Sunday, March 1, 2015
Several newspaper articles this weekend struck a chord with me.
In the New York Times magazine, David Amsden wrote about New Orleans-born John Cummings, a white 77-year-old “trial lawyer who has helped win more than $5 billion in class-action settlements and a real estate magnate whose holdings have multiplied his wealth many times over.” Cummings bought the Whitney Plantation, located 35 miles west of New Orleans, and has spent more than $8 million of his own money renovating it for the past 15 years. Instead of recreating the old property as an antebellum beauty spot for weddings and special events, Cummings dug into the plantation’s ugly past in order to turn it into America’s first slavery museum. The Times says “the results are both educational and visceral,” immediately bringing to my mind Holocaust museums, which we do have here in the U.S. In fact, the story quotes Columbia University historian Eric Foner — whose class I took in the 1980s — on that very topic. As he told Amsden:
“It’s something I bring up all the time in my lectures … If the Germans built a museum dedicated to American slavery before one about their own Holocaust, you’d think they were trying to hide something. As Americans, we haven’t yet figured out how to come to terms with slavery. To some, it’s ancient history. To others, it’s history that isn’t quite history.”
The plantation was originally built by the Haydel family, German immigrants who ran the property from 1752 to 1867. Amsden wrote:
“In 1835, a biracial child named Victor was born on the grounds of the Whitney, the son of a slave named Anna and Antoine Haydel, the brother of Marie Azelie Haydel, the slaveholder who ran the plantation at the time. One hundred and seventy-nine years later, a group of both the black and white descendants of the Haydels made their way to the Whitney’s opening in December. Many were meeting for the first time, and the sight of them embracing and marveling at the similarities in their appearances was as powerful as any memorial on the plantation.”
Cummings is still finishing up a memorial to victims of the German Coast Uprising, which Amsden calls “an event rarely mentioned in American history books.” That’s for sure. This was the first time I read about a punishment that you’d normally associate with the Spartacus-led slave uprising of ancient Roman times. Here is the shocking description:
“In January 1811, at least 125 slaves walked off their plantations and, dressed in makeshift military garb, began marching in revolt along River Road toward New Orleans. (The area was then called the German Coast for the high number of German immigrants, like the Haydels.) The slaves were suppressed by militias after two days, with about 95 killed, some during fighting and some after the show trials that followed. As a warning to other slaves, dozens were decapitated, their heads placed on spikes along River Road and in what is now Jackson Square in the French Quarter.”
Cummings has done a great thing by exposing this. Click here to read the whole story (subscription required).
A hundred and ten years after the German Coast Uprising and almost 60 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, another horror took place. This one was also left out of my childhood history books even though it was one of the deadliest incidents of racial violence in U.S. history: the Tulsa, Okla., race riot of 1921. After a young black man was accused of raping a young white woman, violence broke out, resulting in over 100 deaths and the well-off African-American Greenwood section of Tulsa being burnt to the ground. This came up in Mara Gay’s Wall Street Journal story about 100-year-old Olivia J. Hooker, a retired Fordham University psychology professor who is being honored by the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1945, she was the first black woman to enlist in the Coast Guard. Dr. Hooker was six at the time of what she calls “The Catastrophe” and remembers men with torches coming into her family’s backyard and setting fire to doll clothes hung out to dry before they ransacked the house. “I still don’t know why they bothered to burn up a little girl’s doll clothes, but they did,” Dr. Hooker said.
Click here to read Dr. Hooker’s story.
On a happier note, Professor Morris Dickstein has a new memoir out called Why Not Say What Happened. (That title also applies to the historical events mentioned above, no?) It was reviewed by both the New York Times Sunday Book Review and the Wall Street Journal, which is no mean feat these days. The memoir covers Morris’s undergraduate years at Columbia University, as well as his experiences there as a professor between 1966 and 1971, an era that saw the famous 1968 student protests against the Vietnam War. I know Morris because of his decades of service as a trustee of the Spectator, Columbia’s undergraduate news organization. When I took over as chairman of Spec’s board of trustees in 2008, Morris was ready to retire, but he stuck it out for six extra years as the organization dealt with the fallout from the recession and tremendous changes in the news industry. I’m so thankful that he stayed! Morris is truly a pleasure to work with. Click the image below to buy his book on Amazon!
