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Monday, October 5, 2015

I’ve written before that the most beneficial way to read a newspaper is in its print form, even though it’s not always beneficial for newspapers to continue to produce a print edition these days. But as long as print exists, I’ll read it, because act of turning the pages means I come across articles that I would never notice online.

That happened this weekend, while I read the Wall Street Journal. I never seek out reviews of children’s books online, and I can’t imagine when one would be featured on the homepage of the websites I visit, but, in the newspaper, the illustration of a kitten romping on piano keys caught my eye.


From the Wall Street Journal. Click to enlarge.

Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed — a picture book for 5- to 9-year-olds written by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Amy June Bates — is based on the true story of composer Moshe Cotel, who was stumped by a contest to create a complete piece of music of no longer than 60 seconds. Then Ketzel the kitten took a walk on his piano keys. Cotel transcribed Ketzel’s 21-second atonal piece and won an award for the cat. (Being an honorable guy, Cotel attributed the piece to Ketzel, which means “cat” in Yiddish.)

I could hardly believe this happened, so I looked it up online, which led me to a delightful New York Times obituary for Ketzel, who died in 2011.  It begins:

“Ketzel, who won a prize for piano composition in 1997 and went on to be featured in a book, ‘The World of Women in Classical Music,’ died Wednesday in Manhattan. She was 19 and lived on the Upper West Side.

Ketzel was a black-and-white cat.”

It’s worth reading the whole article by James Barron, which is headlined “Noted Composer, Who Leapt Into Atonality, Meows Her Last.”

Thanks to the WSJ’s print edition to leading me to the online edition of the Times. Now I have to see if  “Piece for Piano, Four Paws” by Ketzel Cotel is available on iTunes.

UPDATED TO ADD: Late last night, MrB said, “That’s such a cute story about the cat, but doesn’t ‘Ketzel’ mean ‘kitten’ or ‘kitty’ instead of ‘cat’?” I protested, “The New York Times said ‘cat.'” But I had a feeling that MrB was right. Today I checked and the Yiddish word for “cat” is “kats.” The word for “kitten” is “ketsl” and the word for “kitty” is “ketsele.” So I award 10 points to Hufflepuff MrB and deduct 10 from the Times for this mistranslation.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

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

And on Instagram,  I shared a sneak peek of my FitzRoy the Cat Y-necklace with orange sapphires.

Friday, October 2, 2015

I love to redesign old jewelry for customers and the mother of all redesign opportunities was literally handed to me in March. My gorgeous mother, BarbaraB, had to take off her engagement ring ahead of a minor medical procedure, only to find that it couldn’t be budged. The ring had to be cut off.


The broken engagement ring. Click for original post.

BarbaraB asked me if I could fix her ring, and I said I could do better than that. Why not get a whole new look? She said I could create anything I wanted, as long as it was ready for my parents’ 50th anniversary in December. At first, I was excited to do a design that I’d had in my head for a while, but then I decided a 50th anniversary demanded something even more glorious. I mean, think about it! Fifty years! That’s very special.


My own self-designed engagement ring on the left; BarbaraB’s original engagement ring on the right.

After my father, GeorgeB, approved the addition of more diamonds, I got to work on the platinum body of the ring. The undulating shape of the ring’s “head” was inspired by a ballerina setting. Ballerina settings usually have a center stone surrounded by baguettes that fan out like a dancer’s tutu. Sometimes the baguettes are set in a wavy pattern. I wanted the waviness without the baguettes.


A work in progress.

I happen to love baguettes, but BarbaraB’s original ring included two tapered diamond baguettes. If I surrounded those with more baguettes, her original stones wouldn’t stand out. That’s why I used round diamonds to cover the head of the ring instead. To be exact, 199 round diamonds.


Half-finished setting. Around the edges, holes have been drilled for the gems.

When I finished the ring this summer, I asked GeorgeB, “When do you want to give it to her?” He said, “After you hand it to me.” I thought he might wait till her birthday or the actual anniversary, but he was ready to go! The opportunity arose this week, during a family visit.  GeorgeB decided he’d present the ring when we went to dinner at at Cibo in Glencoe, Ill. The day before, I tried to slip GeorgeB the ring a couple of times, but he kept putting it in his pocket, and I was worried he would lose it so I took it back.

When we were actually at dinner last night, I tried to discreetly pass the ring to GeorgeB under the table, but eagle-eyed BarbaraB said, “George, I can read you like a book and I know what you’re doing. You’re going to give me my ring.” She said she had seen both the handover and the little smirk he always has when he’s trying to do something surprising. Well, after 50 years, you’re bound to know a surprise smirk when you see one.  We all yelled at GeorgeB to ask BarbaraB to marry him again (he did and I think she said yes) and then I got this great reaction shot of BarbaraB and my gorgeous sister, Terri Berry, after BarbaraB put the ring on.


