The Tailor is a narrative developed using Glanside Creative Techniques

Chapter 5: Trying Out

Threads, Anjali and Panya’s company, hired a room for storage higher up Arrow Street, and used the limited space released at the back of their shop to construct and equip a consulting room; a room with just enough girth to display garments and just enough privacy to engage with the hoped-for customers.  

The consulting room inevitably became cluttered with that equipment for tailoring that is only occasionally needed, or might just be needed at some stage.  This trade clutter gave an environment and focus to the garment/client interaction that Anjali found even to be helpful.  

There is an acceptance that ‘things that look as they should, most probably will function as they should.’  This rule is as applicable to the design of any garment, as it is to the feeling of a tailor’s consulting room.  Anjali’s cluttered consulting room, like any good garment, was designed to an idea, but soon wore into an exact and comfortable fit.  

*  

It was no surprise to either of the women running ‘Threads of Arrow Street’ that, as in life so in fashion, everything is a struggle; and what works today would not have worked yesterday and could never have worked tomorrow.  The muddled and muddy river of circumstance flows freely and never freezes, and all you can do is pick your moment and leap into the dark.   

Anjali grasped quickly that her early customers must be comfortable with the need to get to the bottom of things with haste.  The client required an interest in – and preferably a love of – clothing as well as at least some understanding of a garment’s intrinsic role in how others see us.  This much she had identified during the sleepless nights that are the sure bedfellows of a tailor pondering a ‘possible opportunity, but potential distraction.’  

There were, it was soon plain, few regular customers who were of a mind to embrace the opportunity of progressive fashion.  Any spark of interest that might have taken hold was soon blown out; for the whole town was in the embrace of an easterly wind which carried late winter snow over the mountains and biting down onto the valley.  

The ‘alterations consulting room’ consumed a large measure of coffee and fashionable biscuits but delivered little beyond the snaring of some extra alteration work, for which the profit was so thin it was see-through.  The theory of ‘fashion through progressive alteration’ seemed to be an illusion and perhaps even a delusion. There were soon tensions twisting between the two business partners, which threatened to tear open the seams of ‘Threads of Arrow Street.’  

‘We are doing more work for no extra profit.  That is not a motivator for me in this business,’ said Panya quietly, as another long day was sewn up over some chamomile tea.   

‘Panya is so capable,’ thought Anjali. ‘Everything flows like cotton through a machine needle when she is running the business.’  

A good garment is so designed that if there are tensions, which could lead to its rupture, it will give across a secondary seam.   

‘It seems that I am now the secondary seam of Threads,’ thought Anjali.  ‘The tension is rising, and the tempers are fraying.  I must be the one that gives a little.’  

The friction was eased by Anjali conceding a date by which there must be an agreed, detailed and measured amount of material progress towards her design.   

‘Otherwise I will return, as I promised you Panya, to the alterations and repairs that we both understand to be the solid foundation underpinning Threads of Arrow Street.’  


Chapter 6: The bend in the river

With her dream of ‘fashion design by successive alteration’ now at risk, Anjali gave herself permission to do those things that only become conceivable when one is facing failure.   

It was in her ‘Geometric Form and Perspective in Dress’ workshop in the town hall annex that Anjali met Eileen, mother of three at home and personal assistant to the Factory Manager at work.  The names of Anjali’s workshops were designed to appeal to those Townspeople either prepared to consider radically different perspectives on dress or, at the very least, with a curiosity driven by pressing need.  Eileen was prepared, pressed and in need.  

‘I work in one of the last weaving mills in Wetledale,’ Eileen related over the fashionable Duchy biscuits which Panya had described as “certainly conducive”.  ‘We are wool weavers, mixing local and imported wool.  I am a Personal Assistant to the Factory Manager.  We were partly owned by a holding company, which took the decision to buy out the other shareholders and take control.  This decision was expensive, and now the family that owns our factory looks for a return.  We cannot continue as we are.  We must become more profitable.’  

