Archive for January, 2011

The Trove: Shalea Walker
January 28, 2011

A glowing Shalea Walker at her spa.

Nestled on a quiet block near Jersey City’s Grove Street Path Station, Walker’s Apothecary is a “beauty haven designed to relax and enlighten.”  I went recently to visit the visionary proprietor Shalea Walker and marveled over her radiant skin as a nail technician completed her manicure. We spoke of fragrance, of travel, the brilliance of Michel Gondry and the moody melifluence of Sia Furler. Celebrating her seventh year of business this Spring, she and I met, however years ago while she worked for Harriette Cole’s Profundities, Inc. She recalled securing the interview for the position: “Darin (her friend and Profundities staffer) hooked me up.” At the time she worked in accounts payable at a hospital by day and an Ethiopian restaurant at night. Her lack of experience in media made her family caution her not to get her hopes up.  But “Harriette saw my eagerness and willingness,” she says. “Some core things about us were the same: the love of apothecary preparations, a sense of spirituality, journaling…and we’re both Pisces.”  She credits Harriette for showing her that “big things can be created from very small things and that big business turns to small businesses to execute its needs.”

Her road to entrepreneurship started with an early love of fragrance and skin care. Mississippian Tommie Walker and his Ecuadorian/Irish wife Celia Duffy raised their 3 children “all over Brooklyn–Brownsville, East New York, Canarsie…” Their middle child, Shalea, drawn to her father’s smells started wearing his Brut deodorant and Polo cologne at age 4. By seven, she was “obsessed with soap,” she says. “I’d sit in the bathtub and would rub the Tone beauty bar onto my skin in a thick layer.” She was a fastidious child, “very particular,” about her appearance.  She had “her own way of doing things,” she was no schoolyard clone. She wore only Candies sneakers and her seamstress mom made all her clothes. “My mom can re-upholster a chair, make window treatments…she’s a creator. She’s not interested in making dinner every night, she thinks of bigger things.” When adolescent acne reared its unfortunate head it was mom who introduced Shalea to renowned natural skin care specialists, Christine Valmy “for extractions on my nose.”

The attentive care to skin wellness was established in childhood but the germ of an idea for what would become Walker’s Apothecary was a journal entry when she was twenty or twenty-one: “I want to open my own place. It’ll carry teas, skin care products.” Her mother’s daughter, she thought of “bigger things.” She worked for an IT company to save for beauty school, but was laid off two years later in the aftermath of the dot-com bust. The timing was perfect, she’d felt nervous about being out-of-the-loop during the “corporate years.”  She returned to Christine Valmy to study and become a licensed esthetician.  Though she’d done makeup for years– herself and others, she finally admitted to herself that she was a makeup artist after doing the makeup for a photo shoot.  She soon did the makeup for a feature on a woman with a Jersey City candle shop.  She left thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be great if she didn’t want the business anymore and would sell it to me.  I could have my own business by 26.’ She called her brother Tommie and shared her Piscean fantasy.  “Keep dreaming, that’s never gonna happen,” he said.  She convinced him to visit the shop with her and when they walked in the proprietor said, “Hi Shalea, I’m selling the shop, you are the first person I’m telling.”  So with $5000 from the corporate gig 401k, she realized a dream.

An affirming tattoo.

In the charming 185 square-foot Warren Street space, she launched Walker’s Apothecary in 2004, carrying candles, teas, body oils and perfumes.  A stone’s throw from my cousin’s home, I’d visit the shop whenever I visited him.  There was always some new delight to savor.  Soon clients began to ask if she would offer services. “They begged me to do it,” she says. So she set up an eyebrow grooming station in the tiny space.  “Eyebrows changed the business, it was a segue into other things.” While her shop was growing, so too was a freelance career as a makeup artist, working with beauty expert/entrepreneur Andrea Fairweather Bailey’s Fairweather Faces.  The late Eric Spearman had been the makeup artist to singer Dianne Reeves and upon his passing she didn’t work with an artist until Shalea came along to a shoot at the Thompson Hotel. From working with Reeves to interior designer Sheila Bridges on her television show to creating the signature look for Little Mama, she juggled servicing makeup clients with serving Apothecary customers.

