Archive for the ‘Fashion’ Category

The Trove: Lynda Johnson
August 11, 2011

Living lovely in Harlem.

Lynda Johnson was born and raised in Syracuse, New York but her family’s roots are in Montgomery, Alabama and it shows in her Southern hospitality and colorful storytelling. Her people were part of the epic, 20th century migration of blacks from below the Mason-Dixon line in optimistic search of opportunity up North. Lynda grew up with relatives called “Chicken” and “Joe Boy” and if you asked about her father Jimmie by name she’d say “Who’s that?” As far as she knew, “My father’s name is Honey.” Everyone called him that, not just her mama.

Her parents first daughter and the fourth of their six children, she displays the leadership traits of a firstborn and assumes the mediator role of a middle child. Marie Johnson was seven months pregnant with Lynda when she traveled down home to lay little Billy, felled by leukemia to rest in Montgomery. “I was carrying one and burying another,” she said. “I don’t know how she did it,” Lynda marvels at her mother’s strength and stoicism, an inherited strength she too would have to draw from.

Little Lynnie flanked by her Auntie Dot and her mommy Marie.

Too young to legally wed, Jimmie Johnson fudged his numbers to marry Marie, seven years his senior. The factory foreman worked the graveyard shift but he’d “get up, make my mother lunch and take it to her job. She always had a hot meal,” Lynda smiles. Neighborhood kids lined up at the back door for a taste of his homemade ice cream. “He could throw down!” Though she made a great pound cake and could fry some corn, Marie was a distracted cook who told her kids “burnt food makes you pretty.”

Diminutive size be damned, Marie, like her daughter was not easily cowed. “She was tiny but feisty.” Lynda recalls a classic example, “Some man was outside our house fussing about something and waving a gun. My mother went out there, took the gun from him, said ‘Nigga don’t you be standing outside my house carrying on!’ and started hitting him with his own gun. She was tough.”

Jimmie and Marie Johnson.

She was also sharp. “My mother loved to shop. I have some of her sweater sets and pencil skirts from the 50’s,” Lynda says.” Their jaunts to Ebony Fashion Fair shows empowered Lynda. “I always knew that we as a people had an amazing sense of style and that’s what drew me to fashion.”

Besides playing volleyball and acing track, she took fashion classes in high school, and planned a future in the Big Apple. “At the breakfast table, where we always had family discussions, I told my parents I wanted to go to New York to study fashion,” Lynda says. “They looked up from their plates and Mom said They stole the hubcaps off our car in New York City, you are not going to school there, so you better find someplace else to go. Dad was always the quiet one, but I knew he agreed.”

She found someplace else in a magazine ad for Atlanta’s Bauder School of Fashion. It was exciting to be sixteen, on her own and zipping around the Peach in her “sky blue VW bug,” but it just wasn’t Seventh Avenue. She informed her folks that Atlanta was a wrap. Their response, “if you want to go to school in New York, you have to pay for it yourself.” She called their bluff, got a job at the factory where her father worked, and saved enough for the in-state tuition at FIT, a SUNY school. She went on the parental condition that she stay with family in Long Island. However, the tedious 2-hour commute became a bit taxing and she moved with roommates to a “teeny-tiny” affordable apartment on 24th Street, walking distance from campus.

“I set my five-year plan for what I wanted to be and do once I graduated and it all eventually came true,” she says. “I didn’t want to be a designer nor a buyer, I wanted to write about fashion.” An FIT mentoring program paired Lynda with advertising maven Yvonne Durant, a friend to this day. When an upset Lynda came crying over some slight, Yvonne listened then said “Now that you’re done, never do that again. There are no tears in this industry, that will be seen as a sign of weakness.” Whenever work situations threatened her equanimity, Lynda remembered Yvonne Durant said you cannot cry. And she didn’t.

Yvonne secured her an internship at Essence Magazine with then-fashion editor, Susan L. Taylor. “That was when Essence really had a voice for Black women. I loved Marcia Ann Gillespie’s editor’s pages, I read them religiously. Look at these black women, they are doing it! I thought. I was enamored with them, I stayed until I graduated in 1976.”

In 1978 she began a lengthy career with industry big Fairchild Publications. “I started as Assistant Fashion Editor of SportStyle magazine. My boss covered tennis, golf, ski– all the hoity-toity. I covered what she thought inconsequential,” categories which flourished: “bodywear exploded, everyone was running and the whole surf lifestyle took off,” she says. “I LOVED covering this market, I was in jock heaven. I interviewed and went to a baseball game with Dave Winfield.” She covered trade shows in  California, Germany, Spain, Italy and France. “I ran the Corporate Challenge race in Central Park and played volleyball on Fairchild’s corporate team.” Of her favorite sport, the petite dynamo says “I could get under the ball. Didn’t do much spiking but I had a mean serve.”

Fun at Fairchild.

Responding to the 1980’s baby boomlet and subsequent wave of products targeted to parents, Fairchild created Children’s Business magazine in 1985 with Atrium award-winning Lynda helming fashion. “I love that the children’s industry is real mom-and-pop and down-to-earth, not so garmento.”

She balanced this fulfilling career with a charmed personal life. Artist Earl Garrett, Jr. knew she was a “keeper” when she agreed to have dinner with him, no judgment, after he said, “I want to have dinner with you but we gotta go Dutch, I don’t make that much money.”

“I’m not one of those 26-point women with their lists who miss out on really good guys,” she says. Dinner and a Betty Boop film festival “was so much fun. We had the best time.” Though he didn’t cop a kiss, he went home and called her straightaway. “We talked on the phone for hours– about everything. Garrett was special, really special. “He was very creative.” (In photography, art direction, drawing and painting) He ignited her interest in art and introduced her to the Venice Biennale. It was in Venezia that he proposed marriage. They wed in 1986 on his birthday.

Her collection of works by African-American artists includes her beloved Garrett (left) and celebrated Alabama folk artist, Mose Tolliver.

Lynda ended the 1980’s with unexpected loss. One of the two most important men in her life, her father, suffered a sudden stroke, drove himself to the hospital and went into cardiac arrest.

With the nineties came a barrage of highs and lows. Both bibliophiles, Lynda and colleague Tracy Mitchell collectively read,”were riveted” by and discussed Steven Corbin’s No Easy Place to Be.” Soon, editor-in-chief Monique Greenwood joined their conversations. Tracy speculated that there were other kindred spirits who read and celebrate black literature. The three women founded Go On Girl! book club. Twenty years later, GOG! has grown to over thirty chapters in 13 states and holds an annual awards gala to honor established authors and encourage new talent. Lynda is National Chair.

Garrett created the GOG! logo.

Realizing a girlhood dream of living in Harlem, Lynda and Garrett bought a century-old Hamilton Heights townhouse at a great price during the 1992 buyer’s market.

Architect Clarence True’s rendering.

In August 1995, Lynda and her mom drove from Syracuse to Montgomery for a family reunion, talking all the way. “She revealed herself to me. All the things she’d longed to do (like becoming an actress) and what she’d wished for us kids. I had so much fun with her that trip.” It would be their last.

“My mother was no joke when it came to her cards. She always had a game going in the house: Poker, Black Jack, Tonk…just for fun with family” Lynda recalls. “The next thing I knew it was a full-fledged business. She served dinners (a guy named Teardrop worked the kitchen) she had somebody doing the bar and she took a cut on the table. She was not playing.”

Unfortunately some young men, “looking to rob somebody and get high,” knew there would be cash at the Johnson house.  Around the corner, a neighbor watched them park in her driveway, don masks and quickly run off. She noted their faces, the make of the car and license plate number then phoned the police.

Recognizing the voices of the masked men demanding money, Marie called them by name. She’d fed at least one of them before. Panicked, one shot her. Word spread quickly of the slaying and the four perpetrators, caught by police within a half hour, were “beaten mercilessly” in jail.

Lynda, her mother’s “Rock of Gibraltar” arrived in Syracuse braced to handle things, but her childhood home-as-crime scene was surreal. Where am I going to go? she thought, her “beacon” police-taped. Once allowed in, “the phone rang off-the-hook” for the venerated Mrs. Johnson. “I had no idea of the things my mother had done for people. We got calls from guys in prison. It blew me away.”

At the funeral many spoke of Marie Johnson’s legendary generosity. One woman shared that Mrs. Johnson gave her money to open a hair salon. A troubled young man disowned by his family said “Mrs. Johnson took me in like I was her own child. She fed and clothed me.” Lynda too remembered her mother’s compassion. A man once knocked on their door asking for food. Lynda’s sister shooed him away but their mother said sternly you never turn anybody away who’s hungry, if there’s something in this house to eat, you give them something to eat. “My mother fed that man.”

The neighbor/witness came forward and identified the accused men. “That was the saving grace for me. I knew who did it and it gave me closure,” says Lynda, who read a statement at the trials.” Addressing the defendants the judge said, “If you guys had her mother you wouldn’t be sitting on that side of the table.” The actual triggerman died in jail. “Talk about karma,” Lynda says.

Garrett was balm for grief. “He was there for me in October when my mother was murdered, then in February he was gone. Just like that.” He was beset by a viral infection that baffled doctors and shut down all his organs. “Having lost my mom and then Garrett, my cornerstones, so suddenly, I thought God I don’t know what it is you want me to learn but I’m not getting it. Will you please just tell me and not take anymore people from me?” she says.