A good tailor is a good listener.  The fine detailing on a stitched hem, or an embroidered lapel, can only be achieved by pinpoint attention and an informed decision as to where next to place the needle.  Anjali waited for her first real client to recover the thread of her story, whilst ensuring that there were enough Duchy biscuits on Eileen’s china plate.  

The wind, rattling the extractor fan in the consulting room’s small window, lulled. Eileen continued.  

‘The representatives of the Danish owners came to view the weaving mill’s operations last week.  They were accompanied by a lady with striking red hair.  It is rumoured that she will take over the running of the factory.  The Owners feel they need an outsider’s eye to make the significant changes that are required to achieve the profits they now crave – and which they have already written into their business plan.’  

She reached into her case for a brown document file. She glanced inside; her forehead creased.  Then she set the file down on the table and seemed to forget it was there.   

‘The red-headed lady is dressed for the part she is auditioning.  She looks in control.  The colour is confidence and capability.  The cut is planning and precision of decision.  You know that she can take people with her, because you are taken with her.  The Danish family will trust her because she is tailored to the requirement and groomed for reconstruction.  My Factory Manager is struggling with this.’  

Eileen’s face creased again, and Anjali could see that her memory had thrown her back into those difficult days of discussion with the new owners.   

‘There is something in the Danish spirit,’ Eileen said carefully, ‘which believes in design as the proof of reliability.  My Factory Manager said to me last week, this Danish takeover is a Viking raid sewn out of damask; this bloody damask is a battle-ax for which we have no answer.’  

‘Anjali,’ Eileen paused, and then she regained her momentum like a runner realising that somewhere ahead there must be the finishing line, ‘we are not colourful people in the valley of Wetledale, but we do have a determination riven out of the grey slate from the mountains.  So, I think to myself, we must fight fire with fire.  I saw the posters for your workshop, and I thought, this is the fire we need.’   


Chapter 7: Light

On the 15th day of March, Anjali recalled, a middle-aged man arrived at the shop counter just as they were trying to shut.  It was a Friday, and the needs of the coming weekend were bringing in the ‘after-work’ customers, anxious to recover their ironed and neatly folded clothing.  The ladies kept the door of the shop open late on a Friday, but the week had been busy, and their fingers were sore and the crackle of a fire in a home hearth was beckoning.  

The strained and bearded man introduced himself as the Weaving Factory Manager, whom Anjali felt she knew already from the descriptions Eileen had given. He spoke in a continuous unbroken drone, with few intervals between the sentences, sounding like a sewing machine fastening a hem in place.  It was clear that, to him, this was just another difficult task on another difficult day. It was another difficult day of work and it must be endured.  

It was late on a damp Friday and Anjali was tired, but the approaching deadline she had agreed with Panya was pressing.  She escorted the Factory Manager behind the shop counter and through to the tailor’s consulting room.  

She left him there for a moment to prepare the refreshments, which were part of the ritual that reshaped a routine business interaction into a warm discussion.  When she returned, he was closely examining some garments which had been placed over mannequins in a corner of the room for the night. He turned quickly away, with the flavour of a boy caught with his hand in a jar of fashionable biscuits and took a seat at the table.  

*  

Anjali’s first question to the Factory Manager was like a gentle pressure on the foot pedal of a sewing machine, and he replied to the prompting of her question with the same mechanical intonation.  

‘We sat around the table with our new owners. It is one of those meetings where it is essential to consider all possibilities.  To challenge the new possibility, to suggest that the old ways, the old organisation, can still deliver, is the sign of the closed mind which is not capable of embracing the necessary change.  We are introduced to the woman with red hair, who joins us at our roundtable discussion.  She is newly appointed and currently on project work.  She presents her ideas to the meeting, and her dress says, “believe this person, trust this person, put your support in this person”.  It is their eyes and not their ears that reassure them.  Seeing is believing, they think. Words are just sound, and sound is dishonest and twisted.  What you see, you know to be true.’   

He put the palm of his left hand beneath his chin and banged the table several times gently, but repeatedly, with one mechanical fist.  

‘Every doubting Thomas, disbelieving what he hears, will believe what his eyes tell him.  Every doubting Thomas is convinced by the statements made through the cut, colour and texture of premeditated dress.’  

