(1310-10-09) Fashionable Relaxations
Summary: A couturière and a retired muse meet at Le Coquelicot.
RL Date: 09/10/2018
Related: None.
oriane isabelle 

Le Coquelicot — Night Court

Tiles of fine beige colored marble cover the floor in an ever repetitive pattern that is only broken by the circle of inlay work in its center, where through the use of white marble and dark red obsidian a likeness of the poppy flower comes to life, informing the visitor which salon it is he has entered. Long white drapes embroidered with a line of similar earthy dark red to the obsidian used in the floor are arranged to frame the windows, through which the parlour will be generously lighted through the day. Scattered about the room are comfortable chairs, light rattan fletching topped off with comfortable, cream-colored cushions, beside small tables where long slender flagons of wine stand at the ready beside goblets made of clay, glazed in warm earthy tones.

The air is that of relaxation, on more levels than just the physical; this extends to the mind, the soul, and the heart as well. An effect that is enhanced by the soothing melodies played by a lutist in a corner, by the pleasant subtle scents emanating from clay bowls filled with aromatic oils sitting on the tables; the warm lighting of oil lamps through glass shades painted with soothing patterns of waves in orange and dark red. Enhanced further by the soft laughter rippling through these halls where the visitor for once is allowed to take a break from his everyday trials and tribulations, from fears and worries, from tenseness in muscles and sometimes just loneliness.

Archways in old Tiberian style lead onwards to three areas, where patrons can find soothing in the way they wish to. Whereas a stairway at the back curves all the way up to the upper floor, where private quarters of courtesans and adepts can be found.

An autumn evening at the Coquelicot: from chilly dusk one steps over the threshold into warmth, soft golden light, and the scent of an apple pie baking somewhere near enough to be wafted, cunningly, into the salon.

It's late enough that most of the house's adepts have already paired off with patrons and vanished discreetly into the house's more private chambers; a few courtesans and visitors do still linger, in small conversational groups, drinking the mulled wine which made its first appearance tonight, succeeding the chilled wines and cordials of summer.

One woman stands alone by a window, her hand lifted to adjust the curtains and peer out into the softly-lit garden. She is a pillar of white silk, crowned with white hair simply dressed. When she lets the curtain fall and turns back to the salon proper, she reveals a face which was once of surpassing beauty — and a gown exquisitely cut and draped in a style not quite Hellenic, which displays her still-slender figure to advantage on its way to brush her black velvet slippers. The shawl about her shoulders is of white wool fine and soft as lace, glimmering with four thousand or more infinitesimally tiny crystal beads: they would be invisible in shadow, but in the Coquelicot's gentle candlelight they blaze as she moves, hinting at a pattern of flowering vines. Such pristine whiteness surely implies, to the eye of a couturière, a wealth which permits the refreshing of the lady's wardrobe at frequent intervals — and the employment of umpteen skilled laundresses meanwhile. She wears white gloves; large white pearls at her ears; and a hint of silver at her throat, a chain which dips below her neckline to conceal the pendant it secures.

As she returns to what is fast becoming her favourite chair, she crosses the path of the arriving Isabelle de Valais and smiles civilly in passing. Her skirts ripple gorgeously — there's a wealth of delicate silk in them, fanning out about her, carrying a fresh fragrance of white flowers.

Certain professional frustrations bring her to the Coquelicots today.

The doors to the Salon's waiting area opens and Isabelle de Valais doesn't so much as sweep in as she does stalk in; like some sleek jungle cat on the hunt, long-legged strides carrying her into the room, tipped with bootheels so thin they can exsanguinate a body with the right plunge. Tall and svelte, her elegant frame is clad in a tailored coat that finds its inspiration in today's riding fashions, albeit with more embroidery and lace; the tails are long and extend to the ankles and made of material light enough that they billow when she walks. It is dyed a rich crimson, hemmed with black and embroidered with gold mandalas of her own design, stitched over her thick sleeve-cuffs and lapels. It is pulled over a blouse with no collar, the lack thereof compensated by a delicate cage made out of silk ropes, gossamer-thin bands twisted about one another to leave a matching pattern over her throat and weighted by luminous pearls in the ends to brush against the line and dip of her collarbones. The rest of the blouse's design are, unfortunately, hidden by her outerwear.

