Dear Mr. Weiner,
With all due respect regarding Cory not cooperating. Would it be possible that he is straight? Could there have been any other reason for him to be uncomfortable?
They say that you should never get involved with anyone you work with. It is one of the unwritten rules of the business world, along with what is an appropriate hem length on skirts; abstaining from personal calls on company time; and which type of felt-tip pen is considered a justifiable level of expenditure when placing a stationery order. That’s all good in theory, until you have your way with the receptionist in the mailroom … on top of the bar fridge … in your first week … in a new job. As the adage goes, you should never take a dump in your own backyard – because if you step in a turd of your own creation, you have no one to blame but yourself. Perhaps the phrase should be revised to ‘He who philanders with the switch bitch should not expect to receive his messages for three weeks as a consequence’. Not without a lot of grovelling.
Welcome to my world – a mystical place that creates fantasies and caters to the whim of every man and woman with the desire and the cash who dares to dream. A landscape whose topography is covered with fields of the finest leathers, forests of rare timbers, lakes of precious gems, mountains of luxurious furs and rivers of flowing Chinese silk – a patchwork of the sublime, the ethereal and the excessive. It can crush the hopes of one man while fulfilling the yearnings of another. Here, image is everything and substance stands for nothing. If you do not have what it takes – never fear – it can be bought in the form of a handbag, a pair of shoes or a three-piece suit. And if you have shopped yourself to death and you still have not obtained that elusive ‘it’ factor, then who cares? You’re rich. Isn’t that what matters the most? At least, that is what I thought, or rather, what I was led to believe.
I couldn’t believe a week had passed since the scandal of the previous Friday as I stepped out from the subway downtown. I strutted onto Fifth Avenue on what was a hot September day without the crippling New York humidity. Human Resources had promised me temporary accommodation in a serviced apartment on the Upper East Side until I found a suitable permanent lodging in my new city. I soon discovered that Human Resources’ interpretation of the Upper East Side differed to that of New Yorkers and cartographers alike and found myself in East One-Hundred-and-Twenty-Fifth Street in the Upper-Upper-Upper East Side, teetering on the border of Spanish Harlem and insanity. I had been crammed into a tiny, austere apartment in a walk-up brownstone with only the bare necessities – running water and electricity – and fortunately, sans cockroaches. The flecked, teal-green carpet, patchwork bedspread and burnt-on grease on the single electric hot plate did not appeal to my fastidious and germ-phobic nature, nor to my clean design aesthetic. It was a far cry from the ostentatious sights that Fifth Avenue now laid before me.
I passed Sergio Rossi and admired the skyscraper stiletti in the window with spiked, metallic talons that rivalled the soaring, shiny spire of the Chrysler Building. Across the street, Fendi displayed mannequins wearing lynx and chinchilla coats despite the soaring morning heat radiating from the pavement. The fall’s arrival was imminent, though pedestrians wore summer dresses, Capri pants and shorts with unrelenting optimism. I bent down to retie the shoelace that had come undone on my journey as the Friday morning rush-hour foot traffic shuffled past the glistening edifice of the Louis Vuitton boutique, its translucent checkerboard glass façade wrapping around the building like cellophane.
Dangerously close to being trampled, I was distracted by the enormous image printed on the six-storey hoarding across the street. With her legs slightly apart, French supermodel Aurélie was supported by a pair of pumps that dwarfed me in height, her slender legs encased in them; she wore a tight, charcoal-coloured cashmere skirt, black tights and a Persian purple scalloped silk blouse that had been cinched-in at the waist with a black patent leather belt. Her hair was slicked and sprayed to perfection, her makeup dramatically smoky in hues of kohl and metallic fuchsia. Her stance was hunched, her hands on her hips emphasising her already tiny waistline. Slung over her bent right arm was an angular black mink bag that mimicked the model’s stance; the fur expertly shorn by master craftsmen to bear the mark of its creator – a cursive letter ‘E’, its three loops linking together much like the shoelace I had just tied. What had been a noisy and unsightly construction site the day before had become a large advertisement overnight for the imminent arrival of the new Eugène flagship store. I was immediately reminded that it was my job to create the best party this city had ever seen when the store finally opened its doors in a few months’ time. I had been bestowed with an event manager’s dream budget – just-under three million dollars – to make it happen.
