Status Quota

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 1997, 12:00am

the designer dress I don't wear make-up, I never blowdry my hair and my wardrobe favours G-2000 more than any other label. This never bothers me, except every once in a while when some status-conscious Hong Konger looks me up and down, does a quick mental calculation of how much my clothes must have cost, realises I'd have plenty of change from $1,000 and cuts the conversation short. On these occasions, I usually comfort myself with the thought that glamour is all in the trimmings, which I could acquire and impress the hell out of everyone with ... if I wanted to. But after a day wearing a little number from the latest Chanel collection, I realised there was more to it than that.

Stage one in my tai-tai transformation was the hairdo. William in Le Salon Orient flexed his muscles and promised to tame ('concrete' was the word he used) my wild 'n' wavy hair into something that would match the outfit - a sleek, behind the ears affair with a large quiff at the front which required so much hairspray, it was still in place the next morning. A fact that, William said, would have appalled his next client - supermodel and actress Lauren Hutton. I was still in my chain store T-shirt, but the power of Chanel was beginning to take effect. Me and Lauren Hutton sharing a hairdresser? Yeah, why not? Next stop was Chanel for make-up and clothes. Face painted with more make-up than I have owned in my life, I slipped into the latest Lagerfeld look, a knee-length white jacket with the trademark collar and buttons over an A-line white silk strappy dress dotted with the letters that make up the name Coco Chanel. There was a quilted handbag in contrasting fabric and a matching wide-brimmed hat, which I turned down as rather OTT. So far, I could handle The Look, especially the dress, which clung in all the right places. But the shoes, 10-centimetre high spindly heels with vicious pointed toes, proved beyond me. After 10 minutes skidding and tottering about on the shiny floors of the Landmark, which undermined the otherwise spectacular effect, I gave up and nipped into Nine West to grab a pair of shiny flat pumps.

I tried out my new look by window shopping in Central, where I slowly became aware of a syndrome that seemed to afflict every passer-by, sales assistant and even the taxi driver who took me to my lunch appointment in Causeway Bay. They all seemed to dip their heads as I walked passed. It took me a while to work out they were checking out the buttons on my jacket. Yes, those interlocking Cs were the real thing.

At Times Square, no one had time to notice my buttons, except for a group of chattering businessmen, who smiled rather weakly and let me sweep ahead of them into the lift. The staff in DKNY looked patronising, as if they thought I was lost, and in Lane Crawford I felt hostile but calculating side glances from sales assistants who made no effort to greet me, but clearly clocked the cost of my duds.

Tea in the Mandarin Oriental was rather more fun than usual, the waiters beamed from ear to ear every time I asked for a new piece of crockery - I asked several times, just to make sure. I spotted a well-known private banker and more to the point, he spotted me. Perhaps he was wondering if he should know me.

The next person to wear that look was the tai-tai hosting some fund-raising dinner at the Grand Hyatt that evening. I decided to gatecrash the pre-dinner drinks after a couple of photographers lifted their cameras as I walked toward the function, only to lower them again as I swung into the Ladies. They took a few snaps while the features editor of a Chinese daily politely wrote down my husband's surname. The hostess was watching, looking worried. But she didn't ask me to leave; I did that on my own before she could ask any difficult questions.

The most startling reaction, however, came from Graham, the photographer, and my husband, Eric. I was standing next to Graham - who had been waiting for me for half an hour - before he clicked, as it were, who I was. And I scared my husband in the Grand Hyatt lobby. We have known each other for five years, but he was positively startled when I reached up to kiss him. I'm still not sure whether this was a tribute to The Look or a reflection on how even my nearest and dearest sees me.

We ended the evening in Grissini's, tucked, unfortunately for my purposes, in a discreet corner by the window. The food was wonderful, the service sublime and the restaurant manager did make a point of coming over to introduce himself. But in the tastefully subdued lighting, I couldn't be sure whether he had noticed the Chanel, or whether he is as charming to everyone.

By the time we got home, and I had unglued my hair a bit, wiped off the make-up and hung up the dress, I still didn't know what impact I had had on Hong Kong that day. Did I get status from my tai-tai disguise? Perhaps, but I was too self-conscious to enjoy it.