“Survivor? I didn’t lie under the table and ‘survive’ the bombing. I fought every minute. I was wearing great shoes and going to chemo.” That’s the indomitable voice of this month’s Closet, Gail Chovan, whose “great shoes” include boots she found at Target shopping with her kids that she embellished to couture status, as well as her killer Ann Demeulemeester stilettos, which she has three pairs of. Gail has become our personal hero since we shot the boutique owner, fashion designer on her own “calendar,” breast-cancer soldier, and mother-of-the-century in Austin — a town where “you can do things on your own terms,” which is the only kind of place Gail could live in.
Idolizing the outlier life of Gertrude Stein and playing in dirt instead of dressing Barbies, Gail was comfortable in her skin from the get-go: “I was the first girl to wear those Red Wing work boots in seventh or eighth grade." Also, rather than lament her small chest, a chronic custom that many women know all to well, Gail saw it as an advantage over the girls in high school races, whose bigger breasts caused them pain when they ran. When doctors told her that they wouldn’t be able to reconstruct her “coupe de champagne, perfect Marie Antoinette breasts,” Gail did nothing at all, making it perfectly clear that femininity has nothing to do with the size of your breasts. Now donning wife-beaters with the swagger of an “It” dress, Gail reflects her New Jersey-Sopranos heritage, where “shit doesn’t happen, we make things happen.” No way, Gail isn’t about to let anything “just happen;” that’s why, before her chemo began, Gail threw a hair-cutting party so that she could preemptively “rock the bald look.”
A maverick from her skull jewelry to her avant-garde layers, the only man Gail would marry outside of her cooler-than-Springsteen husband is Yohji Yamamoto, who she met when she was at design school in Paris during the 80s. Deeply inspired by Yohji, and so that she experiences the texture and structure of clothing the way Zelda, her blind 8-year-old daughter, does, Gail rid her wardrobe of color. In almost all black, she blogs with a super-human vulnerability about what it’s like to raise Zelda and her twin, Creed, both of whom were born with toxoplasmosis — a condition that affects the brain and eyes and resulted in four brain surgeries, eleven eye surgeries, heart surgeries, and innumerable in-and-out hospital visits to this day. Feeling the most beautiful when she falls asleep entangled with her husband and kids, you won’t find Gail pitying herself. As she states, “All lives our different; no one should feel sorry for my children — one person’s life isn’t better than another person’s life.”
Elisa + Lily