The Ancestry Collection: Pantheia

The Ancestry Collection: Pantheia (“of all spirits”)

I recently learned about a new company named, Pantheia, and once again, I was moved by the story of sustainable fashion production. It comes from the island of Bali and was the inspiration of a designer named Alisa Kreynes …

In 2007, Alisa moved to East Timor from New York City for work. Bali became her escape; it was just a short flight away from the pressures of Timor. Just three years later, in 2010, Alisa had moved to Bali permanently, and started designing jewelry, bags and accessories. According to Alisa, designer and founder of Pantheia: “I was, and still am, enchanted with the Bali and wanted to incorporate some of its magic into my pieces. The concept behind Pantheia designs is simplicity and unity. Unity of different cultures, histories, traditions and beliefs as well as unity with nature and its elements.”

Scott Russell, Director of Marketing for Pantheia, shared more with me about the purpose and intention of this extraordinary company …

Pantheia was born in 2010 and expanded internationally in late 2011. The philosophy and values are centered around making unique and quality jewelry, clothing, bags and accessories, using the skills and techniques of Balinese artisans and craftsmen.

By utilizing local artisans to produce our products and traditional, responsible production techniques, the manufacture of our products helps support local communities in Bali.  Each item is made with special attention to detail and pride, and is infused with the ancient essence of Balinese culture. For example, we produce unique knitwear made from spun bamboo thread (rayon from bamboo), and our signature Banana Leaf Boxes are fashioned in a small village in Singaraja where natural banana leaves are dried, cleaned, and folded by hand.
A few days ago, we launched our newest collection called Ancestry. Not only is the collection beautiful, but it is also linked to one of our philanthropic initiatives, something that is close to our hearts at Pantheia. We have decided to donate 15% of the profits from Ancestry to the Sacred Childhoods Foundation. These donations are used by the Sacred Childhoods Foundation in Indonesia to provide instructors, tools, and materials to teach marketable skills, including knitting and crocheting to women who have had no other option than to beg for money on the streets of Bali. The Sacred Childhoods Foundation focuses on improving the lives of children, and adapting its programs to the changing needs of its beneficiaries, as well as developing sustainable long-term reductions in poverty as opposed to fostering aid-dependency.”  Scott Russell
What Alisa and Scott and the Pantheia team has accomplished is heartwarming and commendable. As Alisa says, “Real beauty doesn’t emerge from a fleeting trend. It sits inside each one of us waiting to be discovered.”
I couldn’t agree more. What do you think?
Pantheia production facilities

Pantheia jewelry production

The Banana Box

Pantheia resin jewelry production

The Banana Box

The signature Pantheia banana leaf box

“Like boys” …

Credit: The New York Times On the Street with Bill Cunningham

Credit: The New York Times On the Street with Bill Cunningham

Like boys … translation: Comme des Garcons

The way I approach each collection is exactly the same…the motivation has always been to create something new, something that didn’t exist before. The more experience I have and the more clothes I make, the more difficult it becomes to make something new. Once I’ve made something, I don’t want to do it again, so the breadth of possibility is becoming smaller.” Rei Kawakubo, Japanese fashion designer and creative force behind the label Comme des Garcons, Ltd.

Today I am inspired (as I often am) by New York Times On the Street photographer, Bill Cunnigham, and his piece entitled, Coated“. He highlights the coats and dresses from Rei Kawakubo’s collection from March 2012, and those women lucky enough to be wearing these colorful fashion-as-art pieces now.

Rei Kawakubo’s first collection, “Lace,” debuted in 1981 and since her debut, Ms. Kawakubo’s designs have been original and exquisite. She appears not to be interested in what others are doing, in creating the new, and in having the discipline to do so. I am thrilled to own my own small piece of Comme des Garcons, and for once I too, can be like boys!!

What do you think?

My very own Comme des Garcons shirt!

My very own Comme des Garcons shirt!

“The Empress Vreeland”

Diana Vreeland in the office of VoguePhoto courtesy of documentary -  Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

Diana Vreeland in the office of Vogue
Photo courtesy of film, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, her granddaughter-in-law

I wasn’t a fashion editor – I was the one and only fashion editor.” ~ Diana Vreeland

My holiday break has been about spending time with my family … and watching movies. Movies like, Hitchcock, Lincoln, Argo, The Silver Linings Playbook, (all wonderful films, by the way), and today a movie just for me: the documentary called Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. I must confess that I did not know very much about the iconic editor before seeing the film. The woman and the movie are fascinating and I was moved by her life and her story; much of the documentary is told in her own words, in her own voice.

