Archive for the ‘Beauty’ Category

The Trove: Erin Robinson
July 23, 2011

We’ve relocated! View Erin’s updated story at The Trove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With schoolgirls in Banda Village, Rwanda.
Erin Robinson loves summer thunderstorms and she got one as we chatted in her childhood home in Washington, DC over the July Fourth weekend, her sweeping gestures and sound effects underscored by the distant thunder and gentle rain. We noshed on fresh fruit and spoke of mutual travel glories: the spirit-lift from burning the Mexican tree resin Copal; houseboating in Kerala and bonding with rescued baby elephants. Her lovely mom Dianne played with Erin’s three-year-old niece Madison; her hospitable dad Harry made it back just before the rains after a round of golf. “We moved to this house when I was in first grade,” she says of the Tudor where she and sisters Kia and Leigh were raised. “I love the neighborhood we grew up in. All the kids would play dodge ball or foursquare or freeze tag and when the sun set we knew it was time to go home. I’d say 70% of the friends I have today are people I grew up with.” The Robinsons of Shepherd Park: Harry, Erin, Dianne, Kia Winlock and Leigh Warfield. When she wasn’t outside playing she was inside creating. From the age of two-and-half, her mom says “she would just sit and draw.” Erin recalls making shoes for her younger sisters out of the cardboard inserts from her father’s laundered dress shirts. “I would trace their feet for the soles, put labels in them and punch holes in the tops to lace them with ribbon. I was about eleven.” She declared she wanted to be a fashion designer, an illustrator or, like many children, a veterinarian. Her grandmother sent her to the Corcoran School of Art for Saturday classes from seventh to ninth grades. By high school veterinary science wasn’t a thought. “I had the Beverly Johnsons and Imans, the Gia Carangis and Janice Dickinsons pasted on my walls. I was obsessed with the movie Fame, saw it about 5 times. I really wanted to go to Duke Ellington School of the Arts but my parents thought I was going to be dancing on the lunch room tables, so I got sent to the nuns at Academy of the Holy Names instead. Upon graduation, Grandma once again advocated for her as an artist, sending her to Parsons School of Design in Paris for the summer. “I lived in the dorm and took illustration with Albert Elia, one of my favorite teachers.  I excelled in it. It was amazing.” Erin is ever grateful to her grandmother who passed away just days after she returned. She attended her father’s alma mater, Howard University, where he has held the posts of Vice President of the University as well as Dean and Professor of Urban Design in the School of Architecture and Planning. Her parents may have been cautious in their schooling preferences, but as Erin says “they were insanely nurturing. Markers, papers, triangles, whatever I needed,they provided.” That included a summer program the following year at Parsons in New York, where she’d wanted to live since she was nine. Deciding that Howard wasn’t the place for her, she set her sights on attending Parsons full time. “I was thrilled when I got that acceptance letter!” she exclaims. She lived with relatives on the Upper West Side and eventually moved with a roommate to a tiny apartment on Waverly and Perry in Greenwich Village. “It was a four-story walk-up, I had a fold-out chair bed and a little half-refrigerator and we thought, This is fantastic! ” She would then establish a long relationship with the great borough of Brooklyn where we met long ago through our dear friend Barb Chennault. Erin’s professional foray into fashion was designing sweaters for the Jaclyn Smith Collection, a Kmart property. Over a storied career with stints at the likes of Kikit and Abercrombie & Fitch among others she came full circle to become the vice-president of the baby division of Kmart/Sears Holdings, Inc.
With an eye on costume design, she decided to move to Los Angeles in 1992. “When you’re in your twenties you’re fearless, I didn’t have a pot to piss in, but I was going,” she says. Armed with optimism and a $500 parental subsidy, off she went. Soon after, she secured a job building costumes on the popular sketch comedy In Living Color where Barb worked in the wardrobe department.
From Fire Marshall Bill to Wanda, making costumes there “was like Halloween arts and crafts, ” she recalls. ” I mean it wasn’t couture, it was more like where’s the stapler? Hot glue gun? Maybe a couple of stitches?’ she laughs. “It was a career highlight, that job. I am still very close to the people I met there. There was a very small black wardrobe community in LA, we’d always look out for each other. The hours were crazy, but it was a blast! She left behind the grind of TV/film production to return to New York where she began her career in childrenswear with Baby Gap. Why kidswear? “Women’s is so nit-picky with 5 million different opinions,” she says. “Baby is sweet, cute, a lot of fun. You don’t have to be so serious.” That doesn’t mean she didn’t work hard. “I worked my behind off. It exposed me not only to some amazing, talented people but also to travel: Hong Kong, Europe and Tokyo.” During her seven-year tenure she designed newborn as well, but managerial differences sent her packing, at least temporarily, to fervent freelancing and traveling.  “I was hustling. I was like you’re gonna work this then you’re gonna get on an airplane.” Hired to revamp the Kmart brand, former Gap Executive Vice President Lisa Schultz tapped Erin to update the baby division. They literally did from the ground up out of Lisa’s apartment until the Midwest-based company secured New York offices. “It gave me this opportunity to utilize all my skills. It was insane at times but so creative. I’m proud of what we established.”

Beckoned by the bay.

As the business grew, so did corporate intervention. “I felt myself getting swallowed up, like I was drowning there and I just needed a change.” While in Hawaii for a wedding, she saw people cliff jumping in Waimea Bay and decided to go for it. She fretted a bit but found encouragement in the voices of kids shouting “lady, don’t look down, just jump.” She did. “It was like a cleansing, a baptism. When I surfaced I was on an adrenaline high and I set a date in my head and a plan in motion: this time next year you are going to be out.”

