Love is a Highway

April 27, 2024


We OPEN in the parking lot of a local high school. Warm coral hues dance their way through the powder blue sky. We see the lead woman, back turned, inspecting her motorcycle. With a crimson rag, she intently rubs debris from its surface to regain its shine. The camera pans to her classmate, who approaches her with intrigue.

Nice Ride.

Startled, the lead turns. Looking down on her seemingly feeble classmate, she smirks. The biker exploits others for game, and this stranger looks ready to play.

Wanna take it for a spin?

The classmate nods, for this is the perfect opportunity to charm their challenger. The lead woman grabs her bike handles and swings her leg around the saddle. The classmate ineptly stumbles onto the seat, avidly wrapping their arms around the lead’s waist. The woman starts the engine and cunningly accelerates from the lot to the --


Three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic cause staticity in the street. The road warrior carelessly glides between lanes, brewing road rage within annoyed drivers. Horns blare. The daredevil menacingly glances into the rearview mirror to assess her passenger’s state.

How ya doing back there?

The classmate suppresses vomit, closes their eyes, and breathes deeply. Secretly terrified, the peer attempts to alleviate their anxiety in hopes of impressing the woman.

Is this all you’ve got?

The woman concludes round one of her game: Intimidation. She advances to round two. Fueling her plaything’s distress, she further accelerates. Wind blows her long, black hair into her passenger's face. View obstructed, the classmate frantically reaches for her mane to move it. Upon touching it, they feel its luscious silkiness. Lusting for more, they urgently, yet gently run their fingers through her smooth tresses. Buoyant notes play as “KABHI KABHI MERE DIL MEIN” fades in. The music is a tender declaration of love --

(singing --)

The classmate suddenly dives their nose into their persecutor’s hair. Inhaling her fresh and floral scent, their hands continue grasping at her tresses. Sparks fly from the bike’s engine.

(singing --)

IN SLOW MOTION - Hypnotized by a surge of love, the peer clasps their legs to the bike for stability while leaning back, arms gaily floating above their head. Riding on, the lead woman doesn’t seem to notice.

(singing --)

The singer abruptly jumps up, standing on the moving vehicle. Twirling about, they continue their ballad. With an apparent lack of sight and hearing, the lead remains oblivious to the folly occurring right behind her.

(singing --)

They continue their confession as fellow drivers revolve around the bike, assembling their vehicles into a heart formation. Day turns to night as the last slither of the sun fades out with the music. The speed demon slows her bike and turns back into the --


As both riders disembark the motorcycle, they place their hands on the saddle for security.  The camera zooms in on their fingers as they lightly brush against each other.



IN SLOW MOTION - Her classmate’s lips part. They reluctantly retract their hand, but the initial contact leaves them yearning for another feel of her soft skin. Launching their hand toward the biker’s, the classmate reclaims her waiting hand. The peer’s pupils dilate as they examine the woman’s enchanting brown eyes for signs of mutual affection.



The lead clasps her hand around the classmate’s, accepting the embrace. Coveting dominance, she strategically places her spare hand around the classmate’s neck, cunningly inviting them for a kiss. A lip lock will complete round two: Enamorment. Then, only one will remain.


IN SLOW MOTION - Both parties lean in. Sexual tension rises. Their lips pucker. The peer’s unsteady breaths brush the woman’s expecting lips. Closing the distance between them, they reach closer and closer until –

*clears throat*

The camera pans to the lead woman’s partner of three years. Arms crossed over their chest, hip dramatically poked to the side, and face contorted in aggravation, they shake their head disapprovingly. The classmate’s eyes widen. For how could another have already claimed their (almost) lover? Their focus oscillates between the partner and the lead, whose expression lacks surprise. This isn’t her first rodeo. She rolls her eyes annoyed at her date’s intrusion on her impending affair. Guitar strums intensify and a vocalist cries out as “AAP KI KASHISH” plays.

(singing --)

The classmate leaps into the air, returning to the ground on both knees. Grabbing the lead's hand, they lightly brush their lips against her gentle knuckles. Envy boiling within them, the partner seizes ownership of their girlfriend’s spare hand, dragging her away from the peer, whose hand desperately falls to their lap as their gaze follows suit. The lead, enacting her best performance, dramatically reaches for the classmate, but upon unreciprocated eye contact, her gaze quickly averts to her lover.