Friday, February 27, 2015
Actor Leonard Nimoy — best known for playing ultra-logical Vulcan Mr. Spock in the Star Trek television show and movies — died today of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at age 83.
Nimoy was much more than Spock, of course. He was a Renaissance man who wrote books; directed television shows and movies; spoofed himself on the Simpsons; painted; and pursued photography. But he embraced his identification with his most famous character, and regularly ended his tweets with “LLAP,” the abbreviation for “Live Long and Prosper,” the Vulcan blessing that accompanied Spock’s iconic salute.
When I introduced my hand-gesture emoji earring designs in April 2013, I didn’t stick to official emojis like the peace sign and the okay sign. From the start, I wanted to do emojis that should have existed but didn’t. The first “we need it but we don’t have it” emoji I did was the middle finger. That was a no-brainer. The next month, I did three more “missing” emojis: the American Sign Language “I love you”; the shaka “hang loose” sign; and the Vulcan “Live Long and Prosper” salute.
That was as obvious to me as the middle finger, though very much its opposite in meaning. In fact, Esquire calls the Vulcan salute “the most optimistic gesture of the 20th century.” Esquire has all kinds of good content on Nimoy. So far my favorite is his “What I’ve Learned” interview from May 2013. I’ve already forwarded that to several people for the uplifting advice in the first item, stemming from a conversation Nimoy had with then-Senator John F. Kennedy when Nimoy was driving a cab and struggling to make it as an actor.
“Just keep in mind,” the future president said, “there’s always room for one more good one.”
Speaking of presidential types, Barack Obama has released a statement praising Nimoy in which he notes, “I loved Spock.” You can read his whole statement here. However, my favorite tribute to Nimoy so far was tweeted by NASA.
I got choked up at the thought of some little kids choosing their future career based on the same show that made me want to own a lot of fuzzy little animals. Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy: bold forces for good!
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Madonna took a bad fall while performing “Living for Love” at the Brit Awards in London last night. Apparently, an Armani cape that was supposed to open when tugged by a dancer didn’t, so Madonna was yanked down several stairs by her neck.
The lyrics of “Living for Love” include:
“Took me to heaven and let me fall down
Now that it’s over
I’m gonna carry on
Lifted me up, and watched me stumble
After the heartache, I’m gonna carry on”
And that’s what she did. Madonna was up within seconds and continued her performance to the end. She’s a true professional, like my almost-husband Paul McCartney who got banged up in 2005 after falling several feet through a hole in the stage from which a piano was supposed to rise. He pulled himself together, made a funny comment about it and finished his show. I saw him at Madison Square Garden a couple of weeks later and, as I recall, he joked about it, saying something like, “You know what you’re thinking as you fall through a hole in the stage? ‘How deep is this hole?!'” A reasonable question, I’d say.
I’ve been a Madonna fan since the day her first album came out and, as I’ve said many a time, skipped my high-school prom to go to a Madonna concert at Radio City Music Hall. I’ve never missed her on tour since. You can see all my past Madonna-mentioning posts here, including a great program from a 1987 AIDS fundraiser concert.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Damn! Where was Moonstruck-era Cher when I needed her on Oscar night? For that matter, where was Rihanna? Bad Gal RiRi’s puffy, pink Giambattista Valli gown made a huge impression at the Grammys earlier this month, but it would have been the obvious winner of my coveted Best Dressed/Wear What You Want combo award on the far more conservative Oscar red carpet.
The combo award normally goes to someone who is dressed beautifully and interestingly. Actually, the beauty part is optional. Causing controversy counts more than looking pretty. I didn’t feel that there was anyone who had quite that perfect, jaw-dropping IDGAF mix, so I’m presenting my Best Dressed and Wear What You Want awards separately, for the first time ever.
As far as style goes, it’s difficult for anyone to compete with Lupita Nyong’o, who always looks impeccable. She’d be my Best Dressed candidate regardless, but, because I’m a jewelry designer, the 6,000 pearls covering her custom-made Calvin Klein dress make her my best, best, best dressed.