“My home is special to me, it is my sanctuary, It took me a long time to get it just as I liked it.”  But she packed up her life, gave up her space, and lived out of bags as she plotted her sabbatical to decompress, refuel and serve– perhaps in the Congo. She remembers sharing her plan with her mother. “My mom is really strong, protective and stoic. The look I saw in her face –the fear– broke my heart, but ultimately she offered her complete support.” Her father didn’t take to the idea as easily but once he came around he jumped into action suggesting items for her pack. “I actually found it quite comical and endearing. He made sure I was set and “saw me off at the airport with my little orange backpack.” Banda Village, Nyungwe Rainforest. She flew into Kigali, capital of genocide-ravaged Rwanda. “You feel the veil of heaviness of what took place. It’s hard to come across anyone that was not affected in some way.” Thwarted by advisories to stay out of the region, her plan to serve in the DRC was reconfigured to join Peace Corps workers by volunteering with Kageno.org in Banda Village. Walking through town. Aware of and grateful for her life’s privilege she wanted to somehow give back and as an African American woman to dispel the notion of the white savior. With her light complexion and green eyes the villagers called her mzungu— white person. For a girl raised in 1970’s Chocolate City, to be considered anything other than black took her aback. “Nitwa Erin,” my name is Erin, she asserted. Sustenance. During her stay, she assisted in any way she could from serving nutrient-rich Susomna to the malnourished children to painting illustrations of vocabulary words on the walls of the schoolroom. As she painted she played Brazilian music, a Pied Piper’s call to a quartet of young village girls, who came and doodled on the blackboard as she worked. Moved by the rhythm, their tiny hips started to sway. Erin will never forget the children’s stories of survival, like that of eight-year-old miracle, Rebecca. The back of her head is deeply scarred from a long-ago baboon attack. She’d been in the fields with her older siblings when aggressive baboons descended from the forest. Frightened, her siblings ran to get their parents, leaving the three-year-old behind. When they returned to the scene, Rebecca was gone. The beasts had carried her off, mauled her and left her for dead. It’s incredible that she survived and that her parents were able to find her. Of her new friends Erin says, “I want them to know I care, that it wasn’t a one-shot deal.”  She plans to return with clothing, necessities and prints of the many beautiful images she snapped. Bandan beauty. Heading north to the Virungas, a cluster of volcanoes bordering Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, the trek was literally and figuratively breathtaking. The high altitude left Erin breathless as did the incredible vistas and the origin of the Nile. “We hung out with the gorillas– the original fam. They were picking and scratching and farting,” she chuckles. Up Virunga Mountain. Next stop, Nairobi, Kenya where she visited the animal orphanages, getting up close and personal with the endangered monkeys, giraffes, cheetahs and elephants. She then went to neighboring Kibera, originally developed by the British as a forest settlement for Nubian soldiers returning home after service in World War I. Today the impoverished residents live in squalid conditions. As Erin’s guide led her through the muck and filth to the slum’s center, she felt afraid for the first time on her trip.  He sensed her fear, looked at her very directly and said “Don’t be scared. We are not criminals, we are just very, very poor.” She was deeply moved and tried to hide her tears.  “Will you come back? “ he asked.  He found something on the ground to write down an email address.  She’s since written but received no reply. One of the many beautiful children of Kibera. From the motherland to Indonesia, the leg of her journey designed to “get balanced again… Bali is spiritual, so beautiful it’s ridiculous.” She began each day in meditation; on Mondays and Saturdays she took life drawing classes, something she hadn’t done since her Parsons days and she spent her first ever Christmas away from her family. “I stayed a month, but I could live there,” she says dreamily. In Bali, I cared for myself inside and out. I had an aura and I truly felt beautiful.” A morning prayer; a beautiful drawing. She left the calm for the cacophony of Delhi, teeming with people, livestock, dust and risky driving. “India is where I confronted myself and it was hard. A Delhi wedding. “They party!” She was glad to connect with her friend, travel writer Jonathan Yevin who traverses the globe with all he needs tucked into the pockets of his cargo pants. They took the no-frills option from Delhi to Agra, the second-class train, made the requisite pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal and were invited to the nearby ultra-luxe hotel Oberoi Amarvilas for a tour and lunch. “ So we walked into the Oberoi, these two little raggedy vagabonds.” As at the Taj, there was a glaring juxtaposition of opulent beauty within the gates and extreme poverty just outside. Jonathan and Erin auto-rickshaw through Agra. A Brahman bull and petals at the feet of Ganesh at the Taj Mahal. In Jaipur, she felt a surge of creative energy. “It inspired me. Between the gold leaf and the textures and the walls, I designed a line of dresses. Jaipuri adornment on walls, domes even the camels. On the backwaters of the southern state of Kerala, home of “the nicest people ever,” she and a friend rented a houseboat under the palms as everyone back home in the eastern US was inundated with snow. Glimpses of Kerala. At the start of her adventure some questioned the wisdom of giving up her VP gig and fabulous two bedroom loft with Dad’s Eames chair, but the universe rewards the courageous. She’s returned to the team she loves at Sears Holdings and soon moves into a new apartment in the same beloved Brooklyn loft building…but with a firm commitment to giving back. Her Gemini twin selves seek beauty in the ethereal and the earthly, bound in loving sentiment by both. Here’s a look into some of the things she holds dear:  1. Daydreaming. “Anyone who knows me knows that I love to daydream.” The daydreamer and her untitled painting. 2. G10 Camera. An avid photographer and sentimental documentarian of life experience, she is seldom without it. The Canon Power Shot G10. 3. Tulum. It has become an annual ritual to visit the pristine beaches of the Yucatán peninsula for her late spring birthday or new year retreat. She looks forward to seeing the friends she’s made at Sueños Tulum, the eco-friendly Mexican resort. 4. Bali Rituals.  Fueling her pre-existing “incense junkieness,” she took on the clarifying morning practices. “They get up in the morning, gather the frangipani, the plumeria and they offer something to their gods whether it’s a Ritz cracker or a cigarette. And they light the incense and meditate with the Buddhas and the Lakshmis…” Aromatic, personal, spiritual. 5. Fragrant Florals. Her favorites are peony, tuberose and lilac. She tries to buy herself flowers once a week. She enjoys making her own arrangements.

6. Browsing Interior Magazines. Elle Decoration UK, Living etc. and the decor8 blog, Love these!” For inspiration…

7. Sasha Dolls. Introduced in the 1960’s by Swiss artist Sasha Morgenthaler, the dolls were intended to depict a universal image of childhood. Dianne Robinson made certain that her girls played with dolls of varying skin tones, not just the blonde, blue-eyed offerings that lined most shelves at that time. Now collectible, the dolls can be found through sources like Ebay. Cora; and Palila from Allegro Melody Art Dolls.

8. My Mayan and Aztec Calender Necklaces.  “I like having the sun close to my heart.”

You rarely see her without one of the two.

9. My Sketch Books. Repositories of her incredible talent, they hold her inspirations, her imaginings and creative intentions.

The fruits of her Jaipur musings.

10. Daddy and Me at Dulles.  One of a couple of treasured photos with her Vietnam-bound father. “I look at that photo and thank the creator for the opportunity to experience my father and have him nurture me to who I am today.  I don’t have to make up stories or daydream about who he was because he came home.”

First Lieutenant Harry G. Robinson III returned from Vietnam with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart to raise a beautiful family with wife Dianne and establish a long and illustrious career.

The Trove: Anu Prestonia
June 16, 2011

Advancing the acceptance of natural beauty, the radiant hair care icon.

So certain that their first-born child would be a boy, Barbra Jean and Preston Newsome awaited son Preston, Jr. When their Aries daughter arrived, they named her Prestonia and called her “Toni.” She would one day become “a new” Prestonia when spirit would dictate that she assume a name to “help manifest the qualities needed” to reach her “incarnation objective,” or purpose in life. As a new member of the spiritual community, Ausar Auset, she was dubbed Anu Kemmerå, one who sees beauty in serving and having correct behavior. Nearly thirty years later, “I’m still working on the behavior part,” she chuckles. She indeed sees the beauty of serving and has crafted an impressive career in the service of healthy beauty – one that has its genesis in her childhood. At ten-years-old, a too-strong perm left her with badly damaged hair that was then cut into a tiny Afro. “At the time, the only people with Afros were in Ebony or Jet. They were celebrities.” Heartily embraced, the reaction to her natural hairstyle surprised her, as she became a celeb among her peers for wearing the “new Afro hairdo.” She’d always “played in other people’s hair,” so by the time she entered her teens she was the go-to girl for all the basketball-playing boys who wanted their hair cornrowed. Her love of beauty is deeply ingrained, from her hairstylist grandmother to her own mother who affirmed Toni’s beauty at every turn. She entered her daughter in several beauty contests, including the famed Hal Jackson’s Miss Teenage Black America Pageant. “We rehearsed at Harlem Hospital’s auditorium: walking and charm taught by the popular models of the day and our talent routines. I chose poetry because spoken word was popular then.” She walked the stage to the strains of Aretha Franklin’s “Daydreaming.”

