Can clothes heal?

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This is my personal style story. {The longer version.}

It’s the story of how I got to where I am today, and why I’m so darn passionate about teaching style in the upside down, un-fashion-y, business-y, beautiful way that I do.

Because it hasn’t been all miniature dogs in Chanel handbags and 10 inch heels with movie star sunglasses for me.

Not at all.

I’ve experienced intimately the way grief can create a wardrobe of its own.

I went from wearing clothes that were beautiful, feminine, and expressive… to clothes that were bland, baggy and black.

 
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But after a long season of sadness and a desire for more, I made the decision to stop dressing the way I felt, and start dressing the way I wanted to feel. I started dressing like the woman I wanted to become even though I hadn't become her yet.

And by bringing beauty back into my wardrobe, I was delightfully surprised that it not only transformed my style… but my mind, my heart & my life.

And I know it can change yours too!

If you want to pin this picture onto Pinterest, go right ahead. I'll love you hard for sharing it.

If you want to pin this picture onto Pinterest, go right ahead. I'll love you hard for sharing it.

For a time, life was all glitter and jazz hands… until it wasn’t

As a little girl I was drawn to anything pink, pretty, fluffy or glittery. From the moment I could talk, I had begged my mama to take me to ballet classes as I’d planned on spending the rest of my life in a tulle tutu. Or a Calamity Jane costume. {I was wild like that.}

At the age of 5 she finally took me to my first ballet class.

I remember my little heart shattered the second I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to wear the beautiful tulled, sequined, feathered, Anna Pavlova tutu of my dreams every week. My new teacher handed me the ugliest electric-blue leotard you’ve ever seen – the leotard I’d spend the next 12 years of my life in.

{Image on the left: My dream. Image on the right: My reality.}

{Image on the left: My dream. Image on the right: My reality.}

But I continued to long for the drama of dressing up.

I wanted to be a Swan or Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty or Daryl Hannah from Splash… I loved the idea of creating a character and then becoming her.

I loved being able to choose whose skin {or whose world} I could live in.

To be honest, I’d never considered fashion as a career option. I wanted to be a dancer. Or if that didn't work out, I wanted to create the costumes the dancers wore.

It didn't work out.

I fractured my lower back when I was 16 while dancing semi-professionally, and never recovered.

So I realised pretty quickly that I’d have to go back to my plan B which was to study costume design at Sydney’s, NIDA. {Fancy shmancy school to Cate Blanchett, Mel Gibson, Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Sam Worthington, etcetera, etcetera.}

Problem was – they didn’t want me. {God bless ‘em!}

They wanted me to get a little ‘life experience’ first and suggested I get my foot in the door by studying fashion first.

It was: The End Of The World.

And I cried. A lot.

But as disenchanted as I was, I managed to get myself into fashion school by the skin of my teeth. And surprisingly – loved it!

But still, there was something holding me back. Something that made me feel disconnected from my fashion friends and from the industry itself. It was like I didn’t fit in. Like I didn’t want to fit in.

It felt superficial. Selfish. And self-involved.

And I hated feeling like I was never fashionable enough, babe. {Outrageous!}

When I was 19, I won a scholarship to study haute couture at the Paris American Academy in France, and from there went onto study costume design.

I worked in the costume departments on a handful of Australian ballet's, shows, and movies, and then stumbled hesitantly into a job as an assistant designer for one of Australia’s biggest bridal companies. {A company with tons of REALLY ugly dresses.}

Over my time there, I became idealistic/arrogant enough to think that I could do a MUCH better job than they were at designing wedding gowns.

And then at the age of 23, on a unicorn tooting stars and gardenias kind of day – my entrepreneurial hearted dad handed me a $10,000 cheque and told me I was ‘ready’ and that it was time for my cute self to ‘go for it.’

OH. MY. STARS.

I cried. A lot. {And hugged him past the point of awkwardness.}

And with that money I brought outrageous amounts of silk, lace, tulle and stuff that sparkled, and created my first bridal collection. This also became the first official collection for my new label, Clarissa Grace Couture.