Again, he repeatedly beat the table; the frustration was still there as he continued.  

‘You can put a thousand figures in front of an Investor.  You can demonstrate a solid track record.  But any investment is a leap of faith – but understand – it is a leap of faith insured by the impression, the gut feel. You put on a tailored suit with a hand-dyed tie, and you stand amongst twenty other people with tailored suits, their individuality, their distinction, expressed in just that tie.  It is the same hammer that strikes in the same old way.  

The Danish Directors have seen the confident look of a bespoke suit, a carefully ironed shirt and a tightly creased seam; and they have seen that fashion fail a hundred times already.  This woman with the red hair is someone who strikes with a different hammer and from a very different direction.’   

He paused and took a Duchy biscuit from its neat cardboard box.  It was an oval ginger biscuit, and he pointed it at Anjali, marking the rhythm of his words with one blunt end.   

‘I have people who have relied on me.  They have put their trust in me.  Now at the end of this cold winter the business – its purpose and its structure – unfreezes and everything is uncertain. I am responsible to these people whose loyalty has brought me the success I have savoured, before today.’  

The biscuit paused reflectively.  Anjali was just beginning to think that she should press him further. Then, and abruptly, the rattle of the factory manager started again with purpose.  

‘I acknowledge the way you unzipped something assured and persuasive in my Personal Assistant. And I sense – and my Assistant is convinced – that you can help us.’  

The Factory Manager stopped again, as if he had run to the end of this section of his address.  

‘How do you want us to help you?’ asked Anjali eventually.  

There was a moment’s pause whilst the Factory Manager looked up at the ceiling. There he found the material he needed, and started up again.  

‘You can help me by increasing certainty.  You can help me by stitching persuasion into presentation. You can help me by alteration, so that everything we wear radiates the message of confidence we need to transmit to this Danish audience; this audience that is already inclined to doubt that the Wetledale Weaving Mill is competent to achieve their expectation without their close control.’  

‘I have a little influence, which I have used to be allowed to pitch an alternative proposal to the Danish Chairman, whom they have already appointed to the holding company to oversee our weaving business.  I need to make a case to him, to win the chance to present to all the Family members on the Board.  This is now a clash of credibility.  I need to win the right to convince through this presentation; but I can lose that right before I enter the room if I do not wear that confidence and belief – that is hidden inside me – on both of my sleeves.’  

He sat back and folded his arms, rocking just slightly as if needing to comfort himself, yet being taken by surprise by that need.    

‘I need to succeed in this pitch to the Danish Chairman on Wednesday afternoon.  I have produced good figures – and the red-headed lady will have produced good figures.  This is then a brawl in which confidence is the shield, and credibility becomes the battle-ax.’  

He came to a halt.  It was clear that the string of information that he wished to lay in front of Anjali was complete.   

Anjali let a stretch of silence fall between them until she felt that he was more likely to listen.   

‘Confidence and credibility are at the core of our designs,’ she said as reassuringly as a flagging Friday would allow.  ‘The movement of fabric, the capability that it possesses to accentuate every essential idea, is the mechanism.’  

He was listening now.  Anjali started on the detail that she needed him to understand, approve, and believe.  

‘If I can understand what the garment needs to convey,’ she said slowly, allowing the pauses to underline the words, ‘I can help you.’  

He looked relieved and very tired.    

‘I can stitch together the messages that must be communicated.  It is like striking certain notes on a piano with greater emphasis.  These are the notes that will carry the composition.  Clothing is the means by which we enhance the correct material, the required reality.  A garment highlights certain notes and softens others.  We want the right notes to come through.’  

He nodded once and she continued. ‘But I must tell you that a message sent, and a message received are two very different things.  I will study the trends in Danish design as comprehensively as I can in the time I have available to me.  You must tell me as much as you can about the person we need to convince on Wednesday.  And exactly what it is he needs to believe if this proposal – this presentation – is to be something that inspires confidence and conveys credibility.’  