The music-loving contestant asked for a pic with the Queen of Soul backstage at the 1972 pageant.

Reciting Nikki Giovanni’s “Nikki-Rosa,” she intoned, “…Black love is Black wealth and they’ll probably talk about my hard childhood and never understand that all the while I was quite happy.” It was a fitting poem for a girl whose bucolic beach existence in Norfolk where her dad was a naval photographer was interrupted by a parental split and relocation with her mom and siblings, Linda and Butch to gritty 1970’s New York City. “In Virginia we could go outside whenever we wanted to. I could just get on my bike, go exploring, get lost, try to catch June bugs and butterflies…or walk, long distances. My mother allowed me the freedom to walk wherever I wanted to. My grandmother’s house was about a mile and a half away and my great–grandmother’s was three miles!”

“When we moved to Brooklyn, everything was on the shutdown, we became prisoners in the apartment. We couldn’t go outside unless an adult was home. It just really changed things.” However she loved their apartment in a huge Pre-war building in Brownsville. “It was really big, had French doors and a sink in our bedroom, which I thought was just the grooviest thing.” The art deco bathroom had a floor-to-ceiling tiled shower stall in addition to a bathtub. “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. In Virginia we’d only had a tub. So once we got to New York, I thought every day should be a shower day.”

Because of her frequent indoor confinement she “really got into WPIX’s Million Dollar Movie on TV” and remains a film buff to this day. Watching television also introduced her to pioneering African-American news anchor Melba Tolliver and when she traveled to DC to visit an uncle, the numerous black broadcasters there encouraged her as well. “I thought, I can be a broadcast journalist.

Enrolling in the communications program at SUNY Brockport, she “couldn’t even believe how far away it was.” The eight-hour, intra-state trek to the quaint college town was longer than the drive from NYC to Norfolk. It was another world to the brown girl from Brownsville, a one-cinema town with no place to “get hair grease.” She was, however, struck by its beauty, its dramatic seasonal changes and its night sky. “It would be so full of stars and seem so close like you could just reach up and touch them. But when I came home for Christmas, I realized how much I missed being around my people.”

She transferred to historically black Howard University, “a more nurturing environment.” Those days truly shaped the woman and entrepreneur she would become. “Many pivotal changes happened in my life while I was there. I stopped straightening my hair, I became a vegetarian, I discovered yoga, and I learned how to put in an extension, so my career started at Howard.” The summer before her senior year, she started braiding hair at the popular salon, Shelton’s Hair Gallery, took a semester off and never went back, eventually returning to New York. An impetuous move to Jamaica West Indies without enough money to live on yielded “a few weeks of starving” and a need to relocate. She joined her sister, a University of Miami student in South Florida. Doing business as “Have Comb, Will Travel,” Prestonia made house calls to local clients as well as those in DC, New York and eventually the Bahamas. Disenchanted with both Miami’s monotonous climate and Floridians who didn’t “get” the Afrocentric yogi, she moved back to New York and found a sense of community with the Ausar Auset Society. “It felt like home,” she says. They offered yoga, meditation, breathing and African culture based in the sacrifice of the lower parts of your spirit, as opposed to the sacrifice of animals” found in some other African practices. They embraced vegetarianism. “They had all the components I was seeking at that time.”

Tying her mother’s gele in 1987. The yoga devotee in 1979.

After having been raised as a Christian, she embraced the precepts of Kemetic religion and dreamt the name her thriving business would take, Khamit Kinks. Although she left that practice 21 years ago, she remains in loving community with many former members. “My practice now is to be in truth with myself and others,” she says. Part of that truth is to awaken the “hoodwinked, bamboozled“ masses to the myths of popular culture. “I am a crusader for women to help them move from destroying their hair to accepting their own beauty, their own culture, their own aesthetic. What you were born with has value, all you have to do is love it, appreciate it and learn how to work with it or know where to go to have it treated with respect.”

She worked at legendary Kinapps African Groomers for several months until the entrepreneurial impulse resurfaced and she returned to working out of her home. When her friend Maitefa Angaza included pictures of Anu’s work in a pitch on African hairstyles to Essence, the magazine hired them both. Anu created looks for the professional shoot, her styles illustrating Maitefa’s text. Once the double-page spread ran “the phone started ringing off the hook.” Her business grew and she established a longstanding relationship with the magazine styling/braiding models as well as celebrities for editorial shoots. (Khamit Kinks is featured in “Super Naturals,” a beauty story in the July 2011 issue) From Angelas Bassett and Davis to Terry McMillan, Alfre Woodard, Queen Latifah and Oprah Winfrey she’s covered a broad swath. In 1992 her client, radio deejay Imhotep Gary Byrd referred Stevie Wonder –in need of a quick shampoo– to her. She excitedly accepted but on a three-way call a few weeks later with Stevie on the line to schedule another shampoo appointment Anu replied in mock indignation, “What does he think this is, a laundromat? We don’t shampoo other people’s work!” Stevie remains a client nearly twenty years later, “Yeah Stevie is very relaxed, he thought that was pretty funny.”

Braids on Oprah, locs on Stevie and a head-wrapped Anu flanked by Nigerian thread-wrapped Angie and Alfre.

Her business has grown from girl-on-the-go to a single chair in a basement apartment to many years in her own Tribeca salon and back to her home borough. She and her team of natural hair care specialists/stylists move from her massive Downtown Brooklyn Gold Street space to a very well situated new space in the bustling Atlantic Avenue corridor later this summer. Among her most sought after services are consultations on damaged hair, a task she takes very seriously. “Having had the experience of losing my hair as a girl left an indelible impression.” She wishes for everyone pristine health from their follicles to their toes. “I’ve always had an interest in health having come from a very sickly family—my grandmother died when I was eight from diabetes and stroke, she was only forty-seven. My mother was in and out of hospitals all my life. The things that we do affect our health.” She highlights Diabetes as an example, “people used to just think its inherited, but no–what’s inherited is the diet that leads to it.” She is very mindful of how she moves through the world, from the energies she surrounds herself with to the foods she eats to creating “me’ time to the aromas in the air she breathes. She shares her knowledge through her services, her carefully developed product line, events she holds in-shop (like Zumba class) her blogs Ask Anu and Anu Essentials and the documentary she produced in 2009, In Our Heads About Our Hair.

From her lovely sister Linda in the early 1980’s to Nikita today, Anu features everyday beauties, not supermodels in her promotions.

Is no surprise that her innate love of and “nose” for fragrance would find its way into her business. She first used botanicals in her hair oils and years later introduced fragrant body butters and natural soaps. Upon reading master perfumer Mandy Aftel’s book, “Essence and Alchemy,” she was turned on to and turned out by natural perfumery. “It was so enchanting, it took me to another planet,” she says fervently. “It’s sacred art, really. Just the other day, I thought Wow! I wonder what God was thinking about when he made this smell this way.” The fragrances of nature have intrigued her since childhood: cut grass, soil after a rain, pine. For young Toni a fresh pack of unburned cigarettes was a nosegay as pleasing as any cluster of small flowers. She’d bury her nose in it and inhale deeply. Though she abhors cigarette smoke, as an adult Anu finds tobacco essence “hypnotically beautiful.”

