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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Photographer Mary Ellen Mark died in Manhattan on Monday at age 75. She had myelodysplastic syndrome, a disease that affects bone marrow and blood.

Mark did everything from documentary photography to fashion photography and ad campaigns, but her best-known project was about homeless teens in Seattle.  It began as a 1983 LIFE magazine photo essay, created with writer Cheryl McCall, called “Streets of the Lost.”  The next year, Mark helped her husband, director Martin Bell, turn the kids’ stories into an Oscar-nominated documentary called Streetwise.  A companion book, also called Streetwise, came out in 1988. The cover of the book featured Mark’s iconic photo of Erin “Tiny” Blackwell in her “French prostitute” Halloween costume.


Click to view on Amazon.

I remember that when I first saw the Tiny photos, I thought that they were from a high-fashion shoot. (In a 2008 interview with Vice, Mark herself said, “… it’s almost like a fashion picture but it’s real.”) But Tiny really was a prostitute — just 13 years old when Mark met her — who hit the streets of Seattle when her life with her alcoholic mother and violent stepfather became intolerable.

Click here for Mark’s photo “Tiny in Halloween Costume Blowing Bubble,” Seattle (Getty Museum)

There were many street kids in Streetwise — I was particularly fascinated by Lou Lou/Lulu Couch —  but Tiny was the undeniable star of both the movie and the book. Mark and Bell never lost touch with her. In 2013, in recognition of the 30th anniversary of the initial LIFE photos, Mark and Bell successfully raised money on Kickstarter for a follow-up documentary, Tiny Revisited. By then, Tiny — now in her 40s — was off the street, off drugs, married, and the mother of 10 children.  The hardcover book, Tiny, Streetwise Revisited, is due out this October and, according to the Kickstarter campaign, the movie should be released at the same time.

In the meantime, this 2005 interview that Mark and Bell did with Tiny for Aperture is a good way to catch up (Tiny was at nine kids then). I love their rapport; it reminds me of Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and her long-term relationship with the subjects of her book Random Family. They’re people who come from very different worlds, but they have such a strong connection.

You can find out more about what happened to the kids of Streetwise from this Facebook group. Beth Smithe, who runs the group, recently reported that Tiny is going through a tough time. Her husband left and now, on top of that, she’s mourning Mary Ellen. Smithe set up a GoFundMe for Tiny to help out with a few bills (Tiny confirmed the situation on her own Facebook page).

Click here for Erin “Tiny” Blackwell’s GoFundMe.

I’ve embedded a lot of great links in this post. I don’t want you to miss anything good so here’s a more organized list.

Finally, I enjoy looking at photos of Mark herself. Here is a picture of her at New York Fashion Week last September.

She was 74 then and still wearing her signature long, dark braids. I’m not surprised that she was a “Wear What You Want” type of lady.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I’m excited to see my customer Hi-Rez getting some much-deserved attention. Rez recently teamed up with YouTube prankster Coby Persin, sauntered into a Times Square McDonald’s, and rapped a crazy-ass order to the befuddlement of the McDonald’s staff. The video was shared by Lil Wayne on Facebook and has close to five million views.

Not only is this high!larious! but Hi-Rez is wearing the nameplate necklace I made for him last year.


Screenshot courtesy Corbin Persin.

Always makes me happy to see customers enjoying their jewelry, especially when they’re ordering bundt cakes and Shamrock Shakes at McDonalds.

Hi-Rez is having a mixtape-release party next Wednesday, June 3, at Webster Hall and I’m going to be there, of course. Get your tickets here and say hi if you see me!

If you want a custom nameplate necklace of your own, holla at me at info at wendybrandes dot com.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I love lists titled “The Best of the Best,” because it makes me think of the overeager West Point graduate in Men in Black who barks “Because we’re the best of the best of the best … SIR!”

best of the best

Click the screenshot to watch the clip.

I love “Best of the Best” lists even more when I’m part of them! I had just sighed, “Oh, I’m not in this,” over this JCK publication listing the winners and finalists of its 2015 Jewelers’ Choice Awards …


… and then I flipped a page and found myself in the “JCA 5 Faves, 2015 Editors’ Picks.” The magazine said, “For the second year in a row, we asked the JCK editorial team to cast their (hypothetical) votes in the Jewelers’ Choice Awards. See which pieces — among all the entries — they chose as their favorites and why they love them.