*  

They talked over the history of the Danish investment company and the people behind it.  They discussed what it was that the family business owners needed to believe.  They talked over what the Family’s concerns might be.  The cloth of emotion, the succession of stitches of emphasis or distraction, the reinforcement that these would require, all of this was formed and fashioned as Anjali made her notes.  

They talked on until Anjali felt the exhaustion of the week causing all the colours of her thoughts to run into each other.   

‘I think it wise that you accompany me to the presentation to the Chairman,’ the Factory Manager repeated to Anjali as she showed him out of the shop and into the dark street. ‘I will introduce you as an assistant, who has contributed much to the proposal, which is no more than the truth.   

The next presentation to the full board must be completely convincing.  If you are there, you will better understand what the Danish Family needs to see and – well – what statement every part of the design must convey.’   

He pulled on his crumpled coat as he stepped into the street.  The orange of the sodium streetlight was reflecting damp from the black pavement.  

‘I will instruct my PA to send you any further documents that she thinks might help.  We have just four days to pull something together, and to make sure that we are coordinated enough for your work to be effective.’  

He sucked the cold street air through his closed teeth.  

‘The coordination will be easier this time; easier than it will be the next time.  Should this strategy with the Chairman succeed, the presentation to the Danish Family Board Members will be troublesome.’  

This painful thought cut lines into his face.  He turned and strode mechanically towards the end of Arrow Street.  

*  

The package that arrived on the desk of the Personal Assistant to the Factory Manager of the Wetledale Weaving Company consisted of notes, accompanying drawings and designs that would ensure a positive outcome to the imminent encounter with the Danish Chairman.  

In the accompanying instructions Anjali had written, ‘There is no time to change what I am doing.  I am sending this to you, at this time, so that you are prepared, rather than because we have the luxury of changing anything.’   

‘What is your opinion of this?’ said the Factory Manager to his PA from behind his desk.  

Instead of answering this question directly, his PA replied, ‘The alterations Anjali made to a two button jacket I wore to work.  I was far from sure.  It was you who informed me that the jacket served its purpose adequately.  Not glowing praise per se, but quite a significant comment given these distracting times.’  

She waited for a reaction.  When none came, she added, ‘We have no choice but to go along with this, and no reason not to.  I will ensure that everything is arranged and presented as she instructs.’  


Chapter 8: Reflection

It was the evening of the following Wednesday.  Anjali and Panya were sitting around the table in their cluttered consulting room.  The streets of the town were nearly deserted, and a late-evening silence filled the empty shop.

When Anjali returned, Panya was there waiting.

‘Panya will be there waiting,’ thought Anjali as she struggled through the backdoor of the building, her keys clattering to the floor as the door closed behind her.

‘I wanted to hear how it all went,’ said Panya. ‘You have worked hard for this, and we should not let these moments pass us by.’

Anjali laid her work file on the back table with the same care she would have laid down one of the Four Vedas.  She took a seat at the table, which was still covered with the evidence of last-minute adjustments from the previous evening.

‘The room where we met the Danish Chairman,’ she said with some fatigue lining her face, ‘was a panelled office sitting in one corner of the factory, so that its windows looked down onto the town in two directions.’

Anjali paused for a moment, and then seemed to catch the required thread.

‘I felt comfortable as soon as we entered.  The design appeared simple, but that simplicity allowed the decorative elements – implicit also in the layout of the furnishing – to shine through.  This was not about simplicity, this was about clearing any distraction and allowing the core theme to communicate.  It was not the negation of detail; it was the mechanism which would ensure a fine focus on the detail that was being emphasised.

The power of influence-by-design is about understanding the thought patterns of your audience and changing your approach, in such a manner that your communication targets those patterns.  It is the action of the virus, adapting itself to the structures it must connect with.  I could sense it, Panya. The cut and the fine embroidery of the Factory Manager’s suit, and the way the symbols were carried through the materials that ornamented his presentation.  I could feel everything was right.  I knew it would give an inevitability to the outcome he was predicting through his presentation.’

Anjali’s string of impressions became tangled, and Panya slowed her down by asking, ‘This is the ornamentation on your jacket also?’

‘You cannot sit around the table,’ Anjali replied, ‘without being part of the performance.  I only thought of that yesterday.’

