By F.K. Almou
© 2018 Farrah Khan Al-Mousawi
Fashion was a 24/7 business, which meant no rest for the wicked.
Blaine Lycanos was sitting in the front row of Paris Spring-Summer Fashion Week’s closing show in the Carrousel du Louvre, impatiently tapping the toe of one of his Hermes Oxfords.
Leggy models paraded out of the gaping mouth of a skull-shaped carriage adorned with horned skull jewellery, tribal masks, and tight animal print corsets like an endless train of vomit. Overhead, a neon sign flashed DEAD INSIDE.
Blaine knew the feeling. Restless, he massaged the back of his neck and attempted to stifle his yawns. He hated sitting through this pretentious bullshit and was choking for a cigarette.
He was almost home free until one of the newer models tripped and landed flat on her face.
Fuck, he thought.
A chorus of “ooooooh’s” rang out in the audience, and photographers raced to get the best close-up of the fall. The girl had broken her ankle and couldn’t stand, so the other models were catwalking over her like she was fashion roadkill.
This wasn’t how Blaine wanted Tybalt’s Ready-to-Wear and accessories campaign to be remembered. Not after his company, Diable Rouge Modelling and Fashion Inc., had worked so hard to promote the new designer.
Cursing under his breath, Blaine forced his way through the crowd to get to the embarrassingly hysterical model. He was desperate to shut her the Hell up. But a member of the audience beat him to it, scooping her into his arms and carrying her off the runway to the sound of whooping and cheering.
Blaine ushered them to the foyer, away from the cameras. The less evidence of this literal slip-up, the better. He called emergency services while the girl continued to wail. Though now, to Blaine’s exasperation, it seemed to be because he wasn’t the one carrying her. She couldn’t take her mascara-bleeding eyes off him.
Unperturbed, her hero placed her on a chair and offered to stay until the ambulance arrived. Blaine quickly shook his hand to thank him for his help. He was eager to get away, but the invigorating smell of the man’s aftershave made him hesitate. The subtle undercurrent of apples was jolting, almost like downing a double shot of espresso. Mentally shaking it off, he returned to the show.
Despite the drama, it was an unadulterated success. Blaine retook his seat next to Werner Castell, the CEO of Diable Rouge, mechanically joining the adulation as Tybalt was given a standing ovation for his PFW debut.
The Congolese designer took to the stage and the clapping and whistling grew louder. Dressed in a fitted leopard print jumpsuit of his own design with his hair dyed to match, he was a far cry from the refugee who, as a teen, had fled a life of ritualistic abuse.
Because he was soft-spoken and feminine, his family branded him possessed by evil spirits. As a result, he was tortured and frequently starved in a hostile attempt to eradicate the kindoki within him. When Blaine and Werner discovered him many years later, they renamed him to metaphorically cleanse him of the past, but mostly for publicity.
Vogue recently hailed Tybalt’s urban jungle style as the hottest thing in Paris street fashion, and he was rapidly becoming a household name. It helped that Skylar Black, former Diable Rouge model and current mistress to the French Premier Ministre, was papped sporting one of his royal blue and black zebra print bodycon dresses. She owed Blaine a favour.
And now he owed her one, because within forty-eight hours the €300 dress had sold out.
It was a dream come true for Tybalt, who bowed humbly before his audience, eyes shining gratefully. Supermodel Amara Hania, who’d featured in his runway show, handed him an elaborate bouquet of flowers, kissing him on both cheeks as his tears flowed unabashedly.
Werner practically leapt off his seat in his enthusiasm to join them.
Tybalt gesticulated to Blaine as well, but no way was he going up there. Shaking his head, he waved them to carry on. He despised the limelight and almost felt bad for the designer. If only he knew the true cost of his fame… Clearly you can put a price on someone’s soul.
But Werner wasn’t taking no for an answer, and took it upon himself to escort Blaine on stage.
Suppressing a growl, Blaine forced what he hoped looked like a genuine smile across his face.
Satan on a spit fork, he hated the way people looked at him. It was pathetic how easily they were seduced by the lie. By the crass theatricality of it all.
After a thousand lights flashed in his eyes, he slinked backstage. But by now it was too late for obscurity. A group of fashion journalists intercepted him, eagerly shoving their smartphones in his face.
“What’s your name?” One asked.
“What’s your relationship with Tybalt?” Asked another.
“What do you do?”
“Who are you?”
Blaine shrugged dismissively. “I’m nobody.”
But his lack of cooperation only made him more appealing. There was a collective sigh and it took a gargantuan effort for him not to roll his eyes. Such was the burden of his beauty, his cross to bear.
Dressed in a sleek tailor-made Dior suit and white shirt, despite his wolfish demeanour he was dazzling to behold. The way he was slouching made it difficult to tell, but he was tall and muscular with enough strength to kill a man with his bare hands. His skin was the colour of fresh caramel and his eyes, framed by thick, romantic lashes, were the colour of drowning. His luxuriant hair was black as midnight and his full lips hinted at a sardonic smile, as if he knew something no one else did.
He also exuded an intrinsic sexiness because it was apparent he didn’t give a fuck what anybody else thought of him. He wouldn’t have been out of place on the catwalk himself.
But to those in the know, he wasn’t just a pretty face.
