Meeting Bill Cuningham

If you live in New York long enough, you are likely to find yourself having a perfect New York moment. Sitting in Central Park with a folded slice, as you watch the boats drift across the lake. Hearing someone say “cawfee” or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset. A moment that makes you stop and think “this is so New York.” A fleeting five minutes of your life that you’ll always remember.

 

I was in The New York Times Building to interview Art Director Richard Aloisio, whom I had met at a book launch earlier in the week. Richard, a style icon of menswear on Instagram, had agreed to be interviewed for my fashion blog. After we were done chatting he casually asked if I would like to meet Bill. Yes, just “Bill” — no last name was necessary. As a fashion blogger, the idea of being snapped by Bill Cunningham was the holy grail, the ultimate approval. As Anna Wintour has said, “We all dress for Bill.” The thought of meeting him and maybe even exchanging a word or two had me nodding enthusiastically, clapping my hands, and jumping up and down. Amused, Richard led me out of the meeting room and into the Art Department to search for Bill.

A cursory glance around the room—a sea of cubicles interrupted only by an elevator bank in their midst—proved fruitless, so we began running around the offices of the Art Department of The New York Times. We were searching for Bill Cunningham like “SVU”‘s Benson and Stabler tracking down a perp. The department is scattered over different floors, and given that the streets of New York also serve as his workspace, Bill could have literally been anywhere. I had begun to lose hope and I was headed for the elevator back down to the lobby when the doors opened and out he stepped. Iconic blue jacket, camera slung around his neck and photos in his hand — it was Bill Cunningham, looking exactly like Bill Cunningham.

“Hi there, Richard!”, he said before noticing me. “Oh hello, young lady!”

“Hello, lovely to meet you!” I replied, beaming.

“Wow, what a terrific bird’s nest hat!” he said, pointing to my head.

“You like it?” My smile grew from ecstatic to maniacal.

“Oh it’s terrific, yeah, I love it! Your dress and all, that’s lovely!”

Then Richard piped up: “It’s a coat, Bill.”

“A coat? Oh yes, it’s a coat!”

I gave him a twirl.

“Oh that’s beautiful, child. Is it warm enough for today?”

“I don’t care,” I replied. “It’s fabulous!”

“Ahh … vanity keeps you warm, right?”

“Absolutely.”

Pointing at my hat again, which was actually a turban I had fashioned out of a scarf, Cunningham said, “But the hair, the hat—”

At this point he was studying my homemade head adornment, looking at it from different angles. He was trying to figure it out. I explained, “Yeah, I just made it out of a scarf—”

“You did? Oh it’s lovely and the color, the solid background and the — it’s fun. You’re having fun with the stuff. That’s what it’s meant to do,” he said. “Today, everyone takes it so serious, like it’s some kind of gospel, instead of just having fun with it. It’s like when the kids go out to Governor’s Island, for the vintage dance, I mean there’s a little core group of maybe fifty that are really into the authentic dress, but the rest are just having fun. It’s lovely.”

He was right, of course. Fashion should just be fun, but somehow along the way it has become a loaded, stressful and corporate concept. The pressure put on men and women to look a certain way is perhaps more heightened now than it has ever been. Yet here was a man who was going against all of that and was only excited by an authentic expression of personal style. His self-created career as fashion anthropologist has turned the cameras away from the red carpet and around to those who stand behind the velvet rope.

Bill’s love of the eccentric was what first captured my imagination and drew me to his columns. When I first discovered “On The Street,” I was brand-new to New York, freshly arrived from London and very much aware that I knew no one and nothing of this strange new culture in which I found myself; I was an outsider looking for my way in. He was an outsider who was inclusive of everyone. He stood in the center, but was always looking out. To say that he was in the business of fashion is like saying Iris Apfel was in the business of dressing — his work was about so much more than that. This was the business of style. He showed little enthusiasm for celebrities preened by teams of experts, and was instead much more excited by the genuine self-styled fashionistas of the streets. He just wanted you to have fun with it. Fashion is a serious industry. Huge amounts of money and ego abound, but style—style can be fun. That can be expression. It’s art that is built on the canvas of a body in the morning, only to be discarded at night as the apartment door shuts behind you. Each day is a new chance to build a new version of yourself.

It occurs to me that without Bill Cunningham, I wouldn’t be a fashion blogger; indeed, there would be no fashion blogs. He brought fashion out of the couture houses and into the streets and in doing so created a career that did not exist before. His influence is vast, spanning at least 50 years, but still felt as contemporary as clashing prints. So-called “street style” fashion or even Humans of New York would not exist had Cunningham not begun documenting fashion on the streets way back in 1967.

His photos tell a story. The subjects in them are alive, as they jump across a puddle, hail a cab, or react to something they just heard. He captures a moment, not just a outfit. We are so inundated these days with airbrushed advertisements and photoshopped models, and it is unbearably dull. We want to know how people create their looks and develop their styles. There is a vulnerability and an openness in that. Think of how the no-make-up selfie went viral. People want to think, “hey, I could do that, too!” The journey is so much more interesting than the destination. Bill, as always, was way ahead of the curve.

Richard told me that before he met Bill, he assumed he just shot photos and ran them every week. But when he would run into Bill in the office, Bill would look at what he was wearing that day and would comment on the color and tell him the exact name and shade and which year the color had been introduced or when it was most popular. Once, Richard wore a Hawaiian shirt in the summertime and, as Richard put it, “Bill could tell me the name of the leaf that had been used in the printed fabric which made up the shirt.”

“He had an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion,” Aloisio continued. “He was around so long that he noticed the cycles that came around again. He said that in the 1950s there were fewer choices, but now everyone wears whatever they want and it’s chaos. Bill predicted that it will come around yet again and things will simplify.”

I wonder if that isn’t true? The pushback against fast fashion and the human rights violations occurring in the textile industry makes me think that we are headed back to a time where people buy more well-made and ethically sourced items, rather than stockpiling cheap, disposable fashions.

What struck me most in our very brief meeting was his sense of curiosity. Upon seeing my turban, he asked questions, noticed the pattern and colors, admired the way the outfit was put together, and there he was — the last word in fashion, a living landmark, and yet he was asking me how I created my look. I think curiosity is really the key to his entire outlook. He never stayed still, he always looked forward and kept an open mind. He never became stale or fell behind. He was always out there, looking and learning and capturing it all on his Nikon.

Back at the elevator, after examining my hat, he turned to Richard: “But your shirt is no shy violet, either. Wonderful!”

“Yes, you said the shade was marigold,” Richard replied.

Marigold. That’s what I thought this morning, yes. It’s beautiful, Richard. Ah, you have joy with it, young fella. It’s nice to see someone having a pleasure with it, you know, instead of taking it so serious.”

Then turning back to me: “But your coat child, is lovely.

“Thank you, Bill.” And once more he said, ”Lovely, child.”

With that, he turned and walked in the direction of his cubicle. “Goodnight kids!”  he called out turning back and waving at us, “Goodnight!” we rang out in unison, waving right back as his blue jacket disappeared around the wall. The perfect New York moment, gone but not forgotten — just like Bill.

NYFW 2017

Hello Darlings,

New York Fashion Week is in full swing and I have been running all over town in the freezing cold to attend the shows.  It is as glamourous as it sounds and also completely exhausting - there really is no comparable experience. As Bill Cunningham once said, "the best show is on the streets" and I have to say, I agree. I have witnessed some fabulous looks and fashion "moments" on the way into the shows. One memorable fashionista I found myself sitting opposite at the Georgine runway show was the latex-clad performance artist, Pandemonia. Check out her look here. In celebration of all things fashion week, here is my round up of a Ruthie Darling Fashion Week, including a streetstyle photo gallery by Denton Taylor.

And this is only part one! Today, I will be attending a Muslim couture runway show and then the LUST party at House Of Yes where I can finally (sort of) relax and eat quail off of naked men. More on that soon too, I think it demands an explanation.....

RD xoxox

First up is the Michael Costello show. Costello, once a contestant on Project Runway, created a ultra feminine collection which mainly consisted of white pieces without ever feeling bridal. Check it out below:

Second, this is Chromat. Chromat collaborated with Klymit to design inflatable garments that would help the wearer stay afloat and protected. The results were amazing. They took inspiration from life vests and floatation devices designed for extended survival in rough, open water. Perhaps, it was a nod to our current political climate—especially as models marched down the runway to a song which contained the lyrics "Fuck Donald Trump." In the show notes, Chromat wrote: "There is a feeling of paranoia, the end of truth and the dawning of a new era of persecution of the other." In defense of "the other," Chromat featured plus-sized models and a transgender model, with a rainbow of races represented. 

Here is the feminine and elegant Leanne Marshall show. Front row on all three shows - I am just living the life here! 

And finally some wintery streetstyle photos by Denton Taylor. Kudos to these fashionistas who still managed to look fab whilst battling the cold. I was rocking more of the belted-duvet look.

