routine bustle of getting her ready for the day has reached the point in the morning where it has slowed down to only one handmaiden attending her at the vanity: Siva, hiding the last few hairpins into the lady's ginger hair, swept elegantly up and away from her face and slender neck. In anticipation of a fitting today, the lady herself is not quite dressed yet; she's layered in sleeping gown and a belted dressing gown besides, long and heavy and too big, and a bit too gilded around the edges than her norm. It may in fact belong to Prince Dhraegon. It bundles at the shoulders, all velvet waves. In-between pleasant chatting, she looks not in the mirror in front of her but the small prayer book in her hands, even though it's closed rather than opened at its bookmark (a dove's feather — her dove's feather).
The number of handmaidens in Marsei's retinue has been gradually dwindling over the past while — all girls of an age to be married, and so they are, one by one — and so it is the ever-present Siva who goes to the door to usher in the tailor, as soon as the lady's hair is set. In her quiet but straight-forward way, the handmaiden passes on the message that the lady is ready to be seen.
A servant shows Orsino up to the noblewoman's chamber, with his mousy shopgirl Aya trailing a bit behind. Orsino carries one large bag with him, and Aya too is laden with bags, probably containing measuring tape, sample pattern pieces in muslin, perhaps a few swatches of fabric or other notions. When Siva admits them, the other servant retires, and Orsino sweeps into the chamber. "Lady Marsei!" he exclaims as soon as Siva makes it known that she is ready to be seen. "How I do love to wait on the most refined of the Hightowers. No disrespect to your brother, of course." The mustache accentuates the way his lip twitches upward in a smile. "Let me take your hand. Oh, how good you are to gather your hair up in advance of our appointment. So considerate."
Marsei has the look of someone lost in thought when she's left at the vanity, staring unseeingly down at the little book - but the well must not be too deep, for she leaps up, sprightly, at the first syllable from Orsino. She's not the only one - the newest addition to her family, the small tortoiseshell cat, has scurried out from under a piece of furniture to cheerfully follow the tailor and his shopgirl, tail perky and optimistic for affection. Marsei, unnecessarily squeezing her already closed dressing gown closed further, bends down and scoops up the one-eyed cat — and so, offers one hand to Orsino and the cat to Siva, handing it off with as much care as one would a human baby. "Orsino!" she beams brightly. "I don't wear it this way nearly enough, do you like it?"
"Hello, Little Miss," Orsino greets the cat, then squeezes Marsei's hand. He uses it to guide her a step to one side so that he can inspect the back of her hairstyle. "/Very/ becoming," he says. "Your handmaid is so clever with the pins. It looks as if it is held only by magic. Now! You must tell me /exactly/ what it is you want. Or as far as you know yourself, that is." He releases her hand should she wish to sit or regain some space.
When it comes to what she wants in a gown, Marsei usually has myriad ideas on style and shape and even more thoughts on colours … and ephemeral feelings about what it should be like to wear. Today is not likely to differ in that regard. Still beaming — all the more, now, for Orsino's compliment toward her magic hair and toward Siva's skill, though the handmaid isn't there to receive it. She's taking the cat to the other room to be entertained, since it won't do to get cat hair on any fabrics. "I should like a new gown in green," Marsei states confidently, whirling about back toward the vanity, only so far as to lay her hands upon the back of the chair and look in the mirror to better imagine her non-existent gown. "A proper, garden green."
Orsino sets his bag down on the floor and fetches from it a piece of parchment and a bit of charcoal with which to sketch and takes notes. "Garden green," he repeats, looking over Marsei's shoulder at the lady's reflection. "In /just/ the shade to set off your hair. And you have thoughts on a silhouette? Collar shape? The…level of embellishment? Is this to be something that serves on a daily basis, or are we to be making a grand statement at a party?" He smiles in the mirror. "If I ask too many questions, only tell me I must use my imagination."
"It wouldn't be worth making without your imagination, Orsino," Marsei tells him over her shoulder with a big smile. That said, she has an answer for all his questions. "My usual silhouette, but perhaps with more defined shoulders, like my sister wears." The queen's shoulders are far from a common sight in the Hightower these days, granted. "Only less…" Her head tips to one side as she considers her wording. As a testament to Siva's hairpins, her hair doesn't move. "Regal. And oh— not so grand," she adds like an assurance, yet casts her gaze down with a slight concern tensing her lips at the thought.