A couple of people have already correctly guessed my Wear What You Want winner. Yep, it’s Lady Gaga. I loved the fit of her custom Azzedine Alaïa, especially that structured detail around the arms. But bright red gloves (and matching hair decoration) are what make the outfit truly award-winning.
Of course, the second I saw the gloves, I knew without looking at Twitter that everyone was going to start with the dishwashing-gloves jokes. I just thought …
… because dishwashing gloves have been THE hawt lewk since I got this pair of yellow leather gloves in 2007. I still wear them!
You’re welcome for the inspiration, Mother Monster. Now would you just wear that set of Gaga rings I made and sent you a few years ago? They have adjustable bands so you can wear them over your awesome dishwashing gloves!
Stay tuned for another post on jewelry and what the guys were wearing.
Monday, February 23, 2015
I’m in Los Angeles, thrilled to be away from the 1 degree winter weather at home in New York. Last night, we went to a super-fun Oscar viewing party hosted by movie producer Harvey Weinstein, followed by the Vanity Fair after-party.
There’s been a couple of times when I’ve worn a dress to the black-tie Committee to Protect Journalists awards dinner in New York in November, then worn the same dress on the West Coast to Oscars-related festivities in February/March. I did that with my leopard-print Patrick Kelly gown in 2010/2011. I did the same thing with my ruffled Watanabe jacket and custom Zang Toi gown in 2012/2013. Well, this year, I did it again. I was so pleased by the vintage Donald Brooks gown and top hat that I wore to the CPJ dinner in 2014 …
… that I wore the whole ensemble again last night.
What Wendy Wore
Dress: Vintage Donald Brooks Couture (possibly purchased from eBay in 2003/2004, first seen here)
Shoes: Prada (2010)
Top hat: J.J. Hat Center in New York (2013)
Jewelry: My own Empress Wu dragon design
Hair and makeup: Stephanie Daniel
Lip color: A blend of MAC Smoked Purple and Rebel
I can say for sure that I was the only person wearing a top hat last night. Look for it behind photos of Sarah Silverman’s entrance. We tiptoed past her while she was striking her poses, and I’m hoping that we sneaked into one of her pictures the way we did with Paula Patton last year.
My hat should make me easy to spot, I figure. Once we got in and found Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, he exclaimed, “I saw your hat coming in with all the celebrities” on the video feed. Because I couldn’t get MrB to approach Sarah Silverman and remind her of the bonding moment they shared in 2013, we made a beeline for the photo booth. I LOVE photo booths.
At the Vanity Fair party, we always miss seeing some HUGE celebrity. Last year, it was my almost-husband Paul McCartney. This year it was Beyonce and Jay-Z. *sobbing* But we did see Queen Latifah, Jared Leto, Anna Wintour, Anjelica Huston, Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins, Christina Aguilera, Zac Posen, Angie Harmon, Zoe Kravitz, Miley Cyrus, Questlove, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Lopez, Wes Anderson, Solange, Rita Ora, Bill Maher, Behati Prinsloo (I was interested in her dress so I never noticed her husband Adam Levine standing nearby), and Common holding his Oscar. We caught Lupita Nyong’o taking a selfie with David Oyelowo. I told Adrien Brody that his white jacket was “soooo good” and stopped by Oscar-winning short documentary producer Dana Perry to say, “I love your pom-poms.” MrB was thrilled to catch up with Graham Moore, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for the Weinsteins’ The Imitation Game. MrB thanked him for writing a wonderful movie and giving that amazing “stay weird” acceptance speech. I might have ruined the moment by telling Moore that MrB cried so hard at the end of The Imitation Game that I was trying to pretend I didn’t know him. But the highlight for me was when we were inching closer to the bar and spotted Kelsey Grammer. I’ve been watching a lot of Frasier reruns lately, so I felt like I was seeing a beloved longtime friend. Then, as Kelsey passed us, he paused to admire my hat and said with a big smile, “That’s a WONDERFUL look!” I had to drag MrB away from the bar immediately so I could literally — but quietly — scream to him, “OH MY GOD!” about 10 times. And then, of course, I had to tweet what happened while Kelsey’s exact words still in my head.
