Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Prêt-à-Porter Affair

Finally, after many months of work and preparation, I have another doll photo story ready.  (Amazing how much time real life takes away from doing the fun stuff.)  This one is done in the style of a "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." episode.

For anyone unfamiliar with the show, it was the first of the spy genre on American television from 1964-1968.  Ian Fleming even contributed the name of one of the main characters, Napoleon Solo.  During part of its run on NBC, it was the most popular TV show in the world and, as such, is still fondly remembered by millions of "baby boomers" everywhere.  I hope you enjoy my story.

The Prêt-à-Porter Affair 

Act I: Cocktails, Anyone?

Monday, September 13, 1965
U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters, New York City
Alexander Waverly's Office

Alexander Waverly (AW): Gentlemen, what do you know about haute couture?

Napoleon Solo (NS): Well, I always appreciate seeing a young lady dressed in fashionable clothing.

Illya Kuryakin (IK): Very little, sir. Neither my education or experience has given me background in textiles or tailoring.

AW: We have recently learned that Thrush has contacted someone at one of the couture houses of Europe to field test a poisonous fabric dye a chemist in Switzerland developed. The U.N.C.L.E. there is closing in on this chemist as we speak. We aren't certain if any of the dye was actually produced and used in printing fabric, but we fear it has. Given its fatal consequences, it is vitally important that we determine who was contacted and if there are bolts of fabric or clothes already made that incorporate this dye. Any stockpiles of dye or fabric using it must be destroyed.


This is a hectic time for the fashion houses of Europe. They are all showing their new collections for next spring to buyers from stores and boutiques around the world. With everyone so busy, there couldn't be a better time to slip a dangerous fabric into a new collection. We know that Thrush's planned field test will be deadly if the dye works as expected.

I've assigned Mark Slate to check couturiers in Madrid and April Dancer for those in Milan. Mr. Solo, I'd like you to cover the ones in Paris and Mr. Kuryakin, you will be going to London. You will find detailed information about the dye in your files here. This threat must be stopped quickly, before the field test, before anyone dies! Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me.


IK: Hmmm, from this report, it appears that our lab has named this the “cocktail party” poison.

NS: The “cocktail party” poison? Why?


IK: Evidently the Swiss chemist found a way to incorporate cyanide into fabric dye. The cyanide is activated as a very fast acting poisonous gas if it comes in contact with ethanol, in other words, liquor. For example, a few drops of wine on a man's tie or suit or a lady's dress made from this cyanide laced fabric and the wearer will be dead in less than a minute. The perpetrator would need to work fast to get away from the effects of the poison, but it could be done. No head of state, diplomat, or business tycoon would be safe from assassination with this poison available. No wonder finding this dye has been given such a high priority.

NS: Well then, I must be off to the City of Light. Good luck in London. I'll keep you informed if I find evidence of this dye in Paris.

Act II: It's a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World

Tuesday, September 14, 1965
London, England


Now in London, Illya meets the manager of Sharon Dalton Designs in the private showroom of the stylish salon.

Linda Sullivan (LS): Good morning, sir. How may I help you?

IK: I was told I should see the manager here, Miss Linda Sullivan.

LS: Yes, that's me. Is there a problem?


IK: (showing Miss Sullivan his ID card) Yes, I'm afraid there is. I'm Illya Kuryakin; I'm with the U.N.C.L.E. We have received information that an organization set on world domination is going to conduct a test of a new deadly poison incorporated into fabric dye some time this week while the new clothing collections are being shown. We've sent agents to all the fashion capitals of Europe to find and destroy this dye and any clothes made using it before anyone is killed.

LS: Oh, my, what a horrid situation! You'll have our full cooperation. Is there anyone in particular we should be on the lookout for?

IK: We think it's most likely that the dye would come from a new supplier. Do you have a list of the manufacturers that supply your fabrics and, especially, any new suppliers?

LS: Yes, I can get that for you right away.


LS: We have mostly worked with the same few fabric manufacturers for years. Sharon Dalton Designs has come to be known and respected for its classic couture. We know we can depend on these manufacturers to provide us with the high quality fabric we need for our designs.


LS: But there is no denying the massive influence the new mod youth market is having in the fashion world. We're showing our first line of prêt-à-porter designs geared to fashionable young women this fall and hope to have them in boutiques worldwide next spring. If all goes well, we're planning to open a new mod boutique next year on King's Road or Carnaby Street.