“I threw myself into work, I went back to school, I had to stay busy. I thought that if I stopped I was gonna die. It took a long time to get past the sadness.” But as her therapist promised, she now thinks and speaks of them with a smile.

A memorial crazy quilt lovingly crafted from Garrett’s clothing by the women in his life reproduces the cartoon image from his business card and holds his brushes and paint.

After his passing, Lynda wasn’t thinking about romance. I had my soul mate, I’ve done that, she thought until she met Alonzo Wright in July 1997. Short in stature, he was long on personality. “I think Garrett sent him,” she laughs, “I’d always been attracted to taller men.”

They clicked at an Onaje Allan Gumbs performance at Sweet Basil. Alonzo phoned her the next day and invited her to view the sunset with him. With his saxophone in tow, they headed to Riverbank State Park, where he serenaded her, the sun setting gorgeously on the Hudson. Hungry, they went to her nearby home, made “a big ol’ pot of pasta” and talked themselves into slumber on the sofa. “I woke up, realized it was really late and said ‘you can’t stay here overnight.’ Realizing his journey would be more than an hour, though, she put him up in her guest room, retreated to her bedroom and locked herself in.

She later sent him flowers at work with a note that read “Thanks for the beautiful sunset and for being a gentleman,” amazing him. “We started hanging out a lot and next thing you know, he moved in,” she says. “He is not a replacement for Garrett, he is an addition” she asserts. She feels truly blessed to have had them both in her life.

Lyn and ‘Zo.

When layoffs left Alonzo without a job, Lynda’s response was “oh good, now you can focus on your music.” With her belief in him, he thought keeper. “I knew music was what he really wanted to do and he did it. Here we are, three CDs later.”

Alonzo wrangled music peers Will Downing and Ron Blake and their daughters for Lynda’s magazine shoot. Photos: Deborah Feingold

After thirteen years together they married last summer. “On my birthday, we applied for the marriage license and on his birthday it arrived.” She and her mother, both Taurean, married Gemini men seven years junior and fabulous cooks. She chuckles at the coincidence.

After 20 years, Fairchild shuttered Children’s Business in 2005, rocking her professional world. Her considerable experience and respect from the industry garnered her a successful freelance run; then the recession hit, budgets cut and her clients dwindled to two. Her adjunct professorship at FIT helped fill in the financial gaps.

KidStyleSource

Rebounding admirably, she and Tracy Mitchell were in the throes of their business plan when they shared with a vendor at a trade show their intention to launch another childrenswear publication. “We don’t need a magazine, we need news in real-time, online. Manufacturers also need a place where we can advertise to the consumer without paying a lot of money,” he said. Lynda and Tracy reconsidered their venture and created a dual website, KidStyleSource.com “for the retailer planning the season ahead and for the parent buying for the season at hand,” she explains. They are enjoying advertising growth and increased traffic with great vendor giveaways. She never aspired to be an entrepreneur, but Marie bequeathed her the gift for cultivating a passion into a business.

As we talked into the night, it was heartening to see and hear how healing has trumped heartache for this truly beautiful soul. Here she shares the things enlivening to her mind, body and spirit.

1. Living in Harlem. The rich history of the cultural mecca was magnetic. Fiercely protective, she’s rallying neighbors to save the once majestic PS 186 building from razing.

Her stately Hamilton Heights haven; historic subway signage; and the beneficiary of her advocacy, PS 186.

2. VW Beetle. “My first was a ’63 now we have a ’73.”

Their trusty Jazz Blue bug.

3. Books by African-American Authors. “My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Steinberg opened a whole new world to me with the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. ‘It’s so important for you to know about your culture through your writers,’ he said.”

Her ” favorite of all time.”

4. Smoothies. “Interested in the correlation between food and healing,” she enjoys making the dense, nutrient-rich drinks.

A yummy, efficacious blend of organic fruits with rice yogurt, green tea and flaxseed oil.

5. Staying Fit. “I love yoga and I do cardio and weight training at the gym…my husband IS younger than me,” she chuckles.

Bikram Yoga Harlem is her go-to spot.

6. Art Deco Furnishings. Though her mom offered, “You don’t have to buy that old used furniture. I can give you some money to buy some nice new furniture,” the era’s streamlined forms appeal to Lynda.

The dining room buffet.

7. Freesias. “They’re pretty, dainty and I love the fragrance.”

Photo: Gypsie2

8. Miraval Spa. “Love that place! Alonzo and I have gone twice.”

The famed resort is nestled in the foothills of Tucson’s Santa Clarita mountains.

9. Champa Incense. She burns both the classic and golden fragrances from Blue Pearl.

Wafting essences of frangipani and sandalwood.

10. Entertaining. She loves to host guests in her elegant home. Lynda and I hadn’t seen in each other in ages, so we had a girls’ night whilst Alonzo was on the road in Italy.

She graciously made a delicious, vegan meal for dinner and served homemade banana bread and smoothies in the morning.

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: djassi daCosta johnson
May 26, 2011

Mrs. Verini: djassi daCosta johnson, 2 months pregnant.

djassi daCosta johnson adores her “ridiculously amazing family.”  It is in the haven of their embrace and the freedom of their trust that she’s been able to move fearlessly through her life. Her educator parents Awolowo and Orundun, of whom she speaks reverentially, anointed their eldest daughter with the nom de guerre of revolutionary Amílcar Cabral, (Abel) Djassi. Brought together by “the Movement,” the former SNCC worker and the former Black Panther secretary instilled in their four children a sense of activism, pride of heritage, hunger for knowledge, love of movement and spiritual grounding.

When we first met, djassi was a Bantu-knotted, hoodie-rocking Essence magazine intern rapturously in love with her tween sister, Yaya. An admitted “fool for a party,” the fly Virgo moved fluidly between the worlds of academia, professional dance, media and the clubs. More than fifteen years later she feels “blessed to have found my best friend in my little sister,” is planning graduate study and enjoying a dance career that has taken her around the globe, expanded her notions of her art and paved the way for marriage and motherhood.

I spent a recent afternoon with the new mom, her husband Corrado and their delightful daughter, Mirahl in their Brooklyn home as they prepared to summer in his native Rome. Sipping wine, we marveled over the body’s tremendous capacity for healing. Awed by the “wondrous abilities of the human body,” djassi the dancer bowed to djassi the mother. “I always thought I knew my body so well. I’m so proud of what it’s done and what it can do, but then I was also humbled by its limits,” she said recalling the arduous journey of Mirahl’s birth. Her infant warrior woman is a testament to the “strength that humans have and the will to survive.”

After a “normal” pregnancy, a love-filled karaoke baby shower and the full expectation that she, a mind-bogglingly fit woman would move through a water birth with relative ease, life-threatening complications arose. For 42 drug-free hours she labored, but sensing something was “off,” she resisted the urge to push and her midwife took heed. It was discovered that pushing risked strangulation of the baby by the twice-wrapped umbilical cord around her neck as well as uterine rupture and severe hemorrhage for djassi who inexplicably presented with Placenta Increta. Mirahl arrived via emergency Caesarean. Her name hints at the miraculous and its Turkish definition, “little gazelle” befits the daughter of a dancer/choreographer. In homage to Corrado’s grandmother Vera and djassi’s grandmother Lucille, Mirahl carries two middle names, Vera Lu.

Little Mirahl was born December 28, 2010.

Besotted with their baby girl, dja and Corrado are grateful for djassi’s protective intuition and honored by Mirahl’s having chose them. “My parents were very affectionate, I felt one hundred percent unconditionally loved,” djassi muses. “I hope I can pass that on.”

The striking DaCosta Johnson family: Orundun and Awolowo; first-born Mamadou, youngest Djani and…

Camara Yaya and djassi Camara, then and now. Their shared name Camara, means “comrade.”

The Johnson children were all educated in the Montessori tradition, at St. Michael’s where their mother taught. Djassi recalls getting “mommy practice” with Yaya and Djani (eight and ten years younger) when her mom spent summers away in Ohio pursuing Master’s studies in Montessori.  Mrs. DaCosta Johnson would eventually open Central Harlem Montessori, “the only accredited Montessori School in Harlem and the least expensive one in NYC for sure,” djassi says proudly.  Now retired, her dad was a Professor of Sociology at several New York City colleges. “My parents were very clear about being cognizant of our history and the importance of education as not just a privilege but a responsibility.” At the behest of their father, who valued his upbringing in New Haven, each of the children attended high school on the wooded campus of Northfield Mount Hermon in Western Massachusetts and went on to matriculate in the Ivies: Penn (Mamadou) Barnard (djassi) Brown (Yaya) and Cornell (Djani) Djassi is grateful for her father’s vision. “Aside from the obvious academic intensity and advantage it gave me in applying for and understanding the purpose of college, I really had such a formative experience living away from home…I don’t think I would have ever run track, swam, worked on a farm, or really seen myself as a multi-faceted individual. Boarding school let me grow into my own skin at my own pace and feel free to just be. As an adolescent that was priceless.”

Developing sound minds and bodies, the Johnson siblings excelled both academically and athletically. “We were always encouraged to be physical by nature, taught how fun it was to challenge and stretch the body’s capabilities. We grew up doing gymnastics, capoeira, all of us dance — my brothers are shamefully talented despite their lack of interest in training. I had school and ballet and modern classes all week and was able to ‘study’ the house and break-dance culture on the weekends. There are still guys who call me out when I’m uptown like, Ain’t you ‘Dou’s little sister who won that battle spinning on her head way back in da day?”