At the intersection of Forty-Second and Fifth, where the fashion crowd milled around the New York Public Library, I veered right to enter the backstage area of one of the countless runway shows for the spring collections at Fashion Week. Walking in the direction of Times Square, I marched past where the large white marquee had been erected in Bryant Park especially to host prestige-brand runway shows like Donna Karan and Diane von Furstenberg. More fashion types congregated in the park with their asymmetrical haircuts, razor-sharp hipbones and directional clothing. I chuckled to myself as a tall, thin man wearing an outfit that consisted of scores of inflated black plastic garbage bags passed by and kissed the air beside his fashionable friends. It always amused me when people who were supposedly the paragons of good taste stooped to sanitation as a way of shocking their jaded style proponents.
This particular morning, I wore a vintage denim jumpsuit with a white shirt and a skinny black necktie that I’d found at What Goes Around Comes Around on West Broadway, tucked at the back of a rack and heavily discounted. I had no idea of its origins or even what decade it was created in, but I thought it was the most fantastic thing I had ever seen. A jumpsuit is especially daring, even for the most adventurous of fashion types, but I felt confident (and thin) enough to pull it off.
‘Excuse me, sir?’ called a male voice from behind me as I felt a tap on my shoulder.
Oh Jesus, I thought as I came to a halt. What have I done now? I slowly turned around on the spot and was greeted by a man holding an impressive-looking digital SLR camera.
‘Sorry to bother you,’ he smiled, ‘but I take photos of well-dressed people for a blog. Would you mind if I took a photo of you in your outfit?’
I sighed with relief – it wasn’t the NYPD issuing me with a fine for jaywalking that I couldn’t afford to pay.
‘Oh, thank you,’ I chuckled, ‘but I don’t think so.’ I always became camera-shy whenever anyone asked me to pose alone.
‘Aw, please,’ he pleaded. ‘You look great. Not many people can pull of a jumpsuit, particularly men.’
My sentiments exactly, I thought. ‘What’s the blog?’ I asked, my intrigue aroused after a little flattery – I was such a hopeless pushover.
‘The Sartorialist,’ he replied, handing me his business card.
‘That’s one of my favourite sites!’ I exclaimed. ‘Wow, thank you.’
I died on the inside for a moment – I couldn’t have felt more honoured. My second week in New York and not only was I working for one of the hottest brands in the world, I was going to appear on the website I logged onto each morning to be inspired by those who loved kooky clothing as much as I did!
I left my sunglasses on so I didn’t squint in the photo or close one of my eyes, as I was prone to doing, and gave the broadest smile I could muster. I wasn’t going to appear all brooding when this would be a permanent digital record of me at that particular moment in time. It wasn’t my style to frown and the opportunity would probably never come again – it had to be perfect. After the photographer showed me the images on the display of the camera I thanked him and skipped off, excited that I would soon join the league of the sartorially splendid in cyberspace.
I arrived at the front of my office building and refusing the doorman’s offer to assist with the revolving door, entered via the side. An altercation with the door on my first day had left me bruised and morbidly petrified of any entrance with a pivoting mechanism, no matter how slowly they were turning – a very inconvenient phobia to have in city like New York. I stepped onto the polished granite flooring that led to the elevators at the rear of the lofty, light-filled glass atrium.
Eugène shared the building with a mid-sized capital funds management firm, which always made the journey to the twenty-seventh floor – with nerdy numbers types wearing the staple blue-shirt-and-yellow-tie combination – amusing. Beautifully fitted bespoke suits usually denoted senior management who carried brown leather satchels and black briefcases that matched their highly polished shoes while moving around the foyer importantly. The next tier down were the advisors who were in fairly smart off-the-rack suits, but, due to the skyrocketing New York rental market, some would fall victim to the horrible shiny fate of poly-blend or microfiber. Then there was the half-suit man: a man who does not own a suit and instead opts to wear a shirt, tie, trousers (usually pleat-front, and not in the good way) and a polar-fleece sweater, with their cell phone clipped to their belt on the way to and from work – they usually work in IT.
The chrome doors of the elevator slid open and I stepped in after a small group of nerds. As I admired my own reflection in the shiny metal before me, I noticed that my choice of outfit elicited quite a response. I chuckled to myself as the finance fraternity stood with raised eyebrows and mouths agape, gesturing to one another about my controversial attire. Always glad to shock, I took it in my stride and made a mental note to wear my new purchase more often.
