Fashion Reverie Exclusive: Berry Boo, Doing It Her Way

Lady Gaga she aint, she’s something better, she is herself, Berry Boo.

In an industry that is oversaturated, it is extremely difficult to get market traction. Every record label is looking for the next best thing; the artist with that extra special something. Well, look no further, Berry Boo is in the house!!

From performing backup vocals from such top artists as Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, Melonie Fiona, and Robin Thicke to branching out and creating her own solo projects, Berry Boo is ready to take the music world by storm. With the release of her chart-topping female-empowering hit “Gunz and Black Roses” from her EP “Clutch” to her recently released R&B single “Uncertainty,” Berry is posed to make her mark in the music industry.

Never apologetic about who she is and with a fashion style that is all her own, Berry Boo creates lyrics and performs on stage like there is no tomorrow. While on tour, Berry Boo graciously spoke with Fashion Reverie about her love of music, her personal style and her no-holes-barred bravura.

Fashion Reverie: How did you get the name Berry Boo?

Berry Boo: Berry is my last name. As a kid my last name was always made fun of. I was called berrylicious and all kinds of variations on my last name and my best friend always called me Boo or ended our conversations with calling me Boo. So, I took my last name and the affectionate nickname Boo and came up with Berry Boo.

FR: What is your musical background?

Berry Boo: I grew up in church and almost everyone in my family sings. I always listened to a lot of Motown, R&B, Pop, and Hip Hop, especially Hip Hop. So, you could say my musical background and taste is very blended.

FR: What musical artists inspire you and why?

Berry Boo: I always listened to Aretha Franklin. She is the diva of all divas. I also listened to Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot. I always have admired female rappers because I sing, and I rap.

FR: When did start singing background vocals, and how did that all come about?

Berry Boo: The legendary Ashford and Simpson had an open mike at their bar/club, The Sugar Bar. This was in 2009 before Nick Simpson passed away. I started singing at The Sugar Bar and from there, I started singing background for a lot of artists. People would hear me sing at The Sugar Bar and I would be asked to sing background which eventually turned into me singing background for major recording artists.

FR: Now, you are performed background vocals for such artists as Nicki Minaj, Melonie Fiona, Robin Thicke, and many others. What are some of the biggest challenges when singing background?

Berry Boo: I lot of people in the music industry don’t give background singers the respect they deserve. You really must learn how to blend your voice with other people. Also, now that I solo recordings and solo projects in the works people expect my music to be like people I have sung background for. I can only give you Berry Boo!!

This is a challenge for most background singers when they go solo or create sole projects. People in this industry want to put you in a box.

By the way, I still sing background for various artists. I love singing background and it has great for my career. It also pays well, and you get to travel the world at the expense of the label. It is wonderful to travel the world and get to do that.

FR: Who were some of your favorite artists to sing background for and, why?

Berry Boo: My favorite artist to perform background vocals for is Melonie Fiona and that is because I have witnessed her evolution and growth as an artist. I started singing background vocals for Melonie Fiona before she become a household name and before she scored a number one hit on Billboard. She is also won of the most humble and down to earth people you will ever meet. We became very close as I was touring with her. Most artists I have performed with have been wonderful.

FR: You recently transitioned from singing background to your own solo projects. What has that transition been like?

Berry Boo: I dropped my solo project in 2017, and when the project as first released it took a minute of folks to get used to me as a solo artist because they were so familiar with me doing background vocals. One of the challenges was being understood as an artist because my solo work is so different from my background vocal work. So, an adjustment has been made to accept me as someone so different from singing background and dancing behind established artists.

Once folks have came to my show they began to realize my intention and my creative point of view, so perceptions around who I am are changing. I know that I am sing, I am going to rap, I am going to dance some; and it’s all good.

FR: I love “Gunz and Black Roses.” How did you come up with the title “Gunz and Black Roses”?

Berry Boo: I wrote “Gunz and Black Roses” with my co-writer JJ (Jonathan Jennings). We’ve been working together for a very long time. We came up with the concept of “Gunz and Black Roses” together. The song is speaking from a woman’s perspective. It is about a woman being confident and knowing who she is and she’s telling a dude that she is not like the average woman.

 Most of the times you hear about a woman from a man’s perspective. This is the reverse, a woman is telling a man who she is.  And “Gunz and Black Roses” really showcases my vocal ability.

FR: Let’s talk about your new single, “Uncertainty.” You go from female empowerment in “Gunz and Black Roses” to a woman who hasn’t quite found herself in “Uncertainty.” Could you talk about that and what was the motivation behind “Uncertainty”?

Berry Boo: I wanted “Uncertainty to be about all the emotions women experience. I think women can identify with this song.  All women experience insecurities, whether they are insecure about a new job or career move or a new relationship, it is a challenge to adjust to new experiences. And sometimes women want to hold on to their former life or relationship, even if it’s not working.

