Karl Longerfeld's distinctive silver hair remained suspiciously unruffled, unlike the designer himself, as he barked orders into the maelstrom of models, make-up artists and wardrobe assistants backstage.
'Faster, faster, everyzing must appear as seamless as ze clothes.' He waved his hands like a puppeteer at a tanned female and two muscular males – all wearing tailored dungarees. They linked arms and began walking onto the catwalk to the tune of Down Under by Men at Work.
When the female model sashayed a little too enthusiastically and threatened to put everyone off stride, Longerfeld's raven-haired chief stylist, Heidi, hissed, 'Walk straight, don't wander, woman!'
Longerfeld spread his hands in despair, 'Ve're surrounded by amateurs!'
Heidi raised her clipboard, checked the running order, and realised, with only ten minutes to go, she was still missing a hunk for the grand finale. Damn that second rate agency! And where was that runner with a replacement?
'Mein Gott, vot is zat smell?' cried Longerfeld, whose nose was the only thing allowed to wrinkle on his botoxed face.
Heidi turned and faced a waft of unwashed armpits fermented in liquor, and the sight of a burly, but stooped, khaki-clad dreadlocked man being ushered towards them by Sally, her soon-to-be-sacked runner.
Even Sally didn't seem confident in her choice of last minute replacement to close the show as she hesitantly said, ‘This is…Tyrone…’ adding weakly, ‘…he’s all I could find at short notice.’
If Heidi had to judge, dreadlocks were the only positive fashion statement about Sally’s pungent new friend. For once, she was lost for words, but her boss certainly wasn’t.
'Ven I said ve need to be in touch with ze man on ze street I didn't mean fetch me a tramp who looks like he's just raided ze local ex-army store!'
'Hey, I seen combat man, and robbin' ain't my thing?' said Tyrone as he rubbed self-consciously at one of the many and varied stains on his camo-jacket.
Longerfeld pulled out a monogrammed handkerchief, clutched it over his nose and mouth, and whispered sideways at Heidi, 'He certainly combats ze senses. Vatch him like a hawk. I zink he might be a spy from one of my competitors.' He stormed off to find fault and fresh air somewhere else.
'Look,' said Tyrone leaning pungently close, 'I was promised a hundred bucks and somewhere warm to hang out away from the cold fog. Out there it's a real pea souper, man. So I ain’t going nowhere…not until I gets paid. Diggit?’
Heidi's flint-like glance at her runner told Sally the money was highly likely to come out of her meagre wages.
Tyrone looked around. Spotting the gantries and hoists overhead he said, 'Nice factory, man.'
'It's industrial chic,' said Heidi tersely as her brain furiously balanced time and lack of alternatives.
Tyrone's gaze settled on two approaching female models that were certainly hard to miss as they were wearing figure-hugging, day-glow orange T-shirts. As they sauntered past to the strains of Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins, Tyrone whistled and said, 'Wow, they're well buff!' One of the models heard and winked back at him. Tyrone immediately stood tall, thrust out his huge chest and returned her grin. 'Horny too,' he muttered under his breath.
Heidi's frosty demeanour thawed slightly as she became aware of Tyrone's full and rather imposing height, as well as his new-found confidence. Decision made, she snapped her fingers at Sally and said, 'He'll have to do. Douse him in cleanser and get him changed quickly. We only have five minutes until the closing number.'
'What's with all the hard hats and boots?' asked Tyrone, pointing at two lines of rather functional fashion accessories in the changing area, while a swarm of wardrobe assistants and stylists tried their best to make him catwalk-ready.
Sally smiled, 'Longerfeld's signature look these days is what he calls industrial chic.'
Everyone quietened as Longerfeld himself breezed into the changing area and immediately zoomed in on the hem of Tyrone's new jacket. He thrust it towards one of the wardrobe assistants. 'Vot's zis? It has more wrinkles zan a reformed rock band. Go find anozer. Better still go find a steam iron!'
'Man, he's wound tighter than his facelift,' said Tyrone after the fashion designer had left. 'What's with that dude?’
Sally whispered, 'He’s used to being at the helm of high fashion, but recently he’s been more of a passenger than the Captain. America has moved on. There are fresher, cooler…and younger designers out there.' Tyrone understood only too well how easy it was to end up on the scrapheap. He nodded as Sally continued. 'Longerfeld's last two collections didn't really address the online market – I'm afraid he's not much of a silver surfer.' She shrugged. 'Now he's back to designing basics. He's lucky to get this gig. Some of the biggest movers in the industry are in the audience tonight.'