LS: Thank goodness we found a promising young designer fresh out of school to help design the mod line. She really has a great eye for what's cool and hip now. Her name is Terri Wadsworth. Looks like our founder, Miss Dalton, is going over details of the new designs with her now.


LS: Here is the list of our fabric suppliers. I don't see anyone new offhand, but since you said the poison is in the dye, you'll need to ask the fabric manufacturers if they've used anyone new for dyes.

IK: Yes, that's what I'll do. Thank you for the list.


Redhead model: Hey, Kathie, did you see that blond guy?

Kathie Carr (KC) (brunette model): No, I was busy getting ready for today's fashion show.

Redhead model (to blond model): Did you see that blond guy here a while ago talking to Miss Sullivan?

Blond model: Yeah, he sure is cute. I wonder who he is? Doesn't look the type to be in the “rag” trade, does he?

Redhead model: No, he doesn't. He had some kind of accent, not an American one though; couldn't hear him very well. But, oh my, I'd love to get to know him! Hope he'll be back.

Blond model: Oh, yeah, me too.

Act III: Byrds of a Feather Flock Together

Illya's Hotel Room


IK: (to himself) This is getting to be more of a wild goose chase all the time. I've checked the supplier lists from Mary Quant, Biba, Gerald McCann, Foale&Tuffin and still have Caroline Charles and Sharon Dalton left to do tomorrow. I'm getting nowhere and running out of time. That field test is bound to be soon.


(the sound of an incoming call on Illya's pen communicator.)

IK: Kuryakin here.

NS: How goes it, old friend?

IK: Not well. I don't have any leads yet. And you?

NS: I just finished checking the list of fabric suppliers for the Paris fashion houses today. The poison dye evidently isn't here. Headquarters says Mark and April are reporting the same in Madrid and Milan. That leaves you, Illya. The poison dye must be in London. Do you need help?

IK: No, I have only two more fashion houses' lists to cover early tomorrow morning. But right now it's late, I'm tired and need to get some rest. Talk to you tomorrow.


(A knock at the door.) Illya isn't expecting anyone, certainly not this late. He moves cautiously to the door, his U.N.C.L.E. Special at the ready.

Nika Markovic´ (NM): Mr. Kuryakin? I'm Nika Markovic´ from the Belgrade, Yugoslavia office of the U.N.C.L.E. Here's my ID. May I come in?

IK: Yes, please do. I recognize you from a photo of our Eastern European agents.


NM: I've been working undercover in the Whitechapel area of London for the last month, trying to find out which chemical company would be willing to make the poisonous fabric dye. I think I may have found the company today. When I called U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York, I was told you were working the case here in London currently and I should contact you directly.

Recently I've been working as a secretary in the office of a small fabric manufacturer that specializes in modern print fabrics. I was checking through company records and found a special order that came in about a month ago for a custom design using Pantone color 431, Charcoal Grey. It specified that the dye should be purchased from Byrd Industrial Chemicals in Whitechapel. This order came from a T. Wadsworth at Sharon Dalton Designs. Does any of this make sense to you?

IK: Yes, it certainly does. That T. Wadsworth must be Terri Wadsworth, Dalton's young new designer. What's the address of Byrd Chemicals? I've got to take care of this tonight. The manager at Dalton's told me that the mod line will be shown tomorrow.


NM: Here it is. Good luck.

Wednesday, September 15, 1965  3:00AM

Illya arrives at Byrd Industrial Chemicals at 3:00 AM. He sees a man standing in an alcove near the secluded back door, obviously bored, getting ready to put out his cigarette on the pavement.

IK (to himself): Must be the guard even though he's not in uniform. Can tell he's got a gun in his jacket pocket. Hmm, perhaps a layabout brother-in-law of Mr. Byrd given the night watchman job to keep him off the dole; probably no professional training. Well, he shouldn't be too hard to overpower.

Illya approaches the guard from behind as quiet as a cat. Before he even realizes that Illya is there, with a few well-placed karate chops, the guard is out cold for the next few hours.



After quietly blasting open the lock on the back door with a small, controlled plastic explosive, he enters the warehouse in search of the dye.


