Authors: Karen Buscemi
Copyright © 2013 Karen Buscemi
All rights reserved.
FOR JIM BENTON
The Town Car pulled up in front of a polished steel skyscraper, the building’s smoked glass reflecting the
restless New York cityscape. In the backseat, Camellia Rhodes was on her iPhone, running through the day’s agenda with her assistant, Marissa – an NYU graduate, bright enough to understand her good fortune of landing a job with one of the fashion world’s most talked about editors-in-chief.
Camellia tapped the speaker function of the phone with a flawlessly manicured deep red nail, her signature color, and continued her conversation, pulling a slim leather makeup bag from the depths of her rose covered Valentino tote and applying a fresh coat of Nars Belle de Jour to her always-nude lips.
“Marissa, it doesn’t matter if the shoot is scheduled for tomorrow, Simon’s work has become distinctly boring. I want a new photographer.” She sighed as she checked the precision of the dark liquid liner that rimmed her upper lids, half-listening as Marissa prattled on about finding another major fashion photographer on short notice. “Any photographer in his right mind would drop everything for this assignment. This is
. Everybody wants to shoot for us.”
want to shoot for
. It was the only fashion magazine that encouraged photographers to channel the extremes of their creativity. While a few other pubs allowed a breast or a nipple to grace their pages every now and then,
had run an accessories shoot with fully naked models adorned only in cocktail rings and sky-high platforms. And when Camellia commanded a beauty editorial based on a soft-core porn theme in an Ivy League laboratory, all the bags of hate mail stacked in a corner of her lavish office proved to her she was on course to change the way Americans viewed fashion.
Undoubtedly, the fashion spreads weren’t all about sex for Camellia. Before the vampire trend had peaked,
had published an eerie fashion editorial, shot at dusk alongside a smooth lake flanked by towering evergreens and snowcapped mountains in the Washington backcountry. The concept was a sexy vampire with a thirst for shoes. Thanks to Photoshop, the pictures revealed pained girls writhing on the smooth rocks, each missing a foot, while the still-attached feet jutted out in unnatural positions, showing off the coveted shoes the vampire couldn’t resist. It was gruesome, but effective. So effective that Vittina Mendetta, the current “it” luxury shoe designer, pulled her ads from the magazine, not wanting any woman to contemplate, even for a moment, that purchasing her shoes could result in the loss of a body part. Camellia didn’t utter a word when her publisher informed her of the revenue loss. Her smug smile testified to what she was thinking: Some people have no vision.
“Just make sure somebody like Mario or Annie are on set tomorrow morning, ready to go with the theme.”
There was a slight hesitation on Marissa’s end. “The butcher shop?”
“Of course,” Camellia replied, letting herself out of the car onto the congested sidewalk. “Red is
color for fall 2008.”
In the elevator, Camellia checked her beloved Cartier watch, the one she had purchased for herself on her three-year anniversary as editor-in-chief of
. She was precisely thirty-five minutes late for the impromptu editorial meeting she had called just past eleven the night before. As she burst through the conference room’s double doors – possibly the only person able to make such an entrance while remaining utterly graceful – every face in the room turned in her direction, the cacophony of voices silenced.
“So, what have you accomplished while awaiting my arrival?” Camellia demanded, making eye contact with every editor and junior editor in the room. She was met with blank expressions. Her eyebrows jumped. “Nothing?” Pressing her hands on the smooth granite table, Camellia bent forward, placing herself at eye level with the staff, her nostrils flaring. “That’s disappointing. One would think an educated, experienced group of editors would be able to find a shred of constructive work to attend to when left alone without adult supervision.”