This summer she launches her first perfume, the herbaceous, floral-kissed Meadowlark, a “green” blend of oak moss, clary sage and her beloved rose. “I am new to this industry, there’s quite a learning curve,” but she is very excited by her foray. As she expands her hair care line to include shampoo, conditioner, styling crème and a gel she incorporates her growing knowledge of the vast repository of botanical essences.

Rosemary-infused medicinal hair oil, glycerin-rich, hand crafted soap, and my favorite body butter, Sultry.

A long ago Essence photo shoot initially crossed our paths, but Anu and I have over the years come to discover several shared delights, quirky to sublime from the wafting aromas of laundromat exhaust to the wistful vocals of Madeleine Peyroux to the evocative treatises on fragrance by Mandy Aftel. Server and sybarite, Anu is a woman in balance. She works hard, plays hard and truly enjoys being in her own luminous, sweetly scented skin.

Before the Kemetic, yogic, Reiki certified, fragrance-loving, would-be pool shark headed to her billiards league, she shared some of the things besides lush, healthy heads of natural hair that stoke her Arian fire:

1. Natural perfumery. I love the botanical essences: how they smell, look, and feel–from very thin and light to thick and viscous.” Though Mandy Aftel is her primary mentor, she’s also been inspired by Amanda Walker of “A Perfume Organic,” master perfumer Sarah Horowitz, bloggers like Monica Miller and reading Chandler Burr’s books.  “And I have a guardian angel in Marian Williams who has generously offered contacts to exclusive suppliers.”

A detail from her perfume organ, the natural perfumer’ organization system of raw materials, sorted by note.

2. Jewelry. “I love the gamut. I have a collection of pearls. I purchase them from a sister in the jewelry district on the Bowery. I fell in love with black jet beads a couple of years ago and bought some most precious finds on EBay.

A unique EBay offering: a Victorian Whitby jet watch fob.

3. Billiards. “This is my third season on a league at Amsterdam Billiards in NYC.”

Her “sweetheart,” entrepreneur (and billiards aficionado) Henry Rock, gifted her with one of her two cue sticks.

4. Spa Services. “My first spa experience was in 1993 at the Burke Williams Spa in Santa Monica. My favorites are Dr. Hauschka facials, salt exfoliation in a wet room with Vichy showers that hang above the table, deep tissue massage and all the ayurvedic spa services–especially at Kripalu Yoga Institute.”

Vichy shower: “a nearly orgasmic experience,” she says.

5. Gardening/Flowers. “I love all flowers, my faves are peonies, poppies, all lilies, bearded irises, hydrangea, hollyhocks, gardenias, roses of course, clematis, lantana. I could go on and on with this one…”

The fruits of her gardening labors.

6. Yoga.  “Though I’m not teaching right now, I am a certified Yoga instructor trained at Integral Yoga Institute.”  Its founder, Swami Satchadananda was “my first inspiration on my road to seeking my spiritual path.”

She has practiced Hatha Yoga for thirty years.

7. My Home. “I purchased my 1897 Brooklyn brownstone exactly one hundred years after it was built.”

“It took me about 5 years to get it where I was truly comfortable.”

8. Foreign and Independent Films. From Jules Dassin (Rififi, 1955) to Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust, 1991) she enjoys bold, visionary cinema from around the globe.

Set in South Korea, Ki-duk Kim’s elegiac 2003 film “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” is a favorite.

9. Fine Dining. “I love to eat! I really enjoy fresh, quality and organic food.” She has unforgettable memories of a small Italian restaurant on the beach in Tulum, Mexico. “They bought out cheeses on a chunk of tree trunk, an array of olives and delicious bread to start the meal. There’s no menu, just absolutely great food.” She fondly recalls “the simply exquisite pleasure of dining at the illustrious Babbo Ristorante, and Dirt Candy, love their food.” Son Cubanois another haunt.

The humble vegetable as delicacy at Dirt Candy, and two all-time restaurant faves.

10. Birkenstocks. From shoes to sandals, her tootsies are happy in the famed Birkenstock cork foot bed.

Of her large collection of Birkis, many are Gizeh thong sandals.

For more on Anu, her services and products, check her websites: Khamit Kinks and Anu Essentials.

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: Lloyd Boston
September 9, 2010

LB, unbuttoned elegance.  Become a fan on Facebook.  Photo: Robert Tardio


Sure he’s poised, handsomely photogenic and genially telegenic, delivering doses of friendly, practical style advice to the masses, but it’s not just fashion knowledge Lloyd Boston is dropping, it’s the well-timed bons mots that get me every time (and I’ve worked with him on various projects for years.) Irreverence sans commonplace industry snark; his witticisms never jab at the individual, but rather make a clever pop culture reference.  While taping an episode of NY Emmy-nominated, Closet Cases (on which I was wardrobe supervisor) featuring a woman planning a B’nai Mitzvah for her twins, there were for technical reasons, several takes on one scene. When Lloyd (after a few takes of getting it right) pronounced the word B’nai, with the long i sound rather than the long a, the woman corrected him.  Without skipping a beat he quipped, “b’neigh, b’nigh, cut me some slack, I’m not Sammy.”  Irreverent, yes, but not mean.  It provided much-needed levity toward the end of a long shooting day and no offense was taken.

I was often amazed by his uncanny ability to remain as fresh, energetic and characteristically quick-witted at 1 am as he had been at 6 am call. Though he has plenty to share with his well-written, accessible style guides, he comes alive on-screen.  The camera loves him and so do those who work with him.  He is courteous to all and quick to shine light on the efforts of his crew — he gives credit wherever credit is due.  He embodies Gemini’s duality: professional and driven, yet knows how to relax; confident yet surprisingly shy.  He is an impeccable gentleman, his mama raised him right.

That unpretentiously gorgeous mother, Lynell raised her only child in New Brunswick, New Jersey and sent him to Catholic Schools. Perhaps the wearing of uniforms for most of his early life indoctrinated him in the classic silhouettes that he still favors, while the introduction to men’s fashion magazines in the eighties taught him to tweak them with style.

He was a Fine Arts student at the historically Black Morehouse College when he crossed paths with Tommy Hilfiger at a mall appearance. Dressed for the occasion, he waited patiently amid the 200 or so young people waiting for an autographed duffel bag and then proceeded to proffer his advice on strengthening the collection to the celebrated designer. “Shocked by my moxie,” but impressed with his vision, Hilfiger “offered me an internship on the spot.”  The Morehouse Man returned to his home state, transferring to Rutgers University at the end of the semester to get that internship.  Hilfiger so believed in him that he paid for his last year of college and for the next ten years Lloyd grew with and helped guide the look of the brand. When he left, with Tommy’s blessings and goodwill, to transition into his current career, he was Vice President of Art Direction for the Hilfiger company.

In the years since, his trajectory has been stellar: authoring four style books, one with his illustrations; covering NY Fashion Week and all the major red carpet events: Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes as a fashion correspondent and hosting television programs as a fashion/lifestyle authority.  Since 2007, he has been the exclusive “style guy” for mega-brand Jones New York–their first male spokesperson–representing the company’s many brands and sharing his “less is modern” style philosophy at appearances across the country.

On an episode of Closet Cases, Lloyd and closet designing marvel, Carey Evans show his mom Lynell her new closet makeover.