A 2006 feature on Shalea in Black Enterprise. CD covers for Dianne Reeves and Lil Mama.

When Shalea’s friend Ruth shuttered her Mercer Street vintage shop, Shalea seized the opportunity to increase her square footage five-fold and secured the space. She was finally able to offer all the spa services Apothecary clients were clamoring for: facials, nail care, waxing, massage, makeup application, even ear candling.  And of course eyebrow styling.  (She groomed mine to perfection while I was there.)

Stations for makeup application and nail care.

“I had a vision of a business making people’s lives better. It’s come into fruition and evolves as needed,” she says.  The evolution of the business has led to her to develop an in-house, paraben-free, product line. “I wanted to create great product at a great price.” The four face care products, when used sequentially provide at-home treatment akin to a spa facial. The gentle Marine Enzyme Peel draws out impurities, exfoliates and stimulates circulation. The humectant-rich Chamomile Soothing Gel hydrates and soothes. The Green Coffee Moisture Masque deeply moisturizes and softens skin and fine lines. The ultra-hydrating Super Moisturizing Serum delivers anti-oxidants and botanicals to protect and nourish the skin.  I’ve tried them all, it is a great system, but my absolute favorite is the soothing gel, it feels wonderful! My skin breathed a blissful, “Ahhh…”  Though each product is individually sold, Shalea smartly introduced a trial-sized sampler kit.

The Facial-to-Go Sample Set got me hooked, I’ll be back for more.

The body care line consists of light body oils and emollient lotions, each infused with synergistic blends of botanical essences.

Walker’s Custom Blend Body Oil and Body Lotion

She’s a student of global skin care practices, traveling to a different country each year to “explore the skin care culture” of each region. She’s discovered that the French embrace technological advances; in Germany “stringent” use of natural ingredients is followed and in Greece, they use mastic gums. Her research informs the development of her products.  At Walker’s Apothecary, she wants to create “an experience, a discovery” for her clients and “now that we have our own products, people can take a bit of us home.”

We took our interview upstairs to her home above the spa to check out some of her favorite things…

1. My Couch. She found a pretty yellow and cream récamier in need of a little TLC at a Salvation Army store. “I paid $60 for it, thinking I’m gonna get it upholstered one day.”  To complement her spa decor and withstand heavy use, she had it revamped in durable silver and grey vinyl.

This bit of vintage glam now resides in her living room.

2. Fragrance Collection. An “indulgent, decadent luxury,” her growing collection of scents is an “obsession. I can forfeit a pair of shoes, but not my perfume.”

In current rotation: Susanne Lang Tamboti Wood; Pierre Bourdon Iris Poudre, Frederic Malle; Beth Nonte Russell Forever Lily; by Kilian Back to Black Aphrodisiac; Tom Ford Black Orchid; Guerlain Elixir Charnel; Sarah Horowitz Perfect Kiss; Jo Malone French Lime Blossom and Kiehl’s Forest Rain.

3. Journals. Journaling since she was twelve, she keeps them on hand, buying them by the stack.

Among her collection, recycled leather journals from Florentine company, Ciak.  Available through JournalingArts.com

4. Turkish Earrings. She doesn’t do a lot of accessorizing, but she likes the melding of gold and silver, the fringe detail and the manageable size of the gift from her boyfriend.

Her sweetie picked up the fringed lion cabochons during his travels to Turkey.

5. Montauk, Off-season. “It’s so laid back. April, early May no one is on the beach, and even if other folks are there it is like your own private beach. I just drink champagne, sit on the beach and relax into the view.”

Montauk Lighthouse Sunrise, © All rights reserved, Oldsamovar.

6. Hard Cheeses. She loves the dryness; the texture of an aged Parmesan, the nuttiness of a Manchego.


Queso Manchego from La Mancha, Spain is one of the hard ripened cheeses available at The Cheese Store in Hoboken, NJ, just ten minutes away.