(singing --)

Heavy rain suddenly pours. Thunder rumbles. Electricity cracks as lightning bolts terrorize the sky. Water droplets bead on their skin. The downpour penetrates their hair and clothes, making everything heavy with wetness. The footage cuts to the partner fervently dancing atop a school bus while their girlfriend sits on the concrete below. Legs outstretched, ankles crossed, and head cocked to the side, she watches in amusement. Despite the interruption, her success in the second round prevails.

The two fools continue to sing, charging after each other and wrestling in the puddles. Meanwhile the woman boards her bike, starts the engine and speeds away.

Her abandonment completes the final round. The lead giggles to herself, relishing in yet another sweet victory.

The final score: 3-0.


Layout: Caroline Clark
Photographer: Aaron Castellanos
Videographer: Cameron Shin
Stylists: Michelle Arriaga & Yousuf Khan
Set Stylist: Yousuf Khan
HMUA: Meryl Jiang
Model: Natán Murillo, Meryl Jiang & Noor Khan

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Reminiscing in Rose

By Maria Luevanos
April 27, 2024

I wasn’t just committed to being myself now, I was devoted.

Like “Ocean’s Eleven,” our elaborate heist was set in motion. We were eight, too young for makeup but more than interested. We tried to withhold our giggles as we made our way into an older sister’s room. The house was old, the floor creaked, and the bedroom door alerted everyone of our plan. My friend grabbed the purple box, decorated with stickers and a small silver latchet. Jackpot. This box might as well have been treasure for us. We kept it close and held it carefully. With it tightly hugged in my friend’s arms, we made our great escape successfully, finding refuge in the four corners of her closet.

“What if they find us?” One of us would ask each time, a hint of panic and a lot of hesitancy. As if taking turns, the other’s response would be a giggle, a signal of encouragement and an agreement that we’d take our chances.

Like a game of dress-up, we had clad our faces in bright colors. We felt we were on the precipice of adulthood; we became our older sisters, our mothers, the Disney channel stars we sat down and watched every week. We became everything we were destined to be. I decorated myself with rhinestones and glitter. We switched brushes and swapped lipsticks and mascara wands, innocently unaware of germs and where to put what. We replicated what our Bratz and Barbies looked like, changing into clothes that were too big and makeup that was too adult. We tried different nail polish colors, adding blue on top of purple, not caring to take off the layer before. When we felt sneaky, we’d grab the red nail polish, wear her mom’s blazers, and play adults. Red was the forbidden color. Like bad words and beer, it was only meant to be used by adults. But we’d do it anyway. The closet was chaotic with her mom’s heels, my mom’s jewelry and the carpet barely visible under the clothes of our various wardrobe changes — it was a mess. But the closet was our secret New York Fashion Week. We used our hands and pushed air through our gritted teeth to mimic the cameras, developing photoshoots in our memories. When we felt that a suspicious amount of time had passed or heard the stairs creak, we’d embody the Flash, quickly covering our traces.

This was my introduction to makeup. It made me nervous. It felt wrong. It felt vulnerable. It felt exciting.

I believed this game of dress-up would be brought to life as I got older, that a familiar experience from girlhood would embrace me in womanhood. But the older I got, the more I realized this game was a chore. I saw myself losing the Disney I once idolized. I watched as makeovers became removing glasses, straightening hair, using colors that would help you camouflage instead of stand out. It was a punchline when characters were presented with a “no make-up” look, they were called tired or sick. I began to feel like I was the before of the makeovers. Whereas makeup was once an expression of  creativity and exploring different versions of myself, it became a task of blending in with everyone around me.

I learned that to have a bare face was to be naked. Growing up, I felt that naked was a bad word. Even now, it doesn’t comfortably roll off my tongue. I knew that naked meant being seen in a way that was irreversibly vulnerable. So when I learned a face without makeup was a face naked, I made sure I was never at risk of being exposed.

And somewhere along the way, the glitter left and the bold colors mellowed. Rhinestones and different colors of nail polish for each finger were too childlike. Red was still too adultlike. I learned makeup was meant to conceal not accentuate. The colors became soft, neutral pinks. The glitter became a brown almost indistinguishable from my eyelids. I didn’t try anymore with the nail polish, the rhinestones disappeared, and altogether, my days of dress-up were gone.

