I work as a designer. It’s ironic, as the fashion industry is known for being problematic in terms of body image. I’ve always loved fashion though, dressing up, going shopping. But it was never so much about how I felt in the clothes. It was more like… how I felt when people noticed me in them.
Editor’s Note: Content warning for subject matter related to eating disorders
Script: This script is meant to be read in podcast format
Statement of Ichika Payne, regarding her time as an employee of Kenley Design Company.
Original statement given 10th of January, 2006. Audio recording done in 2020 by Katherine Adamos, head archivist of the Lampert Institute, London. Statement begins.
My eating disorder developed as most do. I don’t really want to dwell on that, because I do not feel like explaining my life story to someone who is not my therapist, as that’s not what I’m here to talk about. But I will say that from a young age, I’ve experienced… real hunger. The deep, deep ache in your stomach when it’s truly empty, and it feels like a black hole inside you. It’s almost like a high, a weird feeling of purity.
I work as a designer. It’s ironic, as the fashion industry is known for being problematic in terms of body image. I’ve always loved fashion though, dressing up, going shopping. But it was never so much about how I felt in the clothes. It was more like… how I felt when people noticed me in them. My parents always told me that I was a sucker for praise, but I don’t think they knew just how right they were. As a child, I was constantly craving attention. Not in an obnoxious or over the top way… just, doing what I could to make people notice me. For example, being the prettiest, being the smartest. Things like that.
I suppose I do have a weird sort of fear surrounding… bodies. Meat, in general. My mother received liposuction when I was six. I had asked her where what they took out would go, and she told me she didn’t know. Even now, I can remember my six-year-old self picturing that bloody fat and flesh, still warm from my mother’s body, swirling down a hospital drain, smeared on white tile.
I apologize for the tangent. In the summer of 2005, I was fresh out of college, and looking for somewhere to start my career, preferably a smaller company, as I wanted to work where there was a good chance of my clothes being made and put on sale. I lived in Bristol at the time, and it wasn’t too hard to find a recent startup brand. Kenley, they were called.
I had submitted some of my winter designs online, and went in for an interview only a week later. According to their website, I was looking for a woman named Patricia. No last name or anything. Just Patricia.
She was a strikingly tall Turkish woman, gaunt, and had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. The same opaque sky blue a colored pencil might be. She was so thin, so angular. Her bones looked like they could cut. She must have been in her mid-forties, but it was… hard to tell. Upon meeting her, I automatically felt a sense of respect for her. She exuded the confidence of a leader, even though she was only the supervisor of the fifteen people who worked in the studio.
The interview went well enough, I suppose. The building I would be working in was a nondescript two story brick building somewhere downtown. She asked me a few questions about previous work I’d done, what my goals were, that sort of thing, all the while twirling her thick, bleach white hair around a long, thin finger. Looking back on that moment, I feel as if I should’ve known something was wrong when I observed how… sharp her nails looked. Long and pointed, as an acrylic nail would be. But those nails weren’t fake.
I got the job fairly easily. I take pride in my work, and I’d like to say that I got in based on skill alone. But… now I’m not so sure.
The environment there was fairly quiet, only the sounds of graphite moving against paper and the whir of a slightly dented space heater in the corner. The floors were a grey tile, and always sparkling clean. The smell of bleach was quite pervasive.
I didn’t talk to my colleagues very often, aside from idle chat at break times. Any conversations we had were… stilted, as well. Like it was difficult for them to remember the right words to say. Like they hadn’t used their voices in a while. I ignored this well enough. I had barely any friends outside of work, so I took what interactions I could.
Lunch was an interesting matter. The first day I got there, I expected my colleagues to leave their desks and head for the break room at noon, the scheduled time for lunch. However, no one moved. They just all kept their heads bent over their desks and… continued working. I never saw a single person there eat.
At first, I thought I was just among hard workers. It was almost a relief, to be honest. I didn’t have to go through the trouble of excusing why I wasn’t eating lunch, or carrying around an empty lunch bag for the appearance. No one would bat an eye if the only thing I consumed was tea with metamucil stirred in, they were so focused on their work.
But, as time progressed, I started to feel a bit… suspicious? Of my colleagues. They were diverse enough, mostly Malay women, a white lady with red hair whose name I could never remember, and a few men. Whenever I chatted with them, they clearly didn’t keep up with any of the news or popular culture. And of course I can relate to that, I’m not the most updated person but. At least I vaguely knew what was going on in the world. At least it seemed like I checked my phone once in a while.
And the way they were so focused on their work. Constantly at their desks, sketching and sketching and sketching. (pause) I never once saw any of their designs, as they never got published or created. I’m not sure if what they were designing was clothes at all.
Patricia was much different from them. Comparing her to my colleagues was like… comparing a child’s picture book to a novel. She always wore sleek black pantsuits, white coils down to her shoulders, and those nails. Always painted a bright neon pink, and sharp enough to cut. I was more than a little enamored with her, in the way a student might crush on her professor.