The elevator opened and I stepped out onto my floor ready to conclude my second working week. I approached the double glass doors of the office and entered the foyer which was decorated simply with a slate-coloured leather upholstered wall, metallic grey colour-backed glass, black ceramic flooring, two white leather armchairs and a dark, burnished steel reception desk centred and spanning the width of the room.
The foyer divided the two main areas of the office much like a border security checkpoint. North of the border were Human Resources, the CEO and his personal assistant, and Marketing and Public Relations – my domain, and considered the more prestigious location in the office. Finance, Logistics and IT whose less glamorous work and wardrobes to match were hidden from view south of the lobby. The floor plan created a physical and social divide in the office. Those in the southern end were never allowed to attend the numerous parties and functions that were afforded as a right to those who inhabited the north. It was as if the remains of the Berlin Wall had been shipped across the Atlantic and reassembled right down the middle of the foyer at Eugène.
‘Morning, Amy,’ I chimed as I entered the foyer, hoping that our week-long Mexican stand-off had concluded.
‘Whatever,’ she replied dismissively, not even looking up from her computer screen.
Shit. She’s still pissed, I thought. ‘Are there any messages?’
‘No,’ she replied curtly.
‘Are you sure?’ I asked.
I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her – I would have to suck it up and confront the issue at hand. ‘Look, Amy. About last Friday night…’ I started.
‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ she said, still staring at the screen in front of her.
‘But—’ I replied in vain.
‘I’m very busy, Lucien,’ she said definitively.
‘Right,’ I sighed. ‘Have a good morning, then.’
Down the hallway from Amy’s desk, mine was one of the many faceless cubicles that wrapped around the core of the building. I had been promised one of the light-filled enclosed offices that lined the perimeter of the floor when I took the position – a victorious attempt at succession from the humdrum life of the shop assistant – however, it was deemed that the PR girls’ desire for greater storage for their product samples was more important than my own desire for wasted space with a view. Given that I was a member of their team, despite having very little to do with the fashion media, it would have been exceptionally unwise to kick up a fuss in what was, technically, a new job.
‘Morning, Ashleigh,’ I called to my direct manager and newfound friend (who had also dictated my office deficiency).
‘Morning, Lucien,’ she replied as I walked past her office in a flash of head-to-toe denim.
‘Whoa, wait a minute!’ she called after me when she’d caught a proper glimpse.
‘Yes?’ I enquired cheekily.
‘That jumpsuit is fucking fabulous.’
I loved my manager’s unabashed use of inflammatory language, which also gave me carte blanche to curse like a drunken wharf labourer. Ashleigh Sinclair was anti-establishment and despite being the perfect representative for the brand, she did not buy into the bullshit that came with working in the luxury fashion industry. This morning she looked particularly chic in her tight fitting cropped black snakeskin jacket, white silk singlet and tailored herringbone trousers, paired with a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors to demonstrate her rebellious spirit.
‘Thanks,’ I smiled.
‘Now do a little turn for Ashleigh.’
I reluctantly turned slowly showing her my outfit from all angles. This was a good day.
‘Bertrand’s going to hate it. Good work!’ Ashleigh laughed.
Bertrand Martin was the CEO of Eugène in the United States. His posting on a continent much-removed from the Company’s headquarters in Paris was his equivalent of purgatory – the result of misbehaviour in France. Bertrand was a stereotypical French playboy: his feathered haircut devoid of any product sans water and supermarket-purchased shampoo; his dull skin that could have been easily corrected with use of a good exfoliant; and his slightly blackened teeth from chain-smoking Marlboro Reds – he had all the makings of an unfashionable philanderer. However, when he was fastened into his bespoke Dior Homme suits and highly polished Eugène leather derbies he became a striking creature – an object of desire for the legions of women prepared to exchange their bodies for the prospect of a free handbag. His reputation preceded him: despite claiming to be happily married to his wife, Cécile, he would often accept their advances, ensuring he was a permanent fixture in the insalubrious column inches that are Page Six, much to the dismay of the PR team.
My first week had been a standard introduction to the workings of the office: I had been assigned network login but not my e-mail address (typical), recorded my voicemail message and had almost memorised most people’s names. I’d had meetings with Human Resources and my team, been taken on a tour of the city’s four Eugène boutiques and spent hours flipping through the files of my predecessor, who I had learnt had left in a vocal huff. Fortunately, she was highly organised, as all event managers should be, however outmoded in her filing system. She had printed every e-mail for the past three years and filed them in lever-arch folders rather than electronically, as anyone in their right mind preferred. The result was several rainforests’ worth of paper detailing now-redundant information that I ‘refiled’ in the recycling bin.