Thank you SO MUCH, Brittany Siminitz, JCK Marketplace Manager, for choosing my Taxi and Passenger Maneater ring, which I entered in the category of Colored Diamond Jewelry Over $10,000.


Click to enlarge.

I’m looking forward to seeing Brittany and the rest of my Vegas Gems gang at the JCK jewelry trade show in Las Vegas this week. I’m not exhibiting, because I have a bad habit of spending my entire potential show budget on things like my brand-new Dragon and Knight Maneater ring (you’ll be seeing that one soon and, yes, it was worth it). But I love to go and hang out with my jewelry-biz friends. If you’re there and see me wandering by, say hello!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Purrkoy would like to thank the members of the armed forces who gave their lives for their country … especially the sailors.


Unhappy sailor kitteh.

Aaaaand now the Village People are going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

In case you missed it, here’s what was on the blog this week:

And here are the highlights from Instagram.

And the Number One most important thing I shared this week — from the home office in New York, N.Y. — is my Huffington Post story on 1990s Letterman guest star Meg Parsont, aka Meg From Across the Street.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Thanks to the gorgeous Ali A for interviewing me for FashPlay, the site where “fashion and gaming collide.” Not only did Ali spend a long time with me on the phone, but she made me sound coherent even though I was sick and kind of rambling when we spoke. (And I completely lost my train of thought for several minutes after Gigi the dog expelled a significant amount of cat food at my feet.) I appreciate your hard work, Ali!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

I brought home my late, great Pekingese Mr. Chubbs from the city pound on May 10, 1996. At my apartment, I placed him on a new dog pillow and put a chew toy next to him. We contemplated each other for a while.


Mr. Chubbs, wondering, “Who are you?”

I’m always nervous on the first day with a new pet. I can’t help thinking, “Is this thing going to bite me?” But I adjust pretty fast. During Chubbs’s first week, he had an epileptic seizure. I brought him to a jaded vet who said, “So! You got yourself a small purebred from the pound. This is probably the first of many problems.  It could get very expensive. You might want to exchange him for another dog.” I was like, “Noooooooo!!! I LOVE HIM!”

I was so outraged I never went back to that vet. But years later, having lived with two other rescue dogs who had very expensive health problems, I realize the guy had a point. When you think about it, in New York City, where we don’t have a lot of space but do love prestige things, it is possible (though not inevitable) that there is a good reason a small purebred needs a new home.

This cartoon dog is actually a pretty good depiction of Henry the Peke. Click to read more.

This cartoon dog is actually a pretty good depiction of Henry the Peke. Click to read more.

Anyway, nothing was going to make me part with Chubbs. I quickly discovered he’d been neglected: His fur was matted and his nails were so long they’d grown around in a circle and back into the pads of his paws.  I brought him to a nearby pet store where I picked out another toy for him while he got a buzz cut and a manicure. I literally didn’t recognize him when they brought him back out.


“I’m still not sure about you,” thinks Mr. Chubbs.

I’ve always liked this photo of us, taken June 3, 1996, on the crazy rug at my aunt’s house in Long Island.


I know he still doesn’t look very thrilled with me, but I swear that’s just because he had bitchy resting face.

I previously posted a photo from that day here. While I was looking at these pictures again, I was surprised to realize they’d been taken in June because I was wearing a mock-turtleneck and a cardigan. It turns out, that that day was about as cool as it was today in New York City, with a high of 61°.

I had no particular interest in the Pekingese breed before I got Mr. Chubbs, but, ever since, I’ve been obsessed with Pekes and other flat-faced animals. The late Henry was a Peke, Gigi is a Tibetan spaniel, and FitzRoy and Purrkoy are both Exotic Shorthair cats.

It still kills me that in June 2010, I  had to pass on an adorable Pekingese. I spotted him or her inside Social Tees Animal Rescue when I strolled by one night.


OMG. So cute.

At the time, MrB and I already had Henry and Gigi (Mr. Chubbs had died in 2006). Because both our dogs had special health needs and we don’t have tons of space, I felt that I couldn’t take on another dog. Plus, going for walks was already challenging because Henry walked slow (or not at all, if he wasn’t in the mood) and Gigi walked fast (when she wasn’t challenging bigger dogs to fights). I decided that I would be sensible and that I wouldn’t go back to visit this pooch in the daytime. I knew that if I spent any time at all with that dog, I’d never be able to say no.


