As you know, February is Black History Month–but in New York City, it’s also Fashion Week month.¬† God knows we’ve made sufficient noise about the lack of black models on the runway, so instead, I’d like to celebrate Black designers!
Stephen Burrows, Tracy Reese and B. Michael have defined our times and weathered the storm that is the fashion industry (these days, everyone is a critic, aren’t they?) Here, I chatted with all three of these fashion visionaries.
When I arrived in New York in 1975, there were few African American designers and certainly none who had achieved any kind of stature–with, of course, the exception being Stephen Burrows!
Tracy Reese ranks as one of the fashion industry’s most successful African-American women whose realm is not only relegated to the runway.¬† In a business where few designer labels seem to make it past their fifth anniversary, Reese has two clothing lines, Tracy Reese and Plenty.
This fantastic designer launched his first couture collection in 1999 and, similar to his approach to millinery, his design exudes a glamourous, clean aesthetic.¬† He heightens his couture vision by infusing emotions such as joy, adding a discern-able feeling and festive mood to his creations.
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Alicia Keys has been instrumental in me joining Keep a Child Alive. ¬†She invited me to present an award during one of the early concert benefits for this incredible organization and when Leigh Blake, the president and founder, asked me to join Alicia as a Global Ambassador, I jumped at the opportunity and I created the I AM AFRICAN campaign.¬† Alicia was one of the first celebrities who I photographed for this campaign….. 5 years later the world is acknowledging the singular commitment that she has shown towards helping children and families who are affected with AIDS in Africa.
I am very proud to call her a friend and this month she has several projects that I would like to pass on to you… one being her CD ‚ÄúThe Element of Freedom‚ÄĚ and the other being this jewelry collection “The Barber’s Daughter.”¬† The beautiful jewelry is engraved with poetry, prose and prayer and is gorgeous as well as inspiring.¬† It is designed by Gisele Theriault.
Alicia says, “I love Gisele’s work. I feel like I’m wearing art. I love how each piece is so individual, beautiful, handcrafted and one of a kind. But, by far my favorite part is the words that are written. They remind me of the things I want to hold onto every day. It feels, in a way, like a shield.”
And true to Alicia’s commitment, this year she has collaborated with her designer Gisele and created a special necklace for the Black Ball Charity event in New York; it was auctioned off raising $25,000 for Keep a Child Alive which helped the evening raise $2.4 million.
I sat down with Alicia and Gisele and asked them to enlighten us about this new venture.
1. How did you two meet?
Gisele:¬† “Alicia and I met through a friend, Dave Watson, Alicia’s sax player for her world tour 2008 when they came to Toronto.¬† Ashunta (Alicia’s make-up artist) asked Dave if I could bring my jewelry line to the hotel. She and I had a crazy, strong connection and she thought Alicia would appreciate the work and arranged for a meet at the next day’s concert.”¬†
2. Alicia, what made you decide this was to be your first non music venture?
I love these pieces on a very deep level. I love the way they are so individual and created with so much divine energy put into them. They are beautiful and speak to the song writer in me by having such meaningful words engraved on them. I believe the world is looking for meaning everywhere they can, and they absolutely can in these barbers daughters pieces!
3. Gisele…. I believe everything happens for a reason….the birth of your son and the death of your father share same day and now this wonderful project?
This line of inscribing words in jewelry to remind us where beauty really lives and how rich we are if we’d open our eyes is the result of persistent dreams. ¬†A dream that was waking up with a voice in my head that was telling me that if I want to reach more people through the healing arts, I should go back to creating jewelry that I knew so well and start engraving poetry, prose and prayer and help people ground into their deeper self through the tough times. ¬†I neglected this dream, sure that I was eating too late at night, until I started waking up in a sweat.¬† When I gave in and pursued the idea, of course answers came almost as fast as the questions were formulated.
After 1 1/2 years of it and a line gaining momentum, Alicia and I met. Within our communications I offered to create a piece for the Black Ball 2008.¬† While I was engraving late one night, exhausted, realizing that I’ve grown to hire 2 more people and went from working 12 hr days to 18 hour days, I did the simple math and threw the question up to the Universe/guardians/.. “If I am supposed to reach more people with this work, how? If I hire one more person, I think I’ll be dead.”¬† Two days later, the day after the Black Ball necklace we created together sold for 25K, we had lunch and Alicia said, “I sooo believe in this work and want to partner with you and help you take it to a global reach.”
