Louise’s Traffic Jam

From Congress to the credit markets, gridlock is everywhere, says the Countess, except fashion.


We all know what gridlock is.

Here I sit on the ring road around Paris, known as the Périphérique, and I’m barely moving. I keep changing lanes in the hope of getting through this mess but no luck. What to do?

To pass the time I start thinking about other gridlocked things—and there are plenty. Congress: packed with gridlockers. The economy: at a standstill. Banks and Wall Street: The credit faucet is turned off. The Middle East: It’s been at a stalemate for years. Cruises: going nowhere.

Vacation spots like Palm Beach and Saint Moritz: frozen. Movie stars: gridlocked by Botox, their egos and publicity. Sports stars: the same—even Tiger Woods is under lock and key after roaming wild. As for cities, the City of Angels can’t seem to fly, and London is stuck in the mud with Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s woes (on the other hand, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy is too fluid, while Germany’s Angela Merkel is solidity itself).

My list went on and on as I sat there staring at the sea of cars in front of me, as if I were in a parking lot. Then it struck me. At least there’s one thing that isn’t gridlocked these days: fashion. It’s all over the place.

I recall sitting on a suede couch in the rue Cambon home of Coco Chanel after a meal that, with the food, progressed through whiskey, Dom Pérignon, Mouton Rothschild and cognac, plus a little blue pill she promised would mean I’d never suffer from the gridlock of a hangover again. Chanel informed me that there was no such thing as fashion—except hers. And even that wasn’t fashion, she added; it was simply the way people should look. To give me an example, she stood and pounded her fist between her legs.

“Look at my skirt,” Chanel said. “It doesn’t even go up, it’s so well made. My skirt won’t be blown away by some jet engine.”

I wish a jet engine would blow this gridlock on the Périphérique away. Traffic still isn’t moving.

I remember the days when I would drive around Paris and the Arc de Triomphe. To the French, being able to circle the monument unimpeded is a badge of honor going back to Napoleon’s day. There was no gridlock then—it was a battle for your life.

As for fashion these days, it’s a battle for survival.

My advice to the average woman is that there is no reason she shouldn’t wear anything she wants, even a paper bag. Some of you might wonder about this change in my attitude, given my usual views on standards, style, and what’s appropriate and what isn’t. Those remain as firmly gridlocked as ever. How could I possibly change at my age?

But I recognize that fashion now is all over the place—seductive, daring, minimal, maximal—and there is no one look anymore. In my day there was the Balenciaga soft suit, the Dior New Look, the Yves Saint Laurent fantasy and colors, the Chanel jacket. Each house had a unique head-to-toe look. Today, anything goes because we all seem to be in a reality show of our own casting and are desperate for the cameras to follow us. (Hey, if a woman called Snooki from New Jersey can become a TV star, there’s hope for us all. And I was born in New Jersey—but to noble Austrian parents, of course.)

It’s whatever a woman feels like wearing and whom she wants to be—and that can change from hour to hour. Gridlock in fashion is over, which is a fantastic opportunity for designers young and old alike, and for women, who can be as wild and savage as they want in fashion. (Or in anything else. Rowwwrrrr.)

It’s all a new reality, and the game is not to look like everyone else. Live to be daring and suffer the consequences. It all comes down to the fact that clothes are just accessories to a woman’s charms and a man’s appeal.

Ah, I’m out of the gridlock at last. Merci beaucoup! But now I face going up the Avenue Foch and the battle of the Arc de Triomphe. It’s every man (or woman) for himself.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: As I wrote last month, I have begun a club. The latest inductee is Nancy Pelosi. To quote Macbeth, “Double, double toil and trouble.” There will be plenty more to come!