Working as Style Editor last summer on Lloyd’s fourth book was an absolutely delightful experience.  No melodrama, just experienced people doing what they do in a relaxed yet efficient manner.  Fantastic photographer Robert Tardio’s equanimity and genuine good nature paralleled Lloyd’s. The fruit of that labor, The Style Checklist: The Ultimate Wardrobe Essentials for You, launched this week. Look for personal nods from each of us: a hoodie from Lloyd’s alma mater; Robert’s favorite Montblanc pen and my Grandma’s ornate sterling lipstick holder. The book presents a list of Lloyd’s suggested classics for the well-dressed woman’s closet.  With 100 entries, there truly is something for every woman.  Knowledgeable about fashion history, Lloyd shares the genesis of each item and its ultimate ascent into the pantheon of wardrobe essentials– the why and how it works.  A mix of garments and accessories from affordable to luxury brands (with, I am proud to say, several African-American designers represented) in Robert’s lush, artful still-lifes, The Style Checklist looks like a coffee table book, but its diminutive size allows for portability–even more so on Amazon Kindle. The book is a go-to, carry-along guide that should stand the test of time.

The latest from Lloyd:  The Style Checklist.

Check his appropriately well-designed website LloydBoston.com, to learn more about his illustrious career and view his on-air clips.

Exclusive to LloydBoston.com, The LB Signature Tote.

Now that he’s bi-coastal, pursuing television hosting opportunities in Los Angeles and admittedly enjoying So Cal weather, I have yet another well-appointed LB home to visit–the Brooklyn duplex, the suburban Jersey idyll and now the Hollywood loft. I managed to catch up with my intensely scheduled friend recently and I’m glad to present his top ten:

1. The Color Orange. “Whenever I look at a true, juicy shade of orange—I just smile inside (sometimes outside too).  I love a pop of it on an outfit, a shot of it on my dinner plate, a cool painting, a hip home accessory, you name it.  I think everyone has a color that does this for them.  Harnessing it brings a little joy to your life for cheap.”
Color bible to the design industry, Pantone has provided color standards for over 45 years.

2. A Good Crab Cake. “My mom’s are clearly the best! (get her recipe at JNY.com) If out and about, I run to Houston’s, Legal Sea Foods or Oceanaire for the best chain restaurant versions. The trick at any restaurant is in asking if there is any bread in the crab cake.  The moment they say no, I am all in!”

Crab cake perfection at The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Dallas.  Photo: Steven Doyle.

3. Stubbs and Wooton slippers. “My velvet versions with the sitting Buddha have gotten me countless, literally countless, compliments.  I can wear them with anything from chinos and a white button down shirt, to a tux.  They travel light, and keep me feeling chic on days when it’s hard to pull it all together.”
From the Stubbs & Wootton bespoke collection.

4. New Year’s in Brazil. “I visited Rio for New Year’s Eve once, and went back four more years in a row.  Sexy, spiritual, and so much fun!  I love the people, the food, the architecture, and especially the easy lifestyle.  This is one little jewel that American culture hasn’t totally invaded.  And that is refreshing when you really want to get totally away.”

The white-robed throngs on Copacabana Beach.

5. Laura Mercier Lip Silk.  “Yes, it runs you $20, but it lasts you forever.  Once you leave those $3 drugstore brands for this, you will never go back.  It is marketed for women—but is perfect for guys who don’t want shiny lips.  It holds nearly all day too.  I literally have one in every bag.”

This lip treatment from Laura Mercier Skin Care, exfoliates, hydrates and softens.

6. J.Crew. “I could spend hours in J.Crew.  It is like they are designing just for me.  I am preppy at my core, but love an ethnic or bohemian twist on top of all of my stiffness.  They strike the perfect balance these days.  I can sometimes fit a few of the women’s XL t-shirts too.  They are much softer than the mens’.  Don’t sleep, guys.”

From JCrew.com, a look for fall.

7. The Vitamix Pro Blender.  “I love juicing, but hate the clean up.  I invested in the Vitamix and it changed me.  I try to start the day with an organic green drink a few days a week, and this allows you to get the juice and the pulpy fiber.  The clean up is so easy too—that I have no excuse to not be healthy (at least for the first meal.)”

Lloyd marvels over the efficient power of the Vitamix: “You can literally liquefy a shoe on these blades!”

8. Michael Kors Menswear.  “He could dress me every day all day.  The lifestyle he translates through his collections is what I dream of living one day.  From après ski to cocktails on a terrace in Capri—I dream big when I see his vision for men. We are friendly, and I love him as a person (and personality) too.”

From the Michael Kors Fall 2010 ad campaign.

9.  Spa as Sport. “I am a total spa junkie.  I love spending time in L.A. for this addiction, as there are reputable massage spots on every corner.  From a quick chair massage at Whole Foods, to a power 90 minute Deep Tissue almost anywhere—I am in heaven.  I travel about 20-30 cities a year on average, so these bones need reviving more and more lately.”

“I could literally get rubbed down daily.”

10. Biographies of Any Kind.  “Books, TV shows, documentaries, you name it.  I love stories about successful people, tragic folk, decade long romances, the works. The entrepreneurial ones really hit home.  I love when someone you admire shares all the victories and pitfalls—and you actually can count the similarities in yourself.  Those moments make me feel connected to a tribe of winners.  And all my dreams seem less crazy.”

The biography of Barack Obama shown at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.


The Trove: PJ Cobbs
September 2, 2010

Patricia Jacobs has the sun-kissed glow of a traveler and more than a few stamps in her passport.  A former journalist, the Jamaican-Brit artist and adventurer known as PJ Cobbs could publish her own guide to global travel delights, embracing both the pinnacle of luxury and the down-n-dirty with equal aplomb. In fact, she has begun a memoir, The Orange Shoes Chronicles, so named for the patent Puma sneakers she wore as she traversed the globe. “I traveled everywhere with them, until they finally passed on.”

A self-portrait in silk, Saint-Tropez; the orange Pumas in New Zealand…

and in Tahoe.

Many of her life’s joys have been experienced en voyage: from riding elephants in Thailand to dog-sledding in Lake Tahoe; lava tubing in Hawaii to kayaking around St. John (USVI.) She recalls a treasured travel moment, “hanging out on a misty beach near Abidjan in Cote D’Ivoire with fashion photog Marc Baptiste— the scene, the models and the clothes were so beautiful, it was surreal.” Traveling with Mark Burnett, the creator of the Survivor series to Malaysian Borneo for the Post and TV Guide is her favorite journalism assignment. “It was all pretty disgusting: no or little sleep in the humidity of a jungle, mosquitoes, leeches, weird nighttime noises, the constant smell of rotting sneakers and–I’m sure–rotting flesh. But then there were the beautiful people, amazing food, island and rainforest vistas, hopping into helicopters like cabs, watching orangutans feeding their young in the wild…”

PJ with “Survivor” creator/producer, Mark Burnett.

It was in New York, however, that our paths first crossed.  We’d see each other at the twice yearly whirlwind of Fashion Week, when she as a fashion columnist for the New York Post covered the collections.  It was after she bravely traded “the Prada for a paintbrush” that we became friends.  Having returned to her adopted city after living and launching her new career in Paris, she invited me to view her line of hand-painted wearable art. I was, at the time, working in wardrobe on the talk show, Queen Latifah and went to check it out, eventually purchasing items for the “Queen.” Over visits to her showroom I got to know PJ (and her equally glowing sisters Jensen and Alexis — those Jacobs girls have great skin!) She is adventurous, an explorer and she discovers the best of every place she finds herself in. When she hosted an under-the-radar birthday picnic on the lawn of the Cooper Hewitt, I knew she was my kind of girl. Her lifestyle is a veritable mash-up of myriad cultural influences.

