Irina and Anna

Mother and Daughter - Irina and Anna

Irina and Anna are mother and daughter. Their family moved to New Jersey from Russia just two years ago, turning their entire lives around, because since she was fifteen, Irina knew in her heart that “she didn’t want to grow old in Russia.” We sat down for a conversation and talked about their life in Russia, what life is like in today’s Russia, and both American and Russian style. I walked away smiling, knowing that I spent time with two extraordinary women, and learned a little about their world as well! Here are Irina and Anna:

Irina: When I stopped speed skating at 21, it was a very difficult time for me. I had always had my skating and only my skating; I was living in a bubble without having to step into the real world. Then the sports ended and I had to figure out what I would do next. I was also married at 21, so my life changed in that way, too. My husband and I first attempted to leave Russia when we were newly married, and we moved to Holland as aux pairs. That didn’t work out, but it led me to my next opportunity, because it’s the little details that are important ..

The woman with whom I had worked as an aux pair, had a friend who was just starting out in publishing; he would eventually become the owner of one of the largest publishing houses in Russia. Through that initial connection I ended up working for him and began a long career in publishing …

During that time, I collected beautiful, high-end clothing for my work wardrobe. At one time, I had 10-12 Louis Vuitton handbags! Today’s Russian style is sophisticated. Russian women spend time selecting clothes and are very aware of the details of dress. They appreciate beautiful things and will spend more money buying them. They love labels like Chanel (especially the older women) and Dolce & Gabbana.

(I asked Irina to compare today’s fashion with the old Soviet Union … )

Growing up, we didn’t have choices. Everyone was forced to wear the same things. I didn’t dress in color: my clothing was gray, brown or black. My girlfriend’s aunt had connections and she always wore bright, colorful clothing! I wanted to look like her!” ~ Irina

Anna:Some people here (in the United States) don’t want to make the effort with fashion. In Russia, everyone dresses carefully and with attention to the details. Even my friends who wear uniforms to school will take care in putting their outfits together: adding a  pencil skirt, a nice blouse, great shoes, special handbags, etc. Everyone in Russia has a good-sized handbag and men and women carry big wallets as well  … no one wears backpacks in Russia! They prefer to carry totes! When I first moved here, people couldn’t understand why I carried a tote and not a backpack. Friends still tell me that I dress with a European attitude but I don’t see it. ~ Anna

Much to say; I would love to have another conversation with Irina and Anna

Farnoosh’s sister

Farnoosh's sister Fara

Farnoosh’s sister Fara

Do you remember Farnoosh? She moved to The United States from Iran ten years ago with her parents and two older sisters. We spoke about how difficult the move and transition was for her at the tender pre-teen age of twelve, about how Farnoosh views fashion, and about the need for us to express ourselves, no matter what our circumstance; even when restrictions are placed upon us and our expression comes in the form of colorful fashion accessories, as in the case of Farnoosh’s female cousin, who lives in a modern-day Iran.

I spent the last morning of 2012 having a cup of coffee with Farnoosh and her oldest sister, Fara (her middle sister, Farnaz, lives in San Diego). Fara is 29 and is living in Chicago as she pursues her Master’s Degree in Designed Objects from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Like her sister, Fara is lovely and creative and full of energy. She has her own story and relationship with fashion. Here is Fara …

When we left Iran I was nineteen. It took me a while to get comfortable, but I was open to the move. I had already graduated from high school in Iran and had an idea that I wanted to be an artist. I stayed local when I first arrived, and for the first year and a half learned English as a second language at Seton Hall University. Immediately I knew that the school was too small for me and that I needed more. I was drawn to New York City and left Seton Hall for New York, where I attended NYIT, the New York Institute of Technology, and graduated with a degree in architecture …

I’m a city person and from the minute I came to New York I was happy. I loved the energy and the diversity and how people in NY are original, especially in the way they think and dress. My favorite thing to do became walking: I would walk everywhere! I was inspired by the streets and the windows. That might be why I dislike shopping in malls where everything is so generic and everyone looks the same. I can’t be linked to only one brand and one designer, head-to-toe. I like variety and dressing high and low. That is why I am a fan of H&M …

I would describe my look as chic enough but not too fancy. I enjoy mixing pieces and remaining eclectic. My passions remain shoes and handbags!” ~ Fara

Fara and Farnoosh have adopted their American life but also embrace their Iranian culture. We had an interesting conversation about what that means. I shared with them that I have Colombian blood and at one time I wasn’t comfortable embracing it, but as I get older, I understand that it is a major part of who I am and I treasure it. I guess that explains why I love Latin music and always want to start salsa dancing … even though I don’t know how!!

