Alys Vorpatril. Legendary fashion designer. Uncrowned queen of New York City. Inarguable arbiter of elegance.
This explains so much, Duv thinks when he first finds out.
They go to New York Fashion Week so that Ivan can introduce Duv to his family when they are all on the same continent at the same time. Which is an actual concern. And Duv'd thought finding a time in a Senator's schedule for Ivan to meet Aunt Rebecca had been surreal.
Clearly, he has not yet begun to discover surreal.
They're late getting into New York and they take a cab to what appears to be the middle of a tornado. It's the sort of controlled chaos Duv has never seen outside of a preschool.
"By the by," Ivan says, grabbing someone out of the crowd who was trying to get their attention, "this is By, m'mother's PA."
"Byerly Vorrutyer," the man says. He's wearing something really, really absurd. But this is the fashion world, apparently, so maybe Duv and Ivan's clothes are the really absurd things. It wouldn't be the first time, Duv thinks, remembering the time they went to Rocky Horror Picture Show and Ivan insisted on wearing what he called couture and Duv called a corset.
"Don't worry, no need to be jealous," Ivan continues. "Despite the massive appeal to stereotype he does, he's actually straight."
Byerly rolls his eyes and says something obscene to Ivan in French, then offers Duv his hand. "Doctor Duv," he says, laying the French accent on thick, "we are all amazed to meet someone Ivan's willing to bring home."
"And when By makes it big," Ivan continues for him, "we will all be honored to fall over ourselves to say we knew him when."
"Exactly," Byerly says. "Ivan, your mother says: she loves you, but you have terrible timing. You're going to have to wait at least two hours before she can get away."
"There was a lot of traffic," Ivan says.
"In New York?" Byerly asks, shocked. "Perish the thought. Now, get out of the way unless you want to throw the last six months into the trash."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Ivan says. "We'll see her later." He takes Duv's hand and leads him through the crowd until they reach a small wood-paneled coffee bar hidden away as a hole in the wall. "Okay, my father first, I guess."
They discover Padma Vorpatril sitting at a table near the back with another man, both of them typing companionably on their laptops. Both look up as they approach, and Ivan's father stands up and hugs Ivan.
"There you are," Padma Vorpatril says. "You're late."
"Hi, Dad," Ivan says. "This is Duv."
Padma looks down at the man still sitting. "Simon, you owe me twenty dollars."
"And this is Simon Illyan," Ivan says. "My father's business partner. One of them." Padma Vorpatril, Ivan had once explained wearily, was never content to let Miles's father jump into any ditches alone. And jumping down after Aral Vorkosigan meant that it took Ivan about a day to come up with a short explanation for what his father does. It seems to involve, from what Duv can understand, keeping Miles Vorkosigan's father from touching hot stoves or putting metal forks inside toasters. And that Simon Illyan and Clement Koudelka both do basically the same thing. Apparently it takes a lot of people to make sure Aral Vorkosigan remains Aral Vorkosigan and does not spontaneously turn into the tooth fairy or Santa Claus or a mobster.
So, essentially, Duv's going to be completely disappointed when he finally meets Aral Vorkosigan. He'll have to be. By this point, his mental image of the man is somewhere between James Bond and Keyser Soze. Reality will surely disappoint him.
"You picked the worst time possible to bring someone home," Simon says. "I'm impressed with your timing."
"We have break," Ivan says. "It's not some kind of mind game. I'm not Miles."
"Which I am thankful for every day, looking at Aral's grey hair," Padma says. He looks over Duv carefully and Duv reflexively straightens.
"Nice to meet you, sir," Duv says.
"Nice to finally meet you as well, Duv," Padma says. "Tell us about yourself."
Duv opens his mouth and Ivan steps on his foot.
"Really, Dad?" Ivan asks. "He puts up with Miles. There's no way you could scare him away."
"Ivan, be a dear and get us refills," Padma says. "And a drink for your boyfriend, too."
Elena bounds in and takes the van off to go help fix whatever Miles has done now and in Brooklyn for some reason and Duv finds himself in a room with Simon Illyan.
An hour later, he walks out of it, thoroughly exhausted and even more thoroughly convinced that all weird families are weird in their own way and Ivan's family wins hands down.
Ivan's waiting for him nervously. Duv hands him the tickets to the show that Simon had given him, the pretense for cornering him in the first place.
Ivan immediately pulls out a pen.
"Duv Galeni!" he writes on the back of his ticket. "I'm with you in Fashion Land!"
Duv grins. Where everyone's madder than he is, yes.