She also wears form-hugging breeches made out of supple black leather, tucked under those tall boots that go over the knee, and is downright apologetic about it - tradition entails that d'Angeline women do not fight, and are not taught to fight, so there is no reason in the end to fit them in anything resembling a man's clothing. But she does fight, mostly from the shadows, and has engaged in her own battles in foreign lands. These, to her, are work clothes now and her movements hint at a subtle, feminine swagger that makes the most out of the structured silhouettes that make up today's ensemble.

Though that isn't to say that she prefers only this style. A woman who easily switches between masculine and feminine roles should there be a cause for it, she, too, is appreciative of more delicate looks. Oriane's pale elegance draws her discerning eye, brows lifting faintly in surprise at seeing her there - her presence inspires it as much as her couture does for no d'Angeline worth her salt has not heard of the Lady Somerville de Toluard, though considering she is somewhat fresh from her own travels abroad, the fact that she is here and not in Bordeaux almost overwhelms her appreciation for her individual style. Her illustrious consort had recently died, she remembers, but Bordeaux is an important Siovalese holding…

"A fine autumn evening, my lady," she greets. "A pity we have to spend it indoors to soothe whatever ails us." She turns away briefly when a server brings her not mulled wine but a short crystal glass filled with smooth but potent stuff, of a deep amber - a color that she inspects with a critical eye. The fact that the attendant knows her preference is indicative enough that she is a regular.

"… I'm afraid," Oriane confides, her retreat to her chair arrested by the gorgeous apparition that is Isabelle de Valais, "that too great an exertion out in the open air is responsible for what ails me." She smiles and shrugs one shoulder, self-deprecatingly; once again the fabric of her gown responds exquisitely to her movement. "I don't believe we've met, have we?" she inquires. "My name is Oriane Somerville de Toluard," and she offers gloved fingertips to be pressed.

"Any d'Angeline who claims to be such would know you by sight, my lady," Isabelle replies with a smile, her hand extending towards the lady's offered own as she affords the Siovalese grande dame a bow as smoothed and practiced as any male courtier who makes an effort. Her head bows over those elegant knuckles. "Beauties of your caliber occur but once in several generations, even in a country overflowing with them. I am Isabelle de Valais, the Comte de Digne's prodigal niece. A pleasure and honor to meet your acquaintance." Straightening up, her expression shifts to a look that gentles in faint sympathy. "And my condolences for your tremendous loss."

A glance towards the windows and she inclines her head in an inquiring fashion towards Oriane. "Word has it that you're quite the equestrian, is that the exercise that brings you today?" she wonders.

Those compliments Oriane disclaims with a courteous, exquisitely modulated murmur, each syllable well-practiced over many years; she is too well-bred to show any hint of surprise at the mode of Isabelle's greeting. After all it does nicely complement those trousers, those boots… Then, the inevitable condolences, and her friendly, inquiring blue gaze turns subtly glazed. "Thank you," she replies gently, "for your kindness," though that isn't at all how such words fall upon her ear, no matter how many times she hears them. A servant happens then to offer a tray of goblets: Oriane seizes upon this distraction, content with the mulled wine that is the evening's chief refreshment. She breathes in the spicy scent of it, takes a decorous sip, and then glances at the more potent beverage in Isabelle's grasp: "You don't care for mulled wine?" she wonders aloud. "I think it an indispensable pleasure of autumn."

They are courtesies that flow from a tongue well-exercised in delivering them; sheer experience tends to peel back the layers of intent behind them, but they are given nevertheless because not to do so is boorish in polite and noble company. As Isabelle speaks, her gold-flecked eyes find the other woman's present ensemble and how they sit on her and can't help but be reminded of the artwork of old masters that dominate the galleries of Elua - women poised and perfect, gleaming and glowing in their flowing drapery. A tick upwards of that incisive eagle-eyed stare find the mists within those cerulean mirrors.

You don't care for mulled wine?

"I love mulled wine," the young woman says with a laugh. "But I love brandy more and I'm afraid the day's frustrations call for a stronger spirit. Hopefully I'll be able to borrow some from this glass." She lifts the tumbler in a silent toast to the woman, before taking another sip.

