Archive for February, 2010

The Trove: Anitra Michelle
February 18, 2010

At a wine tasting last year, I had the serendipitous fortune of meeting Anitra Michelle.  Writer Julia Chance, the convivial host, said “you two should know each other, meet Anitra, she’s a fashion designer.”  With a smile as big and bright as the gleaming Fulani earrings she rocked, Anitra greeted me warmly, Libra charm on display.   At the time, I was in the process of securing garments from African-American designers for use in a photo shoot with the magnificent dancers of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  We chatted about my needs for the shoot: fluidity of movement, color palette and so on.  Following up the next day, she emailed photos of pieces in her collection that might be appropriate.  Not only did she send an image of a skirt in the perfect shade of purple, but offered to also create something for us with the full knowledge that submission was no guarantee of use.  Ultimately, the ever astounding Linda Celeste Sims loved and wore the purple skirt.

AAADT’s Linda Celeste Sims in PLUTOCRACY.  Photo by Andrew Eccles.

Born in Detroit and raised on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Anitra Michelle Haithcock was influenced early on by the stylishness of her parents and older sister.

I think looking at the beauty of my mother and knowing how cool my father was really pushed me to carry the legacy forward.  My sister was always fashionable, had her clothes made and really just exuded style as a teenager.  I really looked up to her style-wise.

With the launch of MTV and its marriage of music and fashion, Anitra immersed herself:

I also watched lots of videos as a child.  My parents would go to bed and I would stay up all night watching MTV.  It’s funny, but the rebellious nature of the 80’s and hairbands also contributed to my view of style versus fashion.

New York City soon beckoned, she began her studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology and subsequently did showroom internships for Karl Lagerfeld and Lanvin during their US launch.  She apprenticed in Vera Wang’s pattern department, an invaluable experience and worked as an assistant stylist before launching her own line, PLUTOCRACY in November 2008.  The inspiration behind the name?

I really thought about how wealth really inspires people and influences people.  That’s wealth of any kind, e.g. Wealth of Knowledge (Physicians); Wealth of Style (Designers/Stylists); Wealth of Health (Athletes) and the list goes on. PLUTOCRACY means ruled by the wealthy.  This really struck a cord with me and we wanted to ensure that we’re always putting out best foot forward.  Naming the brand PLUTOCRACY forces you to really keep it high on Fashion’s totem pole.  We really want to put out the most expressive and individual ideas to inspire women.

When asked about her process she explains that she tries to remain receptive to the myriad influences which ultimately inform her work. She usually begins with an idea of fabric and palette then does extensive research.  “Usually, a bottle of red wine and some broken beat really inspire my creativity.  Music is necessary.”

Anitra Michelle and the first garment she created as a student at F.I.T.

PLUTOCRACY Fall/Winter 2010 Collection, “Rising Revolt”

As the New York fashion industry winds down the collections for Fall 2010, celebrating its last tented hurrah in Bryant Park,  PLUTOCRACY gives us the fashion film, “Rising Revolt,” a glimpse of Fall in a well, rather democratic way, online and accessible for all, “not just the ones sitting front row at Fashion Week,” says Anitra.

Inspired by the woman’s empowerment movement during the 1940’s when war forced housewives to hang up their aprons and enter the male-dominated workforce, Rising Revolt represents the modern Corporate Rebel. The woman who knows she can look sexy and professional at the same time. The woman who refuses to blend in with the suits she is surrounded by. The woman who won’t take no for an answer and wears the clothes that show she means it. The Corporate Rebel uses her sense of style to show her state of mind and is stirring up the masses in a Rising Revolt.

PLUTOCRACY 2010, all rights reserved.

What makes the must-have list of this girl-on-the-go?

1. iPhone. “It’s the best phone ever…”

2. Magazines. “I love Vogue Paris and Trace for inspiration.”


3. Notebooks. “I carry one everywhere I go for random ideas and I usually just pick them up from Barnes and Noble without much thought.”

