Authors: Lucy Sykes,Jo Piazza
Tags: #Fashion & Style, #Fiction, #Humorous, #Retail
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Lucy Sykes
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House, Ltd., Toronto.
and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Cover design by Emily Mahon
Cover illustration © Stanley Chow
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
The knockoff : a novel / Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza.
ISBN 978-0-385-53958-6 (hardcover); ISBN 978-0-385-53959-3 (eBook)
1. Periodicals—Publishing—Fiction. 2. Fashion editors—Fiction.
3. Women editors—Fiction. 4. Social media—Fiction. I. Piazza, Jo.
eBook ISBN 9780385539593
For the boys, Euan, Heathcliff and Titus
For John and Tracey
For all the Imogen Tates
“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”
* * *
“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different”
SEPTEMBER 5, 1999
he pretty young associate editor crossed her bare legs nervously, allowing her right foot to bounce up and down. She worried her black bouclé pencil skirt might be a touch too short for sitting in the front row. By most measures she was perfectly ordinary in this crowd of black-clad men and women in fine Italian fabrics cut in French lines made with an American sensibility. She looked the part. Still, she couldn’t believe she was actually there. Never in a million years could she have imagined she would be sitting in the front row of a New York City fashion show during Fashion Week. She flipped the heavy vellum invitation over one more time to read the embossed gold writing. There was no mistake. Her seat was 11A. She was in the right place at the right time.
At twenty-six, Imogen Tate had already been poring over the photographs from these fashion shows with her bosses at
magazine for five years, but she had never seen one in the flesh.
This plum assignment for the Oscar de la Renta show only came her way because the senior editors were overscheduled. Bridgett Hart, a striking black model and one of Imogen’s three roommates, was walking in this show. Imogen glanced at her watch. Five thirty.
The show was scheduled to start at five, but the seats weren’t even close to being filled. Despite Bridgett promising her that nothing ever began on time during Fashion Week, Imogen arrived promptly at four forty-five. Best to be early. She considered getting up to say hello to her friend Audrey, a publicist for Bergdorf Goodman who was chatting with a reporter from the
about ten seats away, but Imogen worried someone would steal her assigned seat. She’d been warned about one particularly vigilant new-money socialite who could never secure front row and would hover along the periphery waiting for her chance to pounce if someone didn’t show up.
A piece of hair fell into Imogen’s face and she quickly tucked it back behind her ear. Only last week she let her new colorist persuade her to return to her natural blond after a series of more dramatic darker shades. It was understated. “Chic” was the right word to describe her new life in America. “Ouch!” Imogen lifted her foot and scowled at the paparazzo who had trampled on her exposed little toe in the very best (and only) strappy snakeskin sandals that she owned.
“You’re in the way,” he sneered.
seat,” Imogen countered in her most distinguished British accent. She added an emphasis on “my.” It was indeed her seat and her name on the invitation. That meant something. The fashion industry was an insular community of designers, editors, retail buyers and select heiresses. Access to these kinds of events was allotted stingily, and could easily be taken away.
“Well, your seat is in my way,” the ornery photographer said before darting across the plastic-covered runway to take a picture of Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of
, as she gracefully took her own place across the runway from Imogen. With Anna seated the show could finally begin. Security men in bulky black turtlenecks, carrying large walkie-talkies, ushered the photographers into a holding pen at the end of the runway. All photos from the show were under strict embargo, pending approval from the designer. Imogen had a little point-and-shoot camera in her bag, but she didn’t dare take it out. She had taken plenty of pictures outside the tents in Bryant Park and planned to drop the film at one of those one-hour developing places
on her way back to work. From inside her purse she removed a small black notebook.
Assistants in head-to-toe black stripped the industrial plastic from the runway, revealing a pristine white surface. The lights dimmed and the house grew silent. The crowd respectfully slipped their purses and briefcases under their chairs. So attentive was the audience of what was happening on the runway that they refrained from whispering to one another or even shuffling papers on their laps once the lights went down.
Out of the silence, a dance beat boomed “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin as white light bathed the room. Models, never breaking their gaze, strode down the catwalk one after the other. Imogen hardly had time to take notes on each of the looks. This really would be an excellent time to use that camera, but she didn’t dare.