I wouldn’t say I missed those days. After a while, it felt that those things were only relevant to a past self, one who had yet to grow into adulthood. And it wasn’t that not wearing makeup or nail polish made me feel adult — of course, the adults around me did both of those. It’s just that it didn’t feel natural. That bridge from colorful childhood antics to monotonous adult routine still didn’t feel walkable.

Last year, my roommate brought out two bottles of nail polish. There were only 30 minutes before we had to leave, but she was convinced that it was more than enough time. Maybe it was, but I have always been bad at painting my nails; I spill it, I stain something. My hands shake and I'm easily distracted. The colors I liked were too bold or too grown, and sometimes they didn’t match. Painting my nails wasn’t something I really did anymore.

But I had nothing else to do, so I used the bottle she wasn’t. Eventually, 20 minutes went by and the nail polish sat on the skin of my left fingers. Some on the nails too, though they were smudged, and some layers showed lighter than the others. When time inevitably ran out, and my other hand was even worse than the first, the option to wash it off was gone. But I wasn’t worried about it looking a certain way.

I felt like a time traveler in that moment. I was 20 yet eight at the same time. With each layer of nail polish returned a layer of my past. Girlhood was a time when I was unapologetically myself. My games of pretend were an unconscious, innocent manifestation of the woman I hoped to become. There were no rules to follow, no color schemes to match. It was a time when I was committed to being myself because I hadn’t learned how to be anything else. Even entering my twenties. I was still just playing a game of pretend. I pretended to be a woman the only way I knew how. I mimicked what wasn’t mocked and I embraced what was advertised. But, as I sat there painting my nails, I felt the innocence of girlhood intertwining with the novelty of womanhood.

That day, I decided to play dress-up.

It felt vulnerable as I began to decorate my adult face with the rejected influences of my childhood. The brushes, my brushes, were now tinted with the untouched bold colors of the palette. I used the glitter and rhinestones from my concert bag. The makeup I put on resembled that of my younger self, but the process felt natural. My identity as a woman stood independent of mine as a girl, but we entangled so beautifully. I was no longer pretending to be a version of myself that I thought I needed to be. I was authentically and unapologetically myself. And I wasn’t just committed to being myself now, I was devoted.

I started painting my nails more. I started wearing my makeup out. Like I had cut the strings on a marionette, I gained control of my own body. So my room was a mess: there were nail polish stains, foundation spilling on my dresser, music still playing from my speaker, and clothes on the floor. But, God, did my makeup look good. ■

Layout: Jaycee Jamison & Ashley Guzman
Photographer: Esmeralda Cruz Castellanos
Videographer: Madison Payne
Stylists: Reyana Tran & Adeline Hale
HMUA: Mariela Mendoza
Model: Arliz Munoz

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April 27, 2024

It’s human to fight for what you want.

It was the summer of '69, Greenwich Village. The highest temperature in NYC that year had been 97°, and the city’s weather climate had almost been as erratic as its political climate.

The air was thick with the humidity pushed from the Hudson, but also with defiance and liberation.

It was the perfect brewing pot for a heady cocktail of rebellion.

NEW YORK, New York

Within Greenwich Village lies The Stonewall Inn, standing tall at 53 Christopher Street, between 7th Avenue South and Waverly Place.

It was an ordinary building from the outside, hardly noticeable amidst the hustle and bustle of the city streets. Yet, within its walls, history was being forged. The Stonewall Inn wasn't just any bar; it was a sanctuary, a haven for those who didn't fit neatly into society's prescribed boxes. Queerness flourished, identities blossomed, and love, in all its beautiful complexity, was celebrated unapologetically.

Inside these walls, individuals were able to be true to themselves, without fear of judgment or discrimination.  Drag queens with hearts as big as their feather boas, the butches and femmes whose energy and grace defied traditional gender roles, the transgender individuals daring to live authentically in a world that sought to erase their existence.

They were the catalysts, the vanguards of change, the champions of equality—ordinary yet extraordinary, whose actions would reverberate through history, forever altering the course of queer liberation.

For those who dared to challenge the constraints of conformity, the Stonewall Inn was a nondescript haven. It was in this dimly lit refuge that the echoes of change reverberated, where the first brick was hurled, not just at the establishment, but at the shackles that bound the collective soul.