"Your couture is lovely," she says at last. "I see hints of Demarchelier in it." The former Eglantine courtesan was a design tour de force in the City of Elua back in his prime, retired now, but occasionally opens up his books again to receive a lucky patron or three in the months before the Longest Night every five years…an honor that is said to be almost as prestigious as the tokens given for the same celebration by the flowers of Mont Nuit.

Oriane mirrors the toast gracefully. By now she has thought a little about this bold young woman, forgiven her those obligatory courtesies and the surely unintentional faux pas nestled within, and elected to take a few minutes' distraction in payment for it. "I do hope it conduces to your tranquility," she says of the liquor; "won't you sit with me, if you're not to be whisked away immediately? I have just been informed, with copious apologies, that my masseur was delayed by another patron…" As she speaks, she gathers up Isabelle with her eyes and guides her to that particular pair of chairs she has lately taken to occupying all by herself, and defending against most comers. Rather than sitting, she alights: her shawl trailing, her slippers eclipsed by her hem.

"Demarchelier?" she echoes, glancing down at herself as though mildly surprised to discover that she is, indeed, clothed. "Why, yes," she concedes slowly as the recollection comes into focus, "I think the first one was a gift from a young man of that name. The son of an old friend," she explains. "I have my sewing women make a new copy whenever anyone spills wine on me," she adds drily.

"Hopefully," Isabelle remarks, tilting her glass to examine the color. "I've never been easily influenced, hence my taste for more potent things to get past the blast doors and steel plates. A personal failing, I think. Stubbornness has been more a bane than a boon."

The invitation to sit with the grande dame has the younger woman looking upward, and while most of her affable expression does not reflect it, a hint of surprise glints briefly in her dark eyes and the golden shards within them.

"I would be happy to," she replies, succinctly, her gaze following the woman as she glides towards the indicated direction. When she follows, she holds no such grace - the airiness in manner so effortless with trueblooded scions of the Companions seems to have sideskipped her entirely, nor does she hold the prowling gait of her most exacting tutor, but her strides are confident, brisk and businesslike; the mark of a woman who always has someplace to be and a destination always determined by her.

She takes a seat with the woman, after a flick of her coattails so it drapes over the cushions behind her.

"He's retired now," Isabelle informs the stately lady. "A pioneer even with that decision when the key to be truly successful in the luxury business is more exclusivity and less accessibility."

Sitting angled toward the younger woman, bestowing all her attention in that one direction and reserving none for the rest of the salon, Oriane blinks in pleased surprise. For it's always pleasing to draw out another tendril of the spider's web of connexions linking the nobility of Terre d'Ange and its artists, old friends and new. "Yes, that's right," she agrees, "the trunks did stop coming a few years ago, and Monsieur Demarchelier wrote me the most beautiful letter… But I recall now that you are the comte de Digne's couturière niece," she pronounces with an admiring smile, correcting Isabelle's own estimate of her prodigality, "and so it's only natural, isn't it, that you should know much more than I do about such things—? Didn't I hear it said that you've opened a shop?"

Identified so readily, Isabelle smiles broadly, open enough to chase out the usually hidden dimple on her left cheek. "That would be me," she tells her companion, shifting so she could angle herself towards her as well, to levy not just the lion's share of her attention upon Oriane Somerville de Toluard, but also to afford her the view of the decorative mirrors behind her, which give her a full view of the room without turning her head in that direction…a precautionary habit, now. But that was always the aim - such little modifications in her day-to-day demeanor, instilled while young, have saved her life more than once. Lessons taught by her precious Guillermo.

"Only natural," she agrees. "But I am young yet and always willing to learn from the experiences of those that have come before me. What you wear is a beautiful classic…and absurdly hard to find now. And such things never go out of fashion. As for my couture house…it's a recent endeavor, established after I returned to Marsilikos. I spent most of my life abroad putting my stamp on the wardrobes of foreign dignitaries….they may frown upon our lifestyle here, but as it happens, they certainly can't get enough of our clothes."