7. Karen Oh. “I saw her perform [with her band Yeah Yeah Yeahs] at Liberty State Park, her energy was so live!”

Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform “Heads Will Roll.

8.Hôtel de Ville. Also known as Le Marais, Paris’ fourth arrondissement was her stomping ground during a one-month visit to the City of Light. She enjoyed the melange of Old Paris and what she’s dubbed “New Age” Paris with its eclectic mix of bistros and boutiques.

Hôtel de Ville, the City Hall from which the area derives its name. Photo: Trey Ratcliff.

9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. “Kate, the somberness of the music, I loved it.”

The official film trailer.

10. Helen Julia Soft Mink Candle. As a purveyor of fragrant goodies, Shalea has certainly tested her share of aromatic candles. She ranks the bold rose/geranium scent from the Helen Julia line of hand-poured soy candles among her favorites.

Soft Mink, one of several aromatic blends created with love by Tamiko Hargrove for HelenJulia Fragranced Candles.  Each candle is packaged in an elegant velvet pouch.

The Trove: Renaldo Barnette
January 13, 2011

The impeccable Professor Barnette, photographed by fashion peer, Michael McCollom.

Renaldo Barnette loves models.  In fact, he was one — a muse to esteemed fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez as he created the brooding genie in the lushly illustrated 1985 re-telling of the Scheherazade classic Tales of the Thousand and One Nights.  Friendships with runway legends eased his transition to life in late-eighties Paris: Coco Mitchell (“She’s still my heart”) welcomed him as a roommate during his jaunts to the City of Lights and Lu Sierra introduced the awed young designer/illustrator to Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy. Millie the Model, a paper doll dream glimpsed in the pages of his older sister’s comic books started it all.

A page from a 1960 “Millie the Model” book available on eBay.

 

Renaldo’s oh-s0-chic 2010 season’s greetings brightened my holiday.

The youngest of the “humorous and fabulous” Eddie and Lillian Barnette’s four children, Renaldo was born in Fort Devens, Massachusetts.  An Army brood, the family moved every 2 or 3 years, living in places as far-flung as Okinawa, Japan and Augsburg, Germany to several states in the U.S.  “My real discovery of drawing was when we lived in Hawaii, between about eight and ten-years-old,” he says. He’d duplicate the super heroes from his comics, Spiderman and Superman, but it was big sis Phyllis’ Millie the Model and Katy Keene books that captured his burgeoning fashion imagination.  His mom, who called to mind Diahann Carroll’s TV character, Julia, was a “nice, stylish, suburban lady” who had her clothes made.  Baby of the family Renaldo would accompany her to fittings with dressmakers in whatever town they found themselves in.  Fascinated, he took it all in, learning about patterns and fit, fingering the fabric samples and quietly taking the available scraps. With these scavenged textiles or even bits of his own cut-up socks, “I learned how to trace a bodice and sleeve.” He saved his lunch money and secretly bought a Barbie doll, sharing this only with his brother Corinzo, now a hairstylist in Florida. “Corinzo would style Barbie’s hair and I’d make her clothes.”

During a family stint in Fort Knox, Kentucky, “Mom sent me to the store to pick up something and I spent her change to buy a copy of Vogue. It was big, the September issue. I think it was 1971 or ’72.”  Though he was concerned she’d be angry about the expenditure,  it opened a dialogue.  “Oh, you’re interested in fashion?” she asked, then shared that she’d gone to New York years before to pursue a modeling career. She didn’t continue that path, but she kept up with the styles of the times.  As fashion “got young in the seventies,” people mistook Ms. Barnette in her “Cleopatra Jones cropped fur jacket, double-knit pants and curly “Freedom” wig for her children’s sister. (With Corinzo’s help she had “an entire wig wardrobe with wiglets and falls.”)

Though his father was oft in uniform, Renaldo was taken by a photo of his father in the era just after the Zoot Suit: the strong shoulder was still there, but the silhouette was slimmer.  His dad looked sharp.  And he taught his sons the essentials of proper grooming.