She was born in Paris in 1903, during La Belle Epoque, to a life of adventure and beauty and Le Ballets Russes, where, according to Mrs. Vreeland: “my education was the world,” and to live a happy life, “the first thing to be done is to arrange to be born in Paris. Everything else happens quite naturally.” But it was her mother, who told her that she was the ugly duckling of the family, who may have inspired Mrs. Vreeland to dream her big dreams, spark her desire to stand out from the crowd, and be where the action is. After she met and married the very winning bachelor, Reed Vreeland, she says that her mother’s words no longer hurt her, and “Reed made me feel beautiful no matter what my mother made me think.” Oh and by the way, while living in Paris, she met Coco Chanel, with whom she says she was very close.

Her family later moved to New York, and eventually, as a grown and married woman without any formal education or training, found her first job as a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar Magazine. Her column? Why Don’t You? A sort-of-how-to, way out, eccentric but  tried and true fashion Q&A, that represented her first step into a career in fashion, which she continued writing until the onset of World War II. She stopped when she believed the column to be frivolous. But Mrs. Vreeland’s role at Harper’s Bazaar grew and she would eventually become a fashion editor: the first of her kind in a role that she truly invented. Before that, magazines like Harper’s Bazaar didn’t have fashion editors; the role of women and fashion was more about society ladies dealing with the social do’s and don’ts of running a household, including how to make pies. But Mrs. Vreeland revolutionized that: she gave fashion a bigger, exotic life, she took people to new places they couldn’t reach on their own, she launched the careers of actors like Lauren Bacall, and put bikinis and blue jeans on the map. And after 26 years as editor of Harper’s Bazaar, she moved to Vogue, where she would become editor-in-chief during the explosive 1960s and set the world on fire again, turning a sleepy magazine into a global fashion runway.

She did it all her way. She was an original with a vision – always a vision. And I wonder, as I often do, what gives someone that indescribable drive? I am left with a compelling thought; that beyond her success in the fashion world, it is perhaps her personal story of drive and determination to find her own way and step away from the ugly duckling messages that her mother placed on her, to stop at nothing to express who she really was: magnificent. Here she is, in her own words:

I think when you’re young you should be a lot with yourself and your sufferings. Then one day you get out where the sun shines and the rain rains and the snow snows and it all comes together.” ~ Diana Vreeland

What do you think?

Diana Vreeland

A young Diana Vreeland

Heavens to Betsey!

Designer Betsey Johnson

Designer Betsey Johnson, Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images for IMG

Betsey Johnson is a fashion icon. A designer who never ages. Perhaps it’s because her designs are youth-inspired with a rocker-girl whimsy. Or perhaps it’s because she ends every one of her shows with a cartwheel (something I haven’t been able to do since 7th grade!). But this Peter Pan of fashion is starting over at age 70 and it appears, doing it with vim and vigor. I was surprised to discover that Betsey Johnson’s company had filed for bankruptcy last April, 2012, when I read Tim Murphy’s story on Betsey, entitled Betsey Johnson, Back In the Pink (The Collection – The New York Times).

What is next for Betsey? A new line of more moderately-priced clothing to be introduced to department stores, including Macy’s and Nordstrom (designer Steve Madden is her new parent company), production of a reality TV show with her daughter, Lulu, premiering this spring on the Style Network, and her third fragrance, Betseyfield, to be released this summer.

I have loved Betsey Johnson’s clothes since my mother introduced me to her line in the 1970s. I wish her much success in her second act. Keep on cartwheeling, Betsey!!

What do you think?

Lisa: A visionary

Lisa ImageAre we ready for warm weather already? Lisa Curran is the owner and creator of Lisa Curran Swim, founded in 1997. An entrepreneur in the truest sense with a passion for fashion to match, Lisa is always visualizing ten-steps ahead. Lisa was a young girl who practically lived in a swimsuit growing up on the beaches of Cape May, New Jersey, who later dreamed of making a difference as she would discover a void in the design of women’s swimwear.

