The first round of interviews was finally over. HR told Camille that she would have to come back for another interview with the VP of Product Development who wasn’t available today.
That’s unusual. Most companies would make sure everyone was available so you only have to make one trip. There’s got to be a story behind that decision.
They called her just a few days later to schedule the next trip out. She was to arrive late afternoon and be taken to dinner by Laura Stern (no relation to Howard), the SVP over Product Development, and the person she would report to. For the interview that day, she figured she’d play it safe and wear a Trina Turk suit, professional with a sexy edge, her favorite Lucky mix and mess necklace, and black wedges she picked up in Paris the season before…the Parisians are always at least a season if not a year ahead of the US trends, so it’s easy to stay ahead of the curve if you travel. As for a bag, she deliberated…go with the Balenciaga knockoff a friend picked up for her in Hong Kong, or a reliable black nylon Coach bag? She ended up going with the Coach, only because it was lighter weight and a tad more ‘sensible’.
Camille had learned that although she represented companies from a fashion point of view, she did not have to personally embrace and wear every trend that emerged. It was more important to look professional and stylish enough to be believable, which meant being more trendy than most, but not laughable. She tended to be very picky about the clothes she bought, only because she was hyper-aware of how quickly trends come and go. After all, it was part of her job to jump on new trends to sell more clothes for her employer.
She was told by HR to fly up in the afternoon and take a cab to a restaurant called Kihachi. She was to meet Laura there at 6pm. Camille went online to check out the restaurant in question. Turns out it was a very traditional Japanese restaurant which was right up Camille’s alley. She had had the opportunity to travel to Japan many times when she was at The Cotton Committee, working on their fashion marketing team, giving fashion-forecasting presentations all over Europe and Asia. Japan was always her favorite because of the friendly people and the amazing, unique food. Camille was hoping that this would be fun.
Camille arrived before Laura, approximately 15 minutes early and was ushered to a table in the center of the small establishment, and ordered a hot green tea. She didn’t want to be presumptuous and order sake, although she was sorely tempted too.
I don’t know why I feel so nervous. How bad can she be?
She had heard from her friends in the industry that Laura was hell on wheels, a real terror. They had warned her not to take the position if she was offered it, as Laura was known for undermining her people, creating jealousy and rifts among staff and worse. At that same moment, a very tall woman came around the corner. Imposing and larger than life, Camille could tell this was not a woman to mess with. Her hair was extremely short and severely coiffed, like the actress Brigitte Nielsen. In fact, she was a bigger version of her, but more scary than pretty.
Camille began to mentally dissect her outfit-one of her pastimes that she couldn’t help but do, especially when she was nervous. She wore Chanel lace up boots that undoubtedly cost a month’s salary, a long black military jacket, possibly Gucci, and what looked like hot pants with Wolford velvet deluxe tights…had to be, anyone who buys Chanel boots isn’t wearing L’eggs underneath!
This outfit would have been amazing on a slender woman or someone wearing some serious Spanx, but she was neither. So there were rolls of flesh peeking out where they shouldn’t be…and the jewelry…good lord, it was weighing her down…loads and loads of heavy silver chains, pendants, multiples…hard to tell where one ended and the next started. The only thing that wasn’t overdone was her makeup. She had amazing porcelain skin…. good genes for sure. She had very glossy lips…MAC lip-gloss more than likely, and neutral eyes that had an uncanny way of accentuating the luminosity of her skin.
She sat down across from Camille, no introduction whatsoever. She motioned to the waitress, who seemed to know her well, and a large bottle of hot sake was produced in no time flat.
“Just because we are in the sticks, doesn’t mean we can’t eat well,” she began, “and I see from your resume that you’ve spent plenty of time in New York. Where do you live?”
“The real question is where I haven’t lived…” Camille started. “ I moved around a few times, and the only area of Manhattan I haven’t lived in was the Upper West Side.”
“So what business is your father in?”
“Um, he was a dermatologist, but died a few years back…” Camille couldn’t believe she asked a question so inappropriate!
“My father was a salesman and an alcoholic. He left my mother when I was 12 and I’ve never seen him since. I’ve had to work my ass off every day of my life to get where I am today…am I making myself clear?”
How should I respond to that? Anything I say is a potential land mine!
“You certainly have worked hard if you’ve made it this far. Your mother must be proud of you…”
“My mother committed suicide when I was 15, and I went to live with my uncle, who’s in the garment business. I started working for him at 16 and never looked back.”