Finally, after what feels like hours of searching, he finds the metal can containing the dye. The scientists at the U.N.C.L.E. lab in New York prepared a test kit for him to check if the dye has the “cocktail party” poison in it, which this container does. The kit also included an antidote for him to put in the dye container that will neutralize the poison. Now, he must get back to the Dalton Design showroom and stop the field test before it causes someone's death.

Act IV: Name Your Poison


Later in the morning, as soon as the studio opened, Illya returns to Sharon Dalton Designs where he confronts Terri Wadsworth.

IK: Miss Wadsworth?


TW: Yes?

IK: Did you order custom print fabric to be made using a specific gray dye produced by Byrd Industrial Chemicals?

TW: (nervously) I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about.

IK: Last night I discovered that this dye contains a deadly poison developed by a Swiss chemist who was financed by the Thrush organization. Your name was on the purchase order for the dye. Were you contacted by them to do a field test of this dye? Did you know it was a deadly poison?

TW: OK, OK! Yeah, I was contacted by them. They said they'd take care of the details. All I had to do was order the custom fabric using that dye and make an article of clothing from it that would be shown in one of the collections this week. The man from Thrush said I was to nonchalantly take a glass of wine to the model wearing it back in the dressing room after today's showing and then “accidently” spill it on her clothes.


IK: Why?! Why do this?

TW: Sharon Dalton Designs would be all washed up without me. Her ideas are frumpy, not with it at all. She doesn't understand what's happening, what's groovy now. I've been working my bum off the last few months designing her new mod collection. But will my name be on it? No, hers will! I'm sick and tired of not getting the recognition I deserve. So, when these Thrush people offered me a lot of money to do this field test for them, I said sure. This would ruin Miss Dalton's reputation. They didn't say it was deadly poison though, just that whoever was wearing the clothes would get sick if liquor splashed on them. But still, I can't see where the world is any worse off with one less of those skinny model birds.


IK: Miss Wadsworth, I don't think you want murder charges added onto what you're already facing. I can put in a good word for you with the court if you tell me which outfit is made of the poisonous fabric.

TW: At this point I guess I might as well. It's the gray print jumpsuit being shown to the new American buyer right now.


LS: A bit early in the day for champagne, but let's celebrate our new contract. We're sure the boutiques you represent in America will be pleased to carry our new mod collection.

American buyer (AB): Thank you, Linda. Yes, judging from what I've seen so far, I think they'll be very pleased. Sharon Dalton Designs obviously understands the youth market very well. Are there more designs to be seen?

LS: Just a few. The next one is a really fab jumpsuit in a wild mod print. We think these will be very popular next spring.



The buyer becomes so intent on examining the jumpsuit fabric she doesn't realize that her glass of champagne is tipping precariously in her hand, ready to spill.

IK: Watch out! That's poison!



KC: What just happened, Mr.....?

IK: Kuryakin - I'm Illya Kuryakin with the U.N.C.L.E. The dye in the clothes you're wearing is permeated with cyanide and it would have been activated if any of that champagne had spilled on your clothes.

Kathie Carr (KC): Oh, my, that's incredible! You saved my life!

IK: What? (shy smile) Umm, well, yes, I suppose I did.

U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters, New York City
Alexander Waverly's Office


AW: Mr. Solo won't be here today. Since he was already in one of his favorite cities, as he described it, he has decided to take a few days vacation.

Mr. Kuryakin, I must commend you on a job well done. And, who might this young lady be?

IK: Mr. Waverly, allow me to introduce Miss Kathie Carr. She was the model who was wearing the clothing made of poisonous fabric.

AW: That certainly was a close call, Miss Carr, but Mr. Kuryakin is one of our top enforcement agents. We can always depend on him in a critical situation. Are you in New York for a visit?

KC: No, I've decided to move back home. I'm originally from Long Island. With all the talk of swinging mod London, I had to see it for myself. I hoped it would help my modeling career too. But, modeling clothes that would have killed me without Illya's quick action is just too much excitement for me. I'm very happy to be back in New York and, to celebrate my homecoming, Illya is taking me to his favorite jazz club tonight.



Written and photographed by Marianne Smith
Set design by Marianne Smith
Wardrobe by MTS Designs (Marianne Smith) and Tonner Doll Co.
All dolls by Tonner Doll Co.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Illya Kuryakin, Napoleon Solo, and Alexander Waverly are all copyrighted by Warner Bros.
Story copyrighted 2010 by Marianne T. Smith