That smile too Oriane echoes, by a deeply-instilled habit of her own: for social life has been her career, and amiability her art. "I do quite like it," she confesses, smoothing her gown over her knees. "Patrice," for now she is speaking more familiarly, more confidentially of that creator of fabled gowns, the man who dressed two Courcel queens, "always did have a knack for pleasing my eye, and for giving me little surprises I'd find agreeable. What I didn't like I'd put into the dress-up box for my daughters and my grand-daughters to steal. If his dresses are so rare now as you say perhaps I ought to have kept more of them," she chuckles, "but I suppose one doesn't think of things like that at the time, does one—? But I hope you'll tell me," she asks seriously, changing tack, "how your business is coming along… very well, I can only think, to look at you." An eloquent gesture at Isabelle's clothes. "I have endless admiration for those like you who can make beauty out of nothing at all — I've never had such a gift," she admits, "for all my maman was an Eglantine, and tried her best with me."

"Fashion is the only art form I know in which every person inevitably lives their life," Isabelle tells Oriane, her snifter lowered, hand braced against a knee. Mischief and mirth suffuse over her expression as she continues: "…unless, of course, they choose to spend their lives naked."

She digests these small personal bits about a legend in her profession with great interest. She doesn't bother to hide it, the way she leans forward, eyes on Oriane's face, taking stock of not just the words she utters but also the small nuances of the look of her at every memory plucked from the rich tapestry woven from the other woman's colorful history. "Eventually, I hope to be his equal, and perhaps surpass him. The aim is to one day to be permanently installed in Elua in the next decade or so and dress the royals as he has, but castles aren't built in a day. It's…" Her following laugh is almost breathless, taking a sip of her brandy. "The load of work involved is considerable."

At the query and gesture, her mirth fades into a glowing smile, pride on her features. "Well," she tells Oriane honestly. "Very well. I owe much of the recent boom to the Lady Ortolette de Mereliot, who thought of me in the week of her first assignation. She feared it to be an impossible task, but I was never one to balk at challenges. Since then I've had to increase the number of my staff and I'm presently on the hunt for new suppliers of fine fabric to answer to the demand. The trend these days is for local textiles…I wouldn't have been able to say the same five years ago when foreign cloth was all the rage."

She watches Oriane for a few moments, before she continues. "I'm certain that there are many who would agree with me that you are perhaps your lady mother's best and most enduring work," she remarks.

"…unless, of course, they choose to spend their lives naked."

Some in Terre d'Ange practically do; Oriane favours Isabelle with an amused lift of her eyebrows, acknowledging but not frowning upon this truth. She's too learned in human behaviour to judge the harmless pleasures of others.

"Yes," she says then, listening intently, "I'm sure it would daunt a lesser creature than a Valais…" And: "Yes, Her Grace the duchesse was telling me…" And: "Oh, I'm delighted none of my sisters are here to hear you say that!" she chuckles. "But Eisande must be thankful for all your work here. The balance of trade does benefit marvelously, and local artisans prosper, when one can export more than one imports… to say nothing of the incalculable value added by your own skill," and she inclines her head with gracious deference. "I've always tried to put work in the way of my own people when I could; I have— I had," a wry smile, a shrug which sets her shawl aglitter in the light, "a hundred and fifty white mulberry trees at Bordeaux, to feed the worms that made silk for my gowns. I brought weavers from Elua and saw my own women well-trained as seamstresses, and perhaps that's why I've had so little cause to become acquainted with your world." This she manages to frame as an apology for her own independence.

That, too, she knows - hence the development of her lingerie collection. It never fails to astound her how much people were willing to pay for small scraps of satin and lace to hike up, pinch and shape a woman's Yeshua-given assets.

I'm sure it would daunt a lesser creature than a Valais.

"We of House Valais are born from the womb burdened by impeccable taste," Isabelle says, with all the mock-gravitas of a jest with undeniable foundations of truth, though the flare of genuine merriment in the young woman's eyes suggests that she is also not above poking fun at herself and her own family. "Our women are unerringly drawn to beautiful things, and our men tend to be hopelessly ensnared by some of the realm's most interesting individuals. My late cousin, Louis, bless his fearless soul, dared to chase Fleur de la Courcel and ended up marrying her." She doesn't get into further detail than that, that Fleur eventually bore him the future Comte de Digne; she knows Oriane has an infinitely better knowledge as to how the noble families of Terre d'Ange are connected.

