For Ages
12 to 99

Catwalk is a part of the Catwalk collection.

IN Catwalk, DEBORAH GREGORY creates a new YA series that takes her famously upbeat urban voice and combines it with the appeal of Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model. Catwalk follows Pashmina, Felinez, Angora, and Aphro, four best friends at Manhattan’s Fashion International High School who are about to enter the contest of their lives. Each year, students split up into Fashion Houses and compete to design, produce, and show fully original fashion lines. The winner gets a scholarship, a professional show, and a real shot at a career in fashion. Bouncy, smart, and nearly irresistible, Catwalk is a fierce introduction to a fashion world where fabulosity trumps waist size, and there truly is room for everyone.

An Excerpt fromCatwalk

My younger sister, Chenille, says that I prance instead of walk. I should, since my motto is Sashay, parlay! Even Fabbie Tabby knows how to work it like a cat on a hot tin ramp. You can tell by the way she prances on the heels of my bare feet as I patter down the creaky hallway to the bathroom. My mom hates when I walk around without shoes on the craggy wooden floors, but I'm feeling too wiggly this morning to be on splinter patrol. Once I hit the cold faux-marble bathroom floor, I fling open the purple paisley plastic shower curtain, swiping Fabbie Tabby in the process.
"So sari," I apologize to my kitty sister, to whom I bear a striking resemblance. See, we both have the same ultraslanty hazel eyes, pushed-in nose with wide-splayed nostrils, and bushy sprout of golden auburn hair (mine on my head; hers from head to tail). The only way we differ: Fabbie has a plumpalicious hinie, which I push out of the way so I can squeeze sideways into the too-tiny shower stall, but then I stub my big toe hard on a chipped tile. Serves me right for dismissing my beloved boo.
I'm feeling like a bona fried frittata today for good reason. It's my first day back to school, and now that I'm a junior I'm finally eligible to run in the most important elections in the fashion galaxy: house leaders in the annual Catwalk fashion show competition. If I don't snag one of the five highly coveted nominations, however, then I will not have a reason to survive like Gloria Gaynor.
"Oh, no, not I! I will survive!" I screech along to the hyped hook of my mom's favorite disco song like it's a motivational mantra. Chenille swears that I sound like a cackling jackal. So what if I can't sing? I'm just trying to put myself on blast, okay? What I desperately need right now is a blast of hot water, because everything is about to be on like popcorn.
Everything except the hot water, I realize after I turn the screeching knob and watch the pathetic dribbles sputter from the shower nozzle.
"Chenille!" I scream at the top of my lungs, because now I'm feeling extra crispy. Serves me right. I can't believe I let that early-bird specialist take a shower first when I know how rickety the hot-water situation is. All you have to say are the words "broken" or "repair" and our landlord Mr. Darius's English takes a magic carpet ride to Babbleland. It doesn't matter how many times my mother complains and the repair guy futilely descends into the building's danky Tomb Raider basement. The water situation remains chilly to tepid. The truth is, that relic of a boiler needs to be replaced with a new one from this century. And despite the fancy-schmancy name of our housing complex--Amsterdam Gardens--there are merely a few wilting shrubs on the premises. Any green thumb Mr. Darius has is from counting the thick stack of Benjamins he collects monthly in rent.
"Get out of here--caboose babaluse!" blasts Mr. Darius, his loud combustible rant rising from the courtyard into my second-floor bathroom window. That's precisely why we call him Big Daddy Boom behind his back.
Standing over the bathroom sink, I brace myself to swipe at my underarms with a washcloth soaked in freezing cold water and dabs of Tahitian vanilla soap. If you ask me, loitering knuckleheads like the ones Mr. Darius just shooed out of the courtyard have it easy breezy: they don't have to sweat the big stuff, like entering the Wetness Protection Program or getting nominated in the most important election any budding fashionista worth her Dolce dreams could run for.
Shivering, I hightail it back to my bedroom, catching a glimpse of plodding Chenille in her bedroom, already dressed in a gray polo shirt under her signature blue denim overalls and wearing black Puma sneakers. She's huddled over her bureau, carefully placing her precious hairstyling tools in the compartments of her gray melton cloth organizer. I scan the handygirl getup she's chosen to wear on her first day as a freshman at Fashion International, the fiercest high school in the Big Apple. I still can't believe Chenille was accepted into Fashion International's auxiliary program, designated for aspiring hairstylists and makeup artists. She should be toting a toolbox instead.