Straightening her posture and pulling her hands to her chest prayer-like, Camellia paced the length of the table in dramatic fashion, eyes cast down, shaking her head as if bewildered. She began mumbling to herself, just loud enough to be heard by anyone trying to listen, which was the entire editorial staff, all watching their leader with obvious trepidation. “You think you’re giving your employees the tools to be successful, but they think they know more than you. They think they don’t need your knowledge. They think they can go about things their own way. Yes, this is what they think.” She stopped abruptly and popped up her head to reveal a devilish grin. “Well I know what I think. I think you can all spend your dinners and cocktail hours here every day this week, planning your editorial calendars for next year, which best be done by Friday or you can stay the weekend, too. Meeting adjourned.”
Camellia paraded out of the conference room past Marissa, who looked browbeaten with five people surrounding her desk, waiting to speak with her. Once behind the closed double doors of her corner office, Camellia broke into a wide smile as she dropped into her leather desk chair.
It was no surprise to Camellia that her editors hadn’t done a shred of work in her absence, even though she had taught them so well that they should have been conducting their own meeting, going over the small items that didn’t warrant Camellia’s time. However, with zero supervision, that pack of twenty-somethings chose to spend their time doing nothing more than exchanging idle chitchat. Quite the opposite of Camellia at that age, this bunch was less concerned about getting ahead than taking self-portraits for Instagram and obsessively counting their likes on Facebook. Which is exactly why she had set them up to fail. Because a great teacher knows that sometimes a student has to fall on her ass before she starts using her head.
The only to-do left to complete this valuable lesson was to fire one of them. Extreme? Perhaps. But it had to be done. That pack of mutts didn’t learn easily. It would take a major shakeup to get their attention. The only question was who? It couldn’t be the newest hire or the editor struggling the most with the job. That would be too obvious and wouldn’t have the same impact. No, it had to be someone of some standing among the other editors. Someone whose termination would not only shock but also serve as warning that everyone was replaceable.
Camellia’s eyes narrowed as she mentally sorted through her editorial staff. She swiveled back and forth in her chair as she considered and then passed on editor after editor. And then she landed on Sylvia Raczka.
Sylvia had the body of a model, the brain of a Mensa member, and the emotional maturity of a high-school girl. She had been working as one of
’s digital editors, conceptualizing and writing copy for the magazine’s website, and was in line for a senior fashion editor position. Well liked by her colleagues but entirely too unsophisticated for Camellia’s taste, Sylvia had one other trait that made her an exceptional choice for termination: instability. The previous spring Sylvia had been arrested for disorderly conduct and indecent exposure, or so Camellia had read in the girl’s file late one evening after the Human Resources department had cleared out for the day. According to the report, Sylvia had gotten blitzed out of her mind at a crowded club, climbed into a cage reserved for the hired dancers, and removed her shirt and bra. All because she had gotten dumped by a longtime flame earlier that afternoon. Two of her fellow editors, who had accompanied Sylvia to the club, witnessed the scene, which included a topless Sylvia clinging to the bars of the cage as two police officers attempted to remove her from the premises. The following morning, after posting Sylvia’s bond, the editors escorted her to Jan, the unkempt HR director, for help. Jan booked an appointment for Sylvia with a therapist a few blocks from the Ruther Jacobs Publishing building, and she was still going to the weekly sessions.
She was perfect.
Camellia reached for her San Pellegrino, set out for her twice daily on a mirrored tray, and crossed the room, sinking into a hand-carved mahogany sofa set perpendicular to the floor-to-ceiling window with an enviable view of Times Square.
The phone rang, a cool, purring ringtone that coordinated perfectly with the room’s silver-leafed walls and dark wood furniture with stark white upholstery. Ignoring the phone, Camellia kept her eyes focused on the scads of people scurrying along the sidewalks, their lives – and clothes – seeming so ordinary. Mothers dressed in ill-fitting denim and non-descript tops (they weren’t blouses or tunics or halters, just tops) pushing crying babies in overstocked strollers. Young men in polos and khakis en route to their stale cubicles. How Camellia had feared that life while growing up in suburbia outside Philadelphia, where the great thrills of the week were Euchre tournaments and Monday Night Football. Her thrills now were dinner parties with Marc Jacobs and friends, and Fashion Week in Milan. While her parents had been satisfied bringing up
a child in a twelve-hundred-square-foot box wedged into a street of similar boxes, Camellia found the lifestyle too much like a sci-fi plotline of clones and unconsciousness.
