We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition. Henry V
I shall never forget it.
I shall never forget my very first photo shoot as a stylist. That’s how I met Ann Wallace. I shall never forget my second photo shoot. That’s how I met Michelle Obama.
My work with Mrs. Obama is already a matter of public record. I like to think I did my part to properly introduce Mrs. Obama to a wider audience. She certainly did (I’ll keep that conversation to myself).
Ever since our second meeting, I have always wanted to find a proper public forum to introduce Ann Wallace. And now I have it in this, the inaugural fashion shoot for aControlledSubstance.
It is in no way an accident that Ann is the first subject of this endeavor. The fashion shoots that I plan to produce for you on this site will not involve fashion models. You can see that anywhere.
I plan to honor the time you choose to spend on this site by introducing you to the sense of style–both in the sense of fashion and life– of people I think you need to know about. (You report to the site. I decide!)
So, back to Ann. I met her when she was the General Manager of Yves Saint Laurent in Chicago. I was given 5 days notice by Today’s Chicago Woman that I was to put together 8 looks for a photo shoot they had already planned with the four female meteorologists at the four major local stations. This was to run in the March issue.
It was the middle of February and they had no concept yet. With only 5 days to get the job done, I decided the easiest and most sensible thing to do was a rainwear theme, so out I ran like a chicken with my head cut off assembling 8 different raincoat stories for women whose sizes I didn’t even know until the 3rd day.
In my whirlwind travels around the city, I spotted the best trench at Yves Saint Laurent. They had only one. It was about a size 10 with a gorgeous rope belt, so I figured it would work perfectly on anyone because you could cinch it in such way that the belt would rightly be the whole story. I was determined to make it work, because, at the time YSL was still under the direction of Tom Ford and, it was the IT label.
I asked the salesperson who thought I was a customer if I could please talk to the GM. A few minutes later a very striking blonde woman dressed in all black appeared and introduced herself as Ann. Was there something she could do for me?
I fawned over the trench in earnest , I explained my predicament in no uncertain terms and then I held my breath, fully expecting her to say no.
“When would you like to pick it up,” she asked smiling?
I remember she was smiling because when Ann Wallace smiles, she makes me weak in the knees.
I didn’t have an exact answer. Would sometime in the next few days be ok?
I left the store and went back to the TCW offices. By then, the managing editor had firmed up the women’s sizes and their participation in the concept.
The next day was spent pulling looks and pulling strings and pulling everything, with the exception of one thing, completely together.
I could not find a piece of jewelry I deemed worthy of the YSL trench and the Jil Sander bias cut trapeze dress that was to go under it. So when I walked back into YSL to take the coat, all stressy as only I can get, I just blurted out to Ann, now of course wearing another magnificent all black outfit, something like what a shame I couldn’t find a necklace just like the one she was wearing to use with the coat.
Without saying a word, she raised her arms, reached behind her neck, unfastened the necklace, handed it to me and then finally spoke: “Here, take it. Just bring it back when you bring back the coat.”
She gave me, a complete stranger, the proverbial shirt off her own back. It was a kindness surpassed only by her reaction a few weeks later upon seeing the issue in print. Though the concept was hurried and much too cheekily photographed for my taste, Ann said to me “I see what you were trying to do. You’re a real artist.”
This story may seem a little self serving, right about now, but I assure you it is not.
What I couldn’t possibly have known at the time, as a 41 year old man who had never harbored any intention of doing anything like this is that respect, especially respect by women fashion executives towards male stylists, is very difficult to come by.
I could tell you some stories that would curl your hair. But I won’t. For now.
What I will tell you is that retail is perhaps the only business where female executives serve just under the very top of the male executives who run the industry as a whole. It is perhaps the only business where women get to treat men like, well, men treat(ed) women in the business world.
And in retail, an industry full of gay men who do everything from makeup to window displays, to selling women’s clothing for a living, you might just be shocked from the outside looking in–as I was when I started–what demeaning assumptions can be made about you.
I call this part of my (his)tory “the fag that brought the clothes.”
I’ve fought the good fight to change that perception, at least as it applies to me. That’s a story I may tell you on another day.
What I will tell you today is this. This is Ann Wallace.
Tom Kolovos is Editor In Chief of aControlledSubstance. Ann Wallace is currently the General Manger of Escada, Chicago. She is styled by Tom, photographed by Ernest Collins and is wearing Escada Spring/Summer 2011 and her own jewelry.