“Oh my!”

Here are the official ring photos by Ed Parrinello of SquareMoose. This is the Jewel of the Month for October!


Front view.

The baguettes are on the ring’s sides. You can see one to the right of the ring head in this photo …


On an angle.


And here is a clear view of the side, showing one baguette as well as the many small, round diamonds set into the edge of the ring head.


A lot of my designs include little surprises — like hidden diamonds or secret compartments — and yes, I do smirk just like GeorgeB whenever I dream up a surprise element. This time, I made the number “50” in 18K rose gold and tucked it inside BarbaraB’s ring.


Here’s how it looks on.


She liked it!

If you like this ring, you can have it. Not BarbaraB’s personal ring, of course! But the style will be available as a semi-mount, which is a ring setting that doesn’t include the center stone. You get to pick your own center stone — which could be a diamond or any other gem — and I’ll place it into the ring for you.  (I previously described the process of selecting a center stone here.) You also get to choose if you want special numbers or letters hidden in the ring, or if you want to go without. Send inquires to info at wendybrandes dot com, but please note that this style is not for people trying to stick to a tight budget … unless you’re my mom.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Back in the day, when Madonna would play a series of New York City dates, I’d get tickets to one show and say, “I want to do it again!” as soon as the house lights went up. I finally figured out it was best to always get tickets to two shows, which is why I saw the Queen at Barclays Center in Brooklyn three days after I saw her at Madison Square Garden. I’m far from the only person who does this. In fact, at Barclays, I saw quite a few people that I “knew” from the Garden show, including these two guys.

They had moved to the other side of the stage but still had prime seats.

They had moved to the other side of the stage but still had prime seats.

I’m especially glad I caught a second show this time, because the Rebel Heart Tour is really one of Madonna’s best ever. The Hollywood Reporter‘s review summed it up perfectly:

“A two-hour spectacle of new sounds and refreshed throwbacks that left even the most repeated ticketholder of the singer surprised and fulfilled.”


I went to this show with MrB … sorta. I could only get one floor ticket, which I absolutely had to have, so I placed MrB by himself in a first-tier level close to me. Luckily, he’s the independent type! We waved at each other a lot before the show started.


My seat was right off the stage at the end of the runway, so I was super-close to Madonna for parts of the show, though not as consistently as I was at MSG.

madonna barclays 7 cap

Look how happy she is!

There were three particularly awesome moments. First, Madonna dedicated “True Blue” to Debi Mazar, who was in the original 1986 video (as well as one of my favorite movies, Goodfellas).

When Madonna said Debi’s name, I instinctively turned around and spotted Debi was only a few feet away from me. I was shameless about watching her and I’m glad because this video I took of her singing along is adorable!

I’ve watched that about 20 times. I think it’s the cutest video I’ve taken since I caught Pete Townshend smiling at the beginning of “Pinball Wizard” at the Who’s Barclays concert in May.

I’m going to make a dedication of my own now. This next picture goes out to my concert-going friend Jessie, who came to Madonna’s MSG show with me. She told me that she thought it was cool that the audience sang along at certain parts and put up their “lighters” (well, cellphone flashlights) without Madonna saying a word. I told her that, actually, Madonna has no qualms about telling the audience how to behave, and anyone who sits down will rue the day she or he was so lazy. Sure enough, at Barclays, a couple in the row right behind me had the nerve to sit down while Madonna was speaking to the crowd. She honed in on them, pointed at them and asked, “ARE YOU GUYS TIRED OVER HERE? WHAT’S GOING ON?” I got this picture of her in the act of calling them out.

Jessie would NEVER sit down.

Jessie would NEVER sit down.

As far as I saw, they stood for the rest of the show.

Right after that, while she was still at the end of the runway near me, Madonna performed “Ghosttown” from her Rebel Heart album, and got such a huge ovation after that she couldn’t speak over it at first. She also clearly had tears in her eyes. The copyright police will probably take this fan video down, so watch it while you can. It was shot from very close to where I was standing and includes Madonna’s comments to the sitting people, the song, and the applause and comments after. This other video might survive because it’s just the applause and her comments, rather than the song. By the way, a couple of reviews claimed audience members were bored during her new songs. I never saw any of that, and it certainly wasn’t going on at this moment.

Here are two other fun, short videos I took at the Barclays concert, after regretting not shooting them at MSG. Who besides Madonna would climb a cross-shaped stripper pole and swing around it on top of a half-naked “nun” for a sex song called “Holy Water”?