Five-by-seven inch recycled monogram journals by Pistachio for Indigo at BN.com.

4. My brown fedora. “I love it. It’s a way to be incognito…with style.”

With its classic shape and stingy brim, this Borsalino is similar to Anitra’s fave chapeau.

5. C.O. Bigelow Mentha Lip Tint. The venerable West Village apothecary produces a a glossy balm with a hint of color and cooling peppermint. “It’s nice and thick…so great at keeping your lips moisturized.”

6. My Michael Kors boots. With a 3 1/2 inch stacked heel and slouchy red suede, this 80’s vibe boot from MK’s Michael line can be worn tall or scrunched. “They are stylish yet comfortable.  And the red exudes SEXY!”

7. A huge work bag. Though she is not wed to a particular “It” bag, she is seldom without a large, functional workhorse to keep her things close at hand. “My security blanket,” she says. “I love that I can throw my life in it.”



The leather-trimmed, rubberized canvas Montauk tote from J.Crew offers a durable, water-resistant, city-friendly update to the classic canvas variety.



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Toshi Rocks the White House in a Baracklyn Tee!
February 16, 2010

In the continuing music series, In Performance at the White House, the Obamas welcomed a stellar group of musical talent (from Joan Baez to the Blind Boys of Alabama) to “the People’s House” on February 9 for A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement. In one of the most rousing performances of the evening, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Rutha Harris and Charles Nesblett, original members of the Freedom Singers, joined by Toshi Reagon on guitar and vocals belted out (Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody) Turn Me Round.

Earlier in the day, Toshi  participated in a music workshop to explain the significance of music on the Civil Rights Movement.  Lucky high school students from across the nation were brought to the White House to listen as Dr. Reagon, Smokey Robinson and others dropped the knowledge.

I was delighted to see that Toshi once again honored our Prez, repped for Brooklyn, and showed me some love by wearing her baracklyn T-shirt (from our line of Presidential Tees.) Last year she donned it to jam onstage with and in living tribute to her godfather, Pete Seeger, at his 90th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden.

Toshi, Warren Haynes and Pete Seeger.  Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/GettyImages

Toshi and her mom reunite tonight at eight in Boston for Roots and Reason: A Celebration of American Roots Music at the Berklee College of Music.  It’s a busy time for Toshi; keep up with her tour dates at her website, http://toshireagon.com/.

“Cupid, draw back your bow”
February 13, 2010

“and let your arrow go…”

Get cozy with Quintell.  This West End girl opens her secret salon.  Peruse a collection of luxurious vintage coats in her elegant West End Avenue pad, before they are placed on her newly launched website, myclosetshoppe.com.

212 ♥ 810 ♥ 6379

On the waterfront. Drinks, nibbles and wink-worthy lingerie from the fun girls at The Panty Shack. All weekend long at Winkworth.

718 ♥ 243 ♥ 2296

119 Columbia Street off Kane

Red Hook

Ah, romance. A Mûre Royale and dinner at James.

718 ♥ 942 ♥ 4255

605 Carlton Avenue at the corner of St Marks

Prospect Heights

MoMA à deux. After the galleries close to the public on Saturday and Sunday, the Museum of Modern Art offers its annual Valentine’s Tours for Two.  Call MoMA Group Services for reservations.

212 ♥ 708 ♥ 9685

11 West 53 Street

NYC

Free love. Tonight marks the début appearance of singer/songwriter Maiysha at Brooklyn’s BAMcafé Live.  Expect plenty of love songs (some penned by the Brooklynite herself) in this free pre-Valentine’s day performance. Doors at 8, show at 10.

718 ♥ 623 ♥ 7811

30 Lafayette Avenue

Fort Greene

Love don’t cost a thing. Maiysha, tonight, Saturday, February 13 at BAMcafé Live.

Thank you for showing love to pendulum.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Trove: Alonzo Wright
February 11, 2010

‘Zo and his beloved instrument.