Here’s one more post-party hat selfie.
My Empress Wu earrings are about half an ounce of gold each, but I wore them in total comfort all night. Someone NEEDS to wear these showstoppers to the “Chinese Whispers”-themed Metropolitan Museum of Art gala this spring. Stylists! Holla at my right-hand woman Eryn at info at wendybrandes dot com to request a try-on. Speaking of accessories, thanks to the gentleman at J.J. Hat Center who adjusted my top hat earlier this week, meaning I didn’t end the night with a repeat of the pounding headache I suffered after the CPJ dinner. Hat-wearing is apparently a trickier business that I thought. Who knew?
I’ll be posting the winners of my coveted Best Dressed/Wear What You Want award later today, but first I have to go to the gym and work off all the fried chicken I ate at the Vanity Fair party last night. A waiter set down an entire bucket next to me, and, because no one else in our immediate vicinity seemed interested, I did my best to make that bucket feel loved. When I got undressed that night, I found some fried-chicken crumbs in the top of my dress. Did I eat them? I’ll neither confirm nor deny.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
I was reading the Hollywood Reporter’s Oscar issue and it included an article analyzing what color and style of gown was most likely to be worn by winning actresses. Gold was the lucky color, worn by 50% of the winners, with white in second place at 36%. But I lost all interest in the math after coming across the photo representing brown (5%), which showed Jennifer Hudson in her controversial 2007 look.
Hudson was roundly criticized for her brown Oscar de la Renta dress and metallic bolero. After the fact, she distanced herself from the look, indicating she felt pressured into it by her stylist for the evening, André Leon Talley, who was, at the time, an editor-at-large for Vogue. I have to strongly disagree with her and everyone else who criticized ALT’s choice. I loved that outfit then and I love it now. It was the only look in the Hollywood Reporter piece that was deserving of my coveted Best Dressed/Wear What You Want combo award, which, unfortunately for J-Hud, wasn’t created until 2012.
Here’s a better shot of the notorious dress and jacket.
This still looks so fresh and different to me. There’s an interesting timelessness about it. If someone wore it next year, it would look completely modern. I would happily wear this myself, of course. In fact, I wonder if it is behind my relatively recent fondness for interesting cropped jackets. I still wear the Stacy Lomman cropped silver motorcycle-style jacket that I got in 2011.
Formal occasions don’t discourage my jacket-wearing tendencies. In fact, in 2013, I had my designing friend Zang Toi create a hot pink gown just so I could wear it with a crazy, ruffled, blue, cropped moto jacket by Junya Watanbe to the Vanity Fair Oscar party.
That HAD to be subconsciously inspired by Hudson’s ensemble all those years later! When I like a certain style, I like it for a long time. I almost wish I were wearing the Watanabe/Zang Toi combo again to the Vanity Fair party tomorrow, but I’ve got something else up my non-ruffled sleeve. Stay tuned!
Friday, February 20, 2015
I’m continuing to make a series of cabochon birthstone studs that you can wear alone or with my FitzRoy the cat earring jackets. Here’s a close look at a single FitzRoy with January’s birthstone, garnet.
February’s birthstone is amethyst and I’ve got one pair of amethyst studs available for any end-of-the-month birthday celebrations. Amethyst is fifth from the top in this cute photo that Eryn took for Instagram.
Starting from the top of the heart, the photo also shows turquoise (December birthstone); peridot (August); citrine (November); aquamarine (March); amethyst; emerald (May) and ruby (July). Diamond studs for April are in the works, as are sapphire for September; pearl or moonstone for June; and tourmaline for October. All of them are set in 18K yellow gold, and I selected all of the gems personally, doing just one pair of each birthstone at a time. The amethyst studs are available for $400, and the price of the others depends on the gem. Email me at info at wendybrandes dot com to request price information or to order, because these aren’t on my website yet.
I’ve also got two one-of-a-kind amethyst rings at amazing sale prices. My Clemence ring pairs amethyst with citrine …
… and here’s the amethyst Queen Min ring with a koi carving being worn with the lemon citrine Min ring carved with a dragon.