“Uncertainty” has an R&B, soulful vibe. And I wanted to show that I am adept at singing R&B. People know I can sing pop and hip hop, and I wanted to demonstrate my versatility with “Uncertainty.”

FR: You wear a lot of provocative clothing in your videos and on stage. Where does your sense of style come from?

Berry Boo: My style is just who I am. I love a woman’s anatomy. I work out and stay in shape and I like showing off all my hard work in the gym in a tasteful way. I like to dress based on what my mood is. I am just having fun with fashion. I like to express myself through my clothing and I am expressing myself for me and no one else.

Photos courtesy of 2R Entertainment Media PR

FR: How would you describe your fashion style?Berry Boo: My fashion style is sexy with an edge. It is very street style. I was not to the manor borne, so I had to learn how to mix and match and find ways to develop my own signature look without spending a lot of money. I shop a lot of vintage stores and outlets.

FR: Now, that your pockets are deeper, who are some of your favorite designers?

Berry Boo: Interestingly, I sample product from emerging designers. I love Brooklyn Creative, Gifted Apparel, and Kicky Wicky. I am not big on name brand designers. Sometimes, I will purchase a garment and by the time I render that garment, sometimes die it a different color, it could be unrecognizable from the original garment. I also at a lot of boutiques in the East Village.

FR: What’s next for you?

Berry Boo: Right now, I am on a domestic tour. I did the Grammy’s this year. Things are popping up all the time and I am still in the studio creating new music.

Berry Boo is currently on her “Clutch” promotional tour in support of the recently released EP. Stops includes; Washington, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Miami and Philadelphia.

William S. Gooch

Omar Wilson Is on his Way to Legendary Status in “Living Legend”

One thing that can be said of R&B artist Omar Wilson is that he is in love with life. And who wouldn’t be if you had been recently nominated for an NAACP Image Award and on tour with your highly acclaimed new album “Living Legend.”

Omar Wilson’s love of life is infectious. And even more attractive and charming is his soul-stirring vocal style. Reminiscent of Otis Redding mixed in with a little James Brown and Wilson Pickett for good measure, Omar Wilson conjures up these R&B greats while infusing his distinct qualities into his stage performances and recordings.

“This project [“Living Legend”] was a year in the making and I wanted to make certain that this album embodied organic truisms of music from the greats of yesterday, while keeping it real for the listeners of today. I wanted this album to showcase the remarkable vocal prowess that Omar is quite unique in delivering. “Living Legend” will stand the test of time,” says Lou Humphrey, CEO of BSE Recordings.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Omar Wilson keeps his eyes on the prize, the prize being R&B mega stardom with a legacy that can inspire others. Fashion Reverie thinks he is going to do it!!

Fashion Reverie: How would you describe your vocal style?

Omar Wilson: My vocal style is emotional, and intense, precise and above all, it is honest.

FR: You have a raspy quality to your voice which harkens back to some of the old school R&B singers of the 1960s and 70s. Is that raspy quality natural or have you worked to achieve that effect in your voice?

Omar Wilson: The raspy quality in my voice is a gift from God. I have had that quality since I was 16 or 17 years of age. My father’s voice is even bigger than mine and has a similar quality.

FR: Who are your musical influences?

Omar Wilson: Initially, I was inspired by the many things I was experiencing in life. So, if I heard music that was about what I was experiencing at that time, I would be inspired by that. After I had the experience of winning the Apollo Amateur contest, my musical influences started to change and evolve. The tutelage I got from winning at the Apollo caused me to research great singers that had left a legacy.

From this research, I discovered that there were great R&B singers from the past that sang about the same things I was feeling and experiencing. Some of these experiences and feeling were embedded in love songs. Before I started doing my research, I wasn’t that interested in love songs. But I found that R&B greats like Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and Otis Redding were singing about the things I was feeling, and they also had great voices.

I realized that I could sing about love but still maintain the intensity and power of my vocal style. I describe myself as a lion in a tuxedo.

FR: You are a three-time Apollo winner. What was it like singing on that iconic stage?

Omar Wilson: It was one of the most intense moments of my life because you are in an arena where the audience can tell you what they think about in the first 20 seconds of your act. Also, performing at the Apollo inspired me to acquire the soul music education so that I could begin to understand what my purpose was and where I stood in the music industry.

I was inspired to work hard and aspired to achieve what the great R&B legends like Marvin Gaye, Al Green, James Brown and others had achieved. The Apollo helped create living legends. And that greatness was made and is still alive at the Apollo. And I am honored to have performed there.

FR: What are the essential qualities that’s needed to be successful as an R&B artist that goes beyond talent and working hard?

Omar Wilson: Talent and hard work is important; however, a lot of talented artists work hard and get no where fast. You also need a team around you, and you especially need good fortune, or what I call, God’s favor.

You must be willing to go on a journey to get to where you want to go even when it doesn’t seem to be working out. But even, when it doesn’t seem to be working out, it is because you are growing and evolving. And you must be prepared for every opportunity.

