Last week's inaugural L’Affaire du Monde: Couture for a Cause at the Ballroom at Bayou Place benefited two local charities: The Rose, which supports breast cancer patients and survivors, and the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, which offers resources to immigrants and refugees. Local and international designers alike sent their work down the runway, which also saw some breast cancer survivors walk as models.
“L’Affaire du Monde (World Affairs) is the vehicle I created to bring awareness and change in hopes of saving lives,” said Pitsami Norm, chair of the Asian American Pacific Islanders Initiative at the Houston International Trade Development Council.
Norm wanted to subvert the cultural stigma around talking about breast health in the Asian community. She also wanted to honor the legacy of her mother, who died in 2009 from myeloma and breast cancer. Four years later, Norma's father died from lung cancer. Norm, an immigrant who'd escaped the Cambodian genocide with her family, felt like her world was crashing down.
“For years I was empty and lost inside," she said. "I would never realize how deeply I was scarred by these losses if not for the destruction Harvey left in its wake.”
That's when Norm, "driven to service" after Harvey devastated a small community of Cambodian farmers in Rosharon, Texas, finally felt "alive again," she said, able to focus on something bigger than herself.
"I felt my parents’ hopes and dreams, and the connection I had been missing for nine years,” she added.
Through a volunteer relief effort, she met Ashma Khanani-Moosa, board director of The Rose, the local non-profit that provides mammograms and other breast health services to thousands of Texans every year, including many who are uninsured. That's when Norm says she found peace with her mother's death.
“That day was the day I started on my journey to bring awareness to the women in Asian communities who are being ravaged by breast cancer,” Norm said.
Khanani-Moosa was herself diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, and she went to The Rose after hearing of its reputation in the community. As a board member, Khanani-Moosa focuses on increasing breast cancer awareness, early detection, and treatment options to the South Asian community.
“Women have to put ourselves first, so we can take care of our children,” Norm said.
The Alliance, L'Affaire du Monde's other nonprofit beneficiary, assists refugees and immigrants with resources like workforce training and financial coaching. "I became who I am today because of organizations like the Alliance," Norm said, which "really gave me an opportunity to be better and to give myself another chance."
Fatima Khanani-Moosa opened the evening with a traditional Indian dance fusion of Kathak and Kuchipudi. Houston's own Danny Nguyen Couture was the first to present his latest collection, followed by Uzbek designer Indira Isaeva's glitzy designs. Isaeva's atelier is known for flawless tailoring and personalization. Umair Khan, CEO and creative designer of Meru Merus, showed his Fall/Winter 2018 collection, during which a breast cancer survivor walked the runway in his black velvet French lace dress. Project Runway winner and hometown favorite Chloe Dao presented her Glam Remix collection, full of gilded pieces.
Cambodia’s top model and Goodwill Ambassador for the Airavata Elephant Foundation, Marianne Clais, walked the runway in a fusion of Khmer Aspara from Remy Hou. The Cambodian designer debuted his Winter ‘18/’19 collection with a strong focus on his love for the art and culture of his country, where medical treatment is not readily available for the many young women affected with breast cancer there.
Local designer Sameera Faridi presented traditional Indian attire with a navy, cobalt, and deep ruby color palette. Models also walked the runway in traditional Indian wedding attire with gold embroidery.
The final walk was dedicated to breast cancer survivors.
“It was a way to bring breast cancer awareness on an international scale,” EJ Wilson of the International Trade Development Council said of the show.