I sat down with this extraordinary woman. Here is Lisa, in her own words:

I always loved fashion, since I was a little girl, but I was more interested in the artistic side of fashion. I’ve always been drawn to that, rather than owning something with a label …

I started as a student at FIT which was near the old Barney’s downtown (New York). On my lunch break, I loved checking out the windows at Barney’s. At that time, they featured small and up-and-coming designers …

It turns out that my first job was an assistant buyer for Barney’s. It was a special experience for me. Barney’s was still owned by the Pressman Family and there was an intimacy about it then; they were truly interested in promoting brands. After my time at Barney’s I became a buyer for Gucci, just six months after Rose Marie Bravo hired Tom Ford. It was an exciting time to be in fashion. I could easily have stayed there and I loved my job, and yet, I always wanted to do a swimwear line …

At that time, I was newly married and without children. I knew that this was my moment to make the leap: I couldn’t understand why the swimwear industry wouldn’t sell separate pieces, and I saw a huge void in the market. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and swimwear separates needed to reflect that. I left my secure position at Gucci and in 1997 I began Lisa Curran Swim. I soon discovered that my previous business experience helped me to better understand what to do and what not to do. I began by shipping to three-to-four stores, and soon caught the eye of Sports Illustrated and Elle Magazine. That is when my business started growing …

Today, I am a mother with three children. I have created two separate collections for Lisa Curran Swim: the world of bikini separates and one piece bathing suits for moms whose needs may be changing but still want to look and feel sexy. I have always used the highest quality fabrics and linings, and everything comes from Italy. No other swimsuit company is doing that. We also design our own prints. My customer knows what she is getting when she purchases a swimsuit from the Lisa Curran Swim collection …

I continue to push myself and strive for perfection in all that I do. I have a great team. It is a nice-size business and remains privately-owned. I love working and I always have my eye on the next challenge …” ~ Lisa Curran

We are so glad that you do, Lisa. On behalf of women everywhere, thank you for thinking of us when designing the one article of clothing that can make us feel the most vulnerable. We’re glad that the little girl on the beach grew up to see her dreams come true!

What do you think?

You can find LIsa Curran Swim at Bloomingdale’s and coming shortly to Everything But Water in Short Hills, New Jersey.

Lisa Curran Collection

Lisa Curran Collection

Lisa Curran Collection

Lisa Curran Collection

Lisa Curran Collection

Lisa Curran Collection

Lezli’s thoughts on fashion …

Lezli Salz-Bradley

Lezli Salz-Bradley is the owner of Willow St. Boutique located in both Summit and Morristown, New Jersey. Her boutiques reflect her creative and adventurous style and carry a variety of interesting designer choices. When you walk in there is always someone ready to help with informed styling options. I love Willow St. because it reminds me of my time as a child in Southern California; chic dressing yet with a casual and bohemian edge (and much like the Ann Taylor-of old that I remember as a seventh-grader, shopping with my mom). Unplugged, here are Lezli’s thoughts …

My father brought fashion into our home at an early age; he owned several women’s clothing stores in Denver, Colorado. I have always felt that fashion is one’s self expression and my way of exploring my inner self, good or bad.

I knew that I always wanted to be my own boss and if I could incorporate my love of fashion it would be a win-win!

I love bringing new designers and new styles to our clients. I can visualize certain customers in particular colors and styles. I love introducing newness. It’s a sort of high when I find a designer that offers something original. I love to wow my customers!

One of the things I notice is that women are hesitant to try new things. That’s where my staff shines; getting them to be adventurous and make the outfit their own. I love it when I hear ‘I would never have tried that if you didn’t suggest it, and I was the hit of the party!’

I think clothing does affect our self-esteem; whether it is hiding a bulge here and there or just bringing a smile to someone’s face with a sparkling necklace or earring.”

~ Lezli

Excuse me while I run to Willow St. to find those great pants that Lezli is wearing! Is that pleather with velvet trim?


Cally: Fine and Dandy

Cally Rieman with her collection

Cally is a fashion designer with purpose and a point of view. We met because she happens to have graduated from my Alma Mater, though I am older, but that doesn’t matter, right?! What strikes me most about Cally is not just her warmth and spirit, but also her commitment to her designs and the message she wishes to convey: That women can be every bit as pulled together as a man, and that we can make choices in our wardrobe that empower us and help us stand strong. Cally calls upon the image of a classic male dandy (definition: man devoted to style and fashion) to inspire her collection. In fact, every season she has a dandy inspiration to keep her designs focused. This year’s dandy impetus is the main female character in the classic movie, In the Mood for Love. I sat down with Cally to hear more about her extraordinary story …

Mel:   When did you launch your company?

Cally: I launched Kal Rieman in 2009. My first delivery was Fall 2010.

Mel:   Did you always know that you wanted to be a fashion designer?

Cally: No. I was going in to the business study program and became an East Asian Studies major. I wasn’t raised in the arts. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and was one of five kids. We were into sports and my fashion look growing up was preppy American – Ralph Lauren sportswear. Before J. Crew and Banana Republic modernized their lines, the big store for me was The Limited. It was a cool place to shop!

