Courtesy of Morgan Carson
Left: Morgan Carson and best friend Ashley. Right: Ashley modeling one of Carson's designs

Fashion designer to host event to raise awareness about the disease that took her best friend's life

Morgan Carson is a young, up-and-coming Seattle fashion designer and creator of Rene Ropas. In her formative years she was part of a straight-edge group whose stomping ground was Ballard. During those years she fell in love with fashion and started tearing clothes apart to make something new. Now, years later Carson is preparing for her third large-scale event and debut of her spring collection.

But during her interview with the Ballard News-Tribune Carson didn't talk much about her designs or about her recent success in the fashion industry. Her story is that of her best friend's lost battle with leukemia - a story that is both extremely sad and inspiring. During the interview neither Carson nor the reporter were able to contain their emotions and were both reaching for tissues on either end of the phone conversation.

Her upcoming show, Revive: a black and white masquerade, a journey into Alice's Wonderland is a benefit for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and an effort to raise awareness about the disease that took her best friend's life at 22 years old.

"We were best friends since 6th grade. We were the nerdy duo," Carson said.

"I was the awkward girl with a strange sense of style and Ashley was the beautiful shy blonde. We were the perfect misfit match."

The girls would play dress up and even choreograph elaborate shows with music and wardrobes.

Still inseparable at age 20, the girls were partying and having a good time like normal college students when Ashley got diagnosed with cancer.

"The radiation was awful. She lost all her hair, her eye lashes. As a woman, she lost some of her femininity," Carson said.

"But during the three years of treatment she got a degree, got engaged and we still played dress up. It helped us feel beautiful and have fun despite what was going on in life."

Carson was in and out of art school as she tried to take care of Ashley together with Ashley's mother.

"I'd cook for her or just be with her," she said. "We played Yahtzee for three days straight at one point."

Carson said those three years were pivotal in finding their womanhood.

"We got thrown into what really matters and Ashley found her voice," she said.

"She was gorgeous - blond with blue eyes and a tan yet very shy and a straight A student. During those years she found courage she didn't have before."

When the cancer came back, it came back mercilessly.

Ashley and her fiance changed the wedding date to an earlier time and Carson was asked to find the perfect dress as Ashley could no longer walk on her own.

"I found this beautiful 1920s vintage dress that had been waiting 80 years for her," Carson said.

Ashley passed away in May 2010.

Shortly before Ahley's death, Carson was struggling financially and had to drop out of school yet again because she couldn't pay tuition. With Ashley's encouragement, Carson put on her first fashion show to raise money for school.

"Ashley was suppose to die that day, according to the doctors, but she just wouldn't. She held on to make sure nothing came in my way that day," Carson said.

Carson made 60 dresses in 30 days for the fashion show and the show was successful. Not only did she raise funds for tuition, it launched her business.

Ashley died a week later.

Before her death. Ashley made Carson promise to not give up on her dream of becoming a fashion-designer. Carson named her company "Rene Ropas", French and Spanish for "reborn apparel" in honor of Ashley, who loved other cultures and was a Spanish literary major in college, and because Carson's designs give new life to recycled fabrics.

"The art is in the fabric itself, not just the design," Carson said.

In the ten months since Ashley's death, Carson has worked hard to make her dream of becoming a fashion designer come true. She has put on 16 runway shows and has been receiving quite some recognition for her work, including an inside-out jazz award and a spot in the Seattle Fashion Week contest.

Her upcoming show on Saturday, March 26, will be her third large-scale event promising magic and inspiration and will include fashion, music, film, and even aerialists.

"As a new designer, this event is about pushing myself beyond what I thought was possible and making a difference," Carson said.

Revive: a black and white masquerade will take place on Saturday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Little Red Studio on 400 Dexter Ave N.

Advanced tickets start at $25 and are available through Brown Paper Tickets.

For more information about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, visit: www.lls.org

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