Direct answer to my question! Coincidence?
4. Alicia, why Keep a Child Alive… share why this particular organization moved you to action?
Keep a Child Alive speaks to me because I directly saw the effect of the AIDS pandemic in Africa when I went and I believe so much in my co-founder Leigh Blake! I know the people we serve and that they get what they deserve. This movement gives me a more supreme purpose and it‚Äôs something I believe in.¬†
5. Alicia, what would you like to accomplish with the jewelry line?
I would like the WORLD to be effected by the pieces; for people to have an emotional connection with their pieces in such a way that it gives u something positive to hold on to (literally and figuratively!)¬†
6. The Barber’s shop seems to be an extension of what you both have been doing for a long time…. please explain?
Alicia “‚ÄėThe Barber Shop‚Äô is traditionally a place you can be yourself, find friends and emerge looking even better than when u came in… I feel the same about the barbers daughters pieces.”
Gisele “‚ÄėThe Barber Shop‚Äô is the greatest repository of stories. Stories define who we are. When we are willing to drop our story lines that hinder our growth, we can recreate the lives we want to live.”
7. Alicia, during this Christmas 2009… what would like to impart to the universe?
A sense of inspiration, hope, joy, faith and limitlessness.
8. Alicia, do you have a favorite piece?
My favorite piece is somewhere between the barbers daughters dog tags that say “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,‚ÄĚ that we created specifically for the Keep a Child Alive Black Ball fundraiser this year, and this large beautiful silver cuff that says “I am A superwoman!”
- Alicia Keys holding a necklace from The Barbers Daughters
- Alicia Keys wearing a necklace from The Barber’s Daughters
Alicia Keys and designer Gisele Theriault
I was deeply honored to present the Star Honoree award to my dear friend Michael Kors.¬† You might know him as one of the judges of ‚ÄúProject Runway,‚ÄĚ but he is a beyond seasoned designer.
The Fashion Group International is the pre-eminent authority on the business of fashion and design and this year’s Star Honorees not only included my dear Michael Kors but also Frida Gianini of Gucci, Milliner Stephen Jones and Victoire de Castellane ¬†of Dior Fine Jewelry.
The event was held at Cipriani Wall Street and packed with celebrities from Gwen Stefani, Eva Mendes, Jon Bon Jovi, Michael Stipes, Mary J. Blige, Evan Rachel Wood, Emmy Rossum ¬†and James Franco and fashion’s biggest talents from Michael Kors (of course!), Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang, Tommy Hilfigher ¬†and Kenneth Cole. ¬†
When I was just about to get up to present the award to Michael, I realized that I hadn’t¬† printed my speech in a bigger font….you see I need reading glasses so usually when there are no teleprompters I print my speech in humongous letters, but I didn’t check tonight as my assistant print it out for me!
I realized there is no way I could read this so I started asking around the tables for a pair of reading glasses. ¬†After several tries and nothing, thankfully, a gentleman gave me his glasses that were a perfect match and I thought, ‚Äúnow I have to work the glasses in the speech!‚ÄĚ¬† So I did…. and guess what?¬† WWD wrote:
‚ÄúIman could have easily picked up “crowd favorite” for her speech introducing fashion award winner Michael Kors.¬† She said ‚ÄėThank you, Vera Wang, Tommy Hilfigher, Oscar de la Renta, and all the other designers who told me that I look more beautiful and younger than ever. ¬†But ladies, don’t fret – getting older is a b–ch!‚Äô‚ÄĚ
That is when I put the reading glasses on!¬† It pays sometimes to think fast on your feet and make mistakes or misfortunes work for you.
I said in my speech this (among other things,) ‚ÄúFor 28 years, Michael was consistently stood for a relaxed kind of luxury which is the hallmark of American Style. His sporty glamour has traveled the fashion globe from Bond Street in London, to the Via Sant Andrea in Milan, to seven years at the helm of Celine in Paris. He has seen his American point of view become an increasingly international point of view. Watching his shows is like a 13 min escape from everyday life. He takes us away from Aspen to Gstad to Capri and Palm Beach and back to urban Manhattan.‚ÄĚ
Congrats, Michael! Mwah!
Iman in custom made Michael Kors gown and Fred Leighton jewelry