I caught up with saxophonist Alonzo Wright recently for a virtual chitchat since Snowmaggedon 2010 is preventing a sit-down even as we are both in the Washington Metropolitan area now.  How àpropos.  It’s been over a decade since we met at a book launch and our communication mode has changed along with the times, now keeping up with each other’s lives largely on Facebook.

The Brooklyn-bred Harlem resident — I forgive him for defecting — is actually a multi-instrumentalist, playing not only the sax, but also flute and percussion (as well as piano, for writing.)  He picked up his first instrument, the clarinet, at age eight, but it wasn’t until high school when he wrote his first song that he realized his life’s passion.  To the chagrin of his mother, his avocation became obsession.  That song, Shooting the Gaps is the first tune on his independently produced solo recording, Bitz of Pieces (buy the CD or MP3 download at CD Baby.)  A nearly 20-year gestation, the jazz fusion album is a testament to Alonzo’s tenacity.  Over the years, advances in technology have made it cost-effective for him to self-produce, and complete the mélange of musical styles “in bits and pieces,” his vision “the glue that made the process work.”  The ten original compositions on”Bitz” feature the talents of many gifted industry friends: Bob Baldwin, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Vincent Henry, Will Downing, Marvin Sewell, Buddy Williams, Garvin Blake, Larry Marsden, Bashiri Johnson, Reggie Washington, Audrey Wheeler-Downing, Eric Smith, Ray Vega and Kenny Davis.

I consider myself a late bloomer in a lot of ways.  I always juggled working nine-to-fives while trying to pursue my music…but I persisted. The long and short of it is, I will be and would [have been] involved with music in one way or another, because it’s what feeds my soul and spirit.

Greatly influenced by Grover Washington, Jr. and Ronnie Laws (whom he met just two weeks ago) on his main instrument, he counts the now-defunct New York jazz radio station WRVR as his “most important music teacher.”

I used to listen to ‘RVR ALL the time. They had some great DJ’s, who would tell you about the music they played and who played it, very informative.  The fact that they played different styles and types right behind each other allowed me to appreciate the different nuances in the music.  You would hear, Ella Fitzgerald, Weather Report, Count Basie, Spyro Gyra, Jon Lucien, Return To Forever, all back to back, amazing.   I, along with many others, cried the day they went off the air (in 1980.)”

His mother from Trinidad, his father from the Lesser Antilles island of St.Vincent, Alonzo has integrated his heritage into his music, notably in the calypso vibe of Freedom Parkway, not at all out-of-place on J’ouvert. An “ode to my Caribbean roots,” he says. He feels nourished when he is able to travel and “experience the music and culture of other places.  I make it a point to get indigenous music, wherever I go.”

In partnership with Kendall Scott on guitar and keyboards, Alonzo, playing saxophone, flute, percussion and wind synthesizer, released Asi (“it’s obvious” in Swahili) in 2004.  Though he has done session work, road managed other artists and produced, arranged and written for them, it is the writing and performing of his own original music that is his primary focus.  Now with the release of his solo effort, he is planning shows for Spring.  Visit his myspace page to needle drop and check for news and upcoming dates.

‘Zo and the fruit of his two-decade labor.

Alonzo adores a good joke, a good time, playing softball and of course his longtime love Lynda, but what else makes the sax master swoon, his impish grin in full effect?

1. Yanagisawa Saxophones. Since the 1954 introduction of the T-3 tenor sax, Tokyo’s “Yani” plant has prided itself on producing saxophones of unparalleled quality and enviable ease-of-use. Alonzo is partial to Japanese-made horns (he owns Yamahas as well) “well made, solid and consistent,” he plays them exclusively.

2. My iPod. Well actually, iPods.  He has two 160 gig Black Classics, usually on shuffle. “The ability to have as much music at my fingertips as I have in my head just makes me giddy.”