"Simon and your parents.... are they...?" Duv asks Ivan.
Ivan blushes. "They're my parents. I don't ask questions."
"This explains so much," Duv does not say.
By is humming Take Your Mama Out when Ivan and Duv finally get time with Ivan's mother.
"Call me Alys," she says.
"Nice to meet you," Duv says. "Um, Alys."
Alys is glamor personified and absolutely lives up to her billing. And it turns out that Duv's sneaking suspicions had been right: Ivan benefited completely from always being compared to Miles. Duv discovers this when Alys tells him to his face that Ivan was, and he quotes, a restful child.
You really would have to compare Ivan to Miles to consider him restful. Even moving in with an older man is nothing compared to The Adventures Of Miles And The Dendarii. When Ivan was meeting Duv's father, the Dendarii were crashing Lollapalooza. It must be nice, Duv thinks, to always come out ahead in familial comparisons.
Must be really nice.
"Now," Alys says, "about grandchildren."
Elena is a welcome breath of familiar fresh air amidst Fashion Week. She takes Ivan and Duv out for drinks, along with twenty other people who she calls her shipmates in this sea of stupid.
"You ever looked at the newspaper captions for this stuff?" Elena asks. "Even the places that are so careful about them normally will utterly fail for fashion. You'll see this tomorrow in the New York Times," Elena waves at all of the assembled assorted as if to encompass the entire fashion world with one dismissive look. "And it'll say, Lady Alys's collection, or something similar. A Lady Alys ball gown against a staircase. You know. You've seen it. You could be excused for thinking there's no living person in the photo, just a bunch of clothes holding themselves up. You hear it in the language, about the clothes coming down the runway, like they're doing it under their own power. It's systemic and cultural and terrible."
"And it gets worse," Bel leads, topping off Elena's drink. To the rest of the table, ze adds, "trust me, it always gets worse. This is fashion we're talking about."
"It does get worse," Elena agrees. "Where's Elli? Elli's gorgeous and tall and gorgeous--"
"Thanks, sweetie," Elli says from down the table.
"Elli's never going to be a model because she's too old and too fat," Elena says. "Which really isn't meant to be an insult, dear."
"Not taken as one," Elli grins.
"You do not want to be a model at Fashion Week. You do not want to be a runway model in general. It looks glamorous; it's actually hell. The lives of the models, they're cheap. Very cheap. The clothes now, well, that shit matters. Unlike people."
Half the table, including Ivan, downs their shots. Duv follows them belatedly.
"The person being photographed is actually a person, but you'd never know that if you were opening the paper or flipping through a magazine. But if you went outside the fashion world and handed them a picture of a model on a runway, they'd say, oh, this is a picture of a person. Who happens to be wearing clothes. And maybe it's clear that the point of the photo is that the clothes are awesome, the first thing you would still say when describing the contents of the photo would be: someone is wearing these clothes. Someone is contributing to the presentation of these clothes. And that contribution matters.
"So you can tell obviously that the subject of the photo is a person who is wearing clothes, and then the caption only says this is a piece from a collection, or even worse, just the name of the designer, giving the incorrect impression that that's the name of the person in the photograph, instead of the name of the person who designed the clothes that the person in the photograph happens to be wearing.
"You could forgive our hypothetical person for assuming that the publication will be running a correction in the next issue to correct the mistake. But it's not a mistake. It's fashion."
This time, Duv gets the idea in time to down his shot with the rest of the table.
"And you might think, okay, the world is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad place that places more value on clothing than women's lives. And then it still gets worse, because then you notice what it's like when the model is a celebrity -- an actual important person -- and not just another teenager with a body like a ruler. When it's someone important, it's: Kareen Vorbarra wearing a Lady Alys creation. Because having your name in the paper, in the fucking public record, is only important if you're important. If you're not, face it, you're a walking hanger. That's what the fashion world says to models."
"Elena is going to take over the world," Ivan tells Duv. "At least, the fashion part of it. Which, you have to admit, is the only part that actually matters."
Elena grins. "Well, Doctor Naismith is helping. First things first is getting better pay and working conditions for the models. We'd like to elevate them to the status of people from their current status of slightly-animate dress forms. Goddamn fashion."
Duv leads the table in the drinking the shot.
Naturally, they wake up with terrible, terrible, terrible hangovers. It's worse than the color combinations in Ivan's closet.
"But there is no joy in Mudville," Duv intones.
"Shut up," Ivan pleads.
Duv agrees. He yanks the blankets back up over them both and goes back to sleep.