A 1970’s anti-nukes rally: “I want to GROW not GLOW.” And grow she did into an awesome command of her body.

Her parents have been on the board of DanceBrazil for most of her life. “Growing up, around and backstage with a dance company was amazing,” she says. Her first stage appearance was at age six: a samba with the company in “Orfeu Negro” at Riverside Church.

Junior high was pivotal. She chose as her Phys Ed elective, the dance class of Melvin Jones. The former Alvin Ailey dancer taught the Horton and Graham techniques. Through his instruction, she was ahead of the curve when she auditioned for and was accepted into the Ailey scholarship program years later.

“After boarding school I was hungry to get back to NYC and dance.” Yet she shunned the academic pursuit of dance. A local school would allow her to both train with Ailey and study English and Anthropology.  “A women’s college seemed empowering to me. With alumnae like Zora, Katherine and Twyla, I knew Barnard would be perfect.” Her nine-page appeal to overturn a denied housing grant was successful and though her parents lived only 23 blocks away, she was awarded housing for four years.

She initially found anthropology “daunting and too focused on the other,” but eventually realized that “there is a future in Anthro for participant-observers such as myself, that the preservation of culture can be enacted by those within rather than some extraneous observer.” This will be the crux of her graduate exploration. “I see ways to give back through my art.”

Among her impressive credits (view them and her performance reel at Dancer’s Pro) is her phenomenal performance in Moses Pendleton’s Passion.  A cornerstone of the MOMIX repertoire, Passion is a highlight of djassi’s eight-year tenure touring internationally with the company.

The mind-blowing Passion ribbon solo.

When djassi joined MOMIX, she and technical director/lighting designer, Corrado Verini, “gravitated to each other during after-show dinner to discuss the world, both yearning to talk about something besides dance,” she says.  On an Amsterdam tour they sparked an intense, see-each-other-on-tour, long-for-each-other-off-tour relationship. “We had cultural, linguistic, generational, not to mention the American/Italian, Black/White dichotomies that we both had to get over somehow.  We weren’t convinced right away that we were ready to deal with all of the work that loving each other might entail.” Nevertheless, “it was undeniable for both of us that there was something that kept bringing us back together.” In a yellow silk dress of her own design, djassi wed Corrado in August 2008 in Rome.

dja love.

“Soho Moods,” Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome.  Photo © Nina Contini Melis.

Apart from dance, she’s tapped into other aspects of her creativity through acting, writing (contributing to the book Transculturalism and TRACE magazine) and fashion.  Frequently complimented on garments she’d whip up, she during a tour break in 2001, created a 32-piece collection dubbed the eponymic dja. She sold the line at fairs in Rio and New York.  Inspired by her love of adornment, she has more recently launched the easier-to-produce earring line, Flights of Fancy by dja.

As Calpurnia in an Italian production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Photo: A.T. Ambrosini

Optical party dress and Flights of Fancy earrings by dja.

As a brisk stroll through nearby Prospect Park rocked Mirahl to sleep, djassi spoke of “spoiling” their winter baby “with Italian summer love at the sea and countryside of Rome.”  Happy for my friends and smitten with their slumbering infant I bade the Johnson-Verini family farewell and buon viaggio.

Il tesoro trovato di djassi:

1. Fame (the 1980 movie.) “My father took me to see it when I was six and I made him sit through it twice. I was like ‘I wanna do THAT!’ I look back on the movie now and realize there were some really adult themes, it wasn’t a movie about dance and fairies. But I was pretty clear that I could be an artist at six years old, so there you go.”

The “Fame” trailer.

2. Aperitivo.  “I have always loved a good glass of wine and 9 years of bartending in New York gave me the opportunity to really understand it.  One of the things I love about Italian ‘time’ as it relates to food is the concept of aperitivo, the precursor to dinner.  In the best bars in Rome and Milan one can go, relax, pay for a glass of wine and feast on the ‘buffet’ offerings.”

“No matter where I am, I rarely have a night without an aperitivo.” Wine photo by Sara Rosso.

3. Languages.  At 28 she lived in Brazil with Yaya and learned Portuguese by immersion. On a tour in Spain, “I got my Spanish better with that guy,” she says gesturing toward Corrado, “He speaks it really well.” After having traveled and toured as an American, she knows that rudimentary English is spoken most everywhere. “So you take it for granted,” she says. “But I find that you get so much more respect by speaking the language and you can really break down so many more barriers by how you speak the language… to take on the culture and the understanding of how people speak the language because of the culture. My sister and I really assimilated into Brazilian life and took on the accent.  A similar thing happened with Italian while living in Italy. I still have a long way to go to perfecting my Português and my Italiano but the ‘way’ I speak fools people and so I learn that much more from each exchange…and the languages are actually very similar. Many words are the same, it’s just ‘sung’ a little differently.”

4. New Year’s Eve in Rio. She’s spent it there a few times with Yaya. “The most meaningful, beautiful, spiritual New Year’s Eves ever!” Once they spent it on the roof of singer Elza Soares‘ Copacabana house, looking down on the glorious sight of the white-clad Carioca multitudes making water offerings to Yemanja. 

Ano Nove: “It’s pretty special. I can’t wait ’til the next one we are able to make.”

5. Dancing With My Family. “You can’t take the six of us anywhere with good music and some space because we all love to partner dance. We are all Salsa-proficient improvisers.  My dad made sure the girls could follow and the boys could lead. Holidays are three couples on the dance floor or a few of us dancing while the others play the congas, bell and berimbau…and my mom can lead a good funga anywhere.”

The Sisters Johnson get their dance on.

6. Hats.  She often tops her look with one of the many chapeaux she’s collected in her travels.

Some faves include Trilbys from Spain, select vintage and a conical spire from Chile.

7. High Heels.  “I looove a good pair of heels, and I love to get good bargains on them. One of my favorite pairs is from El Mundo on 145th and Broadway near where I grew up. They are gorgeous.”


“Don’t they just make you want to Salsa?Carlos by Carlos Santana pumps.

8. Fearlessness. “Without that concept in my life I wouldn’t have done what I’ve done. From thinking I could make a career of dance to traveling the world–something I wanted to do, but do with a purpose to meeting Corrado through work and believing in following my heart.”

Holiday Island, the Maldives.

9. Oasi Naturista di Capocotta. She loves the freedom of the nudist oasis in Rome. “I used to be a bit prudish about my breasts and then I realized I had to shed my Western issues and embrace my origins on this European beach. They have the most amazing restaurant with people eating on silver plates with huge wine glasses in different arrays of nakedness. It’s one of my favorite places to go in the summer.”

Easy atmosphere and the freshest catch.

10. gDiapers. “I just couldn’t fathom that in 2011, I should be complacent,” knowing that conventional disposables degrade in 500 years. “How is that responsibly leaving my child a planet she can thrive on?” An Earth-friendly diaper hybrid, gDiapers feature inserts (either washable cloth or flushable, biodegradable disposables) to absorb waste.  The new gMom has become an ardent brand evangelist: “no rashes, sooo much less waste and the refills break down in 50 days!” With an in-house washer during her Roman sojourn she’ll use the cloth option exclusively.

Good for the baby, good for Gaia (and they appeal to Mommy’s fashion sensibilities.)

The Trove: Lois Samuels
April 28, 2011

The delighted designer: “I really like myself; If I didn’t know me, I’d want to know me.”

When I first met Lois Samuels, she was a carefree 21-year-old giddily dancing her way through fittings in Barbados for a Ruven Afanador photo shoot.  A cavalcade of fashion to a jungle music soundtrack, the seemingly endless try-ons went into the wee hours with Lois remaining bright and cheery as the Bajan sun. Fast forward to 2011 and the ever-beautiful thirty-something remains upbeat, tempered with the wisdom of life experience.  We met in her Upper West Side apartment to discuss her journey from model to mom to fashion designer of the sumptuously crafted the Vessel. by Lois.

We spoke of our love of Grace Coddington, the brilliant heart of Vogue fashion in the film, The September Issue, and our shared disdain of cigarette smoking. “I want a clean cough,” she says. We then got down to the business of viewing the collection: clean, simple silhouettes in lush fabrics: wool twill, baby camel, silk lurex and silk twill. She loves jumpsuits, “they’re like a one-pot meal,” and she enjoys the ease of both. She’ll always have a variation on the theme in each collection. Many of her looks have detachable details like modesty panels for cleavage, cuffs, collars even bustles to make each multi-functional. “I think a woman can have five looks for the month.” Her longing for simplicity has its roots in her schoolgirl days donning uniforms in her native Jamaica and has influenced her aesthetic.  Those days also fostered a sense of respectful decorum that she “didn’t particularly like” as a student. “I appreciated it more when I got older and sought some sense of calm and structure in my life and my wardrobe. I saw how much structure it brought in the chaos of life. There is already so much to think of and plan. Clothing shouldn’t necessarily take so much of that thinking time.”