While the origins of the first brick remain unclear, one undeniable truth remains: something significant was shattered that night. It wasn't just the physical breaking of glass; rather, it was the sound of liberation echoing through the air, the fierce roar of defiance reverberating against the walls of oppression, heralding a new era where courage trumped conformity. The marginalized found their voices and refused to be silenced, a legacy that would echo through the annals of history for generations to come

United in purpose, these queer individuals demonstrated their refusal to be relegated to the sidelines, throwing a brick of rebellious defiance. This act of resistance at The Stonewall Inn ignited a flame that refused to be extinguished, with its sparks spreading to furthest corners of the nation.

Far enough to reach the Lone Star State.


It was the summer of '70, Austin. The highest temperature in Austin that year had been 102°. In the sweltering heat of this Texan summer, a quiet revolution stirred in the heart of Austin.

In Austin, the news of Stonewall spread like wildfire.

While the streets of Greenwich Village were ablaze with the riots at Stonewall Inn, a scrappy queer community in the Lone Star State felt the aftershocks of resistance, even if they were hundreds of miles away from the epicenter.

From the pages of underground newspapers to the hushed conversations in dimly lit bars, their call for acceptance echoed through the streets. It was a time of courage and uncertainty, and a small but determined group of queer individuals dared to dream of a different future.

Born from the embers of Stonewall's defiance, the Gay Liberation Front embodied a spirit of radical activism and unwavering solidarity.


Gaining official recognition as a student organization on the University of Texas campus on December 6th, 1970, they were the first queer organization to be established on-campus. A monumental move for queer visibility, their presence promised a new era of acceptance and advocacy. However, their celebrations were cut short.

University President Bryce Jordan swiftly revoked their organization status just three days later.

Despite this setback, the Gay Liberation Front persevered, their resilience fueled by a determination to challenge injustice and pave the way for a more inclusive future. It too was time for them to throw their first brick, and they too didn't just protest; they orchestrated moments of rebellion, turning the city into their stage of resistance.

Whether it was staging zap actions—rapid, daring interventions designed to shake heteronormative spaces—or hosting guerrilla theater performances that provocatively challenged societal norms, the Gay Liberation Front showcased a steadfast dedication to their pursuit of liberation.

With their bold actions and unwavering solidarity, the Gay Liberation Front didn't just demand change; they embodied it, igniting sparks of hope in the hearts of all who dared to dream of a world where love knew no bounds.

But the road to liberation was fraught with challenges.

Campus leaders, still wary of the Gay Liberation Front, pushed back against their demands for recognition. It was a battle fought in the halls of academia, a struggle for legitimacy in a world that often sought to silence their voices. Like Stonewall, where resistance sparked a movement, the Gay Liberation Front persisted in their advocacy efforts.

In the spring of 1974, their perseverance paid off, and they were officially recognized as a sanctioned student organization on campus.


When we throw our first bricks, we are not just hurling objects; we are asserting our inherent right to be seen, heard, and accepted for who we truly are. There’s no more room for change; only acceptance.

Fighting back against these demands, we're not just challenging the status quo; we're reclaiming our right to exist fully and authentically in a world that often seeks to diminish our voices. It's in these moments of resistance that we tap into a reservoir of courage, drawing strength from the countless trailblazers who came before us, whose footsteps echo through the annals of history.

To be human, and our authentic selves.


Layout: Nicholas Peasley

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April 27, 2024

Together, they’re hypocrites and hedonists and helplessly indulgent to their cores.

It’s 1967 in Paris. The streets are wet with rain, and the clubs are full with eager bodies seeking release. One body in particular crosses the street onto Boulevard Montparnasse and into Chez Régine, his eyes half-obscured by thick-rimmed black glasses.

This place is like his home. Other men like him gather here, where they can swipe stolen kisses between one another in secret corners reeking of dry gin and saccharine cologne. The whole of Paris knows that the elite come to rub noses here, at the gay bar for the stars, and so they don their finest frocks for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to make it big.

Yves, brooding and quiet, catches the eye of a blonde from across the room and can’t shake it. Amongst the shining, sweaty crowd, she manages to seem utterly untouched by all of the madness. She’s no star, but she has what everyone there was chasing after. The plumes of cigarette smoke swirling from her painted-red lips fail to obscure a certainty about her sexuality that made him stop in his tracks. Her lips curl into a playful smirk as she averts her eyes, refusing to meet his piercing stare — and so the two of them begin their dangerous dance.

