I saw the dress first in a magazine advertisement, on a model named Sasha Pivovarova, who was seated with three other pale young women. The clothes they were wearing, I would come to learn, came from the Prada Resort collection for spring-summer 2008.
Even though the way Ms. Pivovarova was sitting, slightly slouched in a way that obscured some of the dress’s finer details, I could tell that it would look great on me. It was strapless (good if one is busty), with a corseted bodice and billows and billows of skirt that give the hipless hips and the already-hipped (ahem) some cover. Black, with pink and white leaves all over. I looked at the picture and pictured myself in the dress on a ship, wind in my face, even though the only time I’ve ever been sailing I was acting as a deckhand, polishing brass fixtures.
I sent pictures of the frock to friends; I told my husband about it, imagining that it might be a viable Christmas gift. On the corner of Prince and Broadway one night, I saw it in the window of the Prada flagship, high on a pedestal, lording over the tourist crowds. “That’s the dress!” I said to my husband. He looked. “It’s pretty,” he said.
There was a big box for me under the tree on Dec. 25. It contained an iPhone. A fabulous gift. But still … the dress. Could I afford it? How much did it cost, anyway? Online searches proved fruitless. Then the dress turned up in an Elle editorial spread: “Price available upon request,” the caption said. And then again: on the cover of the New York Post’s Pulse section. Only they had the balls to report the cost: $13,670.
Understand: I’m not a fashionista. I have some nice shoes, a Marc Jacobs top, a Diane von Furstenberg dress. And each of those splurges is sitting proudly on my Visa bill. I hadn’t even seen a 13K dress before; and also, isn’t that the total amount I put on my credit card last year—including trips to Italy and Brazil?
The first time I visited the labyrinthine Prada store to visit the object of my obsession, trembling a bit, I was wearing jeans, Nike’s, a puffy coat and a fake leopard-print polar fleece scarf from Old Navy, and no one at the store would come near me. The dress was hanging in the back—a size 40, which would fit, I thought. I touched it, and thought “100 percent silk,” which the friend who had accompanied me confirmed, digging out the tag. Also, the price: a mere $11,815.
I was too chickenshit to ask to try it on.
The next day, I returned in knee boots and DvF dress, with two fancier friends in tow. A friendly man who thought he might actually have a shot at selling this number (and clearing God knows what kind of commission) warmly ushered me to the fitting room, which had one big wall of mirrors and another with some nonoperative video screens. “Those used to show you changing clothes,” said one of my pals.
I stripped and stepped into the dress—the first I’ve ever tried that zipped in the front. Perfect. I admired myself for a few minutes while my companions snapped a few photos, before we were busted by security. It did look good, I was right! Look at me! But … Yet … Um … This was it?
A spokeswoman for the company later attributed the cost to the 15-meters-plus of fabric, the Prada-exclusive print, the voluminous underpinning and the corseting, “which makes it practically a haute couture dress,” she said. The Marie Antoinette-esque Vera Wang gown with handmade flowers that I tried before my wedding a year and a half ago was $9,000. The Prada dress … Well, I’d have even less occasion to wear it—meaning, no occasion at all. My husband’s brother’s wedding is going to be at a YMCA; my other friends are getting married in a naked plot of land they bought in Rhode Island. The dalliance in the dressing room wasn’t about me, but about a fantasy of another life, some other world, where I’m on a ship, with nothing to do but drink Champagne and look at the sea. I have so much money that I don’t even think about money. I might even wear gold jewelry!
But back in this world, in that mirrored chamber, I still, at 32, looked like a girl playing dress-up. And that, I’ll admit, was something of a relief.