Though retailers Barneys New York and Jeffrey run “neck-and-neck” for offering directional looks “where fashion doesn’t tread so much anymore,”  Barneys can meet her needs sartorial, home decor (“that goes for Chelsea Passage too”) and alimentary (“What’s better than finishing with a nibble at Fred’s?”) all under one roof.  She sometimes, however, longs for the stuff of home. “For my Brit in New York thing, I make the occasional pilgrimage to Myers of Keswick on Hudson Street. Freshly made bangers, sausage rolls, meat pies, Typhoo Tea–it’s all there for a price, but worth every penny. Nearby Tea & Sympathy has been a tiny home away from home. I ran into Isaac Mizrahi there years ago at the height of his fame: he begged me not to mention his favorite spot. Honey, I begged him not to mention it as well.”

After her stint in the city of light, whenever the Gallic tug hits she’ll “luxuriate over a croissant (almond or plain) and café crème at La Bergamote Patisserie on Ninth Avenue. It’s comfy and unpretentious in spite of the exquisite offerings, just like stepping into a real Parisian cafe.”

Evoking Paris’ Arc de Triomphe is Manhattan’s Washington Square Arch, in whose shadow PJ will present her works at the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit this weekend (September 4-6) and next (September 11-12). Stop by for a charming chat and a chance to view the vibrant work reflective of her Caribbean heritage, up close.  View more of her work and get the skinny on her signature PJ’s Painting Parties on her website, PJ Cobbs Arts.

A look into this frequent flyer’s trove, clearly shows her love of travel and culture exploration–pop and otherwise…

1. New York. “Right now, it’s home, and offers infinite inspiration for my New York Neighborhoods painting series. I love painting al fresco, and don’t even mind an audience. The city has so much energy and color, I feel I must capture it any way I can.”

From the ‘New York Neighborhoods’ series in her preferred medium, works on silk.  Clockwise from left, ‘Empire State Building from The Gilsey,’ Fiber reactive dyes on silk, 22”x 22”; ‘Cute Little Girl, Harlem Day,’ Silk paints on silk, 18”x18” and ‘Chez Oskar Restaurant, Brooklyn,’  Matted painted photo print on silk, 16”x 20”.

2. Gucci Loafers. “I started collecting them–in gold–in the early 90s, and wore them to death like sneakers. The most comfortable shoes in the world–especially for walking on Parisian cobblestones! I still wear the red patent leather ones I bought about 15 years ago, and they still look fab.”

The “Cathrine” moccasin in bordeaux patent with horsebit detail.

3. David Bowie. “I’ve been rabid about his musical genius since I was a kid in the 70s after he appeared in red spiky hair and glitter on Top of the Pops–Britain’s equivalent to American Bandstand at the time. Then he married the glorious Iman–they’re such a fabulous couple I am all verklempt! Now, my 14-year-old nephew’s totally into him (and my old albums). Goes to show real music never dies.” When asked her favorite Bowie tune, she replies, “I like ’em obscure. Like Station to Station–my absolute favorite–and maybe Jean Genie.

The appearance that created a lifelong fan.

4. The Four Seasons Hotels. “What I love: cocktails at The Bar at 57 East 57th Street. Extravagant–almost $20–but they come with a shaker with two drinks and delicious nuts. It’s a worthwhile luxury;  the extravagant Japanese breakfast at Canary Wharf–never had tofu taste this good–and afternoon tea at the Park Lane, both in London; Cashew chicken satay and beer overlooking the rice paddies and water buffalo at the Chiang Mai in Thailand; the black rocks and white sand beaches at Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii, where you can also explore the underground caves and lava tunnels, requiring special gear.

“I know it’s trendier to name some hot boutique hotel, but for my money, I just love the 4S. They just know how to treat guests, without too much ‘tude.

5. Paris. “The locals are rightly proud of their city, one of the world’s most beautiful,” she exclaims about the city that introduced her to le monde de la mode in the 1980’s and became her home–and artist’s launching pad–in the 1990’s.  Just out of school (Hunter College, Journalism) and assisting the Post’s features editor, she was given an invitation to a party for shoe designer Roger Vivier at “the fabled Maxim’s de Paris. Not the one on Madison Avenue, but Rue Royale, in Paris!” where she’d planned to vacation. “Once in Paris, I was so awe-struck with just everything that I was afraid to leave the Métro station and step into the Place de la Concorde.” It was at the fabulous fête, that she met the legendary publicist Eleanor Lambert and her entourage. La Lambert “asked me if I was going to the Chanel show the next day. ‘What Chanel show?’ asked this naive waif. The following day, I had a ticket waiting for me at the Hôtel de Crillon. And it wasn’t just to any Chanel show, it was the couture show, at the Beaux Arts; the most beautiful clothes in the world, in the most beautiful venue in Paris. There was Catherine Deneuve! Alain Delon! Ines de la Fressange! She was Karl Lagerfeld’s model-of-the-moment, and she didn’t disappoint. I died, I literally died. After the show, Eleanor took us to a typical French restaurant on the Left Bank. These memories cannot be duplicated.”

PJ, in photo collage, covering Romeo Gigli in early 90’s Paris.


6. The Rachel Zoe Project. It’s her favorite TV obsession-of-the-moment. “As a former fashionista, watching the Bravo show for me is like fashion crack. Sorry, but it is!”

Rachel Zoe speaks with Harper’s Bazaar on the chicly campy fashion story based on her signature catchphrase. Featured in the September issue, she “dies” for fashion, again and again at the hands of American designers in quirky cameo appearances.

7. Hawaii. “People who haven’t been here think it’s cheesy, but they’d (for the most part) be wrong. Sure Waikiki is the place that inspired a million hula-dancing dashboard ornaments, but there’s so much more to our 50th state. My love affair started with the smell of frangipani flowers from the lei shops at Honolulu airport. The Ala Moana Center is for all tastes (some great dining here) and all price ranges: where else can you get Forever 21 and Hermès in the same mall?” she enthuses.  Where to stay? The Royal Hawaiian Hotel. “With its distinctive Pepto Bismol-pink exterior, you gotta visit this Old-Hawaii fixture once.” On Maui: the Grand Wailea is totally over-the-top luxury. B-ball players, celebs–they’re all there to see and be seen. The the water spa is gor-geous, with every water treatment imaginable. I’ve spent time at Kapalua teaching silk painting to snowbirds for a couple of seasons. It’s more Southern California in attitude than Hawaii, but Lahaina is a fun town to check out the local art, David Paul’s Lahaina Grill (the island’s hottest restaurant) and catch an authentic luau–a must-try.” On Kauai: “The most old-Hawaii of the islands. The Na Pali coastline has the best view of them all.”

The Na Pali coast, fragrant frangipani and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

8. South Florida’s Mango Season. “I’m rabid for mangoes, and Florida–especially around the Delray Beach area where my sister, Judith and nephew Anton, live–grows numerous varieties of the sweet, sticky yellow stuff. You can find them growing in empty lots, outside banks, front yards, in the lot behind the Checkers burgers (oops–I’ve said too much). After a rainfall, just grab a bag, get them home, wash ’em, and chow down. Sometimes I bring them home [to NYC] and share with my sisters Jen and Alexis. Sometimes, I eat them all.”

