(illustration property of Shannon Ables, Simply Luxurious Life. Dress design, Oscar de la Renta)
I feel unqualified to write about the loss of Oscar de la Renta, like an unwelcome intruder in his family’s grief, but at the same time I want to remember him and celebrate a wonderful career and life.
I was no part of his life. But like so many others he unknowingly had a profound influence on my life.
The party line about my decision to move to the city in the summer of 2011 was that it was time to grow my company in the city where art and fashion thrive, but at that point, I still hadn't completely accepted that a "traditional career path" was out of the question for me and the truth is that, the start of my life in NYC was also the start of an internship at Oscar de la Renta.
It began when the divine PR girl “reporting from inside one of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses” caught wind of a few of my Oscar inspired illustrations and posted them on her new and riotously popular OscarPRgirl blog.
I was elated and amazed that my art caught this exacting, chic, talented woman’s eye. I could barely believe my fortune and her generosity and kindness in sharing my art and thanking me for helping celebrate Oscar's designs.
So these fledgling digital interactions with this innovative communicator, OscarPRgirl, were driving me towards the siren call of NYC. One thing led to another, and I was moving into the smallest apartment in the East Village and starting an internship at Oscar de la Renta.
So at the age of 25, I became what felt like the worlds oldest and most naive fashion PR intern. I needed to know once and for all if I wanted to work for a creative innovator, like Oscar de la Renta, or if I wanted to continue trying to become a creative innovator in my own, independent way.
The internship was the last stop on the “traditional job express" and it is something I’ve avoided discussing in much detail on my blog as I was asked not to share details of my internship in this forum. I’ll continue to respect this rule for the most part.
Once an intern, always an intern.
But last night when I checked my instagram feed and wondered, curiously at first, why everyone was posting pictures of Oscar, and then with growing sadness and alarm that this meant he had left us, I knew I couldn’t continue to keep completely silent.
Do you ever look forward to the stories you’ll beat into your children and grandchildren before they’re born? I do. I think the story I’ll share with them most is about the time that I almost sat on Oscar de la Renta.
It was the fall of 2011, and I was a spry young thing working tirelessly at filing an unending supply of magazines into alphabetized and date-filtered organizational system in the PR office of Oscar de la Renta.
Being an intern required the careful reading and cataloging of every magazine seemingly in print in the western world.
I am the first to admit, I was not good at this. Not good at this at all. But you couldn’t have said I wasn’t trying. In fact, I was trying with the same tunnel-vision, terror driven intensity that a bug exerts when trying to escape an upturned glass. Like my life depended upon it. And I think I really did believe that my life did depend upon it.
Anyway, there I was, bug trapped in a glass case of emotion and unread magazines waiting to be poured over, correctly labeled and filed away. Minding my own business.
Or, more like, attacking my own business.
I was in the zone.
Speed through glossy page after page…spring up from my chair to squeeze magazines into the twenty foot long bookshelf packed to bursting with other publications featuring Oscar designs….then crash backwards, down into the chair behind me to continue reading and labeling.
Read, Spring, Crash back. Read, spring, crash back….
I assume this won’t be hard for you to believe… I tend to get lost in my own self-narrated reveries about life, existence, the universe, struggle.
I think I was in one such voice-over narrative of my own life while I was oscillating between springing forth and then falling back into the chair when I realized, with not a moment to spare, that someone or something had filled the space in the chair behind me.
The awarness of a presence behind me took hold of me just in time before I crashed back into said chair.
I teetered on my heels into the desk beside me and I turned around and there, sitting in my intern chair, unknowingly highly at risk for being sat/crashed upon, was Oscar de la Renta.
With handsome chin resting thoughtfully in hand, confident ankle tossed across knee. The pose you expect him to be sitting in. You know the one.
He was just sitting in my chair, easy as that. Chatting with the higher-ups. Totally unaware that his most accident prone intern had just come within a split second of falling backwards into his lap and therefore ruining her entire sense of capability to function as a human.
Of course, I’d seen him at a distance on a daily basis, working in the studio that I did not ever enter, dressmakers bust before him, surrounded by his designers like an italian renaissance masters portrayal of Jesus and the apostles. But I’d never seen him come into the PR office and sit in someones chair, let alone my chair.