Across from her, Imogen noticed Jacques Santos. Dressed in his signature white jeans, the photographer turned creative director for one of the big magazines whipped out his Nikon and furiously began shooting the models as they walked past him. Out of the corner of her eye, Imogen could see security begin to twitch from their posts at the end of the runway. It wasn’t until Jacques actually stood and hoisted the camera over his head to take an aerial shot that they made their move. Perfectly timed between models, one guard approached Jacques from either side, and before the Frenchman knew what was happening they tackled him and confiscated his camera. He lay stunned on the runway.
Bridgett, Imogen’s statuesque friend, didn’t even blink as she calmly stepped over the man in her thigh-high leather boots and continued her journey down the runway with the elegance of a panther, her right toe slightly pointed as it rose off the ground. The camera in one hand, the security guard pulled Jacques to his feet, dusted him off and gestured for him to sit back down. He removed the film from the Nikon and handed the camera back before returning to his post at the end of the aisle.
The show went on.
t first, Imogen didn’t recognize the girl twirling around in her chair taking a picture of her own magenta Tory Burch flats and matching fingernails. One hand clutched her white-and-gold iPhone, while the other extended toward her shoes, manicured fingers splayed in front of the screen.
Imogen smoothed her fine blond hair behind her ears and gave a confident click with her right heel so the girl, now pouting into the phone’s camera to take a selfie, would know she wasn’t alone in the corner office.
“Oh.” Eve Morton, Imogen’s former assistant, snapped to attention, startled. The phone clattered to the floor. A note of surprise rose in Eve’s husky voice as she glanced over Imogen’s shoulder to see if anyone else was behind her. “You’re back?” The girl’s coltish legs covered the space between them in a few seconds before she wrapped Imogen in a hug that felt too familiar. Eve looked different now. Her auburn curls were blown out, some sort of keratin treatment, most likely. The shiny pin-straight hair framed a flawlessly made-up face with a slightly newer, cuter nose than Imogen remembered.
Why was Eve sitting at the desk of the editor in chief? Imogen’s desk
Imogen racked her brain to find any reason Eve would be in this building at all so early in the morning. She no longer worked here. She had been Imogen’s assistant two years ago and hadn’t been back since.
Eve had been an extraordinarily competent assistant and, for all intents and purposes, a friend, but this was an irritating distraction on her first day back at work. All Imogen wanted was to get settled before the rest of the staff arrived, call down for a cappuccino and have someone help her wade through the inevitable swamp of her email.
“Eve? Darling, why are you here? I thought you were off at Harvard Business School?” Imogen sidestepped her to settle into her chair. Sinking into the leather seat after so much time away felt good.
The girl folded her long legs beneath her instead of crossing them when she sat facing Imogen. “I finished in January actually. I went to a start-up incubator in Palo Alto for a few months. Then I came back here in July.”
What was a start-up incubator?
Imogen wondered. She imagined it had something to do with chickens, but didn’t have the inclination or the interest to ask.
“Back to New York? That’s lovely. I’m sure some monstrous investment bank has snatched you up now that you have an MBA,” Imogen replied evenly, pressing the power button on her computer.
Eve threw her head back with a throaty laugh that surprised Imogen in its maturity and depth. Her old laugh was sweet and lilting. This laugh belonged to a stranger. “No. I came back to New York and back to
! I sent my résumé to Mr. Worthington in January. We talked just before you went off on sick leave. In July I moved back to New York and I came here. I mean…it’s like a dream job. He told me he was going to tell you. I didn’t even think you would be in until your usual time…about ten. I figured you would have a meeting with Worthington and he could fill you in on my new role.”
Old assistant. New role. Eve, twenty-six years old, her eyes heavy with aubergine liner and naked ambition, sitting in Imogen’s office.