Mango love.

9. London. “Although I’m a bona fide New Yorker now, London, the city of my birth, will always have a space in my heart. ” She cites Spitalfields Market and Camden Lock for “lots of local designers, even though the latter’s gone a bit tacky…but the local flavour holds on tight; “Fortnum & Mason for their “tea scented with orange blossom and the best jams in the world” and Harrod’s: “at this venerable London temple of style, in the Food Hall meat pies rule. Brits are big on savory stuff–stewed meats, sausage, ham–in pastry: if you were out all day, say, herding sheep or catching fish, this was the easy way to brown bag it.  All British kids are brought up on it and I crave it in all its flaky, golden forms.  My late mother, a fabulous cook, made the best Jamaican cuisine and fresh bread, but we couldn’t wait for the Wednesday treat of steak and kidney pies served with Heinz baked beans. I’m tearing up as we speak!”

The iconic Christ Church at Spitalfields lords over the nearby Victorian covered market.

10. Bike Riding. The committed cyclist prefers Trek and Specialized bikes. “I’ve mountain biked, but I love the thrill of biking around New York, of getting around without depending on public transportation. And I admit to a rush having flipped off a cab driver! Riding in fast-moving traffic is a rush, like flying. I also love the trails at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, and the ride over Pelham Bay is quite scenic. A long bike ride to City Island is rewarded with some fun thrift shopping and fish and chips with beer at Johnny’s Reef.”

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images.

The Trove: harriette cole
July 2, 2010

One of my favorite photos of harriette.

I met the multi-hyphenate harriette cole just weeks before her 1993 wedding to photographer, George Chinsee. Upon meeting, the first thing I noticed about her was an easy grace.  Gliding into the conference room of Essence magazine dressed in billowing layers (likely Flyte Ostell),  she interviewed me for the fashion position I’d soon accept, with an elegant ink pen in her long, well-manicured hands.  That ink pen would sign many handwritten notes and cards to colleagues in appreciation of work well done.  Those nimble fingers would crank out copy at miraculous speeds (an early stint as a secretary bolstered her typing skills) and with their tapering elegance, grace the cover of one of the author’s first (of many) books,  The Jumping the Broom Wedding Workbook.

The middle daughter and namesake of the late Honorable Harry A. Cole, the first black judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the Baltimore born and bred harriette, continuing a familial legacy of excellence holds a Phi Beta Kappa key as a Howard University alum.  A move to New York City soon after graduation precipitated what has become a long and illustrious career, which though divergent (publishing, television, motivational speaking, event production, media training) has always maintained the central tenet of helping people present their best selves. She continues this tradition now with the re-launch of her business, Harriette Cole Media, after having spent the past 3 1/2 years at Johnson Publishing Company.  Charged with freshening the profile of Ebony magazine, she helped to bring the revered relic into the 21st century, garnering exclusives with high-profile subjects such as the 44th President of the United States, the late Michael Jackson in his last interview and the famously elusive Prince.

I visited with the e.e. cummings-influenced harriette at the HCM office recently to catch up with my friend, dish on the old days and find out just what’s floating her boat these days.  Her current faves include:

1. Cashmere. “My absolute favorite fabric is cashmere. I live in cashmere all year-long,” from Banana Republic’s tissue weight in summer to Loro Piana’s “four-ply, even yummier” when the mercury drops.  “It’s the ultimate luxury.”

In harriette’s favorite shade of sunny yellow, this lightweight cashmere scarf from Banana Republic is a perfect summer wrap.

2. Molecule 02. While shooting Jada Pinkett Smith for one of the many covers she has produced for Ebony, harriette “smelled this entrancing fragrance and was dying to know what it was…I just couldn’t resist.” Jada bought the mysterious scent, Molecule 02, from London retailer Harvey Nichols, but after some internet sleuthing harriette discovered she could get it stateside at luckyscent.com.  From Berlin-based Escentric Molecules,“the fragrance is pretty androgynous. Slightly sweet but more woody. Sexy as all get out.”

Harriette’s signature scent.

3. Pampering. Well versed in the art of the spa, harriette has a few faves for indulging her love of pamper sessions: “I adore Sang Lee, the massage therapist at Salon Today (West 55th Street) where I typically go for a mani-pedi… When I need to luxuriate a little longer, I go for a two-hour massage, at Sphatika, across the street from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  And Deva Spa, downtown, has a couples room that is perfect for an indulgent date!”

The Deva Spa couples room.

4. Sag Harbor Hills. “Every summer for years my family and I have spent weekends in the Hamptons. We usually stay in The Springs but beach it in Sag Harbor Hills, the oldest African American beach community out there. It’s perfect when you have a child, because there are always kids to play with and we all just have fellowship and fun.”

Harriette and her “Georgie,” their 6-year-old angel, Carrie, and the neon glow of the Sag Harbor Cinema.

5. Clarins Sunscreen. The fact that their SPF 15, oil-free spray doesn’t stain clothing is a big plus, but the real draw is that the non-greasy formulation “goes on so smoothly.  It is luxurious and simple at once.”

Spray Solaire from Clarins ensures double UVA/UVB protection and is non-stinging to the eyes.

6. LeVain’s Fruit Tart. “My favorite dessert in the summer by far!  This fruit tart is so popular that you have to order it early in the morning to ensure that you will get one.  Tarts are made fresh each day, so it’s the perfect gift if you are visiting friends too. Yummy!”

Exclusive to LeVain Bakery’s Wainscott, LI location, the rustic fruit tart is a seasonal favorite.

7. FitFlops. “I just got a pair and I’m in heaven. I have just launched a new fitness regimen for myself so that I can fully reclaim me, and that includes a lot of exercise. I have discovered that I can do all kinds of yoga poses while wearing these shoes and I feel completely secure/anchored to the floor in them. Also, I am walking more. And walking in my various cute shoes is painful.  My bronze FitFlops get me to my destination in good stride and then I switch out.”

As Pisces is ruled by the feet, it’s no wonder Neptune child harriette would delight in the comfort of FitFlops.

8. Sake Bath from Fresh. “Susan Taylor introduced me to this product years ago. It makes the most amazing bath. Over the years I have tried many different bath oils. But I go right back to this one. It’s expensive so I only buy it occasionally, but let me tell you, it makes a bath that invites you to linger.”

This detoxifying bath additive from Fresh is composed of more than 50% pure sake and extractives of pine, ginger and peach absolute.

9. Elizabeth Catlett Lithograph. “Shortly after I moved to NYC, where I was employed as the lifestyle editor of Essence magazine, I worked on an article about Elizabeth Catlett.  She graciously invited me to her home in lower Manhattan and showed me many treasured pieces of her work. I completely fell in love with her and her art. She allowed me to make a payment plan to buy The Sharecropper, which she signed to me. That piece lives on my wall today.”

A special treasure is an edition of the iconic “The Sharecropper,” signed by revered artist Elizabeth Catlett Mora (now 95) to harriette.

10. Spiritual Texts. Having practiced Siddha Yoga Meditation for 20 years, harriette finds tremendous support in the books of her spiritual practice. Three that resonate for her now are, Enthusiasm and The Yoga of Discipline by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda and I Have Become Alive by Swami Muktananda. “My faith and my spiritual work serve as both anchor and wing for me. Throughout everything that happens in my life, I continue to develop tools for navigating through the challenges and triumphs with clarity as a result.”