I’d even been instructed that should I run into him in transit within the halls, I should avoid staring and duck into the nearest office to let him pass in peace. And here I was almost sitting on him!
I blacked out exactly what happened next, but for the sake of preserving the memory’s integrity for my future children, let’s say I gathered up the remaining magazines and quickly exited the PR area and disappeared to the copy room.
But, you know, in retrospect, as I look through all the images of this man that so many of us admired and drew inspiration from, I realize Oscar could have totally handled it if I’d accidentally sat down in the middle of his impromptu meeting.
His grace, elegance, poise, humor and above all, understanding of how to create beauty are undisputable. His work and legacy will always inspire. I truly feel a loss today knowing he has sent his final collection down the runway. I send a quiet prayer of gratitude for the inspiration, for the stories for my grandchildren.
And I think, I really do think, that even if I had sat on him, he probably would have laughed.
I have some grievances to air with you, dear readers. Whyyyy did none of you tellll me when I was all hot to trot on moving to Mulberry Street that I was moving into they eye of the tiger of the hurricane that is the San Genario festival???
You all just sat there like cats that ate the proverbial canary, smiling knowingly (which I read as smiling supportively) while I babbled on about the wonders of Mulberry Street in the heart of divine Nolita. Nolita, the quiet tree lined oasis between Soho and the Bowery.
What's that you say? You didn't know about the San Genario festival either?
I don't believe you for a second. I still blame you for not saving me from my current situation.
But for the sake of clarity I'll go ahead and tell you a little bit about life on mulberry street in the last week of September in case you’re telling the truth....
The last week of September is a time each year - yes each year I will endure this - when hell surfaces and sets up a pop up shop for eleven days directly below my bedroom window.
I'm not exaggerating. I think the San Genario festival may actually be the earthly manifestation of hell.
The eleven days of the festival are an orgy of wastefulness and perversion thinly veiled as an Italian tradition of charity and honoring a patron saint. This orgy involves vendors cooking all manner of fried food, which is then sold to tourists who partially eat it and then quickly lose interest and discard it directly into the sidewalk. Not into the trashcans because they are already bursting. So then more tourists walk through the half eaten food and tamp it down, creating a damp, seething ground-cover of accidental composting that spans the entire length of the fair generating a moist, warm and putrid air quality that permeates absolutely everything.
Yes. So. This festival takes place from the hours of roughly eleven am to eleven pm every single day for eleven days and extends for almost the entirety of Mulberry Street... However as fate would have it, the epicenter of the madness is most definitely at the intersection of Spring and Mulberry.
And yes. I live in a first floor apartment at the corner of Spring and Mulberry. I realize that's pretty specific. Please don't come rob me.
So for eleven days, I attended this festival from open to close practically. Whether I liked it or not, I was there.
I tried to cook healthy Pinterest recipes for my husband and have stimulating dinner conversations over said lentil-based dinners. But as we attempted normalcy, our a/c unit piped in billowing heavy clouds of fried Oreo fumes comingling with the unmistakable aroma of sausage and onions laced with a touch of funnel cake all topped off with the perfume of just generally burning grease and fat.
After dinner, we would try to focus on our nightly TV watching ritual over the sounds of a man repeatedly yelling, "We have sangria! We have red wine! We have ice-cold beer! We have sangria! We have red wine! We have ice cold beer!" loud enough to be heard over the cacophony of every tourist ever screaming at each other and the musical cocktail of seven or eight neighboring food vendors all playing simultaneous and discordant music choices.
Elton John tried to out sing Pitt bull while Shakira had a musical duel with Bob Marley. Three little birds were shaking their hips that don't lie... so confusing.
We tried to go to sleep at a reasonable hour each night, pretending our pillows didn't smell like carnitas tacos and sweat. But the generator-powered floodlights used to illuminate the satanic grease-and-noise-worship late into the night made our bedroom as bright as daytime on the surface of the sun.
And when the lights did finally power down and the music finally really did turn down for what, guess what happened then...
Then booth maintenance workmen began repairs, reassembling, disassembling, general full scale construction projects that lasted well into the darkest hours of the morning involving the blaring of backup emergency beeping from tractors, nail guns, saws, drills, hammers, and the screaming of many expletives. They may have been working on the street below us, but at times it felt as though a man with a nail gun was working directly at my bedside, perhaps shooting said nails into my exhausted brain.