And I’m glad I got the dancers plunging practically into the crowd during “Illuminati.” Still photos didn’t do this justice. Like the Hollywood Reporter review said, “It’s arguable that her changeover dance sequences and stunts are more entertaining than other performers’ entire sets.”

I wore the original 1980s heart earring I wear to every Madonna show.

Here’s the rest of my outfit.

madonnaoutfit2resizeWhat Wendy Wore to Barclays
Top: Original Madonna Blond Ambition concert t-shirt from 1990
Shorts: Acne Jeans (purchased as regular jeans in 2008, converted to shorts in 2015)
Shoes: Prada (2011)
Purse: Prada (purchased from eBay in 2008, first seen here)
Leather wrist warmers: Tae Ashida (2015)

That wall wasn’t near Barclays Center, but close to New York Adorned on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. I swung by there — with MrB in tow — to get a third lobe piercing for my left ear. It wasn’t my first visit. About a month ago, my gorgeous former employee Eryn and I visited New York Adorned’s Cassie for other piercings.  Eryn got a forward helix.

I got a tragus piercing in my left ear. I went first and Eryn thought she was going to get a funny photo to send to MrB. To her great disappointment, I didn’t flinch or even bat an eyelash, so, instead of a picture of me screaming for help, we wound up with what I think is the best photo of me ever.

At last, I know how to get a good photo of myself! I just need to lie upside down with my eyes closed next to two tattooed arms. Yep, now I have two poses!

I loved the way the tragus piercing looked (despite the blah nonallergenic stainless-steel stud I had to get for my sensitive skin) but it looked a little unbalanced to me with some bare space on the lobe. It was if all my earrings were pushing towards my face, like peeps at a general-admission concert: “Let’s get to the front of this ear! It’s no fun in the back.”

I decided I needed another lobe piercing to fix that, and that pre-concert was the perfect time. Madonna gave me the hole-y spirit! Once these heal, I’ll do the same on my right ear. I’ve got a LOT of stud earrings to wear.

The rest of my best Madonna photos from Barclays are here. Also, in case you missed it, Pitchfork interviewed Madonna about Rebel Heart (her 13th album!) in March. She mentions Keith Haring in it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

If you had told 1980s me that, in the distant future, I’d see Duran Duran once and Madonna twice in a single week, I would have been mind-blowingly happy … but not totally surprised.  I always promised myself that when I graduated from high school, I’d move to New York, where I would find like-minded people and have all the fun that I didn’t have during my childhood in New Jersey. I DID IT, BITCHES!


Duran Duran bassist John Taylor was always my favorite member of the band. Photo taken this month from the second row of Terminal 5.

So, two days after this month’s Duran Duran show, I went to Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour at Madison Square Garden with my concert-going friend Jessie. We had floor seats, and my inner concert-photojournalist was overjoyed to find myself closer to the Queen that I’d ever been in the 30 years since I skipped my high-school prom to catch her at Radio City Music Hall. (Sad but true: I have no memory of her opening act — a little group called the Beastie Boys.)


This is how close I was.

Jessie was impressed by the audience, which included 7′-tall drag queens in sequined evening gowns and dudes in matador and bull costumes that were inspired by the theme of Madonna’s “Living for Love” video.


Madonna was looking at these guys when I took the photo.

There are critics who complain that Madonna is old and “irrelevant.” GTFOH. People have said that Madonna was over since her career started. (In 1985, Paul Grein, an editor at Billboard, said, “Cyndi Lauper will be around for a long time. Madonna will be out of the business in six months. Her image has completely overshadowed her music.”) And let’s see if the “relevant” stars of today can sell out a venue like the Garden 30 years from now and have the crowd on its feet for the whole show. (By the way, Pitchfork’s T. Cole Rachel wrote a nice piece on Madonna’s lasting relationship with her gay fans.)

I like that Madonna did something unusual by having comedian Amy Schumer open for her New York shows. In her highlarious routine, Amy mused, “Who better to open for Madonna than me?” and then answered herself, “LITERALLY, ANY BAND!”

Another thing that was different about Madonna during this tour was that she looked soooo happy!

She's smiling!

She’s smiling!

Usually — and I haven’t missed a single tour — Madonna looks more determined than playful. That makes sense, because she’s working hard. Madonna puts on huge shows that are entirely unlike anyone else’s. I’ve seen plenty of the pop divas who have emerged in Madonna’s wake. Some of them clearly spend a fortune on costumes, visuals, special effects and choreography, and they still can’t match Madonna. It’s not enough to hire all the best help. The artist has to have a personal vision that brings all the elements together, and that’s what Madonna has. As Jessie said after, “That’s the best show I’ve ever seen … and you know, I’ve been to SHOWS.” (If you think I go to a lot of concerts, multiply that by a factor of 20; that’s how many shows Jessie goes to.)