All photos by Ruthie Darling, street style by Denton Taylor.

More soon!

RD xoxo

Richard Aloisio

I was at a party last week when I spotted this totally dapper looking gent talking to my friend Dayle who runs the IG account ArtfulCityStyle. Dayle introduced this impeccably dressed chap as Richard Aloisio, Art Director at The New York Times. I almost immediately asked Richard if he would consider being on my blog and he gave me his card. Now, I assumed that this fancy New York Times Art Director was merely being polite, but low and behold, not a week later I was standing in the lobby at The Times waiting to head on up to the Art Department. 

After a little tour (where I was trying to act as cool as possible and failing miserably - I WAS IN THE NEW YORK EFFING TIMES!) we settled into a meeting room to talk men's fashion and learn a little about Richard and his fascinating life.

Ruthie Darling: Did you always dress this wonderfully?

Richard Aloisio: “Well, not this wonderfully, no. I always dressed nicely, but I guess about three or four years ago I met somebody who makes bespoke suits, his name is Domenico “Mimmo” Spano - boy I’m nervous, mind if I take off my jacket?”

(I had to laugh at this. He was nervous? I was sitting in a private meeting room in the New York Times Building and HE was nervous?!)

RA: “A friend introduced us, Mimmo and I. I walked into his studio and I fell in love right away. He had the walls painted in these colors, a cheddar and a green and a purple. I walked in the room and I thought: I could stay here all day. I was wearing a suit that day, not bright like this, but you know, a dark blue suit, like most guys wear. I always had funky ties and socks, but not so much in the suits. He had books and books of fabrics that I could look at for days on end.”

RD: I’m curious, you say you’re shy and even nervous, but you wear clothes that are so flamboyant and make people look at you and want to talk to you-

RA: “But nobody does talk to me. Not one. I might get a shoutout from a guy saying nice suit, but that's it.”

RD: What about women?

RA: “Never. Well, the only people who might say anything; black people. It's always a black person, never a white person. One time I had a guy say “You are one fly dressing motherfucker” and I thought: that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard! I like it when I hear something from a black person because the white people, they don’t know color. They’re afraid of color. It might be me too. I try not to look around when I’m walking. I avoid people’s glances. I don’t want to see if they disapprove of my look. Maybe I come off as aloof."

RD: Are you a New Yorker?

RA: “I was born in Brooklyn. I went to Pratt for Art. I had a few jobs before I came to The Times and I’ve been here forever.”

RD: Forever?

RA: “Almost forever. Longer than you’re alive.”

RA: “I always loved color. It’s inside me. Once I moved to Manhattan everything exploded in me. Once I left home I realized, I can do anything I want now. This was very bad because anything I liked, I started buying and that’s when all my collections started happening. If I liked something, I was going to have hundreds of them.”

RD: What kind of collections?

RA: “Well everything I’ve collected has been through serendipity. I worked for a magazine (I won’t say which one) and for my birthday, the associate art director gave me a little pin. The kind of pin you wear on your tie and that was it. I went nuts with pins. I was just combing the city for pins. But  after a while, I started buying these kits where you could build a dinosaur out of little pieces, you know, like little ribs? Then I would hang them from the ceiling. I would fill my whole apartment with dinosaurs. I’d spray paint each one. So that was the beginning. 

RD: **Bemused face**

RA: “I have OCD. If I see something I like, I have to have more of it.”

RD: So, what is your current obsession?

RA: “Clothing. Suits.”

RD: From dinosaurs to suits?

RA: “Well, in between there has been lots of other obsessions. Like vintage quilts, I have a pretty large collection of those. I’ve got hundreds of cookie jars and vintage vases. Ah Ruthie, you don’t know what you’re in for now….."

RA: “You see something, and it’s lovely and it elevates your mood. But then it gets to a point where there is so much of it, you don’t see any of it. The cookie jar thing happened because I was on my way to put down a payment on one of my vintage quilts and we passed this store that sold cookie jars. It was closing down and the owner wanted to get rid of the contents. I think I bought forty cookie jars that day, my wife bought twelve.

RD: Forty!? Did you not leave the store and think: i just bought forty cookie jars?!

RA: Not really, no. 

RA: “For me, now, it’s just clothing. I always have a collection going on. I have a friend who always asked me “Richard, what are you collecting now?” He always encouraged me to do more art and I’ve always done something artistic, but recently he said that I’m the art now. That meant a great deal to me.

RD: Why do you think so many men will just pick a plain blue or a black suit and throw on a plain shirt?

RA: “I don’t think they care. And if they do care I think a lot of guys are afraid of color. They’re afraid of being ridiculed.”

RD: Ridiculed by other men?

RA: “By other men, yeah. I was at this family event once and I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and my wife’s cousin said to me “Wow, I love that shirt, I wish I could wear a shirt like that” and I said “Well, why can’t you?’ and he said, “Oh I couldn’t wear a shirt like that” I said “Look! It buttons up just like a regular shirt!” They’re afraid of it. They’re afraid of the color. Maybe they’re afraid of being called gay. Granted, I’m a designer so I see color and it just delights me.”

RD: You’re very into the socks,

RA: "The socks were the first thing. Actually when I met my wife I was very proud of the outfit I was wearing. I was wearing a Benetton sweater - it was a cyan blue. She said, “Ooh I like that sweater” and the first thing I said was, “And look at my socks!” They were cyan blue too. She told me later that she thought that was rather pompous of me, so that was the joke for years - she would say “and look at my socks!” 

RA: “Socks were my entrance into color on the wardrobe.”

RD: Maybe that would be a good way to get other men into color?

RA: “Well yeah socks are a big thing now.”

RD: How did you get into Instagram?

RA: “It was a friend’s daughter. She’s about sixteen. She saw me playing with my phone and she said “Are you on Instagram?” and I said “Oh god no, I hate that stuff!” and she said “Oh c’mon, I’m on it, we could follow each other!” and I said “I don’t want to!” After a while I came around and said, “Oh, all right” and she showed me how to use it. I started taking pictures. Then I started to make a layout and I showed it to a few people and they liked it. I design stuff you know? I don’t just throw things out there. Bill Cunningham even took a few photos for me!”

RD: What do you think about young men’s fashion?

RA: “The young guys that work here. Oof! They look like they’ve rolled out of bed. Crumpled! Everything is crumpled! They look like crumpled lumberjacks.”

RD: Yep, that’s the Bushwick look! Perhaps men think they can opt out, but they can’t of course - people make judgments.

RA “Well absolutely. I think it was Edith Head who wrote: You can have anything you want if you dress for it.”

RD: Except perhaps if you’re Zuckerberg who actually just instagrammed his rows and rows of grey t-shirts.

RA: “Well when you’ve got all that money -“

RD: It’s a statement then, even: “I don’t need to wear a suit I have enough power not to”.

RA: “Exactly. it is a statement, yes.”

RD: Do you get your clothes ready the night before or do you do it on the fly?

RA: “I do it on the fly, but then I go to the gym and my head kinda clears and I see things differently.”

RD: Is it comforting to have all of this things around you? Does it make you feel in control?

RA: “Yes, you’re getting it because you think it’s comforting. OCD is about the compulsion to get something which soothes you. You get anxious, so you do something to make yourself feel better, but you’re going to get anxious about something again.”

RD: That sounds exhausting?

RA: “It is exhausting. I’m up all night doing this Instagram thing. I’m getting like three hours of sleep.”

RD: Have you met any followers?

RA: “Yeah, I met Judith aka Style Crone and Dayle of Artfulcitystyle, but I get intimidated meeting new people. What you see on Instagram - I can do that in a room all by myself, but not in front of you.”

RD: This OCD, were you like this as a child?

RA: “Oh yes, but it gets worse as you get older. It’s very frustrating because it can be paralyzing. It’s an illness. I have shirts hanging from floor lamps. My stuff is everywhere."

RD: And your wife, she’s fine with this?

RA: “Ha, no. Neither of us are fine with this.”

RD: But she understands?

RA: “As much as you can understand somebody like me.”

RD: Yeah, because I would kill you.

RA: “Thank you for putting it so…so…tenderly.”

RD: That’s me!

RA: “I love to pick the craziest fabrics. Mimmo, will say “That will make a good sports jacket” and I say, “Why not a suit?” and he’ll say, “Oh, that’s a lot for a suit, that’s a lot of pattern” and I’ll say ‘No I want to get a suit!”

RD: You don’t mind “a lot” of, well, anything, do you?

RA: “Ha no! I guess I don’t. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.  I coined that expression here at work actually. When we first got computers here at The Times and you could really play with layouts, I went nuts. I’d put curves on type, shadows, color etc. My boss called me in and said “Richard it’s too much, just do one thing” and I said “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing”.

RD: And you still have a job.

RA:”Ha! Apparently.”

RD: Do you have a favorite color that you gravitate towards?