I'm sorry if this is confusing and a lot of information. That is just the nature of the situation. As my husband pointed out, the stimuli overload and ceaseless nature of the event was not that different from tactics used on prisoners of war.
Suddenly it all became clear. The happy discovery of our new apartment was maybe not such a miracle. Not such a steal of a good price for exactly what we wanted. No wonder this magical perfect apartment was available for us to fall in love with this past spring. The previous tenant is probably now off enjoying a year of prayerful solitude on a spiritual journey through Burma.
Just when we thought we couldn’t take it another moment and had our fingers hovering over the call button for 311 to report illegal bulldozing of giant wooden food stalls at three am inches from our windows, it ceased.
The noise and the trash and the tourists and the fumes all receded into nothingness like a horrible nightmare fading away.
Yes, the fair is over, fall has arrived, and we have overcome yet another hurtle NYC has thrown at us. And from this hurtle emerged something quite interesting.
I discovered her while I was storming through the festival, grimacing furiously, trying to part the sea of binge consumption. My Mansur Gavriel bag caught on her Celine bag and it was love at first tangle.
While apologizing and trying to reclaim my bag I noticed two things, one that she had the most adorable miniature dachshund, and two, that we already knew each other.
I had known Daphne when I was really little. Like three years old. To this day my mother insists that Daphne was a figment of my imagination. “The othergirl” as she often refers to her. I know she just thinks I was too much of a wall-flower, shy and sweet to really have a friend as vivacious and fond of rule breaking as Daphne was.
Daphne was a spirited and strikingly beautiful three-year-old, full of reckless ideas to stick metal things into light sockets and steal small objects from model homes. She could do the splits and she had interestingly bad handwriting. She had very long hair. But, quite possibly the most frustrating and intriguing thing about her was that she looked a little like me. But clearly much cuter. It was my first experience of comparison and resentment about my own image.
To this day I am not sure if I loved her or hated her. Toddler jealousy is a hard thing to express.
I hadn’t thought about her in such a long time. I’d almost forgotten about the othergirl after all those years. Imagine my shock when I spotted her in the midst of the hell that is San Genaro! It couldn't be anyone else.
When our bags became tangled and I looked into those bright blue eyes in that sea of smooth skin spread over lightly with caramel freckles beneth a sheeth of perfectly shiny dark hair, I knew for certain this was the same girl I’d idolized over twenty years ago.
If this had been a different story, we might have recognized each other mutually and become fast friends and started a line of organic granola together. But, this is my life so I awkwardly reclaimed my bag and kept on going through the throng of people while considering texting my mom GUESS WHO I RAN INTO but then thinking better of it because I was late to a wedding.
Before she slipped back into the crowd, holding a lemonade and calling her little dog after her, I made a conscious effort to notice and plan to buy everything she was wearing. She would be able to pull off a hat. And she would have the puppy I desperately wanted. And her jeans would have artful rips.
So typical. This was just like when her mother let her wear giant bows in her long luscious hair and my mother insisted that bows weren't our style and that I have a "french" bob of short, un-gender-identifiable curls, reminding me that Daphne's mother was new money.
This was just like that.
This was an interesting development. An interesting development indeed.
Daphne is back.
What? What's that you said? I can't hear you over how famous I am.
Yes, that's right. Me and Michelle Obama are best friends. And our other best friend is Lela Rose.
Michelle has this huge house that she doesn't have time to decorate all by herself. I don't know if you've seen it. It's white. Very big. Anyway. So she's in a group g-chat with me and Lela and she's like
"ugh guys I have no idea what to do with this corner of this room it's totally bare"
and Lela's like,
"LOL you are such a mess. I can loan you some of my dresses on mannequins to brighten it up"
and I'm like,
"seriously, that would really help. and maybe i can throw a ten foot tall painting in the mix to really make it pop"
and Michelle is like
"y'all are livesaversssss"
Kidding kidding kidding... totally kidding. I can't believe I opened the most important blog post of my professional illustration/blogging career with that completely falsified and misleading short story. Disregard all of that.
Let me tell you what really happened in case you missed the national news coverage.
