Story Time with Susan Owen

When I was 17 and in college, I had three tedious ‘art’ classes that left me feeling unfulfilled and diminished.  As a result, I hit out on mine own, as it were, and turned in assignments that were more to my liking.  (One assignment was a collage of differing textures, so I took apart a Kotex pad…but that is for another time.)  Each of these offerings elicited similar commentary from my professors, “Now this is not exactly what I had in mind, although very unique and individual, but not exactly…ummm…..” For some reason this pleased me immensely and I continued to buck the system, not always with winning results. But a girlz gotta do what a girlz gotta do.  Thus, out of the diamonds and dust of my own mighty travail, comes the tale of little Chanel.


Upon reflection, she thought it all started with that Yves diaper bag.  Baby Chanel loathed the sight of it and went immediately into tantrum screechings every time her little eyes caught sight of it.  Her mother was a slave to high-end brand names and everywhere Chanel looked as she grew, there was another loathsome set of initials of a scrawled and famous signature on one or another of her garments.

She grew into pre-adolescence with a defined sense of her own style and she and her mother regularly locked horns.

Chanel would put together an outfit that made her mother’s teeth itch and delighted the young lady (plaid men’s ties and shiny black tap shoes from the goodwill, miniskirts with a chiffon underlayer, tanks that she would embellish with antique buttons, or ribbons, or outlandish pins from the 40′)s.

Upon graduation from high school, she attended a fashion design school and emerged with the knowledge she sought as regards to pattern making and use of the various complex machines that she would need for her life’s work.  By this time her mother had begun to go a little grey, but continued to try, to no avail, to get Chanel to wear business suits and ‘acceptable’ boring blouses and power pumps.  Chanel continued to make the ‘gag me’ sign at her mother as she donned her 1950’s net petticoats and trotted off to her job as a pattern maker for a small garment manufacturer.

At night, Chanel continued to pull together her own creations and after much wheedling, talked her boss into giving her a small showing at a warehouse in the Bronx.

The night of the show, a CEO of a large company, seeking fresh blood for his junior division, found himself with nothing to do and having seen the flyer for Chanel’s little show, decided to drop in for a moment.  He expected nothing of interest, but was curious for a look.  After all, it couldn’t hurt, and he did have a small block of time.  What he saw made his jaded jaw drop to the sawdust on the floor of the warehouse.

Within a month, Chanel’s creations were crowding the fashion pages and the signature piece was gracing the cover of Vogue.  She had joined her models to show the pieces at her second, and much larger show, and as she strutted down the ramp, smiling from ear to ear, flashbulbs exploded around the new darling of one of the most fickle industries in the world.  “It can happen to anyone,” she said to Women’s Wear Daily. “You just have to take your dreams unaltered from your head to the fabric, and never, never listen to your mother.”

Please come by our studio in Cayucos for the ARTS Obispo’s Open Studios Tour on Oct. 13&14 and 20&21 for recent work by me and my partner Dennis Kish.  Susan and Dennis’ studio numbers are 67 & 68 (page 17) in the Open Studios Tour catalog.


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