Both rings are size 6 and can be purchased on my website. If you love these, act fast because I won’t be making any more of them. Once they’re gone, they’re gone for good!
Thursday, February 19, 2015
I really need to get back to writing my history-inspired posts! Here’s a throwback one in honor of the Chinese New Year. One of my favorite badass royal ladies was Empress Wu, as she’s known now. When she ruled China in the 7th century, she used the name Emperor Shensheng (spelling may vary), making her the only female ruler of China to use the male title of “emperor.” In 2007 and 2008, I had a fun time telling her story:
Three years after those posts, I unveiled my jewelry tribute to Wu: an 18K-gold dragon ring with diamond eyes and a spinning lapis lazuli globe in its mouth.
Here is how the ring looks on …
… and here it is in motion.
In the December 2011 post I did about the earrings, I showed photos of the whole design process, taking you from from initial sketch, to wax model, to metal just out of casting, to the final product.
By the way, this is the Year of the Sheep (or Goat) — meaning it’s my year! If we go with goat, I’m a double zodiac goat, because I’m also a Capricorn. Hmmm! Does that make me one of those screaming goats that are so popular in commercials lately?
This is my favorite screaming-goat ad because I like the way Rick the goat’s colleague, Kelly, is ready to kick some goat butt.
Happy New Year!
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Earlier this month, I was in Arizona for the big Tucson Gem & Mineral Show. The temperature in New York fell to about 5 degrees that week, so I was delighted to be in warmer cactus country.
I have excellent gem dealers in New York City, but it can still be tough to find very small colored gems for my micropavé Maneater ring designs. I was in Tucson on the hunt for .8 millimeter to 1 millimeter garnets. Did you know garnets come in many different colors? There’s the pretty red rhodolite garnet that I used to make birthstone studs this year, while my all-time favorite colored gem is the green tsavorite garnet. I use tsavorite in many of my designs, including my Marie Antoinette earrings and my onyx skull ring.
You can also get yellowish grossular garnet and orange spessartite garnet. I purchased 1 millimeter samples of all four colors for the two Maneater designs I have in the works.
The Maneater collection brought me to Tucson in another way. My Pink Elephant and Tipsy Writer Maneater ring won honorable mention in the AGTA Spectrum Awards design contest and there was a gala dinner for the winners during the show.
All of the Spectrum winners were on display during the gem show. I’d seen pictures of them all, but I wanted to see them in person. After taking a close look at all of the designs, I was a bit amazed to find myself in the group, because most of the winning pieces featured large center stones, or at least a series of sizable stones. Mine was the only piece created entirely with tiny pavé stones. I think the judges appreciated the humor of the pink-sapphire elephant (the hallucination of the drunk writer tucked inside the band of the ring) as well as the workmanship. During the dinner, the emcee announcing the winners giggled while describing my ring and encouraged people to go see it in person. I also got a big compliment from my tablemate Dalan Hargrave, an exuberant 6’8″ Texan gem carver who waved his cowboy hat and let out a big whoop when his first-place win for this incredible set of rhodolite garnets was announced. I wasn’t sitting next to him, but he caught me after dinner was finished and told me that I had the “funnest” design in the competition. I loved that, especially because Dalan was clearly the funnest guy at the event!
For the awards dinner, I wore a black halter dress by my favorite vintage designer Ossie Clark — the first Ossie I ever owned. I think the last time I wore it was in 2003! It’s a great dress, but after I got it, I realized the best Ossie Clark designs are the ones that featured prints by Ossie’s ex-wife, Celia Birtwell. I also moved away from wearing black for evening. I always knew I’d wear it again eventually though.
Here is the dress in 2003.
And here it is 12 years later in Tucson, accessorized by my award certificate.
What Wendy Wore
Dress: Ossie Clark (probably bought online in 2003)
Shoes: Prada (2011)
Jewelry: My own designs and personal vintage
In the ladies room at the awards, I took the “amazing bosom” iPhone selfie of a lifetime thanks to the plunging cut of the Ossie.
I tried and tried to repeat the perfect boobaciousness of this selfie, but apparently it was a one-time thing. At least I’ve been inspired to wear this dress again sooner rather than later!