Chapter 2: Bouffe

At the best of times I need only the thinnest excuse to go shopping, so this turn of events is more than justification for an excursion to my favorite store.

Though the address of Bouffe is on that highest of high streets, Oxford, its entrance is actually situated on an alleyway, as if its proprietors want to discourage traffic, which I assume they do given that the entrance to the boutique is guarded by a bouncer and a velvet rope. When I arrive, the bouncer is surrounded by a gaggle of teenage girls who insist that their friend has put them “on the list”. As I haughtily glide through these tarts like a hot silver spoon through butter, I remove my foundation applicator and delicately smash it, extract my splurge credit card from the wreckage, and proffer it to the bouncer with both hands, Japanese style. He bows slightly as he accepts it, and in one movement scans it and returns it to me. A silvery chime indicates that my credit limit has been established, and is acceptably large. The bouncer unclasps the velvet rope and gestures for me to enter.

Inside, there are three sales-models languidly posing around the store’s displays: a bottle blonde near the perfumes, a brunette at the jewelry case, and a very young, freckled girl with a copper coloured wig in the clothing section. Though the store is barely twenty paces across, these Charlie’s Angels of ennui each sport adorable, brightly colored microphone headsets and earpieces – just what you’d expect if Coco Chanel designed for MI5.

Considering the impact this tiny boutique has on the London fashion scene it is, in many ways like the sales-models themselves: a wisp of very fashionable nothing. This nothingness is enhanced by the bright, white walls, which leave you with no sense of depth. The Jackie O’ display dominates the street side of the store. An Andy Warhol print covers most of the back wall. The floor is dotted with small, well-designed spaces which showcase the remainder of the store’s product – some large, brassy jewelry, a couple of bags, one pair of knee-high platform boots, and a delicate belt made of shrunken skulls. The elder models display a professional level of attitude, which presents a formidable barrier to communication. The young, copper-haired model is fastidiously arranging the skull-belt so that it looks like a smiley face. She seems approachable so I speak to her first.

“I’d like the wig that the display model has … “

“Hello” she replies enthusiastically. “Can I help you?”

Her interruption puts me off so I stutter my question a second time, “I’d like the bouffant wig that the display artist is wearing.” The artist, who is standing perfectly still in the store’s tiny window gives me a wink.

“Oh, I’m sorry, but that’s not for sale.”

“What!” I think. “How can a wig in a clothing store not be for sale?” Then a thought strikes me. Perhaps this is a repeat of the dark days of the summer of 1995 when everything I wanted to buy was reserved for Sarah Ferguson or Princess Di. I say, “Oh, has someone famous already bought the wig? Sting perhaps? Or Prince Charles?”

The sales-model nervously adjusts her size 1 dress as she repeats, “No. It’s just not for sale.”

I catch a side-long look of myself in the mirror. “Maybe I’m not fashionable enough to buy it? Bouffe is very fussy about its clientele”, I think with trepidation.

The sales-model notices and replies anxiously to my unspoken question. “It’s not that you’re dressed in last season’s style. You look beautiful. It’s just that the wig is not for sale. It is part of the store’s permanent collection.”

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of things that I’ve really wanted that I didn’t ultimately get. Though I am one wedding vow away from being rich, I know how to consume on the cheap. I don’t need money. I get what I want because I am persistent. I will suggest, cajole, push, wheedle and on rare occasions even beg to achieve my consumption goals. Despite these formidable skills, at this moment I am overwhelmed by despair. The only words that I can utter are “but … my signature style.”

These are powerful words to the shopping cognoscenti. The sales-model grasps my hand tightly. I look her directly in the eyes just as a tear dribbles down her freckled cheek. I watch as it splashes onto her bony shoulder. She says, “We could sell you something else. Another wig perhaps?” This thought excites her. “Would you consider something a little more mod?” She lightly pushes me towards a corner of the store that I hadn’t noticed before. There, sitting on a plaster pedestal illuminated by ambient light, is a beautiful beehive wig.

“What do you think? It’s made from the same hair as the bouffant wig.”

One of my most important mottoes as a shopper is never to compromise. As soon as you let trivialities like money and convenience guide your purchases you are doomed to mediocrity. I know in my heart of hearts that the bouffant and not the beehive wig is my signature style; the beehive is too much, but the bouffant is … perfect.

I glance towards the store display.

“I’m sorry, but the bouffant really isn’t for sale.”

I look back at the beehive. It is fun and sexy.

“Would you like to try it on?” the sales-gamin asks.

I hesitate.

“Not every outfit can be a signature.”

Though I am heartbroken not to be able to buy the bouffant wig, the girl’s wise words clinch the sale. As I pay for the wig – and the skirt, jacket and go-go boots which go with it – the blonde sales-model who had watched my entire shopping spree with listless scorn, activates her headset and speaks one sentence into it in Italian, ”Abbiamo venduto la parrucca, ora puoi comprare la villa a Parma1

1Now you can buy that villa in Parma.