A select group of fashion designers and influencers, including Lela Rose, were invited to the white house to take part in a Fashion Education event hosted by Michelle Obama yesterday at her aforementioned very big, white house. The design industry leaders spoke to students about the many exciting things that a career in fashion entails... a gala followed. You know how it is. Michelle doesn't hold back when she throws a party.
Lela Rose, my previously-blogged-about fave designer for all things of striking feminine elegance and confectioner-sugar-airiness, called me up (normal) on my cell and asked if I could help her build the design for her space at the event.
That part is for real.
Lela and I are bffs. Or at the very least, like normal friends. Well, maybe more like colleagues. Ok, we're professional acquaintances.
That much is now true. And very exciting for me, as you may sense.
I respect and admire her so much. When talent and genuine gracefulness are found in one person, well that is a great person. I'm so happy to have met one such person in Lela through this project. And - I should mention her team is wonderful too!
Anyway, back to the story! She's like would you like to do this? I said YES DUH how soon do you need it?
And she said...
I feel like you can't tell when I'm making things up and when I'm being serious any more because I told you that I g-chat with Michelle Obama. I'm sorry. But, really, Lela did say she needed it the next day!
And because I am a hard-working, motivated independent female entrepreneur & fashion illustrator, what did I do? I got down on my hands and knees and for the next ten hours, I painted away until I had created something I was pretty excited about!
Do you hate me? This story kind of makes me hate me for being so lucky. I mean what a fun opportunity right?!?
It wasn't all fun and games and easy breezy though. For starters, I did not practice this very much at all. Like at all. I just unrolled this giant canvas and sat down on it and gave it my one shot. In retrospect, that was unwise. Don't try that at home. If you are planning to create a very large scale piece of art for a renowned fashion designer in 24 hours, my advice to you is do a trial run. Oh well, as you may know from the impossible story, I am a fan of "winging it" in all matters art and home-fumigation related.
I started out with this lady pictured below. And quickly learned that using a new medium (liquid acrylic), on a VERY new scale (nine by ten feet), and a new surface (carpenters canvas... not artists canvas) comes with some exciting surprises. Like the paint bleeds in a very interesting linear pattern:
AT first I thought, OH NO ALL IS LOST. And I texted Lela's team and they shot back "we kind of like it" and I felt so overjoyed that they were so cool and artsy and could appreciate an unusual watery paint bleed so I kept going...
I smile like a chipmunk, don't I?
And then there were two! Which was great and exciting progress. Until I realized how big this thing was... how much massive unfilled white space was looking up at me for attention like sad unwanted puppies in those ads for donating to puppy relief funds for just $18 a day...
Ok... ok... keep going don't think about it...
And then there were three! And a couple in the background arguing about whether or not to move to Brooklyn while walking the Obamas' Portuguese waterdog, Bo. (why not right?)
And then there were some buildings and cars.
And I realized the perspective was a little off. You know you see it too.
Again - like I said - don't try this at home. Definitely learn how to draw things in perspective before launching head first into a commission based project for a major fashion designer. Oh well, I pulled it together in the end.
I"m proud of how it turned out! My first continuous, ten foot painting done in one day! A classic mid-day scene of seventh avenue in NYC. If you look closely you'll see the iconic "giant button" statue in the background that is a landmark of that historic garment district corner.
Yes, it was a family affair... my husband came to help me document the excitement... and practice his spider-monkey like indoor parcours skills on Roxy's furniture. (Sorry Roxy)
And then, as quickly as it began, it was over. The canvas was rolled up and wisked away, off to the White House for the event and I resumed my normal life as if this magical fashion illustration moment had never happened.
(IF this was a movie, this is where they'd slowly fade in with Biggie's "It Was All A Dream" and start a sad black and white montage of me sitting at my desk slaving away over small, normal bridal commissions done on an 8x10" scale in watercolor on paper, stopping only to mop my brow with Cosette-worthy pitifulness all over my face as I look out a drizzly window...)
Until, voila! There it was!
On the news!
(photo: @BizLadwig, expert tivo operator and fan of CBS This Morning)
Yes, that is Michelle Obama chatting with Lela and fashion students in front of my painting!!!!
I admit, they're probably not saying, "OMG Inslee's painting is the best thing about this whole event"
But whatever I'll take it.
Anyway, that's my story folks. Fun right? I apologize in advance for how un-spectacular whatever gets posted next on the blog will be compared to this.
