Material Girls: A Novel335
Material Girls: A Novel335
In Marla Klein and Ivy Wilde’s world, teens are the gatekeepers of culture. A top fashion label employs sixteen-year-old Marla to dictate hot new clothing trends, while Ivy, a teen pop star, popularizes the garments that Marla approves.
Both girls are pawns in a calculated but seductive system of corporate control, and both begin to question their world’s aggressive levels of consumption. Now they’re joining forces to subversively resist and overturn the industry that controls every part of their lives . . .
Smart, provocative, and entertaining, this thrilling page-turner questions the cult-like mentality of fame and fashion. Are you in or are you out?
“Through its likable characters, sly humor, and smart, fast-moving plot, this entertaining debut raises serious questions about the costs of disposable fashion and pursuit of celebrity.” —Kirkus Reviews
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|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
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|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
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Late, late, late, late. Julia was going to kill me.
I hopped around my room, yanking clothes out of my closet and throwing them on the bed. Like an idiot, I'd forgotten to charge my Unum, so the battery had died overnight. Which meant, of course, that my alarm hadn't gone off this morning. Which meant I'd probably still be sleeping right now if my mother hadn't come in to investigate why I wasn't at breakfast.
Okay. I could pair the yellow Torro-LeBlanc leggings with the blue musketeer tunic — did they really go, though? — or do a black and white combo with the oversize blouse and a belt. That was probably safest. I wouldn't have to change my nail polish, either. But I'd worn black and white last week — the other judges would definitely remember. I chewed on a section of my hair and glanced at the clock. I had to decide now, or I'd never make it to work by nine.
Tunic and leggings, fine. I grabbed my silver trend-checking gun from the top shelf of my closet, flicked it on, and pointed the barrel at my clothing tags. As the laser hit the tunic's tag, the gun beeped and the green light stayed green. Same for the tank top. But when I scanned the tag on the leggings, the light turned red. I groaned, hurled the leggings and the gun to the floor, and grabbed my charging Unum. "Sabrina," I said into the microphone.
Sabrina's face, which always looked as if it was concentrating hard, filled my Unum screen. "Hey," she said. From the light smudges of color behind her, I could tell she was outdoors.
"I'm freaking out. I haven't left yet. I have nothing to wear." Panic tightened my voice. "The yellow midcalf leggings expired."
"Yeah. Like last week."
"So what do I pair the musketeer tunic with? Mine's cobalt."
Sabrina thought for a moment. "You have the black leggings from the urban street punk trend, right?"
"I wore them last Thursday."
Sabrina's mouth twisted. "Then I don't know. Would stovepipes work? Or you could do tights the way Olivia —"
"I hate that look," I interrupted.
I dug into the pile on my bed and pulled out my maroon stovepipe pants. I hit them with the trendchecker, just to be safe. Green light — still wearable. I shoved them on the bed under the tunic and turned the Unum to show Sabrina the look. "I like it," I heard her say.
It wouldn't be my best outfit, not by far, but it would do. "Fine," I said, rotating the Unum back so I could see her. I wiggled my fingers in front of the screen. "My nails are yellow, though."
She shook her head. "You are going to be so late."
I stumbled down the curved stairs of our apartment, clutching the handle of my briefcase in one hand and fanning the fingers of the other hand to dry my nail polish. My mother, Karen, stood in the front hall, smiling at me and holding a titanium travel mug. She made two lattes every morning, one for me and one for my father, who was undoubtedly sipping his on the train already.
Even in my rush, I noticed that Karen's hair looked good. She'd finally mastered the four-quadrants-of-the-scalp method I'd shown her. The wavy part in the back was bone straight, tamed by the flatiron.
"Don't worry, honey. You'll make it. And you look great," she said brightly.
I kissed her on the cheek and grabbed the mug of latte, spilling some on the bamboo floorboards on my way to the front door. Pausing to flip the lid cover closed, I nicked my thumb on the plastic, and a streak of clear nail cut through the brown polish. I pursed my lips in frustration.