She speaks lovingly of her country upbringing. “I spent most of my younger years on my father’s farm in Manchester. It was a beautiful, old, wooden home in the mountains of St. Paul’s supposedly once owned by the English. At that time we harvested pimento, picked and dried coffee from the land on the barbecues before sending the products off to the various factories for export. There were always fruits: mangoes, tangerines, bananas, papayas and on any given day you could find me seated in an orange tree peeling up to a dozen sweet oranges at a time.  I dreamed of becoming a farmer. Loved the smell of cows, the soil after a rainy day, the muskiness from the trees.” She has a particularly fond memory of “planting a small patch of carrots and pulling the little ones from the earth and consuming it with the dirt. What a lovely combination that was. I couldn’t imagine eating the dirt in America.”

Uniformity: the sweet-faced Lois (center) with her classmates from the Hampton High School for Girls in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica.

Eventually she and her older sister (they would learn of their older half brother as they grew older) went to live with their mother in the town of Santa Cruz. “It was more convenient for schooling for both ourselves and my Mom who was a school teacher.”  She credits both parents for being “exceptionally supportive” as they co-parented. Her Mom, as primary parent, “was always present and stood by my sister and me…I always had great interest in the arts. From ensuring I was in ballet classes to making sure there was a piano when I expressed interest in music,” her Dad made it happen. “When I was scouted by the Jamaican agency, Pulse, to become a model, he strongly encouraged it.” There was a local competition and a delegation was taken to the USA and Europe.  She signed in the US with Bethann Management where the sprightly Tyron Barrington nurtured her early career. She’s lived in both the US and Europe ripping the runways of Christian LaCroix, Issey Miyake and Thierry Mugler and alighting under the photographic gaze of the likes of Steven Meisel, Ellen Von Unwerth and fellow Jamaican, Walter Chin.

The Barbados shoot for Essence Magazine; one of the “hip kids” cast to launch the Calvin Klein fragrance ckOne.

Graceful beauty.

Though she continues to model occasionally, Lois has over the years pursued other passions including writing (her model memoir, A Glow in the Dark was published in 1999) creating a family (she and former husband Mark became the ecstatic parents of son Malo in 2001) photography (Jamaica Through My Eyes, a photo homage to her homeland was published in 2007) painting and fashion design. In fact, her Fashion Week debut would be inspired by the paintings of Jacob Lawrence.

A collection of photography, Lois’ second published book.

After several years of living in London, she returned to the states and assisted bespoke designer Jussara Lee briefly before becoming Account Manager at menswear designer Thom Browne, both positions offering invaluable lessons about quality control in the production of high-end fashion. She’s wanted to design fashion since she was about 14-years-old, “But the journey took me in many different places until almost three years ago when I felt it was the time.” So in September 2009 she unveiled her new line, the Vessel. by lois, to critical acclaim during New York Fashion Week. The significance of the label’s name? “I see us all as vessels of life and love. I also see clothing as vessels that uplift and protect the wearer,” she says.

the Vessel. by lois  Spring Summer 2010 collection.  Video: Grand Central Videos

When asked about her inspirations she replies, “Life inspires me. I never follow trends.” She notes that she respects indie designer, Lola Faturoti and wishes expansive growth for her. She also is heartened by the success of African-American designer Tracy Reese. “I really admire Tracy Reese.  She’s built an empire,” she says noting the growing brand umbrella.  She’s unmoveable. She’s solid…I have great admiration for the individuals in fashion who carve a place for themselves and their creations. And maintain it in this industry. Like Donna Karan and Issey Miyake.”

“I’m playing a lot with capes,” Lois says of her latest collection from the floor-length, dramatic  entrance-maker to the jaunty capelet. She smartly showcased the ebony and ivory pieces for Fall/Winter 2011 with larger-than-life black and white photographs by Joanna Totolici.  Lois herself is the sole model, presenting a strong, modern, sexy woman, The Vessel woman.

A Vogue Italia feature; the Jacket, from Fall/Winter 2011 with removable bustle in wool twill.

She’s taking it back home to Jamaica for Spring 2012.  “The vibrancy, the color, the flowers,” will be in full bloom. “Jamaica is a wonderful country and in all my travels I am yet to feel the energy that thrives there. From the topography of the land, it’s lushness … the flora and fauna… the vibration in the air and passion of the people, the flavor of our foods our music, beaches it’s endless.” She’ll continue to develop the Vessel., embrace the fact that her baby boy will be ten-years-old this fall and get to know the younger half sister she discovered via Facebook a few months ago. “It’s been an experience,” she says.

Her trove of favorites is largely experiential, have a look…

1. Motherhood. “I can’t imagine life without my son. He’s so supportive. I’m always working around him.” (and he will chime in if he thinks a look is too revealing) “Motherhood is a gift.”

Lois’ joy: glowing with the great love of her life, Malo.

2. Love. “Of the Divine, my son, family and friends.”

“Love” spelled out in American Sign Language.  © All rights reserved by Mariahhh1.

3. Fruits and Foods of the Land. With farming in her DNA, she enjoys the bounty that the earth yields.

Coffee, sweet orange and tangerine, pimento and bananas.

4. Sunshine. Her own disposition seems to mimic the Sun’s rays.

Lois, like other heliotropic beings seeks it with great zeal.

5. Flowers. She delights in the beauty of color and fragrance which sprouts from the earth.

The flora of her homeland.

6. Travel.   “All sunny places.”

No surprise that her beloved Jamaica makes the cut, but she also loves visiting Turkey. Her favorite cities are Paris and New York.

7. Photography. “I love to capture the spirit.”

Mrs. Rose and her Great-grandchild; Grandma Avis.

8. Music. “Music brings joy and sadness, brings back memories and makes us escape…takes us away.” Her tastes are eclectic from reggae (Burning Spear, Ijahman Levi and Bob Marley) to pop (Stereo Lab and Daft Punk)  to Rock, Rare Groove, Opera and Jazz. “Music is life!” she exclaims.

Burning Spear, “Marcus Garvey.

9. Spur Tree Lounge.  The Lower East Side boite has “lovely energy,” she says. With its Jamaican-Asian fusion, it gives her “a piece of home, great food, great music, and the owner Sean John is such a fantastic host as well!”

 Photo: © All rights reserved SeBiArt.

10. Ties.  Her favorite, must-have accessory, the necktie is the inspiration for her just launched Her-Tie.com, a collection of ties for women.

Her Tie by Lois Samuels worn with the Baby camel Jumper from the Vessel. by lois.

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.

The Trove: Cheryl R. Riley & Courtney Sloane
December 2, 2010

An invitation and homage: Courtney Sloane & Cheryl R. Riley.

Gotta love a woman who whips up a few baubles to wear on her opening night from the discards of  “yesterday’s soup.”  And so it is that interior designer Courtney Sloane adores such a woman, her wife, Cheryl R. Riley. Cheryl, one of the artists included in the massive Global Africa Project now on view at the Museum of Art and Design, gilded 3 neck bones, suspended them from black cord and wore them–like funkified Olympic gold– to the exhibition opening on November 16.

The golden girl.  Elevation Mirror I: Arizona/New Mexico, 2000, Honduran mahogany, beveled mirror, brass tacks, found and made objects 85 x 48 x 12 in. Photo by Robert Baldridge.

Just a few weeks ago, with a similar burst of spontaneous creation, Cheryl, bearing a glue gun and materials found around the house, crafted five crowns for Cheryl and Courtney’s Artful Halloween Dinner Party should extras be needed. Guests had been asked to create a crown, in lieu of full costume, to don during the Basquiat-inspired festivities in their art-filled home. Upon entering the spacious loft in my coronet of autumn leaves, I missed the fluffy presence of Pia Zadora, the beloved Chow-Chow who held court in Courtney’s life from 1992 to her passing in 2009. And I smiled as I perused the space, an eclectic mix of personal treasures including Cheryl’s own beautifully imposing, “shamanistic” mirror, a piece I’ve always loved. Courtney speaks of design as conversation, a vehicle for telling stories. The story their home reveals is one of travel and exploration, honoring family and the passionate creation and collecting of art.

Visiting from San Francisco, fantastic chef and dear friend Cassandra Miles was putting the finishing touches on the delectable feast (including a tender pot roast and Cornish game hen with garlic orange-chili butter) as the hosts readied themselves to receive guests. Courtney selected one of the Cheryl-crafted crowns: a corrugated band decoupaged with Mbuti-patterned paper and topped with glorious blue and green tail feathers molted by a friend’s Macaw. Cheryl chose for herself the “Lady Gaga-inspired” clear acrylic spire she’d painted silver and accented with corkscrew willow.

A quiet moment before the revelry.

As the guests arrived, Courtney mixed pre-dinner cocktails with the refreshing, lightly grassy Żubrówka, or Bison Grass vodka she prefers. Its single blade of buffalo grass, she explained, is akin to the worm found in bottles of mezcal.  Soon delighted dining and lively conversation commenced. Desserts of apple spice cake and sweet potato chocolate-pecan pie followed. We rounded out the evening continuing the vodka theme but appropriately with the ambrosial, chocolate-infused vodka from renowned chocolatier, Godiva. The C’s really know how to host a salon: mixing it up with fascinating people (including established artist Ben Jones and emerging artists Nina Chanel Abney and Hiroshi Kumagai) fabulous food and relaxed fun.

Floating flowers and an acceptance speech. “We are shocked, and so humbled,” said Cheryl of she and Courtney’s first and second place win in the crown contest.  She offered thanks and praise to competition judges Riley and Sloane.

