The New York Optimist
March 2009
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The Chronicles of a Mad Costume Maker: by  Minira Aslanova
She paces up and down the room grabbing the various colored fabrics from the high shelves that, as a result, fall upon her frail body.
With her heels tintinnabulating against the cement floor, she rushes to compare the chosen fabrics to the sketches in her book. The
vividly colored bundle of clothes lie on the pinewood table, and brightly flash like sea foam as she gently places it on the wooden table.
The excitement of all this cannot compare to the giddiness of the petite woman in the ruby colored loafers, who continues to skip from
one corner to another. Dressed in a cotton candy colored corduroy suit, the woman begins to address the flushed storekeeper in an
unknown dialect, causing the latter to run madly about the store. Viewed from a distance, the scene would resemble a sitcom, but at a
closer look it simply demonstrates a regular day at work. My Aunt Marina wasn’t always a crazy costume maker, or maybe I simply
wasn’t always there to “diagnose” her. However, as I stood there, stuck between the walls of the fabric store, I realized my aunt
represented a figure who managed to stay true to herself even though she faced many life-altering events.
Aunt Marina was born to sew. At a young age, in a little Russian village, she learned to master the skill of costume design and used this
newfound talent to earn extra cash. She was known as the “Queen of In”, for all her sketches possessed a unique quality that
differentiated her customers from everyone else. Perfectly hemmed skirts, embroidered gowns, and rich Persian taffeta reflected Aunt
Marina’s unique character that shown through even on the most hardworking days. Once, after fifteen hours of stitching pearls onto a
bridal gown, Aunt Marina came home to find her neighbor in distraught and solitude. After finding out that her friendly neighbor was
celebrating her birthday on her own, Aunt Marina quickly gathered energy and did her best to entertain her. The two women spent the
night cracking jokes, spilling the latest gossip, and reminiscing about their long lost childhood. Never once did Aunt Marina show a sign
of weariness or fatigue, for she loved making others feel beautiful and happy. To Aunt Marina seeing the glow of satisfaction and delight
in one’s eyes, whether it was from a successful fitting or a successful forty-fifth birthday, was priceless. She was willing to spend all
her time and energy in order to see others smile, for in doing so she brought forward her own true self.
When Aunt Marina decided to move to New York in hopes of extending her career, never did she imagine that her own identity would
be put to test. The title of a renowned fashion designer would vanish within the hollering of the metropolitan streets and the once radiant
smile would slowly fade away. The series of unfortunate events began in her new apartment. It was approximately the same size as her
lavish bathroom back home, only the ceiling was much lower and was perfectly fit for a Hobbit. The pungent smell of the Indian
restaurant down the street seemed to crawl into every part of the house; but Aunt Marina did not let that bother her. She approached the
situation like she did many times back home, with joy and delight. Aunt Marina viewed her life in New York as one big art project that
within time would surely become her masterpiece. However, after numerous unsuccessful attempts of finding a job and learning the
local “slang”, Aunt Marina began to slowly believe that her life would never be the same. Her dreams began to shatter along with her
naive perception of New York. The city of infinite possibilities had become a place of struggle and disappointment; certainly not fit for
Aunt Marina’s character.
After various attempts to find a job, Marina finally landed a spot at a local dry-cleaners, where she was handed the fancy position of an
“atelier.” Unfortunately her duties ranged from sewing on a button to fixing zippers on expensive wool pants. These duties became the
highlights of her unfortunate days, and her struggles in New York City began to wear off on her physical image. Her perfect porcelain
skin hung low and heavy, damp from the constant exposure to steam. Her long hair was now cut short for fear of getting caught in the
sewing machine, while her back was hunched under the weight of her difficult life.  Aunt Marina hid herself in solitude, and the once
vibrant and joyous soul now lay in an abyss of melancholy and doubt. Rarely would a glimmering smile appear on her thin face and a
confident posture be observed in her walk. In her tiny working space Aunt Marina felt alienated from all of New York. Daily she
stitched hundreds of what to her seemed like ugly pants and fit then on people who felt foreign to her. On one particular day Aunt
Marina was shortening a bridal gown for a young woman. She served her in silence, with a rather morbid look on her face, never once
rejoicing in the idea of participating in a wedding. The young woman left Aunt Marina a five dollar tip for her services and left in a
hurry. As soon as the bride left Aunt Marina began to cry, for she no longer could find joy and beauty in her clients eyes. As Aunt
Marina found that the delight she used to get from prepping brides was missing she realized that in essence she herself was lost.
Because Aunt Marina gave into her struggles, she no longer had the identity of a talented and cheerful costume designer who changed
lives with just her presence. She was determined to win herself back, and the only way she would do that was by becoming a true New
Yet again Aunt Marina began her hunt for a new job. Her persistence began to rise as she went from one interview to another, testing
various answers in order to find which produced the best reactions. Soon enough Aunt Marina excelled in job interviews and received
many calls back. However, her determination only allowed her to aim for the best, and as her confidence skyrocketed so did her hope
for a new beginning. When she heard about an opening “atelier” position at a local theater she quickly scheduled an interview. At the
interview Aunt Marina was asked why she wanted the position, and she replied that it was the only way she could find what she has lost
when she came to New York City- herself. After she was told she got the job, Aunt Marina realized that this was the first step away
from her unfortunate experiences and towards the life she used to have. On her way home, she felt the rays of the New York City sun
falling upon her cheek, and heard the sound of her feet walking upon the cement. She noticed the exciting people around her, and the
smiling skyscraper reaching into the sky. As she approached her apartment she took in the exotic smell of the Indian restaurant next
door, and the beautiful antique quality of her building. On that day, for the first time, Aunt Marina felt her true self in the presence of
New York City.
Aunt Marina no longer walked about the town hoping to seclude herself in dark corners, but rather walked in shining light wishing to
expose her fabulous self to this booming city. She surpassed the struggles that came her way, and managed to regain her true identity.
Her unfortunate New York City experiences transformed into lavish events, which she attended with the same air and manner with
which she attended parties back home. Every opening night at the theater Aunt Marina showcased her latest costume designs. She
enlightened the guests with stories about each actor and their dedication to the creation of a particular costume. She spoke of music, art,
politics, New York City, and most importantly of her little Russian village. Aunt Marina never once failed to turn these lavish events into
warm and sensual gatherings, for every person valued her company like no other. Dressed in exquisite attire, she stood amongst the
honored guest, the waiters, the high class actors, the low class actors, the millionaires, the socialites, the foreigners, the tourists, and the
others. As Aunt Marina spoke, they listened in silence; certainly admiring her in their own way. Although Aunt Marina fit into such as
diverse crowd, at heart she was the same vivacious woman who once inhabited a small Russian village, but now was a true New Yorker
Aunt Marina certainly represents an inspirational figure. Her experiences of failure and struggle were overcome by her determination and
courage. She surpassed her fears of New York , and became one of its most beloved inhabitants. Aunt Marina’s ability to bring joy and
delight into any company marked her ability to stay true to herself. Despite the new job, the new home, and the new city, Aunt Marina
remained the same old vivacious girl from Russia with a remarkable talent for costume design.
Artist Joe Andoe