Nataline Sarkisyan, a seventeen year old sweetheart with big dreams of designing the gorgeous gowns of the future, woke up in the morning unaware of the solemn disaster that was engraved into the hours of that very day. She and her family, Koko, Hilda, and Bedros, had been tirelessly battling with their insurance company Cigna Healthcare for weeks to cover the life-saving liver transplant that would be Nataline’s only ticket out of her somber fate. With the afternoon hours of that day in near sight, a protest for Nataline’s case was held by the Sarkisyan family in conjunction with the California Nurses’ Association. As her mother, Hilda, was uttering arguably the most important words of the entire protest, their lawyer whispered to her that Cigna had finally accepted to cover the transplant. Amidst the happiness and tears that accompanied this news, the family abruptly rushed back to their daughter. But, as the sun crept into the mountains and the night drew nearer, the Sarkisyan family, along with hundreds of supporters, felt the merciless sting of “too late”. Nataline had passed away. July 12, 2008: Nataline’s Fashion Legacy. I had never known Nataline personally. I heard about her story from word of mouth among the Armenian community. She used to attend a small Armenian high school in the valley, and given that I did the same, we were relatively interconnected. I found out that her family was going to organize a fashion show in her honor in July, and had turned to the designer Pol Atteu – who was a close family friend – to bring a dress that was sketched by Nataline to life. From the very outset, I wanted to contribute something to the cause, and so I immediately called Pol and asked if I could model the dress he was going to create. Nataline’s Fashion Legacy, as it became known, was the first time I ever stepped foot into the world of Nataline Sarkisyan. I had never met her wonderful parents Koko and Hilda, and likewise had never known her hilarious brother Bedros (or Peter, as most call him). I had never been exposed to her friends and supporters. But in just a matter of a few hours, all of that changed. There was a short presentation at the beginning of the fashion show, which turned into a bit of a tradition (as every subsequent show had a similar presentation). Since I was relatively new to the entire scene, I had never heard the story from the family themselves. As I listened from behind the curtains to the woman who had lost her beautiful daughter, goosebumps and tears conquered my body. She was strong, and driven, and even if she had to fight back her tears with every ounce of strength she had (which she did), she was going to make that speech, and in turn, make that difference. She reminded me of my own mother, who shared the same strength and determination through her own experiences, and so I felt an immediate closeness to their cause. That day marked the beginning of my connection with Nataline. I was in her dress, at her fashion show, with her family and friends. Somehow, I felt like I knew her. Being in that moment somehow connected us through this weird parallel universe. In any case, that July is when it all began. July 11, 2009: Nataline’s Fashion Legacy 2. The Sarkisyan family decided to make this a yearly celebration in July as both a reflection of their daughter’s dreams of becoming a fashion designer, and as an alternative (and may I add super-chic) birthday party. Pol called me a week before the show and asked if I would do it again, and since I had felt that connection with Nataline, I gladly accepted. This year though, I had the honor of going through Nataline’s sketch book myself and helping Pol decide which dress to make. Out of the two dozen or so sketches in that book, we both decided on a long flowy number with a sequined bustier. The atmosphere of the fashion show this year was different. Word had gotten around that this event was taking place, and given its success the year before, more people showed up. The Calabasas Mercedes-Benz was packed. The energy was way higher, the people were more excited, and everything was just on an elevated level. I must admit I’ve never experienced this show from the audience side of the curtain, but I don’t mind it considering how much fun it is backstage. It was another huge success, and the dress? The dress was amazing – it’s still my favorite. July 10, 2010: Nataline’s Fashion Legacy 3. Round Three – The show was bigger and better. This was going to be my third time carrying the privilege to wear Nataline’s dress, and Pol and I decided on this asymmetrical design with four geometric straps. She was a creative one. Sako Balasanyan (or better known as Super Sako) was an Armenian rapper who became extremely dedicated to Nataline’s cause. He was going to perform his new song “Why Are You So Beautiful” at the show (and he went on to perform and MC Nataline’s Fashion Legacy 4 as well). As I started putting the dress on during the show, Peter (Nataline’s brother) came to me and told me that I’d be dancing with Super Sako as he was performing. I literally did a double-take (but with words – if that’s even possible). I knew he’d be performing but I assumed it would be after the show. I really didn’t expect to be on stage with him. But there’s one thing I really can’t deny – I had the best time doing it. The Sarkisyans really outdid themselves that year. July 9, 2011: Nataline’s Fashion Legacy 4. After the immense success of the third annual Nataline’s Fashion Legacy, I knew the fourth year would be really special. The family and the foundation had established a strong group of supporters that always came through on those hot July evenings. This year we decided on changing the style of the dress up a bit and chose a short number with an open back. As a secret confession, I found it incredibly hard to dance in that short dress in addition to being elevated above the crowd. I did not want to give the audience any peeks! But fortunately, the fashion industry nowadays has come up with some very subtle ways of covering up anything and everything you have – and plus I got confirmation from my friends after the show that nothing was visible, so I finally relaxed. Nataline’s Fashion Legacy 4 featured not only Super Sako, but also a talented young performer by the stage name of KG Young Bizzness. Their performance of “Boyfriend for the Night” to a sell-out crowd was yet again another huge success. I’m going to take a minute to truly praise that family for their positivity throughout all of this. They took their anger and their frustration against both Cigna and the greater healthcare system at large and channeled it into building the Nataline Sarkisyan Foundation, putting on yearly celebratory fashion shows, and traveling the country in the hopes of passing legislation to make Nataline the last person to ever suffer from such a terrible fate. Every single time I see Koko, Hilda, or Peter, they’re all smiles. I have accrued so much respect for that family and for that cause – they really deserve all the best this world has to offer. July 14, 2012: Nataline’s Fashion Legacy 5. Nataline has come to represent so many things throughout the years. Her story both humbles those who haven’t suffered incredible loss, but also reminds us to always make our days worth it. Most importantly, always chase happiness full force and never give up on your dreams. “Your life is measured not by how many moments you’re breathing, but by how many moments take your breath away.” I don’t know who said that, but I’m paraphrasing his/her quote. None of us know how long we have on this Earth, so here’s to making the moments we do have breathtaking. Nataline’s Fashion Legacy 5 will be on July 14th – it will be magical. Make sure to get your tickets! Happy early birthday baby girl <3 I’ll be seeing you.