Purple Haze

On a drizzly afternoon in Montclair, Alessandra Canario is waiting at the end of the platform of the New Jersey Transit train track. It’s hard to miss her in her dark denim, 70s jumpsuit. She’s a stunning girl with curves and lips and hair that have surely shattered many a boy’s heart into a thousand bewildered pieces. (If she were my 18-yeard old daughter I’d be afraid to let her out of the house!) She’s that dangerous combination of adorable and exotic. She warns me about the car – “it’s purple” – but the small 2012 Honda parked in the lot is less sci-fi than cute. It suits her. And she has no problem pushing the peddles in her high rose-printed platforms. “Oh my god!” she screams when we pull out into a line of traffic. “That guy has the same steering wheel cover as me!” I catch a glimpse of an implausibly similar, shaggy, purple thing in the front seat of the other car and start laughing. “That’s never happened…” she gasps.

Ally takes a detour to show me some obscenely huge mansions, pretty tree-lined streets and the schools she attended since her parents moved to Montclair from the city. She tells me she loves her neighborhood when it rains. “It’s nice but I could never raise my children here,” she says determined. “The ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ mentality is not productive for individuals such as myself. I prefer to be in a more remote, less crowded area like upstate New York. I feel like the area outside of my country house was my ideal living environment.” Poems, books and postcards have been written about that house – it’s called Moonhaw and located in West Shokan – and it seems to have strong emotional and magnetic powers over Ally. She still feels very connected to the land and has visited every other year (since her dad sold it in 2004) to check if new people have moved in. Her childhood memories are often overwhelming and vivid and have become the object of her recent obsession to study history at Skidmore College, which is just two hours away.

Ally is a contemplative, serious teenager. Though she may be pretty, she doesn’t want to belong to any group, least not the popular girls. She has (or needs) very few friends and feels she is often irrelevant, an outsider, especially because of the way she dresses. “It’s funny, you would think it’s hard to forget the girl in a disco jumpsuit. But I now have two best friends, Maddie Carr and Lauren Peressinni. And I guess I am not completely forgotten about since I won “Best Dressed” in the year book! I got used to weird looks in school for my vintage clothing but towards the end of high school people started asking curiously about it and complimenting my confidence to wear what I do out.” The highlight of her social life is an active instagram account with 409 followers so far, where she posts her impeccable little looks and tries to get connected with the vintage world.

Girls like Ally are rare. She has a remarkably clear understanding of her passions and dreams. She fell in love with history in middle school and got intrigued with all things old; first antiques, and eventually clothing. “I can’t remember my first piece because once I discovered I could bridge my two loves and physically live in history my obsession with buying many pieces at a time graduated to rarer pieces as I was able to work to pay for them.” Up until a few months ago she was a sales assistant at Speakeasy Vintage in Montclair, where she learned the ropes of the trade, got first dibs and modeled new pieces that came in. Her closet has become a perfectly curated collection of colorful dresses and funny pants from the 60s and 70s era, “because it embodies a time when the search for individuality and self-expression was paramount. The clothes were as bold as the movement.” Through college she will intern at Another Man’s Treasure in Jersey City and ultimately – the dream – work as a researcher at a costume rental place.

At the house mom Susana is rushing off to her next make-up appointment and sister Sabrina is just getting back from school. She comes upstairs in between episodes of Gossip Girl to watch her big sister in action. When I ask her to join us for a picture, Ally warns me: “My sister hates vintage. She thinks it’s creepy to wear clothing that someone else previously wore especially if that person is deceased.” (Sabrina is one of the popular girls.) There’s also a very curious dog Teddy (Roosevelt) and beautiful cat Taquito. Dad Thomas, a wine distributor and avid cook is working in the city. They’re a friendly bunch, a mix of Mexican and Brooklyn-Italian warmth and hospitality. We eat pork and rice for lunch, drive out to Ally’s favorite green spot and talk about her other passions: hiking, and bowling! “I was the varsity girl’s captain of the high school bowling team,” she surprises me. “I have a vintage bowling bag for my ball named Purple Haze after the Jimi Hendrix song!” I could write on an on about Alessandra. It’s baffling how someone so young already has such an intrinsic story. But I will just end with her favorite quote by Robert A. Heinlein: “A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future”.

June 5, 2014

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6 Responses to “Purple Haze”

  1. avatar
    Dina Dwyer - Reply

    Wonderful ordinary yet extraordinary story. It is refreshing to know youth that is respectful of what she has and knows how to enjoy it to the fullest. That to me, is knowing happiness. Thanks for sharing, Natalie.

  2. avatar

    Gorgeous girl! It’s good to see that there are some teenagers with interesting taste in this world.

  3. avatar
    Mary D - Reply

    This is great…Way to go Allessandra! Keep doing it your way!

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