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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!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

MrB and I went to the Broadway production of hot-hot-hot musical Hamilton tonight.


Despite the uniformly rave reviews for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop interpretation of Ron Chernow’s 2005 biography of Alexander Hamilton, I was dreading the evening a little. I was originally supposed to see Hamilton on March 26, when it was downtown at the Public Theater. However, the show didn’t go on that night because of a terrible gas explosion that killed two people and destroyed three buildings in the East Village, just a couple of blocks away from the Public.  When I thought of the play after that, I remembered the smell of smoke in the air that day, so I almost didn’t take the replacement tickets for the Broadway version.

Now I’m glad I did get those tickets. In fact, I would love to see Hamilton again, ASAP. It’s a fabulous retelling of history in 8 Mile style, with a racially diverse cast, great roles for women, and a very funny/pissy King George III. I laughed, I cried … it was better than Cats.

The weather has been starting to cool off over the past few days, so I’m trying to squeeze in a few more summer dresses before fall is here in earnest. I haven’t worn this one in a while.

ungaroresizeWhat Wendy Wore to Hamilton
Dress: Vintage Ungaro (acquired in 2008, seen here in 2009)
Shoes: Prada (2010, recently seen here)

Go see Hamilton if you can. Not going to be in New York in the foreseeable future? The cast recording is now available. Check it out. You won’t be sorry.

Also, here’s a nice Vanity Fair piece on Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr, the frenemy-turned-killer of Miranda’s Hamilton. The performer of one of the musical’s many show-stopping numbers, Odom visited the New Jersey site of the infamous Burr-Hamilton duel. And here he is again, recreating a Burr-related “Got Milk” commercial. Very cute!

Monday, September 21, 2015

I’ve been meaning to share this for so long! Back in July, Michael Hobbes wrote an enlightening story called “The Myth of the Ethical Shopper” for the Huffington Post.

There’s a cycle here in the U.S. (and other Western countries). We as consumers want inexpensive goods, which means manufacturers need to avoid steep U.S. /local labor costs by producing in countries that have lower standards of living, where people work for drastically lower wages. Then a story comes out — or, even worse, a catastrophe happens — that highlights poor working conditions in international factories. The same consumers who wouldn’t dream of paying more for their sneakers, phones or fast fashion will then call for boycotts of the big corporations, holding them responsible for local conditions. We say it’s all Nike’s fault, or Apple’s fault, or Primark‘s fault.

Obviously, the megabrands companies should be held to high standards. The problem is that despite their enormous reach, the big names aren’t responsible for all global manufacturing. Hobbes argues that these days, the big brands that are most likely to be targeted by consumers are also likely to be making efforts to use ethical suppliers because they have the resources to do it and a reputation to protect. He writes “Chikako Oka, a lecturer at Royal Holloway University, found that reputation-conscious companies had 35 percent fewer working violations in their Cambodian factories than did generic brands,” and notes, “It’s not the largest or the second-largest company we should be worried about anymore. It’s the 44th, or the 207th.”  And it’s true. While we worry about the likes of H&M churning out disposable versions of runway fashions, there are actually hundreds of no-name companies knocking off H&M at even lower prices. (Yes, I know this for a fact!)

Meanwhile, big brands don’t always own or run their own factories. To keep up with incessant demand, they outsource production to “megasuppliers,” which, as Hobbes describes them, “are huge conglomerates that can take a design sketch, split the production between thousands of factories, box up the goods and ship them to stores in less time than they’ll stay in style.” These middlemen have existed for years, but now they’re bigger and more dominant than ever. Hobbes wrote:

“The largest apparel megasupplier, Li & Fung, which produces everything from Wal-Mart basics to Disney plush toys to Spanx, has revenues of $19.2 billion; more than Ralph Lauren, Armani and Tommy Hilfiger combined.

“The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport calls Li & Fung’s operations ‘ephemeral.’ It has 15,000 supplier factories in 40 countries, but doesn’t own or operate any of them. It’s a coordinator, configuring cotton suppliers, textile mills, stitching and sewing houses into a straight line just long enough to deliver one order to one buyer, and then reconfiguring them for the next.”