{Image credit: Gowns designed by Clarissa Grace Couture.}

{Image credit: Gowns designed by Clarissa Grace Couture.}

My dad gave me the opportunity to create fairy-tales for a living.

And I fell absolutely head-over-heels in love with it.

It was the perfect blend of fashion, costume, and haute-couture, and I felt tied to my work in a way that I never had before.

At 24, I married my childhood sweetheart. {That’s the brutishly manly Mr Waking Up In Paris down there on the left.} And we had our two precious princes. {Adorables right?} {I know, I know.}

clarissa grace family boys husband waking up in paris personal style online business branding

And my treasured Clarissa Grace Couture continued to build. I loved the gorgeous brides I worked with, I loved my team, I loved the gowns.

And I loved feeling the pixie dust in it all!

My gowns were splashed on the pages, and covers of pretty much every bridal magazine in Australia. I began dressing celebrities for red carpet events, and popular TV shows were taking their pick of my dresses.

waking up in paris clarissa grace personal style online mum entrepreneurs business branding coaching

We began making decisions to expand internationally, to hire more staff, to lease new showrooms, to triple our workroom space, yeeees…

{Image credit: Gowns designed by Clarissa Grace Couture.}

{Image credit: Gowns designed by Clarissa Grace Couture.}

But then we found out I was pregnant with our third baby. {What the, what???}

We were shocked. The pregnancy was unexpected {I was in the 0.001% of women where the pill doesn’t work}.

But of course, we were elated.

But I quickly got sick. Very sick.

I was diagnosed with a disease called Hyperemesis. {Which is basically really, really, really bad morning sickness – dizziness, fainting, dehydration, vomiting in your hair ten times a day, peeing your pants, husband having to carry you from A to B, ugly, ugly, yuck, yuck, yuck…}

Plans for Clarissa Grace Couture screeched to a halt.

I stopped working and was hospitalised for the majority of my pregnancy.

But on the 7th of September in 2009, our third son was born. He was absolutely beautiful/gorgeous/adorable/delicious. He had pink plump skin, a mass of dark hair, spider-leg long lashes, and furry little pixie ears.

He was beyond perfect. {Not bias. Everyone said so.} {Swear.}

clarissa grace waking up in paris loxley personal style online business branding coaching

And I was happy and healthy again.

But a few nights after he was born I had a peculiar dream…

I was a little girl curled up on my daddy’s lap, sitting all warm and snug beneath the weight of his arm. Sinking into the big bear of him. He was reading an old version of Robin Hood of Loxley to me – his favourite story as a kid. As he turned the pages with his enormous hands, I could feel something significant, something sacred, building inside my little chest. I wiggled around to peek up into his face and saw his eyes smile, as a single tear slipped down his cheek.  

After I’d had that dream, I decided I wanted to name him Loxley. For my dad. {With my hubbys approval of course.}

After waiting excitedly until 6am the following morning, I called dad from my hospital bed. With baby asleep in my lap, balloons bobbing under the air-conditioning, and butterflies twirling in my tummy, I told him about my dream – told him that we wanted to name our little boy, Loxley – after him.

He was stunned.

He cried and then I cried and he told me a bit of the mess of his life. I told him how sorry I was and how I had no idea and how much I loved him, and it was messy and it was beautiful/ugly, and I have no idea what I would have done differently if only I had have known that my dad’s heart was beyond shattered and I would never get to speak to him again.

Because a few days later my husband would be in my room, sitting by my bed, telling me with black shock in his eyes that my dad had died.

That he’d gassed himself to death in an old beat-up car, that there were letters scattered on the dash, that the police had found a bunch of Robin Hood books wrapped up in brown paper on the passenger seat next to him with one perfectly handwritten word…

‘Loxley.’

 

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A few mornings later, I remember standing alone in my back garden at dawn.

It was stunning.

Breathtaking.

I’d heard a rumour of wildfire a dozen suburbs away, which had created an uproar of beauty around me.