RA: It used to be red, but now it’s cheddar or, I like a chartreuse. I love a purple! I don’t like beige. I mean have you seen that store, Muji? It must be Japanese for “nondescript”. Everything in there is grey and beige, I get so fucking irate when I see that shit in there. This is what you’re pushing on people? Grey? Beige? Sue (Kreitzman) said it too, right?”

RD:  Yes, Sue's catchphrase is "Don't wear beige, it'll kill you."

RA:  Exactly.

RA: “So, did you get what you needed?”

RD: I don’t know, you’re so quiet and stoic ...

RA: “Ha, Yeah, I’m very shy!"

RD: So you keep telling me.

RA: “I guess once I get going…“

RD: If it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing, right?

RA: Right.

As we were leaving the meeting room, Richard asked me if I wanted to meet Bill Cunningham. To quote my 90's teenage self: "Duh". Cue Aloisio and Darling, running around the offices of the Art Department of The New York Times, searching for Bill Cunningham like SVU's Benson and Stabler tracking down a perp. We eventually ran into Mr C. stepping out of the lift. Now, being the smart little reporter girl that I am I kept my tape player rolling (as if - it was a total accident, but hey.). A transcript is below. Fangirling does not even begin to cover it!

RA: "Bill! Bill!"

BC: "Oh hi there, oh hello, young lady".

RD: Hello, lovely to meet you!

BC: "Wow what a terrific bird's nest hat".

RD: You like it?

BC: "Oh it's terrific, yeah I love it! Your dress and all, that's lovely!"

RA: "It's a coat".

BC: "A coat? Oh a coat! Oh that's beautiful, child."

RD: Thank you! 

BC: "Is it warm enough for today?"

RD: Who cares? It's fabulous!

BC: "Vanity keeps you warm".

RD: Absolutely.

BC: "But the hair, the hat-"

RD: Yeah I just made it out of a scarf -

BC: "Oh it's lovely and the color, the solid background and the - it's fun. You're having fun with the stuff".

RD: Yes.

BC: "That's what it's meant to do".

RD: Absolutely.

BC: "Today everyone takes it so serious, like it's some kind of gospel, instead of just having fun with it. It's like when the kids go out to Governor's Island, for the vintage dance, I mean there's a little core group of maybe fifty that are really into the authentic dress, but the rest are just having fun. It's lovely.  But your shirt is no shy violet, Richard. Wonderful".

RA: "Yes, you said  it was marigold".

BC: "That's what I thought this morning".

RA: "That's what you said".

BC: "That's beautiful, Richard. Ah, you have joy with it, young fella. It's nice to see someone having a pleasure with it, you know, instead of taking it so serious. But your coat is lovely".

RD: Thank you.

BC: "Lovely child".

RD: Thank you Bill

BC: "Goodnight kids!"

RA & RD: "Goodnight!"

 

Abby Hertz - LUST NYC

"It’s kind of like a potato print, but with the vulva".

A few weeks ago I attended a party like no other. The LUST NYC Event, held at The House of Yes, was billed as a party where "theater, fantasy and the erotic meet".  (You can read the article I collaborated on for The Bushwick Daily here.) The night was like a Roman Bacchanal with food eaten off of models, fetish perfomance-art and a rooftop hot tub. Just another Thursday night for Ms Darling....

A week or two after the party, I became curious about the enigmatic Ms Hertz - the curator/producer of the event, so I tracked her down for an interview. I have to admit, when she invited me over for a coffee, I was expecting a shirtless Adonis-type to answer the door and usher me into a dungeon, where she would be waiting on a throne eating a bunch of grapes. When I showed up however, it was only Abby, smiling sweetly, hair loosely placed over one shoulder, welcoming me into her cosy apartment in Bushwick.

Abby Hertz: I started performing when I was 18. I was more of a fetish performer/performance artist. Mainly the performances were about female sexuality, erotism and feminist pieces. When I went to grad school, I met my now ex-husband who was a fire performer. We started performing fire together. We created a fire entertainment company called Flambeaux Fire and I did that for eight years. We travelled the world doing fire shows. Then I started my own company called AHZ Concepts three years ago. This was more art based, more for art-collector-type clients that didn’t really fit into the Flambeaux Fire brand. They were more my people - I have a Bachelors in Art History - and the contracts were being done under Flambeaux Fire - so I realized I needed to start my own company.  

Ruthie Darling: How did you come up with the LUST concept?

AH: In my early 20's I had seen a video of Hunter Reynolds and Chrysanne Stathacos 1992 performance piece "The Banquet" that took place at Thread Waxing space in SoHo. The performance had a naked man eating food off of him and was an homage to Meret Oppenheim's 1959 "Cannibal Feast. So it does have an art background. I expanded upon that. I wanted to turn it into a giant event and feast. A little fetish based, but mostly erotic. 

RD: How did you get into the fetish scene?

AH: Just by being a freak. 

RD: Fair enough.

AH: Ha, I don’t really know how to answer that. I’d been practicing that in my private life, but I was at an art salon in Orlando, where I lived for five years, and there was a group of women who had just started a fetish performance troupe. I was 21. We started started doing fetish performances every Tuesday night at a club in downtown Orlando. 

RD: Are you from Florida?

AH: No, actually I was born in Muncie, Indiana. I moved to Minneapolis-St Paul when I was 8. 

RD: What brought you to New York?

AH: I always knew I wanted to live in New York, but when I finished undergrad I was given a grant to go to grad school based on the work I had done for my degree. I created a pop-up gallery on campus because we didn’t have an art gallery.

RD: So you’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur?

AH: Yeah, I didn’t know how to finish undergrad because I had run out of money, so I had to think fast. I first applied to be the building manager at the Campus Centre and when I got the job I turned the centre into an art gallery. I then applied for a grant from the school to create monthly theme-shows and art openings with food, DJs and performances. Most of my work is based on art history or visual art. It is heavily curated. 

RD: How did you have the self-confidence to do this? I know LUST has been running for several years and you’ve no doubt honed your skills over time, but throwing up an entire art gallery as an undergrad - that takes guts no?

AH: Necessity. I was living out of my car. I was homeless. If I had been a rich kid, I probably would have been a lot more meek, but when you’re trying to survive you have to be pretty innovative.

RD: Yes. Although if I were trying to survive as a homeless woman, I think I would have just applied to the nearest minimum wage job, but you said, “I can do way better than that.” 

AH: It’s all I know how to do. I looked different. I had a bunch of facial piercings and pink hair. I wasn’t very hirable. One of my professors put me up for a Getty Award, which I won and that enabled me to go to grad school. I hadn’t planned on continuing my education - I was the first person in my family to even go to college. I thought grad school was for fancy-pants people. 

RD: Who comes to the LUST parties?

AH: It’s often a really wide audience. The first party was on Valentine’s day, so people were spending more money than they might normally, which meant we had some lower-income guests who were treating their partners to the event. It was fun for me to combine people from different socio-economic backgrounds and have them share in the experience together. I really get off on that. We had a sanitation worker and his wife from Staten Island, we had a Mexican busboy from Bushwick and his wife, we had high rollers from the fetish scene, we has a social worker from the Upper West Side. I could go on. It’s great because a lot of the fetish events that I’ve attended are usually filled with just one group of people from one particular background. Very white, very upper middle class usually.

RD: Why are your parties different, do you think?

AH: I think because it’s not a fetish party, it’s not a play party and it’s not a sex party. It’s more accessible to people. I know a couple of people did end up having sex at the last party, but they were thrown out. 

RD: That surprises me. Despite how sensual the environment was (and it really was hot), I didn’t see people making out/snogging that much. It was more inclusive than that - flirtatious glances and caresses at most. Not a free-for-all orgy.

AH: I try to create an intimate, sensual environment without it being overtly sexual. 

RD: So, we can’t ignore the fact that, at LUST, the food was not only gorgeous and delicious, but also served off of gorgeous and delicious people. Do you curate the entire experience from food to performer to venue etc?

AH: I do. It’s instinctual. You either have a curatorial mind or you don’t. LUST is a curated night and experience. It’s not a visual art show, its more a cross between performance-art and immersive theatre. I don’t over-organize the night, I want it to feel organic to people. 

RD: And it did. At times it felt like: I’m not sure what this is, but I feel that I'm in safe hands. There was a safety net of structure that felt very reassuring somehow.

AH: I’m glad.

RD: Fetish is kinda hot right now right?

AH: It’s very hot right now. I think that I’m more approachable as a producer than actual fetish producers because I know how to draw the lines. I think Fifty Shades has opened people up to the possibilities, but they are really seeking super light stuff like blindfolds, feathers etc. 

RD: You are a performer too. In fact I saw your fire show at LUST-

AH: Yes, I performed in three shows - I did the sex magic ritual, the fire show and then I did the pussy painting show.

RD: Ahh the pussy painting - I left before this happened, schoolgirl-error on my part. Can you explain what this is?