When Fort Bragg beckoned, the family lived in Fayetteville, NC where Renaldo excelled in art class, so much so that his teacher taught him private painting lessons.  “But I was bored,” Renaldo says, “and kept on drawing girls.”  Noticing the fashion illustrations advertising local store, Miss Vogue Junior Shop, his instructor noted that Renaldo’s illustrations were as good the advertisements in the paper and convinced the shop to hire the eighth grader for a Saturday job drawing velvet blazers, Faded Glory jeans and Huk-a-Poo dresses. It was, of course, a big deal for him. “I thought I was the cat’s meow.  I became a local celebrity.”  When his beloved brother, Eddie Jr. passed away last year, Renaldo was deeply moved by the discovery that his proud big bro had saved all his Miss Vogue sketches (as well as his favorite Hot Wheels cars.)

After high school, he headed to Los Angeles to attend FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising,) where he was eventually advised to head to New York, for a better match of sensibilities.  He did visit the Apple and was offered a job by a fairly new company that he loved, Carolina Herrera, but a boyfriend in LA convinced him to stay on the West Coast.  He would finally make the move, take classes at the Parsons School of Design and reconnect with Antonio Lopez, whom he’d met at the L.A. launch of the book, Antonio’s Girls.  Upon reviewing his portfolio, Antonio told Renaldo that it “looked out-of-townish,” and that he should “always carry a sketch book,” a practice he embraces to this day. They’d hit legendary club Paradise Garage and whilst Antonio & Co. burned up the dance floor, he’d find a corner, take in the uniquely New York scene, and sketch away. Although he was accustomed to immersion in different worlds, Antonio and his famous friends—Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Iman – were a new universe.

Posing for Antonio and freelancing at Polo Ralph Lauren, “sketching in various departments,” Renaldo met American-born Paris phenom Patrick Kelly who liked his sketches and invited him to work in his atelier.  He loved the Paris years, working not only with Patrick but with the “very French” houses, Sonia Rykiel, Chantal Thomass and Jean Charles de Castelbajac.

Upon his return to the states, he embarked on a career designing and/or sketching for a variety of American sportswear lines including Anne Klein, Nicole Miller, Christian Francis Roth, Yansi Fugel and good friend Michael McCollom; teaching at the college level; creating day dresses for Badgley Mischka as Design Director for daytime dresses and Lauren dresses as Creative Consultant; and launching his well-reviewed (WWD) eponymous line, Renaldo, Ltd. in 2003.

When pulling looks for Lloyd Boston’s The Style Checklist, I thought Renaldo’s matte jersey stunner was the perfect piece to illustrate “The Jaw-Dropping Dress.”  Photo by Robert Tardio.

  

Recent sketches.

Now an adjunct professor at F.I.T., Renaldo has taught there for 19 years. Though he is highly rated by students, he says “it took years to develop” his teaching style and level of comfort. 

 Amazing artist, amazing professor. He does not only teach you how to draw, but how to think and act like a designer. He treats you with respect and has a lot of expectation. He very often stays late for us after class. Very accessible and helpful as long as you are seeking for help. Love him! and I wish to have him again as my professor. – Student review of Renaldo from Rate My Professors

Though classroom instruction was not in his plan, “I interviewed on a lark,” he says. Painter, illustrator and art instructor Harvey Boyd exclaimed upon seeing his sketches “Wow! Have you ever thought of teaching?”  Renaldo responded in the negative, but decided to go for it “to make extra cash.”  He had no idea how much he’d enjoy it.  “I find it so rewarding, giving back” and helping students to perfect their craft. So beloved is he and so strong his talent that he was hired by fashion darling and former student Bryan Bradley to work on his line Tuleh.

Renaldo delineates between the wonderful fashion illustration, which is “solely for setting the mood,” with little regard for technical detail and the effective fashion design drawing which serves as the blueprint for translation into an actual garment: from buttons and buttonholes, seams and topstitching to accurately rendered fabric texture and weight.

