Monday, March 21, 2011


It was an instant joke, when the straws were drawn, everyone laughed, even the professor. Ash and Fenix could barely contain their disappointment, even if they covered it up with that fashion girl flash of friendly insincerity. “Great!”

Fenix disappeared moments later pouting in a puff of tulle, leaving Ash alone in a classroom full of teams making plans. Sinking into the blank sketchbook in front of her, her hand listlessly tracing a croquis.

That night at Allie and Ash’s apartment, we whipped up a bitching session. “Group work sucks, ugh,” said Allie. “The PR committee is totally fighting all of the time. We hardly get anything done.” Allie’s group for the major third year fashion show production semester was being “led” by a notoriously strong personality, Wanda. I was grateful to be in a smaller group that handled the copywriting and web stuff, for the most part my team members were reticent nerds like me.

“Fenix is famous for doing everything at the last minute. I just can’t work like that. I’m sooo stressed!” the gentlest look of perturbation ever glanced over Ash’s face as she took a sedate sip of her second glass of wine.

“Plus, her designs are just so… not menswear,” I added. “She’ll probably want to put them in skirts, or pants with bumflaps or something.”

Allie laughed and Ash looked… ashen. You could almost see a trimly tailored, mod boy fantasy dissemble into an androgynous tossed salad over her head.

“We’re supposed to meet tomorrow and she said she was going to bring a ton of ideas. This is going to be such a ridiculous collection. She’ll want to have it all her way.”

“Don’t let her walk all over you!” Allie exhorted. “You’re a great designer and you’re way better at sewing than Fenix. She needs you because she needs to get a good mark on this! Stand your ground!”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Fenix is impossible to miss. In every sense, to this day. In fashion school she was the one with the fiery red multicolour hair, the insane magpie outfits, bright colours, and a constant state of manic energy occasionally verging on panic. Even when she was gone, she would literally leave feathers, sequins, pins and other sharp objects in her wake, trails of paint and sometimes even scorched fabric.

Allie and I were in Fashion Communications; Fenix belonged on the other, darker side – Design. Girls in our program usually got into fashion because they were good at shopping. Girls in the design program usually grew up making their own clothes. It was a class divide, so to speak, and the two solitudes tended to stay in their own camps.

The only fashion design girl we regularly hung out with was Ash, because she was Allie’s roommate and hometown girl. Ash and Allie both came from London, Ontario, and went to the same high school, so when they moved to Toronto they got a place together.

Ash had about as much in common with the design kids as I did with communications crowd. Ash’s parents were loaded. She was exquisitely beautiful, like Allie, but even more maddeningly so because she was also impossibly polished.

In third year, the design kids had a team project. They had to produce a menswear collection with a partner, which was chosen by a draw. Ash picked unlucky number nine, and so the second term of third year turned into a three month long episode of the “odd couple”. Ash and Fenix: the match made in hell.


The first time I saw Allie, she was wearing all black, as they always do, and has long blonde hair, as many of them do, except hers is flaxen gold to the roots. Allie is a born PR girl right down to her follicles, and the very best kind, as she is as natural, genuine, and inherently dishevelled as pure linen. She is the exact opposite of me, she is almost always smiling, and instantly I knew that we would be friends.

I was standing outside of a fashion show in Toronto. I didn’t have an invitation. I didn’t know how it all worked. I was just watching all of the fashion people lining up, or walking in, feeling overwhelmed and unsure why I was even there. Surrounded by people with such elaborate hair and makeup and shoes made me feel very plain in my parka with my scuffed boots. I was drawn to fashion like moth to a flame, and it intimidated me.

It still does, even now. I guess the difference is now I know I am not the only one who is struck with awe in the face of fashion. Fashion does that to you on purpose. Knowing that makes it easier to deal with it, but never makes the fear disappear.

Allie looked at me standing on my own and said “Skye! You’re in my design history class!” which was true though I was surprised she knew. I keep a low profile to myself at school, and Allie was a girl who was always surrounded by friends, giggling and gossiping seemingly oblivious to the show they put on for the lonelier audience, people like me. I’m being facetious. There were no other people like me in fashion school.

And before I could come up with something awkward to say, she hooked her elbow into mine and marched me into the runway room, sat beside me in the third row. With Allie at my side, I watched my first fashion show.

It was a local designer – someone who dressed the wealthy ladies of Toronto in cocktail gowns and matching suits, not very interesting. But the beautiful girls and the music was novel to me and I let myself just watch it without thinking, in a way that I never really get to do any more, even though the fashion shows I see now are in every way, more spectacular, and maybe more deserving of being truly, uncritically absorbed.

But the central memory is twenty year old Allie, with her bright skin and hair and eyes glowing over her standard-issue black leggings, miniskirt and blazer, offering her arm and her help and her friendship, as unreserved and generous in the beginning just as she is unreserved and forgiving now. And all I can think of is how I may never be able to make it up to her.


Fashion is all about flux. From when I was a child, when I pored over library books on the history of costume, it was the changing quality that drew me in. The instability of it all, the way it reflected changing attitudes and the rise and fall of fortunes.

In my darkest moments, when my bank account is empty and I’m alone with my computer in my rented room full of beautiful clothes and nothing much else except my thoughts, I resent the way I’ve been drawn into fashion. I could have had a normal life, further from the edges and extremes, less fabulous, less futile. But I don’t think that anyone chooses to pursue the dragon in a dress.

When I think back to fashion school, the competitive atmosphere quickly divided the ones who would fall into fashion and those who would remain with their feet firmly on the ground. We were all, save one, girls. Even he ended up dressing like a girl. I can’t remember any of the ones who didn’t follow the white rabbit. The ones who could never let the dream go, are incredibly vivid in my mind, even now.

Three of them in particular are in my thoughts, in my small room, on the page. All the love and the hurt is always with me. They are so different than me, beyond me, in every way that is fascinating and confounding. We all had that one thing in common, the thing that bound us together and broke us apart.