I reached my desk, placed my bag beneath it and flicked my computer on at the switch, sending it whirring into action. As it went through its daily and excruciatingly slow initialisation process, I flicked through a Vogue magazine that had been left on my desk, marked with a Post-It note denoting the social pages toward the back. I trawled through the leaves of tanned, immobilised foreheads, cosmetically enhanced artificial smiles and tattooed-on coiffures. Sometimes I could not believe the world to which I belonged. There was something so sterile about carbon-copy perfection.
The usual suspects were there: Chanel had held an exclusive preview of its new haute joaillerie collection in its standalone jewellery boutique on Madison Avenue – its premium, precious gem-encrusted range that made its costume jewellery look like cheap Bangkok knock-offs; Gucci had recently renovated and reopened its store on Robertson Boulevard in Beverly Hills to a parade of flesh, platform shoes and store-bought boobs; and Hermès had held an exclusive orange-themed dinner in Boston to support breast cancer research. It would not be long before my grand event would be featured in the very illustrious pages I was currently reviewing – most importantly, in the all-hallowed December issue.
Entering circulation in mid-November, the magazine was a must-have for the numerous gift suggestions for the discerning customer. Many Wall Street highfliers would have their personal assistants scour Vogue’s pages of composited still-life images for the elusive prized gift of the holiday season for their loved ones. With some major negotiation with Condé-Nast’s Vogue Advertising Department and twelve months’ worth of guaranteed inside-front cover advertising plus several two-page advertising spreads in their other titles, Ashleigh had managed to secure a four-page feature on the Eugène store opening event. In order to make the print deadline, images from the party would have to be sent overnight to its Art Department to be inserted hastily into a pre-prepared template to ensure the issue would hit the newsstands in time. The December issue would make its way across the country and the Atlantic, accompanying the many travellers making the pilgrimage to their hometowns to feast over roast turkey and cured fruit. Despite the astronomical advertising expenditure, the sheer volume of exposure the event would receive was priceless.
‘Morning, Lucien,’ greeted Patrick, leaning over the partition into my cubicle. ‘Hard at work, I see!’
I slowly looked up from the magazine in my hands, turned my head and mockingly looked at my wristwatch. ‘Nice of you to grace us with you presence, Patrick,’ I joked. ‘Keeping gentlemen’s hours I see.’
It was five-past-nine. He wrinkled his nose and poked his tongue out, then chuckled warmly. Like his American Psycho namesake, he was a meticulously groomed, fine specimen of a man. The Gucci shirt, the freshly pressed flat-front trousers that accentuated his rounded, pert posterior – a testament to his daily steamed vegetables and forty-five leg extensions regimen – he looked the part and he knew it. Patrick was known for his dedication to the job, provided it was between the hours of nine and five, and was the fastest two-finger typist I had ever met. His responsibility was the visual merchandising of all the stores across the United States and he had become unaffectionately known around the office as ‘the rug-chucker’ – after his tendency to shift the furniture and occasionally throw fur rugs around in order to improve the stores’ presentation.
Patrick was mistakenly perceived as mysterious and aloof; however, after working closely with him on the logistics of several events, I soon came to learn that he was in fact a little shy and, despite his polished exterior, somewhat of a dork. Armed with this knowledge, I always sought to take advantage of it and he would never disappoint by always taking the bait.
‘TGIF, hey?’ Patrick offered.
‘Dude, when you say that, all I can think of is steak in a restaurant I would never set foot into,’ I replied.
‘They have curly fries too.’
‘Exactly,’ I replied, exasperated.
‘What’s wrong with curly fries?’ he asked.
‘The fact that you have to ask that question astounds me – a man with your dress sense cannot see what is wrong about curly fries?’
‘I really like them!’ he said defensively.
‘With ranch dressing?’ I asked mockingly.
‘Yes. What’s wrong with ran—?’
‘Morning, ladies!’ Charlie interrupted Patrick. My ritual morning mockery of Patrick would have to wait until Monday, where I would surely come armed with new material.
‘Morning, lady!’ we sung in unison.
It had begun. I had been accepted instantly into the office clique and like three old biddies, we would gossip away endlessly throughout the day, along with our fourth cohort, Lily, who as usual, was yet to arrive. She was so PR.