Camellia gazed across the room at the framed images of her favorite
covers that lined the wall opposite her desk and couldn’t help but smile. She had taken a magazine that was getting lost in the congested bookstore periodical shelves and singlehandedly turned it into a publication that got attention. A lot of attention. And she was certain that the next chapter of her professional life was just around the corner. In the publishing world, editors were constantly shuffling from one magazine to another. For all Camellia knew, next week could bring a new fashion magazine, in Paris perhaps, requiring her to jet off instantly to her next assignment, with no time to gather her editorial staff for a fond farewell and last-minute instructions.
She huffed as she mentally replayed the scene in the conference room and recalled the blank look on all those faces. How in the world would such incapable editors finish the current issue – or proceed to the next – without her handholding?
She crinkled her forehead, but immediately caught the bad habit and let her muscles relax. With her family’s history of early forming deep furrows, Botox would be inevitable.
Annoyed with her staff all over again, Camellia reached for the phone to ring Marissa’s desk. She was ready to terminate Sylvia Raczka. As she buzzed for her assistant, there was a soft rapping at the door – Marissa’s customary knock. Camellia hung up the phone, called out “Come in,” and perched herself on the edge of the sofa, readying to demand that Sylvia be brought to her at once. The massive doors swung open and a rolling rack filled with clothes wheeled in. “Sarah needs her final wardrobe selections approved for tomorrow’s shoot,” Marissa said, nodding in the direction of the junior fashion editor, a painfully thin girl sporting short, spiky hair and a one-shoulder Carmen Marc Valvo dress, who was more or less hiding behind the rack of clothes she was pushing.
Camellia sighed. Sylvia would have to wait a little while longer. “Let’s see.” She waved her hand and the junior editor jumped into action, thrusting the rack over to the sofa. Knifing through the dresses, blouses, skirts, and trousers, Camellia groaned, shaking her head repeatedly. “Rocker chic has been done a thousand times,” she finally said, Sarah’s shoulders and expression slumping in response. “I realize it’s still relevant. It’s
’s job to show it in a different way.” Eyeing a pair of True Religion jeans, she took hold of a well-placed tear in the denim and forcefully ripped the material until there was a gaping hole in the thigh, high enough to be potentially scandalous. “Rockers don’t sew. Rockers leave stains. Mutilate the rest then come back to me.” Sarah stood motionless, her mouth hanging open. Camellia scowled. “Do you have a problem with my direction?”
Sarah hesitated. “There’s a three-th
ousand-dollar Versace jacket in the collection.”
“And you think it’s above
’s art direction?”
Darting her eyes away from Camellia’s intense gaze, Sarah shook
“I didn’t think so.”
Sarah took leave of her boss’ office at once, Camellia wondering if the still-green junior was moving so quickly to get started on her task or to escape any further – yet well deserved – scrutiny.
Even when she was a young intern at
The New Yorker
, Camellia had neither felt flustered by her highly regarded editors nor allowed her opinions to be silenced by those with decades more experience.
Those with the best ideas should speak
. She laughed lightly, recalling using those very words in her first editorial meeting. It was expected that the interns were present only to absorb the often-heated discussions that went on in the crowded conference room, but while the other interns hugged the walls, scribbling furiously on notepads, Camellia stood forward, practically grazing the head of a charming managing editor with her midriff, certain he found her attractive enough not to object. And when she stated, with no hesitation whatsoever, that the current issue’s political profiles bored her, and suggested a story about influential celebrities’ ability to change a generation’s thought process simply because they were thin and stylish and indifferent to the world’s opinions, mouths dropped for only a moment before the cute managing editor began nodding his affirmation and the others followed. At the end of the internship program, Camellia was the only one offered a job at the magazine, which she politely but firmly turned down for a junior editor position at