AH: Here let me show you…

RD: Errm.....

AH: The paintings I mean.

AH: It’s kind of like a potato print but with the vulva.

RD: Well that’s my headline sorted.

AH: You paint the vulva and then press it on paper. 

RD: Naturally.

AH: I came up with the idea at college. I was taking a print making class and I used my vulva to create prints. My teacher was like “What the fuck is that?” I never got good grades in her class…It’s funny you asked about the Pussy Painting because almost no one from the press saw that performance that night.

RD: Ahh. I may be able to offer you an explanation for that. All of us journalists were, at that point, naked in the rooftop hot tub. 

AH: The photographer I hired was also gone.

RD: Yeah. Think they might have been there too. Sorry about that. 

AH: Haha.

RD: You know, it took them about ten minutes to convince me to get naked to get in the hot tub in the first place and just as I was stepping in, an employee of The House Of Yes, told me it was policy to shower first. I said fine and asked where the shower was. He then pointed to the middle of the bar downstairs. So off I went, naked through a crowded bar to shower. 

AH: I like to create a safe environment for people to explore that side of themselves, in a gentle, easy way, rather than having you walk into a room full of people tied up and being flogged.

RD: What is coming up next that we can attend?

AH: November 17th at The House Of Yes, I am throwing an Alternative Thanksgiving Feast. 

RD: Will we be eating turkey off of tits?

AH: I mean, yes.

RD: Are you at a place now where you can pick and chose your clientele?

AH: Oh yes, I often pass on work to other producer friends of mine that run more traditional companies. If somebody just wants a face painter and a stilt walker to smile at a kid’s party, that’s probably not me. 

RD: You should put that on your business cards.

AH: Er Yeah.

RD: What kind of parties do you like to go to?

AH: Well, I’m an introvert, so I stay in quite a lot. I like having dinner parties. I like going to House Of Yes of course. I’m quiet. I like living here in Bushwick, because this is where the Brooklyn art scene is now based. Where the kids are. Even though I’m in my thirties, I like to be by the kids - they keep me young.

RD: They keep me up! 

AH: Yeah, they keep me up and they keep me young! 

RD: You are much more patient than I am.

AH: I try. 

RD: Do people have misconceptions about you?

AH: Yes, everything gets sexualized. I could say on Facebook; “I’m going out to dinner” and someone will comment “Oh yeah, can I watch?” If you’re involved in anything erotic, people fetishize you and treat you like a sex-doll. 

RD: That has to be tiresome?

AH: It is. I usually just ignore it. I’m a normal human being. I don’t wear five inch heels around the house. I’m usually in my boxer shorts reading Game of Thrones.

RD: That’s probably someone’s fetish.

AH: That’s true. Sigh.

 

As I was getting up to leave, I noticed some paintings in the corner. "Oh yeah, I paint too". 

RD: Tell me about your art?

AH: I rent a space through Chashama - an emerging artists studio. Everything I paint is to do with female reproduction. These patterns are a vivisection of the breast. You can always find little vulvas throughout my work too. Oh and I use my own blood to paint the red. 

RD: Wow! Talk about putting a piece of yourself into your art

AH: Yeah I have a vein that I open up and paint with. I’ve used this one since I was eighteen.

RD: Bloody hell. I used eggshell for my bathroom cabinets, I’ve got to up my game.

AH: I use menstrual fluids sometimes, but I’m on birth control right now so, as you know, you don’t bleed as much.

RD: Hate when that happens.

AH: Haha, I know right?

RD: They are really beautiful.

AH: Thank you!

And with that, off I swept back out into the Bushwick sunshine, feeling like I had encountered a local legend. Bookworm by day, Goddess by night, not to mention a savvy business owner. My kinda girl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Debra Rapoport

“No, let them be artists”

Debra Rapoport: It’s all woven. I cut up rags and I weave it all. I sit at night and just weave rags.

Ruthie Darling: You have an amazing eye for colour. It’s hard to say why these colors work together, they just do.

DR: It’s an intuitive thing. You can’t really teach colour. I mean, I can tell you what I see, but I don’t actually know how I get there. It’s like a lot of things, after living a while, it just comes. 

DR: I was born on the Lower East Side in a place called Knickerbocker Village; it was one of the early housing projects. It was wonderful, the whole family lived there. My father had a grocery store during the war and so he was a popular guy because he had butter and sugar. Then in 1949 the first supermarket came in and he saw the writing on the wall, so he sold the store and we moved to Florida. We were there six months and my mother hated it, so we moved back to the Bronx. Then of course we moved to the suburbs like everyone did and my sister and I were miserable! In high school my sister and I were freaks. We moved to the suburbs and we wore black tights and black Italian shoes . Everyone else wore bobby socks and saddle shoes. They didn’t know what to make of us. 

RD Was your mother artistic?

DR: She was and she would have been more so, but being a child of the Depression she didn’t have opportunities and so she encouraged us. When my father wanted us to go and get degrees in education she said “No, let them be artists”. My father was a religious Jew from Eastern Europe; he wanted us to get married and have a family and my mother said “No, they’re gonna have careers, they’re gonna be independent women”. I’m living the life she would have lived. We had a cousin who was the Dean of Fine Arts at Boston University, very prestigious, and he did Judaic Art. So my father called him and said “What do you think about my daughters going to college to do art degrees?” and he said “There is no better education” so my father said okay and that was that.

DR: I went to graduate school in Berkeley and Berkeley changed my life. I had a professor who was the best in the field, he could just see the good in everything and it was always a positive critique, he was an amazing human being. In graduate school we would all meet and make dinner and look at each other’s work and discuss it. We are all still in touch, those of us who are alive. That class was special. Our teacher told us that at the time, but now I know we were. I stayed in the Berkeley area for 11 years. I got married and moved into an alternative community and everyone thought I had lost my mind.

RD What do you mean by "an alternative community"?

DR Well, it was 1970 and my first great friend was living in this place called Synanon. It was very famous, it started out as the most famous drug rehab place in the 1950’s. Chuck Dederich, who started it, was an alcoholic and he found sitting around with other friends telling the truth was the answer. So he started the first encounter group which was called the Synanon Game. In '69 they had a few facilities and they opened it up to non-addicts called Squares. Ha! We were called squares! I was too much into healthy living to try drugs. I said “If I do my art, why do I need to get high? I’m high already!” So I went down to see what this Synanon game was about and it was truth telling, you’d sit in a circle and encounter each other with truths.

RD It sounds very….evolved.

DR: Oh, yeah. And it worked with addicts. But we were a full fledged community too. We had gardens, we had farms, we had everything. I met my husband there, who was also a square and he pursued me. But I left and went to Europe one summer and then I came back and we got together properly after that. At that time Synanon was encouraging people to get married if you’d been in a relationship for any length of time so we did. We had this big 150-person wedding.  I still have the wedding dress I made, I wore it to a book signing two years ago. I hand-painted it and put it together. Then the rules got a little strict so we left. We stayed married for a while, but then I said “I need to go back to New York and I need to go without you.” So we split up, but remained friends. In fact we tried to get back together again in ’92.

RD: Oh, how interesting. what prompted that?

DR: I was living with a Portuguese man and we had just split up and Joel, my ex-husband, was always on the scene. He’d call if he came to New York and then heard that I was single again and he tried to pursue me again and I said okay. We travelled back and forth and then we took a trip to Europe and fought like crazy the whole time so I said “Same old shit I’ve had it!”

RD: Ha! Oh we’ve all been there...

DR: So I came back to New York as a single woman. I had been teaching in California previously. I was tenured at 35 and I was driving home from work with terrible headaches and I was pulling over and throwing up on the side of the road. So I thought, there’s something wrong with this picture. I said I can’t do this. I loved the teaching part, but I couldn’t relate to academia. So I called my parents and I said I was leaving. They suggested that I take a leave of absence so I ended working in collaboration with two other artists and we travelled Europe and did shows, we were doing performance art; a year later I came back and I gave up my tenured teaching job, everyone thought I was mad! I then told my husband I was leaving. 

DR: I started making found-metal jewelry because I didn’t have materials or a studio, so I found metal in the street and started putting it together. I had a few little teaching jobs and then I showed my work at a gallery and the husband of the woman who owned the gallery owned a very large textile company - he adored me so he offered me a job. I worked for him for a year. Nobody could understand why I was there, because I was miserable. I’d come dressed up, I’d make a pot of coffee and then I should have left because I made everybody happy coming in all dressed up and then I sat there crunching numbers. I remember it was the same time the hostages were being held in Iran and a co-worker said “Why are you here, you’re being held hostage” so when the hostages were released, I quit my job.