Imogen had communicated with Carter Worthington, the publisher and her boss, exactly two times during her six-month hiatus from work. For the first time since she walked through the doors of
that morning, she took a hard look around the floor and noticed small differences. Most of the lights were still dim, accentuating the buttery morning sun pouring in through the windows beyond the elevator bank. But the traditionally sparse-by-design floor felt more crowded. When she left, the floor had contained roomy cubicles with low partitions, each desk having enough space for a keyboard and a computer monitor. Now the partitions were gone and a snug collection of tables formed a continuous row across the room with laptops so close they kissed one another like dominos preparing to topple. Her favorite photograph, Mario Testino’s close-up of Kate Moss’s face, was missing from the wall. In its place was a broad whiteboard drawn over with numbered lists and doodles in every color of marker. Elsewhere on the soft gray walls were signs printed in cursive letters and matted in juvenile colors: “Taking risks gives you energy!” “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” “What would Beyoncé do?” “Good, Great, Gorgeous,
!” Inside Imogen’s office one major thing was missing: her cork inspiration board, usually covered over with scraps of magazines, tear sheets from shoots, pieces of fabric, old photographs and anything else that caught her fancy and inspired her.
Who the hell thought they could remove my board?
An irrational anxiety swelled in Imogen’s stomach. Something was different and whatever was different felt wrong. All she could think was,
Get out of my office
, but instead, after a tiny pause, she asked politely, “What exactly is your new job here, Eve?” At that moment she noticed that a large ballerina-pink beanbag chair occupied the corner of the room.
“I’m in charge of digital content for Glossy-dot-com.” Eve smiled briefly, but unconvincingly, as she picked at her nail polish.
Imogen maintained her poker face and breathed an internal sigh of relief. Okay. Eve was only in charge of Internet content. For a second she’d panicked and thought Eve was there in some kind of senior role that she hadn’t been told about. Of course it was 2015 and of course the magazine had a website and sure, all of that meant something.
But the website was just a necessary appendage of the actual pages of the magazine, used mainly as a dumping ground for favors for advertisers and leftover stories. Right? The girl was in charge of something relatively inconsequential. Still, why hadn’t anyone consulted Imogen before they hired her old assistant for a new position? It was poor form.
Eve rushed on. “I can’t wait to talk about all the new changes. The site has never been stronger. I just think you’re going to love the relaunch.”
A headache threatened to spring from the base of Imogen’s skull. “I think it is great that they finally gave the website a redesign. And I really am happy that you’re back. I would love to have lunch with you once I’m all caught up.” She nodded, hoping the girl would just blog off already so that Imogen could start her day.
Perhaps cracking a joke would speed the process along. “As long as the redesign has nothing to do with my magazine and”—she hoped to make a point—“as long as they haven’t given away my office.”
Eve blinked in confusion, eyelash extensions flickering like hummingbird wings.
“I think you need to talk to Carter, Imogen.” It was strange to hear a vaguely authoritative tone in Eve’s twenty-six-year-old voice, and odder still for her to address their boss, Carter Worthington, by his first name. All at once, Imogen could feel her heart begin to beat faster again. She had been right the first time. Eve was not just working on the website. Imogen worried for a moment that Eve, who had once been so good at anticipating her every need, could read her mind right now. She stood.
“I actually have a meeting with him anyway,” Imogen lied. “First thing this morning. I should head up there now.”
Shifting her weight from one heel onto the other, she turned to walk away from Eve, past several young women she didn’t recognize who were starting to trickle in. Her hand shook. Her face revealed nothing but a static smile as she pressed the elevator button for the lobby. In a building this large you had to go back down to go farther up.
Gus, at the lobby coffee stand, practically leaped over the counter,
doing a two-step in her direction as she hurried between the building’s two elevator banks.
“I thought you never be coming back!” he exclaimed, smelling sweetly of cinnamon and steamed milk. His sandy mustache bounced with each syllable. “How has that magazine survived for six months without an editor in chief? They must have missed you so, so much!” He squeezed her hand with care. Of course he knew why she had been gone. They had tried to keep it out of the press, but these days there wasn’t much you could hide from the gossip columns.
In February, half a year earlier, Imogen was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in her left breast, the same disease that had taken her grandmother and two aunts. In March she’d opted for a double mastectomy and reconstruction to both eradicate the cancer and prevent it from spreading. She’d spent the next six months in chemo and recovery.
“Here I am.” Imogen forced herself to deliver a warm smile. This was all too much before nine a.m. But at least Gus carried with him kindness and the promise of caffeine. He led her over to the coffee counter and, without having to say anything, busied himself making her drink, topping the foam off with an affectionate heart. He waved her away as she pulled four crisp dollar bills out of her wallet and pushed the cup into her hand.
