It all started with a sketchbook. A sketchbook filled with one young girl’s aspirations to become a fashion designer. From this sketchbook came the inspiration to hold an annual fashion show honoring its owner, Nataline Sarkisyan. After seventeen-year-old Nataline tragically lost her life to leukemia in December of 2007, her family sought refuge in the dreams she had left behind. Upon discovering Nataline’s sketchbook and studying the pages of clothing she had designed, her family knew exactly how to celebrate their beloved daughter’s memory. Three years later, the Sarkisyan family continues to cherish Nataline’s dream of becoming a fashion designer by holding an annual fashion show called Nataline’s Fashion Legacy every July to celebrate her birthday.
Held at Mercedes Benz of Calabasas, Nataline’s Fashion Legacy 3 was a night of both remembrance and entertainment. Nataline’s brother, Peter Sarkisyan, explains that he wanted the evening to unfold in such a way that attendees received more from it than a line of models walking down a runway. He wanted the audience to remember that they were there to celebrate Nataline. With this frame of thought, the Sarkisyans gathered sponsors and organized a silent auction, a raffle, and entertainment in the form of a DJ, rapper Super Sako, and even Laker girls, who were available to take pictures at the beginning of the evening. Members of the major league soccer team Chivas also attended and contributed items to the silent auction. Before the fashion show began, a video honoring Nataline’s battle with cancer and her family’s struggle with Cigna Group Insurance was screened featuring Nataline’s benefit song, written and performed by Tony Barkodarian and Mike Chakrian. A seat was reserved in the audience bearing the label: Reserved for our Angel in Heaven, Happy Birthday Nataline. Each of the nearly 700 patrons present that evening was given a gift bag provided by FIDM, Nataline’s dream school, full of items donated by various sponsors. Any profit made from the evening went to The Nataline Sarkisyan Foundation, a non-profit organization that grants scholarships to students pursuing careers in fashion, culinary arts, and medicine, all fields that Nataline valued.
Nataline’s memory was prevalent throughout the entirety of the fashion show. Her mother, Hilda Sarkisyan, recalled how difficult it was for her husband, her son, and herself to blow out the candles of Nataline’s 20th birthday cake with Nataline’s absence so heavy on their hearts. But she managed to stay strong. “Nataline was giving me the energy,” she says. Peter mentioned how overwhelming it was for them to hear clips of Nataline’s funeral played to the audience while they waited backstage. He continues, “It makes you realize this is real. It’s something we have to live with.” Hilda admits that to this day, she cannot sit through those clips.
Of course the sketchbook plays a great role in Nataline’s Fashion Legacy. Each year, celebrity designer Pol Atteu sits down with Hilda and chooses one of Nataline’s designs to create for the fashion show finale as a gift to the Sarkisyans. The ultimate goal is to hold a fashion show in the future featuring only dresses designed by Nataline. This year, as they were flipping through the sketchbook, Hilda noticed glitter reflecting off of one of the pages of the sketchbook. Surprised as to how glitter managed to get onto the pages of a sealed and stored sketchbook, Hilda decided that the dress created that year should without a doubt be the one drawn on the glittery page. Other designers that contributed to the show were Ani Apparel, Arbi Avanessian, Sarin Minassian, and Maryam Gueramian.
A most unexpected guest present that evening was Wendell Potter, former vice-president of communications at Cigna and the very man the Sarkisyans dealt with in their fight to gain approval for a transplant that may have saved Nataline’s life. Hilda introduced Potter to an apprehensive audience, but once they saw that she was inviting him to join her on stage with open arms and a smile, the audience welcomed Potter warmly. He admitted to his mistake of working for a company that denied people the chance to live and proudly claimed that he had quit his job at Cigna two years before because of the realization Nataline and her story had given him. While on stage, he pledged to help the Sarkisyans reach their goal of passing laws under Nataline’s name to prohibit insurance companies from being granted the power to deny a patient access to a medical procedure that could be life-saving.
When asked about this goal, Hilda confidently claimed, “Our story has impacted a lot of people and its going to impact many more.” Her perseverance has led to national acknowledgement and support. She notes that the Fashion Legacy keeps her family strong and helps them mourn Nataline’s loss. “Without it, we’d go crazy,” she says. Nataline’s passing has changed her entire family’s perception of life. Peter complains of people who rant about relationship conflicts and the petty problems in life that he no longer considers actual grievances. Unlike everything else in life, he says, “A sister can’t be replaced.”
To find more information on The Nataline Sarkisyan Foundation and their upcoming events, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on Twitter @nsarkisyan, join the Nataline Sarkisyan Foundation on Facebook, or go to NatalineSarkisyan.com