‘Fashion (Turn to the Left)’ by Matt Winser

The club was new, not the building but the owner and the name. The designer had made his reputation as an ‘enfant terrible’ designing two wine bars that caused an outrage. The seats had been covered in artfully worn and ripped red vinyl that had cost more than human skin. There was just enough glitter for show and the loos had been finished then ‘distressed’ using a three week acid process, scouring pads and at one point the design assistant’s keys.

Guerrilla marketing had ensured that the name was everyone’s lips and anybody who was anybody needed to be at the opening party. The mix was good, c-lists celebs rubbed shoulders with boys and girls who had ‘the look’, that something that set them apart from their peers. Everyone agreed that the club would be a great success, and whilst they hated the music, didn’t think much of the over priced drinks and would have preferred more comfortable seating, it was the only place to be.

Michael had made it his own place, he was at home with the bitchy attitude. People would smile at you then snarl behind your back, ripping your outfit, dancing and choice of partner to shreds in a second and he loved to dish.

Usually the DJ seemed to please himself, playing obscure records with mock german vocals but tonight he appeared to be trying to drive punters out of the door again by creating a sheer wall of noise. Michael bought the records and tried to see some merit in the electric squall and bad vocals, but they always gave him a headache. He would only listen long enough to produce a new dance then he was finished.

Every evening was supposed to be a different theme, but it always felt the same, same faces, same music, same drinks and the same hangover in the morning.

Tonight was Wednesday, so it would be ‘BitchFest’ He was getting ready to go out, having spent 4 hours deciding on what to wear. Cheap plastic tennis shoes, coupled with black jeans and an expensive suit jacket. He was bare chested underneath. He had blue eyeliner ringed around one eye and then smudged and a jammy red mouth, again smeared a little. He picked up the blue glitter trilby he had found in a joke shop and perched it on his head, teased some of his blonde and black striped hair out form underneath and pulling the front so that it almost covered his right eye.

He got some funny looks walking down the street and even more on the train, some Japanese tourists giggled into their hands and he was hoping that they would ask for his photo so he could say no and sulk. But he had to get off before they plucked up courage. A middle aged man in a raincoat tutted as Michael walked past. He turned and shook his head slowly at the guy, as if to say ‘I pity your lack of fashion’ it was a look he had practised.

As usual, because the bouncers knew him, they waved him ahead of the queue. He had the fleeting thrill of being somebody, as the latecomers gawked before entering the club itself. The noise made his eardrums twitch, he was sure the DJ was playing a piece of sandpaper to see what he could get away with. Just to see if people kept dancing.

He saw Jay and Char in the corner, sometimes Jay dressed as a boy and sometimes as a girl, today was a girl day. Ra Ra skirt, leg warmers and a Guns and Roses T-shirt. Nobody even knew if he, she, it was a boy or girl and certainly wouldn’t be as uncool as to ask. Char was wearing a loose, black kaftan, which would have been considered very un-hip, if not for the fact there was a hole cut in it and her left nipple was poking through the fabric.

Michael smiled at his cutting edge friends, inwardly cursing that he hadn’t thought to poke some of his anatomy through his clothes.

“Michael, welcome” Jay stretched out his/her arms as if to embrace him. But really it was more for ostentatious show, a ‘look at me’ gesture.

“Let me get the first drink” Michael was suspicious, Jay hardly ever bought a drink.

“What’s the occasion ?”

“We’re mourning the loss of your fashion sense. Didn’t you wear those shoes last week?” Michael felt his face flush a little, he had but knew he should lie,

“No I bought them today. Flicked through Sleaze Nation while I was out, apparently Melanie Griffith is no longer a style icon”

“Touche”

Jay tipped their glasses together and smiled, the smile didn’t reach the eyes. Char watched all of this with glee, the wet breathless eyes of someone watching a boxing match. Then she laughed on cue.

A song came on that they recognised, having done their homework. They moved to the floor to dance, it wasn’t so much a dance as a series of tableaux. Any silent film actress couldn’t have emoted more. When the song had ended, Michael needed to go to the loo, so he made his excuses and walked across the dancefloor, snorting at the rubbish dancing and worse clothes that he could see.

After he came out of the loo, he leant back and rested against the cool wall, plastered then gouged. He saw a tall man stalking towards him and felt awe. The guy had the perfect haircut, poised somewhere between mullet and punk. His clothes were a mix of designer and cheap and he had the biggest gold chain around his neck. He reached Michael and put one warm hand round his neck. He couldn’t remember if he was supposed to like boys or girls at the moment, but surely no one would blame him for snogging a fashion god. As the man leaned in, he opened his mouth and Michael could see his canine teeth were longer than the rest and black, shiny like PVC.

Before he had a chance to object, the kiss began and a numbness spread from his lips, coldly through his body. The bulbs in the ceiling grew a halo then he closed his eyes, gone.

