Lonzo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

NEW YORK FASHION WEEK

NEW YORK CITY

 

She was a bonafide glamazon.

Well, that was according to Vogue, based on the strength of her second cover. She was now on her seventh—for the Parisian edition alone.

As for others…well, she stopped counting. Unlike some of her fellow models, she wasn’t a vanity whore who’d selfie at every possible opportunity. She wasn’t overly fond of staring at her image. That novelty had worn off a long time ago.

But her face had allowed her access in the most prestigious events and the most exclusive places all over the world—palaces, private clubs, and ultra high-end resorts…she’d been there at one point or another.

The media had repeatedly said she brought the sexy and curvy back on the catwalk. She was now mentioned along the likes of Giselle and the Big Six of the 90s.

Her first name had global recognition—attached to over fifty product endorsements for this year alone. She got big ad campaigns and modeling gigs that thousands of models in this business could only dream of.

Tonight, she ruled Spring Studios—the Acropolis of New York Fashion Week. Inside its long marble floors and makeshift runways, careers of models and fashion designers were both made and unmade on a regular basis.

She missed the old venue at Bryant Park. Everything was so accessible there… the location was but a stone’s throw away from the workshops and studios of top designers. But that was the way in the ever-changing-and-cutthroat world of fashion. Even fashion capitals get old and die out like ancient empires and supernovas.

She knew one day she’d be making her final appearance. No one can compete with time.

But not today.

Today, she was being hailed queen and this was her universe—a highly competitive and oftentimes, cruel one. A dog-eat-dog world where high glamour meets creativity head-on.

She was a supermodel.

And her name was Jordana Almueda.

 

 

The week-long event was drawing to a close tonight but instead of winding down, the atmosphere behind the scenes was indescribably electric.

NYFW resembled an elaborate, well-choreographed wedding ceremony. Think royal wedding. On steroids.

Everywhere she looked, there was a hubbub of activity—from the runway crew, assistants, designers, and especially the models. A mélange of fashion editors, directors, stylists, celebrities and press people from all over the world were all vying for a seat at the front row.

It was organized chaos.

For the second time, she thanked her lucky stars she wasn’t involved in micro-managing so many egos under one roof.

She could hear the drone-like sound of the audience amid the loud, new wave-themed runway music while being primped backstage for this final show.

The hair/make-up team was a study of synchronism, using the models as their human canvasses to come up with a look that was an echo of the cash-strapped, but flamboyant 80s. The minimalist look was not on their plate tonight, as her tresses were teased into massive volume, held by a ton of hairspray.

“Ouch!” she yelped when the stylist tried to disentangle a clump of her hair from his brush. Her scalp burned. She was so sure she’d be sporting a bald patch tomorrow.

In a year or two, I’ll have no hair left.

“Beauty is pain!” came the stylist’s acerbic reply, not even bothering to apologize. “No pain, no mane, no gain!”

Bet you wouldn’t be saying that if yours were pulled, she thought crossly, but she held her tongue. She didn’t need to add to the drama tonight.

She glanced at the harried face of the stylist. Fixing close to twenty girls in a span of two hours was no mean feat. No wonder he was tremendously catty.

She was on her feet as soon as the surly guy told her he was done.

Next was makeup. The problem was how to get there. The makeup station was on the other side.

The middle section of the backstage served as a huge dressing room. She navigated her way through hordes of models, which was tricky, but she managed to without stepping on someone’s hemline or worse, toes.

The makeup station resembled an assembly line. Unlike the surly hair stylist, Felicia, the person assigned to apply her make-up was a doll and a light touch. Jordana was able to have a nap as the makeup maven prepped and airbrushed the electric pink eye shadow on her lids.

“You’re done, J. Marlina! You’re next!” Felicia said as she motioned for the next model to sit.

Jordana stood up and sleepily made her way back to the middle of the backstage, where a small corner was made available for her use.

Before she knew it, she was nude and being dressed thanks to Zoie, a professional dresser. Zoie carefully zipped her up in a champagne-colored gown with a proficiency of a Marine assembling a rifle. Even her panties wasn’t spared.

“Why can’t I keep my panties?!” she asked, aghast.

The dresser shrugged. “I’m just following orders, J. Vera said it might ruin the drape of the dress.”

Fine.

This was one part of runway shows that she can never get used to—getting dressed like a life-sized Barbie doll in plain sight of everyone who would care look. It was a constant battle with her modesty.

Shoes and accessories came in next. A few more pin tucks here and there, she was done and all glammed up for the runway.

She carefully placed tissues in her armpits. With the heat, hobbling and excitement around, she was beginning to sweat. She was the show opener and she can’t afford to ruin the fabulous gown with damp underarms.

