By Christian Knight
News staff writer
July 13, 2005
In the back of Storm Warning, in a dressing room, 21-year-old Amarett Cannon is dressing her last model.
She and Tifany Blovin have already combed the downtown kiteboarding store for the best combinations of bikini tops and bottoms; for board shorts and rash guards — any combination of stitched fabric that will arouse a First Friday crowd of eager onlookers and hush the internal criticism of would-be skeptics.
Envy and admiration cannot thrive on fabric alone, however, no matter how skimpy. They require a body. And Amarett has eight of them.
Five blondes, two brunettes and two redheads — including herself. Some curly, some wavy and some straight.
The youngest, Sammi Schend, is 18.
The oldest, Paula Riley, is 26.
Sammi has modeled on at least 10 occasions for the money of it, as she did last year with Nike, and for the fun of it in the 2004 Gorge Games Fashion Gala. Through school, Schend was a standard for any art form that required a stage.
"I'm a performer," she says. "Modeling in front of a bunch of people doesn't bother me at all."
Jessica Prouty, 19, has never modeled anything before and to the best of her memory, the last time she was on stage was for an elementary school play or something like that.
Amarett asked her to walk down the hot-pink runway after another model backed out under the nerves of baring herself in a bikini to a First Friday crowd.
"I'm real nervous," Jessica says the evening before the event. "Just because a lot of people will be watching me, analyzing me. Clothes are clothes but bikinis are different. I'm glad I'm not the first to walk because I want to know the crowd's reaction."
Amarett will be that model testing the crowd's reaction. And she'll be doing it in a white halter-top and a blue sarong. That, she has already determined.
By now, of course, Amarett has already determined a lot of things.
On a circular rack near the back of Storm Warning, she has organized six outfits for each of her eight models, all categorized by pieces of paper with the women's names scribbled on them. To ease the process and to extinguish any flaring emotions, Amarett chose the walking order alphabetically.
For much of the last year, this one fashion show, these 30 minutes in downtown Hood River's late afternoon sunlight has consumed her daydreams, distracted her from sleep and planned her days. While sitting in Brian's Pourhouse, she doodled a design on a napkin that would become her official logo for this year's fashion show. While relaxing at home, she studies Vogue magazine, looking for tips.
"She talks about it all the time," says her husband, Cy. "All the time."
She does have a template from which to work. On graduation night last summer, Storm Warning hosted Amarett's first fashion show. Cy spent nine hours building the pink runway from lumber Storm Warning supplied.
"Ever since the last one ended, I knew how to make it bigger and better," Amarett says.
She figures she's spent at least 60 hours organizing the logistics and committing her nine hand-selected models for this July 1 fashion show. But she's spent more time preparing her body for it, working out three days a week, fasting from salts and carbohydrates, paying a professional to wax her bikini line and dye her hair from bleach blonde to dark red.
"Tomorrow some of us will be sipping on martinis," she says. "It's a diuretic. We don't eat salt and we don't eat carbs. Salt causes bloating and carbs — you just eat way too much of them. And yes, we are all working out."
Amarett married Cy when she was 17 and soon after she thought nursing sound like a good career choice. She prepared for nursing school for two years at Columbia Gorge Community College. But quit on the idea of it after she earned her Associate of Arts degree.
"It (nurse's uniform) wasn't going to cut it," she smiles. "Those Velcro shoes. Ugh."
Now she's thinking about a career in graphic design. But her passion is fashion. She dyes her hair almost monthly — from bleach blonde to raven black to dark red and then back again.
"I'm a daydreamer," she says. "I live in my head."
Back in the dressing room Amarett and Tifany have finally determined what Tifany will be wearing and in what order. Now they're talking about hair.
"You know what I'm looking for," Amarett says.
"Yeah," Tifany replies. "Big and ratty."
Amarett nods. "Yes. Backcombed. Big and fabulous."
"We live in a windblown, ponytail kind of town," Tifany explains. "So we're going to show them something different."
At 7 p.m. the next day, Amarett and some of her eight models are sipping the clear fluid from martini glasses behind a makeshift changing room in the back of Storm Warning.
They are smiling giddily as they watch Amarett work on Aurora Wooten's curly hair, then on Charlotte Hailey's.
Meanwhile, a crowd is swelling outside Storm Warning's open doors.
A fashion show at Anana's Boutique ended just minutes ago. As its organizers had previously promised, they promptly carried the borrowed hot pink runway back to its owner in time for her own show. The crowd followed it — and the sound of a loudspeaker — down Oak Street toward Storm Warning. Very quickly, it pooled on the street and sidewalks between Andrew’s Pizza and Storm Warning like a river at its mouth.
On the loudspeaker, Storm Warning manager Dave Gutierrez is inviting the town to come watch this show, watch these nine local women as they model Rip Curl, Aaron Chang and Local Chic. The people are peering in from all over — from Andrew's Pizza, from inside the shop and from the sunlit street.
"I'm a little nervous," Tifany admits. "This is my first time and it's a small town. I'm nervous about being judged. I think it's neat that the people who live here are the ones walking. But it's a small town."
Gutierrez waits until he feels the crowd has peaked and until Amarett’s helpers have prepared the runway to give the models a 15-minute warning.
Last year Guitierrez watched Plenty's spring fashion show and he thought a similar one at Storm Warning would be a great way to attract people to the store.
"I approached Amarett and said we should do it," he says. "It allows us to show off the apparel. It gives us a chance to show what it looks like on people."
After last year's show, Guiterrez says he didn't notice a drastic sales increase, but he did notice everything the models wore during the show was soon sold out.
"We went through all of our apparel because of that show," he says. "I hope this becomes an annual event."
Before the girls line up, Cy, Amarett's husband, asks if any task remains that he could do quickly. Amarett hands him a palm-sized mirror and instructs him to dangle it from a nearby tree branch so the models can check it to ensure everything on their bodies is in the right place.
"That's a good idea," Cy tells his wife.
One by one, the girls tear open the flaps of their tarped dressing room and line up by alphabetical order. They are laughing and commiserating, relaying their own worry and excitement to any ear that will listen.
Amarett walks along them, like a drill sergeant.
Her face is tense, anxious.
"Girls," she beckons.
But the storeroom chatter and the crowd around the keg is too loud.
"Girls," she tries again, her face a little more desperate this time.
The models keep chattering.
"Girls," she says louder with a handclap.
They all turn to listen.
"When you walk," she continues, "You need to walk fast until you get right here." She points to Storm Warning's booth. "Then you walk."
She demonstrates a few model-type steps. "And when you get back here, you need to run so you can get dressed into your next outfit."
She then skips to the front of the line, places a seductive smile across her face and walks into the reddening sunlight, where the crowd is eagerly awaiting her.