Written by Carl Malcolm

Dance music thumped and the bass from the speakers rattled Otto’s ribcage, adding an extra thrill to his already rapid-beating heart. A glossy, black catwalk split the crowd down the middle, and models strutted its length. Otto had an excellent view of the fashion show near the stage, but wasn’t watching the show; he was scanning the audience, watching for their reaction.

The crowd was a sea of pastels: baby-pink suits, powdered-mint shawls and duck-egg blue hats. It was the latest craze, and anyone who was anyone had snatched up the trend and shunned those who were late to the party. All the celebrities, fat cats, and skinny girls were dressed up like easter eggs. 

Each model was dressed in the same boring uniform as the one that had come before them; a black cape engulfed them from neck to foot, and an over-the-top headpiece. Just as Otto had suspected (but hoped otherwise) the audience was eating up this vapid display. Some in the crowd mouthed wow to each other while others nodded sagely, as if they’d somehow seen this coming. Otto rolled his eyes.

The last model made her turn at the end of the catwalk and the music receded as she returned backstage. Otto took a deep breath and wiped his palms on his trousers before climbing onto the stage himself. “And here is the man of the hour, the designer himself, Otto Nilsson!” The presenter’s voice rang sickly sweet over the speakers. Applause erupted from the crowd, they clapped and cheered like he was a rockstar. A stagehand ran up and gave Otto a mic, and he grimaced and waited for their noise to die off.

Otto raised the mic to his mouth and flinched at the squeal of feedback. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Hello everyone, I am Otto Nilsson.” Another round of cheers, thankfully more short-lived than the first. “Ah, yes. Thank you. I see that you all liked my line this season.” He nodded along with the clapping, his mouth was suddenly very dry. “But then what else should I expect from a group of sheep?” The large room fell into near silence, broken only by a stuttering applause from a few of the slower members of the audience.

Otto’s heart was hammering away in his chest and his face flushed with heat, but he carried on, “I designed this line as a test for you all, and I use the term ‘designed’ very loosely here.” He paced the stage before the now deathly-silent crowd. “I threw a plain black cape together with ridiculous headgear and you clapped like hungry seals. They look like gothic Teletubbies for crying out loud!” Otto threw his hands up in the air. “This isn’t fashion! Needless to say, you all failed the test. I don’t want to design if there are no critical thinkers left in this world.” Otto left the stage, his clipping footsteps lost in the confused murmuring from his fans.

The following week the clearance rack was awash in pastel shades and everyone was strutting about in their chic uniform of black capes and uncomfortable headwear, while Otto went into hiding and tried his hand at pottery.