The sky was like fairy-floss, dripping down into the branches of the big tree that reigned like a queen over our entire yard. Pieces of the sun sat in the centre of each bloom, lighting them up like lanterns around me.

It was like a fairy-tale painting of springtime. But I was in the centre with death draped over me like a big black coat.

My stomach was clenched. My skin felt like it was crawling with bugs.

Because that was the morning I was supposed to say goodbye to my dead dad.

But. I didn’t.

Because a few hours later Loxley started turning blue and before we knew it we were blasting through sky, trees, shops, houses this blur of red-hot panic to the hospital emergency-room.

Instead of saying goodbye to my dad that morning, I’d be watching my baby boy’s chest heave as doctors, nurses, people everywhere frantically tore at his clothes, pulled at his limbs, plunged needles into his veins…

It was the day my son would be diagnosed with heart-disease. The kind of heart disease that would kill him a week later.

waking up in paris clarissa grace loxley personal style online business branding coaching

But I didn’t know that bit yet.

I just stood there under a sky of pink with my slippers in the dewy grass, letting my head think about the things that terrified me…

Thinking about the cold, hard bulk of my dad laying on a silver trolley. His body with no warmth in it. No thought in it. No hope for love in it – his heart beatless in his giant sized chest. Thinking about his unmoving mouth, his sunken skullish eyes, the rough of his whiskers growing in the dark…

Because I had no idea how to stop myself from thinking those things. From thinking about how he’d arranged all of those things.

And I remember wondering – how could such stunning beauty and such crushing darkness be holding hands in this very same moment?

There is a quote from the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed {the one that’s splashed all over Instagram}. It says:

There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it… Put yourself in the way of beauty.

I didn’t put myself in the way of beauty that morning. That was the kind of beauty that came crashing into me whether I wanted it to or not.

I didn’t.

 

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After the death of my dad and my baby boy, life became dark. Really dark. It felt like I’d been ripped away from all the normal functioning human beings of the world who didn’t want to cry/scream/smash things on a regular basis.

I wanted to hurl a house at God.

But still, I craved beauty.

After a few months, I went back to work – hiding in the fairy-tale of Clarissa Grace Couture. Throwing myself into designing the most beautiful collection possible.

I called it Waking Up In Paris {can you spot the Marie Antoinette inspiration?} and it was my last collection.

{Image credit: Gowns designed by Clarissa Grace Couture.}

{Image credit: Gowns designed by Clarissa Grace Couture.}

It was a huge success.

After receiving orders for my gowns from Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo, as well as all across Australia, I was at home in my PJ’s one night, and I’m crying so hard that snot’s coming out all over my hubby’s t-shirt because I was so overwhelmed, and because – how the hell was I going to do this? {!!!}

How was I going to have all these gowns made when my baby was gone, and my dad was dead, and Robin Hood sucks, and holy crap, how could everything have happened like this, it’s all just one big monstrous mistake, and ohhh God… and then shit, shit, shit, HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED WHEN I WAS ONCE SO HAPPY AND EVERYTHING WAS PEACHY AND NOW IT’S JUST AN UPSIDE DOWN PIECE OF FRIGGEN SHIT –

Sobbing.

More sobbing.

Okay.

Stop.

Breathe.

Everything’s going to be okay.

And I was breathing in and out and in and out and then my hubby whispered in my ear, “You know you don’t have to do this,” and then I realised that I didn’t know that, and then I was like, “Really?”

And then suddenly, I made the very swift decision to close the doors of Clarissa Grace Couture for good.

Done. {Now please send me over a pack of pink doughnuts. A dozen or so should do the trick.}

I couldn’t do it anymore and I knew it.

Fifteen years of my identity, my dream, my life…

It was time to stop. Time to focus for a bit and… grieve. Allow it. Feel it. Process it. Give myself time to take regular showers and feed the children something other than toast and figure out who the hell I was, now that half my heart had been thrown in the blender.

Yes.

I could do this.

It would be okay.