She made a quick look around.

Fellow top models who were waiting for their cues were being interviewed by a fashion network.

Several were doing yoga poses or whatever rituals that worked for them. Yes, mental prep was necessary before walking and wearing five-inch stilettos without wincing.

Bits of commentaries, shop talk and plain ole bitch talk from other models floated around her like the buzzing of bees.

“I saw JLo schmoozing with her current flame, the boytoy. Eric or whatever. That girl found the fountain of youth. She’s wearing Versace tonight and my…she’s got the cutest Louboutins!”

“Ohhh she’s no longer in the front row?! Serves her right after Leo dumped her fat ass! My, my…how the mighty have fallen!”

“I think this collection is her best so far…” she heard snippets of conversation between former supermodel Heidi Klum and a lifestyle correspondent.

Hearing all these, she was tempted to people watch at the degree of human nature on show.

Nah.

Better conserve her energy and relax a bit before the show started.

She carefully sat on a stool.

Remarkably, she wasn’t feeling fatigued.

Her agent, Francesca of IMG, initially booked her for ten shows today. Her business manager, Leandro Bastian, had to put his foot down since she was too accommodating say no to dear old Francesca. He knew how draining fashion week could be, even for a seasoned pro like her. She was sashaying an average of eight shows a day, which was a lot.

Agencies can be brutal, thinking models ran on batteries.

She was used to this dog life but Leandro was adamant she should rest in between shows. He was able to convince Francesca and IMG to let her walk only five shows for the final two days of the event. Still, that was a heavy sched. A new model would probably be on a stretcher by now from sheer exhaustion.

Career-wise, she was in a good place. She had achieved everything she ever dreamed of. Major designers sought her to wear their creations while billion-dollar companies trusted her to endorse their products and services.

If she wanted validation, she already got it in spades. Her name had already evolved into a brand.

Unlike new models who had to pound the pavement to clinch a slot on the runway to build their portfolios, she can now turn down bookings. Something she rarely did.

Earlier she bumped into Michael Kors. He was a bit miffed. She had to beg off from his spring show as it coincided with this one. He wasn’t able to book her earlier and Francesca had to decline on her behalf.

She was able to smooth the ruffled feathers of the well-known designer by promising to be present at his fall show. In this business, charm can go a long, long way.

It did the trick, as Michael grinned after hearing it.

“You’d better be at my after show party, brat or I’ll never forgive you,” the designer said playfully, knowing too well she would be a no-show.

She seldom attended after shows. If ever she did, she’d never stay too long. She was too tired to party and get wasted on cocktails. She had no party animal gene.

“Michael, you don’t even need me there,” she said with a placating smile.

“You have to be there! I need major star power, darling!”

“I heard Prince Harry’s coming over with the fiancee. There’s your star power,” she cajoled, which drew a gurgle of laughs from the designer. Like most major designers, the want constant validation.

Several air kisses later, she bade him goodbye to enter this insane place.

The finale show was for Vera Wang. Vera was one of the few designers that she could never turn down. Earlier, she had modeled new, upcoming designers—not to snob the more established designer set—but to show equal appreciation for new fashion talents.

The fashion industry was still smarting from recent economic upheavals. In the past, fashion movers became too obsessed with “polished chic” and catered mostly to the fabulously skinny and rich. Many designer resorted to just revamping/updating classic materials or downsizing cuts into size zero proportions and pricing them too high until it had become downright ridiculous and unrealistic.

Women come in all shapes and sizes and for a time, designers overlooked or simply ignored the general populace and happily shoved dresses designed for skinny bitches trust fund babies and socialites, who in her opinion, lived on martini diets. Deluded, so-called fashionistas and fashion movers raved it as “aspirational”.

“People need to dream, dahling,” a top designer told her several seasons ago when she asked him about the relevance of ostrich feather boas, cashmere minis and hot pants in his collection. She hid her dismay behind a small, polite smile.

But then again, few designers were aesthetically confrontational like the flamboyant Jean Paul Gaultier or John Galliano. Or socially conscious like Stella McCartney or Kenneth Cole.

She sighed and wondered if she’d become too jaded in this industry. Who wouldn’t? Fashion was a hard and fickle business to be in. One moment you could be the toast of the town and in a blink of an eye, you could be the biggest has-been, or in many models’ case, a never was.

Sometimes when thoughts like these float inside her head, she’d feel like a little ingrate. This industry embraced her and grabbed her from the clutches of poverty in Sao Paolo. She had a lot to be thankful for despite the lack of privacy, spiteful fellow models and the insane schedule that practically forced her to live in hotels years after she got discovered while waitressing in Brazil.