Chef Cassandra and Hiroshi.  The evening’s menu.

Organic Costa Rican coffee was served in the familiar stripes of Paul Smith. One of Cheryl’s “Legacy Bags,” personalized with her childhood cowgirl snapshot.

Strongly influenced by their fierce and fashionable mothers, both Cheryl and Courtney give props to Mom for inspiring them to become the highly accomplished women they are today. “When I was a child,” Cheryl says, “my mother was called the most beautiful colored woman in Houston. She was intelligent, talented and adventurous.” Cheryl’s earliest memories are of her art student mother’s supplies:  “clay, oil paints, turpentine… She allowed me to paint and draw on a wall in my room and taught me to read before I started kindergarten.”   Aesthetics were paramount in the Sloane household as well. “My mom always had a great sense of style–both fashion and interior, ” Courtney says, ” In fact, while I was growing up she actually worked with a decorator on our house.  I would get to tag along and be a part of those conversations.  Those experiences lead me to consider interior design as a career path.”

Texas beauty, Gladys Mae DuBois.  Ever stylish, Ruth Sloane with a serious little Courtney.

Gladys Mae DuBois surrounded her daughter with beauty, ignited a creative spark and sense of boundless possibility, Bennie Riley hoped to instill in her a sense of bootstrap pragmatism. Embracing a bit of both, Cheryl attended a private community college in Missouri, Columbia College but left after receiving her Associate’s Degree to pursue life “on her own terms in a new city.” She chose San Francisco “because I am good at making lists. I wanted a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan city with a strong city center, on a coast, no snow but a maximum three-hour drive from it, nature nearby and a public transportation system. I was right because the minute I saw that fog-framed city as I entered via the Bay Bridge, I was head over hills in love.”  She launched an executive career that would take her from positions with luxury retailer I. Magnin to advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi and Levi Strauss. Directing her creative energy toward her own home, she began designing furniture for her apartment. Her professional peers took notice and became her first customers. In less than a decade she went from corporate exec to fulfilling her artistic passions in 1986 with the launch of Right Angle Designs.

In 1999, with a dream collector’s list (Danny Glover, Terry McMillan, Denzel Washington, Robin Williams, et. al) several awards and exhibitions under her belt, inclusion in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Cooper-Hewitt, Oakland and Mint Museums, multiple public and corporate commissions (including Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport) she moved to New York.  “After living 22 years in San Francisco, I wanted to experience another city while my career was still in full swing. Having served on several arts-related boards, she most recently was a board member of the Museum of Art and Design — formerly the American Craft Museum– where she was instrumental in re-imagining the scope and re-imaging the brand. Her power to connect to an audience with her genial manner and engage them with her expertise has made her a highly regarded lecturer and panelist, speaking across the country from Stanford and Lehigh Universities to the Bellevue Art Museum. As a teacher, she’s conducted classes in respected craft schools such as Penland and Haystack Mountain.  She’s enjoyed the embrace of the East Coast with commissions: furnishings for Judith Jamison’s Alvin Ailey office and wall murals for the Walgreen’s Corporation; exhibitions in group shows at the Newark Museum, Pittsburgh’s Society of Contemporary Art, the Tampa Museum of Art and a solo show at Peg Alston Fine Art in NYC; curating the art collections of the Washington, DC offices of BET and Harlem’s luxury condominium, Kalahari; art commentary in several publications including the current issue of Jersey City Magazine and in February 2007, marriage.


 

Before family and friends, at Cala Luna in Costa Rica, the blithe spirit wed the lithe athlete.

In Jersey City, where she and Cheryl have resided in the Powerhouse Arts District since 2005, Courtney was born to and raised by John and Ruth Sloane. She donned the maroon and gold of St. Anthony High School, playing point guard on the girls’ varsity basketball team.  Initially she majored in marketing at Rutgers University but a job at Formica was a turning point for her and she convinced her employer to subsidize her further studies in interior design at FIT and Pratt. She covered the academics in class and got the immersive knowledge of the business at work, all-the-while rocking a side hustle with friends–catering and events in a small JC loft. They outfitted the space with furniture she’d designed and hosted art shows. If Formica was the turning point, then Ms. Dana Owens was the tipping point. When Dana a.k.a. Queen Latifah, full of confidence about her own trajectory, rolled through the impressive space she told Courtney “when I really blow up, you’re going to do my place.”  Three years later, Courtney did in fact, hail the Queen, creating the executive offices of her Flavor Unit in Jersey City, which led to commissions on the other side of the Hudson.

The house music fan and her company Alternative Design (AD) became the go-to designer for the hip-hop élite: Vibe Magazine, Sean Combs (through various name changes), Jay-Z, and more recently, the executive suite of Damon Dash. As word of Courtney’s gift for spatial storytelling spread, so did the interest of major corporations. Sony Music, Disney and Viacom, to name a few, came calling, commissioning AD to create their environs. She designed the flagship of natural body-care emporium, Carol’s Daughter, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Roots, Rhymes and Rage exhibition and the living quarters for the first two seasons of America’s Next Top Model.  With such an illustrious client roster, it’s no surprise that she’s become a design pundit: contributing to Essence Magazine, appearing on several design shows from CNN to BET to HGTV to a starring role on TLC’s Material World and speaking around the country (notably giving the esteemed Hiller lecture by the Design & Environmental Analysis Department at Cornell University.) She is now part of acollective working with AF Supply to develop the Signature line of plumbing fixtures and bathroom accessories– “a huge project” to be launched in 2012, mining “New York design talent of both architects and interior designers. Since most of the plumbing design innovation comes from Italy, this project specifically will bring focus on the talent pool that exists here in NYC.” Grateful for her success in both residential and commercial design in the States and abroad, she is an ardent advocate of mentoring and honoring her obligation to give back.

Courtney and the fabulous Pia Zadora.

Together Cheryl and Courtney are launching a new venture, Riley Sloane, a socially responsible design and production studio specializing in licensing, private label and production in the Home and Lifestyle categories. Their first line, launching in 2011, is the Pura Vida collection of  decorative wall panels made from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified solid indigenous woods of Costa Rica.

Cheryl on Courtney:

“About a year before I met Courtney, I made a list–again with the lists–of the qualities I wanted in my lifetime partner.”  Living on separate coasts for “the first two years of our relationship, we had a lot of time to have in-depth conversation and get to know each other on the phone. Otherwise, we saw each other every 4-6 weeks in our respective homes, traveled together elsewhere and even worked on a project together for Disney. I had 45 attributes on the list and Courtney scored 37.5!” And as any self-respecting Southern esoteric would do, she sought a reading from a cousin with “the gift.”  The reading suggested that though they are not soul mates (sometimes that is one’s best friend, business partner, etc.) they are as “highly compatible as she had ever seen–and it proved true.”

Courtney on Cheryl:

“Well I knew that there was something extraordinary about her the first time we met.  I was absolutely thrilled to meet the sister that I had read about who was doing all this bad ass furniture on the West Coast, I mean really making noise! Once we began to speak over the phone I think it was inside of about 3 or 4 weeks that I knew she was the one I wanted to spend my life with.”  And on her wife’s inclusion in the GAP show,  “I’m so excited and proud of Cheryl for this major accomplishment! It’s great for her to be a part of the new history of the Museum and [exhibiting] again since showing her Bakuba Griffin Dining Table in 1994 when it was the American Craft Museum.”

Born ten years apart, Cheryl’s an analog girl whose tech comfort level ends somewhere around email and Courtney’s a “gadget geek” prone to early adoption of the latest technology. They are alike in the ways that matter and different enough to keep things interesting, a great couple.  Though it was difficult for them to pinpoint only five things each, here’s a smattering of the things besides each other that they love…

Cheryl’s Fave Five:

1. Custom Cowboy Boots. “I was born in Houston in the days of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and there is a picture of me at 4 years old on Christmas day and I am wearing full cow girl regalia and my rifle and first cowboy boots.  I danced through the kid leather gun-metal gray and camel Italian cowboy boots that Wilkes Bashford, the luxury retailer of San Francisco gave me when I was his house model in the late 70’s. My favorite and oldest pair of cowboy boots were made by Austin-based Tony Lama.  The more rows of stitches, the better the quality of the boot,” and I love that the more worn they are, the better to mold to my feet.”

Rocking the Tony Lamas in a 1990 profile in San Francisco Magazine featuring her “Talking Head” media cabinet and “Zulu” tables.

2. Paloma Picasso Perfume. Melding perfectly with her body chemistry, it’s been her fragrance signature since its eighties debut. “Everyone loves the way it smells on me,” she says. “I love its rich, exotic, incense-like scent and that it holds its ‘color’ all day. Its namesake, daughter of Pablo Picasso and writer Francoise Gilot, is an artist ( jewelry design) in her own right, a fact not lost on Cheryl. She enjoys the aesthetic connection.

She chuckles at the long-ago memory of being followed by La Paloma, “her entourage a few paces behind” around the jewelry department of I.Magnin in San Francisco.  “When I looked at her directly once, she clearly did not want to communicate, just smell–probably did not want to break her spell.”

