BALANCING YOUR LIFE: " I had everything a woman could want," fashion designer Dana Buchman, said, and then her perfect world fell apart. Her baby daughter was diagnosed with learning difficulties, and Dana was ashamed of being ashamed. So she wrote "A Special Education" about her experience.
Ellen Susman: Why did you decide to write this book and share what happened to you?
Dana Buchman: I decided to write this book when Charlotte became a senior in high school and I looked back at the past 17, 18 years before, and saw what had gone on and how much anxiety, pain, confusion and bewilderment existed in that period of time that didn't have to be there if I had known what I knew at the end.
ES: You wrote a line that must have been so difficult -- you said, "I was ashamed of being ashamed."
DB: When I typed that sentence about being ashamed, I looked over my shoulder at the computer and everybody was asleep, and I thought, I can't say I'm ashamed of my daughter. What mother does that? But I have been. And I'm ashamed of it. But that's part of my humanity, so...
ES: Well, also part of learning how to cope with something you couldn't control, which is difficult for anyone.
DB: All mothers come into this realization that their children are not mini-me. I thought they were all going to be a little mini-me, all of them. Coming to terms with the other and being able to accept it, and to let go of your own agenda is so important. When I was ashamed, I wasn't ashamed of Charlotte. I was ashamed of something in me.
ES: I ached for you when I read your book. I thought, here's this woman who is designing a collection, who has another daughter who is feeling short-changed, a husband, she's trying to figure out what to do with Charlotte, and she's exhausted. How did you even cope?
DB: Well, I did that good old thing I learned during my upbringing in Memphis, Tennessee. I just pushed everything down and said, "I'm fine, and I can do this."
ES: In the book, you refer to yourself as "Perky, perky". This is actually a moniker you use to describe a less authentic version of yourself. Do you think we all hide behind these facades?
DB: I think a lot of women are trained not to express their needs. It's considered unlovely, undesirable. A lot of us are Type A, raised to believe that being perfect, being able to handle everything is the highest good, and if you express any weakness or vulnerability you open the way to turn into a puddle of nothing.
ES: Like the wicked witch of the north melting...what advice do you have for women?
DB: I would say that the most important thing as your life unfolds is to be in touch with what's going on inside. It's okay to bring it up and talk about it because chances are your lady friends and men friends are feeling something like that too. The idea that to be a successful designer and run a company, I have to keep my emotions tightly packaged is ludicrous. Why should I have to do that?
Well, she doesn't, and we don't either! But I would be remiss if I didn't include a bit about Dana the designer, and what she loves about fashion design!
ES: Women have come a long way since the big shoulders and buttoned up, structured look of the 80's when you started designing. Do you look back and marvel at how fashion has changed? You seem so much looser now.
DB: That's why I love fashion of course, because clothing does change! Part of it is the times. As women have become at home in the workplace we don't have to be quite as buttoned up when we pursue our careers. Dressing is still very important, but it's got a more relaxed edge.
ES: Who is the ideal Dana Buchman client?
DB: I have such a clear vision of my customer. I know her so well. She's smart, she's beautiful and she comes in different physiques. She might be a workingwoman, a volunteer, a mom, or part of all of these. She loves to dress up, but that's only one part of her life. She has so many aspects, and I'm her helper. I'm the one that takes care of helping her dress so she can get on with all those other things that are important.
ES: And when you see women wearing your clothes, how does it make you fee?
DB: I love it. That's the rush. the top, the whole reason I do this. You know a lot of designers talk about their muse being a movie star, or someone from the past. To me, it's the women I see when I travel, whom I talk with, the women who run the country.
As Fashion Week winds down, I think about how our clothes and surface is often at odds with what's really happening in our lives. Dana say's it's all in the mix. So true with clothes and life. Check your local PBS station to see " Balancing Your Life" and celebrate the strength and diversity of women!