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marcia masulla

Week 46 - March 15, 2012

Marcia Masulla has the sort of open, inclusive personality that makes you feel like you’ve known her forever, even if you’ve only just met. The St. Louis native is interested and interesting, not to mention super-popular.

From government officials to rock stars, fry cooks to college professors, she seems to know everyone in Nashville – and, truthfully, just might, considering that Marcia’s philanthropic extracurriculars (her fulltime gig is with Yelp!) find her heading up charity fundraisers and volunteer efforts across the board that are aimed at helping those in need, whether you walk on two legs or four.

Should you be a two-footer whose needs include attending runway shows, no sweat: Marcia’s got us covered. For the last two years, she’s played an instrumental part in getting Nashville Fashion Week off the ground.

The second edition of NFW starts up this Tuesday, following months of long hours and hard work. Knowing all that’s gone into producing this event, which benefits the Nashville Fashion Fund, makes us feel all the more honored that Marica not only made the time to sit with us for a very revealing interview but also managed to sneak in a photo shoot featuring her beloved pooches, Bellini , a lovably lumpy blue heeler mix, and Chico, a wee Chihuahua that fronts like Valentino. (“He does love the ladies,” Marcia says with an amused sigh.) Keep in mind that this all went down the same weekend she was moving houses, finishing up a writing deadline, and doing the million other things on her weekly schedule.

Not that Marcia seems to care. One gets the feeling she likes to be busy – and, once you read the moving appreciation she shared with us that links her passion for the wellbeing of helpless animals to her literal will to live, you might understand why. Girlfriend’s had a rough row to how, though you’d never know it by talking to her.

Therein lies the key to our dear Marcia’s appeal: she always puts the needs of other before her own. It’s never about her. And despite the crap she’s had to deal with in her past, she never uses her hardships to her advantage; in fact, she’s made them her greatest strength.
“What I’ve been through has made me be resourceful; it’s made me be scrappy,” she says. “I think that’s the one word I’d use to describe myself: scrappy. People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so mature.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m just looking to survive.’”

- I+W

I got Bellini on a PETA campaign tour in Corpus Christi, Texas. There were dogs everywhere down there. People were literally throwing animals out their windows: We saw someone toss a kitten onto the freeway. PETA was there to gather them up and find them homes, because otherwise they were going to die. Bellini was one of the dogs we picked up. When we placed her in a shelter, I found out she was pregnant. I told the shelter, “Look, people are obviously going to want the puppies. But I’ll take the big goofy one.” I was going on to Dallas after that, and couldn’t take her with me. So a month later, after she had the puppies, I drove 14 hours and back to pick her up. She remembered me! She looked awful, emasculated – nothing like big chubby girl that she is now.

Bellini is very funny, very needy. She’s passive and looks for acceptance, whereas Chico is my boss. I work for him. We’ve been together now for ten years. I found him at the Humane Association in St. Louis. It was the day before Valentine’s Day. I told my boyfriend, “You know what? I’m a grown up, I’m making my own money. I want a dog.” We went to a lot of shelters; nothing. When we got to the last one, I was like, “Ah, I don’t want to go in. I’m over it.” My boyfriend talked me into it. Inside, this little man had been dropped off just 45 minutes before. He was in the very last cage we saw, looking like a hot mess, all mangy and grossly overweight. That’s why he’s still got those neck rolls! He was a little chunk-chunk.

They put us in a bonding room. I looked at Chico and he looked at me. I told him, “I don’t know if this is going to work out. You’re probably crazy; there’s probably something wrong with you.” It’s funny: I’m still a little anxious when it comes to commitments and relationships. But I took him and he’s been my best friend ever since. I get teary-eyed thinking about this, but he got me through a hard time, when I got really sick with the C. Ovarian cancer. I had it twice.

My mom died of cancer. It started in her ovaries and moved up to her breasts. It happened two weeks before my 12th birthday – and you know, that’s a turning point in your life, especially when you’re a girl. So there was already that stigma. Plus coming from the childhood I did, I have a chip on my shoulder where I want to do everything for myself and be self-sufficient.

I was 21 the first time it happened, and I didn’t really tell anybody. I think people thought I was on drugs because I lost so much weight, and was sick all the time. But I got through it. I had my second bout at 26. At that time, I owned a clothing store in St. Louis and was doing a bunch of styling. I was super busy and lived in a loft right down from my store. Everything was very charmed, and I was feeling really good. Then it happened again.