He is complimentary in his initial approach, lauding the woman for her striking resemblance to him — tall, thin, utterly unapproachable. He’d always been a narcissist in that way.

The attraction is all at once physical, spiritual, and mental. Their introductions are brief, and words are useless over the senseless rhythm pouring into their eardrums. He knows what to call it then, and doesn’t bother to mince words — he’s never been one to do so.

Love at first sight.

Of course, their lips will never touch. But his hands will know her body in a way I can only dream of. He thinks in terms of her, of her figure. His touch is like Midas, and he’s a fastidious, mercurial king — eager for his muse to turn to gold beneath his fingers. Together, they’re hypocrites and hedonists and helplessly indulgent to their cores.

And, certainly, you know his name. It’s one you’d be remiss to forget. It demands to be said with the whole of your mouth, from tongue to lips to cheeks. It colonizes the whole of you.

Yves Saint Laurent.

Yves has this feminine ideal preconceived from his earliest days, spent hunched over etchings of ballgowns billowing from graphite-hewn female silhouettes. Though he was teased to no end by his schoolmates — his hair was parted too neatly, his stature too ungainly and awkward — he sought comfort in the gowns he designed for his mother and sister. He had the eye of a designer since the age of five — all he had ever needed was a willing canvas.

His mind is utterly possessed by the curve of Betty’s hips, the way that her shoulders jut out broadly, forming his androgynous "feminine ideal." Rolls of draping fabrics bought in bulk — silk, mink, fox — fly from his lithe fingertips to her sinewy form. He sticks a pin right above her waist, pinching where the fabric would cinch her best and peering above his tortoiseshell glasses with that knowing look in his eyes. And she’ll stand there, lit cigarette in hand and a pout on her lips.

As for her, Betty Catroux, once called Betty Saint, she very may well have been nobody without him. She was the illegitimate daughter of and a French model. She knew what she wanted. More importantly, she knew how to get it.

She doesn’t particularly care about fashion — that’s not what inspires her. It’s Yves, and it’s the way that he looks at her. She does what she wants, and what strikes her as desirable in the moment. She wears it because she’s bored, or because Yves recommends it, or, many times, because she’s drunk. In that way, she is Yves’ polar opposite, balancing out his meticulous attention to detail.

With Yves, Betty feels like she is living in a fairy tale. She shares champagne with supermodels and celebrities whose names she could have only dreamed of knowing before, and spends summers and vacations with Yves in their very own Garden of Eden, indulging without regard for tomorrow. She has a lover — a husband whom she married soon after meeting Yves. Though she’ll carry on her husband’s last name, everything is electric with Yves. He looks without taking, touches without claiming, loves without lusting. He worships her like she’s his Virgin Mary, and she can’t help but devour the hyperdulia.

The feeling is mutual. Yves is inspired like he’s never been before — he releases collection after collection, designed perfectly for none other than her. For Betty. Le smoking — YSL’s rendition of the men’s tuxedo jacket — is the perfect accessory for such a muse. She always styles the jacket as a second skin, mostly unbuttoned with nothing underneath, as if she wants Yves’ creations to be as close to her body as physically possible.

When they’re forced apart by land or sea, or their respective partners and families, they write each other letters, as if every moment apart physically pains them. He calls her ma Pulu, a nonsensical nickname he created just for her as part of a language known by only the two of them. He promises to write back at the end of each declaration by signing avec mon grand amour — with my great love.

By day, they lounge together on yachts, enjoying the pristine sunshine kissing the tips of their noses, so carelessly emulating the social class of people they once claimed to hate. And by night, they dance their hearts away, sacrificing their souls in religious devotion on the dancefloor to one another — always close enough to raise questions, never quite close enough to answer them. They sneak into dimly lit back rooms together and dust bits of white powder off of shiny gold spoons into their noses.

She whisks glass after glass of tepid champagne into her mouth, complaining of the morbidly decadent hors d'oeuvres that she must force down to stay conscious. She hates food. She only eats so she can drink. Following long nights, they often end up in the hospital — together — in terrible condition.

They wake up with the light in their eyes — maybe the sun shining above is Paris, maybe it’s Milan, or maybe this time it’s New York City. They can never keep track. But with his shiny new plaything around, he’s off jet-setting without a care in the world. Betty and Yves are photographed in Japan, New York, then Paris. In some photos, he’ll drape his arms around her shoulder lazily in a comfortable display of affection. They’re seen together in embraces, arms wrapped around each other, always close, always touching — never kissing, always teasing at it.