"Oh, Marla, don't have a big lunch." Karen had grabbed a dishtowel from the kitchen and was kneeling down to wipe the spill. "I'm trying a new paella recipe tonight."
"Sure. Your hair looks prime, by the way!" I called over my shoulder as I yanked the apartment door open and ran to catch the elevator.
Outside, a warm winter breeze rustled the sidewalk palm trees. I jogged past the white and yellow high-rises and held my hand out to stop traffic as I crossed two intersections. My station was just ahead. My coffee sloshing inside the mug, I flew up the railway steps as my train sighed to a stop at the platform. I joined the crowd pressing through the doors and looked around for a free seat.
I didn't bother trying to locate Braxton. I knew he would have caught an earlier train, just like Sabrina. Finding a spot, I laid my briefcase across my lap and released my breath in a loud exhale. I was never late for anything. I hated this feeling. Maybe, for a backup alarm, I could buy a second Unum ... or did we have an old alarm clock somewhere in the apartment?
The morning light danced across the domed ceiling of the train, and I sat back to watch it. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see heads turn as a few travelers recognized me. Hoping they weren't picking apart my outfit, I ignored them. I pictured my empty seat on the Superior Court bench — and Julia's look of disapproval — and willed the train to move faster.CHAPTER 2
Ivy let her legs hover in the open door of the urban utility vehicle before stepping out. Even though she was wearing a giant pair of Torro-LeBlanc sunglasses, she squinted in the glare of the camera flashes.
As usual, her bodyguards muscled through the crowd, clearing a path along the sidewalk to the store entrance. Fatima, her publicist, followed, with her Unum to her ear and her head cocked to one side. Ivy was next, surrounded by her nymphs. Madison and Aiko linked arms on either side of her, matching their strides to hers. Hilarie and Naia brought up the rear.
The procession moved slowly, not because the photographers blocked its way, but because it was an arranged photo op. As Fatima always reminded them, there was no point in going to so much trouble for blurry pictures. Ivy pressed her lips together in her signature pout, tilted her chin down, and stared directly into the camera flashes as she strutted forward.
Today she was modeling the Rudolfo label's armed-forces trend. She wore a tube dress in a fatigue pattern, combat boots, and a shiny necklace of dog tags attached end to end. A black leather bag with silver studs hung off her shoulder. Her nymphs were dressed in complementary fashion: Aiko had on a sailor dress; Hilarie wore baggy Gestapo pants and a T-shirt with TELL ME YOUR SECRETS printed across the front; Naia sported a bomber jacket and goggle headband. Madison wore a sleeveless jumpsuit of the same fatigue print as Ivy's dress. Ivy glanced at the bandoleer slung over her nymph's shoulder like a beauty queen's sash. She probably should have traded her necklace for the ammunition belt. It looked so tough and edgy on Madison. Oh, well. Too late now — obviously, she wouldn't debut the trend a second time.
Halfway to their destination, Fatima, who was still on the call, nodded to Ivy. Ivy cupped her hand over her mouth and whispered into Aiko's ear: "Time to laugh, girl."
Ivy and Aiko smirked at each other. Tiny giggles bubbled out of their mouths. Ivy quickly turned to Madison and whispered through a cupped hand: "I am the funniest person you've ever met."
The three girls exploded in laughter. Hilarie and Naia picked up the cue and joined in. All five of them directed their grinning mouths toward the cameras. As always, Ivy was careful not to expose too much gum or crunch her chin into her neck. She and her nymphs kept laughing as the bodyguards held open the doors to the Torro-LeBlanc flagship store and stopped only when the doors were firmly shut behind them.
Ivy relaxed her face muscles and massaged her cheeks. She was used to laughing at nothing, but it always felt kind of stupid. Her gaze rose to the screens that were mounted on support beams. Torro-LeBlanc was broadcasting the Pop Beat channel. Karizma was performing; the band's raw sound filled the vast store, from its cement and sea glass floor to its warehouse-style ceiling, where exposed gray pipes zigzagged in a wild maze. She hoped they would eventually play "Swollen." No matter how many hits she had, it still gave her a rush to hear her tracks broadcast in public.