She was everything I wanted to be. Often, during the lunch breaks, I would go to her office, she would pull out two Diet Cokes from her mini fridge, and we would talk. About nothing in particular. Fashion, I suppose. I can’t really remember. Her presence was a bit blinding, and I always felt oddly nervous, or giddy, going to talk to her. I suppose maybe that’s what muddied my memory. I’m usually very collected, but I couldn’t help but just… want her praise. I wanted her to like me. She was… ethereal.
We never discussed… eating issues or the like. But there is one thing I distinctly recall her saying to me. I hesitate to call it a memory. It felt almost unreal, like an echo of a conversation.
That day Patricia had seemed more… aggressive. Her usual elegant demeanor replaced by something more (pause) ravenous, though I could see her quite obviously trying to suppress herself. During our usual time together she seemed almost… impatient with me, as if she were talking to a child.
For me, one of the worst feelings in the world is being unwanted, especially from this woman, this role model of mine. I made up some excuse and stood to leave, saying I needed to finish one of my winter designs.
As I reached the door, I felt one of her hands close around my wrist. She had been all the way across the room, and it startled me at how fast she’d closed the gap between us. Her sharp nails were digging into my skin, and for how thin she was, her grip was strong, unnaturally strong. I don’t doubt she could have crushed my hand.
Fear pulsed through me.
“There is not enough meat on your bones.”
Now, people have said that to me plenty of times. A casual joke or a knowing look from a professor.
But she growled it at me. The black hole where my stomach used to be sobbed in hunger, and all I could do was stare into her shallow, sky blue eyes.
She released her nails, and I ran.
When I left her office, every single one of my coworkers had their eyes trained on me. At the time I thought it was just because I’d made some sort of commotion.
Looking back, I’m fairly certain I was the only one in that room breathing.
I knew I had made a mistake. I left work five hours early, and all my papers and supplies were still on my desk. The deadline for submitting a line of dresses I designed was next week, and I desperately needed to work on them.
My heart pounded with anxiety and panic, and I paced around my practically empty apartment, feeling cold with horror and a bit of embarrassment. I decided I would go in once the work day ended, grab my things and go. Then, come into work the next day, pretend nothing happened, and keep living my life.
So, at 8 pm, I took the bus back downtown, plugged in the code to unlock the front door, the smell of bleach and floor cleaner not quite as potent as it usually was, and carefully walked up the stairs to the second floor. I’d never been in the building this late in the evening, and the pools of darkness where the setting sun didn’t reach gave me terrible unease.
It felt oddly warm in the building. I was wearing my fall clothes, and sweat was slowly dampening my turtleneck. I was too scared to turn on any lights, and I didn’t know if anyone was still in, so I walked with light footsteps. I noticed a sticky substance on the floor, causing my boots to create an ugly suction sound. I kept walking, the steps getting stickier the more stairs I climbed, and the usual clean smell fading.
I will try my best to describe what I saw when I pushed my way through the door.
My colleagues were there. Still sitting at their desks. Not scribbling on paper, but just… sitting there, eyes wide open, facing forward.
However, there was a yellow-ish oily substance slowly dripping from their legs. As if the bottoms of their feet were removed, and they were left to drain. The murky white completely flooded the white tile of the room, and it smelled awful. It smelled of fat and of rot and infection.
And Patricia. I could see her standing casually at my desk, leaning on it, nothing covering her upper body, and covered in large stripes of red. Heat was radiating from the spot she stood in, and I could see the steam hovering around her.
She extended one arm, bicep facing up, and used one of those bright, pink nails to slowly saw through her flesh, the same way one might carve a piece of meat. She peeled it off with a sickening rip, and flung it to the tile.
I watched as that same substance seeped from her, trickled down her forearm and legs, her trousers soaked to her thin, boney calves.
And funnily enough, my first thought was that I ruined a pair of £70 corduroy pants.
Sixteen pairs of eyes turned to leer at me, but none of them were human. Not anymore.
I made a brief moment of eye contact with what used to be Patricia. Her smile revealed a set of sharp canines dripping with what I can only assume was blood.
I saw her mouth form a word, a question.
I tripped while sprinting out of the building, even though there was no one chasing me.
I never went back to work. I simply… packed up and left the city. I’m currently staying with my parents in Leeds, and have started receiving clinical help for my disorder. I’m not sure if I’ll ever receive any answers for what happened at Kenley, and I’ve decided that’s for the best. I just… needed to tell someone. Do what you will with this information. Thank you for your time.
(sigh) Statement ends. As this Patricia was not described to have any last name, I can assume that Ms. Payne encountered the entity formerly known as Patricia Yilmaz. We believe it is now working for either the Corruption or Viscera. There are no details concerning the address or location of Kenley Design Studio, other than sparse descriptions of downtown Bristol. When research was done online for the company, a website did pop up, but had been deactivated two months ago. Figures. When I sent in Tom to do a bit of reconnaissance, he found a multitude of two story brick buildings, none of which had any signage to distinguish between them.
When we contacted Ms. Payne, she refused to disclose the location of the studio, and had no new information for us, other than the fact that, about a month ago, a bill with no forwarding address was sent to her new home in Munich, charging her 87.56 pounds, the exact price of 44 cans of diet coke.