She never thought of herself as special or pretty. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she’d be the newest supermodel on the block or the toast of fashion capitals. But from the moment Sports Illustrated got her on their cover, she hit pay dirt. Other mags soon followed.

She soon bagged the biggest campaigns in the biz—Burberry, Marc Jacobs, Lanvin, Roberto Cavalli, Valentino, Guess, Dior, Calvin Klein, Estee Lauder, Louis Vuitton and the holy grail of all modeling contracts—Victoria’s Secret.

“Models! Ten minutes before the show starts! Places please,” her reverie was cut short as she heard one of the stage assistants call out.

She straightened, closed her eyes to utter a quick prayer before making her way toward the runway entrance.

She willed herself to relax but it was hard, especially when she saw the shakers, bigwigs and celebs all sitting in the front row.

The models behind her kept on yammering in nervous excitement.

“There’s Queen Bey and Jay-Z!”

“Is her train-wreck of a sister with her?”

“Nah.She’s banned. Or so I heard.”

“You should check the other side, sweetie…there’s Becks and Posh! Oh, what I’ll do to trade places with her!”

“What? Have his brood and go through labor and stretch marks?! Ewww!”

“Babe, you have zero chance. You don’t have a magic pussy.”

Their manic excitement was getting on her nerves.

What if she had a wardrobe malfunction? What if she tripped on these killer Louboutins? The gown she had on was so tight, it required shallow breathing. What if she puked?

The knot in her stomach was getting tighter with each passing second.

She was on the verge of a major panic attack.

Just a few more hours and I can curl up in my own bed. Please, please…stay focused!

She was like a guppy taking in deep breaths as she fought to keep her anxieties at bay. Her nerves would always act up at the start of every show…it didn’t matter if she’d been doing this for quite sometime now. It was one of those things that never went away even with constant practice.

She was practicing her walk when Vera showed up at her side.

“Ah, dearest…there you are! Let me take one last good look at you,” Vera cooed while twirling and giving her the once over. After a quick smile of approval, she nodded. “Perfect, J.”

That calmed her down a little, but it only lasted for a few seconds. The fashion show’s producer materialized out of nowhere to signal that the show was about to begin.

She was the opener.

I’m the first one to go through the penetrating gazes of the pillars of the fashion industry, celebrities and their numerous cronies. The first to be critiqued.

She swallowed.

“Go, J!” the producer urged her on, softly nudging her from behind.

Breathe!

As she stepped out, she was blinded by the klieg lights.

I can’t see anything! Oh, God...

But something inside her snapped into place and made her relax at the last moment. As she continued to stride forward, her legs had fluidly coordinated with the glide of her hips. It was instinctive—almost as if she was born just to do this. She felt like she was floating while the rest of her surroundings got bathed in a sea of white light.

Ten strides later, she reached the end of the runway. Flashbulbs flared brilliantly like huge diamonds, burning her retinas. Head held high, she paused for several seconds, showing off the fabulous gown in the best possible angle before she turned to saunter effortlessly, belying her earlier turmoil.

Before she knew it, she was at the backstage again, in the competent arms of Zoie, who efficiently stripped her to put a black sheath dress over her head. The stilettos were discarded for a pair of gladiator shoes and an intricate diamond choker was placed around her delicate neck. Three million dollars worth of bling but all she could think about was how heavy the thing was. She couldn’t wait to get it off before it snapped her neck.

She smiled at the thought.

“What’s so funny, dear?” Zoie inquired.

“Nothing,” she said as she schooled her features to her usual “game face”.

By the end of the evening, she wore the testimonial piece—a flowing crimson red silk gown that featured radical draping. It drew collective gasps from the crowd.

There was silence before the audience erupted into thunderous applause and gave a standing ovation.

The fact that she was wearing this beautiful gown and Vera Wang was walking beside her was proof that she was the most important girl among the brood of models who were walking behind them. She turned, offering the audience one more glimpse at Vera Wang’s creative genius.

When Vera asked her to swivel, she gamely did—so immersed in this magical world of fashion and its pageantry.

She was no longer the waitress who served grilled sandwiches to bored tourists, the same one who subsisted on tips and less-than-minimum wage.

The simple orphan girl from Sao Paolo had come a long way.



“Faccia di merda! Figlio di puttana!”

Lucca Agnelli’s booming voice carried the vicious words toward the individual seated at the head of the boardroom table.

The air thickened with tension. Every attendee nervously glanced at the handsome man who was the subject of his verbal abuse.