Orsino focuses on his sketch for a moment, filling in the details of where one line gives way to another, firm boning relaxing into a soft skirt, a bolder shoulder than Marsei's usual preference, but no forbidding stiffness. He glances up and sees the lady's expression. "My lady," he says softly. "Do you look worried because you would not want it to be overly bold, or because you have a desire for a departure?"
"Oh, I just don't want it to look too severe," Marsei answers, but that doesn't quite seem to be the crux of it. She sits down in the vanity chair, sideways, so that she still can still look at Orsino, clutching the small arm of the chair with both hands. "I love wearing what I want; what I like," she says with, indeed, the passion of fashion; but thought draws her expression downward, dampening some of its brighter edges. "It's become something of a delicate matter in certain circles."
Orsino passes his sketch off to the mousy girl for the time being, and bends down to get a rag from his bag, wiping his hands on it to remove traces of charcoal. "Certain circles," he repeats. "This has something to do with your marriage to Prince Dhraegon, perhaps?" he guesses, able to think of few other major changes for Marsei.
Marsei's expression lifts, pleased by the tailor's perception; it saves her some explaining. "There are some who want me to embrace all things Targaryen; I was buried in red and black wedding gifts." And having a crisis of style, as might be recalled, because red and black suit her so poorly and wash her out worse than Hightower grey, even though she had rather larger concerns at the time. "But the others … there seems to be no right choice," she says quietly. "When I take their colours, they look at me like I'm a fraud. But— when I don't, it's just as clear."
"Ahhh," Orsino says, in a tone of enlightenment and sympathy as well. He comes closer to Marsei's chair. "My lady, the bitterest lesson in my profession is that one cannot please all of the people all of the time. And /certain/ people will /never/ be pleased. If you wear green, they will say you should have worn blue, but if you /had/ worn blue, they would have said you should have worn green." He lifts his brows as if asking whether she doesn't agree. "There is nothing to be done about people who will use your clothing only as an excuse to express feelings about something else entirely. /But/. For those who /can/ be won, there are strategies, my lady," he promises with a sly smile. "Tactics we have not yet tried. Now, surely, even the Targaryens themselves do not always wear the black and red. And with your coloring…" He makes a face that suggests he does not much like to put a lady of Marsei's complexion and hair color in such a combination. "You /must/ sometimes wear something else. But. May I make you two strategic suggestions, my lady?" he requests, lifting a hand and wiggling two upheld fingers.
Marsei listens raptly to Orsino, following his every word as though he were the realm's most prized political advisor. In this, he is. She can't help but smile when he smiles, even though hers is warm where his is sly. She sets her elbow on the arm of the chair and her head in her hand, a lean too informal for a setting outside these walls. "Only two?" she jests to his request, nodding her chin into her palm to encourage him on.
Orsino grins at the question. "The two best, I hope, my lady," he says with confidence. "The first is one I have seen repair rifts before. A lady who has been tormented by her mother-in-law conspires with me in advance. We construct a garment largely to her tastes, but we stop before a few details have been added. She goes to her mother-in-law. She says how much she admires and aspires to the lady's style, and asks her to come with her to settle a question she cannot decide on. 'Shall I have a square neck, or a scalloped neck?' or 'Shall the sleeves be full, or fitted?'" Orsino flashes teeth. "She takes care, of course, not to introduce any options that would be distasteful to her. The parts of the gown she is keenest on are already made. But she gives her mother-in-law absolute power to determine /one/ element. Now that the mother-in-law has had a hand in creating the garment, she finds it harder to criticize. And of course the lady thanks her mother-in-law for stopping her from making a terrible mistake in the fashions, and teaching her something of that style she has always so admired." He gives out a little chuckle. "Of course, there are /some/ battle-axes who can persist even so, so the plan is not foolproof. But often a step in the right direction. Assuming you have a primary antagonist."
Marsei laughs, small and surprised, and she covers her mouth with a few curling fingertips. "That's very savvy," she remarks, amused as well as admiring — until she considers employing the same strategy and presses a hand worriedly to her chest. "It's-it's rather hard to say if I do, to be honest, but I… there is someone who has … perhaps higher misgivings about me than some in Oldtown. I— you think I should ask her for advice?" The notion clutches her with intrigue and anxiety in the same tense breath. "I do admire her style…"
"Ask her for very /specific/ advice," Orsino suggests. "Even after the gown is made, ask her to help you place a brooch, some piece of jewelry from his family," he suggests. "Now, the second strategy," Orsino says, moving on, "Separate from the first. If they will complain about the color one way or another, and if the house colors do not suit in the first place, we could give homage to the house in the details. A garden green would look well with gold or cream, would it not?" Orsino suggests, leaning forward a little. "I would propose working a fine embroidery in one of those colors in the outline of dragon scales. Perhaps down the spine, three or four inches wide, from nape of neck to waist," he suggests, illustrating with movements of his hands. "Even, if you wish, to wrap around to one side of the waist like a tail. Subtle, but a clear consideration." He smiles again. "And if you have some confederate in their house or a neutral house— pray not a Hightower, it is too bald—who could say out loud how clever and fine such a detail in honor of your husband's house is, so much the better."
