Celia had been at a lecture; its subject was ‘The frontiers of fashion.’ Once it was over, she met me in the richly-resourced library at UCA. We decided that we would go to my home and, free from distractions, our conversation could begin.
I asked her what had led her to become so interested in fashion. She began by immediately describing the influence of her grandmother for whom she has a deep affection. From a young age her grand-mother would dress her in beautiful clothes. And so it was she who enabled Celia to have that indescribable pleasure of imagining herself as a magical fairy or a mythical princess. Her grand-mother also taught her to be ‘graceful’, ‘elegant’ and ‘polite’. In fact, Celia is unusually well-mannered. I had noticed this throughout the time we had known each other. She is also remarkably composed.
Her favourite fashion designers are Gianni Versace and Jean-Paul Gaultier: Versace – the superlative excess of richly gorgeous style; Jean-Paul Gaultier – radical, outlandish and brilliant. And she told me that she is currently working on a project concerned with ‘body-shaming.’
She acknowledged how hard her parents had worked whilst she was growing up and how it fell to her grandparents to look after her. She told me that she loves all of them – but in different ways.
Good conversations are non-linear things; they take off, twist and turn – and trace patterns like super-fluid electrons – as images pulse and shine – and memories glint anew: We talked about her life in Taiwan, her original loneliness on the long flight to the United Kingdom, her first trip to Bournemouth where she went clubbing and did karaoke and flitted into casinos – and how she is a ‘fearless’ person:
‘I don’t feel fear,’ she said. ‘I don’t know why but nothing frightens me. Sometimes I think that I ought to feel fear but I do not.’
Twice that evening her boyfriend phoned her from Taiwan. (I even spoke to him.) The boyfriend was in a very merry mood: ‘He’s been celebrating with a client,’ she said. ‘They’ve had a bit to drink.’
She likes the culture and the creative atmosphere in the UK. She finds it relatively free of constraints. Life in Taiwan is more formal. She might even choose to stay much longer in the UK.
By now my wife had spent quite a long time in the kitchen and it was time to eat. The three of us had dinner together. We never stopped taking. I was amazed at how willing Celia was to sustain such a long conversation in English. We learned about the pressures that now befall young women in Korea and China, Taiwan and even Japan. They want, she said, ‘to look westernised.’ They are prepared to undergo plastic surgery even in their teens as they search for their ideal ‘look.’ (I was shocked to learn this.)
Right at the end of our long conversation, I asked Celia to describe herself in three words. (Why I did so I am not sure. Anyway, I did.)
She paused. We sat in silence for quite a long time. Celia looked down towards the deep red Persian carpet. She still said nothing: Then:
‘Yes, I’m independent. And I’m … can you say: ‘varied’?’
I replied: ‘You mean ‘complex’ – in the sense that there are different sides to you?’
She then consulted a translation on her iPhone and showed the answer to me:
It said, ‘wilful.’
‘Yes I can see that. You are single-minded – and I imagine that you are strong-willed. Yes, I think that ‘wilful’ might be one way of describing you!’
By now it was late in the evening. It was time for her to leave.
We said ‘goodbye’ and although it was against my better judgement she had resolved to walk home on her own.
‘In the old days we would think me very ungentlemanly,’ I said.
‘Don’t worry. It’s not far,’ she replied.
And Celia set off into the night.
Later my wife insisted that I contact her to make sure that she had arrived home safely.
I did – and she had.
And, later, I thought that if I were a Human Resources Manager in a fashion house such as Versace or Chanel or Dior then she would be exactly the kind of person who, through personality, social skill and sheer grace, would be a great asset to the business.