Open mouth; insert foot…this is going worse than I thought…
She poured sake in Camille’s glass very carefully, as if it were precious elixir. She then poured herself a thimble, downed it, poured another, downed it, and poured another. “I hate these baby glasses the Japs use…so annoying! I tried to get them to let me use a wine glass, but they refused. I’d boycott the place, but the food is too good. Shimada-san! We’ll have the omikase tonight!” she yelled across the dining room, while Camille blushed with shame at her classless dinner companion.
Note to self, she must love the juice, and never tell her about any restaurants I frequent!
Dinner started promptly a few moments later…. Camille was sure the wait staff wanted to get her and her dining companion out as soon as possible. This being the beginning of fall in a traditional Japanese dining establishment, each dish brought out was tailored to the season. Camille noticed that the first dish they brought out had a gorgeous maple red gilt leaf on each plate. The plate itself was certainly handmade, in a complimentary yellow green, oval in shape, nestling a morsel of food in the middle that Camille was not familiar with. Certainly this was part of the interview, testing her ability to handle the unknown? “I’m not sure what this is…do you know Laura?” she queried. “Shimada-san! What are we eating?” Laura yelled back towards the kitchen. Shimada-san came shuffling out and stammered something that sounded like ankimo. Shimada-san didn’t seem to know what the dish was in English so Camille deftly pulled out her blackberry and quickly looked it up.
“Apparently it’s monkfish liver,” she stated without a moment’s hesitation. “Well go on, try it”, Laura quipped impatiently.
Camille deftly picked up her chopsticks and popped the whole ankimo in her mouth. How to describe heaven in one bite? Her first impression was salty, earthy, creamy and pungent all at the same time…in a word, sublime to Camille. She realized at that moment that her eyes were closed and she felt eyes bearing into her…Laura’s eyes. “So?” Camille looked at Laura and couldn’t tell what she was waiting for…her to retch and run out of the restaurant screaming?
“It’s heavenly,” Camille said, “one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten in my life! You haven’t tried yours…” she trailed off.
“Oh, I’ve had this so many times, it’s like eating a bowl of cereal.”
“I would NEVER get tired of eating this,” Camille gushed.
It was at that point that Laura cracked a tiny grin, and Camille had the impression that she was in, whether she wanted to be or not…
Laura started and ended the conversation with the following monologue. “I’m not crazy about fashion directors. Never have been. But I’ve been with Largesse about 4 months now and the trend and color is a mess. The buyers just sit around bickering about it endlessly and I’m sick of it. I need someone who can get in there and make them agree on a point of view, and frankly, I don’t care what it is, as long as it sells. So basically your role would be a glorified babysitter. Do you think you can handle that?” Laura didn’t seem to be looking for an answer to that question. She motioned to Shimada-san for another bottle of sake.
From that moment on, the ‘interview’, such as it was, seemed to be over and as Camille decided to relax into the extraordinary meal. She also realized a few things. Laura, for all her pomposity and attitude, seemed to be riddled with insecurities so if she were to be offered the job, she would have to remember to defer to her, coddle her, and generally make sure that Laura was always the ‘star’ in any given scenario. Not an easy task, when everyone looked to the Fashion Director for guidance. While she was mulling over that thought, the next course arrived. One of her favorite Japanese dishes, chawanmushi, an egg custard with tiny delectable morsels like gingko nuts, mushrooms and other unidentifiable tasty treats cooked inside. The texture is silky smooth and the flavor is earthy…Japan’s version of comfort food. Right behind that came the exact opposite in terms of flavor and texture…sawagani…tiny crabs flash fried whole and simply seasoned with Japanese salt…the overall impression was disturbingly crunchy and salty sweet at the same time.
The rest of the plates came out in a procession that started to feel like a food orgy, except for the fact that each course was so small and delicate that neither Laura nor Camille felt overly full. They ate through fresh water shrimp, sake soaked duck breast, spinach with sesame dressing, an amazing sashimi tasting with fresh uni in the shell, toro and some other fish Camille didn’t recognize, soft shell crab tempura as well as a few vegetable tempuras Camille thought were burdock and lotus root, a sushi course of the most succulent mouthwatering tuna and finally, a plate with fruit, which signified the end of the meal. It was comprised of Asian pear that appeared to have been lightly poached in sake and garnished with blackberries.
Camille felt like moving to Columbus just so she could eat here whenever she felt like it. The last plates were cleared and green tea was brought out. Laura looked at Camille with a blank stare and said “So?” “Laura, that was the most amazing meal! Thank you so much for bringing me here!” she gushed. “That’s not what I meant…the job. So are you on board?”
Was this an official job offer? And what kind of interview was that? She doesn’t know the first thing about me, except that I love Japanese food!
“Yes, I definitely am!” Camille replied, although at that moment she had no idea what she was getting herself into.
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