In a Soho studio, an impeccably groomed Steve was tending to a customer, a portly middle-aged woman. With his gleaming side-parting and sartorial flair, Steve looked like he had stepped right out of a 1940s Hollywood movie. I had just crept into the studio, mindful of the fact there may be customers inside and tried not to make any noise. Taking a colourful piece of fabric that was lying beside his sewing machine, and ignoring the plain jacket that lay next to it, Steve draped the customer in the material.
‘You can choose everything – the cut, the fabric, hey, you can even choose which designer you want to copy,’ Steve enthused, then looked up when he heard me approaching. ‘She’s in the back,’ he said, giving me a quick smile, before returning to the customer.
I nodded and made my way towards the office part of the studio, where I found Amy sitting at her desk, laden with invoices. Amy appeared to be staring at something in a magazine.
‘Great, you’re here!’ Amy leaned from behind her desk. She knew straight away that I had walked in, as there was only one person with whom Steve would have been so informal.
It was good to finally see Amy after my self-imposed period of solitude. I don’t think we’d ever gone for longer than a couple of days without seeing each other, so this was definitely the longest stretch, save for the odd holiday, but even those we tended to take together. From the back we could still hear Steve talking to his client about the fact that their studio boasted two designers. Amy gathered some half-finished pieces and positioned one of them over me, while consulting a design sketch pinned to the wall.
‘Who needs fit models when your mate’s a perfect ten!’ she said.
As Amy studied how the piece looked on me, we heard the customer enquire about when their jacket alteration would be ready to pick up. Amy made a little face at me; I smiled sympathetically. When Steve answered, promising it would be ready for collection the next day, the deflated tone in his voice was unmistakable.
The sound of the door opening and closing was followed by Steve joining us in the back, where Amy was now in the middle of pinning her creation on me.
‘And this is what we have a fashion degree for!’ Steve lamented, but Amy didn’t respond. With pins in her mouth, she kept her head down, working away at the dress.
Steve and Amy had bonded during their first week at London’s Design College. Like an old married couple, they had told the story of how they first met countless times. Amy had noticed Steve on the first day; it was hard not to. This had been before his current 1940s phase, when he was dressed in a black kilt, military style boots and a conservative striped shirt in a salmon shade, the kind favoured by City bankers. Although all of the fashion freshmen wore something distinctive on their first day, none had stood out quite so strikingly as Steve. His look was so thoroughly thought out and his attitude was so confident that all eyes were drawn to him. Yet no one had approached him, as he cut an intimidating figure. But Amy hadn’t been in the slightest put off by his elaborate get-up. She walked right up to him, a question on her mind, but it wasn’t to enquire what his name was.
‘Top three designers?’
Steve looked at her and then, without the briefest moment of hesitation, he rolled off his favourites. ‘Haider Ackermann, Dries Van Noten and Yohji Jamamoto.’
Amy had nodded slowly, a smile spreading across her face. This was a fashion nut after her own heart. Following this unconventional overture, which established that they were both into deconstructionist fashion, they soon discovered a shared sense of humour and ended up becoming close friends. So strong was their bond that, after finishing college, they had teamed up to run a studio. Steve was helping Amy set up her own clothing line but, as with any business start-up, they were experiencing more than their share of teething problems.
‘Isn’t this the moment where you’re supposed to counteract my grumpiness with your unfailing optimism?’ Steve complained.
‘My unfailing optimism left me on page eleven.’ Amy removed the last pin from her mouth and pointed towards the open magazine on her desk.
Both Steve and I looked at Amy curiously. Steve grabbed the magazine and immediately became engrossed in the contents of the open page. Open-mouthed, he stared at the feature.
‘Steve, what is it?’ I demanded. ‘The suspense is killing me.’
‘Charlotte Clarke?!’ Steve finally turned to Amy, who nodded despairingly. Steve shook his head in utter disbelief.
Amy snatched the magazine from Steve and began to read aloud. ‘With her finger firmly on the pulse of popular culture, her nifty touch ensures she’s definitely one to watch this Fashion Week.’