DR: Next, I went into the flower business with a friend. She was quite the horticulturalist and I said, “Flowers? I’m a city girl, I don’t know anything about flowers.” But the more I thought about it, I came to realize that it’s colour, texture, placement, so I figured what the heck I’ll figure it out! We had a great business for 16 years. We were the oldest people at the flower markets and we were texture and textile freaks so they would save us the weirdest stuff and say “here come the two old ladies, have I got something to show to them!”  Silk flowers became popular, so we figured that out and we loved vintage flowers - millinery flowers. We’d buy them and I’d spray paint them, edge them etc. We were very baroque. 

RD: So you went from knowing nothing to running a flower business for 16 years?

DR: Well, yeah. We made a living, but we didn’t make a fortune. It’s almost like it’s another body that did it - Ha! Did you meet my boyfriend Stan?

RD: Stan…

DR: He was at the party. Full head of hair. He never wears a hat unlike me, because of his hair. It’s his signature.

RD How long have you been with Stan?

DR: It’ll be….nine years since we met, but it took him three weeks after that to ask me out. After he met me through a mutual friend, he called my friend and said “that Debra, she’s very nice but she looks like a clown.”

RD: **Spit-take** - What!?

DR: Yep. Then five years later we met again and he’d never forgotten me. 

DR: He asked me “do you ever dress normal?” So I went out a bought a pair of jeans. It wasn’t me. I just did it to show him I could look normal. 

RD: You know my mother’s one piece of fashion advice has always been: "Never dress for a man."

DR: She's right! Very good advice. And these men who say: "don’t wear make up, I like you plain". Well I don’t care how gorgeous you are, plain can always be enhanced. 

RD: That’s you all over.

DR: Yeah. And yet these men stare at other women in make-up, they just don’t want their woman looked at. It’s such bullshit.

DR: I pulled that neck piece out of my archives -

RD: What would you call it? 

DR: That I called a rag leis, what I'm wearing today I call rag ribs.

RD: How do you make it? Is it wire?

DR: Yeah it’s just wire and you shape it - it’s easy!

RD: Well, it is to you -

DR: I just found the fabrics - they were originally dresses I had lying about. The fabric is smushed on and tied. I just build them as I go. The materials talk to me - people ask me, "How did you start making hats out of paper towels?" I said, "The roll of paper towels was sitting on the table and it said "do me"!  So I let things speak to me rather than force it. 

RD: How did you meet Ari Seth Cohen? (Ari Seth Cohen is the genius behind Advanced Style).

DR: He was working at the New Museum, in the bookstore and my friend and I went to the museum. He came over and said “I have a blog of women over 60, can I take your picture?” and I said “How do you know I’m over sixty!?” Anyway he’d forgotten his camera so I invited him over and said, “Come to my place I’ll dress up and I’ll even make you lunch”. He came over the next week and he spent the day together. Then he sent a filmmaker over the next week and we start filming videos.

If you haven’t seen the videos I have included my favourite one here:

DR: The feedback was incredible, so she upgraded her camera and we began making the documentary of “Advanced Style.” 

RD: What I loved most about your segments in the film was that you showed us your process. Most of the other women (who are all wonderful, don't misunderstand me) were already dressed and done. With you, we got to see you create and experiment with your looks.

DR: Well I used to say, it’s not worth buying something unless you can wear it inside out and backwards.

DR Ari has changed my life.

RD: Yes, you are a style icon now!

DR: Ha! I guess. Actually, I was with a friend yesterday - a very conservative friend - and she said “Can I ask you something, can you please explain to me the torn-jeans look?” I said, I wish I could because I don’t get it either AND that people pay $300 for them! I don’t get jeans. You sit down on the subway and nine out of ten people are wearing them.

RD: (At this point I am so glad I opted for some grey harem pants for this interview!)

DR: I mean FIT just did a denim show!

DR: I went back to teaching a design class in ’94 and the students would all show up in jeans and a Gap grey t-shirt and I said “if you’re in my class and this is about creativity, you will not show up in those clothes and if your goal is to work at The Gap and design another grey t-shirt, forget about it”. The following week was Halloween so I told them to come dressed to class - but not as a fairy or an angel or a witch - just creatively. Some of them outdid themselves.

RD: People like to be safe in their dress I guess. But why, I wonder?

DR: I think it makes them nervous to be outstanding or they don’t have enough confidence. Thats what the Advanced Style movement is trying to promote, you know? Confidence. You don’t have to dress like us, just find who you are and put it out there. So wear one more scarf. Mix up chartreuse and red, just don’t be safe in the jeans and the t-shirt.

RD: What I find interesting about Advanced Style is the real avant-garde dressing that I see. I mean, I expect that of the youth. In a way it’s the wrong way around, but the kids are all in sneakers and hoodies.

DR: It should be the opposite way 'round. The youth are rebellious, they’re creative. It must be about fitting in, being safe. But then I teach this class at Parsons and they were all in black. Most of them said that black is essentially the uniform of Parsons, but this one Asian girl said “black makes me feel empowered. I feel vulnerable in colour” and I thought: okay, but you gave it some thought, you know why. That’s all I'm asking. I don’t feel powerful in black. I feel powerful in colour. The universe is nothing but colour to me. and color is a vibration and color is healing.

RD: But Debra, the way you dress, it’s talent. It’s artistry. Surely not everyone could do it?

DR: Well one can experiment. It’s not surgery! There’s nothing to lose. I say, keep adding things, layering, look in the mirror see what you think. 

RD: So perhaps it is a skill that through that process you just mentioned, one could develop?

DR: Yes and then go out and see how the world responds. If you come back in and you think you look like a clown, take off the red nose! You’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to gain! And it’s fun, it’s about the fun and the joyfulness of it.

RD: Yes it’s like the garment I call my "stop and chat" coat (you can see it here) Whenever I wear this coat everyone wants to talk to me. I’ve never had a negative reaction from wearing something bold.

DR: I have to quote Ari, his three C’s as he calls them are; Creativity, Communication and Community. That’s what keeps us vital, whether we’re young or we’re old. So if the way you dress means that someone stops you and it creates a conversation, why not, especially when the world is at war? You can spread a little joy, and communicate and become friends, then build a community around it, what more could we ask for?

Touch Me Vegan Skincare

"Over time my parents finally started accepting that this is who I am".

I met my friend Maheen Lemon, founder of Touch Me Vegan Skincare, at the Long Island Flea Market where she was selling her gorgeous wares in the pouring rain one Saturday in April. I had the unfortunate task of photographing the Flea Market for their website. Upon seeing this soaking wet, crotchety photographer, Maheen handed me a few sample products to brighten my day. I threw them in my bag and almost forgot about them. A few days later, whilst attempting to excavate a pen from the depths of my overstuffed handbag, I came across the sample, tried a little and was seriously hooked! 

The consistency of her Body Butters were amazingly rich. They just melted into my overworked New York City girl skin like a dream. Moreover, it was the fragrance that had me coming back for more. Using blends of essential oils, Maheen creates unique perfumes for each product. Favourites of mine included: Steamy Shower Sex (oh stop, that's the actual name - we're all grown-ups here), Dirty Cake, and Drunk On Absinthe in the Body Butters. Happy Ending Massage Oil (take your mind out of the gutter people, I was using it on my elbow scar) and the divine, and I mean divine, body spray Wild Forest. All products are 100% chemical and cruelty free, organic and totally natural. I've been using them all week and recently a friend commented suspiciously: Why does your face look so healthy? Not sure whether to be flattered or insulted, but either way I have to credit Touch Me.  

I caught up with Maheen at my apartment recently where we held a photoshoot for her products and she talked to me about how she began her business. 

MH: Well, it was about December and my husband didn’t know what to get me for Christmas, so he just surprised me with an organic basket that had all these natural products in it. I was using the products and I liked them, but then I was reading the labels and I thought, you know, I could probably make this stuff and I can do it the right way without all these chemicals. I thought: I could definitely start something here and after that I decided, okay, you know what, let me look into it.

RD: You told me that your father's recent death had also been a motivating factor in your decision?

MH: Yes it was, but not only that. My father had been sick when he was alive, but it was also because I wanted to set an example for the other people in my life, you know, I wanted them to realize that you could live a healthy lifestyle and still be able to enjoy certain things here and there. I didn't just want to say it, I wanted to live it too. My father, in his last year of living on this earth, he was trying. When I was cleaning out his house, I saw all this stuff in the kitchen, he had goji berries and all these superfruits.  Exactly the kind of things I would talk to him about when I first became vegan and he would just always tell me, “Aw, you’re crazy”, and this and that, but I discovered that he actually was listening to me, but it was too late for him.

ML: He died from diabetes and heart disease and it’s because he didn’t take care of his health properly. He didn’t exercise, he didn’t eat healthily, and anything that me or my Mother would tell him, well, he just wouldn’t listen. I think later on though, he had started to realize, “Okay, maybe they are right, maybe I should be incorporating some of these things”, but it was too late for him, and so he left this world and that’s when it really, really struck me: I really need to do something because this hits so close to home.

