Optimistic idiot that I am, I sprinted from the subway to the office at a ridiculously early hour in the morning. Believe me, nobody can move faster than I can on the streets of New York. Call me snake-hips Frankie Severino but I've never needed to push or shove in an unladylike way. During my many years of taking the train from Brooklyn to Manhattan I've patented a way to twist, sidestep and slither through any crowd. If I'd been a man I'd have made a hell of a linebacker. Riding up in the elevator to Loring Model Management where I work, I knew
that today was the day. Last night I'd had a dream about getting the long-awaited fax from Necker in Paris that had been so incredibly real--not dream-real but real-
real--that I woke up this morning with my heart beating like crazy. I was filled with wild anticipation, every competitive instinct I have was up and screaming, all that fight-or-flight stuff made me leap out of bed, get dressed in ten minutes and race to the subway without as much as a bagel inside my stomach.
The fax wasn't there. The little incoming tray was bare, the smug metal fax machine sat primly on its table, too high to allow me even the satisfaction of kicking it the way you do an empty vending machine. Short of taking an ax to the thing there was nothing I could do except stomp away in disgust. At least I had my cowboy boots on so the sound effects weren't wasted. After I'd coaxed a cup of coffee from our fancy, temperamental coffeemaker, I took it into the main room of Loring Model Management where, in an hour, seven bookers would be sitting at their phones around the circular desk. There our models' schedules hang on a rotating file. All day long the bookers, each responsible for ten to fifteen girls, would be talking into their headsets, twirling the file and consulting their computers. An unglamorous setting, I thought, yet on any given day a memorable page in the history of glamour could so easily result from one of the calls our bookers field so adroitly. When I'd been a booker, right after I started work here, every phone call had been a thrill to me. Now, at twenty-seven, I'm second-in-command of the business and a damn sight less easily thrilled.
It was freezing in the booking room and I still hadn't taken off the old duffle coat and two extra sweaters I'd piled over my usual uniform of tights, a leotard, leg warmers and a cardigan knotted at my waist. I decided that the warmest place in the agency on this icy morning in January of 1994 would have to be the enormous, enveloping leather chair behind my boss's desk. Justine had definitely built herself a great little fortress, I realized as I cuddled way down into her amazingly comfy chair and sipped coffee, well within earshot of the phone ring that announces a fax. Justine Loring, my peerless leader, is just thirty-four, a former model who'd intelligently abandoned her career about five minutes after it reached its peak to become an independent agency owner. She'd hired me seven years ago. The timing was perfect for me because a bad fall--where else but in the subway?--had recently brought my dancing career to an end. I'd been a serious modern dance student at Juilliard but the injuries to both my kneecaps meant that disco was the only dancing I'd do in the future.
Sitting in Justine's chair, I thought that, although no one outside of the business realizes it, it's essential for the head of any successful model agency to have a strong personal style. Every successful agency in town is defined by a single personality, ranging from preacher to pimp. Justine's style? Good question. In many ways she qualified as the ideal Girl Scout Troop Leader with all the virtues that implies, radiating strength and trustworthiness; straightforward, infinitely capable and, above all, reassuringly calm. She's the person anyone, even I, would agree to follow up a slippery mountain trail or cling to in an avalanche, certain of being rescued.
On the other hand, Justine's probably too gorgeous to be a convincing Scout. If thirty-four is mature, which I deeply tend to doubt, maturity has made her far more seriously alluring than when she was modeling, blandly ravishing, throughout her late teens into her mid twenties, a full-fledged member of the prom-queen all American league. You know that look: all but-impossibly blue eyes, features too ideal to describe, a quick, indiscriminately adorable smile, infuriatingly good teeth and the faint beginnings of deliciously squinchy laugh lines.
Now Justine's grown so interesting to watch that you wouldn't think she'd once been only conventionally stunning. Her eyes, still the very hue of victory, are thoughtful and often pensive. Her smile is meaningful and selective, a smile that has forgotten how to turn on automatically for a camera. There's a fascinatingly slow play of changing expressions on Justine's lovely face that shows a mind always at work. She's my idea of a woman who has just barely entered into the beginning of the best part of her life and eligible men, heaven knows, agree with me. But she turns them down, one after another. Sometimes I find myself in a lather of outrage listening to her explain, with that maddening, reasonable calm, just what is wrong about each one.