Personally, I think she should have followed in her friend Loquasia's Madden clunky-booted footsteps and applied to Dalmation Tech High School, which is directly across the street from our school. Fashion International is located on Thirty-eighth Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, in the heart of the most famous fashion district in the world. "You dropped a clamp," I mumble at her. Chenille studies the gray fuzzy area rug by her feet like a forensic examiner but comes up empty. "Psych," I say, deadpan.
Chenille squints at me with her beady eyes, then announces: "I'm taking the train with Loquasia."
"Whatever makes you clever," I shoot back. I walk into my bedroom, pulling out my pink sponge rollers and throwing them in my Hello Kitty basket caddy. Puhleez, I'd rather go bald like Shrek before I'd let Chenille touch my fuzzy goldilocks. Springing my spiral Shirley Temples into place one by one, I glance absentmindedly at the poster on the wall above my bed: Miss Eartha Kitt poised in a black pleather Catwoman jumpsuit. One of my best friends, Aphro--which is pronounced like Afro and short for her fabbie name Aphrodite--gave me the poster for Christmas last year. She snagged it through a major hookup: Aphro's foster mother, Mrs. Maydell, worked for years as a maid on Eartha Kitt's Connecticut estate.
As you can sorta see, our household principles are divided into two distinct halves: Chenille is the yin and I'm the bling. What else could explain how she and my mother are both morning people while Fabbie and I are confirmed night creatures? I bet you Chenille shot straight up in her coffin at the crack of dusk, pecking along with the pigeons outside her bedroom windowsill until it was time to hoist her beauty-salon-cum-backpack onto her petite back and head off for her first day as a freshman.
"Pashmina!" my mom yells out. I'm naked, so I don't respond until I put on my favorite pair of pink cotton bloomers with the big cat's eye on the rear, which always make me feel like someone's got my back, or at least is watching my butt.
"Wazzup?" I yell back.
"I'm leaving twenty dollars on the dresser for you," Mom yells, her sharp voice rising above the din of the spritzing. My mom is addicted to hair spray because it provides her wigs with hurricane hold. "You never know what or who you're gonna tangle with," she warns us.
The phone in the living room rings loudly, making me jangly. Mom is not into any technological advances that soften sound. I stand quietly by my bedroom door and listen closely as my mom answers the cordless phone stationed on the Plexiglas end table. Suddenly, she gets an extra crispy tone in her voice: "I can't believe you're calling here before nine!"
I cringe, praying that it's not one of my crew.
"I don't know. . . . I said, I don't know, okay? I'll send it when I can," my mom says in a tart voice to the intrusive person on the other end.
My stomach wigglies rotate like they're on a spitfire grill. I realize that Mom has hung up on yet another creditor. She thinks we don't know, but they've been hounding her lately like a basset on a bone mission. Suddenly, I feel guilty: if Chenille and I weren't too old to be sharing a bedroom, we wouldn't have had to move to a bigger apartment. Like a chatte noire, I retreat stealthily to my bedroom, which Mom and I have spent the whole year pinkifying from floor to ceiling, including the wooden dresser we found on the sidewalk. Every weekend last year, Mom, Chenille, and I took the
subway downtown to the Upper East Side to hunt for furniture discarded like empty cans of tuna by the resident snooty-patooties.
I snap the back closure on my petal pink bra, then carefully ease my skinny legs into my pink fishnet pantyhose, but I can't seem to dissolve my guilt. We're always stressing about money. That's why I'm motivated to get a part-time job pronto--hopefully from the job board postings at school. Of course, I know my mom wanted to move out of the Boogie Down Bronx for her own reasons: to be closer to her job and maybe even to get away from Grandma Pritch. My throat still automatically constricts every time I think of her forcing gooey oatmeal down my throat when we had to live with her. Mom left us with Grandma Pritch when I was three years old and didn't come back to get us until I was five.
Now Grandma Pritch is living all by her lonesome in the Edenwald Projects on Baychester Avenue, across the street from where we used to live. She's so old her eyes are going; last week she tried to take a shower in the hallway closet, then caused a ruckus in her building, claiming someone had swiped her shower stall! Shoot, she may be old, but Grandma Pritch still gives me the fritters.
My mother, who most people call Miss Viv, is an assistant manager at the Forgotten Diva Boutique, a plus-size clothing store (with snorious clothes for old-school customers) on Madison Avenue and Seventy-second Street. She was a sales assistant for a long time, but two years ago she got a promotion, which is how we were able to move into this three-bedroom apartment on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But I'm not ungrateful: as long as I have my own bedroom, I don't care if the ceiling collapses, because I'll just carry on like Chicken Little--dust myself off, then sashay through the soot, okay?