3. Florence, Italy. “I was introduced to Firenze by Lynda. I enjoyed going for early morning runs in the hills. And of course the best food in the world.”  Indeed. “Great food, great charm, great history, great people.”

Florence Sunset, Italy © Jon Rawlinson

4. In-n-Out Burgers. “You would have to taste them to know what I am talking about. Double-double with a side of fries… While on tour once, I ate it everyday. Normally my first stop from the airport.”

5. My brand new Palm Pre Plus. “I have been a long time Palm-based product user, so I am loyal.  It is on a new operating system, which is very efficient and productive.  I waited ’til it came to my mobile carrier, and it was well worth the wait.  Might end up being the last cell phone I ever own.”

6. Buffalo Wings. “My guilty pleasure, yum, yum… I am partial to the wings at Blondie’s, an upper west side sports bar.”

7. N.Y. Mets. “For better or worse,” he says. “The first game I remember seeing was the third game of the ’69 World Series, and I’ve been hooked since then.”

Photo, SodaHead.com

8. Biographies. I love reading and learning about others journeys through this thing we call life.

Some of ‘Zo’s favorites.  Also topping his list are: Miles Davis: An Autobiography;  John Coltrane: His Life and Music; Jean-Michel Basquiat and Open Sky: Sonny Rollins.

9. NPR. It is refreshing to hear all the different and informative programming they have.

 

NPR headquarters in Washington, DC.  Photo: Drew Saunders.

 

10. Independent Movies. As an artist, I find it refreshing to see an art form that challenges normal convention.

 

 

A few of the indie films that Alonzo loves.

 

Beauty in Full: Roxanna Floyd
February 8, 2010

The varied stuff of life has, thus far, prevented posting to pendulum in this new decade of the 21st century.  The glory of watching the magnificent Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on the very first day of the year went unacknowledged; feeling the personal seismic shift of caring for an ailing parent and receiving the news of Haiti’s devastating seismic activity though deeply, deeply felt was more than I could bring myself to speak on.

It is now, heart-heavy, that I must post again. It is my honor and great sorrow to pay posthumous tribute to my friend, “face maven,” Roxanna Floyd, who unexpectedly though mercifully passed away in her sleep on January 28.  In our contemporary times of widespread social networking, the news traveled quickly and Jelani Bandele, Roxanna’s friend since childhood and former publicist confirmed what we’d hoped was an ugly rumor.  Facebook was soon flooded with stunned status updates and comments of disbelief–an instantaneous display of communal public grieving.

Roxanna’s achievements as a makeup artist are many, enhancing the beauty of scores of women, particularly women of color.  Long-time clients Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett and Queen Latifah owe their glamorous public visages to Roxie’s deft hand.  She with her work, shined a most flattering light on all she touched.  She with her integrity and discretion shared only that light even where there was great darkness.  She with her motherwit and abiding faith illuminated more than just faces but also hearts and minds.

I knew Roxie’s work long before I actually met her. A magazine fiend, I have always pored over the photo credits to discover the creators of the images that appeal to me.  I remember often seeing Makeup, Roxanna Floyd for Zoli Illusions in the pages of Essence (for whom she created 60 covers over the years).  When I too, joined the Essence fold in the 1990’s, I was delighted to learn that the beautiful woman who created those flawless faces was, in fact a gracious, humble person with a nurturing spirit.  She was an old soul, a sage, both comfortable and generous with the wisdom that belied her age.    An aesthete, she enjoyed the expression of beauty in its many forms. She sought not to impress but rather to simply embrace her innate appreciation for quality. With Libran balance she seamlessly integrated a love of luxury with absolute humility. With her success she might have moved to a status address across the bridge, far from the Brooklyn neighborhood of her upbringing.  She did not. A life-long resident of Clinton Hill,  she made her home in the shadow of Emmanuel Baptist Church, where she’d received spiritual sustenance since childhood and where she, in 2003, became the wife of long-time love Rick Ramos. Living a stone’s throw from her beloved parents Josh and Bertha Floyd, she with unfaltering devotion to them, made certain that their every need was met as age and infirmity beset them. Her example emboldens me as I face my own mother’s health challenges and I thank her for it.