At this show, everything ran perfectly, as usual, but Madonna seemed totally relaxed. I think she was enjoying her accomplishments and longevity. She mentioned several times that it had been 30 years since she first played the Garden. Later, she cooed, “It’s lonely at the top … but it ain’t crowded!”

Madonna brought Amy Schumer back on stage to present the night's "Unapologetic Bitch" award.

Madonna brought Amy Schumer back on stage to present the night’s “Unapologetic Bitch” award.

I keep thinking of the phrase “watch the throne,” which was the title of Jay Z and Kanye West’s 2011 joint album. Don’t even bother watching Madonna’s throne, y’all. You’re never going to get close to it.

I didn’t have a matador costume available, but I still wanted to make a fashion statement for the concert, so I went with the defective G-Lish feather top that I got from Patricia Field this summer. The one good thing about having a top that’s disintegrating is that I don’t have to be all precious about wearing it.

This is what fell out when I took the shirt off the hanger.

This is what fell out when I took the shirt off the hanger.

Here’s my full look, most of which I wore to the Southpaw premiere in July. The new elements are the leather wrist warmers and the earrings.

madonnaoutfitWhat Wendy Wore to Madonna Concert #1
Molting feather top: G-Lish, from Patricia Field (2015)
Shorts: Castelbajac (2013)
Shoes: Prada (2011)
Leather wrist warmers: From Tae Ashida (2015)
Heart earrings: Original 1980s jewelry

I love those wrist warmers! I got them in Paris this summer. MrB and I were doing some last-minute poking around before heading for the airport and I saw these in the window of a store called Tae Ashida. I got a pair in black too, which you’ll see in my next post on Madonna at Barclays. I did say I went to two shows, you know!

You can see all my best photos of Madonna at the Garden here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I’m in love with the Paul Andrew Chrysler-Building boots that I saw in a Bergdorf Goodman catalog.


Maybe I can wear them with my Zang Toi gown that depicts the Time Warner Center and the Hearst Tower …


Zang Toi gown in 2009. Click for original post.

… and accessorize with my Taxi and Passenger Maneater ring, which is engraved with the Brooklyn Bridge.


Click to see on my website.

What, too much? But I love New York!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

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

Over on Instagram, my No Class ring has had several outings.

Follow my company Instagram to get a sneak peek of a new design tomorrow!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

I enjoyed reading Vanity Fair’s oral history of the late director Mike Nichols so much that I couldn’t stop with that article. I had to read about 10 others. Nichols had such a fascinating life. Born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky, he fled Nazi Germany as a child, traveling alone with his younger brother. He arrived in the U.S. permanently bald due to a reaction to a whooping-cough vaccine — as an adult, he’d wear wigs and fake eyebrows all his life — and knowing two English phrases: “I do not speak English” and “Please do not kiss me.” He turned himself into Mike Nichols, one of only 12 “EGOT” winners (EGOT means Emmy, Grammy, Oscar AND Tony awards).

I found my way to this 2000 interview Nichols did with John Lahr for the New Yorker. Before Nichols directed movies including The Graduate, Silkwood and Working Girl and plays including The Odd Couple and Spamalot, his claim to fame was his late 1950s/early 1960s improv comedy act with the brilliant Elaine May. I was struck by one routine that was quoted in the article. It dealt with Charles Van Doren, who in 1957 had an impressive winning streak on Twenty One, a television quiz show. But the show had been rigged, and Van Doren wound up testifying before Congress that he had been given questions and answers in advance. Here’s the Nichols & May bit on the quiz-show scandal:

NICHOLS: Thank heaven for the investigation.
MAY: Oh, yes.
NICHOLS: When I feel worst say to myself, “At least the government has taken a firm stand.”
MAY: Oh, yes. Well, they can’t fool around with this the way they did with integration.
MAY: This is a …
NICHOLS: … moral issue.
MAY: Yes.
NICHOLS: A moral issue.
MAY: Yes! Yes! It is a moral issue.
NICHOLS: A moral issue.
MAY: And to me that is so much more interesting than a real issue.

Basically, over 50 years ago, Nichols and May captured what happens on Twitter and Facebook every damn day in 2015.  And it really jumped out at me because I’d just read this comment from comedian Martin Short in Vanity Fair’s oral history:

“What’s fascinating about the Nichols and May stuff, if you play it right now, is that it could have been done yesterday, because it’s not tied to references—it’s tied to human behavior.”

