The vertiginous thrill of exactitude
Hi. My name is Priscilla Obermeier, ‘P.O.’ for short, and I am a hopeless perfectionist. I am the weird girl you run into at the cashmere sweater table voluntarily re-arranging sweaters (don’t we all crave that ahh, and they are so perfectly arranged!– feeling now and then?). Or at the perfume department, hanging a price sign straight (Ugh, right?). If department store personnel would let me have it my way, I’d happily hang each of their mens and womenswear collections by color, grouped by style-story (the ‘dinner with friends’ rack, the ‘pure play’ rack, the ‘working-girl cool’ – rack). I write ‘happily’ because the efforts towards exactitude give me a thrill (I know. You are giving me an eye-roll now. Bare with me, I’m likeable. Really). Seeing a perfectly organized closet/ book cabinet/ Instagram page… calms me down. I can’t recall it ever being any different. Toddler-me had a terrible tantrum (tears et all) when (Mon Dieu!) R., then BFF and play-date, colored outside of the lines in my coloring book. I didn’t speak to her for a week. Which was basically a win, because I could use the time to perfect my handwriting (and yes, R. and I stayed friends for years after. We just stayed away from the coloring pencils).
When I was 4 years old, my mom found me practicing ballet in the kitchen. I had watched the Nutcracker on t.v., and I simply considered the Sugar Plum Fairy’s movements a better version of the ordinary walk around the block. I had to master it. Ballet classes started soon after. More than practicing my pirouettes and grand jeté, I remember my ballet teacher’s poise. Her hair in a bun, her head held high, her long chiffon ballet skirt worn over a tight black bodice, her cane tapping the rhythm of her counts on the floor (or tapping my calves when I wasn’t standing straight enough). She seemed to float. Ballet opened the doors to a parallel universe where I felt at home. Most importantly, it taught me that it takes a lot of effort, to make something look effortless.
At age 5 I negotiated with my parents to add horseback riding classes to my universe. I loved, loved, loved horses. The many horse posters, books, pencils, sweaters, and me naming my bike Black Beauty, told everybody so. But I had to negotiate hard to convince my parents to allow their precious brood on top of a wild animal. I accepted their counter offer to first learn how to swim. Unfortunately for them, I got my swimming diploma in no time. For a short while I considered becoming a professional jockey like Bianca, one of my heroes in a book series I was fervently reading, yet after a while I fell in love with the highest expression of horse-training, dressage. This art form where a rider must work actively on its own balance, to balance the horse and encourage it to take strong upward steps with bounce. Like ballet, it’s continuous careful preparation, requiring physical and mental strength to enhance natural movement. It’s demanding to say the least. Painful as well sometimes. For both butt and ego. I remember one particular competition where my horse walked into the judge booth, slobbering all over the three judges present instead of standing still for me to salute them. We didn’t make it to the top 10 (or 20), I can tell you that. It’s one of those moments where I look back and thank the social media Gods for not having invented any social media platform yet. I’d have been an instant YouTube hit.
Despite being the fuel for my drive and determination, my pursuit of perfection could as well make people question my sanity. #TBT: My mother was an excellent dressmaker, having worked at ateliers creating fur coats, bridal gowns, lingerie, pant suits, having designed and crafted as well my Barbie’s couture wardrobe and the majority of the Peter Pan collar blouses, skirts, and princess dresses (my preferred one had black and white stripes, a white tulle underskirt, and a small red leather belt. I wore it with a red leather cross body bag and black shiny Mary Janes. The only thing missing were the white gloves), I wore as a child. In my early teens I started to sketch my own designs. Black jumpsuits, little black dresses, black skinny pants (creating the city-girl at heart closet). I would relentlessly research fabrics, zippers, buttons at fabric stores and markets. During the first fitting the quarreling started. Because when it was not exactly to the millimeter precisely how I had it in mind, I would sit down, take out seams, and had my mother do it again.
Nowadays, I bombard our atelier’s seamstresses with questions such as “What about we take out 0,5cm here and 0,1cm there?” Or “Is that 1.6mm neckband uneven on the left side?, can we make the hemline slightly heavier by folding it 4 times?” I spend evenings at the atelier staring at a piece that doesn’t feel right, until I find out what it is that I need to adjust to improve it. I remember the look on Markus’ face (not happy) after informing him that we had to make our own fabric, because no fabric supplier offered me the jersey fabric I had in mind for our perfect little white TEE (yes, it would require more of our time and more of our money, but excellence is worth it! End of closing argument). We traveled to Paris to find the perfect French silk thread (nothing beats silk worms who are tickled with soft feathers to relax) to sew our seams with. We traveled around Italy to find the perfect (and highly rare) Egyptian cotton yarn. We traveled for several hours to a small village outside of Berlin, where we stood patiently next to the knitting machine to ensure that our jersey fabric had the perfect stitch (and yes, we had the machine stopped and stitching adjusted. Twice).
So, what is it exactly about exactitude that excites? As a Libra I definitely have a natural (read: obsessive) need for balance, and watching pieces of the puzzle fall into place is simply wonderful (like puppies, chocolate and handwritten love notes). Yet, there is no harmony without effort, and it is skill achieved through hard work and practice, whether in ballet, dressage or fashion craftsmanship, that gives me that vertiginous thrill. Or maybe I’m indeed just plain crazy. But in the end… crazy does it. So, meet you at the cashmere sweater table? Practice makes perfect, you know….