Anjali looked across the room and saw again the crisis of twenty-four hours ago.

‘I can take such trouble over the line of a stitch, and then I miss something as obvious as that.  The same cut and embroidery motive is reflected in this jacket.  I was struggling to see the movement of the needle by the time I had the last stitch in place.’

‘We were in the Chairman’s office of the weaving mill I think?’ prompted Panya. Anjali looked back towards her.

‘Panya is like the river,’ she thought. ‘She carries everything with her.  Everything that falls into her influence is conveyed towards some outcome that Panya has in mind for it.’

Panya waited quietly until, in time and inevitably, Anjali continued.

‘I was even more convinced that the approach was right as we began to follow the formalities that were woven through the whole meeting.  We sat around drinking sharp coffee from simple cups and everything on the table coordinated with them: the bottles of water on a carved wooden tray that ran down the centre: the table markers that indicated each person’s place. There were four pictures on the wall, each with an intensity of colour and form.  If you visualize a picture carved out of ice, then imagine that these are the counterparts to that picture.’

‘How was the Factory Manager’s presentation?’ asked Panya.  ‘He does not communicate easily I think.’

‘It was not that Factory Manager who arrived at our counter last week who opened the presentation.  It was someone with confidence, who knew that each word was sharpened and pushed through with that efficiency that flows from good design. As he gestured, the fabric of the garments captured the mood that was required.  The Factory Manager created the words and responded to the questions, but alongside that was the message that I had stitched together; a message of quiet capability, of steady advance to a certain end.

Fashion was hard at work in the boardroom.  My design of course embroidered the truth; but in a way that made the truth more credible rather than any distraction from that truth.

The Chairman nods as he follows the thread of inevitability that was stitched through every heading, picture and chart.

The design soaks away his uncertainties, and the nature of the Chairman’s questions changed.  The spotlight moved away from whether the Factory Manager’s plan could be accomplished, and began to shine instead on how it might be implemented.  The design was accepted; and now what mattered was how the finishing touches would be applied.

The meeting came towards its conclusion.  There were a few ‘alterations-for-form’ that the Chairman added like a stamp of Danish approval.

After a sprinkling of more formalities, the Factory Manager showed me out through the deserted offices.  He handed me a cheque for the work I had done, saying that he would not want me to be out of pocket, as there was further work to be done before the presentation to the full Board of Directors.  I am to ring him at seven thirty tomorrow morning for his thoughts.’

Panya rose and squeezed gently Anjali’s shoulders together.

‘Well done, Anjali.’

It was an action that Anjali would never have expected of Panya.

‘This is good work,’ she said.

Anjali was quiet for a while.

Panya waited, for waiting was what was required at that moment.

‘The next meeting will be more formal,’ said Anjali eventually.  ‘The Factory Manager and his Financial Manager will be presenting.  I know that I need to dress them with a discreetly altered design.  There was much that was right, but there are things that will not work with a more divided audience.’

‘What are your thoughts?  What changes do you need Anjali?’

‘I think the dress needs to speak of machine precision.  The Danish directors need to feel the complete commitment to act in the interests of their authority.   But I also want a reference to this valley and its history.  The people who will run the Wetledale Weaving Mill know the ways of the valley.  They can be relied upon to take-in-hand the change that is needed, but they also have the unique strength of knowing those things that need to stay the same.’

Panya waited until she was sure that Anjali had finished.  She did not want to interrupt Anjali’s moment of reflection.  Reflecting was a good thing for Anjali to do at that moment.

Then Panya said, ‘I bought a small bottle of sparkling wine.  It is a very special occasion.  I thought we should celebrate in the local way.  It is a small token and a recognition of something of significance that we have achieved.’

Panya opened the bottle and poured a precise amount into each glass.

‘It is perverse,’ Panya added. ‘But I just felt that this was no time to tempt fate, you see.’

‘Look at this cheque, Panya,’ said Anjali, as her effervescent white wine leaped against the rim of its glass.  ‘We earned more from this one presentation than we could earn in two weeks of repairs and alterations.’