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November 12, 2008

Coat Love

Text by Anita Nair. Illustration by Abhijeet Kini

In search of the perfect winter coat, Anita Nair regrets that mundane practicality wins out over fashion, in a world that is riddled with wine stains and ink spots

The thing about September in the northern climes is that it is even more uncertain than March. One day you think it is summer. The next day winter has set in without even the grace of an autumn to temper the process. I stared at the dimensions of my suitcase and sighed. I was going to live out of it for almost four weeks and there was just so much I could carry with me. So, the first thing to stay in my cupboard where it already was encased, was my winter coat. Now this winter coat, black lamb wool, is a marvellous creation by an Italian hand. In it I had braved Polish Decembers and English Februarys. When I wore it, I felt armoured to go out into the coldest night without a single shiver rattling my bones. But near perfect as it was, the coat was heavy and was most certainly essential winter wear. And Italy this September the weatherman said would hover in the late 20s. I am not vain but even I balked at the thought of being seen in a winter coat when sleeveless summer sheaths and cropped tops were what everyone else would be wearing.

On the day I landed in Florence, the skies were such a clear blue that tears sprang into my eyes. The light was almost white. Is this the end of summer or what? I asked myself opening my blouse as much as it would and fishing for my sunglasses in my bag that is only a little smaller than a suitcase. It was 32˚C and I felt vindicated and thankful that I had the good sense to pack a couple of cottons despite the fact that I was heading to chilly Scandinavia after Italy. Two days later the temperature plummeted. From a blistering hot day, it became a damp dank sort of greyness when the wind cuts through layers of clothing and slices into your bones. I shivered thinking yearningly of my coat hanging in the closet in my home in Bangalore. I longed for my coat like I had longed for nothing until then. I longed for it even more when I realised I had to buy a new winter coat. Travelling to Scandinavia without one would be stupid. If I thought I would look foolish being seen with a woollen coat when the sun shone fiercely, I would look even more foolish without a coat when everyone else strode around in leggings, gloves and fur lined boots.

My friend and I traipsed from one store to another. There were two issues here. I am not exactly the slender waif-like woman for whom haute couture seems to be created. At each store, my heart sank deeper and deeper till it had lodged somewhere in my knees. Unless I could miraculously drop down to hover between a size 0 to 3, prêt-à-porter lines from houses of couture were out. And then there was the fabric itself. I wanted to be warm without feeling as if I had chosen to drape a numda rug around me. Somewhere out there I hoped was the perfect winter coat waiting just for me. But it didn’t seem to be around the corner yet.

Then Mariella Burani happened. Rather like Emilio Pucci, she is one designer whom I have a fondness for. If I like the flourish of Pucci’s colours, what I have always been drawn to about Burani is her design philosophy. Fashion legend states that it was the famed German photographer Peter Lindbergh who catapulted her to fame. He, it is said, told Burani that “her clothes were like seeing his mother’s and grandmother’s on a chic, modern girl who wore army boots on her feet”. Burani’s designs have been inspired by her years in Reggio Emilia where she attended schools since fifth grade. The dainty Reggio girls who dressed in grays and subtle hues on one side and the women of Cavriago (the province where Burani grew up) who went to work in the fields and weeded the rice paddies on the other, evoked an image of delicate yet strong women to and eventually, the combination of these two worlds became her design philosophy.

At Mariella Burani I found the perfect winter coat. It was wool but such was its lightness that my soul leapt. And it was a rich cream. Nothing could be better for people with dark hair. The assistant draped it around me and angled the full-length mirror so I could admire myself. I was enchanted by my own image. I was the Mariella Burani woman. ‘A woman on the move, a woman who laughs and cries, a woman who dresses like a woman but has an androgynous streak. There’s nothing wrong with her, but she is not perfect either. But it’s her imperfections that give her charm and make her lovable. And in the grand scheme of things, these little imperfections are what make the world go round!’

It was perhaps because I saw myself as the Burani woman that good sense prevailed. A cream woollen coat would be perfect if one flew in one’s own or one’s amour’s private jet. You then step out onto the tarmac with a dog under one arm and a Prada swinging from the other. I was on a planes-trains-automobiles kind of trip. The cream would be brown by the end of a day; that is if I hadn’t already spilt tea or wine on it and got ink stains or lipstick on its sleeve. In the end, I shrugged the coat off with great regret. Eventually I would find another coat. A very stylish mélange that kept me warm and had various women ask me who had designed it. But it wasn’t my cream Burani and while imperfections may make the world go round, I wait for that perfect world of white tea, white wine, whiteness everywhere so even I can keep a cream coat cream after a whole day of wearing it.

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