The Globe and Mail – Fashion happens on the way to the wharf

The Globe and Mail, Saturday, August 28, 2004

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Fashion happens on the way to the wharf
By JEANNE BEKER

BAULINE EAST, NFLD. — People are always asking me if I ever tire of fashion in my life — if the pressure to dress and look a certain way ever gets to me; if I ever long to disappear to a place where sweats and flip-flops reign supreme, and where you’re judged infinitely more for the sincerity of your smile than any sartorial statements you make.

But I’m not conscious of choosing to holiday in this tiny Newfoundland outport for any of those reasons. Fact is, it’s simply one of the most beautiful spots on Earth to me — a precious little community on the edge of the world, untouched by time and pretension, where ocean views take your breath away and an amazing puffin reserve is only a short boat ride away.

It’s here that my dear Toronto friends, the Ayoubs, vacation each summer, in their cozy home overlooking the village wharf. For a couple of years now, they’ve arranged for me and the girls to stay at a small, splendid house just up the hill, whose generous owners live most of the year in upstate New York. It’s my idea of heaven, and even though the locals all seem to know me from FashionTelevision (or “Tit TV” as the fishermen like to call it), none of them would ever dare, or even care, to ask me what Kate Moss or Karl Lagerfeld are really like.

So there I was the other day, just coming down the hill from a leisurely hike along the spectacular East Coast Trail, a pair of cutoffs over my still-wet bathing suit (couldn’t resist taking a dip at the waterfall) when the Ayoubs’ vivacious 16-year-old daughter, Ariana, came rushing over to tell me her that her 19-year-old brother, Lucas, had been recruited to star in some swimwear fashion shoot, currently under way at the wharf.

Incredulous that anything of this nature could possibly be going on in this sleepy place, I scurry down to the shore to see what all the fuss was about. The site was surreal: Lucas, an enterprising young hunk who’s been running a mini burger stand in Bauline all summer with his Acadia University roommate, is sitting at a picnic table in a green, white and pink skimpy pair of swim shorts (think Speedo meets the old Republic of Newfoundland flag), was surrounded by three babe-acious models in matching bikinis.

Lucas, his rickety “Burger Boys” stand long forgotten, looked like the cat who swallowed the canary. Two photographers were snapping away.

Gerry Colbert, the gregarious owner of Ocean Adventure Tours, which boasts a humble tour boat and a charming B&B down the road, introduced me to an affable young woman in a bandana. “Jeanne, meet the designer!”

“They told me you were here, and I just couldn’t believe it!” the bright-eyed mastermind behind the shoot gushed.

Marie Routhier is a 25-year-old Toronto expat, who’s been designing since the age of 11, and who’s dabbled in everything from bridal gowns to skating costumes. She started designing bathing suits about two years ago, and is quick to tell me that she’s a member of Mensa, and that her Québécois grandfather wrote O Canada.

Marie has just moved her business to a small place called Paradise, just outside St. John’s, where “the air is so nice and fresh, and the people are so kind and helpful,” but largely, she says, “because Toronto retailers and the fashion media have ignored me.” Now, she’s taken matters into her own hands, and set up her own website (http://www.marierouthier.com).

She has been cruising around the vicinity these past few days, taking shots for the site, and while it wasn’t a problem finding female models to help her out, males were another story. “None of the guys we knew would pose in a swimsuit,” one of the models told me. “But when we got here and saw Lucas at the burger stand, and then checked out his legs, we knew he’d be perfect!”

Apparently, there was no problem persuading this strapping Burger Boy to strut it.

Marie dragged out a duffel bag stuffed with spandex. Soon, the girls and I were rifling through the stash of bikinis, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the assorted colours and styles. “Here,” Marie said, cajoling me to try one on. “This would look great on you.”

Overcome by the excitement of the moment, drunk with the preposterous notion of taking part in a semi-glamorous fashion shoot on the wharf of our beloved Bauline, I suddenly found myself in the nearby craft-store washroom, squeezing into a red and white Canadian flag-inspired tankini, complete with big honking maple leaf appliquéd across the bust. In another fit of temporary insanity, seduced by the supportive cheers of what seems like half the community, I actually emerged from the washroom in this outrageous swimsuit! And now, Marie Routhier’s website will have the pictures to prove it. So call me a fashion tart.

Marie handed me her card. It reads “Designer of Champions.”

“If only our Olympic swim team had been wearing these suits!” I lamented. I left the wharf, a giddy smile plastered on my face, amazed that even in an unlikely place like Bauline, a girl can have her fashion moments.

NB from Marie: Sir Adolphe Basile Routhier is apparently my great, great Grandfather, according to my dad’s side of the family (estranged)

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