ML: I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but it was on my mind. I’m not very good at cooking so I couldn’t go into that field and I just figured, it’ll come to me eventually. That’s when my husband bought me the basket and I thought, you know, I have this education behind me - I went to school at the Aveda Institute and I have my Esthetics license - I know about skin care, maybe I could just learn to formulate certain products and educate people through my product. That’s when it all started to come together, and that’s how Touch Me got created.

RD: You mentioned you would like to educate people about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle, do you like to teach?

ML: I do enjoy teaching people - down the road, I do want to teach. Maybe children, or senior citizens, probably volunteer or charity work because I really don’t want to charge money for those things, because I do it for love.

RD: So, now, tell me, how did all the fun names, like Drunk On Absinthe, and Happy Ending Massage Oil, come about? Is that your sense of humour? 

ML: Yes, it’s totally my sense of humor! Something for a bit of perspective - when I worked at different spas and I worked for many different cosmetic companies, they all have their own philosophy and their own approach to presenting their product, and over time I started realizing that this is what sells. It’s the quality of the product, but it’s also you, you have to put your personality into it.

RD: Yep. Personal branding is very important!

ML: And, you know, I’m a funny person, I have a bit of a sense of humour, plus I’m kind of perverted! I think that it's a very good thing for women to be liberated from the sexual repression that patriarchy has forced upon us over the years. I wanted to just open that up. That’s why I came up with some sassy names. When people look at my products, I want them to laugh, I want them to feel good about what they’re holding, what they’re using.

RD: It certainly appealed to my sense of humour! 

ML: Perfect! I’m so happy!

RD: You were born in America-

ML: Yes, I was born and raised in New York.

RD: How was that, having Pakistani parents, and being an American kid, was there any tension with that?

ML: Oh, wow, that is a great question, Ruthie! You raised something that I had to deal with for a long time. I had to convince my parents of so many things, when I was a teenager, as a young adult. They were very Third World, you know, they had a Third World mentality, very traditional and very cultural, so coming from a Western point of view, it was very hard, we always had clashes. We would always argue about things, especially my Mother I, because she wanted me to be a certain way, she wanted me to be religious and incorporate our culture and our lifestyle, and I do incorporate some things, but I’m American. I was born and raised here, I really wanted to take advantage of everything that America had to offer -education, work, anything! I think my parents just wanted me to follow in the path of being a doctor or a lawyer.

ML: I think over time my parents finally started accepting that this is who I am, they’re just going to have to support it, or they’re probably going to end up not being in my life.  Slowly they became more accepting, especially my Father, no matter what, he was always very supportive of me, so my mom was the biggest hurdle. She finally came around, she even - like, I married an American guy, he’s White, and she’s very supportive of that, in fact she loves him, and things are a lot better than they used to be.

RD: Do you ever think about incorporating any Pakistani ingredients into the line? A nod to your heritage?

ML: Actually, I already do! Shea butter is used a lot in Pakistan and India and everywhere in the Middle East and Africa. Also coconut oil is a huge, huge ingredient that they all use and I use in many of my products. The reason is that it’s something that many cultures have been using for centuries. It’s from the earth. Now Western people are beginning to realize how versatile it is, it’s fit for cooking, you can eat it, you can use it for your skin, you can use it for your hair, there are so many different things that you can do with it.

RD: What do you want the future of your business to look like?

ML: I would like to grow, but I don’t want it to get to a commercial level, because, again - I don’t want to take away from the whole handmade aspect, the whole natural vegan cruelty-free and chemical-free aspect. I want it to be still very true to what I started out with, but I do want it to gain national, perhaps international momentum. I’m approaching small boutiques, and if I can get into small boutiques, that would be very good for me. I’m also looking into to being an educator in spas and cosmetology schools, because people need to learn that there are other ways, you don’t have to do the conventional way, there’s other ways of doing things. I want people to be educated, and that’s why I’m doing this, it’s not just for income, it’s not just for what I want to do with the rest of my life, it’s mainly because I want to educate people, and we need to change, we need to reconstruct the way we operate, our society is operating backwards, and it’s really bad, and it’s only gonna get worse so that’s why I want to be a contributor to changing things and starting a revolution!

RD: That’s fantastic! I remember when you came over and you went into my bathroom and you came out of my bathroom and you said “I’m so proud of you! You have, like, castile soap and rose oil?

ML: (laughing) Oh yes, it smells so lovely in there!

RD: I try. 

ML: Another thing I wanted to add is, I am doing boutiques and doing flea market stuff and I am going to be doing trade shows, because I want it to reach everybody, but I don’t want it to be commercialized, I don’t want people to think I’m going to mass produce this, it’s gotta be niche. But I want people to start their own businesses too.

RD: Like a franchise idea?

ML: Yes! I want people to get ideas from this, that they can start something with it too. Why not?

RD: You know, I have a blogger friend that I work with sometimes, Gina of WhatTheDoost, and when we first met she shared information with me all the time. I was very surprised by this at first as lots of fashion bloggers don't want to share their contacts or tips. I asked her about it one day and she told me: "We rise together! Never against each other". 

ML: Yes! Exactly! That’s exactly what I want to do, and I think that truly it is going to gain momentum.

ML: One other thing I wanted to add is that people need to also remember that commercial products are a lot different than natural products. The consistency is different. People are always so used to the store-bought products, for example: it’s going to last long, it’s got to feel smooth like this, but with natural products it’s not going to feel that way, the consistency is going to be different, and that’s because it has a shelf life. It doesn’t have chemicals in it, it’s all from the earth, its extracts, its essential oils, it’s all natural so of course it’s gonna break down a lot. You have to keep it in certain temperatures, these are things that people need to realize and I think they forget because they’re so used to their commercial products.

RD: That’s a really good point, like sometimes you’ll see sediment in Kombucha, you’ll see there’s natural separation because this is a natural product.

ML: Exactly! That’s why you have to shake Kombucha up!

RD: Now you said when you here that you were thinking – if this is too personal you can tell me – but you were thinking about having a baby,  I wondered if you were thinking about introducing some baby stuff to your product line?

ML: Actually, that’s a great question, and yes, down the road I really do want to incorporate things for pregnant women and for babies too. I am in the midst of formulating some things. I just finished making deodorant and some acne products, but for the baby products I want to do more testing and researching because I know that babies’ skins are a lot more absorbent, if they have anything absorbed in their skin that’s wrong or that’s not good for them it’s gonna affect them later on in life. Babies don’t really need a lot of products because they naturally cleanse on their own. It’s more the pregnant women that need products and there are formulas for pregnant women, so maybe next year I can unveil something like that. 

RD: Thanks Maheen, for the gifts and the time!

ML: My pleasure!

You can purchase products from Touch Me Vegan Skincare online at www.touchmeskincare.com and at Shag in Williamsburg. Maheen will also be selling at the very place we met The LIC Flea Market until the end of October. 

Below is a more detailed list of the products and their ingredients:

Body butters: All ingredients are sourced from organic farmers and overseas in Africa (raw shea butter) which is completely raw and 100% organic. The fragrance oil is a blend of essential oils to get a unique and beautiful scent. The purpose of body butter is to moisturize your skin whether you have normal skin or severely dry skin with eczema and psoriasis. These body butters will protect your skin from wrinkling prematurely and will keep the skins natural elasticity. Not to mention the coconut oil that is in the product will protect you from the sun since it is a natural SPF 15.

Body Spray: Since my products do not have chemicals for preserving, I use organic vodka to help maintain the longevity of the body sprays. It is an alternative to synthetic preservatives! These products are a replacement to the commercial chemically-infused perfumes. I blend many essential oils to get a unique scent for each one. All have sweet almond oil, organic vodka, essential oil blend, and filtered water!

Massage Oils: All of my massage oils are 100% organic with raw materials such as sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, and essential oil blends. All three are unique in their own way but the 2 flavor oils have only 100% organic food grade coconut oil with a blend of food grade essential oils in order for it to be edible. These can be used for massage therapy, aromatherapy, and bedroom play (pleasure).

Breath Spray: An alternative way to freshen your breath minus the chemicals. Organic vodka, filtered water, cinnamon essential oil, mint extract. 

 

Sue Kreitzman Part Two

Hello Darlings,

Happy Friday. Today we venture inside Sue Kreitzman's studio to take a look at her artwork.

Let's see where we left off on Tuesday.....

SK: ".....Anyway, I knew I was very bad at art, but I picked up a marker and my hand drew a mermaid on a scrap of paper. I looked at the mermaid, the mermaid looked at me and in that moment I became a different person. Suddenly I couldn’t stop drawing and I used the colored markers to color it in and now I have notebook after notebook, folder after folder, filled with art. It became all I wanted to do. I did it all day, I did it all night." 

RD: Do you still have the mermaid?

SK: "I do." (She flashed me a mischievous smile).

As we were leaving Sue’s apartment to go next door to her studio, I noticed that mermaids were everywhere.