Orsino's hand gestures paint Marsei a picture, her gaze dazzled by imaginings from his mind to hers. "Do you think so?" she asks in a tone already well-warmed to his suggestion. "It was so much easier to weave golden apples into my gowns when I lived with the Fossoways, but dragons are something else altogether! But I think— I think, yes, that could be lovely," she agrees. "Unless— " She paused with a hand raised mid-gesture of her own, poised as though she might chew her thumbnail in thought. "No," she dismisses herself, "It's good. How clever you are, Orsino."
"We can find /all/ sorts of subtle ways," Orsino assures the lady, standing up straight again. "But please," he encourages eagerly, "You had some other idea? Or some concern? If you do, you must say now while nothing is yet assembled."
Her dismissed thought remains thrown away where the lady left it; in its place, one of her jubilant smiles. "I'm over-thinking, that's all. I trust you!" She rises from the chair. "My fate is in your hands," she says with clearly purposeful drama, off-set by the good-natured cheer upon her face. "Do you need to take any measurements?"
Orsino tilts his head just a little, but he grins. "If we don't succeed, we shall at least have learned something," he promises. Then he claps his hands together. "Right, measurements! /Just/ to be sure if you don't mind, my lady. Aya?" The quiet shopgirl, thus prompted, steps forward toward the screen with tape in hand. "I assume there are no /major/ changes of late?" Orsino asks, perhaps wondering about the possibility for pregnancy, always a crucial area of concern for a dressmaker who waits on a recently-married young noblewoman.
Marsei takes the same path as Aya and steps behind the beautifully painted screen, going through the customary motions. "Do you mean did I eat seventeen cakes again?" she says jokingly from behind the screen with no such concerns — or not so jokingly, given the penchant for sweets she shares with Prince Dhraegon, though it doesn't ever seem to affect her more than half an inch, to the complaint of several other ladies in Orsino's circle of customers. "It should be the same as the last time, and the time before that, and the time before that." She hands her dressing gown to Siva, who has reappeared just outside the screen to make the shopgirl's job easier. She's still holding Thistle, whose sole goal in life has become catching the measuring tape. He is, of course, kept well out of reach.
Orsino chuckles, noting down the numbers Aya calls out in her breathy, barely-audible voice on the sketch. "Yes, you are blessedly consistent," Orsino says gratefully. "You should see the way some people go up and down like the tide. It's a dreadful mess. Makes one keen to work fast before they change again, and blame me for not fitting the form." He doesn't look as if he's /too/ bothered, however. He usually has a fairly jolly disposition.
"That seems awfully inconvenient," Marsei replies, looking over the screen; it's tall enough, and she not so lofty, that she can just glimpse Orsino over the top. "On the other hand— it would be a convenient excuse for having new dresses made!" Yet, even without such an excuse, it's a wonder she hasn't ordered additional wardrobes to hold all of her new dresses. Some might imagine there's a whole room in the Hightower dedicated to Lady Marsei's dresses. "I have a good feeling about this one," she announces.
Orsino turns perpendicular to the screen while making notes just to further the appearance of protecting the client's modesty. "I genuinely hope it shall serve, Lady Marsei," Orsino says. "But take comfort in the fact that if your relatives are criticizing your clothing, it is because they can think of nothing more substantive to say about your character." He makes another note. "But at least with this design, the more they talk behind your back, the more they must look at your dedication to their house."
"I suppose that's true," Marsei says thoughtfully, any hesitance only turned toward the modesty of her own character than Orsino's observation. She stays good and still for Aya, a perfect dress-form after many years of dressmaker's measurements. It's not long before her optimism is in full force. "And at least my back will be made artful by you!" A pause. "Thank you, Orsino. You always give me something to think about." Even if it's a choice between embellishments.
Orsino gives a satisfied chuckle. "My lady, I hope only to give you satisfaction. But…one more piece of advice: Tell people that when /you/ asked for the embroidery, it was too small in my first design and you asked to have the dragon pattern enlarged so that more people would be able to see it."