"My has store developed into this fabulous fantasy world because I always believed in the limitless possibilities of dreaming with my son, Ricky, who was born deaf, and whom I continually told: You can be anything you want to be," says single mom Madeleine Kirsh. As her leopard kaftan and bright red hair scream, Madeleine is a one-of-a-kind whose experiences of raising her deaf son and confronting her own progressive deafness lead to the decade-spanning Miami vintage store bar none, C. Madeleine's. "This is my passion," states the impeccable curator, who can't go anywhere without being asked about her signature glasses. "I built this store on my heart and passion. The day that goes away is the day I close up shop."
With the resoluteness of her Jackie O canary ensemble, Madeleine has faced hardships that'd make Whatever Happened to Baby Jane seem like a family comedy. From her high-school days of changing in the bushes outside of her house into the flower-power clothes of her choice, to the terrifying loss of her hearing over a period of 25 years, Madeleine has turned adversity into gold. When she was born, her mom left her in the hospital for ten days in order to make sure she that was perfect with all ten toes and fingers. After her own son was born deaf, the quiet warrior, whose backbone is equal to that of her don't-fuck-with-me black Chanel business suit, never let her son witness her tears over his handicap -- heading for the bathroom every time she cried.
Rearing her child "before closed-caption TV," Madeleine, completely on her own, spent close to 24/7 trying to bring normalcy to their outsider, isolated lives: "I sat on the floor feeding and feeding him language. I was his best friend" On weekends, in order to survive, she planted the roots of her business and started to sell her grandma's Great Depression glass at the flea market. "I got so popular that I started to sell jewelry out of my car, across from Saks to their employees," Madeleine remembers. "I was in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral. The cops would come and tell me to move my car, so I would circle around the block and then come back."
In the spirit of her own self-creation, Madeleine says, "When you walk into my store, you leave all the crap outside and you start to become the person that you want to be." Her courageous vulnerability allows her to form such a deep connection with the stories behind the clothing that people bring her that she feels as if their previous owners have been reincarnated in her. Possessing senses sharper than a razor, the visually-explosive ecstasy of her store is Madeleine's pot. "It's been a real trip," she reflects. "If I had to trade in all of my torments, then I wouldn't be the person that I am today. I'd be a little robot, not Madeleine."
Elisa & Lily
Shot, interviewed, and photographed by Elisa & Lily
Edited by Adaeze Elechi
Visit C. Madeleine's website.
Follow her on Twitter: @CMadeleines
Follow her on Instagram: @cmadeleines
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