RD: What is it about mermaids that speaks to you?

SK: Mermaids to me, are the perfect symbol of the post-menopausal woman. They are free from problems 'down there'. Also, they are in control of their own sexuality. They get to choose when their tail is on or off. Ignore the Disney version of them - utterly ridiculous.

So here go into the studio....

PHOTO BY DENTON TAYLOR

SK: "Either I had a psychotic break or the muse bit me on the bum or more likely it was the menopause".

RD: What did your family think of all this?

SK: "Well my family - they knew my feeling for colour, but they were gobsmacked, absolutely gobsmacked. They said, What have you done with mother? Who is this person? My agent thought I had completely lost my mind and some of my friends didn’t like it at all -

RD: Why didn’t they like it?

SK: First of all they didn’t like the art, second of all they couldn’t understand what I was doing and why I was so obsessed with it".

PHOTO BY DENTON TAYLOR

SK: "I had a couple of friends who were artists and they were incredibly supportive. One friend invited me over to lunch with some of her other artist friends and asked me to bring some work. So I did and she said, “Sue, you are so talented” and I said, "Well no, not really.......Really?" 

 SK: "I do blame it on the menopause. I completely lost interest in cooking, the central obsession of my life was completely gone. It became all about drawing. I stayed up all night, I could not stop".

RD: So you’re obsessive in your creative endeavors whether it be cooking or art?

SK: "I am. Nicely put. I loved to work with nail varnish. the translucents and vivid colours fascinated me. But I knew it was very toxic, this was before I had my studio, so I would paint on the bed. I had two windows open for the cross breeze and a fan on. I would paint and I would freeze".

RD: What are these head sculptures?

SK: "These are my memory jugs". 

RD: What are memory jugs?

SK: "Memory jugs started as a craft that was a pastime of Victorian English, but it was adopted as an African-American tradition in the South. When a person died, they would take jugs - sometimes moonshine jugs, and cover the jug in putty or clay and embed personal belongings onto it to put on the grave. They might use items found in the person’s pockets and sometimes photos. It’s really very poignant". 

SK: "I made my first one using a measuring jug, it was inspired by my husband, my son and our life together. I have a lot of trouble selling them because they are so personal. I hide little amulets and secrets inside them. They are very spiritually potent. They're also very female. My work is all about the female landscape."

RD: Did you always dress this way or did it come with the "bursting into flames, bursting into art"?

SK: "No I always dressed colourfully, bordering on weird. I went to school on Long Island and the girls would wear cashmere sweaters and gold circle pins. It was hideously BORING!!! I had rich aunties and they would send boxes of hand-me-downs and I wore their things and looked like no one else at school. I always loved jewelry. I would save my babysitting money and go down to Greenwich Village to buy that Bohemian copper jewelry, you know? I still have a lot of it."

SK: "I curated shows too. But I’m not curating any shows right now because I’m writing a book on wearable art. I’ve also been offered a one-woman-show in the spring here in New York, but I don’t want it to be a one-woman-show, I want it to be a group show with my people. I like my shows to be a very crazy Disneyland for very peculiar adults. I want you go in there and come out changed. I want you to come out wanting to be an artist yourself".

Here I am like a kid in a candy store:

PHOTO BY DENTON TAYLOR

SK: "This one ( the photo below) represents a mother's influence". 

RD: Ah, if it's not one thing it's your mother.

SK: "Ha! Exactly, she's always in there".

RD: You do so much, is it exhausting being Sue Kreitzman?

SK: "It’s exhausting, but it’s very exhilarating."

Thank you, Sue, for letting us all into your wonderful world. It's been an absolute pleasure!

RD xoxo

Sue Kreitzman - Part One

"Don't Wear Beige, it might kill you" says Sue Kreitzman and who am I to argue?

In 1998 Sue Kreitzman became an artist.

RD: What happened?

SK: "I burst into flames one day. I burst into art."

Photo by Denton Taylor

You fashionistas out there may know Sue Kreitzman from the documentary Fabulous Fashionistas. It's a gorgeous film; if you haven't seen it go seek it out. She can also be found on the pages of Advanced Style amongst many other publications on art and fashion.

I have split this interview up into two parts - part two will come out on Friday. I just simply couldn't contain her into one article! In this first part, we'll learn about her wonderful life up until that spark of artistic creation in '98. We'll go from Atlanta to London, via Budapest. From teaching to cooking to television to art. The photos are of her amazing apartment which is adorned with art collected from art fairs and friends. In part two we'll head into her studio. Strap in dears!

Photo by Denton Taylor

Sue’s clothing is wearable art. It is almost a suit of beautiful armor that she throws on each day as a protest against the age-appropriate, all-black, older-women-must-be-invisible blah blah blah tirade that most older women endure.  

Not Sue. 

Nobody puts Kreitzman in the corner.

Photo by Denton Taylor

I met this fabulous style icon at her New York home (she is also a resident of East London) last week to discuss how she became the artist she is today. Now, I’m not the daughter of social workers for nothing darlings; collecting life stories is a way of life for me.

“Further back, further back” I kept imploring poor Sue, “You really want to know all of this?” Sue kept asking, laughing, incredulous. 

Dear Readers, as you all know, we live in a youth-obsessed society. It loves to inform us that older women have nothing to offer. Even Sue herself was concerned that the tales of her many past lives might have been a bore to me. But there I was, sitting in an apartment that was a borderline art gallery, alive with color, talking to this woman who was vital, energetic, bright and dressed like no one I had ever seen before. Why wouldn’t I want to know the experiences that had brought her to this very moment?

When the schools in Atlanta, Georgia, began to desegregate in the 70's, Sue was there working as a teacher, a young Jewish New Yorker in a predominantly southern black town. She noticed that the children in her class were often arriving at school hungry, so she devised a scheme to provide each child with breakfast -at her own expense, I might add. Soon her husband became involved and approached the locals (who were nearly all Christians) to assist financially. Using their donations, he enabled more children to receive the breakfasts. Oh he is so Christian they commented, “and like a good Jew he took the money” joked Sue. Incidentally the scheme was adopted by many other schools in Atlanta for a time.

It was during this time that Sue began to throw dinner parties for her new friends. One of these parties would change the course of her life, though she did not know it yet, of course. Sue told me that she and her husband loved to go to a little Hungarian restaurant in town. The restaurant was simply called "Budapest". “The food was amazing, so I thought that eventually I’m going to go to Hungary and I’ll probably find a restaurant called New York or The Bronx or something like that and actually that’s exactly what happened, many years later!” Sue explained that she loved the cuisine so much, she learnt how to cook it and that is what she served on that fateful night. One of the wives in attendance at the dinner party adored the food and asked Sue to write a cookbook for her publishing house. So she did - many of them in fact. 

A few books in Sue, always ahead of the curve, wanted to write a book about garlic, “Because back then people were a little scared of it and my agent....” she sighed, “oh why are agents such assholes? Well he said, nobody wants a book about garlic. Well guess what? Crown Publishers took it on as the very first in an elegant little series they did on single subjects. So I wrote my garlic book and then I wrote a book on potatoes, on Jewish deli food, comfort food etc. That’s when I came to London. My husband had gotten a really big consulting job and they took me on as a consultant too because they needed someone to develop very healthy low-fat recipes. That’s how I got into the stuff that made me famous...well…a little bit famous......in foodie circles…a long time ago. Ha! Oh and then BBC picked me up and it really took off.

"When we first moved to England we lived in Cambridgeshire, ugh, boy was that not a fit for me. I was much too weird for them, much too American, much too New York, much too Jewish, much too everything. So I almost immediately got a pied-a-terre in an attic in Chelsea. Up a hundred flights of narrow stairs, there was no heat, but at least I had a place to stay."

"Back in Cambridgeshire, once I became a household face, they asked me to do everything. Open the supermarket, open the garden centre and I always said yes of course, but I was never really a person to them, I was a personage. I got out and I went to London properly, found an ex-council flat. London is paradise to me. Absolute paradise, I have a tribe of colourful people there."

RD: Tell me about the documentary you were in.

SK: "The director told me that if she tried to sell a film about inspirational old ladies, I hate that term by the way, and I’m not an old lady, I’m just cleverly disguised as one, she would never have found the backers. So she pitched the film through the filter of fashion, but it’s not about fashion. Nobody watches that film without crying and laughing. I’m very happy I was in it. Do you have the DVD? No? I’ll give you one."

RD: You've lived in England for so long, do you consider yourself British or American?

SK: I always say I’m not one, I’m not the other. I'm Half (she says in a proper British accent) and Half (she says in her best New Yoike accent) a little of this and little of that. I don’t know what the hell I am!

SK "Where were we?"

RD: London. 

SK: "Ah okay, so I was editing my 27th cookbook. I was sitting up in my office correcting the proofs which is, on the one hand is really boring, on the other hand it’s nice because you know you’ve finished the work, you are checking for typos so it’s very quiet , it’s very meditative. I had coloured markers, I had scrap paper. Now, I never even doodled. If I ever did it would be hashmarks and musical notes, did I mention I was an oboe player in the old days?