‘I’m so glad it’s the weekend again,’ sighed Charlie. ‘Do you guys want to come to that thing tonight, I sent you?’
‘What are you talking about?’ I asked.
‘Didn’t you get the e-mail?’ asked Charlie. ‘My boyfriend’s friend is having a rooftop party in East Village.’
‘Are you serious? I didn’t get the e-mail – I don’t have e-mail privileges yet,’ I replied, annoyed. ‘I’ve already been here a fortnight and still nothing.’
‘Bloody hell, he’s hopeless,’ replied Charlie in his clipped British accent. ‘Have you asked Joe?’
‘Repeatedly,’ I sighed.
Joe was the incredibly inept and incredibly creepy IT Manager. With a heavy-set frame and a permanent hunch, he would sit in his office anti-socially imbibing quarts of Mountain Dew and stuffing his face with Cheetos. I had had the displeasure of setting foot into his office on two occasions in my first week – each time to ascertain the status of my e-mail account and each time catching him hurriedly minimising the windows that were open on his screen, suggesting he was up to no-good. The smell that emanated from his office was akin to a teenage boy’s bedroom and I shuddered to contemplate what he would do when the office was empty on weekends. It astounded me that in such an image-based industry, he seemed the antithesis of luxury.
‘He says that he has to get approval from Paris to create my e-mail account,’ I said.
‘That’s a load of crap!’ exclaimed Charlie. ‘He’s probably too busy looking up porn sites in that stinky office.’
‘Disgusting,’ I agreed.
‘Morning, homos!’ greeted Lily, throwing her bag down on her desk. ‘What are you talking about?’
Lily openly contravened the company’s sexual harassment policy, but there was no malice intended in her jeers; we would reciprocate, joking about her weight, age, her inability to find Mr. Right and how one day she would end up a lesbian due to the sheer process of elimination of all eligible New York men.
‘Hey!’ objected Charlie. ‘Patrick and I might be fluent in heaumeaux, but the jury’s still out on Lucien.’
I smiled knowingly to myself, keen to continue the guessing-game for at least another fortnight. It was assumed if you worked in the luxury fashion industry you were either gay, curious or the cusp of coming-out. However, things were not always that simple.
‘Well?’ asked Lily, intrigued. ‘I mean, look at you in that ridiculous denim jumpsuit. Freak!’
‘Well, why don’t we put it in golf terms?’ I began, being decidedly cryptic. ‘I have been known to putt from the rough.’
‘I know nothing about golf!’
‘It’s a great game, you should learn,’ I smiled and winked knowingly at Charlie, who had since developed an admiration for my irreverent performance the week before.
‘You suck, Lucy,’ replied Lily, addressing me by the recently acquired nickname that would unfortunately stick. ‘What were you guys talking about when I walked in?’
‘Your boyfriend,’ giggled Charlie.
‘Who?’ Lily asked.
‘Give you one guess…’ he smiled mischievously.
‘If you mention that filthy pig’s name, I’ll ki—’
‘Joe,’ Charlie laughed wickedly.
‘Ugh!’ Lily grunted.
She had recently had a run-in with her credit card company after unauthorised transactions
appeared on her statement for various phone-sex lines. Despite her self-proclaimed non-existent sex life, she fervently denied that she had resorted to telephonic stimulation to satisfy her urges and was thoroughly convinced Joe was responsible.
We were interrupted by a gallop of high heels on the tiles pursued by another sound that was more like an elephant’s loafing clamber – a mash-up of the ‘William Tell Overture’ and Henry Mancini’s ‘Baby Elephant Walk’ would have been an appropriate soundtrack.
‘Good morning everyone,’ chimed the annoyingly spritely Nicole, the newly appointed Human Resources Manager, and her offsider (Steak) Diane. We all looked up from our desks and regarded her in all her mock-Chanel, poly-blend suited glory; her bobbed hair fell about her ears in an elfin manner.
‘Goooooood moooorniiiing, Nicole,’ we replied, monotonously recalling the standard elementary school morning greeting.
The previous Human Resources manager had appointed Nicole and hers was a classic example of strategic succession planning. If you had the opportunity to appoint your successor, why be usurped when you could hand-select someone completely inadequate for the role? The act would thereby render you indispensable for further work charged at consultants’ rates and continued acclaim once you were long departed. It was pure genius.
‘How is everyone today?’ she chirped.
