Monday, January 24, 2011

Versailles Models Remembered

Back in the day, like every young "fashionista", living for everything fashionable, we talked endlessly about fashion designers, models, photographers and illustrators, from our lofty perch at the WWD art department. With a front seat to everything new and cultural on the horizon, we were consumed with the impending showdown at Versailles...where five young fashion forward designers and their coterie of black models were throwing down the gauntlet to French counterparts, in November of 1973. The brainchild of Eleanor Lambert, the event changed the dynamics of the fashion world, by casting the American designers as creators of youthful style and energy. The distinguishing crux of this turning axis was the inimitable verve of the sashaying young black beauties, that re-calibrated that moment, in fashion, into what the future of beauty and style would become. Billie Blair, Alva Chinn, Pat Cleveland, Norma Jean Darden, Barbara Jackson, China Machado, Bethann Hardison, Charlene Dash, Ramona Saunders, Jennifer Brice and Amina Warmsuma - wearing Stephen Burrows, Oscar De La Renta, Halston, Anne Klein (Donna Karan was her assistant then) and Bill Blass - waltzed down that runway and into fashion history. Knowing they had won the contest between the American and French design houses, but unaware of how much they had truly recast the nature of the business, they soon found themselves and others on every runway and fashion magazine in the world, bringing cultural diversity and vibrancy to life, everywhere.

The historic significance of that moment was celebrated in high style at the Metropolitan Museum, through the tireless efforts of Donna Williams, our hostess and Chief Audience Development Officer, along with Thomas Campbell and Harold Koda. The light filled setting for the luncheon in the Temple of Dendur brought together style setters, designers, writers, journalists, celebrities and artists who shared an appreciation for these beautiful pioneers and what they had done. The American spirit was alive in the room, and reminds me of what we are capable of doing when the odds are against us. In a time when women of color were not considered among the beauty standards in fashion, the unexpected act of showcasing them as such, jolted the mind and filled the senses of the unsuspecting audience. America's ability to surprise the world with the new and different is a national strength that cannot be underestimated and is a boundless source of inspiration for others. As Oscar De La Renta remembered of that moment, "We were one that day." And as ONE, our ability to win is increased.

Donna Karan, Iman, Liya Kebede, Veronica Webb, Renauld White, Jason Wu, Ruben and Isabel Toledo, Sam Fine, Lynn Whitfield, Kathryn Chenault, Cicely Tyson, Veronica Webb, Audrey Smaltz and Soledad O’Brian were among the celebrants.

ABC Evening News feature on event.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What makes a person memorable?

What makes a person memorable? Is it the way they look? Or the way they sound? Is it what they say or don't say? Or is it what they have or don't have? Is it what they make you do or don't do? Or is it how they make you feel? What is it that causes us to hold onto the memory of those that leave us for a period of time or for good? We need to ask ourselves these questions because we will be left to the memory of others someday, and there will be no chance to prepare, alter or fix how that memory will be held.

From the moment we are born we begin creating the memory of who we are. That essence reaches out to the world, fashioned on our dreams and realities. Throughout life, others will attach their dreams to your reality, and give you the responsibility, in some cases, if those dreams do or do not materialize. The memory we leave behind is often based on how others perceive our role in advancing or inhibiting their lives. While we are alive, we have the ability to form our residual memory, for better or for worse. However, the moment we transition, that memory becomes the province of others, who will select the elements to illuminate. How we make someone feel is what will percolate to the top, and hopefully, we made them feel good.

The sad and unrelenting transition of our vibrant friend, Bill Freeman, on January 15th, as we flew in from Rio, hit us like dense turbulence from above, as we made our way back into our lives here. Left only are the memories of how he made us feel. How that warm smile broke out across his face whenever he saw us. How he warmly and respectfully introduced us to many people who are our dearest friends today. How he shared of himself, with a generosity reserved for kings. How his bountiful spirit was infectious, and one took up the cause of helping others just by being around him. Bill was on everyone's invitation list, not because he knew so many people, but for his gift of bringing them together. I remember running into him at a fundraiser, where I didn't know a single person, and through his many introductions, I left feeling like it was the best party ever. Many of us know the act of adjusting our plans to be available for one of Bills intimate dinners, for fifty of his dear friends, on the Vineyard. He could be counted on to be at weddings, christenings, birthday parties, openings and closings. He was there to give healing encouragement at one's bedside and to hold your hand through difficult times. He would be front and center, near or far, to honor a friend who had transitioned before him. He supported young and old alike, and could be counted on to be there if needed. These are the memories that he has left so many of us...and many of us do not know where we will turn without him.

