The room was spinning. I felt like I had been hit on the back of my head with a cricket bat.
It seemed that my body was having an argument with my head as to which way the room was spinning. Was it round and round, like a merry go round? Or was it more like falling forward, hurtling uncontrollably towards the ground? Either way, it was like the room was under water and I was plastered to the bottom while it spun my life away.
I had just returned home from an overnight flight from London, and the compounded jet lag, as well as constant time differences devoid of regular eating patterns, all consequences of being a flight attendant in the Middle East for the past two years, had taken its toll. From the smell emanating from my shoes, it appeared that I had probably stepped in vomit some time during the journey. And the stale air of the an aircraft full of 300 passengers breathing recycled air for seven hours surrounded me.
It was in this state, where the rest of the world seemed so far away and nauseating that I told myself, “That’s it, I’ve had enough. I’m going back to fashion.”
Making the switch from flying to fashion would not have been a surprise to people who knew me during high school. Our school was blessed with one of those teachers who could see something in us, set us on a path, and carefully nudge we towards things we never knew even existed, let alone believe that it was something in which we could excel. Sandra Goonan saw something in me, Andrea Manahan, and continued to nourish a talent I never knew I had right until I was placed first in design in New Zealand at 16 years old. This was at a time when studying fashion design, or fabric technology, as it was called, implied that the person probably wasn't academic, hence the subject was not offered for University Entrance exams.
Despite my successes in fashion at high school, I never gave it serious attention for future prospects—it was something I did for fun. Plus, a straight-A student who gets accepted into law school surely does not turn that opportunity down for something like fashion?!
I studied law for a year, hated it, dropped out and finished with a degree in French and Communications. What followed was then becoming a ski bum, travelling through Brazil, before heading to the desert to spread my wings like a falcon as a flight attendant.
Conversely, it was in the flight attendant fog of jet lag, “Chicken or Beef?”, babies crying and the stench of vomit where I found clarity and resolve to do what had been missing in my life—fashion design.
I resigned that week, moved back to New Zealand and started fashion school at the next intake.
I gave fashion school the zest and energy that only a mature student can ever give, while simultaneously trying to fit in with the youngins of fashion. I was giddy and excited, and it felt so indulgent to flip through the pages of indie fashion magazines and call it “research”, to spend hours at fabric stores, introducing my fingertips to different textures and letting them travel across fabrics in search for a story to tell.
My fellow students were the kids who, unlike me, knew at 18 that they wanted to study fashion because they loved it, or just for the hell of it. At many times during the three-year degree, I did want to strangle the 18-year-olds around me due to their complaining and lack of appreciation for how privileged we were to study fashion, not understanding that there were far worse things in life than having to learn how to hand-sew shanks onto buttons.
At the same time, I was also in awe of them; their dogged determination and self-awareness and confidence in pursuing fashion, an industry that toys with egos, and spits out those who truly don’t know who they are. They were young, artistic, creative and though they didn’t quite know who they were yet, they were not afraid to find out through mood, colour, texture and form.
An 18-year-old Andrea Manahan would not have been ready for fashion school. I would have been chewed up and spit out into an apprehensive, eager-to-please ball of confusion, and it would have been evident in the limp and lifeless work that I would have pushed into this world.
I did not know that I needed to get lost. I did not know that I needed to be alone. I did not know that I had yet to find my voice.
Now I tell the design story of my menswear label, Manahan, through, “a man travelling across Central Asia”—or wherever we imagine him to be. Like most travellers, he picks up items, carefully curating his collection as he goes, wearing exotic pieces and foreign fabrics until they eventually blend seamlessly with his own. It is the story of a man. And it is also my story, the story of Andrea Manahan.
Today Manahan is the result of my education as well as my travels across the world and what kept me company all those years, writing. It was through my writing that I found not only my voice, but also my passion for storytelling, and recreating the feeling of what it was like to be there, wherever it was. I wrote because I wanted to remember. I wrote because I often forgot. I wrote because it made me observant, and then I naturally began to write stories in other ways beyond words—with fashion.