Photo: Michael Edwards
She thinks I need a better bra, a lighter workload, a man with money. If she were my mother, I would have to strangle her. But she is not my mother, she is Margaret Forbes—the finest saleswoman on the face of the planet. "What are you, insane? Take that off immediately! The color, the shape—you look like a tea bag." Margaret has spoken and Margaret is right.
"So," she says, making herself comfortable on the little bench in the corner of my dressing room, "I'm ready." We've been down this road a time or two before. I know what's required of me. Reaching into the slouchy suede bag Margaret insisted I buy four seasons ago ("You'll wear it for the next four seasons"), I take out the latest batch of pictures my 3-year-old grudgingly sat for. It goes without saying that I'll be looking at her grandsons, Robert and Michael, when I get to the cash register. She oohs and aahs over Julia, announces she's available for babysitting seven nights a week, and hands me a black cashmere jacket to try. "Here, darling; it'll work with everything."
Margaret has spoken and Margaret is right. In most great love stories—Anna Karenina, Marjorie Morningstar, Old Yeller—the participants tend to remember every exquisite detail of their first meeting: who spied whom across a crowded room, the song that was playing, the faint scent of Shalimar wending its way through the air. But my first time with Margaret was probably pretty mundane. If I had to guess, I'd say she noticed me hauling a stack of sweaters around and decided to take pity. However it started, I left Saks Fifth Avenue that afternoon as the proud owner of two blouses, a pair of pants, a skirt and the sense that I could go anywhere dressed in some combination of the above.
Soon the seduction began in earnest. A handwritten note announcing the spring collection. A call that the outfit I'd been eyeing had just gone on sale. An invitation to a lunch for my favorite designer. Margaret made it her business to learn about the clothes in my fantasies and the clothes in my closet. She knew what I could afford to skip. "Won't your taupe linen top serve almost the same purpose?" And she knew what I had to have. "Nothing is making you happy today because you feel fat. But I'll be holding this dress for you until the middle of next week—at which time you are going to want it." She taught me to pair my silk charmeuse skirt with my denim jacket, that heels are a must, that anyone who looks good in ocher will look even better not in ocher.
I've seen Margaret command respect from the haughty and elevate the insecure, accessorize the clueless, and sweet-talk the seamstress. She is a diplomat and an advocate, a troubleshooter and a problem solver. She consoles, she motivates, she follows up. She knows how to alchemize tragedy into comedy, turn a bad date into a good story. And, so help me God, if a viable candidate doesn't appear on the horizon at some point in the next six months—I'll single-handedly mount a campaign for Margaret Forbes to become the next president of the United States. I don't know about you, but I believe that the very least the leader of the Free World should be able to do is make me look thin.
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