He misses phone calls from Bergé begging him to get his shit together, and when he does answer, his words are slurred. The days bleed into the nights that drip into early in-between times spent shielded by a group of intimate wannabes who sought his approval more than they cared for his wellbeing.

Berge and Yves fight like brothers and don’t love like lovers any more. When their shared home is left half-empty, Yves isn’t surprised — only filled with a dull, throbbing hunger. His appetite becomes more insatiable, unbearable than ever, with the Pierre-shaped hole left behind. As much as she would like to, Betty can’t fill it, even in her clothes especially designed by Yves for her. So she does what she can — she doubles him. She pours him a double shot of whiskey, on the rocks. Their noses go red together in back rooms, and they ache for times where they once fell alive.

Yves Saint Laurent.

His name is written in the stars now, etched in gold on his two front-row seats at Paris Fashion Week — one reserved for him, one Betty. Days and nights go on, women and men come and go, but Betty always remains. Though Yves had always tended towards the melancholic, falling into depression like one falls in love, with Betty, his equal, his feminine double, all he can see is her.

In 2008, Yves loses a long battle with brain cancer. Though they are estranged, his business partner and ex-lover, Pierre Bergé, is the one to break the news. The announcement given to the press is brief, and offers little in the way of explanation. In the following months, publication after publication posts their take on the life of the infamous Yves Saint Laurent — his life, his legacy, his brand. His name lives on eternally, etched in gold on his tombstone.

Betty now spends her days doing very much of nothing, as had been her dream for some time. She still speaks with Yves each night, toasting to his framed portrait with a glass of her finest champagne. It’s as if nothing has changed. She knows that’s what he would have wanted. So, in her posh apartment on the Upper East Side, she dons her favorite le smoking, taking special care to wear nothing underneath — she wants to be as close to Yves as possible, even in death.

Taking a seat on her chaise lounge, she holds her champagne flute by its golden rim, and toasts to a framed photograph, grinning at the framed photograph of her masculine double — Yves.

Yves Saint Laurent.

“Bonne nuit, ma Pulu.”

Layout: Binny Bae
Photographer: Mateo Ontiveros
Stylists: Elsa Zhang & Lili Bien
Set Stylists: Mateo Ontiveros & Angelo Corridori
HMUA: Emely Romo & Meryl Jiang
Nail Artist: Anoushka Sharma
Models: Meryl Jiang, Andres Menendez & Victoria Hale

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Empress and I

April 27, 2024

Like a pair of aristocrats, we sipped on Italian water, debating whether the blanc gomme or gris antarctique Paris loafers were more beautiful as I spoke in French with the Russian woman next to me.

        Roaring down the ancient cobblestone roads that weave throughout the labyrinthine streets of Rome, my mother and I nestled closely in the snug confines of her dear friend Valentino’s crimson convertible. It was past midnight, and we rushed in and out of narrow alleyways and the grand expanse of the once-magnificent marble structures that adorned the city. My eyes etched memories into my mind as we passed the epochal sights of the Roman Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo, and 17th-century Baroque palazzos that shone from the dim yellow lamposts decorating the sidewalks. Once we finally stopped in front of a small salon, I inched out of the tiny vehicle and inhaled the crisp embrace of the night. Here we were, amidst the mythical city of Rome, and what was the first thing my mother and I were doing? Getting an expensive haircut. Valentino beckoned us to our thrones of velvet as he caressed our ebony locks of hair, his silver scissors poised in anticipation. Snipping away it took him barely an hour to complete both our haircuts, yet the result was incredible. With each snip of the scissors, my mother shared stories with us as we all laughed and bonded over the arrival of my mother and me in a new city, together.
        Since I was a toddler, my mother has been jetting off to destinations abroad, taking me with her as her little accomplice. I was always encouraged to cherish the finer things – not because of our inherent wealth, but because my mother had a keen eye for beauty and elegance. Growing up with a single immigrant mother, it was a sacrifice for her to be able to take me abroad, yet she treasured my pursuit of knowledge, the importance of understanding different cultures, and most of all – the art of enjoyment. Consequently (but not unexpectedly), I learned the European Fashion Houses before I could even master my multiplication and division tables.
        At home, my childhood playgrounds could be found at my mother’s favorite stores: Neiman Marcus, Mulberry, Ferragamo, and Carolina Herrera. Abroad, we would peruse and play at her other favorites: Brunello Cucinelli, Moncler, and Louis Vuitton. Ushering me to the dressing room, we would try the extravagant garments on together. I would awkwardly stand in front of the mirror waiting for her to examine me, desperately seeking her affirming yesses. A haughty figure worthy of both fear and reverence, my heart shattered when I was met with scorn and disdain rather than praise. Like an empress whose decrees are absolute and irrevocable, my mother’s opinions of the fabrics that clung onto my skin would determine my self-worth and our sentiments for another. Craving her compliments and validation, her adulation for me was often heard when we were both elated and felt at ease from our travels. Shopping made it easy to accomplish that.
        As such, our conversations while shopping always had a deeper subtext – an unspoken dialogue about unresolved issues and unspoken emotions. The way the conversation flowed and the tone of our remarks subtly defined the status of our relationship for the weeks to come, without the need to say our actual feelings directly. “That color is beautiful on you” marked a moment of reconciliation during a phase of aggression, while a deeper indication of an apology emerged when we both agreed that a particular dress was, in fact, rather unflattering despite the designer label. Hence over the years, the dressing room also became a sanctuary of sorts – a refuge of maternal intimacy and connection.

