After leaving High School I moved to Portland, Oregon to study fashion design. I actually graduated (I understand only about six of us did), but I haven’t yet used my degree unless you count my time in a costume shop where after three Halloweens my love of dressing up was savaged into oblivion. I never expected to start my fashion design company until I was in my 40’s so techincally you could say I’m still on target…unless I fall on my head and forget I’m a designer or I die before I can prove to the world I’m as good as I think I am. Yes, my teachers loved me! Can you feel the sarcasm? During my second year we had to find and serve a short internship with an actual fashion design company. I dreaded the whole idea of finding a place so I put it off until one day I turned down this small lane I’d never walked down before and found Mary de la Salandra’s boutique-work shop. The clothes were so beautiful I was oblivious to the very wierd place with the blue framed window opposite labelled The 24hr Church of Elvis. At some point I got up the nerve to ask Mary if she’d take an intern. I remember her saying she’d had a previously unpleasant experience with an intern, but said I could bring in some of my work and she’d then give me a final answer.
She very kindly in the end allowed me to torture her and I suspect some days it really was torture, but I loved being there. Her shop was absolutely magical; it was like stepping into another dimension of reality that smelled heavenly. My long term memory has retained snatches of images and several conversations, but I’ll never forget the day I was sitting in the workshop window working on a vest. It was a typical Portland winter day. The sky was a lovely slate grey and the streets were wet reflecting passing light and colour. I looked up from my work and on the other side of the glass a limosine pulled up outside blocking the small street. I stared in curiosity as it opened and a few feet away three fat men with really long beards got out and went over to the door of The Church of Elvis. It took me several long seconds to realise why they looked familiar. I’d seen them on MTV; they were ZZ Top. I remained where I was and watched them speak with the lady who owned The 24hr Church of Elvis wearing her weird coat she’d somehow covered with baby doll’s faces. A short time later they got back in their limo and drove away. I went back to work laughing, feeling like anything or anyone might pass the window.
I must have been sitting in the window on at least one occasion when my future friend Kris visted her good friend Stephanie, the strange lady who wore the coat covered with baby heads. Kris would have come and gone without any knowledge that the weird girl in the window would one day adopt her as a sister. My intern ended and school resumed and I continued working at the ice cream store where one warm spring day Kris came in with her friends. When I saw her at church the next Sunday (I’d never noticed her before though she must have come on occasion), I went up to her and said, “Hello, I saw you at the ice cream store! Can I sit here?” She later told me she didn’t remember going to get icecream and simply thought I was some weirdo who’d wandered in off the street. Several years later I went back with Kris to that magical little street to visit The 24hr Church of Elvis and meet the owner. She was really nice and she talked a bit about her coin operated art and her story. I can’t remember if Mary de la Salandra was still occupying the opposite shop, but I was flooded with memories of those winter days spent cocooned in magic behind the large glass windows. I looked into them like a time traveller who knows she can’t return and left feeling very weird.
When Kris told me the other week that her friend Stephanie had put The 24hr Church of Elvis on line, I had to go have a look; her quirky sense of humour is now reaching the entire planet. I watched all the little films and found them quite funny. When I’m next in Portland I will definately have to go buy one of her black t-shirts with the glow-in-the-dark logo; just for all the memories. If you’re in need of a laugh, check out www.24hourchurchofelvis.com
Out of curisity I looked up Mary de la Salandra on line and found she’s now in the South of France making beautiful bespoke stuffed animals and selling them on Etsy. Looking at them brought back memories of my first day. She’d designed this long legged teddy bear and my simple task was to cut out the bear pattern in this expensive fabric… Thankfully she came to check on me. I’d somehow cut two fronts and no backs. I was horrified and I felt so stupid. I think she kept me on as her good deed for the year. God Bless her! If she hadn’t there would have only been five graduates that year.