The models began strutting backstage in a flurry of spots and stripes, but Werner was nowhere to be seen. Typical. He was probably hitting on some shiny, young thing.
But the rush was a good excuse for Blaine to take his leave from the journalists.
“Ladies and gentlemen, forgive me,” he said, feigning regret, “but I’m needed elsewhere.”
And with that, he turned on his heel and bolted away from the groans of disappointment. Keeping his head lowered, he made his way to the Carrousel’s inverted pyramid skylight where everybody was congregating.
He looked around, impatiently searching for someone. Several people he didn’t know congratulated him on Tybalt’s success. It was obvious they didn’t know who he was. They simply recognised him from being on stage earlier.
Humans needed little excuse to take a closer look at Blaine- like he was an exotic caged beast.
Switching on the charm, he thanked them all graciously but didn’t concern himself with introductions. If he didn’t know them, they probably weren’t important.
Periodically flashing his winning smile, he kept conversation to a minimum while scouring the gallery.
To his relief, he eventually located his friend in the maddening crowd. After making polite excuses, he forced his way through a throng of bodies to get to the smaller stone pyramid directly under the skylight.
His friend was casually leaning against one of the slopes, rolling a joint. From a distance, they looked enough alike to be brothers.
“Leito,” Blaine whispered.
Leito detected his voice easily over the din. They made eye contact and he waved Blaine over, his cheery grin glinting like the metallic stud in his eyebrow.
Chatting with a group of actors, he was clearly in no hurry to move. But Blaine had met his small talk quota for the day, so he pretended to bump into someone he knew on his way over.
”Oui, c’était magnifique!" He exclaimed in flawless French, interrupting the man mid-apology. “Thank you very much for coming!”
The confusion on the man’s face was laughable. “Hey guy. You must’ve mistaken me for someone else. I’m just a lighting tech.”
But Blaine ignored him and shook his hand with exaggerated enthusiasm, following-up with a tirade of positive generic French statements for good measure.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Leito shaking his head incredulously as he made his way over to them. “I’ll take it from here,” he assured the technician who, looking even more confused than before, left them to it.
“Nice,” Leito said, his onyx eyes glowering. “Why do you always have to be such a dick?”
Blaine ran his fingers irritably through his thick hair. “You know I can’t stand actors. Talking to them is too much like work, and I’m officially off duty.”
“Fair enough,” Leito said, tucking the joint behind one of his ears. “So I guess you’re not coming to the afterparty?”
Eyes fixated on the joint, Blaine gave his friend a lopsided grin. “Are we going to smoke that shit or what?”
Leito’s nostrils flared. “You’re unbelievable.”
They squeezed through hordes of people packed into the Louvre like cattle until they were outside.
“If I was human, this’d be my idea of Hell,” Blaine muttered under his breath.
When they were finally obscured in the shadow of the museum’s giant glass pyramid entrance, Leito sparked up.
“Remember the glory days when we used to party every night?” He asked with a nostalgic sigh.
Blaine snorted derisively. “They got old. And so did I.”
“Bullshit. You’re eternally twenty-seven. What’s up with you these days?”
Blaine massaged the back of his neck and stared hard at the ground. “Do you ever feel like you’re switched off? Like you’re going through the motions but you’re not really there?”
Leito exhaled several jaunty smoke rings. “No.”
“Well, I do. Sometimes I get through a full day feeling absolutely nothing.”
Leito passed him the joint. “You’ll feel something after some of this Inferno Haze. I guarantee it.”
Blaine inhaled deeply and plunged into giddy lightheadedness. His friend was right. At least it was something. He was stupid for trying to talk about his feelings when he barely had any. He’d mastered the art of numbness.
After two more of Leito’s notoriously strong joints, Blaine forgot himself. Even the afterparty idea was starting to seem less repugnant. He supposed he ought to show face. Technically, none of this’d be happening if it weren’t for him.
Despite his youthful appearance, he’d founded the world’s most famous modelling agency and fashion enterprise decades ago. His job title on the books, Chief Advisor to the CEO, was only a cover in the same way Blaine Lycanos was merely this season’s nom de guerre. Everything about him was a carefully constructed fiction.
The truth was, he wasn’t what he seemed and neither was anything else.
Blaine was a demon. One of many on earth assigned the task of engineering a fake world around the human race and secretly enslaving them. His role in this vast conspiracy was using fashion to nurture self-loathing and unrealistic perceptions of beauty.
Diable Rouge was responsible for promoting the most beautiful faces in the world. The most celebrated of these were of darkling origin, demo-human hybrids genetically modified and raised to excel in various industries. They were the master race, a glorious mix of human and celestial genetics, the all-natural embodiment of elegance and beauty that humanity aspire to.
Simply put, if all the world was a stage, darklings were the players and humans were the audience.
Blaine’s franchise owned every darkling model in the industry along with an impressive collection of the best looking humans. Human fashion designers were another brand specialty, although they had no idea what was really going on.
And even if they had an inkling, it was difficult to believe satanic symbolism was being incorporated into trends to brainwash the masses, no matter how glaring the evidence. Sense and reason convinced them otherwise.
But sense and reason were human inventions. They had no place in the realm of angels and demons.
Blaine was testament to that because, with a bit more goading and smoke, he was persuaded to accompany Leito to the afterparty.
He clearly had no sense.