Fresh from window shopping in the famed boutiques of Avenue Montaignes, I arrive in a taxi parisien at Les Deux Abeilles, an impossibly chic and cafe on Rue de l’Universite.
The cafe’s floral wallpaper and homely smell give the impression of being invited into the sitting room of one’s grandmere.
I am meeting Diane Pernet, renowned mover and shaker in the worlds of fashion and film, for a late lunch, early dinner at 4h30 in the 7eme arrondisement.
I once said to a friend that it feels like I just happen to be meeting everybody I’ve ever Googled, and before this rendez-vous I had many a time stumbled upon her image during my hours of trawling through the internet.
Greeted by a waiter, I tell him I am meeting a friend, and would love to have a little glance round the tearoom before choosing my seat. He advises me that ‘Dee-ane Perne’ (emphasis on the hyper-correction) prefers a table next to les gateaux, looking onto the rue from the window.
I tell him the decision has already been made, leaving my carefully curated accessories on the table – ’40s leopard fur muff, arm-length leather gloves and fan – to retouch my makeup, holding the air of a Parisian grand-dame as much as humanly possible.
I return to my seat, adopting a pose of haughty graciousness as I await my luncheon partner.
Madame Pernet arrives in a sea of black, as predicted, her tower of hair reaching high above her head, a black trench coat covering a long black dress, trailing along the ground.
“Bonjour!” I cry with cheer as I stand pour faire la bise, an act made less elegant by my rather impractically angled hat.
We take our seats and Diane immediately declares that she understands I am an artist, and asks me to explain my areas of expertise.
I explain beyond looking fabulous, I have written a play which I will be performing in, exploring the African immigrant experience in Britain, which leads onto a fascinating exploration of the late Michael Jackson, and the reasons for his fall.
I explain that much of the play explores this concept of whiteness and its supposed superiority, drawing on much of my own experience to explain to her that as a young man living in a prejudiced society such as America, his unhappy childhood obviously had a negative impact on his perception of his own blackness. In my teens, through the negative affects of racism and biased media, I began to loathe my African roots and longed for what I perceived as the ‘clean’ white skin and hair of my peers, taking pride in my European-shaped nose and my light brown skin, despite the fact it was not white enough, my lips not thin and white enough.
A man as unhappy and impossibly wealthy as Michael Jackson unfortunately had the access to indulge his insecurities and self-loathing, the affects made apparent when Diane told me how a friend of hers went into Michael’s dressing room and the man had a hole where his nose was supposed to be.
I explain how an adolescence out of the spotlight of fame and scrutiny has given me the independence of thought, confidence and time to heal from racism that Michael never had.
I voice my dislike of the blanket term ‘African-American’, it itself a highly obsolete example of racist eurocentricism, a way of othering those who aren’t the default white American, as though they are guests in a country which was forcefully acquired through colonialism by whites anyway.
Barack Obama, a man who shares an identical heritage with me (his father is a Luo man, as is my mother; his mother is half English and Welsh, as is my father) describes himself as ‘black’, in my eyes pandering to white America’s desire to literally think in black and white terms. I tell Diane I feel lucky to have been born outside of that poisonous and unnatural system, comfortable in the knowledge I will be first and foremost British there, having the ability to retain possession of my heritage.
America has its issues, we conclude.
I order a un the jasmin and a papillote, one of the most delicious and wholesome meals I have ever eaten. Diane a lady who, I assume, shares my own anxiety in choosing from menus with too much choice, orders the same, but orders an espresso.
The inevitable career chat commences, Diane recommending people for me to contact and a site she is involved in, takeit.to, in order to showcase my multidisciplinary creative skills, a term which I highly ascribe to.
“I think we’re all multidisciplinary”, she says.
Diane urges me to pursue styling: she compliments my attention to detail, even down to those glossy red nails, for which I mastered the art of painting grace a YouTube.
I equally compliment her, telling her that every hour spent studying and practising that poise and glamour that can seemingly exist only in the realm of Hollywood, that aristocratic ability to switch from language to language, identity to identity, was all in anticipation of the moment that I, Gavin Davies, could hold my own as Gavino di Vino in a Parisian cafe in the 7eme arrondissement with Diane Pernet, renowned mover and shaker in the worlds of fashion and film.
I quote Audrey Hepburn, “Everything I learned, I learned from the movies.’
ASVOFF, Diane’s fashion film festival launched in 2008, endeavours to “encourage both emerging and established artists to reconsider the way that fashion is presented and for challenging the conventional parameters of film,” something I tell her resonates with me on so many levels.
We both end the lunch with two tartes, mine the tarte au chocolat almond and her the tarte au citron.
The meal comes to a eye-popping 40 euros each, but I take in my stride that the results of this meeting will pay off for much more than an expensive lunch in Paris.
We have a picture together before parting ways, et on fait la bise pour la derniere fois.
I turn, watching until the billowing black figure disappear into the crowds of la Rue de l’Universite.