Hobbes says, “Li & Fung does inspect its suppliers and send reports back to its buyers. But there’s no guarantee that orders will be filled by the same factory twice, and audits are often carried out after the order has already been placed.”

Adding to the confusion, the megasuppliers can lose track of what’s happening too.  Hobbes writes:

“Last year, a compliance manager for a European brand told NYU’s Center for Business and Human Rights that small factories in Bangladesh, capable of producing just 10,000 pieces per month, were accepting orders 10 times that large and then filling them through agents, small workshops, and home-based workers.”

Hobbes explains that this is how Walmart ended up involved in a devastating 2012 fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in Bangladesh — responsible for 60 percent of the clothing being produced there —  after it had inspected the factory, declared it unsafe and banned its suppliers from using it. As Hobbes describes it:

“Wal-Mart hired a megasupplier called Success Apparel to fill an order for shorts. Success hired another company, Simco, to carry out the work. Simco—without telling Success, much less Wal-Mart—sub-contracted 7 percent of the order to Tazreen’s parent company, the Tuba Group, which then assigned it to Tazreen. Two other sub- (or sub-sub-sub-) contractors also placed Wal-Mart orders at Tazreen, also without telling the company.”

Hobbes also explores the issue of goods that aren’t made for Western consumers. In Delhi, where children start learning garment production at age 8 and get paid half as much as adults, they’re often “sewing saris and embroidering clothes destined for Indian and Bangladeshi and Pakistani shelves.” He says:

“Western markets simply don’t matter as much as they used to. India produces twice as much clothing for its own consumers as it does for us. Fifty-six percent of the clothing produced in China is for the Chinese market. “

… And it’s not just developing countries selling stuff to themselves. They’re also selling a rapidly expanding share to each other. From 2008 to 2013, the fastest-growing demand for apparel was in China, Eastern Europe, India, Turkey and Brazil. Garment exports from Bangladesh to other poor countries have grown by as much as 50 percent per year.”

Hobbes says there is a way to tackle these issues and it is essential to involve local government and institutions in a meaningful way. He cites Brazil’s efforts to improve working conditions in the pig-iron industry. It wasn’t a one-step effort by any means. You’ll have to read the story yourself to understand the entire process in Brazil, but it’s worth your time.  As Hobbes concludes:

“We are not going to shop ourselves into a better world. Advocating for boring stuff like complaint mechanisms and formalized labor contracts is nowhere near as satisfying as buying a pair of Fair Trade sandals or whatever. But that’s how the hard work of development actually gets done: Not by imploring people to buy better, but by giving them no other option.”

Click here to read “The Myth of the Ethical Shopper.”

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Television folks don’t do a red carpet the way the music industry does. After all the eye candy at the MTV Video Music Awards last month, the Emmys were a big letdown.

I’m going to give my coveted Best Dressed/Wear What You Want combo award to Scandal‘s Kerry Washington, though her phresh out the runway, chainmail-and-sheer Marc Jacobs dress is more beautiful than envelope-pushing. At least the strong shoulders, interesting sleeve length and midi hemline are a refreshing change from the typical strapless or strappy mermaid gown. And, let’s face it, I would totally wear this. It would really work for a Game of Thrones theme party, right? There’s a Khaleesi-at-war vibe that I like.

First runner-up is the always-eccentric Alan Cumming. Check out the Crocs! They go well with his umbrella.

Second runner-up is Teyonah Parris of Mad Men for her big, polka-dot ballgown by Francesca Miranda. I’m always a fan of a dress that encourages the wearer to play with her skirt. A gown like that inspired me to create my Best Dressed/Wear What You Want award in the first place.

Teyonah looks so happy. That Miss America hair though!

I was also intrigued by the one-sleeved sheer Stephane Rolland dress worn by Nazanin Boniadi of Homeland

… and the sheer dress worn with a lot of attitude by Naomi Grossman of American Horror Story.