She then listens attentively to the woman as she paints her a vivid portrait of part of her life in Bordeaux. "You've nothing to apologize for in my opinion," she says at last. "What you describe speaks more of a genuine desire to see your people's lives prosper, as a benevolent landholder should. I will never inherit any estates or landed titles in my own right….I'm not particularly interested in marriage, either. All my hopes are thus invested on the people who have entrusted me to provide them with good opportunities. Hopefully despite my estrangement to my own nation, I am up for the task."

"… I understand," Oriane murmurs, for she knows this tale rather well indeed, has heard it from several points of view, "the young lady's widowhood still sits heavily upon her." Again that distance in her eyes, as she reserves some part of herself from the discussion and tailors her thoughts with a greater than usual neatness. "I hope her residence in Marsilikos will prove as diverting as mine has been," she suggests gently. "And when she's ready to wear colours again — why, surely you'll be ready to dress your first Courcel…? The Courcel beauty and the Valais eye for it will surely never fail to match, to the credit of both."

"I missed the chance to design her wedding gown when she got married," Isabelle confesses to Oriane with a laugh, laced as it is with the subtle notes of genuine regret. "A crime that I suppose I'll never forgive myself for. I returned for it when I was able, but only for the event itself. Not that Fleur didn't look absolutely stunning when she walked down the aisle, but still…I've been designing for my family since I was a child." A prodigy, affording the older woman a rare glimpse of the more hidden corners of her own history. "It would have been a perfect opportunity to welcome her into the family in my own, unique way. Louis absolutely adored her." She pauses and adds, her voice low and inscrutable - always, for any time something difficult is presented. "He would have no one else."

Oriane's gentle suggestion inspires the return of her grin, head canting towards her. "Of course, my lady. Certainly once she is, I intend to rectify my earlier mistake."

"After all," the elder lady muses, with perhaps a touch of reminiscence about her smile — for she has had a wedding of her own, and made another formal declaration before a priest of Elua purely for love's sake, "it isn't a dress that lends such a day a touch of the divine, it's the company one's in. I'm sure your presence, rare as it was in those years, helped to make her feel all the more welcome amongst her new family." She pats Isabelle's knee gently. "You have nothing to reproach yourself for, particularly since you'll be lending her your talents at a time in her life when she needs confidence all the more."

"You're right, of course," Isabelle tells Oriane, glancing down as the older woman pats her on the knee reminded, briefly, of her own mother, ensconsced in her blankets and her health failing by the day. There is no sign of it however, if anything, her lips part to make room for a brighter smile, pearls behind their rosy flush. "And as I always have, I'll do what I can on that end. I do adore my nephew and niece, whenever I do see them. She's a wonderful mother."

After a brief pause, she shifts on her seat - as bold as ever, when she indicates the following: "My lady, I know I've only just made your acquaintance," she begins. "But now that I've been informed that you were once a patron of Patrice Demarchelier, I was wondering if you would humor one such as I with a viewing of your collection of his early work? As I said, they grow increasingly rare by the day, and I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to further my own education in the art."

The mulled wine is cooling in Oriane's goblet; she's drinking it, before it's too late, when Isabelle surprises her with that request. She lowers her goblet and sets it aside on an occasional table, and passes a few meditative seconds in re-arranging her shawl to even greater advantage. Not that she labours over it: the gestures are as instinctive as her smiles. She knows better than most how to wear beautiful clothes; for fifty years, she's never had any other kind.

"Well," she says slowly, "of course I'd be glad to show you what I have, if it's really of such interest to you… But I fear you may be disappointed. I'm sure I must have some black dresses of Patrice's still — but white dresses do age so quickly, don't they, and I've never kept what I couldn't wear — and anything I don't wear often, I left behind me in Bordeaux." An apologetic shrug. "Some of my winter clothes and furs have come to me lately, though, by a friend's good offices. If you'll wait a few days before you call on me, I shall see that they're put in better order for you. Mine is the Maison de la Porte Bleue," she explains, "in the Rue du Port. The name is an apt one; you can't miss it."

On that note a softly-dressed courtesan of the house succeeds in catching Oriane's eye. She excuses herself with another apology, as though Isabelle's company were the real treat to be found within these walls and fashion the real antidote to her worldly cares; and then she slips her hand through the young man's arm and lets him lead her away in a waft of orange blossom, white silk, and history.

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