I would close Clarissa Grace Couture quietly, calmly and professionally. {And I would suppress my desire to run over every single wedding gown in a monster truck.}

 

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Although it was dark for a reeeeally long time, step by step, moment by moment, I started to feel it – this need that was growing inside of me for something lighter.

Something like beauty.

Below is a picture of me on the 6th of October 2010 – the 1 year anniversary of Loxley’s death.

I'm smiling here because that's what you do when your hubby points a camera in your face…

But honestly – I’m an emotional pigsty inside.

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I'll never forget our drive home from the hospital the day after our Loxley died & my arms were empty and the blossoms were betraying us with their beauty.

I kept wondering – How could they do that? Didn't they know what had happened to us?

In the photo above, we’re at a blossom farm, picking a cherry tree to take home and plant in our garden in memory of Loxley.

You may notice I'm wearing black.

A lot. Of black.

Because black had become my new normal. {Either head-to-toe black, or wearing PJ’s all day/week/month long.}

I'd never been a black wearer before my dad and Loxley died. I loved pretty, pastel-y, heavenly colours. And although black can be extremely sophisticated when done well, so often it’s associated with hiding, mourning and negativity.

That’s what it was for me.

Black reflected how I was feeling and who I’d become. It was the tool I unintentionally used to become as invisible as humanly possible.

The dark inside of me had changed the outside of me. 

And in the process, my self-worth plummeted.

I remember looking at this picture after it was taken and not even recognise myself. It blew my eyes wide open because I realised how much I’d forgotten beauty. {And can I just quickly clarify here that when I refer to ‘beauty’ I don’t mean the perfect body, or whatever's in Vogue, or the kind of hair only Disney princesses have.}

I craved REAL beauty.

The kind of beauty that the ever divine Stasi Eldredge talks about in her book Captivating:

Beauty is powerful… Beauty may be the most powerful thing on earth. Beauty speaks. Beauty invites. Beauty nourishes. Beauty comforts. Beauty inspires. Beauty is transcendent. Beauty draws us to God.

And beauty heals.

Black wasn’t beauty to me – black was tears and funerals and babies in boxes.

It was the colour that kept me hidden, but it was also the colour that determined and distorted the thoughts and feelings I had about myself. {Just like the Wicked Witch of the West, Morticia Addams, or Darth Vader for example.}

Black wasn’t who I wanted to be and it wasn’t how I wanted to feel anymore. 

So from that point on, I became much more intentional about putting myself in beauty’s way. {Thanks Cheryl – you’re a doll.}

At first it was in the small things. Like burning a pretty candle, or filling the fridge with delights, or buying myself a bunch of flowers, or curling up under a cozy cashmere throw. {And then watching Dr Phil and then Oprah and then The Bold and the Beautiful on repeat.}

But then, as slow as a baby sloth, I found myself in a place where I was ready to bring beauty back into my wardrobe too. Give myself some much needed self-love.

I mean heavens-above, I was a fashion designer for goodness sake. I LOVED clothes.

And I also understood their power.

I knew that the clothes I was choosing to wear were impacting the way I felt about myself. {And I needed a bucketload of help with that part.} But I also knew that they were impacting the way I felt about what had happened to me.

Because I believe that what we chose to wear is one of the most personal and intimate ways for us to experience beauty. The way they literally touch our skin. Fill our eyes with what we love. Frame the person we want to be. Tell the story we want to tell.

That’s healing. And we all need healing in one way or another.

So I decided I wanted as much beauty in my life as possible. Everywhere. In EVERYTHING. I wanted to see it, touch it, feel it’s essence deep inside of me. {And I wanted that picture of myself looking like I was dressed up in a human sized crow costume to burst into flames.}

I was ready to fall hard in love with myself and re-create the magnificently rich, joy-filled wardrobe I’d once adored. One that would be a reflection of the world changing woman I’d planned on becoming, even though I hadn’t become her yet.

I know you've probably heard me talk once or one hundred times about how our clothes speak to people. About how within 7 seconds, people have made a decision about who we are based on what we are wearing.