Chenille's modus operandi, however, is more like the Road Runner's, because it's only seven o'clock in the morning and she's already stationed by the front door for a hasty exit.
"Bye, Ma," she shouts before she slams shut the heavy metal front door.
I wince at the fact that Miss Wannabe "Snippy" Sassoon left without saying goodbye to me. I'm so over her, or maybe it's the other way around, because it seems that the taller I've become, the less Chenille is feeling me. Maybe it's the fact that we're now two grades apart even though I'm only one year older. (I was in the IGC program in junior high for intellectually gifted children [I hate the way that sounds] and skipped eighth grade.)
Suddenly, I realize that Chenille has the right idea about time management: it wouldn't be a bad idea to get to school early today. I hold up the new outfit that Felinez and I worked on for two weeks.
"Wow, this is the whammy-jammy!" I exclaim.
It's my ode to cheerleader chic: the pink pullover knit sweater has the letter P glued on the front and pink pom-poms hanging off the bottom edge and will be worn over a pink checked pleated wrap skirt fastened on the side with a giganto pink safety pin. Felinez also put a fuzz ball on the toes of my pink pleather boots: if you look closely you can see roll-around eyeballs pressed into the center of the fuzz ball. The pièce de résistance, however, is the matching shoulder bag. Using pink mop fibers, Felinez made me a bag that shakes ferociously like a big, bouncy cheerleader pom-pom. Staring in the beveled antique mirror, I put on my CZ (cubic zirconia) bling: first, my favorite eBay snag, a black Naughty Girl Lolita watch with floating pink crystals inside; then my French Kitty rhinestone cat pendant primed inside with Frisky perfume and dangling on a Mexican silver chain. My mom gave me my latest kitty cadeau for my fifteenth birthday last May. One day, I'll be able to wear bona fide blang, like a Hello Kitty diamond pendant by Kimora Lee. I stuff my pink satin meowch pouch into my purse--it's a little drawstring pouch that Felinez and I came up with for carrying essentials. You can wear it on your wrist or on your neck, or put it in your purse. Even Fabbie Tabby has one--she wears it on her collar. Inside is one quarter, her phone number, and some biscuits, in case she ever prances too far over the rainbow.
Now I grab my hot-pink Kitty decal-littered notebooks and head to my mom's room to retrieve my designated ducats. My allowance is skimpier than I hoped for, but I'm determined to stretch it longer than my Chinatown-find fishnets, which are cramping my crotch area, okay.
I walk into the kitchen, where Mom is already stationed in her favorite little niche, drinking a cup of Belgian Blends mocha and reading yesterday's WWW, Women's Wear Daily, which she brings home from the boutique every night. She never eats breakfast and I don't either--even though she yells at me for doing the same thing she does.
"Please change the litter already," my mom instructs me without looking up from her newspaper. She is now dressed in the tailored attire associated with her "Miss Viv" professional personality--a hot-pink wool blazer, black wool trousers, and a black turtleneck sweater, most likely cashmere, which she craves. (There was a reason why my mom named both her daughters after luxury fabrics, pashmina and chenille, okay.) It's my job to take care of Fabbie, and one that I do gladly. Chenille obviously is not a cat person, and my mom has enough to deal with.
"Is that jacket new?" I ask Mom, checking out her outfit while I open the refrigerator and take out the carton of pink grapefruit juice and my Vogue magazine (I like to keep my fashion as fresh as my juice).
"I told you not to leave your magazines in the refrigerator," Mom snaps without looking up. Now it's my turn to ignore her while I indulge in my favorite morning ritual--sipping and flipping. I don't know why she acts so janky about my storage habits--it's not like we're running a gourmet garage in the refrigerator. See, my mom is a medi-okra cook, which is why we mostly eat take-out chow. Besides, she's so tired from working that she doesn't have time to cook.
Humming, I continue gulping juice and scanning the pages of my cool magazine until I get my fill of Juicy Couture, Gianni Versace, and Kate Spade.
"You excited about today?" asks my mom.
"I'm hyped," I respond. "I've got to get nominated."
Mom looks puzzled, which makes me realize that she doesn't remember about the Catwalk competition. She was just asking a general question, like it's my first day in kindergarten and I'm gleeful about showing off my new Princess Potty Mouth lunch box. (Awright, I did love that thing--stuffed it with PB&J sandwiches till the hinges rusted off.)