I hope I meet Farnoosh and Fara again soon – and meet their middle sister next – Farnaz!

What do you think?

Farnoosh and Fara

Fara with Farnoosh

Fara with me

Fara with me

Lisa

Lisa, dressed pre-Hurricane

These past two weeks were very difficult for people in our community. Hurricane Sandy changed us; personally, our family went without power for 12 straight days. I must admit that fashion is not my strong suit. Don’t get me wrong, I can pull it together and for the most part I am very presentable with the latest fashions. I felt a sense of relief, however, knowing that I could use the power outage as an excuse for letting my fashion concerns go out the window. I enjoyed the simplicity of not worrying about my hair for 12 days, and wearing one of the four outfits that I washed daily at a friend’s house who had power. While others went to the salon every day for a “blow out” I donned a little mascara and eyeliner and called it a day! This allowed me to deal with all the other nuisances associated with our situation. Now the power has returned and I have gone back to my daily grooming routine. I admit I do feel better with my hair done and being able to wear anything from my closet. Nevertheless, I will always cherish the Hurricane time and the casualness it brought to my fashion life. Feng Shui … Less was certainly more during those crazy days … Maybe I can hold onto that attitude a little longer!!”

~ Lisa

“You have to see this! …”

The New Yorker Magazine Cover
September 10, 2012

… said my neighbor Jean. I visited her this afternoon, which I do as much as I can. You know Jean by now – my 80-something friend and neighbor. We have shared many conversations about life and fashion – from tuxedos to handbags – and today’s topic was this cover of The New Yorker Magazine. Jean continued with this question: “Where is fashion going? Lately I have been feeling like the older woman in the illustration – out of step and befuddled.” Enough said. This image says it all.

What do you think?

New York Fashion Week, Part 2: Steven’s inside view …

Steven
Inside New York Fashion Week

From my past experiences as a spectator and also a volunteer, New York Fashion Week is like being transported to another world filled with nothing but the most amazing and talented designers highlighting their beautiful and enchanting creations. Walking through the tents and behind the velvet curtains is like having a shot of fashion Redbull! A surge of anticipation comes over you as the lights dim, the music starts and the first model turns the corner and cameras begin to flash. This is New York Fashion Week!

~ Steven (looking very sharp!)

Sara

Sara’s neighborhood at sunset
Venice Beach, California

Sara: I’m 23 years-old and work for a public relations agency in Los Angeles. I grew up in Summit, New Jersey and moved to LA about five years ago when I began college at Loyola Marymount University. I graduated last May and now I live in Venice Beach. I would consider my style to be pretty laid back – I’m most comfortable in a flowing sundress or jeans and a t-shirt. Fashion hasn’t always been at the forefront of my mind, but at the same time I like to think I’m conscious of the outfits I’m putting together before I walk out the door.

Melissa: We hear a lot about how Californians are laid back and relaxed. Is this true of their fashion choices?

Sara: I definitely think that this is the case. The sense of style out here, especially in Venice, is very much anything goes. I see people walking around in outfits I wouldn’t even think would go together, but they are pulling it off. The same goes for my roommates – they are both from Southern California and their outfits are very laid back. I feel like there is a stigma on the East Coast that you can’t wear anything more than once, but I don’t find that to be the case out here. It is more like, if you find a great item that is in season, wear it as much as possible until the next season when you can buy a new trend, rather than spend the money on all new clothes, all the time.

Melissa: Has your own style evolved in the last few years, since your college days?

Sara: I think that the best way to describe my style is to quote the Beatles: I get by with a little help from my friends. They have played a huge role in influencing my style – from the stores where I shop, to what I wear to work, to what I wear out on a Friday night. I think I still rely on them because it is more fun to shop and get ready with friends, so I have gotten used to that!

Melissa: In a few months you will be heading to London for work. What do you anticipate will be the changes in fashion in the UK? Do you think it’s possible to take a little of where you have lived with you?

