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Third Thursday Thoughts: Reflections from the Executive Director

The Stories We Wear

July 20, 2023 | Third Thursday Thoughts
Dawn LaRochelle, Executive Director

“You look like twins! You must have stolen from each other’s closets all the time when you were teens!”

Melody, my little sis — who is currently visiting from Los Angeles — and I gave each other a sidelong glance. It was not the first (or the hundredth) time we had heard some version of this same refrain. Yes, we are both 5 -ft. flat (though Melody insists she has ¼ inch on me, and I say I have ¼ inch on her). Yes, we both inherited the “Schoenfeld blue” eyes. Yes, when we laugh, we double over (and snort!) at the exact same time.

Pictured: Dawn (age 6) and Melody (age 2) dressed up for a holiday party

But when I picked Melody up at the airport, she had a single backpack that she was able to take as a carry-on for a ten-day vacation. I need an extra-large suitcase of my own plus space in my husband’s suitcase for a weekend getaway. I have custom-designed shelves that allow me to showcase my shoes by season, color, and heel height. Melody has two pairs of hiking boots, one pair of rope sandals, and one pair of decent sneakers … plus two pairs of sneakers she cheerfully admits are “falling apart.” I spend about an hour every Sunday going through my wardrobe to pick my outfits for the week, complete with jewelry, accessories, and purses. Melody wakes up every morning and decides which pair of cat leggings to shimmy into. I am working with my seamstress to alter my beloved couture Anna Campbell wedding dress so I can wear it to galas. My sister cut up her Maid of Honor dress and dyed it metallic silver so she could wear it on stage as lead singer in her Iron Maiden tribute band.

Needless to say, we never stole from each other’s closets when we were teens.

What our wildly disparate styles do have in common, however, is that they each tell the story of who we are. Which is the magic of fashion. How we choose to adorn our bodies shapes how others see us and how we see ourselves. Think about how costume designers, writers, and directors use fashion to reveal clues about characters: Harry Potter’s glasses, Imelda’s shoes, the Wolf of Wall Street’s power suits, Cleopatra’s jewels. Our outfits communicate messages across time, culture, and language. Now and in the ancient past, close to home and far away, the stories we wear connect us.

Such connectivity is the inspiration behind Fashion, Food, and Fun(d)raiser: A Celebration of Our Diverse Community. The highlight of this inaugural MJM event, taking place from 7 – 9:30 PM on Thursday, August 10, is a runway show featuring Maine Jewish, immigrant, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ fashion designers and models. From an 85-year-old Hungarian rabbinical gown to drag, from a Jewish tartan tallis to West African jewelry, from a traditional Moroccan caftan to a Chinese qi pao, the stories we wear will be on full display, and the common threads – literally and figuratively – that bind us will be revealed.

There will also be a grazing table with finger foods from around the world, entertainment by the Maine Squeeze Accordion Ensemble and Rwandan pop sensation Clarisse Karasira, a decadent dessert display, a live auction with drool-worthy items, including a 2-night/3-day stay at Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake, VIP tickets with Optum Field Lounge Passes to a Patriots Game, dinner at Central Provisions with Portland City Councilor Pious Ali, lots of collectible artwork, and more. But above all, our Fashion, Food, and Fun(d)raiser is the realization of our twin missions “to celebrate and honor the contributions and diversity of Maine’s Jewish immigrants in the context of the American experience” and “to build bridges of appreciation and understanding between people of all backgrounds.” To quote from a recent social media post by fashion show committee member Rebecca Moudachirou:

“My great-grandfather, George I. Lewis, a Jewish immigrant who became a successful Maine entrepreneur and philanthropist, was inducted into the MJM Hall of Fame in 2021. Now my biracial, half-American, half-Beninese, Jewish daughters will participate in this celebration at MJM. They will model fashion by Ebenezer Akakpo, a Ghanaian-born Maine designer.”

And this, my friends, is what it’s all about.

Get your tickets while they last, and cheer on Rebecca’s adorable girls, Maya and Shoshanna, and the rest of our models in all their diversity and authenticity. And while you’re at it, show us the story that you wear, too.