She pushed the button of the electric doorbell next to the marble slain with the words Rinus van Diemen, fashion designer. She hoped her visit would not come at an inopportune moment. It was summer. A slant of wind from the seaside played with her hairs. The beautiful mansion was the third in the street that began at the esplanade.
The door swung open and a friendly smiling gentleman with white hair said, “Good afternoon, young lady. What can I do for you?”
Elsie Bennema swallowed her shyness away and said softly, “Mister van Diemen, I would like to become a model and I thought you could perhaps….”
“Ah! I recognize you! You are my neighbor’s daughter from opposite the street. I saw you growing up over the years. You ran once almost under my car. Come in and follow your nose to the garden. We are busy with photographing a new collection; quite a few nice dresses.”
“But, I only wanted…”
“No, the talking comes later, young lady. This is my business.”
Elsie came in a big garden with many beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers. In the middle a shell-path, to a pond with brent-geese.
“Look, at my right-hand Samuel Meijer with his camera on a tripod. That big white silk screen is filtering the sunlight. At my left-hand Tina van Tricht, who is a good needlewoman; she takes care of it that everything fits exactly. Now, opposite us you see four girls in costume coats for the winter. We must always work half a year in advance. There are three other girls inside trying on other clothes,” explained Mr. van Diemen.
Sam spoke to two models in front of some spruce- firs, “Lucy, put your right foot a bit forward. Yes, very good. Wilma, take that purse in your other hand. Fine. Now, pretend you have a gentle conversation with each other. I am going to make three pictures, one after the other.”
“It is like this, that since two years I do not design much more myself, but I have agreements with others and make here a choice. This collection comes from Paris, tomorrow I have one from Vienna. Fashion still offers a brilliant career to talented people, but flooding of the market with cheap imports threatens to erode the industry’s capital base. At the end of the day all designers hope the public will be happy with what they see and buy a new winter wardrobe. Classic, timeless clothing has become desirable,” told Mr. van Diemen.
“Do you sometimes make travels with the girls?” asked Elsie.
“Yes, but it depends how much the principals want me to spend. Besides professional models are not always available. They have contracts, binding them to certain dates. Some are booked long in advance.”
It took an hour before the last pictures of that day were made and Mr. Van Diemen could go with Elsie to his studio. In the corridor she met Mrs. van Diemen, who shook hands with her. Elsie admired her long blue dress. In the studio Mr. van Diemen and she sat face to face in leather armchairs.
“Well, Miss Bennema, tell me, what do your parents think about becoming a model?”
Elsie hesitated a moment, gave herself a shake and said, “Well, now, my mother said it was up to me. My own father died when I was twelve years old. My mother remarried, but I have no contact with that man; we avoid each other…. I go to the Academy of design, learning how to make drawings for fashion magazines, but I don’t feel at ease there, because you meet sometimes very strange people. I am disappointed, a bit confused.”
“I know what you mean, Miss Bennema. That is a problem that models often complain about nowadays. Strange people spoil the fun even for models who have reached the top in their profession. They get offers, which they have to refuse, from nightclubs, and so much more. There is a world out there full of sin and tinsel, attractive girls are lured to; they have to be sure-footed. Elsie Bennema, to put it bluntly, take my advice, do not go further in this direction. I believe it would be irresponsible of me to help you to become a model. You would soon play with fire. But, if you are good in making fashion-drawings, right on the spot, during a show, yes, I would like to make use of your knowledge and pay you for it. That would be twice a year during a couple of weeks. Do you think, you know also enough of some foreign languages?”
Elsie looked surprised and nodded. “Yes, Mister van Diemen. They were my favorites at school.”
“Excellent. My wife has been a teacher in languages and I am sure she is willing to help you if you want to freshen up your skills or fluency, before we make journeys abroad.”
“That is very kind of you, Mister van Diemen. But don’t you have a full time job for me?”
“Sorry, no, not at the moment. But, as always, the Lord knows what is good for us, what fits in His plans. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do, but how. Are you a Christian?”
Mr. van Diemen laughed. “Elsie Bennema, from the day you were baptized I saw you often coming into the church. I watch upstairs from behind the organ, a bit further than the pulpit, but you never look in my direction.”
“Oh, forgive me, I never thought about that.”
“Don’t worry. You probably also were unaware of the fact that a daughter of mine was with you at high school, but one class higher than you. She told me that you have once made a fine drawing of a wedding dress on a blackboard, and all the girls went to see it the following morning. You remember?”
“Yes, it is true. I was punished with cleaning up the classroom and when I was ready, I made that drawing and left the building.”
Mr. van Diemen nodded thoughtful and said, “I wonder how it will go with you from here on, Elsie Bennema.”
He got up, and so did Elsie.
“Sorry, I forgot to offer you tea. I have to improve my manners.”
They walked to the door. At the doorstep he said, “I would like to see your drawings. Could you come on Monday and make some here in the garden?”
“Yes, Mister van Diemen. I will gladly do that.”
Elsie fell in love with the young bookkeeper of Mr. van Diemen. They married the following year and started to live in a flat at the seaside. No, Elsie never became a model, but a happy mother of twins. ❖