RD: No!

SK: "Quite a good one too. I went thorough university on an oboe scholarship. Anyway, I knew I was very bad at art, but I picked up a marker and my hand drew a mermaid on a scrap of paper. I looked at the mermaid, the mermaid looked at me and in that moment I became a different person."

That's where we will leave it today darlings. On Friday we begin a journey into the studio. Thank you so much to Sue Kreitzman for inviting me into her world. I'll let her have the last word.....

Syndicated Tarot Tales

 

Hello Darlings,

Today at RD we are hanging out with Bushwick Artist and friend of the blog Deena Wassef. When I met up with Deena, she was reading tarot cards at the newly opened hotspot Syndicated. A gorgeous new bar, restaurant and movie theatre down on Bogart St.  I interviewed her about her favourite things about Bushwick and of course we found time for a little fashion shoot too. Deena told me that she picked up this lace vintage dress from a witch in Scotland. Hey, who am I to argue?

So D, tell me where you think you can get the best......

RD: Cocktail?

DW: El Cortez baybeh, but beware the Hurricane!!!

RD: Dollar Oysters?

DW: I don't like oysters yueck

RD: (What is wrong with you people!?)

RD: Coffee?

DW: Ange Noir Cafe, love my French family!

 

RD: Vintage?

DW: Beacon's Closet or, actually, my closet!

RD: Pizza?

DW: I mean, Robertas! (Also stay for the desserts, they are amazing!)

RD: Burger?

DW: Cafe Ghia - it's a Vegan Burger though. Are you angry with that answer?

RD: Very

Lol thanks Deena Darling. I hope we'll see a few more of your designs gracing the blog soon.

Thanks for reading lovely readers. Photos by Ms Darling.

Kisses,

Ruthie Darling xoxo

 

 

Late Afternoon Raya

Hello Darlings,

Today I bring you the gorgeous Raya Njeim. Raya is a super busy manager of international music artists, from NYC to Paris to Beirut. She took some time out to model this gorgeous couture wedding dress for me on the streets of Bushwick. I also asked her a few questions about her favourite places in the neighbourhood, so you get a little fashion and some Bushwick tips too. I'm like a one-woman Time Out here kids.

RD: So darling, tell more your favourite place to grab a cocktail?

RN: Syndicated

RD: Dollar Oysters?

RN: I'm vegan

RD: Oops. Duh.

RD: Coffee?

RN: Little Skips 

RD: Yes! I love that place. 

RD: Vintage?

RN:  Friends on Bogart Street.

RD: That place is cool. I recently bought a 'get well' card there which featured cats sitting in a bowl of cereal with laser beams shooting out of their eyes. Just sayin.

RD: Pizza?

RN: Roberta's obviously

RD: Well I know you don't eat burgers so maybe you could tell us a good little pick-up spot?

RN: Mr Kiwi's organic grocery store - to go back home and cook ;)

Thank you Raya - you look beautiful!

More soon Darlings,

Love,

Ruthie Darling xoxo

Diana and Fresh Window Gallery

Hello Darlings,

A little arty post for you today. Recently I headed down Bogart St to The Bogart Studios, a former warehouse that has been transformed into art studios and galleries. I went to see my friend Diana who was working at The Fresh Window Gallery. The gallery was exhibiting Humble, a show by Wei Xiaoguang, then Diana showed me some of her own work. You can see more of Diana on her instagram account @newyorkmonamour. Enjoy babies!

Love,

Ruthie Darling xoxo

Thanks for stopping by baybehs. Have an arty week and see you Friday for a #threewaystowear

Love,

Ruthie Darling xoxo

Ruthie Darling HQ

 

Hello Darlings,

Today on the blog I am opening up Darling HQ to you, dear readers, to show you how my style extends to my Bushwick apartment. I only moved in at the end of last year, so it's a work in progress, but I hope you enjoy taking a little tour around my place.

Love to you all!

Ruthie Darling xoxo

 

My little home office:

The desk is from Ikea and was wooden when it arrived. I painted it mint green and neon red using spray paints from local Bushwick art supply store Low Brow Artique

Here is my coffee table. Also from Ikea. I spray painted it gold and added marble-effect contact paper on the bottom shelf for a more expensive look. You never knew I was so crafty right? 

You won't believe me, but the candle on the right was bought as a gift for my bloke by Keira Knightly. Yeah, I snaffled that as soon as I could. The Jo Malone candle was a gift from my Mum for Christmas. I nearly killed JS when he lit it

RD: "YOU DON'T LIGHT JO MALONE - DO YOU KNOW HOW EXPENSIVE THEY ARE!??!?"

JS: "Jeez sorry I thought people lit candles...."

RD: "IT'S JO MALONE!!!!!"

JS: "Yeah, um, can you please stop yelling"

I found this chair on the street. I brought it home, sanded and painted it. Pretty cute right?

I wanted to create a gallery wall, so I hit up the Goodwill (American charity shop) to find some frames.

Let's go into the kitchen and have a cup of builders eh? I looked bloody everywhere for some pretty coffee/tea/sugar canisters and, I'm sorry NYC, but I couldn't find any!!! These were picked up at discount home store in England and stuffed into my (already overpacked) suitcase. Up your homewear-game New York.

Here's my little kitchen table. I am hoping to find a cute cart to create my own drinks cabinet, but in the meantime I am keeping my whiskey in this vintage-style suitcase that my Mum picked up at the pound shop (dollar store)!

The whiskey glasses were a gift from the lovely Marty.

I love this whiskey bottle. It's very Alice in Wonderland chic. If you look through the keyhole, you'll find the key. (Bloody hell, that sounds like an inspirational quote you might find superimposed over a picture of a waterfall on instagram lol) 

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice the Cath Kidston. All housewarming gifts from Sal :)

I created the gold, stripey fridge by wrapping the doors in gold duct tape. What do you think?

There is a room between the living room and the bedroom that has no windows. It's kind of a perfect spot for, say, a hostage room or perhaps a walk in closet. I opted for the latter and here is the result.

The shelving unit for the shoes was also a white Ikea purchase that I spray painted gold.

Ahh my favourite hello and my hardest goodbye - my bed. 

The dressing table is a little treasure trove of vintage perfume bottles and trinkets picked up on my travels. 

The gloves belonged to great grandma Margaret #oldskool

I added glass nobs to this ikea dresser. (I used a screwdriver and everything) They were purchased at the pound store in England as they cost the earth here in NYC for some reason. 

My little Russian dolls were a gift years ago from my friend and writer Marc Kristal

I think it's safe to say that I'm no minimalist.......

Thanks for stopping by fashionistas. Next time bring some cake will ya?

Lots of Love,

Ruthie Darling xoxo

Vanessa Dunleavy - Three Ways To Wear

Hello Fashion Darlings,

Great news kids, your eyes can take a break from my face today to marvel at the beauty that is my guest, Miss 

Vanessa Dunleavy

.  

Vanessa and I met a few years ago in a production of

Hair

and recently worked together in Florida on the musical

Descent

(more info plus video at the end of the post). Vanessa is a NYC based actress, singer, dancer, and yogi extraordinaire. Here we are doing a little song and dance together:

Last week I forced my way into her apartment, tied her to a chair and raided her wardrobe. (I gave her a glass of wine to sip on, I'm not a barbarian). Amongst the vintage treasures, and believe me - there were many, I discovered this stunning velvet cocktail dress. After I untied her and made her try it on for me, I went about styling the dress three different ways with pieces sourced from her wardrobe. After she saw how fabulous she looked she immediately forgave me for the home invasion, well that or she could have stockholm syndrome, either way the results are gorgeous.

Enjoy Darlings! 

RD xoxo

#1 Wear with a vintage hat and killer heels for full on vamp. 

#2 Wear a crop top over the dress to take the look out of "1940's glam" and into "1960's Madmen-Chic". A bejeweled headband helps to identify the era and the black and gold accessories complete the look.  

#3 Throw over a vintage trench coat and silk scarf. Pick out the green in the scarf with some cute green shoes and a green ring. A kinda french-spy-chic. 

Dress: Vintage

Outfit One: Hat: Vintage, Shoes: Gastine Lucioli

Outfit Two: Top and Bag: Vintage, Shoes: Primark, Headband: Miss Selfridge

Outfit Three: Trench: Vintage Gucci, Scarf: Vintage Valentino, Shoes: Vintage Lanvin

Green Ring: Elsa Perreti, Ring and Earrings: David Yurman

Photos by the ever-patient: 

Denton Taylor

Watch out for Vanessa and her one woman show

My Post Traumatic Cruise Ship Cabaret

coming to a city near you! 

To find out more about

Descent

watch this sexy video from our Florida performance:

THANKS VANESSA!