We were standing at the top of a church tower. My father had brought me to this spot in a small Italian town not far from our home in Rome. I wondered why.
“Look down, Elsa,” Father said. I gathered all my courage and looked down. I saw the square in the center of the village. And I saw the crisscross of twisting, turning streets leading to the square.
“See, my dear,” Father said gently. “There is more than one way to the square. Life is like that. If you can't get to the place where you want to go by one road, try another.”
Now I understood why I was there. Earlier that day I had begged my mother to do something about the awful lunches that were served at school. But she refused because she could not believe the lunches were as bad as I said.
When I turned to Father for help, he would not interfere. Instead, he brought me to this high tower to give me a lesson. By the time we reached home, I had a plan.
At school the next day, I secretly poured my luncheon soup into a bottle and brought it home. Then I talked the cook into serving it to Mother at dinner. The plan worked perfectly. She swallowed one spoonful and sputtered, “The cook must have gone mad!” Quickly I told what I had done, and Mother stated firmly that she would take up the matter of lunches at school the next day!
In the years that followed I often remembered the lesson Father taught me. I knew where I wanted to go in life. I wanted to be a fashion designer. And on the way to my first small success I found the road blocked. What could I do? Accept the roadblock5 and fail？Or use imagination and wits to find another road to my goal？
I had come to Paris, the center of the world of fashion, with my sketches6. But none of the famous fashion designers seemed interested in buying them. Then one day I met a friend who was wearing a very beautiful sweater. It was plain in color, but it had a lovely and unusual stitch.
“Did you knit that sweater?” I asked her.
“No,” she answered. “It was done by a woman here in Paris.”
“What an interesting stitch!” I continued.
My friend had an explanation. “The woman her name is Mrs. Vidian—told me she learned the stitch in Armenia, her native country.”
Suddenly I pictured a daring design knitted into such a sweater. Then an even more daring idea came to me. Why not open my own house of fashion? Why not design, make and sell clothes from the house of Schiaparelli! I would do it, and I would begin with a sweater.
I drew a bold black and white butterfly pattern and took it to Mrs. Vidian. She knitted it into a sweater. The result, I thought, was wonderful. Then came the test. I wore the sweater to a luncheon which people in the fashion business would attend. To my great pleasure, the sweater was noticed. In fact, the representative of a large New York store wanted 40 sweaters to be ready in two weeks. I accepted the order and walked out on a cloud of happiness.
My cloud disappeared suddenly, however, when I stood in front of Mrs. Vidian. “But it took me almost a week to knit that one sweater,” she said. “Forty sweaters in two weeks? It is not possible!”
I was crushed to be so close to success and then to be blocked! Sadly I walked away. All at once I stopped short. There must be another way. This stitch did take special skill. But surely there must be other Armenian women in Paris who knew how to do it.
I went back to Mrs. Vidian and explained my plan. She really didn't think it would work, but she agreed to help.
We were like detectives, Mrs. Vidian and I. We put ourselves on the trail11 of any Armenians who lived in Paris. One friend led us to another. At last we tracked down women, each of whom could knit the special stitch. Two weeks later the sweaters were finished. And the first shipment from the new house of Schiaparelli was on its way to the United States!
From that day a steady stream of clothes and perfumes12 flowed from the house of Schiaparelli. I found the world of fashion gay13 and exciting, full of challenge and adventure. I shall never forget one showing which was really a challenge. Once again Father's advice helped me. I was busy getting ready to show my winter fashions. Then just 13 days before the presentation the sewing girls were called out on strike. I found myself left with one tailor and woman who was in charge of the sewing room! I was as gloomy14 as my models and salesgirls. “We'll never make it,”one of them cried.
Here, I thought, is the test of all tests for Father's advice. Where is the way out this time? I wondered and worried. I was certain we would have to call off the presentation or else show the clothes unfinished. Then it dawned on15 me. Why not show the clothes unfinished?
We worked hurriedly. And, exactly 13 days later, right on time, the Schiaparelli showing took place.
What a showing it was! Some coats had no sleeves; others had only one. Many of our clothes were still in an early stage. They were only patterns made of heavy cotton cloth. But on these we pinned sketches and pieces of material. In this way we were able to show that what colors and textures the clothes would have when they were finished.
All in all, the showing was different. It was so different that it was a great success. Our unusual showing caught the attention of the public, and orders for the clothes poured in.
Father's wise words had guided me once again. There is more than one way to the square always.