Sara: I actually studied abroad in London two years ago, so I got a sense of London style while I was there. One of the things that excites me most about the move to London is the fashion – the clothes over there are a lot more fun than they are in the US. Also, some of my favorite stores (H&M and Topshop) are based there, which means that they get the newest styles before they are released in the US. Plus, it will be colder so I will get to wear a lot more layers than I do living in Venice. I think there will always be a little East Coast preppy in me, and now I have developed a more laid back attitude living here, so it will be interesting to see how my fashion sense evolves in fashion-forward London.

Melissa: Yes it will and I can’t wait to see it! More conversations to come from Sara …

What do you think?

Jodie in her own words …

Jodie, on the High Line, NYC, wearing one of her favorite outfits

I met Jodie Berlin Morrow in the early 1980s after I graduated college. I was taking a walk in my neighborhood with my mom (probably pondering my future) when we ran into Jodie. Because, for a brief and wonderful interlude in her life as a New Yorker, she lived in my town in New Jersey and became our neighbor and very special friend. Jodie eventually moved back to New York and we lost touch with her until a few years ago when we all reconnected. How happy my mom and I are to have Jodie back in our lives. She is a beautiful woman with the gift of bringing out the best in us. Stylish as always, she truly inspires me. But enough from me. Now, Jodie, in her own words …

I didn’t have any identifiable style until I was in my early 40s. Before that, I had worked in a school setting and in human resources, and I wasn’t that interested in fashion. A significant change happened when I became the owner of an antique store, and that is when I began to find out what I liked. It took leaving those earlier environments and becoming a buyer for my own store, responsible for choosing and selecting pieces that I liked, to change my style perspective. I would travel to do my buying and developed new relationships and friendships along the way. I soon fell in love with vintage. I began to wear Victorian Whites and I started to buy clothes that felt like me and that I absolutely loved …

About this time another important thing happened. My very dear friend, Nancy Schneider, had a store in the city called Nancy and Company. Nancy has an eye for style and she had great clothes with detail and beautiful edges and brands that suited me. I began to work there on Saturdays and it opened my eyes to a whole new way of dressing. Nancy and Company is now located in East Hampton …

I have no wish to be elegant. I have a wish to be dramatic and downtown …

I like costumes! …

My style is still a bit vintage and feminine. I love soft fabrics but I don’t wear many prints. I also love military influences. I wear very little color. I wear black and white; white pants in the summer and black in the winter – tight black pants. The look of a black jacket has become my signature. I love to wear jeans with boots and I also love to wear hats, like the purple hat in the photo; I feel perky when I wear them …

When I love something – I wear it all the time. I don’t buy a lot of clothes, but I will buy two of something I love. That came from my husband, Bruce. He suggested that when I love something, I buy two of the same thing. And I don’t mind if someone has seen me in it …

I only have black handbags but I would like a red one. I am ready for a red one. Every time I come out of a mammogram and the news is good, I splurge on a great black handbag. It has become a celebration of my life and an investment for my future …

I don’t dress that much differently now than I did when I was younger, except that now I wear more jewelry. I’ve become a bracelet person! …

I love when I hear someone say, ‘that looks like you!’ It makes me feel special that they recognize my individual style.”

~ Jodie Berlin Morrow, Ph.D.

What Farnoosh thinks

Farnoosh

I always try to keep my style simple yet sophisticated.” Farnoosh

You meet Farnoosh and she looks like a typical American 22 year-old. Yes, she lives in  America, and yes she is 22, but Farnoosh’s story is not typically American. Rather, it is other-worldly. The other side of the world, in fact, because Farnoosh was born in Iran and lived there until she was twelve years old. That is when she and her mother and father and two older sisters came to live in The United States. It was not her decision to come to America; “I was a little girl – I did not want to leave.” Farnoosh was living happily in Iran, in a city called Isfahan. She had her friends and her life, but her parents had three girls and they knew that their future would be limited if they stayed.

The year was 2002; it was not an easy time to be from Iran and move here, so soon after September 11th. It was certainly not easy for a pre-teen girl about to enter 7th grade and couldn’t speak a word of English. The first few years were very rough for Farnoosh – she remembers her Aunt (who had been living here already) picking out clothes for her, because she knew nothing about American fashion.

