It was the same room, in the corner of the Mill, where Anjali had first met the Danish Chairman of the Board. But it was a very different room in many ways. The early-evening hour of this meeting suited Anjali. It helped her to slip through the invisible threads that kept everyone in their place at the Wetledale Weaving Mill. She was sure that she had little to lose: but she still did not want to run up against the Factory Manager or his Personal Assistant.
The Chairman of the Wetledale Weaving Company looked down at the drawings and careful descriptions that Anjali had sent to him, in the form of a personal letter with important documents enclosed, delivered by courier.
He splayed the garment designs across the oak of the table top, his eyes scanning over the coloured sketches and the highlighted words in the various descriptions.
‘I thank you for the copy of the designs that you used at our last Board meeting. It was an extraordinary thing to send these to me; and I see they are accompanied by your notes explaining almost every stitch.’
There was a mantlepiece clock on the bookcase at the back of the room which, Anjali suddenly noticed, was ticking, fast, like a heartbeat.
‘I am very interested in your designs, Anjali Darji,’ he said, taking her full name from her business card.
‘I have to tell you that I was not really a supporter of keeping the Wetledale Mill open. I was unconvinced of the long-term possibilities of the place. But the Factory Manager’s presentation to me was reasonable; and I wanted the unbiased view of the whole Management Board.’
He scanned the table top.
‘My view was swayed by the second meeting. But I am now questioning just what it was that swayed me.’
‘My designs were only intended to communicate clearly the important facts in the proposal,’ said Anjali, feeling that her work was being called into question.
‘Well then,’ he replied.
He stared down at the designs and the clock ticked onwards.
‘This is interesting,’ he said, still studying the designs. ‘The idea of such communication, such influence, through the subtle delivery of the essential message, whilst the cynical mind is otherwise occupied on the deceptive detail of the words.’
He looked up and leaned back in his seat.
‘It was an extraordinary thing to send these designs to me. What made you think of doing such a thing?’
‘I was looking into the river that runs through the valley and the idea came to me. I think this approach to garment design is a successful one. There are others who disagree. I realised, yesterday, that my concept of targeting design had no more permanence than a ripple on the surface of the water. I did not want this form of design to disappear back into the depths of the river from which it came. There was a chance that you could be interested. I realised that I had reached a point where there was nothing to lose.’
‘Well then,’ he said again.
And then, as if melting slightly, he added, ‘It is when looking across the delicate hoar frosts in the early morning in the woods around my home in Denmark, where my thoughts seem to be the clearest. Perhaps the things around us are always talking in the language that they feel we will most likely listen to.’
The beat of the clock seemed to have slowed. ‘Perhaps it is not the clock but time that is slowing,’ Anjali thought.
‘I find it engrossing how carefully you have set out the things that the audience needs to think. The conversion of logical thought into a message that the eyes receive and accept. The eyes are the weak point in the human armour of logic. The eyes do not approach the message with the cynicism that reasoned thought allows. The eyes accept things for what they are – or rather what they appear to be. In your design, the argument looks strong. The impression is given that the Factory Manager’s approach is certain to succeed. Seeing is certainly believing.’
He leaned back in his chair again.
‘On looking closely at your work, I grow more convinced that I have suffered from fashion being used against me.’
Anjali was moved to defend her work again, but something came out of nowhere and stopped her.
‘I am surprised at my reaction to this,’ the Chairman continued. ‘But having been on the receiving end of such an initiative, and being convinced that my view was influenced by the messaging of your designs to a greater extent than I would admit to the other Board Members…..
Take note of that Anjali Darji,’ he said suddenly and emphatically. ‘These are confidential matters.’
His tone changed as sunlight breaks through a hole in a blanket of grey clouds.
‘Nevertheless, I am keen to discuss the nature of your work, and very probably also its further possibilities.’
He breathed in like a swimmer about to dive into the melee.
‘It reminds me of those models of faces that contain the elements of the human face, but reversed outwards. When the model is side-on you can see it for what it is – the negative of a human face. Then the model turns so that the reversed-out human face turns towards you. The design is released, and all you can see is a normal face. Even though you know it is a device, you cannot force your brain to see past it.’
He rose from his seat and wandered to the windows in the corner of the office, as if looking to ensure they were not being observed from the street beyond the windows.
He turned back to Anjali, his form set against the orange light rising from the deserted streets.
‘Our Family, if we are honest with ourselves, are just weavers of coarse wool. This damp valley is probably the ideal place for us. But like everyone, we want to be the best in the world at something. And – as is often the case – the one thing that we want to be the best at is actually something that we are not yet very good at.’
He looked across the room, and she followed his eyes to three posters, set in powder-blue frames, promoting a range of fabrics.
‘The manufacture of great garments is a brutal market, where fashion outweighs achievement. There are certain materials we have developed that should be far better appreciated than they are. I often consider how we could and should better communicate our achievements to an ever more cynical audience.’
He returned to his chair and sat down.
‘As a family business, we are also prone to firm and inflexible confrontation. Our plans come together like explosions in reverse. Each project is picked out of the shrapnel of a series of explosions. The wounds most likely never properly heal. Just one explosion in ten, if we are lucky, will end in something that is workable.
If I had the power to communicate conviction and outcome in a more irresistible fashion, I sense there would be less blood on the carpet.’
He smiled for the first time since Anjali first met him.
‘I find your idea of targeted design intriguing. I have been on the receiving end of such a weapon and I am, as a consequence, keen to develop it further and see how the cut and thrust of my adversaries in business could be better controlled.’
He looked at her, and Anjali recognised the look of resolution that she had seen at the end of their first meeting.
‘The question I have is how keen are you? If you wish to pursue this idea then you must come to Denmark. There are things that, I know from experience, require a close eye on their development. I have seen many good ideas come to nothing because someone, somewhere, did not want it to succeed.’
He gathered Anjali’s designs together, placed them back in the envelope and handed the envelope to her.
‘Come to Denmark, that is the commitment I need. We will give it a year and then see where we are. Agreed?’