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The London studios of Rania Tan in Clerkenwell is as welcoming as you’d expect for a brand that has taken the world by storm yet remained so refined. Rania Oduduwa is one hell of a designer; her clothes have graced the closets of the very finest at the highest echelons of society from the A-List to royalty. But it was Rania’s story that endeared Ava even more; a single mother of two who started her brand on a whim ten years ago with a small studio, one sewing machine and boundless talent. For nearly eight years she’d been the maker, fit model, distributor, retailer, everything. She ran a one woman show with a market stall in Notting Hill where she still trades from time to time. She soon caught the eyes of some very prominent people, with every retailer worth their salt banging down her door and the only one she decided to take a meeting with, ran out on her.
Ava knows she needs to make things right. If nothing ever comes out of this she at least wants to apologise.
‘Good morning Mrs Beckerman.’ Rania, dressed in the most beautiful kaftan, walks out into the reception to greet Ava.
‘Good morning Ms Oduduwa. Thank you for seeing without notice, I appreciate your time.’
‘Then you must call me Ava and its Sinclair now. Lovely to meet you all over again.’
‘Lovely to meet you too, Ava Sinclair. Come on through to the back.’
Ava breathes a little easier. The back studio is, as they say, where the magic happens. There are three seamstresses in the far end, rows of materials and patterns, spread on an overly large and long table where pattern cutters are hard at work. Ten mannequins all dressed in the most stunning creations like the other end of the table. A small and tight operation this is, but no less spectacular. One mannequin catches Ava’s eye; floor length bottle green dress in the smoothest of velvet with intricate pleats that make the material look and feel like air. The high collared neckline is intricately beaded in green precious stones and the pleated tail opens up to reveal the finest piece of chiffon also in green. Ava has walked through the looking glass into Wonderland. She’d been right to get on Rania’s case from the beginning.
‘No thank you I won’t keep you long, I wanted to come by and apologise for my behaviour. It was incredibly rude and I can only say it had absolutely nothing to do with you. You’d taken the time to finally speak to us and for me to behave that way was unacceptable. I am so, so, sorry.’
‘Thank you.’ Rania shows her to one of two stools by the cutting table, and she takes the other. ‘I figured your divorce would have something to do with it.’
Of course she would think that, there isn’t a person she has met in six months that has not read about the divorce.
‘It did and that was simply unprofessional of me.’
‘It was human.’ Rania says, ‘we are all allowed a human moment even those of us who are super human. Thank you for coming here though, it is appreciated.’
‘Thank you. And listen, you don’t have to agree to work with us now, I know you have other retailers hitting down your door but Huxley is the place for you, six months exclusive is a lot but we plan to roll out the red carpet lining this up for you. But, and here is where I may be getting ahead of myself; if in three months you are not entirely happy, we will terminate the contract, keep what we have bought and not mark down at all. I am that convinced this will be a hit.’
Rania laughs, ‘you came to slap on the golden handcuffs eh.’
‘I believe in your brand, I think it is one of the best since… Marc Jacob’s debut and Huxley is just the perfect fit for you. I’ve brought you some reading materials and our roll out each brand gets its own incubator so please take a read.’ Ava hands her a manilla envelope with all the information.
‘One question I have; if I do decide to come on board will I get passed on to another buyer or will you handle it for the six months.’
That gives Ava a little hope. ‘I will handle. For the entirety of the six months.’
‘You are the Head of Buying, that’s not your position.’
‘That’s how much I believe in you. I just ask that you give me some grace with my son.’
‘Absolutely. I have a lot to think about.’
‘That’s all I ask; room in your heard to mull things over.’
‘I will. thank you for coming and I do hope things with the divorce smoothens out soon.’
‘River is on his way down to see you. He must have asked security to tell him when you walked in.’ Lydia informs Ava when she arrives at her desk. ‘Morning. Green smoothie?’ Lydia hands Ava a cup of her favourite smoothie from the café downstairs.
‘Good morning sunshine.’
Both women walk into her office, whatever River wants she’ll soon find out.
‘The reports from last week. The gift hub is a game changer.’
‘That’s good.’ Ava is distracted, the entire shit show with the divorce is a problem and she hates that it is having this much impact on her work life. Running out of important meetings and what not. ‘The indies?’
‘Pulling strong too. We’ve gotten about fifty requests for the couture pieces.’
‘Good. When do we sit down with the travel team?’
‘You okay?’ Lydia is right to be concerned. This is Ava’s busiest time of the year but since the divorce she has not been herself.
‘I am. Thank you for asking and I promise if I need any help you will be my first call.’
‘Well I will settle for number three.’ Lydia teases referring to Ava’s two best friends; Annabel and Jamilah. She could be further down the line what with her cousins as well. ‘Mr Huxley.’ The laughter in Lydia’s throat gets caught when she sees Huxley sitting at the reception of Ava’s office.
River stands, ‘good morning Lydia, is Mrs Beckerman free?’
‘Thank you.’ River walks into Ava’s office. ‘Good morning Mrs Beckerman might I have a word?’
Ava bristles at being addressed as Mrs. ‘Ava is fine and it’s Sinclair now.’
‘Sure.’ River shrugs taking a sit in one of the chairs opposite Ava, that cold demeanour resident like an armour. ‘Are you over your mishap from the other day?’ He goes right in.
‘You left the meeting unexpectedly, after showing up fifteen minutes later and you weren’t even listening. What would you call it?’
River hears the tsk in her tone. ‘Life.’
‘Yes. Some of us still live in it. We do not have the luxury of living perfect lives like you.’
River smiles ruefully, Ava Beckerman or Sinclair as she so corrected him, is one of those people whose smarts would intimidate anyone. Smart and pedigreed, she is all types of the other side of the track that he is not. Her mother is a world-famous Opera singer, her father a Chair at Oxford. River actually graduated from his class, bet he doesn’t even remember. How could he? River was there on scholarship, people like him had no time for anything else other than books and work. He was a kid who grew up on a council estate in the Southeast of London. When he got his admission letter into Oxford his mother cooked for the entire estate. River and his brother Raymond were her pride and joy, she sacrificed everything for them, worked three jobs to put them through private school their whole lives. She worked hard, a single mother of two boisterous boys.
Raymond the older and River the younger by two years. They grew up thick as thieves, the best of friends and had an acute sense of their situation from an early age so they understood why they couldn’t also get the newest things, why River wore hand me downs and why when their friends went away to Europe for the summer, they were lucky for a day at Brighton on a super off peak train. Growing up they worked hard, studied hard and both graduated with good grades. River went into tech and Raymond into construction. They are both very successful in their fields but they’ve drifted apart. That fight is one that River knows they will not come back from anytime soon. So, when Ava thinks his life is perfect he has to laugh; if it isn’t the princess calling the pauper a king.
‘My life isn’t perfect Mrs Beckerman, far from it but I sure as hell don’t let my personal problems affect my work.’ Now it is his turn to tsk.
She’ll give him that. ‘I’ve been to see Rania. This morning. I apologised. She promised to give us room in her head.’ Ava sucks it to him. ‘I should not have run out of the meeting, so I apologise, but it wouldn’t hurt to show a little empathy you know. We don’t all have the luxury of having our spouses at home dealing with the children whilst we go out to conquer the world.’
‘My life is not perfect. I’m divorced, with two children and my ex-wife is now shacked up with the person who used to be my best friend. My brother. So, I know a little bit about what you’re going through. For what it’s worth, your ex is without.’ River walks out of Ava’s office leaving her stunned; at a loss for words.