‘Wasn’t she in your year at college?’ I asked.
‘That’s exactly the problem,’ Amy said, crestfallen.
‘Why? Surely that means if she can do it, so can you?’ I replied in an attempt to cheer her up.
‘Me with a slot on Fashion Week?’ Amy shook her head, turning defeatist. ‘Nah, I’m no Charlotte Clarke.’
‘No, you’re Amy Tye,’ I said, pointing at the creation Amy had pinned onto me. ‘A promising young designer.’
‘Promising young designer who can’t pay her bills.’ Amy flopped down on a chair, gesturing towards all the invoices scattered across her desk.
‘Then it’s time to do something different…’ I mused aloud. ‘Something bold.’
Amy and Steve looked up at me, intrigued, and I realised they thought I actually had a concrete idea. I shrugged my shoulders apologetically and wished I could conjure some magical solution as I saw their shoulders deflate.
‘Yes, we should boldly go where no fashion designer has gone before…’ Steve added sarcastically. ‘All we have to figure out is where that is.’
Amy rolled her eyes. She wasn’t in a particularly humorous mood.
‘Anyway, enough about our woes – how’s it going with you?’ She fixed me with her warm brown eyes, unable to hide the concern she felt for me.
‘Oh, everything’s wonderful.’ Steve’s sarcasm was catching. ‘I’m behind in all my classes, and I’m living in the suburbs with my estranged father and a half-brother, who is not only a teenager but seems to have taken a vow of only speaking in monosyllables. Life couldn’t be better.’
Amy had turned her attention back to the dress, busy pinning it and then marking it.
‘I wish I had room for you, but my sofa’s already spoken for,’ she said with a little nod in Steve’s direction.
He put his hand up, with a guilty look on his face. ‘Sorry.’
I waved my hand, indicating it was no big deal. I definitely did not expect Amy to come to my rescue. She had provided me with a home from home for long enough. There was a point at which I would have to begin solving my own problems.
Amy took a step back to study how her design looked on me. It was only now that I got a clearer impression of the finished garment: it was a glammed-up hoodie dress that was a twist on street fashion. The idea was simple; yet, in Amy’s deft hands, it had managed to look like a couture piece.
Amy offered to call her mum, adding that she was sure her mother would be more than happy to have me. ‘You know how she feels about you – you’re like another daughter to her. But I have to warn you – she’d probably drag you to one of her charity lunches every day.’ Amy tweaked the dress around the shoulders.
‘No, it’s okay,’ I replied. ‘Don’t worry on my account. This is temporary with a capital T. If I get into Juilliard, this time next year I’ll be living in New York.’
When talking to people, I always prefixed Juilliard with the words ‘if I get in’, but in my mind there had never been a shred of doubt that I would, in fact, get in. I just didn’t want people to think I was arrogant and thereby invite any negative comments, so I’d stuck to the socially more acceptable way of discussing my goals. ‘I’ve just got to nail the audition. And, of course, figure out a way to pay for Juilliard,’ I added.
‘Can’t help you there, I’m afraid,’ Amy sighed, still on a downer.
‘You keep designing rags like this,’ Steve said admiringly, as he observed the hoodie dress, ‘and I promise you one day you will be able to afford anything you wish.’
But Amy didn’t seem too convinced of this prediction. Steve shook his head as he observed Amy and me sitting in glum silence.
‘Alright, something tells me we need a night out,’ he continued. ‘Christian is playing the 333 tonight. He can get us on the list.’ Steve was referring to his boyfriend.
Amy didn’t have to wait for my response. With one look in my direction, she read my mind. ‘I’ve got to practise,’ she mimicked me in gentle mockery.
‘It’s true, I do have to practise!’ I tried to argue.
However, Steve and Amy decided they were not going to take no for an answer. In unison, they began walking towards me like two zombies, their arms held high, as though about to pounce on me. I tried to back away, laughing, until I felt the wall behind me.
‘Okay, okay, I’ll go.’ I finally gave in. One night wouldn’t hurt, I reasoned, and I was definitely in need of a bit of fun.
Amy and Steve high-fived each other in triumph.