The younger man was impassive and unperturbed, his eyes hooded and unreadable. He would’ve been a great poker player, for he never showed an ounce of emotion. He remained seated and continued drinking his coffee as if he was in a cafe, his manner and posture relaxed.

The fucking bastard.

Despite Lucca’s insult, the man smiled. Almost cordially. Yet the spectators in the room knew what the smile meant.

A kiss of death.

The man had a reputation. He had the instincts of a Great White shark, and like the predator that he was, he smelled his blood a mile away. This boardroom battle was over before it even began, Lucca knew in his heart. The bastardo was merely biding his time, toying with his prey. And in this case, it was him, Lucca Agnelli, the once mighty Chairman of Gruppo Milanese.

His opponent unhurriedly put his coffee cup down before he spoke.

“Let us cut the bull, Lucca. We both know that Gruppo Milanese is in deep shit. You’re in deep shit. The value of the company dipped to just a third of last year’s valuation,” the younger man drawled.

“You lie!” came his vehement denial.

The man’s smile grew wider but it never quite reached his eyes.

“You want me to tell that to the shareholders? How you divested their money to fill your offshore accounts? Do you really want me to rip you open for all the world to see, old man? Because I can indulge you and make you bleed if that’s what you want. I don’t back down from anything or anyone,” the man stated, each word a thinly-veiled threat. “So what’s it gonna be? I’m game for anything.”

Lucca lost his bearings. He thought that his adversary would never unearth his secret stash. He’d been very careful. But apparently, not careful enough.

He had grossly underestimated his younger opponent.

Lucca thought he was nothing but a punk on a lucky streak, buying one company after another. He thought Gruppo Milanese was simply too big for him to takeover.

Several months ago, he had openly laughed at the audacity of this man to target his company. He told the press that GM was too high for this mongrel to touch. He should have listened to his advisers. It was too late when he found out that his foe had been buying shares of GM using his diverse business entities. Before he knew it, his rival had accumulated enough shares to earn a seat at GM’s board.

“You got two options, Lucca. Sell off your controlling shares and let me takeover or hold on to your pride and face a possible inquiry from the visura camirale...which I assure you will eventually lead to further unpleasantness, not to mention, financial and social ruin. Your choice.”

Lucca knew he had ran out of options. The company owned by his family for generations, his legacy, would be no more. He had to bite the bullet and sell.

It was either that or public disgrace, one that could potentially overshadow the fall of the Guccis.

Losing GM was like a death sentence.

“Damn you!” he told his nemesis, but his voice held no conviction.

He caved in. The enormous pressure was too much for him to handle.

He was a defeated man.

The younger man didn’t even flinch at his outburst. Seemed that he had even anticipated Lucca’s reaction.

The instigator of the hostile takeover threw out his offer.

“Forty-five euros per share. My best offer. Take it or leave it,” the guy continued before lifting his cup of cappuccino.

“You underestimate GM! GM is worth more than that!” he blurted angrily.

“You overestimated your value. If your stink ever comes out of this boardroom, both you and I know share prices will slide into this quicksand you created. So cut your losses now…either way, I will still win in the end,” his opponent continued to rub it in. “It’s all up to you.”

“What about my family? My employees?” he said though gritted teeth. His family members—three brothers and his sons all held positions within the company.

The younger man’s eyes turned glacial.

“I suggest they resign once I’m on board. That way, they will be spared the humiliation of being given the boot. As for your employees, my management team is impartial, and they will be assessed on their competencies and what they can contribute to the company.”

Lucca leaned weakly at the backrest of his seat. He closed his eyes, his head hung low in defeat and tremendous loss. His weary eyes took in the set of documents placed in front of him. He knew what they represented. Once he affixed his signature, GM, the crown jewel of his family for five generations would all be forever lost.

He was vanquished.

He loathed the man who was forcing him to give his birthright up. Even then, he can’t help but admire what the business world had touted as “the boardroom devil”.

Had he been younger, he’d put up a valiant boardroom brawl. But he was old now and he wanted to enjoy what was left of his remaining years.

He’d still have enough money and assets if he chose to accept the man’s offer. He’d no longer be that billionaire that got mentioned in the top ten list of Fortune’s wealthiest…but at the moment, that was the least of his worries. After all, he’d still be a billionaire. If he played his cards right, he and his family would never be poor for the next generation or two.

He sighed. Surrendering left a very bitter taste in his mouth.

But survival came first than family pride.

With a heavy heart, he reluctantly picked up his pen and signed over his company for the sum of fifteen billion euros, net of liabilities, to the handsome devil who led the dynamic, equally powerful Vitale Internacionale.

A brilliant bastard by the name of Lonzo Vitale.