A consummate professional and a woman of impeccable character, she is referred to time and again as a “class act.”  She moved through her life with dignity, grace and an earthy charm that endeared her to nearly everyone fortunate enough to cross her path.  It is no wonder that she is a godmother four times over, what an incredible model of womanhood she was.  She was honest, fair and incredibly giving.  When I tried to contract her services for my wedding day, she wasn’t having it. She was, in fact, insulted that I’d offered payment.  She said, “just think of it as a wedding present.”  She made the outer me as radiant as the inner me was feeling.  She looked out in many ways, referring me for gigs and sharing the wealth, so to speak.  She was wonderfully encouraging and was the first person to make a comment on the about page of this blog.  When I spoke to her she’d always say’ “keep blogging, I love what you are doing.”  Even as she faced personal trials, she expressed genuine interest in and concern for others.

I loved working with Roxie but some of my favorite memories are of “downtime.” Like her dapper Dad, Roxie liked to dance and I recall the two of them cutting a rug at her 35th birthday party– she in a fabulously large Afro wig, he well past 70 in slim leather pants “gettin’ down with his bad self” (to quote Julia Chance on the occasion).  I remember too her 40th — Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance among the revelers in Roxie’s world, her ‘hood, her loyalty to the Fort Greene stalwart, Two Steps Down intact. How fitting it is that her beautiful wake and funeral services were held at Emmanuel Baptist and the celebratory repast at Two Steps. How unbelievable it is that come September she will not be  shaking a leg and showing us all how fifty is done.  But we who loved her will most certainly raise a glass, shake a leg and offer a prayer of thanks that she passed our way.

Though we lived just blocks apart, we didn’t see each other often. It was, however, always a pleasure when we did, be it through work or socially.  The last time I saw her was in passing at a local gourmet shop. In a short haircut and fabulous eyewear, she was characteristically chic and welcoming, offering a hug with her warm and winking smile.  We spoke soon after by phone.  What was intended to be a quick call to schedule a lunch date became a two-hour conversation that was revelatory, compassionate and a testament to her decency, strength of character and sagacity beyond her years.  I wish we’d had that lunch, but I am ever grateful that we spoke, at length, with candor.  I still hear her voice, its cadence soothingly familiar. I shall remember it–and her–always.  If there is a superlative better than best, Roxanna Floyd Ramos was it.

A melding of her worlds personal and professional, her home going services were a moving celebration of all aspects of her exemplary life. Makeup legend Reggie Wells and Roxie’s “baby brother,” Yusuf Rashad  offered heartwarming words of comfort. A glorious litany of reflections were shared by a cross-section of her intimates.  Beauty entrepreneur Erika Kirkland’s testimony spoke to Roxanna’s steadfast faith.  A client of Erika’s then-nail emporium, Polish, Roxanna often reminded her that their work was in God’s service, that “Jesus washed feet, too,” and that beauty is a reflection of God’s grace.

A family reunion of sorts, we came in common mourning for our Roxie and left bereaved but uplifted and some fractured relationships set on the road to healing.  Even in death she still nurtures us.  Interred in a serene upstate setting near the final resting place of the father she adored, Roxie is survived in a legacy of love by her husband, her mother, countless relatives, friends and fans.

The personification of goodness.

There are tributes by Jelani Bandele on Plenty, Harriette Cole on EbonyJet.com,  Marcia Cole on AmberMag.com, photographer Matthew Jordan Smith on his blog and a memorial page on Facebook, ROXANNA FLOYD in Loving Memory. Whitney Houston’s Nothing But Love Tour 2010 is “a dedication to my dear friend and Glam partner, Roxanna.”

For a glimpse of Roxanna working her magic, check out BET.com’s  September webisode, Whitney Houston’s Winning Look.