A young lad with a tray of exotic-looking refreshments approached. 'Fancy a drink from our sponsors, sir?'
Tyrone took a swig from the fullest glass. Grimacing, he spluttered and demanded, 'What is this? De-mister!'
'Sticks in my throat!' Tyrone thrust the glass at the lad and winked, 'Go find me a real drink, son.'
As the boy scurried off, and after several final touches, the make-up technicians and stylists declared Tyrone as ready as he would ever be.
Loathe to be parted from his old jacket, Tyrone clutched it in one hand as he was ushered back to the staging area. On the way a passing model warned Sally that Longerfeld was in a furious mood having spotted a competitor in the audience.
This was confirmed as they approached to find the designer in full flow to Heidi. 'I spied ermine in his last collection. Zat daredevil used real fur and got avay wiz it.' Sally coughed to grab his attention. 'Vot next? Wool? Very next year no doubt, but positively beastly. Do you know, he once said I wasn't a nice man? Zat glib laid-back upstart. I spit on his success...'
Tyrone dumped his camo-jacket on the floor near Heidi and interrupted Longerfeld's tirade by tapping him on the shoulder and saying, 'Can't I wear something a little less orange and baggy?'
Longerfeld flinched. Spinning round, his critical eye took in Tyrone's outfit of polished boots, pleated canvas trousers, and twill-weaved T-shirt worn beneath a loose-fitting, waxed cotton utility jacket. The designer reached up and adjusted the strap holding Tyrone's hard hat until it sat at an appropriately jaunty angle on his dreadlocks. He matched Tyrone’s stare as he growled, 'Beggars can't be choosers.'
Blanking his new model, he withdrew to one side with Heidi. 'He's like everybody else, expecting bare bums and midriffs, vell I don't do vot people expect. Zis collection vill be noticed around ze vorld. And if I say orange is zis season's colour zen orange it is.'
'Fanta orange to be precise,' whispered Sally to Tyrone. He smiled as he remembered the lurid colour of the drink he was offered earlier. 'He preferred the colour tango,' added Sally, 'but he had to shelve that when they failed to agree a sponsorship deal.'
The intro to the final song began to play sending Heidi and Longerfeld into a frenzy of last minute adjustments and instructions to Tyrone. Their commands of where to go and what to do on the catwalk washed over the big man, who was only concerned about one thing, and that certainly wasn't how to walk.
Heidi said, 'Go, go, go!'
Tyrone waited. The music was nearing its peak. Heidi's panicked look to Longerfeld shrieked, 'Why isn't he moving?'
Longerfeld tried pushing Tyrone to no avail, before pointing front of house and demanding, 'Get out on zat cat…!'
'Whoa, man,' said Tyrone. 'I ain't in the zone yet.'
'Mein Gott, I'm ruined,' said Longerfeld looking ready to burst into tears.
A young lad arrived.
'Perfect timing,' said Tyrone as he grabbed two flutes of champagne off the boy's tray, swigged both down in succession, handed the empty glasses to a stunned Longerfeld and said. 'Man, let's give 'em hell!'
Buoyed up by alcohol, clean duds and the prospect of $100, Tyrone strode confidently out onto the catwalk.
The audience froze.
Owning the moment, Tyrone paused beneath the spotlights, before walking down the catwalk with his head and dreadlocks held high and a swagger in his booted stride even a pirate would have been proud of. The rise in the level of testosterone in the room was pronounced.
Longerfeld watched Tyrone on a plasma screen live-streaming the event. 'Look, he's stealing ze show.’ He giggled. 'Zat hulking brute's actually got real style!'
'He's also got fleas,' said Heidi, scratching her ankles and moving away from Tyrone's discarded jacket.
Front of house, photographers leaned over the sides of the catwalk waiting for the final money-shot that would be front page trade press tomorrow. Tyrone strutted and stomped to the rapturous applause of the assembled crowd and the sound of Starship's We Built This City. Stopping for a final pose beneath the huge sign that presided over the stage, Tyrone gave the photographers the moment they'd been waiting for.
Strobe-like camera flashes illuminated the words on the sign, which read, 10th Annual Construction Industry Conference. Underneath in italics was written, Industrial Chic - Health & Safety Wear by Karl Longerfeld.
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