He woke with a start the next day. He was in his own bed, no blood and no bruises. He felt a little bit sick and the sun seemed a little bright, but only because the curtains were open when normally they were closed.

His first thought was that maybe he had been given Rohypnol and ordinarily he would have burst to tell Char and Jay just to make them jealous, but today he just shrugged. He knew he had agreed to meet them later, then he looked at the clock and realised that it was later. Usually he would have still taken an hour to get ready and let them wait, but today he just pulled on the first things he touched.

It was only on the tube when he realised that he hadn’t put together an outfit. He looked down at what he was wearing, beige chinos and a polo shirt, and decided it was fine. He seemed to have a song stuck in his head, he knew it was Phil Collins, but didn’t really care.

Char was wearing a full nun’s habit and Jay was dressed as a boy today, albeit a boy in the Annie Lennox mould, people were staring at them, even here in London they looked odd. And they played up to the crowd. They both saw Michael at the same time and shrieked in mock/real horror.

“What are you wearing?”

“What?”

“Well there’s irony and then there’s too much” Jay was circling like a shark smelling blood,

“That is ironic, right ?” Michael looked down at his clothes and realised he had no idea, he had picked clothes for comfort for the first time in years and had no idea why.

“I, um..Look I think I was drugged last night” Char looked to Jay for her cue, but he only raised one eyebrow and looked him up and down,

“Maybe you are still on drugs, maybe you hallucinated that THAT was a reasonable outfit” Char tittered.

“Tell me something, name 5 bands that we like” No knight receiving a gauntlet in the face could have felt more fear.

“BloodMilk, the Shitake’s, umm, and the…”

“You have no idea, do you ?”

“Umm” He was really blushing now, furious and almost in tears.

“That suit in that window, fashionable or only fashionable ironically ?”

Michael looked at the suit, he had no response to it at all, except to think that it might be comfortable.

“You don’t know. Come on Char, we’re leaving this loser alone. Call us when you get better, if you do”

Michael stood on the pavement and waited for the tears to come, He knew he would probably never see them again, what was the point, if not for fashion? He would have to say goodbye to his dreams of being a magazine designer and with a final crushing blow he realised that he looked just like the people he despised, ordinary. He was the first but not the last.

Even though he no longer moved in the same circles as the others, he still heard rumours of what was happening at the club. More and more regulars were turning up after nights there in dull clothes with no idea of what to like and what not. In the words of one girl, whom he overheard in the queue for coffee ‘It was like the fashion was sucked out of them !’ But the club was still white hot and never less than packed, despite the fear that you could lose your fashion. It was like extreme sports for fashionistas, laughing in the face of death of style.

He hadn’t seen Char and Jay since that day, but the final straw finally came, that one moment when he had to find out what had happened. He was walking past an estate agent’s window, when he looked in and who should he see, sitting in a cheap suit at one of the desks but Jay. He opened the door, “Jay?”

“Michael, how the hell are you?” He shook hands and received a hearty arm slap,

“It’s Jason now, I left that pretentious Jay shite behind” Jason, so he had been a boy after all.

“Did you want to look at a house?” The same calculating look as when he was about put someone down and that’s what made Michael realise he was seeing the same person, the one who had made people gasp in the street. He may not have liked him, but for a while he had liked what he stood for.

He needed to know what happened.

“Not really mate, see you round”

“Not if I see you first” Jason snorted at his own joke.

Michael spent the rest of the day trying to choose the right clothes, handicapped by not knowing what worked and what didn’t. In the end he used one of his old outfits. As he approached the club he had no idea had he looked exactly like the try-hards he used to laugh at. The new bouncer didn’t even speak, just shook his head. Michael started to argue but another doorman who had seen him before pulled him around the corner.

“Look mate. Do yourself a favour and go home eh ?”

“But ..”

“I know what happened, it’s always the same. He opens a club, people come and the best ones lose it all.” “But if you know then why.. ?”

“I have worked for him for longer then you know, just leave it. You’ve still got a life haven’t you? Maybe not the one you were expecting, but nothing’s perfect” “But ….”

“Listen, you seem like a nice bloke, I don’t want to have to kill you. But I will if he tells me to, he has done before. Business see? Anyway, do you really think you can beat that?”

He pulled Michael back round the corner. A plain, black car drew up to the club. The man that Michael saw that last night, got out. He seemed to be surrounded by a glow of exclusivity and paparazzi flash.

“Just be grateful that he chose you, it means you were something once”

Michael felt the fight go out of him just looking at that glow. As he walked home, he could feel himself starting to forget all of it.

When he woke the next day, he felt scrubbed. He packed his things and ran out on his lease, to a small village.

Where he never opened another fashion magazine or listened to anything other than Magic FM again.

* * * * *
(c) Mat Winser, All Rights Reserved

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