Mel:  What happened to change your course?

Cally: I knew that I didn’t want to stay in finance. I had a feeling that I wanted to try fashion, but I didn’t know how to get started; I didn’t even how what a portfolio was. I had to learn and I decided to return to school. The next four years I immersed myself in The School of the Art Institute where I began to hone my design craft.

Mel:  What inspires you as a designer?

Cally: I set out to build a wardrobe. My designs are not as trendy, but build on each other and make sense. If you look at a man’s closet, it is organized and clean. Their world is without chaos. Women’s wear tends to be more chaotic — too many pieces — leaving women to ask themselves: Why did I buy this? This goes with nothing!

Mel:  Tell me about creating female dandy’s? What do you mean?

Cally: Dandy dressing is layering and styling to the full extent. It starts with the under pieces, blouses and shirts. We then add a vest (waistcoat, for men), followed by an impeccably tailored jacket (overcoat, for men). All the elements in the collection are building blocks and our client can add something each season that works with what she already owns. We add color; subtle in some places, vibrant in others. But we always stay true to our vision.

Mel:  I love that you empower women with your designs. In your opinion how does fashion affect our self-esteem?

Cally: I have heard from many of my clients that the right clothing makes women feel confident. I think it all starts with a jacket. A tailored shoulder with a structured silhouette, a jacket is the strong foundation for any outfit. I think that if a woman’s clothing has structure, she can’t help but stand taller and feel better about herself.

Cally has said that her designs are inspired by her years in menswear and her time in Asia. She feels that she has always had an ability to “hang with the boys; not be an object, but someone to be taken seriously. That is Kal Rieman. Being able to work eye-to-eye with our male counterparts.”

I like the sound of that! What do you think?

(check out Cally here for a closer look … and by the way, every one of Cally’s designs is made close to home; in the same building as her New York City studio)

Kal Rieman red plaid suit – creating the female “dandy”

Stormy weather and Vidal Sassoon

Vidal Sassoon giving British actor Beth Rogan his signature haircut in 1962
Credit: Getty Images

Here on the east coast, Hurricane Sandy is bearing down. I am remembering just a year ago we experienced another crazy storm: a fluke snowstorm that took us by surprise, taking the leaves on the trees with it. At my house we lost power for eight days. Just before the power came back, my friend (who had not lost power) saved my life by inviting me to stay with her overnight. I felt like a princess, warm and well-cared for. And the best part of the evening was watching a documentary on famed hair stylist, Vidal Sassoon. He was not just a hair stylist, but a visionary who forever changed the world of hair and fashion, mostly by revolutionizing women’s hairstyling in the 1960s. Since the last storm and the first time I followed his story, Vidal Sassoon passed away at the age of 84.

Here is what I wrote about Vidal Sassoon just a year ago. It seems right to remember him now …

“If you can get to the root of who you are and make something happen from it – my sense is you’re going to surprise yourself.”

 – Vidal Sassoon

Vidal Sassoon’s story reminds me very much of Coco Chanel’s; it is a story of extreme humble beginnings, of an orphanage, and of visionaries who, combined with determination, drive and hard work, forever changed the fashion world while creating fashion empires and conglomerates. In Vidal Sassoon’s case, he later developed a series of hair care products with his namesake – the first of its kind. I wonder … how does someone born with so little achieve so much and change the world?

Vidal Sassoon was born in London in 1928. As a child, he and his younger brother were sent to live in an orphanage for several years after his father left his family and his mother could not afford to take care of her sons. She was allowed to see them only once a month. In addition, he was Jewish, and was soon exposed to the horrors of World War II while living in the heart of London. Even though they were separated he remained close to his mother, and early on she told him that she had a premonition that he would be a hairstylist. In fact, it was she who helped him find his first apprenticeship working for a well-known local hairstylist who taught him the art of handling scissors.

After the war Vidal spent time in Israel fighting as a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces.  Eventually, he returned to England, and sure enough began to seriously consider hairstyling but only if he could change things as they were. He trained and learned from the masters and soon found his passion, and says that although at times he didn’t know what he wanted he always knew what he didn’t want.

In the 1960s he did change women’s hair by simplifying cuts and liberating them from the over-styling and processing that had been commonplace in the 1950s. He created geometric-shaped bobs by letting the hair follow its natural course. His designs were modern, free of fuss, and glowed from a woman’s natural shine and movement. One of his most famous looks became known as the five-point cut and women everywhere wanted it!  When he joined creative forces with British designer Mary Quant, whom some say invented the mini skirt, a look and a fashion revolution was born. Women found the freedom to express themselves and hair and fashion would never be viewed separately again.