OH MY GOD!!!!!!!

I wish I didn’t take these pictures because I can’t get over how cute this dog was and how s/he is looking at me in the second photo! Aaugh! I have to remind myself that this was for the best because with three dogs, I certainly would never have gotten my cat friends in 2012 (Fitz) and 2014 (PK). But still! Look at the little face! I hope this doggy went to the best home ever.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tonight is the last broadcast of The Late Show with David Letterman, which has aired on CBS since 1993. First Mad Men ends and now this! It’s too cruel!

Of course, everyone’s been indulging in Dave’s greatest hits for weeks. You can find lots of photos, videos and stories — going back to Letterman’s weatherman days — by following Letterman Memories on Twitter.

My personal recommendations include the 1990s fast-food drive-through videos. In 1993, Dave worked the drive-through at McDonald’s, demanding that customers prove they were happy in order to get a happy meal.

Then, in 1996, he was “the manager, Kenny” at a Taco Bell drive-through.

But some of my all-time favorite moments come from Letterman’s original late-night show, Late Night with David Letterman, which was on NBC from 1982 to 1993. When Letterman announced his retirement last April, I just had to reminisce about those years, especially his visits to 1983 visits to Just Bulbs and Just Shades and 1984’s Velcro suit.

Another great memory from the NBC days is Meg From Across the Street. In 1990, the Letterman writers realized they could see into the offices in the high-rise across from their studio on 49th Street. They got a list of the occupants’ phone numbers and Dave started dialing randomly. A young publicist named Meg Parsont picked up the phone, and a new comedy routine was born. Guess what? I got in touch with Meg and interviewed her for the Huffington Post. Read my story to find out what Meg is up to now and her suggestion for how Dave can kill time during his retirement.


Several people who already read the interview begged for a photo, and Meg has obliged.


She hasn’t changed a bit!

UPDATED TO ADD: Cool links for you!

  • Shoutout to Paul Wong for pointing out Meg’s second Letterman appearance.


Here’s a link to Dave’s farewell speech, via Vulture.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

This story is giving me LIFE, as the kids say today! On Sunday, Taylor Swift wore a white, cut-out jumpsuit to the Billboard Music Awards, and retailer Nasty Gal proudly claimed credit for it, as one does when a celebrity wears one’s designs.

Too bad it wasn’t a Nasty Gal piece at all, but an original Balmain design that the Nasty Gal team had copied for its own benefit. The Fashion Law blog, which has long called out Nasty Gal for shameless copying, spotted the “mistake.” I literally laughed at the opening lines of The Fashion Law’s scoop:

“In a recent article, we posed the following question: at what point does all of the copying that is so rampant in fashion simply cross the line? Well, it seems we have found our answer. Copying becomes too much when the fast fashion retailer either: a) confuses its own blatant copy for the real thing, and/or b) starts attributing the original design to its own brand.”

I had my own incident with Nasty Gal last year, when it was selling a copy of my famous swear rings that had been mass-produced by some factory and wholesaled to a number of retailers. Nasty Gal was cooperative about removing the rings from its website when I complained. I was pleasantly surprised, because the retailer had previously lived up to its name by having some truly nasty social-media fights with small designers who saw Nasty Gal’s imitations of their work. According to The Fashion Law, a wholesaler can’t be blamed for the jumpsuit situation: “Nasty Gal proclaims that the items included in its ‘Nasty Gal’ collection are designed by its own in-house team.”

The Fashion Law says that after Nasty Gal put its Taylor Swift claim on its Instagram account — an account that has 1.6 million followers — people “filled the photo’s comment section” with the correct designer name. Nasty Gal deleted the post but not before The Fashion Law got a screen cap and only after the jumpsuit sold out. If you’re one of the people awaiting your delivery, be warned. The Fashion Law quoted one reviewer as saying, the jumpsuit “was disappointing. It looks very cheap and poorly made.”

Click here to read The Fashion Law’s entire post — and definitely follow The Fashion Law on Twitter if you’re interested in these issues.

I skipped watching the Billboard Music Awards because I was preoccupied with the Mad Men finale, but I studied the red carpet pictures later, prepared to bestow my coveted Best Dressed/Where What You Want combo award upon some lucky attendee. I didn’t see anything worthy of my top prize — ladies, give the naked dresses a rest, because you’re never going to beat Rihanna’s 2014 CFDA look — but I have to give an honorable mention to rapper 50 Cent, who looked amazing in this ombre jacket.

