Jacintha Slie had helmed the local charity fashion show with aplomb for 10 glamorous years. As the owner of an eponymous, impeccably curated boutique in the town, she considered herself a maven of the fashion scene and the only person in this enclave of Berkshire remotely qualified to steer the fundraiser.
Each year Jacintha, who had done some catalogue modelling in the 1980s, opened the fashion show, closely followed down the runway by a retinue of her most attractive customers. As she invariably recruited in her own image, the models were all sample-size slim blondes d’un certain age with a glow that was a little bit Verbier, a little bit Sauvignon.
This year’s event, however, had begun to go wrong the moment the committee appointed social media star Sienna Seaton as co-chair. Sienna’s pop-up boutique opposite Jacintha’s on the high street had infuriatingly refused to pop off. For eight long months Jacintha had watched from her leopard-print eyrie while influencers and followers breezed in and out of the shop, hashtagging Sienna’s pretty kaftans and gurning for selfies in the changing room.
Initially, Jacintha had tried to keep her enemy close by assuming a mentoring role. In the deli queue, she’d nudge the social media darling with playful disapproval if she went in for extra chorizo. But when Sienna not only proved ungrateful for the guidance but began spouting nonsense about authenticity and the importance of role models being real women, Jacintha could only imagine she must have hit a nerve with her arriviste, snowflake rival. Fortunately, Jacintha preferred the company of men, and only really got along with women when they were buying triple-ply cashmere from her, so it was hardly a blow.
Only when previously loyal members of the committee were heard mumbling about the “dated aesthetic” of Jacintha’s event did her angora gloves come off in earnest. Insult was heaped on injury when her hard-won, longstanding sponsorship deal with an artisan dog-food firm was pulled in favour of Sienna’s offer of a generous marketing spend and free samples for all ticket-holders from a prestigious champagne house. But the most painful moment came when Sienna excitedly announced that she’d managed to get Cara to open the show. This moment of glory was the most cherished perk of the job as far as Jacintha was concerned, and the thought of being sidelined at her own show left her an uncharitable shade of green.
On the night, the sold-out church hall was abuzz. The paparazzi and press had been lured by the promise of an A-list appearance; and backstage in the vestry Sienna’s phone pinged with updates on Cara’s progress along the M4. Jacintha, meanwhile, paced, snapping at make-up artists and loudly suggesting that some of the models might want to pop on a second pair of Spanx. When Sienna put down her phone to help a nervous model with her beach waves, Jacintha furtively looked around her, before seizing the chance to alter her destiny.
With a swipe of her finger on Sienna’s taxi app, Jacintha arranged for Cara to be delivered not to the church hall, but to Sienna’s house, 17 miles away. After setting the phone to silent to conceal any calls from Cara, she deftly placed her coat and bag on top of it and smiled casually as “call” time came and went. By the time Sienna located her lost mobile and realised her horrifying mistake, Cara had given up and headed back to town.
Luckily for the audience, Jacintha was runway-ready. Like a treacherous understudy, she had contoured her cheekbones, checked her teeth for lipstick and slid into Cara’s ethical faux‑leather opening outfit before the supermodel’s car had even turned around in Sienna’s driveway. So, at the exact moment Sienna collapsed in a heap in the refectory, lamenting the publicity and money she had desperately hoped to garner for the local hospice, Jacintha was already halfway down the runway, fêted for saving the day.
After all, as Jacintha advised the audience and the empty-handed press at the end of the show, “it’s absolutely vital that role models are real and accessible women who support one another. We live in the age of authenticity…”