Unless Karl Lagerfeld texts me tonight and asks me to come live illustrate fashion figures all over his master bathroom.
Hey. It could happen...
PS. Mom, I know the SECOND you finish reading this, or maybe before you finish reading this, you will call me and ask, "Who is Biggie? And what is "It was all a dream"? So, here is the youtube of this very important piece of musical history for you. Love you! xox
In the 1800's, suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton asked women to take off their petticoats and skirts, don a pair of pantaloons and ponder, "the question is no longer how do you look, but women, how do you feel?"
Today, in 2014, I ask you to ponder this, "If pants were a modern statement of independence and equality two hundred years ago, how are they still a thing?"
Is this progress?
Is this liberty?
Is this justice????
Women of Earth join me, please, and
take off your pants.
My office mate, a woman of supreme effectiveness as an entrepreneur and friend, Roxy taught me that the key to the future was spending more time without pants on. She draws on her Asian ancestral proclivity to unyielding modernization and her childhood experiences in North Carolina biscuit country to discover this lifestyle of pantlessness - blending both strident progress and relaxed living. Since adopting Roxy's life mantra, I've learned I do my best work, my best cooking, my best thinking without pants on. And I know you do too.
Whose with me? Only about six more hours left in this day before we can go home, wear giant sweaters and no pants and make strides for womankind.
Welcome to the tenth month of 2014. A month for quiet afternoons in galleries.
The buzz of the summertime city has quieted, the colors have deepened, the light has dimmed. A perfect time to spend time indoors, in a temple of art reflecting on the end of another summer.
The change from summer to fall is a melancholy one. This month, in order to process all this change, pause for a moment before a work of a foregone master.
As you marvel at this piece, frozen, unchanging, and permanently fixed in the history of beautiful things, remember that seasons rotate over and over like tides, washing in new and different every time but art remains. A piece of art carries forward like a portal into forever.
Now, go race out to buy a leather midi skirt (already bought mine), and wonder if you need the Stuart Weitzman 50/50s and or the witchy lace ups or the creepy victorian booties. (Answer is you need them all)
Change is upon us! In with the new! But, remember there's always a quiet gallery or museum or painting hanging in your office bathroom waiting to remind you that some beauty can rest peacefully in the realm of forever.
As Summer turns to Fall I am preparing to pack up my bags and move my studio to Spring Street.
I've enjoyed the most fun, exciting, productive, amazing (insert all other positive adjectives possible here) two years in my current studio on Chrystie Street and I'm sad to say good bye to this place that has given me so much.
The sweeping spread of mid town sky scrapers beyond the industrial hodgepodge of the Bowery with the Empire State building as the diamond on top is a view I'll always have engrained on my heart.
Especially on these beautiful fall days when, right at sunset, the clouds turn positively Renaissance Masters on me, all coral pink and golden orange and the buildings start glowing too and the lights start flickering on below making me fall in love all over again with this radiant place...
But, my studio mates, Roxy and Katie and I stumbled upon an amazing, bigger, glossier spot just a few blocks away and we realized it was time to pack our bags. And get this. Spring Street is in NOLITA. My favorite place on earth. Well, maybe technically it's in SOHO, but it's just barely not in Nolita. And it is also approximately 75 paces from my apartment. I know, my life is too easy.
Onward and upward and away we go! Arm in arm, armed only with our strong sense of female empowerment and a fully stocked bar cart, we journey forth!
Wish us luck as we pack up and head out this weekend. And apologies if I'm a little behind on email next week.
Also, disclaimer. That is not a sketch of Katie, Roxy and me. Although I kind of wish it was.
Reality is a wee bit shorter than these amazonian goddesses. And none of us are remotely blonde.
This sketch was the original idea for 2015 October Calendar girl. I decided their outfits were too dated in the end (not a one of them is wearing lace up, open toed booties and/or birkinstock sandals) So I benched this sketch and opted for the barefoot mystery woman working the harvest at a vineyard instead.
But 2012 era footwear issues aside, it is available as a print!
Behold this munchkin, Pace.
She just turned one year old. She is a fan of bunnies and bonnets respectively. Her mom commissioned this sketch for her very first birthday party invite, a party which as you may be able to guess was bunny and bonnet themed.