Two years later, however, Farnoosh began to fully adjust to her new life and find her way. This meant learning to speak English, of course, and a surprising feeling of empowerment that came when she found her own sense of style. No longer required to have her Aunt choose her clothing for her, she began to choose for herself. Farnoosh’s style has evolved over the years. Today, “I buy what I like. I buy what makes me comfortable … my mood is affected by how I’m dressed. If I’m wearing clothes that I feel comfortable in, I’m in a good mood.” Farnoosh is contemporary but not all about the trends of the moment. She wishes to choose wisely, because she knows that your clothing reflects how you want people to see you.

Twelve years later, Farnoosh is getting ready to start law school and hopes to be influential in foreign relations and help countries where she can, especially Iran. She thanks her parents for bringing her here so that she can pursue her dreams. And not least, she likes the freedom to dress as she pleases and wear her hair loose.

“I dress for myself”

It warmed my heart to spend time with Carolyn, an about-to-be sixteen year-old who is warm and endearing. She is also not what you would expect of a young woman her age. Her values are refreshing. Carolyn appreciates the value of a dollar and although she is stylish, she is not obsessive about spending money on clothes or impulse shopping. She is more inspired by her friends’ style than any trends of the celebrity-du-jour.

Carolyn has an eye for snatching the finds. Her shorts were a steal at $6 from a thrift store called Unique. Originally “mom jeans,” Carolyn bought them and turned them into a cool pair of shorts. And her shoes? Another steal. “I adore Steve Madden shoes,” and these were double-reduced at $30. Her style is beachy and casual chic and she is enjoying the current blast of color.

I would describe Carolyn as an old soul. She may be young in years but she reminds me of times gone by, when things were solid and what you saw is what you got. You go, girl!

What do you think?

Teen Talk

 

Teen Talk – Summer!

I’m back with my girls, Catie and Bridget and Catie’s mom, Christine, talking about teen fashion. Catie and Bridget are about to graduate from 8th grade and will enter high school in the fall. We have decided to meet at the start of each new season; today our conversation is all about .. summer! As always, whenever you have girls and women discussing fashion, somehow it ends up about shoes. Here is part of our talk…

Mel: Summer is almost here. Do you feel less pressure about dressing for summer?

Bridget: Summer is more relaxed and I can dress more comfortably.

Catie: Yes. Summer allows us to relax more. If I don’t have anywhere to go and I am at home, I can lounge and not worry about it. But I do still enjoy dressing up.

Mel: I just wrote about swimsuit shopping. I think it is one of the most difficult things for women to do as we get older – the bright lights, sensitivity to our bodies, etc. What is swimsuit shopping like for you? Do you run into difficulties finding what you like?

Catie: I don’t love swimsuit shopping. It is hard to find just the right suit, but when I do, it feels so great.

Bridget: Shopping for a swimsuit is easier when you are on vacation. There is more selection and options from which to choose.

Christine (mom): It is hard to shop for suits at their age; they are in between sizes that fit but styles that are meant for younger girls or sizes that are too large and grown-up for them. A good all-around style is the tankini.

Mel: Have you done any special dress shopping for your 8th grade graduation? Do you feel pressure with it – sort of like Prom? For you, Christine?

Catie: There is a lot of excitement with the 8th grade graduation. I am looking forward to seeing what everyone else is wearing.

Christine: It is a special event with bigger budgets and more time spent researching the right look. However, there is not as much pressure as Prom.

Bridget: I think Prom dresses are more formal than graduation.

Catie: Most people will be wearing shorter dresses, more of a country-club look.

Christine: Shoe shopping became a big deal. Finding the appropriate shoe and height, was essential. Many shoes were off-limits because of their height.

Catie: Most girls will be wearing wedges now, as opposed to flats.

Bridget: Last year flats were popular, now it is wedges.

And one last question

Mel: Do you think about fashion in high school and what might be different?

Bridget: Seniors are almost-like grown ups in the way they dress – wearing higher wedged-shoes, etc. That will take getting used to. And we will need to carry totes for our books since we won’t be visiting our lockers during the day, so we can add totes to our wardrobe needs.

Catie: I would like to keep up with trends but protect my own identity at the same time. I don’t want to lose that.

Well said, Catie. Well said.

Until next time … what do you think?