“My treat. A very special day! If I known this was going to be your first day back I would have had the missus make you something special…some of her baklava…with the honey that you like. You be here tomorrow? She make it tonight. I bring it to you tomorrow. With the honey.” She nodded and thanked him, savoring the jolt of caffeine as she made her way to the elevator. Workers streamed into the lobby now. A handsome middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair and a pocket square in his immaculate suit gave Imogen’s legs an approving glance as he joined her in the lift.
On the ride up, her head still swimming, Imogen remembered clearly the moment Eve Morton walked into her life five years earlier. She had only just been promoted to be editor in chief of
and was exhausted from weeks of interviewing candidates to be her assistant. Human Resources sent her practically the entire senior class of
Le Rosey (that Swiss finishing school where rich Americans sent their spoiled children to meet other rich Americans), all of them bored and privileged. None of them had the kind of ineffable drive Imogen knew would make them hungry enough to excel at
. Imogen understood better than anyone how important it was for someone to be hungry for a job like this one. She had once been an assistant herself, to her very first boss and mentor, Molly Watson, editor in chief of
magazine, the most inspiring person Imogen had known in her entire life.
The day Eve Morton walked into the
offices for the first time she was a single class shy of graduating from New York University. Wearing a rumpled trench coat, she’d been sopping wet, hair strung around her face, giving her the appearance of a bedraggled kitten. Outside it was the kind of rainy April day that transforms even hardened New Yorkers into timid tourists in their own city, reluctant to venture out without the promise of a car ready to whisk them off to their next destination.
While tall and broad, Eve was mousy and shy. Yet there was a gleam in her eye that sparkled all the more as she pulled out her laptop to reveal a PowerPoint presentation with slides featuring magazine pages from the early nineties to the present.
“I’ve read every magazine you have worked on,” she let spill from her slightly lopsided, but not altogether unpretty, mouth. “This is the most exciting moment of my entire life, just sitting here in this office. You’re seriously one of the best magazine editors in the world. I think I have read every single story about you, too. I just love all the parties you throw with the designers during Fashion Week and the way you expressly asked
to be seated near Kim Kardashian at the London shows. I love all the changes you’ve made to
. You’re the reason I want to work in magazines.”
Imogen wasn’t immune to flattery, but she did have a finely tuned bullshit detector. Still, she didn’t think she had ever met anyone who had read every single issue of
for the past three years,
for the two years before that and
for two prior. She wasn’t even sure if she could say with a straight face that she herself had read all of those issues cover to cover. Imogen peered at the girl with a
measure of incredulity, the edge of her J.Crew skirt still dripping onto the white hardwood floors of her office.
“Well, thank you, but you seem much too young to have been reading my magazines for that long.”
“Oh, I’ve been reading fashion books since I could
. When you shot the couture collections on window-washing scaffolding seventy floors above Times Square, I mean, I literally died.”
Eve was referring to a shoot later described in the press as “Do or Die,” where Imogen envisioned the models in place of window washers, with photographers as spectators on different floors. Iconic supermodels dangled like insects from ledges, their hemlines catching expertly on the breeze. The magazine’s insurance premiums skyrocketed. That didn’t stop Imogen from taking over an entire subway station for the following month’s shoot, and a supermarket in Queens for the one after. They’d brought in Chanel-branded ham for that one.
“When I saw that—it completely altered the course of my whole life,” Eve said, bringing Imogen back to the present with words she didn’t entirely believe could be true.
“I did? It did? My God, how?”
“I couldn’t get those images out of my mind. They stuck with me. It was an out-of-this-world experience. The clothes came alive for me then. From that moment I knew there was one thing that I was meant to do in the entire world. From that moment I knew I was destined to come to New York, where these magazines were made. I applied to New York University and FIT. I was accepted to both and I chose NYU so I could design my own major focusing on marketing, management and the history of fashion. From then on all I ever wanted was to come here and work with you. The innovations you have made in fashion magazines have been the most exciting thing to happen to editorial content in decades.”
Eve’s shoulders finally shrugged a bit, as if a weight had been lifted now that she had delivered a monologue practiced many times in front of a dorm-room mirror covered in fingerprints and Windex smudges.