‘Well, thanks,’ Lily replied unenthusiastically, annoyed at the interruption.
‘I’m well,’ I replied.
Charlie and Patrick nodded concurrently.
‘You all know about the lunch meeting today, don’t you?’ Nicole asked.
‘No, I don’t,’ I replied.
‘Didn’t you receive the e-mail?’ she asked.
‘I don’t have a functioning e-mail account yet.’
‘Still? Well, we’ll have to get that fixed immediately,’ she said enthusiastically.
‘Don’t hold your breath …’ Lily muttered under hers as she exchanged a knowing glance with Patrick.
Nicole bounced her way to her office as if she had a pogo stick permanently lodged up her rear-end while Steak Diane dutifully lumbered behind her, a fake Prada handbag slung over her dimpled, large upper-arm. It was the first time I had noticed it and was horrified by its PVC fabrication and poor finishing. The shape of the bag didn’t resemble anything Prada had ever produced – a generic style with the metallic triangular-shaped badge attached to it haphazardly. It was a Canal Street nightmare that should have been set alight and destroyed immediately. With a look of mock horror on my face, I turned to my colleagues and scoffed.
‘Does she realise how inappropriate that is?’ I asked the three seated on my desk around me.
‘I know, it’s absolutely tragic,’ sneered Lily. ‘Someone should really say something to her.’
‘I’ll tell her!’ Patrick replied with glee.
‘You can’t tell her,’ objected Charlie. ‘You have absolutely no tact.’
‘I know, it’ll be amazing!’ laughed Patrick. ‘You know I caught her the other day in the kitchen mixing instant mash for lunch?’
‘You’re kidding!’ said Lily in disbelief.
‘Afraid not,’ chuckled Patrick.
‘What even is instant mash, anyways?’ she asked.
‘It’s like flakes of dried potato. You add water and a bit of butter and stir it for that genuine potato taste!’ I giggled.
‘That sounds absolutely repulsive,’ said Lily as she poked her tongue out and mocked dry retching.
‘She was there, stirring up her little concoction telling me about how she was driving her kids from Jersey halfway across the country to enter her cat into a cat show,’ Patrick continued.
‘Oh … my … god,’ gaped Charlie in his best attempt at a Valley Girl accent.
‘I’m serious. It’s their weekend family activity, grooming her white fluffy cat in the hope that she wins a blue ribbon,’ said Patrick.
‘Oh stop it, it’s too much!’ I blurted out, as tears of laughter streamed down my face at the vision of Diane dragging her children to mix unwillingly with pet enthusiasts.
‘She told me that her cat placed first at a contest in Philadelphia and the prize money was enough to cover the cost of their gas and few bags of kitty litter.’
‘Oh my goodness, you are killing me!’ I choked. ‘You must be making this up!’
‘Afraid not. It just seems so futile that she is only doing it for the love.’
As the four of us spilled about at the hilarity that was Diane’s extracurricular pursuits, I looked at my wristwatch and saw that it one minute from ten o’clock.
‘Guess what time it is!’ I smiled.
‘What?’ Lily, Charlie and Patrick replied in unison.
I gestured toward the corridor with my eyes and like clockwork at exactly ten o’clock, a full hour after she was meant to arrive, Natasha appeared.
‘Oh here we go,’ said Lily, rolling her eyes.
Natasha strode down the hallway as if it were a fashion runway wearing a new purchase that was intended to draw our attention. It was a khaki, cap-sleeved cotton blouse with a strip of cotton webbing embroidered with ‘McQueen’ stretching across her chest just below her collarbones.
Natasha strutted past us, arrogantly raising her eyebrows in acknowledgement, in lieu of the customary ‘good morning’, and nearly asphyxiated us in a heady cloud of Chanel Allure eau de parfum.
‘What a cow!’ whispered Lily, coughing and scrunching up her face while Charlie and Patrick poked their tongues out at her behind her back.
‘What is she wearing?’ asked Patrick. ‘It’s such a blatant attention-seeking attempt.’
‘If Bertrand sees that he’ll flip,’ remarked Charlie – wearing an article of clothing so obviously produced by a competitor could be career suicide should she be seen by someone important or worse still, photographed wearing it at an event.
‘She thinks she’s so far above us all,’ said Lily. ‘Such a prize bitch.’
‘Even Elizabeth seems like a saint in comparison to Natasha,’ I laughed.
‘I wouldn’t go that far,’ replied Patrick.
