A Designer’s Message on Cancer Testing

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

Katie Couric wasn’t able to persuade me to do it, but there’s a good chance that designer Carmen Marc Valvo might be successful. Like so many others, I have been reluctant to have a colon cancer screening in spite of the fact that my family history puts me at risk. Ms. Couric waged a heavily promoted campaign after the untimely death of her husband from the disease, but since I never watch the Today Show, her message had no impact on my aversion to screening.

On other hand, Mr. Valvo is one of my favorite designers, and I always try and catch his tent show at Bryant Park during Fashion Week. Learning that he was a colon cancer survivor was a surprise when I was invited to a special viewing of prize-winning artwork created for the survivors of colorectal cancer and their relatives. The unveiling will be held tonight at Gilda’s Club Worldwide (info at 212-944-7370 ext. 237) and the exhibit will then travel to the NYU Clinical Cancer Care Center. Mr.Valvo has spent a great deal of time traveling to educate the public about the importance of early testing.

I asked Mr.Valvo how his disease was diagnosed and surprisingly he told me that he had insisted on having a colonoscopy after his doctor initially could find nothing wrong. He said, “I knew that there was something wrong but couldn’t pinpoint it.”

Uh, oh, I thought, I’ve been feeling like that for years but the idea of this invasive procedure is so repellent, you’d have to drag me to the doctor. When I expressed my reluctance, Mr. Valvo said, “Knowledge is power! Fear can be fatal. Colon cancer is also one of the most curable forms of cancer, especially when detected early. If you are at risk due to family history, it is paramount to have early screening.”

But, but, the test…. He acknowledged that while it wasn’t glamorous, the most difficult part is the preparation, which means sitting in the bathroom for four hours. He suggested, “So find a good book, catch up on magazines or watch a movie!”

I wondered if his illness had affected his designs and he said, “After my surgery I found I was fascinated with the frailty and beauty of flowers. Being an avid amateur gardener, I used my garden as a source of emotional healing. I then used my garden as the inspiration for my next collection.”

I went to my first Carmen Marc Valvo show in 2002 reluctantly, because I have been turned off to fashion for some time. Couture design, in my opinion, had deteriorated from the days of the classy Hubert de Givenchy to today, when the manic creations of misogynists reign supreme. Yet here was a designer who clearly had respect for women and whose designs enhanced their beauty rather than belittled it. Mr. Valvo acknowledges, “The fashion industry is such a global machine that creativity sometimes suffers in lieu of commerciality.”

Mr. Valvo was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003. Besides the usual treatment, he turned to art, his livelihood, to cope with his illness.When I went to his show in February of this year he appeared to be in excellent health and great spirits. He’s also given me hope that should I get the bad news, I might use my talents to help me through it.

As for the future of fashion, my daughters are avid fans of the reality series “Project Runway” which is a competition for aspiring fashion designers. I try not to roll my eyes at the silliness because my girls enjoy the drama. What did Mr. Valvo think of this show? He answered, “Project Runway is great television and there is some semblance of truth to it.”

Still, when I look around the streets of Manhattan, I see no evidence that young women have emerged from the Nirvana grunge era. In film that’s another story. Last week, I witnessed the quintessence of glamour in the new film “The Devil Wears Prada.” I went out of curiosity because a small part was filmed in The New York Sun offices and I actually did catch a glimpse of my desk shown briefly in the rear of the room. Throughout the film, which is loosely based on a book that trashed the editor of Vogue, I found it hard to imagine myself ever being such a slave to fashion.The idea of $1,200 handbags to me is rather obscene, but I am also grateful that not everyone shares my lack of taste for overpriced garments and accessories, or the fashion industry would die.

As long as there are still designers with integrity and strength of character like Carmen Marc Valvo, long live haute couture.

The New York Sun

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