Vidal Sassoon’s vision of a modern haircut is still with us today. The bob and angular cuts will forever be part of our make up as is the desire for low-maintenance styling. What is most remarkable to me is his legacy of having a vision and a passion and stopping at nothing until he made it a reality. His drive and hard work elevated hairstyling to an elegant art form and hairstylists as important designers. We as women are indebted to Vidal Sassoon for changing the way we look at hair and fashion. But perhaps more important, we as human beings must thank him for reminding us how to best live our lives – with creativity and passion and integrity and sense of purpose.

Rest in peace, Vidal Sassoon. And Hurricane Sandy, please be gentle …

What do you think?

Heather: “Creating is the most fun …”

Heather, polishing her silver bracelets

When I met Heather at MONDO today, she was polishing silver bracelets that she designed, in order to keep them from oxidizing. It is one of the many details that make the process of designing her own jewelry completely personal. Her love of jewelry began as a child, raiding her mother’s jewelry box. She was always fascinated by color and enjoyed accessorizing from an early age. As Heather got older, “the fun part of my morning was  selecting the jewelry pieces I would wear and taking time to do it.”

When I asked Heather, now a wife and mother of two young sons, how she turned her fun play time into a solid business, she told me that it started simply enough, after she had her second son and had a little more available time (just a little!). She began to create her own bracelets and necklaces, because “my eye naturally goes to my neck.” Women would come to her and ask her where she found her beautiful jewelry, and when she would tell them that she made it herself, many wanted to buy it right off her wrist and neck! Eventually, Heather realized it was time to make jewelry for others. She started her business in 2006 and began selling her pieces at small, local schools and church events. Now for the first time Heather has her own retail space at MONDO, a lovely space in downtown, Summit, New Jersey, and is selling directly to her customers. She feels fortunate to be selling locally because that keeps it personal. “I am happy to be selling as an individual on a smaller scale. I think about my customers; I remember what they bought previously and I like to keep the relationship with them consistent and intimate. I think they appreciate that, too.”

Heather sleeps with her sketchpad next to her bed, ready for an inspirational thought that can come at any time. When her children were younger, she would take them to the playground with the sketchpad; they would be enjoying the freedom of play and so would she. Although she likes the entire process of making jewelry, Heather says that creating is the most fun and challenging.

I like to think of Heather drawing in her sketchpad, capturing the color of the world go by. I might be wearing that very image!

What do you think?

Heather’s watches: “Fun for a pop of color!”

Heather’s silver and beaded bracelets

Heather’s bangles

Creating sustainable fashion

Stella McCartney’s Mock Croc Lauren Pump – faux-leather pumps with partly-biodegradable rubber soles

Fast fashion is a term that describes the disposable, see-it-once-and-replace-it world of contemporary, very moderately priced fashion. H&M and Forever 21 are fast fashion stores. A positive alternative for younger consumers who want to experiment with fashion and not invest in haute couture prices; but unfortunately, fast fashion comes with a price of its own. We as an American society are buying and discarding more than ever at a time when our planet needs us to recycle and reuse. We need to think more in terms of sustainable fashion.

Fortunately, there is a growing albeit slow moving attempt to recycle fashion, and some well-known designers are catching on. Stella McCartney, who has always been conscience of the fabrics she uses (she refuses to use fur or leather), revealed a new platform pump this September that is a mix of faux leather and partly biodegradable rubber soles. (I wear these in my dreams, by the way; I could never afford them nor could I walk in them, but I completely love them!). Stella admits to “having a huge admiration for my mom. I think that I’m keeping alive some of the things she believed in and elaborating on that.” (Her mom, Linda McCartney, who was a health advocate, animal rights activist and vegetarian, passed away in 1998.).

Sustainable fashion is also making news in smaller, grass roots stories. A new book called Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change examines the potential for the fashion system to transform itself to a more sustainable industry. One of the individuals highlighted in the book, Michael Swaine of San Francisco, is doing his part to reuse fashion in his own local community. San Francisco writer Darby Minow Smith interviewed Mr. Swaine about his on-going project, called The Free Mending Library. This project is about people both bringing clothing items to mend and those who come to help do the mending. Supportive and sustainable.

These are inspiring stories. They have forced me to stop and think about how I am contributing to the waste stream and what I can do about it.

What do you think?