Like so many of us, he could be faulted with human foibles....but those are not the things to remember about him, because that would say more about us than him. To pick apart the "rights and wrongs" of a person's life, is a favorite sport, when a person leaves us and are no longer there to protect, form and create their memory. We can, in our highest selves, embrace the best of the memories we have of others, or we can devolve into the temporal sport of debasement...the choice lies within us. One's memory lies in our hands once they have passed on, a role and responsibility we cannot take lightly. What makes a person memorable is what we chose to remember...and what we will be remembered for, as well.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Taking time, gives time

Huddled in the shade of the vine covered entrance to the restaurant, named Ramma, along with a long line of customers, patiently waiting to pay for the health conscious fresh food, we just had for lunch, I fumed with irritation about how slow every transaction in the steamy metropolis of Salvador, Bahia, seemed to take. The lovely preparation of diverse offerings, that I had relished only moments ago, had faded with the onset of my New York impatience. Calmly listening to my piqued rumblings was my luncheon companion, Carson Phillips, who had just engineered the signing of a contract, to have my work represented in Brazil by the famous Paulo Darze Galerie. A followup meeting the next morning with the noted David Bastos architectural firm, required a presentation in Portuguese be prepared in the waning hours of the day.

My hubris in thinking I had no time to waste in a line, where the single smiling cashier, engaged in polite conversation with each customer before me, should have faded in the quiet calm that existed all around me. I remember thinking that Salvador would be a better place if its residents were more conscious of others' time, if they would cut some of the red tape and layered processing and conformed to a more American model of efficacy. In my mind, a New York minute would not hurt the city one bit.

That was until I got to where my CD had to be assembled and printed and found that none of the files could be opened because of an incompatibility in software. After many tries, including running back home to retrieve my own computer and re-formatting every image three different times, we finally found a solution. After struggling with the issue for over three hours, the calm leisurely attitude, I had complained about earlier, turned out to be a cultural Godsend on that late hot summer afternoon. The tech guy, never grew impatient or bothered by the time it took to make it work. As the sun disappeared and the evening lights and sounds came alive, it made me realize something very important....patience is a grace you give others that makes your own life easier. My laments about how long things took, has been replaced with an appreciation of how the Brazilians spend time with friends, neighbors and passersby, sharing moments of joy that creates a sense of community and continuity with all.

We have had many opportunities to see the beauty of life in Salvador this trip. Now we are in Rio visiting friends. Below are a few photos of our time in Brazil.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sparkling possibilities

As the crescendo of sparkling lights exploded and lit the black sky, in the warm crest of the night in Salvador, Bahia...and then dissolved into the breaking waves below...the struggles of 2010 melted away in the euphoria of marking the end of one period of time and the beginning of a new one. The sudden bursts of lights and its climax caused me to reflect on the challenges that reared up suddenly and consumed so many in the previous year. It seemed as soon as one fire was extinguished another flared up. In our day-to-day lives we carry on from one project to the next, filling time, space and emotions with efforts that carry us on in an unending stream of solutions, implementations and results. Yet, just as one ends another begins and the sense of finality eludes us in these ever evolving pursuits.

However, the New Year's Eve celebration allows for the one moment in time, each year, where even previously started works take on an new air of opportunity. A freshness of purpose and perspective fills even these lingering projects with a burgeoning sense of new possibilities. The diet and exercise plan that had fallen on less-disciplined times is taken up with a new commitment, the career that seemed to sputter is re-engaged, romances that may have slipped into resignation can be ignited and our systems and processes can take on new reforms. Man, woman, businesses and governments alike, mark the change in time in a way that daily leaves of times are not afforded. The accepted end of one phase for the potential of a next phase fills us at this time of year, providing hope that may have gotten lost along the way.

The New Year's celebration is less about fulfilling the dreams of others, as the preceding Christmas holiday seems to be and more about the fulfillment of one's own dreams. We are reawakened around what can BE for us...with each jolt of cascading light that fill our consciousness, we are reminded to reach for the spiraling and lofty ambitions dreams are made of.

Taking on this moment, I look forward to the fulfillment of the person I was sent to this earth to be...a completely gratified, satisfied and grateful spirit.