Her bare shoulders were suddenly cold in the aggressive air-conditioning. "It's kind of freezing in here," she said to the nearest employee, a middle-aged man with a shock of dyed yellow hair.
"I'm so sorry, Miss Wilde. We'll fix that right away," he replied, and jogged to the back of the store. While she stood hugging her shoulders, she watched her entourage of nymphs drift magnetically toward the racks of clothes on shiny gold hangers. Torro-LeBlanc personal shoppers swarmed them, offering to assist. They had the store to themselves for an hour before it would be opened to the general public. Ivy swallowed a yawn — it was on the early side. But she'd be okay as soon as they got started.
Ready, set, shop. The lyric from the old Torro-LeBlanc ad came to mind, and she hummed it. Eyeing the new late-winter styles, she headed toward the racks.CHAPTER 3
With about a million other commuters, I got off at the Fashion Row stop in downtown La Reina. I guarded my latte carefully — that was all I needed this morning, to have someone freak out because I spilled a drop on their Zhang & Tsai jacket. Or worse, after making it all this way, to spill it on myself. I turned the corner and, freeing myself from the crowd, ran up the steps of Torro-LeBlanc. I pulled open the design house's heavy doors. Hurrying through the vast lobby of pink marble, I saw that the mannequins in their glass cases had been regarmented. There it was, the plumed velvet hat we'd approved a few weeks ago. Gorgeous, just as I remembered it. There wasn't time to pull out my Unum now. I could order it during the break.
A clog of employees blocked the gold elevators. As politely as I could, I snaked through, slipped into one that was almost full, and barked "five" at the voicebox. I looked at my watch as the doors closed. Eight fifty-eight. I would just make it.
The elevator doors parted on the fifth floor to reveal Julia waiting for me. Immediately, my stomach tightened.
She was wearing a black miniskirt and one of Torro-LeBlanc's latest pieces, a sleeveless sweater made of dyed-turquoise bear fur. She had one hand on her hip. The taut skin over her cheekbones sparkled in the hallway lights, and shiny gloss covered her unsmiling lips.
My apologies bubbled forth. "Oh my gosh, Julia, I'm so sorry. My Unum died and my alarm didn't go off. I don't know what's wrong with me. It won't happen again. Ever," I said in a gush.
Julia glanced at her wrist. "According to my watch, you're just under the wire, honey," she said in her deep and silky voice. But she still didn't smile. "Come." She cocked her head toward the end of the hall. "Let's walk and talk."
I swallowed and stepped out of the elevator. After working under Julia for nearly two years, I knew that to "walk and talk" was usually not a good sign. And to make matters worse, Julia was in four-inch platform heels today. The higher the heels, the slower the walk.
I prayed my stovepipes looked okay with the tunic.
"You've always delivered for us, Marla," she began, as she strode deliberately along the corridor to the garment-judging room. "You spent, what, only six months as a sifter before you were promoted to selector? Highly unusual, but Torro-LeBlanc believed in your talent."
It was actually five months, but I didn't correct her.
"And I'll never forget that frayed shawl you convinced the court to approve for the bohemian trend in the late fall line," Julia continued. "It remained a hot item for almost three months. You had an eye for the hot sellers."
I knew what shawl she was talking about. It had been so soft, its colors warm and rich like blurred chalk in the rain. I had taken a chance on it, and I'd been right. I didn't have the heart to throw mine away when its trendiness expired. I could see it in my head, balled up in the back of my closet at home. Karen didn't even know it was there.
"But for some time I've been wondering about your eye," Julia said. "What's happening with you? Garment lengths, sweater cuts, accessories ... these days, the court goes one way and you go the other. I'm noticing a lot of dissenting opinions. Or you're the only one sticking your neck out for something."
Was I? Last week, I had fought for a maroon opera cloak embellished with gold embroidery. The rest of the court had called it feeble and overruled my defense, but I had loved its romantic feel. The week before that, I'd been alone in defending a hemp bag that earned gagging noises from two other judges, including the almighty Henry. Okay, that one I might have been wrong about.