I’m still poking around looking for the designer name, and when I find it, MrB better look out! I want to dress him up like 50 Cent. That’s how much I love this whole outfit. [UPDATED MAY 20 TO ADD: Thank you to Brittany Siminitz of JCK for identifying 50’s jacket as being by Neil Barrett. Time to take MrB shopping!]

I also liked two flesh-baring Fausto Puglisi looks because of their gold sunburst-shaped accents. Zendaya was wearing a crop top, jacket and pants …

… while Rita Ora let a whole lot hang out in a white dress. Hey! Keep your eyes on the sunbursts, you perverts!

Zendaya had previously worn a Puglisi mullet gown with a giant sunburst motif to the Costume Institute Ball at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

My enthusiasm for sunbursts goes way, way back because one of my first major designs was my 18K yellow gold Gloriana necklace set with two carats of diamonds.

My friend Tina wearing the Gloriana in 2009.

My friend Tina wearing the Gloriana in 2009.

The Gloriana was named for Elizabeth I, one of my favorite queens. Read all about it!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Men came through for me last night! It was totally worth skipping the FKA twigs concert I’d planned to attend in order to see the finale in real time.

Do I really have to say that there are spoilers here? There are spoilers here!

I honestly didn’t know what to expect, though there were a few things I had ruled out. I never believed Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner would be so obvious as to have Don — or anyone — fall out the window like in the animated opening credits of the show.  The DB Cooper theory struck me as silly. (What would Don need with Cooper’s take of a mere $200,000, when he easily wrote ex-wife Megan a check for a million?) I was intrigued by the idea that Don would come back to New York and McCann Erickson and give a bravura pitch for the famous 1971 Coke commercial known as “Hilltop”. “Co-ca-Co-la” — as Jim Hobart would whisper it — was Don’s account at McCann, after all.

I feared we wouldn’t see anyone except for Don, because the other main characters’ appearances on the show in the last couple of episodes summed them up nicely.

madmen collage

Clockwise from left: Peggy struts into McCann; Betty ascends; Sally receives words of acceptance from her mother.

I was relieved to see all the important folks return, and, as a result, I’m bemused by some tweets I’ve seen from people who feel there were too many loose ends. Nah! Everything is all tied up, with everyone onto a new phase of life:

  • Joan loses the latest guy who tries to hold her back — she’s had enough of that shit! — and becomes her own one-woman production powerhouse, starting with a project from an enthusiastic one-eyed Ken Cosgrove.
  • Peggy and Stan act definitively upon their long-simmering attraction, declare their love, and are seen working together happily ever after. We know Stan would never hold Peggy back.
  • Roger does the right thing and makes Kevin, his son with Joan, one of his heirs. Then he settles down with Marie Calvet, who can match him wisecrack for wisecrack and in French, too! (I loved how he described her to Joan: “I met her through Megan Draper … she’s old enough to be her mother … she’s her mother.)
  • Pete really has achieved the impossible and reunited with his ex-wife Trudy and their daughter. Trudy looks like she’s going to burst with joy when she lays eyes on the private Learjet they’re going to have at their beck and call.
  • Cancer-stricken Betty is seen peacefully co-existing with her daughter Sally. For once, Sally’s not running away nor is Betty pushing her away.

I correctly guessed that we wouldn’t see Don’s second wife, Megan, who left earlier with an air of finality and a $1 million check in hand. It was obvious for a while that she wouldn’t be dead at the hands of Charles Manson and the Family in lieu of Sharon Tate.  Weiner wouldn’t interfere with historical facts to that extent, plus it was confirmed in the April episode called “New Business” in which ditsy but occasionally brilliant secretary Meredith referred to “the Manson brothers.” Not only had the murders already happened, but they’d happened in August 1969 and Mad Men was onto October 1970 at the end. I did appreciate our last visit with Meredith, who, after translating a speech of Roger’s into Pig Latin, was let go (not because she didn’t know that Roger was joking) and cheerfully said she’d land on her feet as always.  Harry Crane’s exit from Peggy’s office while stuffing a cookie in his mouth was what that pig deserved.