But our clothes don't just speak to other people – they also speak to us!

 

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Professor Karen Pine talks about this exact thing in her book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion. She says:

…see how clothes also speak to us, the wearer, how they subtly and dynamically transform us, not just on the outside but on the inside. How one small item, a twist of tailoring, a splash of colour or wardrobe tweak, can alter how we think, feel and behave.

In the book she tells a story of a lovely young lady who was wandering through a store in Manhattan when a drop-dead-gorgeous hat caught her eye. She went to a mirror, tried the thing on, and like magic, saw herself transform.

She loved it!


But then, all these ugly doubts started crawling around in her gorgeous head. You know the drill: Does it suit me? Am I gutsy enough to wear it? Does it make me look Gaga? Is it too fabulous? Too flashy? Too flamboyant?

But then another lady walked by her in the store and said: “Buy the hat. It'll change your life.”

She brought it.

A little after that, she went to London and met the most magnificent man ever. Later he told her that he saw her in that hat across the room and thought to himself: I need to know/kiss/marry the kind of woman who would wear a hat like that.

And so she married him.

How delicious is that?

Professor Karen Pine says ever so smartly:

The hat started a whole chain of transformational events. It altered Meg in so many subtle ways, without her even knowing it. She would have walked with more confidence, held her head a little higher. She would have become aware of the positive effects she was having on the people around her, and she would have been more likely to sparkle, more likely to smile. Smiles get people noticed. People like people who smile. And so the vicious cycle is set in motion.

The hat gave her ‘permission’ to behave differently. She became more outgoing, more positive, more confident, more courageous, and isn’t that what you want for your life and your business? {I remember feeling a similar way back in 1987 when my mama bought me my first bubble skirt. I swear on my life that skirt gave me superpowers!}

Clothes can change our feelings, they can change our business, and they can change our life.

It’s what Professor Karen Pine has spent a lifetime researching – the way our clothes have cognitive, social, and emotional consequences on every area of our life.

It’s what inspired her to create a list of ‘Happy Clothes.’ {Which are special clothes that can give you the most wonderful, sun-on-your-face fantastic feelings possible.}

Want the list? {It’s your reward for getting all the way to the bottom!} IT’S FREE! Click the button below and it’s all yours!

OUI! I WANT THE SECRET PASSWORD!

Now you…

  • Have you ever had your own ‘hat’ {or bubble skirt} moment?

  • Tell me the cheesiest piece of clothing you had as a kid that gave you superpowers?

  • What do you already have in your wardrobe that makes you feel all sun-on-your-face happy?

Tell me in the comments…

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Waking Up In Paris | Clarissa Grace | Personal Style Online | Online Fashion Stylist | Confidence Coach | Mom Boss | Fashion For Working Moms & Mompreneurs

Author: Clarissa Grace

As fashion designer, style coach, and founder of Waking Up In Paris, Clarissa Grace teaches mum entrepreneurs to embrace their body, redefine beauty and transform themselves through the power of personal style. She is professionally trained in fashion design, costume design, and haute couture through The Paris American Academy, and has created hundreds of couture wedding gowns for brides under her self named label. Clarissa has been splashed on the pages of Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Woman's Day, chatted on Channel 7 and Nine, and dressed some of Australia's most dazzling stars such as Isabel Lucas, Kate Ritchie, Jodi Gordon and Ricki-Lee Coulter.

 
Waking Up In Paris | Clarissa Grace | Personal Style Online | Online Fashion Stylist | Confidence Coach | Mom Boss | Fashion For Working Moms & Mompreneurs

Hello, M'dear!

I'm Clarissa Grace and I adore you already! I’m a personal style and branding coach, and I love helping mum entrepreneurs find their dazzling core of confidence, shine bright like a damn diamond and magnetise dream clients.  

Waking Up In Paris | Clarissa Grace | Personal Style Online | Online Fashion Stylist | Mom Boss | Fashion For Working Moms & Mompreneurs
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