3. Contemporary Art of the African Diaspora. No surprise here.  It is evident in her own work, in her home, in her enthusiastic writing, in her exhaustive knowledge of the canon.   Given the breadth of the genre she’d be hard pressed to single out a favorite among the multitudes of diasporic artists, many of whom she feels “lucky” to count among her friends. She does share, thowever, a few artist friends with whom she’s had recent — and inspiring contact. Carrie Mae Weems is a “font of inspiration, constantly expanding beyond our concept of photography, her predominant  medium.” Cheryl, in awe, viewed the October rehearsal of  “The Venus Project,”  Weems’ collaboration with composer Phillip Miller and director Talvin Wilks. Shinique Smith’s first solo museum exhibit just closed at MOCA in Miami. “It was fantastic to see so much of her work together…My favorites are her site-specific wall murals. They dance with her calligraphic graffiti swirls that she paints with brushes and her body (the piece, Red Rose, is in Cheryl’s collection.)  Celebrated artists, the  Bronx-born Fred Wilson and Whitfield Lovell, “are the only couple in the world to have received the highly prestigious MacArthur “Genius” grant [Wilson in 1999, Lovell in 2007]  Their styles of making art are completely different–Fred is an intellectually-challenging conceptualist while Whitfield’s drawings and sculptures are grounded in our authentic collective history.” She is particularly proud of Fred, who represented the US at the 2003 Venice Biennale, and has been a friend “since his 1993 Artist In Residency at Capp Street Project in San Francisco where I was on the board.”

From left: Carrie Mae Weems, from The Kitchen Table Series, 1990  (the entire series was recently acquired by The Chicago Museum) Fred Wilson, Iago’s Mirror, 2009 (now on view in the Global Africa Project directly across from Cheryl’s mirror;) Shinique Smith, And The World Don’t Stop, 2009 ; Whitfield Lovell, After an Afternoon, 2008 (from Kith and Kin.)

4. Turquoise and Pearls. Others may crave bling but Cheryl enjoys a little opacity in her gems. Her birthstone, turquoise, with its spectral range of blue to green reminds her “of vacations in a tropical paradise or the native American jewelry in the Southwest. And pearls “are so classic, sexy, warm and modern,” complementing everything and available “in endless variety.  I love abundance strands à la Chanel or a Wilma Flintstone choker.  I am designing pearl charm bracelets, pins and necklaces with a friend in Shanghai so I can have even more!”

Detail from a charm bracelet she had made by a Native American artist in Santa Fé. She wore a single strand of black pearls on her wedding day.

5. Travel. She especially enjoys exploring Costa Rica, where she and Courtney married and her beloved Italy. “The food, the fashion, the furniture design…If there are past lives, Italy is where I [once] lived,” she believes, having felt “totally at home my first time in Rome. I took Italian lessons before I ever went there because I loved the musical sound of the language and my favorite Italian operas… I would live in Venice now if given the opportunity.”

Costa Rican footbridge and Venetian canals.

Courtney’s Fave Five:

1. Dahon Bikes. Her Speed D7 is “great for cruisin’ around the ‘hood or in the city.”

The quick-folding bike makes for “easy in and out of cafes, restaurants etc.”

3. Vibram FiveFingers. She rocked a Mary Jane version of the barefoot shoes all summer, but now she’s fiending for the camouflage soles.

The FiveFingers Sprint.

3. Geodesic domes. The tessellated structure created by Walther Bauersfeld and later tweaked and popularized by Buckminster Fuller holds a place in her heart. There’s one she and Cheryl enjoy time and again near their summer home in East Hampton, frequently taking friends like artist Nanette Carter to share in the experience. The Fuller piece Fly’s Eye Dome, is on the grounds of LongHouse, founded by Jack Lenor Larsen, one of Courtney’s “all-time favorite textile designers,” and is part of their permanent collection.  “It is just awesome,” she exclaims. “I love the volume, air and light. There is a sensational feeling when you are in a space that wraps around. I find it super liberating!”

Clockwise: Fly’s Eye Dome, photographed by © Ron Cogswell; Photo © Visions of America, Joe Sohm/Getty Images; Geodesic Dome Treehouse by Dustin Feider.

4. Chris Craft Boats. She prefers the wooden-hulled vintage models from the late 1940’s through the 1970’s. “Absolutely gorgeous!”

1954  20-foot Riviera. From ClassicBoat.com.

5. Paul Smith London. She loves the quirky spin on classic English tailoring.


Looks from Paul Smith Spring/Summer 2011.

The Global Africa Project
November 19, 2010

An absolute must-see exhibition, The Global Africa Project is on view at the Museum of Art and Design at Columbus Circle through May 2011.  I have anticipated this show for a while, as the works of my friends Xenobia Bailey and Cheryl R. Riley are included, but I was unprepared for the magnitude of the unprecedented installation of the design, art and craft of Africa and its diaspora.  As I entered the opening celebration, I was immediately struck by the opportunity to view up close, the Ndebele BMW painted by South African artist Esther Mahlangu which I’d only seen heretofore online.

Esther Mahlangu and her BMW 525i Art Car.

The very well-attended fête bustled with artists and patrons exploring the expansive three-floor installation of work  from over fifty artists including Chakaia Booker, Stephen Burks, Nick Cave, Meshac Gaba, Lyle Ashton Harris, Odili Donald Odita, Duro Olowu, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Ike Ude, Kehinde Wiley and MacArthur Fellow, Fred Wilson. Read the complete list of participating artists.

Kudos to co-curators Lowery Stokes Sims, Charles Bronfman, MAD’s International Curator, and Leslie King-Hammond, Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art)  Definitely pick up a copy of the catalogue for this show and support this revitalized institution by becoming a member.

Satch Hoyt, “Rimology,” 2009. Chrome wheel rims with soundscape.  Satch.

Black Coffee: Jacques van der Watt and Danica Lepen, “Mercedes Benz South Africa Award Installation,” 2009.  Polyspandex robe, wood on elongated mannequins.

iona rozeal brown, “my e.a.s.y. – for Octavia” (after Kitagawa UtaMaro’s ‘The Young Daughter of a Townsman and Her Lover with Shamisen Beside’ and ‘The Lovers’ from Utamukura’s ‘The Poem of the Pillow) 2009. Acrylic, pen on wood panel.

Xenobia Bailey and her “Zulu Queen Harvest Coat,” 1991, Acrylic, cotton 4-ply yarn, glass beads, mirrors, buttons; single-stitch crocheted.

Sheila Bridges, “Harlem Toile de Jouy,” 2010, Wallpaper, glassware, plates.

Left, Algernon Miller in collaboration with Sanaa Gateja and the Kwetu Afrika Womens Association Angels – KAWAA,  detail from “Change 2010,” Beads fabricated from recycled Barack Obama presidential campaign literature. Right, Victor Harris, Big Chief of the Fi Yi Yi Mardi Gras Indian tribe, “Spirit of Fi Yi Yi,” 2010, Cardboard, cloth, feathers, beads, sequins.

Artist/curator Derrick Adams before a Lyle Ashton Harris piece.

Clockwise: Cheryl R. Riley, “Dogon Chair 1,” 1997, Poplar, amber, beads, brass tacks, copper pipes, powder, pennies, wire; Former 6-year member of the board, Cheryl was instrumental in planning the relocation of the former American Craft Museum from their Lincoln Center digs to the modern space on Columbus Circle and renaming it The Museum of Art and Design; Detail from Cheryl’s remarkable “Elevation Mirror I: Arizona/New Mexico, “2000, Honduran mahogany, beveled mirror, brass tacks, found and made objects.

The Trove: Barney Bishop
September 23, 2010

Holding court on West Broadway.

The alliteratively named Barney Bishop was graced with a name befitting his dapper bearing. When we met for coffee recently at Soho’s Ground Support, he sported cufflinks in his white herringbone, French-cuff shirt and a silk pocket square in the breast pocket of his striped linen sport coat.  Relaxing the look a bit were dark denims and a crepe soled loafer.  He’d just wrapped up a semester in the Master’s program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at NYU and actually had time to sit and chat a while.  As we sat outside, several well-dressed confrères passed by, cigars in tow, asking Barney if he’d be heading to nearby “smoker’s sanctuary,” OK Cigars, where he’s been known to partake of a stogie or two.

When the fragrance connoisseur asked what I was wearing, I sheepishly confided that though I’d intended to dazzle with a sophisticated scent that had long since faded, his perceptive nose was picking up on my Whole Foods lavender hand sanitizer.  Thus began our convo about one of his great passions.  As far back as he can remember, he would steal away to his parent’s bedroom to inhale the aromas wafting from his father’s dresser. His dad would purchase fragrance sets only to get the practical, cooling, scented powders; the bottles of Aramis, Tuscany and so on would go unused, but would trigger a nascent love in his first-born.

In 1994 while working at Saks Fifth Avenue, Jean Paul Gaultier made an in store appearance promoting his new perfume and I remember getting a whiff of it and thinking to myself, this is amazing…what interesting notes. Although it was for women, I wondered why I couldn’t find anything as interesting for men. From that point I was addicted to the power of fragrance.

– From the December 2007 launch of Barney’s blog, Fragrant Moments.

The genesis of the blog is in the exchanges on fragrance between the PR professional and his kindred tonsorial and sartorial spirit, Brian Boye, the Fashion and Grooming Director of Men’s Health. Barney was feeling a creative void and found that “jotting down notes on fragrance” was satisfying.  “It is a labor of love” that is growing– a perfumer even queried him about creating a scent. “Maybe in time,” Barney says.  For now, he is “really having fun with the journey. Though August Bishop was a shared experience and I cherish it, this is mine.”