Siddha Yoga spiritual leader, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda and her books.

Africa in the Picture IV
May 18, 2010

Niece of Nigerian highlife star Victor Olaiya, Wunmi Olaiya has music in her blood.  With her fierce style (she designs under the Wumnigirl label) and high-0ctane performances she has built a devoted following.  Her supporters rallied to assist her when in November she made a request on Kickstarter for donations to fund her sophomore solo recording in Ghana.  Goal met, she will follow through on her promise to donate all the proceeds from her next Ghana concert to Doctors Without Borders.  Expect a sizzling set when she performs Saturday, May 22 at Harlem Stage. The “wonderfull” DJ Spinna keeps the flow going through the night.

The brainchild of angel-voiced East African singer, Somi Kakoma, New Africa Live is a series of multidisciplinary events which ” challenge homogenized notions of African cultural production and whose work interrogates African identity politics with a cosmopolitan spirit and the vigor of urban hybridization” …Photojournalist Lyle Owerko traveled to Africa in 2006 and the resulting portraits of the Samburu people are stunning.  Lelesit of the Samburu was one of the works in the Phillips de Pury auction of last week.

Fashion label ZuluRose, bears the creative stamp of Butalezi and the renaissance woman Wunmi.  Their advertisments are an ode the strength, beauty and fire of African descended-women. An extension of the brand, ZuluRose Radio is a podcast of “African beats and urban grooves from around the world.”  … Ever expounding on the aesthetics of Funk, its high priestess, Xenobia Bailey creates “hand crocheted Urban Crowns for all the SuperNatural, Everyday People of the Planet.”  Pictured is her homage to the Orisha Chango.

A recipient of an Art Matters travel grant,  Los Angeles-born Marc Andre Robinson will travel to South Africa in exploration of his South African heritage.  I was introduced to his work last fall in an exhibit at Tina Kim Gallery. Here, the Continual Dissipation of Dense Black Being, 2005; ink on paper.

A detail from Movement41 (The Game), 2008, by Ghanaian painter Owusu-Ankomah, whose large canvasses feature the recurrent motif of Adinkra symbols.  Based in Bremen, Germany since 1986, he addresses themes of identity and the body …  My dear friend, photographer Frederick V. Nielsen II, shoots to capture the silken beauty of black skin.  Here he beautifully illuminates model Kayan Jewl James in the knitwear bikini of Jamaican designer, Knit Heru.

11 pm on Friday, 2010 is one of the oil portraits London-based artist, (Ghanaian descent) Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is showing at Jack Shainman Gallery in her first solo show in New York through May 22.  Featured in the Dr. Chika Okeke-Agulu/Okwui Enwezor book, Contemporary African Art Since 1980 as well as the Saatchi online gallery, she  …   I was happy to learn of the Brooklyn Museum’s recent acquisition of Heather’s Degradé 2006, by Cairo-born feminist artist Ghada Amer.  Her gallerist, Cheim & Read is currently showing her exhibtion, Color Misbehavior through June 19. Shown here, The Black Bang, 2010 acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas.

Philpotian Phlight Recorder, 2000 is Pete Goldlust’s totemic, carved crayon tribute to Chicago outsider artist and carver David Philpot, who is currently at work on a public art installation to be unveiled this fall …  Kara Walker’s scathing Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching, 2006 (painted laser cut steel) is a museum purchase of the Brooklyn Museum and on view on the fourth floor.

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.

Fine: The Basics of Beauty
December 14, 2009

There are still a few days left to make an Amazon.com purchase in time for Christmas. If you are a woman of color or are shopping for one, a sure-fire hit is Fine: The Basics of Beauty, the first instructional DVD by celebrity makeup artist, Sam Fine.  Following-up his bestselling book, Fine Beauty: Beauty Basics and Beyond for African-American Women, (in which I was honored to appear) the telegenic Sam takes us step-by-step through the process of enhancing the beauty of three African-American women, sharing the tips of tools, technique and product selection which have made him a highly sought-after makeup artist for more than a decade.  Dubbed “the go-to makeup master for women of color,” by Vogue, his brushes have touched the faces of Tyra Banks, Vanessa Williams, Iman, Patti Labelle, Jennifer Hudson and Mo’Nique. Name a luminary of color and he’s likely to have “done” her face.

Gena Avery graces the disc cover; The master, Sam Fine.

I was excited to work with Sam again, styling the video and packaging.  It was obvious to see that our long hours would produce a superior product.  Sam has a very defined aesthetic, is excellent at what he does and is able to clearly articulate the “how-to” of it.  At his chic launch party a couple of months back, the energy and excitement was palpable–this DVD was hotly anticipated.  Now that it is available to all, I highly, highly recommend it.  It is well-conceived, brilliantly executed and to be able to get a “Sam Fine face” for $24.99, well that is a bargain indeed.

Flawless “Fine” faces: Erin, Gena and Jennifer.

Watch the Tyra show this Friday, December 18th as Sam joins the holiday extravaganza to give a fabulous makeover to a deserving mom.

Women in the Cut
December 14, 2009

At this time of year, I find myself reminiscing about the childhood joy of taking a pristine sheet of white paper and with a few folds, strategic snips, the gingerly opening of the cut form, et voilà, snowflake!

My paper cutting dexterity ends right about there, so I have considerable admiration for those gifted with the precision to create intricate works with paper and blade. That admiration turned to awe when I discovered the work of street artist, Swoon a couple of years ago. My amazement has been renewed more recently by Brooklyn-based artist Kako Ueda. I stumbled upon her work online in that serendipitous manner in which we find new information while searching for something else. I quickly bookmarked her site, as I was floored by the intricacies of her work.

La Boca de Labo, 2006. The artist Swoon’s collaborative work with fellow cutters Alison Corrie and Solovei at Philadelphia’s former Black Floor Gallery.

Swoon’s 2007 installation at the Brooklyn Museum.

From Kako Ueda’s extensive website gallery, Speak Flower, hand-cut black paper, H 27″ x W 30″

Detail from Speak Flower.

Convinced by a video store employee’s hearty recommendation, I recently rented The Adventures of Prince Achmed, inspired by the Tales of the 1001 Nights. I was intrigued, the 1926 release, by a woman filmmaker, Lotte Reiniger, is the earliest extant animated feature film, each frame created by the shifting placement of paper silhouettes cut by hand, with the resulting image movement akin to shadow puppetry. Several examples of her work can be found on YouTube.

The title card from the 1926 German film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

A fragment of the film.

Béatrice Coron’s Sun City, Personal Cities Series, 2005.  Cut Tyvek 48″ x 31″.

The panoramic silhouettes of yet another web surfing discovery, Béatrice Coron, recall the look of Reiniger’s work. Both Ueda and Coron are included in a group show currently mounted at the Museum of the Arts and Design. The fascinating exhibit,  Slash: Paper Under the Knife, up through April 4, 2010 features a plethora of paper artists, female and male, including Mia Pealrman and Ariana Boussard Reifel whose works appear below, and the renowned Kara Walker.

Mia Pearlman’s Inrush utilizes natural light from the window “to blur distinctions between interior and exterior space.”

Ariana Boussard Reifel’s cut and altered book, Between the Lines, Book: 19 x 8 1/2 x 2 in.
Words: 8 in.  diameter