I’d first encountered Natasha when I was working as a Shop Sharon, accidentally ejecting the decade-old Maxwell album that was playing over the sound system and replacing it with something a little more contemporary at an event she was hosting. She wasn’t impressed.
Her contrived attitude was a product of her own self-invention – she was a standard-issue PR tart. Until she came to New York from a one-horse town in the Mid-West she had been plain old Nat-ash-a. Yet, when she arrived she metamorphosed into Nat-arrr-sharrr, as she over-pronounced her own name with such hauteur. Her hair was bleached and always pulled-back in a tight chignon or ponytail reminiscent of the Gucci girls from the Tom Ford era and her weight had plummeted to fit into the size thirty-six press rack samples. Her speech was now measured and deliberate; it had been a Holly Golightly-style transformation. Urban legend had it that that she had her toes filleted so that her size forty-one feet would fit into a pair of size thirty-nine press rack shoes, but this was purely conjecture.
Natasha flung her handbag onto her desk with materialistic abandon and threw the Starbucks cup she had been carrying into the wastepaper basket.
Predictably, she headed in the direction of the side door and the ladies’ bathroom, presumably to eject the limited contents of her stomach in a bulimic expulsion. Her display and morning ritual was greeted with sniggers from the three with whom I had been conspiring, all of us aware of Natasha’s penchant for purging.
‘Okay guys,’ I said, ‘I hate to break up the party but I should really get on with my work if I’m going to come tonight. What time does it start?’
‘Seven-thirty,’ replied Charlie.
‘Do I need to bring anything?’ I asked.
‘Nope, open bar,’ he smiled.
‘Awesome. What should I wear?’
‘Something outrageous – and hopefully showing a little more skin than you are now,’ he giggled.
The crowd around me slowly dispersed to their respective desks and I engrossed myself in the event running sheet I’d created the previous day. I was battling to align the bullet points uniformly in the table when the office partition surrounding my desk shuddered.
‘Yes, Ashleigh?’ I responded, knowing who was approaching without even looking away from my computer screen.
Despite her grace and charm, Ashleigh’s downfall was the one thing she lacked – depth perception. Combined with her gravity-defying, ten-inch heels, impaired coordination due to various states of insobriety (being either hung-over or tipsy at any given moment) and an inner-ear affliction that she had suffered since childhood, one would often hear Ashleigh approach before she would appear. Often it was the exclamation of ‘Oh fuck!’ or the trembling of the office partition as she walked into it. She would claim that stationary objects would suddenly ‘intercept her path’ and would joke that the possession of a cat’s whiskers would alleviate her navigational concerns.
‘Have you seen McQueen Tits?’ she asked.
‘Who?’ I replied.
‘You know, Natasha.’
‘Oh…’ I chuckled, surprised I had not figured it out sooner. ‘Bringing up this morning’s coffee, I imagine,’ I sighed.
‘Should have guessed,’ said Ashleigh concededly. ‘Well, if you see her, tell her to come and see me. I want to go over the PR strategy for the store opening.’
‘I hope she brushes her teeth,’ she grimaced.
Hearing a sharp clicking sound, we quickly looked in the direction of Bertrand’s office, knowing he was about to exit and walk down the corridor. Since last Friday, I had been particularly on edge each time he poked his head out the door, certain that he had found coke residue on the desk and was going to point the finger at me. His glass office could be cloaked in mystery with the flick of a switch, a fine mist filling the space between the two panes of the double-glazing to render the clear glass completely opaque. Under normal circumstances it would be considered chic, but Bertrand’s mist recalled the seedy fogged-up windows of a car parked atop an isolated lookout, and knowing Dirty Berty’s track record, it was not unforeseeable that the same licentious activities would be taking place behind his closed door.
Our suspicions were confirmed when Sarah, store manager of the SoHo boutique, emerged wiping the corners of her mouth suggestively and hastily adjusting her skirt. Her eyes darted around the room to see if she had been observed. Having spied Ashleigh and I staring at her in disbelief she nervously made eye contact with us, smiled awkwardly then scurried down the hallway like a cockroach about to meet its fate with a rolled-up magazine. Moments later, Bertrand stepped into the doorway, leaning on the frame looking very pleased with himself, while tucking his shirt in and straightening his tie. At first, we both stared in abject disbelief, but then nodded respectfully when Ashleigh awoke from her daze and nudged me, averting our eyes from the wet patch on the front of his trousers.