Nailed it!

When Nichols died last November of a heart attack at age 83, I spent hours clicking the many links to old Nichols & May clips that were embedded in tributes and obituaries.  The Wall Street Journal put together a list of five great ones but, to my great annoyance, the embedded videos have all vanished. Mine will probably disappear too, so watch them ASAP. Here is the classic phone call from May’s hectoring mother to Nichols’s allegedly neglectful and increasingly infantilized adult son. You’ve got to hear May’s tone and timing in her opening line: “Hello, Arthur? This is your mother … DO YOU REMEMBER ME?” (It was inspired by an actual call Nichols received from his own mother.)

And here’s the “$65 funeral” skit, a reaction to journalist Jessica Mitford’s exposé of hidden funeral costs. May as “Miss Loomis, your Grief Lady” starts out by asking a sobbing Nichols where he saw the ad for the inexpensive funeral — “just trying to find out where our trade comes from” — like websites today asking you to check off a box for if you found them by Google, a news story or “other.” Nichols finds out that his choice of mahogany, oak or “nubby plywood” casket costs extra, as does the use of a hearse and driver and the option to actually bury the body.

I could watch Elaine May all day. Here she is in 2003, giving a short but sweet and very funny speech when Nichols received the American Film Institute’s lifetime achievement award.

I hope you recognize that beaming blonde seen in the reaction shots of Nichols. She’s news anchor Diane Sawyer, Nichols’s fourth wife. From the description of their friends and colleagues, they were very happy together. I do wish she had spoken to Vanity Fair for the oral history.

Here are a few more articles to check out.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I’m having a belated, band-related fashion trauma! Ten days ago, I saw Duran Duran for the first time since 1987.


Click for original post.

The band was at Terminal 5 in New York to support their new album, Paper Gods, and my designing friend Stacy Lomman and I were there in the second row. That day, I deeply regretted not having this t-shirt from 1984 to wear to the show. (I don’t miss the hair and eyeliner though.)


Click for original post.

But you know what I totally forgot about until I started writing this post? I have this original Rio scarf, probably from 1983 or 1984!


OH EM GEE! What a missed opportunity! Ever since that scarf resurfaced a couple of years ago, I’ve been wondering, “What the hell am I ever going to do with this?” Um, how about wear it to a Duran Duran concert? Doh! I also have a Duran Duran bandana floating around here somewhere. That slipped my mind as well.

At least I remembered to wear my recently custom-made, New Romantic-style puffy shirt to wear. You can glimpse it here.

When Duran Duran performed “Planet Earth,” Stacy nudged me and said, “It’s your shirt’s song!” The 1981 “Planet Earth” video was full of ruffled, puffy, white shirts.

I’m really glad we got to see Duran Duran up close and personal. Concerts are so much more meaningful when you can see the expressions on the performers’ faces with your own eyes, rather than via a big video screen. Also, I still have a big crush on bassist John Taylor, even if I’m not styling my hair like his anymore.

John Taylor on the left, with keyboard player Nick Rhodes in the background.

John Taylor on the left, with keyboard player Nick Rhodes in the background.

Lead singer Simon Le Bon sounded great. This is my favorite shot of him from the show.


For the encore song, “Rio,” the background image was the same iconic Patrick Nagel album-cover image that is on my vintage scarf.

John and Simon and the Rio lady.

John and Simon and the Rio lady.

Duran Duran and Nagel’s art were such a good combo. Of course, everyone ripped off Nagel’s style left and right. Right before my parents moved out of my childhood home in 2013, I visited and found this Nagel-inspired calendar from 1986 STILL ON THE WALL in the half-finished basement where I used to play my vinyl records during high school.

It looked pristine, too!

It looked pristine, too!

I’m definitely keeping this new Duran Duran t-shirt forever.

Post @duranduran concert hangout with @stacylomman #duranduran #concert #music #merch #tshirts

A photo posted by Wendy Brandes (@wendybrandes) on

Check out the rest of my Duran Duran concert photos here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Thanks to Lindsay Putnam for including me in today’s New York Post story on nontraditional engagement rings!


The story features the custom engagement ring I did for my gorgeous clients Lori and Brian.  Lori had requested a ring in the style of my Edburga poison ring, which has a sterling-silver shank and a diamond under a rose quartz cabochon.


My original Edburga ring design.

Using that as inspiration, I created this for Lori.


Click for the full story of Lori’s ring.

If you’re interested in a custom ring of your own, email me at info at wendybrandes dot com to inquire.  As for the original Edburga ring, there is one left in size 6 and to celebrate the story and Lori, it’s on sale!

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