I met Barney eons ago when his Brooklyn College classmate, the enterprising Dexter Wimberly pulled him in on a freelance assignment getting the word out about Detroit-based designer Maurice Malone. I was working up a fashion story on African-American designers for Essence and I was impressed with the professionalism of the young men.  I had no idea that Barney juggled jobs at Saks Fifth Avenue and UPS and Dexter was a party-promoting, underground rapper.  Dexter’s growing music contacts led him to focus on PR/Marketing full-time and he approached Barney with the idea to create a PR agency.  Barney naively asked, “What’s that?”  The reply?  “What we’ve been doing.”  So in 1995, they launched August Bishop, LLC, the lofty name a combination of Dexter’s birth month and Barney’s surname.  Though he quit the Saks gig, Barney, embracing “working class stability,” continued his UPS job at night.

The young agency got their “big break” in 1998 snagging The Coca Cola Company as a client, which gave them business credibility to land Adidas in 2000. At the time the 3-stripes needed to move “outside the shadow of the [iconic] shell toe sneaker,” the sports fanatic recalls. “We blew the project out of the water.  We over delivered what they expected,” garnering press from not only the usual suspects, like The Source and XXL, but from such publications as ID and One Magazine.  “We did 10 or 11 launches for them, major.” Then Virgin Mobile USA came knocking in 2002 with the pay-as-you-go concept.  “It was not considered sexy,” connoted bad credit, but “we spun the story of [Richard] Branson’s maverick approach, did the consumer launch and within 9 months the program attracted 1/2 million new subscribers.” 2005 brought the “very important client,” L’Oréal as well as their final year of business.  The agency had “a great run,” ten years, but the economy changed things and there were cash flow issues, even with big-name clients. The gents grew “tired of juggling, robbing Peter to pay Paul” and decided to “keep it moving.”


During the August Bishop heyday: Barney Bishop and Dexter Wimberly.

The post-August Bishop years have been wrought with love, fraught with loss and filled with tremendous personal growth.  Robert Bishop, the steadfast 37-year employee of Kingsbrook Jewish Hospital known affectionately as “Pops,” instilled a sense of propriety in his sons, Barney and Lamont.  The sportsman of Bajan legend (in basketball and “one the best wing halves in the game” of football) has been absolute hero to his boys, “communicating many things–values, responsibility…tying ties, grooming.”  Lamont’s doctoral thesis in psychology was on the “influence of authority on Black males. He was getting his PhD because of his experience with my Dad.”

Robert Bishop, athletic hero to Barbados; life hero to his sons. When asked about the secret to his 44-year marriage to the beautiful Eula, he says, “we just work together.”

The family was shattered in May of last year when doctoral candidate and new father, Lamont suddenly and inexplicably passed away. “It rocked us. It was so unexpected,” Barney recounts.  It is in the education advocate Lamont’s memory that Barney has begun graduate school.  “Lamont was super smart–dean’s list all through college.  He could wear the skin of the homeboy and turn on the intellect when he needed to.”

Sorrow turned to joy when a few months later, Barney’s girlfriend of eight years, Eliana Ramos, in a gutsy move, topped their “meet cute” (actually on their second meeting when they each went in to plant a hello kiss on the cheek, their lips met) with an “engaged cuter.”  Eli told her man that she was taking him on a surprise trip and that he should bring something nice to wear.  “I’m particular about my clothes, so I set out a few things for her to choose,” the appropriate garments for the occasion.  At some point in flight, Eliana told Barney to close his eyes; she had a surprise for him.  When he opened them, there were “rings in front of me. I instantly matured.”  “I want to marry you,” she said. “I was speechless,” he remembers. “You’re making me nervous, say something,” she said. “Yes, I’ll marry you, but I need to call my pops for his blessing,” he responded.

When they landed, in Maui, no less, Barney called home.  “Eliana proposed and wants to get married this weekend.”  His dad replied, “you know I’d like to see this but you completely have my blessing.  She’s great!.”  She’d arranged everything in advance so they married at sunset, “no stress, on the beach.”

Of his lovely bride, Barney says “I had never seen her look more beautiful!” Read Eliana’s account on her fantastic blog, A Chica Bakes.

After a couple of hours it became clear that Barney enjoys communion– with family, with the fellas, with his love; that the experience of food, drink, sport, even fragrance is best enjoyed shared.  Check his trove and you too will see…

1. Eliana’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies. “They are so rich…She uses dark chocolate off the bar,” he says of his wife’s variant on the humble chocolate chip. “She makes the batter one day, bakes another. The batter develops as it rests…silky, delicious.”


Chocolate Chunk Cookies, © A Chica Bakes.

2. Couch/Quiche Sundays. The Bishop’s enjoy bistro chic from the comfort of home on Sundays when Eliana whips up a mean quiche, a little salad and mimosas to wash it all down. “We just veg out on the couch and watch the Food Network until it’s time to fight over who’s going to make dinner,” he laughs. Joining them in the Sunday sofa chill is their long-haired, miniature dachshund, Kingston.


BB chills with the incredibly photogenic Kingston.

3. Fragrance. With a highly developed and discerning sense of olfaction, Barney  has been a passionate collector of fragrances since childhood. Everyone who knows him, knows this. Whilst in Paris in 2008 for Eliana’s marathon run, Barney made his way to highly regarded French perfumer, Frédéric Malle to indulge in their scent chambers–“nothing to interrupt the scent experience.” He delighted in the moment as a non-French-speaking, African-American, het man “in this frou-frou place” where “fragrance became the bridge to communication.” When in broken English the shop girl asked him what he was drawn to, his sophisticated response made her “erupt in a smile” and bring out a fragrance for him to sample.  He sniffed and asked if it contained Cumin.  She laughed.  Affirmative. “We bonded,” he says, “dialogued about it,” as best they could.  Before he realized that last summer’s in-flight surprise was a marriage proposal, Barney, true fragrance aficionado, thought that upon opening his closed eyes he’d be presented with a bottle of Musc Ravageur from Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle.

Though he counts 35-40 fragrances in his personal collection, one that consistently tops his list is Rose 31 from Le Labo.

4. Dad’s Steamed Kingfish.  What makes it so good? “It’s just the way he seasons it…plus we get to sit and eat together and rap about whatever is on our minds while throwing back a brew.”


Bishop,
père is skilled not only in sports, but in the Bajan art of steaming fish.

5. Killian’s Irish Red. Though he may have had “an occasional Heineken at a lime, West Indian talk for party,” Barney once “hated beer.”  That changed on St. Patrick’s Day 2009 when he had drinks at an East side bar featuring specials on Killian’s Irish Red lager and Johnnie Walker: “the hops and barley of Killian’s offered a depth and complexity that just grabbed me. I drank three more along with shots of Johnnie and have never looked back,” he says with winking smile.
Slow roasting the barley to a rich, caramelized malt lends Killian’s its distinctive ruddy hue and creamy finish.

6. Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken. “There’s just so much damn flavor I can’t even describe it, but I have it every time I go there.”  And he knows good chicken– his southern-born mama can fry the yardbird too.”


“Northern Fried Chicken” from Blue Ribbon Brasserie. Photo, Robyn Lee.

7. Lamont’s Bottle of Penhaligon’s Lp No.9. The popular 1999 Penhaligon’s fragrance for men was one that Barney had “outgrown” and given to his brilliant, beloved younger brother who seemed to fancy it.  The well-loved bottle resided on Lamont’s dresser and provided solace and connection when Barney faced the unthinkable– his brother’s sudden passing.  He shares the story on his blog, Fragrant Moments.

A cherished, fragrant memento.

8. Family. “Family is central to who I am.”  When Robert of St. Michael, Barbados and Eula of Pantego, NC wed, they set the foundation for an extremely close nuclear bond. “We, us four, were mad tight.” Lamont’s death was so unexpected, “it rocked us,” after a life filled with love, respect and no major family riffs.  And as the family cherishes Lamont’s memory, they adore his look-a-like son Aidan and mom Aquila Lovell and welcome Eli, the new Mrs. Bishop.


The “Four Musketeers:” Lamont, Barney, Mom and Dad Bishop in a treasured family portrait.

9. Have a Little Faith. Regardless of Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie fame, sports fan Barney knew him as an ESPN journalist.  He came across Albom’s poignant tale juxtaposing the lives of two men of differing faiths and races, while searching for an in-flight read at an airport bookseller.
Lovingly rendered in Albom’s hands, the faith journeys of affluent Philadelphia’s Rabbi Albert Lewis and inner-city Detroit’s Pastor Henry Covington provide inspiration.

10. Latin Jazz. He hit upon some Latin rhythms while scrolling his tuner in search of WBGO many years ago.  He began to listen “with pen and paper close by” to make note of the tunes which intrigued him and would make the trek to HMV or Tower Records to needle drop at their listening stations.

With their remarkable mimicry of instrumental sounds, Cuban a capella group, ‘Vocal Sampling,’ “blows my mind,” Barney enthuses.  Their version of Afro-Cuban classic,'(Castellano) Que Bueno Baila Usted’ is his favorite in their repertoire.