Sure enough, Julia confirmed my suspicions. "That cloak you voted to approve the other day. Let's be honest — it was absolutely hideous!"
I knew she wanted me to agree with her. "I guess you're right," I said slowly. "I thought it would align with the musketeer trend, though." The cloak came into sharper focus in my head. I remembered thinking it was charming, thinking the court had made a huge mistake not approving it. Was I really the one mistaken?
Julia looked at me for a moment and shook her head. "I don't want to stop believing in you," she said, turning to face me as we reached the garment–judging room door. "I have always told the sixth floor you remind me of a young me, during my days on the Superior Court." Her expression grew wistful, as it always did when she spoke of the past. "We made frosted eyeglasses the midwinter must-have before any other design house. It was a golden time." I resisted rolling my eyes. We heard about the eyeglasses approximately once a season.
"I have been the one convincing management that they should still believe in you too," Julia went on. "But you should know, Marla, that there are those who think you've peaked. After all, you're almost seventeen. There has been talk of moving you down to the basement ..."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "But I'm only — I'm not — that's not fair!" I stammered. I instantly thought of Winnie. "Winnie Summers was a judge until she was nineteen!"
"Winnie was an exception." Julia sighed. "You knew you wouldn't be on the court forever."
"But the basement? I thought I'd be an event planner or a shoot consultant when I got older. Or a catalog editor." I shuffled through Torro stats in my head. "Holcomb Flax became an editor. Shelley Mardirossian did runway prep."
That was the deal. Judges didn't end up in the basement. Especially judges like me. I remembered going down there on my first day of work, when my floor director gave the new sifters a tour. Hordes of drafters sat cramped together around tables in the dim light, sketching design after design, often going months without seeing one of their ideas endorsed for production. Most dressed badly because they worked on commission and couldn't afford to keep up with trends — but worse still, they were all so pathetically old.
Tears brimmed in my eyes, and I blinked them back. "Please, Julia. You can't do this to me. Torro is my life," I said.
Julia's voice grew silkier. "Now, honey, I know that you'll show them all. Get in there and remind everyone why you're on the fifth floor." She smiled, revealing a mouthful of perfectly even, polished white teeth. "I'm glad we had this talk."
I turned the knob and entered the brightly lit garment-judging room, followed by Julia. I was the last judge to arrive, and I could feel the others looking at the two of us curiously. As I sidled to my seat along the semicircular oak bench, I wondered if they knew what Julia had spoken to me about. Gossip traveled fast at Torro-LeBlanc.
My hands trembling, I removed my Tabula from my briefcase, set it on the bench, and turned it on. I opened a fresh template with the heading EARLY SPRING GARMENT REVIEW: NOTES BY JUDGE MARLA KLEIN. I glanced to my left where Sabrina sat. She mouthed the words Nice pants and gave me a small smile. Maybe I was overreacting.
"Very well, judges, let's begin," Julia announced. "Our first piece of the day is a knee-length double-breasted trench coat by drafter Kevin Chen."
As soon as the drafter wheeled his dress form into the judging room, I knew this garment would never be approved. No one was wearing knee-length coats these days, and gabardine hadn't been in for several seasons. Looking around at everyone's expressions of disgust, I could tell they all agreed. The coat itself wasn't bad-looking, but I wondered how it had made it all the way to the fifth floor.
Kevin stood next to the dummy, rubbing his hands together. "Hello, everyone," he began. "It's great to see you again. It's been a while." I felt Julia's eyes on me and didn't dare smile at him. He plunged on. "So here I have a piece that could compete with the Rudolfo armed-forces collection. I was going for sort of a classic officer thing." He waved his arms at us. "Imagine the front lines of battle, dirty-faced troops all around. An imposing figure cuts through the mist wearing ... this." He pulled on the coat's sleeve. "It's got that commanding feel, that mystique. Everyone's going to want one."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Material Girls"
Copyright © 2015 Elaine Dimopoulos.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
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