To properly tell the story of Erika and Trudy and how they came to form a business together, a business based on Erika’s love of spectacle as expressed through dresses, skirts, knitwear or what the industry would call “apparel”, coupled with Trudy’s innate love of order and numbers, we must look to their childhood.
Of the two, Erika’s is the more intriguing. But, stick with me, as Trudy’s appetite for risk-taking makes for a more inspiring and relatable tale.
It’s not uncommon to characterize unhealthy family dynamics as a circus where the rapid pace of conflicting needs generates endless drama. Erika was born into such a family, with the added bonus that the family business was actually the circus, specifically, Cirque du Soleil. Erika was conceived during the troupe’s first trip to Japan, a six-month stay where they performed “Saltimbanco”. It was giddy time to be part of this new company, formed on the streets of Baie Saint Paul.
At the tender age of four, Erika was thrust into the limelight. Her Mom walked her up the twenty-foot ladder while the entire company watched from below. It was a proud moment for the organization, the initiation of the first member of the next generation into a life devoted to entertainment flavored by acts that defy gravity. Sounds nice on paper, but when Erika stood on the top of the ladder, she froze in fear. Despite the harness tethering her to safety, Erika refused to budge. Her father waved, encouraging her to fly. The chilled champagne was waiting to be uncorked. But Erika refused to die. That is the way she saw it. She didn’t feel that the harness offered real security or that it would hold her. She didn’t feel the rush of joy. Instead, she registered panic and a looming sense of dread that never abated. Though her parents kept trying to get Erika to join their ranks, first in Dusseldorf, Vienna, then finally, Berlin, her refusal to step out and perform was a rebuff to her larger circus family. I’d like to say her parents took it in stride, but gradually they withdrew their affections and so Erika sought refuge and a sense of belonging wherever it was offered. Mostly, she hung out in the costume department where she cultivated a taste for glittery clothes that commanded the spotlight.
In 2004, as part of a larger effort to break the Guinness Book of World Records, Erika was pressed into service as a stilt walker. It was the last time she had a civil conversation with her Mom. Aging aerialist can be a nasty crew.
If writers controlled the world, then Erika’s beleaguered childhood would serve as grist for a magnificent life, where hard lessons instill a sense of resilience and endurance that deepen one’s connection to luck and friendship. But we all know that life is never that tidy. An indifferent student, she took odd jobs at franchise chains like The Gap and American Apparel where she learned how to fold t-shirts by watching corporate videos. At night she’d go home and sketch ideas for clothing.
It took awhile for Erika to notice Trudy who favored clothes that enabled her to disappear in a crowd. Had Trudy not worn bright red thigh high stockings to work one day, there wouldn’t be a story to tell.