It must be some inherited Anglo-Saxon character trait that allows Justine to shrug off any problem she can't do anything about and simply let it go. My preferred mode, when faced by a defect--in a man or in a situation--is to attack, charge and make it right! Fix it!
But then my ancestors on both sides came from the south of Italy.
The difference in our ways of approaching life was probably why the two of us made such a good team, I thought, not for the first time, probably the reason why I'd advanced so rapidly from the ranks of bookers to become Justine's right hand as well as her closest friend. I'm explosive enough to allow Justine to remain her glowing blond self at all times. I'm the one who understands exactly when and how to pull a major-league freak-out, who remembers to carry necessary grudges, who won't settle for the difference between the possible and the impossible, who doesn't believe in any sensible Twelve Step maxim about having the wisdom to accept things you can t change. Accept, my ass! Not when you're from Brooklyn!
"Have you been here all night?" Justine's voice asked, interrupting my reverie.
"You scared me!" I yelped, almost spilling my cold coffee. "I got in ages ago . . . I had this dream . . . oh, never mind . . . you don't want to know."
"You're right about that, girlfriend."
"I love it when you try to sound hip." I couldn't help grinning at her, vile as my mood was. "And just what are
doing in at this hour?" I demanded, recovering my poise.
"Ah, I had one of those bad nights...."
"You have bad nights?"
"Even I, my mouse, even I. But last night was the worst. Every time I managed to fall asleep I had a nightmare. Finally I got smart enough to realize that I should give up on sleep and get in here and do some work in peace and quiet. I see now that was not to be."
"Not while I'm around feeling itchy."
"That sickening contest, of course."
Justine had the nerve to sigh at me, just like she would at a peevish child.
"Don't give me that superior attitude," I growled. "You know it's important even if you refuse to admit it. I'm going to make more coffee. Want some?"
"Desperately. Blessings on you, my child."
While I hung over the coffeepot I allowed myself to brood over the events that had started this whole waiting-for-the-Paris-fax business. It all started about three months ago. A woman named Gabrielle d'Angelle arrived in New York on a mission to all the model agencies in town. Gabrielle was a highly placed assistant to a guy named Jacques Necker. You know, the Swiss billionaire who's head of La Groupe Necker? He owns four of the world's most important fabric mills, two major fashion houses and a fistful of highly profitable perfume and cosmetic companies. Even civilians have heard of him. GN, as everybody in the business calls it, had recently decided to back the designer Marco Lombardi in a new couture house. Lombardi's first spring collection would be shown in Paris in a little more than two weeks from now.
"I'm here to find a group of completely fresh faces," the Frenchwoman had told Justine and me in her impeccable English.
``I need girls who are as unexposed as it is possible for models to be, girls who are entirely
virgins to the Paris collections, yet they must not be too raw, too green to work with--even if they are technically children they must not look it." I tried unsuccessfully to catch Justine's eye. Of all the glossy, brilliantly dressed, annoyingly overconfident females I'd ever come across, Gabrielle took the cake. "I'll be searching for them," she had continued, "at every agency in town and making videotapes of the best of the lot. Three among them will be picked to come to Paris to take part in Marco Lombardi's very first spring collection. One of them will ultimately be chosen as the incarnation of Lombardi's style." She had smiled loftily at us. "I suppose you Americans would call it a contest, I prefer to think of it as a modern-day version of the Judgment of Paris."
"Just exactly what plans do you have for this lucky little contest winner?" Justine asked. Amazingly I heard clear suspicion in her voice. My mental eyebrows shot up at Justine's tone. What was there to be suspicious about?
From the moment it had been announced, everyone in the fashion world had been agog to see what would come of the Lombardi launch. How come Justine wasn't delighted to hear of this chance for new girls to be showcased?
Excerpted from Spring Collection by Judith Krantz. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.