From sketch pad to runway: Renaldo’s design drawing fully articulates the look created for Mrs. Stevie Wonder’s fashion line, Kai Milla.  View more of his  work at RenaldoBarnette.com

Though the self-funded venture Renaldo, Ltd. was critically ac- claimed and able to fulfill all orders it became financially prohibitive to support.  He would like to helm a line again, however his dream is “to do what Marc Jacobs has done, to not only relaunch but to renew a brand.  I’d love to do Pappagallo.”  As for the Renaldo line he has an eye toward a made-to-measure business.  He would include the requisite red carpet looks, however the crux of the business would be daywear— “great pants, that perfect dress for day that fits! It’s all about the customer.” And his customer “appreciates simplicity, she’s someone who wants to see herself before she sees clothes,” elegant and aware that proper fit is everything.

Renaldo’s Trove reflects his love of beautiful presentation with a luxe, yet relaxed ease.

1. Meisel & McGrath.  When Steven the photographer and Pat the makeup artist come together, the results are always magical and Renaldo loves the synergy of the two. “I give props to Meisel for being a model maniac like I am. Love him.”  And Pat McGrath? “That woman’s work is genius, genius, genius!”

From Vogue Italia, Meisel and McGrath’s collaboration with Stylist Karl Templer and Hairstylist Guido.

2. Cashmere.  Especially sweaters and jackets. The tactile experience has him sold.  “It feels good against your skin and it feels good to other people.”

He often shops Barney’s for his cashmere pieces.
 

3. Chelsea Boots. “When I was a kid they were called Beatle boots and I thought they were the coolest thing–still do.”

Renaldo ushered in the new year rocking a tuxedo and Gucci patent Chelsea boots.

4. White Shirts.  He likes clean, crisp lines and “the way white looks against my skin.”

 

From the Spring 2011 collection of Los Angeles cardiologist-turned-haberdasher, Roderick Tung.

5. Black Jeans.  He enjoys the contrast of black and white and the lengthening properties of dark pants.  “I’m tall and black jeans make me appear even taller.”

Raleigh Denim creates jeans in varying washes and silhouettes.

6. Great Driving Shoes.  “Even though I can’t drive!” Prada, Hugo Boss, Bally and the Daddy of them all, Tod’s–he loves the yin and yang of softness and structure.

From Tod’s Pre-Collection Spring/Summer 2011, the Gommino Loafer.

7. Creativity.  He is grateful for his–“I don’t take it for granted”– and embraces and encourages it in others.

A project Renaldo worked on to revamp the Laura Ashley image was an all-encompassing vision for the brand from apparel to accessories and shoes.

8. Elmo Restaurant. In How to Be a Gentleman, John Bridges suggests that every gentleman should identify a restaurant he enjoys where he is known and respected.  Elmo in Chelsea is that spot for Renaldo.   

The stylish interior, great food and proximity to the garment district make Elmo a favorite haunt of the fashion crowd.

9. Bongo. With its mid-century modern furnishings, fun vibe, and great owners (his friends Andrea Cohen and Jeffrey Bell), the West Village seafood lounge is a frequent hang.

“If you like club–good house, the music will keep you coming back,” Renaldo gushes, “It’s great!”

10. Metamorphosis in Movies. The fashion-oriented films Mahogany and Funny Face tie for favorite film in his book with their shared themes of transformation. Diana Ross’ “Tracy” and Audrey Hepburn’s “Jo” both emerge from humble beginnings into beautiful swans.

One of his favorite scenes from Mahogany.

The original theatrical trailer for Funny Face.

Happy New Decade!
January 1, 2011

It was the reflection on the prior decade that was the impetus for this blog two years ago.  To those who have read along as this little thing has found its voice, thank you so very much. Thank you for alotting your precious time to seeing which way the pendulum will swing, from my story in 2008 to Oi Yin Gonzalez’ at the end of 2010. I hope you’ll follow as the well-received feature, The Trove, becomes it’s own entity. I am excited and optimistic about the possibilities of this new decade, the second of the new millennium in which we are thrust solidly into the future.  We are living a future our forbears could barely imagine.  Today at 01:01:11 am, I put a conscious intention for the year into the universe, from my head and heart to God’s ear.  Wishing you all good things…

Photo by Camera Slayer.