That left us with Don continuing his journey west, having divested himself of his job, his Madison Avenue suits, his hat, his Cadillac, and his family … though not his booze or his cigarettes. After he learns that Betty is terminally ill and doesn’t want him to have full custody of their kids, Don looks up Anna Draper’s troubled niece Stephanie, who was last seen pregnant and has since turned over her child to the paternal grandparents. Taking in the hot mess that is sweaty, drunken Don, Stephanie gets him to come with her to a retreat where they can find themselves through seminars and meditation. (I exclaimed “est!,” remembering people who did that course back in the day, but MrB got it right: Esalen in Big Sur.) As with the dour, depressed waitress Diana from earlier this season — I was relieved not to see her again! — Don distracts himself from his own issues by attempting to save Stephanie. When she flees the retreat without a goodbye and he’s stuck with himself and all the hippie types discussing their feelings, he breaks down. He calls Peggy from an outside pay phone and confesses his sins in a way that sounds suicidal, then slumps to the ground, at rock bottom. A woman finds him there and literally offers him a hand, encouraging him to attend a seminar where a man, Leonard, describes himself as overlooked, unwanted food in the fridge. Don wraps his arms around Leonard and they both cry together, and I got seriously worried that Don was going to develop a whole new identity to replace his stolen Draper persona and original, miserable Dick Whitman self. Then Don’s outside, first bathed in a sunset, then sitting cross-legged with a group, chanting “Om,” and I approached panic, thinking, “Is that all there is?” for Don. Life as a navel-gazer? Noooooo! But as Don chants, and the meditation bell dings, a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile creeps across his face.


What did you just dream up, Don?

The next thing that we see is that lovey-dovey Coke commercial.

I was momentarily stupefied because if Coke was going to happen, I had expected to see a pitch. And Don seemed so at home with the hugging and feeling crowd. Also, we did just see Peggy and Stan at the office. Were they working on Coke? But then I realized that Don’s smile was from inspiration as much — or more — than inner peace. And if I’d had any remaining doubt there was this: On the left, the young woman who told Don that people were free to leave the retreat at any time, and on the right, a woman in the Coke commercial with the same hairstyle.


Click for the first tweet I saw that pointed this out.

During their person-to-person collect call, Peggy told Don he could come back to McCann and pick up his Coke account, and that’s what he did, newly inspired by the New Age California vibe. The New York Times recapped disapprovingly: “After all that potential self-discovery, Don takes it and goes home and uses it to shill carbonated sugar water.” Meh. That doesn’t bother me at all. If you have mad Madison Avenue skillz, you’re going to want — no, need — to use them. Creative people create! It’s what they do. I relate, seeing as I’m always thinking, “I should write about this” or “That would make a good jewelry design,” especially during important moments. I’m sure if I were in the ad business, I’d be getting inspiration from weddings, funerals and bat mitzvahs. Fight me! (Interestingly, Uproxx put forth the Coke ad idea in April, but discounted it as “hilarious” because what or who would make Don go for such a “hippie-dippie love-fest”?  How was anyone to know that Leonard was coming our way?)

In real life, McCann DID come up with that Coke ad, and the creative director at the time was Bill Backer. Bill Backer … Don Draper. That matches up nicely.

One final thought: I hope the members of the Coca-Cola social-media team will land on their feet as easily as Pig-Latin expert Meredith. I’m concerned for their future because they didn’t tweet anything till long after the show ended on the East Coast. The whole series led up to a Coke commercial and you got nothing? McCann, on the other hand, wittily live-tweeted the show (as it has been doing) ending with, “Thanks, Don. About time you came up with a good idea.”

UPDATED TO ADD: I see some critics and viewers arguing that the Coke ad is Peggy’s (because she’s more in touch with the youth movement? Seriously? Peggy?) but I’m telling you, it’s Don! Look how costume designer Janie Bryant responded when asked if it was a coincidence that the same braided hairstyle appeared on the woman at the retreat and in the commercial.


UPDATED MAY 20, 2015, TO ADD: I hope the guy who kept tweeting me that Peggy and Stan wrote the Coke ad sees this interview with Matt Weiner. You have it from the showrunner’s mouth: Don did it. Plus my positive interpretation of Don’s experience was correct. There were a lot of cynics who were saying things like Don was “co-opting enlightenment to sell carbonated sugar water” but Weiner sincerely loves that commercial. As TVLine reported:

“The idea that some enlightened state, and not just co-option, might’ve created something that is very pure” was an attractive way to end the series, Weiner said. “To me, it’s the best ad ever made, and it comes from a very good place.”

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