The second time, I was so sick that I locked myself in my loft. I was throwing up from going through chemo and radiation. My best friend at the time kept knocking on my door and calling me, but I wouldn’t let anybody in. “I just need to be alone.” I was so sick, physically and mentally, that I just lay in my bed. Finally my friend was like, “I’m breaking your door down if you don’t let me in.” When she got inside, she found I hadn’t left the bed for three days – not to go to the bathroom, not to eat. Chico hadn’t left my side the whole time. He literally did not get up to eat or drink or pee.

I sweated through my sheets; there was a terrible stench in the loft. As they were pulling me out of the bed to take me to the hospital, completely frail and dehydrated, they found Chico curled tight up against my body, like he was part of me. He was wet because I had sweated all over him, but he wouldn’t leave my side. I was so delusional and crazy at that point that I said, “I’m not going in the hospital unless he comes with me!” I lost my mind. My specialist – who was my mom’s doctor and is still my doctor today – snuck Chico’s grimy little butt into the hospital. That’s loyalty!

To this day, if I’m in bed sick or even just hung-over, Chico comes over and lays his body across my neck. It’s the weirdest thing. He doesn’t look at me – he’s not an overly affectionate dog – he just lies there. He knows.

Last November, I thought I had cancer again. I was sick a ton and was freaking out, and Chico was very attentive, very doting. He gets me. He’s my heart; I love him. That said, he’s a grumpy old man. He’s very un-Chihuahua like. He’s not yappy; he just kind of sits there. I seriously think he’s FDR reincarnated.

My bond with Chico is really the reason I started to look into veganism and vegan fashion. He and Bellini made me realize that although animals aren’t the same as people – they don’t pay taxes and clock in and out – they do have feelings. After the episode in the loft, I realized what intelligent creatures they really are. They don’t speak the same language we do, but they’re still living, breathing creatures.

I started to do some investigating into animal rights, which was horrible. It’s like putting yourself through the ringer. I went on the PETA site. I watched videos and read about factory farming, the fur industry and how animals are treated… And I became a vegetarian.

When I first moved to Nashville, I worked at (the resale store) ClothingXChange. We did a partnership where if people donated to PETA they got a percentage off their purchase. Through that, PETA reached out to me and asked me to come work for them. I took a campaigner job, doing grassroots activism – everything from fur protests in New York City to talking about animals in the circus to attending shareholder meetings at big corporations like McDonald’s. It was a lot of work – and it was mentally hard. It was like having Sarah McLachlan on my iPod 24/7. Laughs.

When I joined PETA, I became a full-on vegan. If I was going to be out there fighting for animal rights, I needed to back it up. Now I won’t go back. I miss cheese. I mean, I’m half-Italian: I had cheese in my bottle when I was a baby. But I honestly believe I’ll be vegan for the rest of my life. I just know too much. And honestly, it’s like any habit: it’s become second nature.

Veganism posed some challenges at first. I had to go through my closet and take out leather, wool and anything else derived from an animal. I love fashion, but I know that until some things change I won’t wear another pair of heels with a red bottom on them. There’s progress, though: for instance, Jeffrey Campbell did a capsule collection of vegan shoes recently that were great.

Overall, I’m a confident person in my professional skills. But I still feel like I’m the underdog, like I’ve got so much to prove to the world. I put a lot of responsibility on myself. When I see helpless animals or people, I want to be their voice. I fight cancer and other (human) causes like hunger and education, but when it comes to animals, because of Chico and Bellini, it’s really deep. I’m their union leader. I’m their Hoffa … before he went missing! Laughs.

Marcia writes a weekly column about sustainable style (including vegan fashion) for the local fashion website Stella Shops.
Check out her latest entry here.

Starting next Tuesday, you can appreciate the hard work Marcia’s done to produce this year’s Nashville Fashion Week firsthand. You can buy tickets to shows associated with the 2012 NFW, held this year from March 20-24, and make your free reservation to attend one of the three fashion industry panels sponsored by Imogene + Willie on Thursday, March 22, by visiting www.nowplayingnashville.com.

You never forget your first:





About our photographer: Taylor Christian Jones is a Nashville-based music and editorial photographer, who’s had the pleasure of working with artists like Hot Chelle Rae, The Voice’s Brian Fuente, JT Daly and more. He doesn’t sleep very much, and enjoys time spent with his lovely wife, Lauren, and their cat Annie. Also bourbon.
Check out more of his work at taylorchristianjones.com.