Finally, showtime. Ace left the backstage flurry to Lucien and his capable crew. He took up a position near the runway entrance, waiting on his cue to announce the line. Most designers would be nervous at this time. But it was in this moment—with the crowd buzzing, the music pulsating, the back room a frenzy of models in various states of undress—that Ace became calm. He looked out at the audience, and though the lights prevented him from seeing her, imagined his mom and her best friend in the fifth row. His eyes scanned the front rows, where the stars were clearly visible. The huge rapper and his reality-star wife. The talk-show mogul and her lifelong BFF. The young pop artist topping the charts and the record executive who’d discovered her. The NBA star and his too-live crew. Just as the coordinator signaled that they were about to begin, Ace noticed someone else—Maxwell Tata.
“One minute, Mr. Montgomery.”
Ace didn’t have time to react or to figure out which assistant he needed to fire. He straightened the cuffs on his tunic-style pantsuit, an original OTB design, and it was five, four, three, two…
“Good evening! Tonight it is my honor to present an idea several years in the making. Clothes not just for any woman, but for those who think outside the box. These designs were inspired by women like my mother—strong, fierce, exquisite—and like the well-known woman closing out this show. The wait is over. Introducing Out of the Box’s new creation, OTB Her!”
Seconds after the music changed, London burst through the curtain. The wide-legged jumpsuit covering her body came alive as she walked on nine-inch wooden wedge heels that closely resembled the two-foot stilts she’d wear at the end. The wedges were one of the show’s signatures, worn by all the models. But none of them walked in them quite like London did. She reached the end of the runway and became almost robotic in her movements. The crowd broke out in applause. Ace watched as even the jaded celebrities clapped and cheered. London’s star quality couldn’t be taught, rarely even honed by those with the best intentions.
Eighteen looks followed London’s strong beginning: suits, dresses, separates, coats. Then it was time for the finale. They’d rehearsed it several times. Ace was convinced it would go off without a hitch. But he was nervous. A lot was involved.
The music changed. Sounds of thunder rumbled through the building. Special bulbs caused lightning to flicker across the stage and throughout the room. London crouched behind a screen that made her appear twenty feet tall. A murmur ran through the crowd. She stood. The crowd went wild. The lion’s mane of hair that had been pinned up in previous walks now swung past her backside. She came around the curtain on two-foot stilts, walking on them like they were the Nikes she’d worn on the trail. Camera flashes shot off from every direction. The crowd followed her as with one set of eyes. She reached the center of the runway, stopped and posed. It was unexpected. The customary walk for all models was all the way to the end. A Plexiglas cylinder dropped from the rafter. A collective gasp. And then came the rain. Thunder. Lightning. And London, expertly recreating the look that was plastered all over the world.
Standing ovation. The show was a wrap. In that second, OTB became the star of fashion week.
Ace snaked through the packed backstage crowd with determined strides. He reached his destination, picked London up from where she sat and slowly twirled them around.
“You were amazing,” he whispered, uncaring of the flashes going off around them. “You’ve not only put OTB Her on top. You’ve changed the runway game.”
“It was your vision,” London said, eyes beaming.
Ace knew the adrenaline was still pumping. Shows like this were a model’s dream.
“London, over here!”
“Excuse me, Ace, can I get a photo of you two together?”
“That ending was genius!”
Ace tried to field as many questions as possible. A firm arm kept London close to his side. Frida slipped him a note. He read it and nodded.
“Let’s get you changed,” he whispered to London. “100 Proof and other investors are hosting a celebration party. They’re waiting for us.”
A small skirmish caused Ace to turn around. A large bodyguard pushed his way through the crowd. Behind him was the man Ace had forgotten about until this moment.