The Trove: Nnenna Ogwo
September 16, 2010

Radiant and surrounded by fragrant rosemary and blossoming chives.

Though the brilliant concert pianist Nnenna Ogwo recently completed her doctoral studies in Musical Arts at SUNY Stony Brook, she is “going ‘back to school’ in such a delightful way,” losing herself in the pages of Larousse Gastronomique. “I like to fancy myself a cook of sorts.” I can vouch for her intensely fruity mixed berry pie–scrumptious!  The gracious host enjoys sharing good food and libation with friends. We met a couple of years ago over glasses of wine with friends Sonya and Susie at their ultra femme shop, Winkworth. When Nnenna spoke of her upcoming recital at the venerable Steinway Hall I promised to attend. (She was kind enough, soon after, to allow me to use her recording of a Brahms’ sonata on my costume design reel.) Now I am first to admit my knowledge of classical music is limited, but I was mind-blown by her immense talent, a talent nurtured carefully with intensive training.

Born to a Jamaican mother and Nigerian father, Nnenna was raised just outside of Washington, DC (we’ve discovered that our mothers live within blocks of each other.) She has played piano since the age of six. A student of Washington’s elite prep school, Holton-Arms, she studied also at the Peabody Conservatory Preparatory of Johns Hopkins University, graduating with honors in piano and composition.  She received a baccalaureate degree in Music for her undergraduate studies at the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory, the oldest music conservatory in the United States. As a Fulbright scholar, she undertook graduate study at Hungary’s most celebrated conservatory, Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary and returned to the states in 1995.

From her bio:

Ms. Ogwo currently serves on the piano faculty at Third Street Music School in Manhattan. A gifted teacher, she also maintains a private studio in New York City and has successfully prepared students for admission to conservatory.  She regularly works with composers, performing and premiering their work in order to help ensure the vitality of contemporary music. She is the founder of Working Projects, a works-in-progress venue for artists and musicians as well as the City Chamber Music Collective (formerly the Brooklyn Chamber Players), a group of international musicians committed to bringing exceptional chamber music to diverse audiences in non-traditional venues.

Inspired by her childhood photograph, Nnenna has dubbed her classical music label the gratifyingly unexpected Cantankerous Afro and has recently released Issue One, solo piano music composed by Bach-Siloti, Beethoven, Debussy, Scriabin and Piazzolla.  Visit her relaunched website, Nnenna.net to join her mailing list, enjoy her listening library, and purchase her virtuosic music.

The ‘fro that launched a label.

Nnenna speaks with admiration of her mom, Carmen Hague, who as a single parent raised her and her brother Charles, with grace and strength. The women graciously welcomed me into the family home for dinner recently. The soft-spoken Ms. Carmen’s unlined skin suggests a woman much younger, only her silvery corona of glorious hair hints that she could be the mother of a thirty-something. Both women swear by octogenarian esthetician (and “lovely pianist in her own right”) Simone France, whose “own ageless face is a testament to her work. She was quite the legend in the day and now only works by referral. After a couple of hours with her, you emerge with the perfect glowing skin you were born with.”  Though there is a luxury skin care line, that bears her name, the true Simone France experience, Nnenna asserts, is with the woman herself. Ms. Carmen makes the trek to New York for her “exquisite” facials. (to schedule a consultation, dial 212-371-6458)

As her mom busily watered her charmingly sprawling garden,  Nnenna and I enjoyed alfresco drinks, chatted and watched the cats devour their manna from kitty heaven, a fresh piece of fish. When in conversation, the feline fancier, in cat-like gesture, takes intermittent pauses to moisten her lips with a delicate sliver of tongue.

We spoke of things from comportment and dignified bearing in Teenie Harris’ photos to the frenzied rush of sports.  “I hate the gym,” she says, “but I’m all in for playing sports.”  You name it, she’s been on the team: basketball, soccer, volleyball, track, field hockey, lacrosse (men’s and women’s), diving, ice skating, even ultimate frisbee. Ballet and gymnastics figured seriously in her childhood until she had to narrow her commitment. “I’d always get to this point where the coach/teacher would say, ‘she could be really good.  I want her to go train at fill-in-the-blank’ and it would be far away, not financially viable and crazy and I didn’t want to stop playing the piano to do those things, you know?”

Though she bemoans the fact that she didn’t inherit the long, tapering fingers of her mother’s side of the family, she did get the broad, expansive hands of her father, which give her reach pianoforte perfection and, perhaps, great grip on a ball.

How could Brooklyn not forgive her recent defection to Harlem?  She still shows the BK mad love.  She’s a loyalist to its small businesses as evidenced by her trove.

1. My Mother’s Garden. “It’s an amazing spectacle that changes every single day.  I love how disorganized it is and love how wild and unruly it is. I love eating out of the garden, I love the fact that we have to fight the birds to get to the raspberries and beat out the squirrels to the peaches.   I love having an excuse to dig in the dirt with my bare hands…watching the cycles of the blooming plants and arguing with my mother over every little thing in her wild green space which I insist that she loves more than me.”

Fuschia, magenta and pink proliferate in Ms. Carmen’s garden.

2. Football. Before there was piano, there was football.  “My dad taught me to hate the Cowboys’ silver and blue and love DC’s burgundy and gold by the time I was three years old.” At her very first game she “saw the Eagles get shut out 20 – zip…I wanted to be the first woman to play in the NFL.” Fanaticism set early on, a fortuitous friendship with the daughter of team physician, Doc Collins, would fuel the love. Through the Collins’ she attended “a ton of great games at the old RFK stadium: playoffs against Dallas, the Giants, Atlanta.” During the down years, she “settled for the fact that being a football fan hurt sometimes. I always thought firing [Coach Marty] Schottenheimer was a big mistake — but you know how fans are, tons of opinions — which is why we play Fantasy Football.”  note: our initial sit-down for this post was pre-empted by the FF draft.

The would-be gridiron great loves the team, but refrains from using the politically incorrect team title.

3. Winkworth. She relies on the purveyor of fine Ladies’ Goods in her former Red Hook neighborhood for girly staples. Her newest favorite, The Love Balm from the Costa Rican retreat, Osa Clandestina is an organic “heavenly scented concoction of beeswax, coconut oil and vitamin E that does incredible things for skin and hair.”   Of her Lisa B. slingback, peep-toe espadrilles, she exclaims “they feel like bedroom slippers!  They are so comfortable and they are so sexy that people stare at my legs when I wear them.” She adds modestly, “trust me, it’s the shoes.”

Lisa B. eco-friendly, buckle espadrilles.

 4.  Pearl necklace. “Made for me as a birthday gift by Allyson Smith— she knows it’s my birthstone and that I love to wear pearls–I am continually amazed by how her painter’s eye affects her jewelry design.”

Freshwater pearls on 14kt gold.

5. HTC  HD2. “I’m a technophobe whose Palm pilot finally died and I had to make the leap into the 21st century.  The HD2 does it in style and with the most ginormous screen ever.  Every day I am stunned by what it does.”

HTC’s HD2 is available through T-Mobile.

6.  “Teenie” Harris Photographs. “Years ago I had the opportunity to buy a couple of prints by Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris, aka ‘One Shot’ Harris.  This incredible African-American photographer never thought of himself as a serious artist but his unending rolls of beautifully shot film chronicled black American life in Pittsburgh.  After finally investing in framing his work and hanging them in my new apartment, I am blown away by them every morning when I walk into my living room.” The Carnegie Museum of Art purchased the archive of 80,000 negatives of the late photographer’s work in 2001.  Click the link to learn more about the artist and Documenting Our Past: The Teenie Harris Archive Project.

One of Nnenna’s two treasured “One-Shot” Harris photographs.

7. Cupcakes. “Those who know me well, know that I have been on a quest for the perfect cupcake in NYC for quite a while.  I have two current favorites.  For simple delicious homemade goodies like the kind mom made for your birthday, try Sugar Sweet Sunshine downtown…for something more of a gourmet confection, a bit of heavenly light perfection, ChikaLicious is rocking my world.  I’m not mad at their shortbread either….”

Old-fashioned goodness from Sugar Sweet Sunshine.

8. Little Luna. “Entranced by the goodies” in the jam-packed curiosity shop in the surprisingly quiet shadow of the BQE, Nnenna has “spent many an afternoon gabbing about this, that and the other,” with owner Dee. “I wouldn’t trade those hours for anything.”


A favorite Little Luna find is this vintage GE beauty.

9. Freebird Books and Goods. Freebird brought me back to reading.  Something that I had seriously stopped doing if it wasn’t related to grad school. It became my home away from home for a while and I miss it still even though I still attend monthly Post-Apocalyptic book club meetings there.”  Her favorite store purchase is a “huge coffee table book called the NYC Museum of Complaint,” filled with the various grievance letters written to city mayors over the years.  “It is a wonderful catalogue of the people and personalities and neuroses that make this city what it is.”

A young patron of Freebird Books and Goods.  “Like” them on Facebook.

10. Nina: Nina Simone. In the 1969 documentary short “Nina Simone talks about her music making in terms of ‘trying to wake people up and make people feel something.’  I actually listen to and love a lot of different kinds of music and a lot of different artists.  The one thing they have in common is that they make the musical experience a visceral one.  If and when you do that, I think you have done something truly worthwhile”

Peter Rodis’ 26-minute look at the legendary artist.

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.