I’ve been bored with the practically naked look ever since Rihanna made the ultimate naked-dress statement by baring her nipples at the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards last year. Every celebrity who has exposed vast amounts of skin post-Rihanna looks like she’s desperately trying to capture Bad Gal Riri‘s sex-ay magic. But Naomi is giving off a more avant-garde vibe, so I approve.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Earlier this month, I squeezed in a visit to the record-settingChina: Through the Looking Glass” exhibit just before the end of its run at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

met2resizeWhat Wendy Wore to the Museum
Dress: James Perse (purchased between 1998-2002; previously seen here)
Shoes: Dolce & Gabbana (2015)
Purse: Yves Saint Laurent (2013)

The show would have been worth it for this gold Guo Pei dress alone.

Front/side view.

Front/side view.

Rihanna wore a fur-trimmed yellow cape by Guo Pei when she attended the opening gala for the exhibit in May. She’d look amazing in this dress too. That girl can handle a lot of fabric.

Back view.

Back view.

But each room of the huge exhibit was amazing, even if it was so heavy on Dior that I wondered if the design house was a sponsor. (It wasn’t. The corporate sponsors were Yahoo and Conde Nast.)

In between the many extravagant ballgowns, I was pleased to discover this lower-key Yves Saint Laurent look by Tom Ford.


The ensemble was from the Autumn/Winter 2004/2005 collection, and I’m now positive my own chartreuse YSL skirt is from the same collection.  When I posted the skirt in 2011, I guessed that I had purchased it between 2002 and 2005.

Click for original post.

Click for original post.

Now I can narrow that down to 2004-2005. I am pining for the blue jacket to wear with my skirt.

I was not-so-pleased to see examples from Vivienne Tam’s provocative 1995 Mao-printed collection, just because they reminded me that I foolishly gave away one of her sequined Mao t-shirts before I realized that closet purges are not all they’re cracked up to be. That t-shirt — which showed Mao with a bee on his nose — is one of my major purging mistakes, along with a silver Todd Oldham top that I am still hoping to replace via eBay or Etsy.

I also thought it was a shame that the exhibit didn’t include anything by my designing friend Zang Toi, who was born in Malaysia to a family of Chinese descent and whose Fall 2014 collection was inspired by 1930s Shanghai. The Met could have shown one less John Galliano-designed chinoiserie fantasy for Dior in order to include a piece by a New York-based designer who actually represents his Chinese heritage in his designs, don’t you think?

I wore one of Zang’s Shanghai-inspired qipao dresses to his Spring 2016 runway show for New York Fashion Week last Friday.

zangtoidressresizeWhat Wendy Wore to Zang’s Show
Dress: Zang Toi (Fall 2014 collection, purchased in 2015)
Shoes: Prada (2010)
Purse: Prada (2007)
Strange background: I worked in this building when I was at CNN from 1995 to 1999.

Here’s a close-up of my hair and makeup. Julie Matos of Warren-Tricomi did my hair as usual, but my friend Josie Torres wasn’t available to do my makeup.  I really love what pinch-hitter makeup artist Hailey (Hayley? Hailie? Why are there so many spellings of this name?) of Kimara Ahnert did with my eyes.

zang hair resize

I’m wearing my own peridot and diamond chandelier earring design.

When I walked into the venue, one of the first people I saw was Zang’s friend, model Deborah Fenker, who got a laugh out of my outfit: When we posed together after Zang’s show last September, she was wearing this very dress.


Deborah wearing the dress last year. Click for original post.

Zang’s collections are often inspired by his travels, and this show was all about the whites and blues of the Greek island of Santorini.

Santorini blue.

Santorini blue.

Zang is sticking to his tradition of including a bare-chested male model on his runway. Why not? The dudes always get an enthusiastic round of applause.

Oh, hello!

Oh, hello!

I was more fixated on a surprising pop of green amid the blues and whites. Zang’s greens are always beautiful, and this diaphanous gown on model Georgie Badiel was my favorite look.


Click to enlarge.

Georgie knows how to work a dress like no other. Check out this photo of her in 2013. Now that I think of it, I most often want the dresses that Georgie wears! Zang needs to clone this woman and have a whole show modeled by an army of Georgies.  I’d have to buy every single look.

UPDATED SEPT. 22, 2015, TO ADD: I added a link to my green Zang Toi dress to Not Dead Yet Style’s latest Visible Monday post. Click here to check out the other visible ladies.



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