        My mother and I traversed the long winding street daring to enter a storefront gazing through the windows of stores of foreign names, from Goyard to Miu Miu, displaying their newest collections of luxurious delights, At last, we paused in front of Hermes and dutifully waited for our turn to go in. Behind us, a woman wearing noir fur gloves and a stunningly blue purse clicked her boots. Eyeing her bag, I pondered where I had seen the specific design of her purse. Glancing through the pristinely clean glass windows, I realized: it was a palladium blue Kelly bag. A real Kelly. “Welcome to Monte Carlo,” I mused. Observing this woman’s perfectly blown-out hair, thousands of dollars worth of Van Cleef necklaces and Cartier bracelets, I looked at my mother and shared an expression of beguilement. 

        As we stepped into the store, my eyes were dazzled by Kellys and Birkins worth more than the mind could fathom. Rare leathers and silk scarves, carefully handcrafted by artisans, lay there on display for all those who were worthy (and wealthy) enough to look at. Touching the exquisitely soft fabrics of monochrome cashmere, my mother and I quietly commented to one another in a delightful mix of Chinese and English about what we thought to be chic. Like a pair of aristocrats, we sipped on Italian water, debating whether the blanc gomme or gris antarctique Paris loafers were more beautiful as I spoke in French with the Russian woman next to me. Yet as much as I cherished this memory for myself, I must accept that my experience was not solely mine. I often erase my mother as a significant aspect of my favorite experiences when traveling as a defense mechanism and reaction to our fraught relationship. This habit originates from an ingrained fear of ruining a treasured memory with the negative sentiments that I associate with my mother as we often have an unspoken tension between us. But I wish that it wasn’t so. Perpetually yearning for deep, heartfelt conversations with my mother, I long for a mutual understanding and emotional connection with her. Yet, this dream always feels elusive. However, I’ve come to understand that her ways of expressing her love and tenderness for me were always there. In our moments of uninterrupted togetherness such as this, soaking in the opulence of our lavish European shopping expedition, our affection for each other was greater than ever.

        With every fancy dressing room we now shimmy into, I release any harbored resentment towards my mother. Trying on pieces that we know we may never purchase until we inevitably do, naturally brings out her inner critic. But as she presents a better item, I realize that she comes from a place of love and protection. Words are not needed to express the depth of our connection. The silence excavates more about my mother, the lofty price tags a background for my growing appreciation for her. She raised me to relish the finer things and to expect the best because I deserve the best. Our methods of connecting through materialistic means do not diminish the authenticity of our relationship and love for one another. Amidst our materialistic tendencies, I love and appreciate our shopping habits not for the sake of merely adding more clothes or jewelry to my collection, but using these moments as opportunities to unearth more about my mother – and, by extension, myself. ■

Layout: Cristina Canepa
Photographer: Sarah Poliuc
Stylists: Bella Muñoz & Divya Konkimalla
HMUA: Emely Romo & Srikha Chaganti
Models: April Chiu & Kani Manickavasakam

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