You must believe God gave you the talent for a reason, and with his help you will exceed expectation. I have been working for almost two decades to get to where I am, and I believe this is my harvest season. And my new album “Living Legends” and my NAACP Image Award nomination speaks to that.

FR: I love the song “The Sh*t,” one of my favorites, how did that song come about?

Omar Wilson: “The Sh*t” was written by Mike City and myself in 2001. The song is about a young bougie girl who gets mixed up with the wrong crowd and ended up on the stroll. I recorded that song in LA with Mike City, and later I found out that Nate Dogg liked the song and did his own version of “The Sh*t.”

We are in the process of working out the legalities of “The Sh*t,” so that we can re-release it as a single.

FR: Let’s talk about your new album “Living Legend.” Why an album that conjures up some of the greatest soul singers of time?

Omar Wilson: This album has been a part of my journey. It is not something I just conjured up. The making of “Living Legend” was an organic evolution of everything I am becoming and paying homage to great R&B artists. I wanted to inject into this album the energy that is sometimes missing from R&B, and make goose bumps stand up on the neck of listeners. Right now, R&B is about moving audiences. It is more than singing well. Remember, the great R&B legends always moved folks.

FR: One of my favorites is the James Brown classic “It’s a Man’s World.” That said; we are living in the “Me Too Movement” generation, why did select that song as we are living in an era of women’s empowerment and calling out sexual aggression against women?

Omar Wilson: “It’s a Man’s World” was recorded almost fifty years before the “Me Too” Movement. When I was to perform the song on a few television shows, it was requested that I perform another track from the new album. I reminded the television networks that the lyrics of the song detailed that a man’s world would be nothing without a woman or a girl.

Anyway, I went through that storm with that song, but when I perform it and get to the line about women, the women in the audience go crazy. Women at my concerts understand that the song does not demean them, but that the song gives them equality and empowerment.

FR: How would you describe your personal fashion style?

Omar Wilson: I would describe my personal style as a kind of calm intensity. My call myself the ‘Black Sinatra.’ Back in the day Frank Sinatra had a great sense of style. He was smooth and moved like the Boss. Sinatra was buddy to the biggest gangsters of his day and to President John Kennedy. He was also was involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Now, I may not be in a suit every time I am out and about, but even when I am dressed down, there is a sophistication and gentility about the way I have put myself together. There are a lot of great R&B singers on the market; however, there is no one with a 007 or “Ocean’s Eleven” style. I really do attempt to bring back that kind of style to R&B.

FR: Who are some of your favorite designers?

Omar Wilson: I just wore Calvin Klein to the NAACP Image Awards’ Brunch. I love Tom Ford, Fendi, Prada; hey if it looks good on you, it probably feels good on you.

Images courtesy of 2R Entertainment PR

FR: On your albums, you always have on a great jacket. Could you talk about your love of jackets”?

Omar Wilson: I always feel that when I guy puts on a great blazer, he is transformed. A great jacket or blazer gives a man a certain kind of sophistication that deems respect. A great blazer is just a part of wardrobe and reflects my personal style.

FR: What’s next for you?

Omar Wilson: I am currently on tour with my new album “Living Legend” which comes out on March 22. I am currently nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding New Artist. The sky is limit!!

—William S. Gooch

Ayodele Casel: A Joyous and Nuanced Tap Journey

When we think of dance, rarely is dance considered a masculine pursuit. Though progress has been made in that respect with great dancers like Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gene Kelly, and Gregory Hines, and great hip hop artists, dance is still mostly reserved for women.

Tap is the one dance form where the male presence reigns supreme. There have been some great female tappers—Mable Lee, Elvera Sanchez, Bunny Briggs, Brenda Buffalino, Michelle Torrance, and Dormeshia Sumdry-Edwards. And, of course the great female tap artists from the Golden Age of Hollywood—Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell, Ann Miller, and Vera-Allen have made their mark.

Still, female tap artists get far less recognition than their male peers and are often expected to look glamorous and refined while their feet are performing incredible feats. Ayodele Casel is changing all that.

As one of the few Latina tap artists with international recognition, Ayodele Casel is forging a new path for female tap artists. For Ayodele, tap is more than a syncopated expression of steps from the tap dance lexicon, but a way for an artist to express a range of emotions, told along a narrative arch.

In this Women’s History Month, Ayodele Casel compels us to re-examine this truly American artform through a more expansive lens, celebrating the women who have given so much to this artform. May Ayodele’s star continue to shine!!

Fashion Reverie: Lets first begin with your first name, Ayodele, what does it mean?

Ayodele Casel: My name is from the Yoruba culture and in that language, it means joy has arrived. I love my name.

FR: In reference to your name, there is nothing more joyful than tap dancing. How did you come to tap dancing?

Ayodele Casel: My interest in tap dancing peaked when I was about 18 years old, my senior year in high school. I was taking a course on the history of the movies. I saw Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in film in this course. And that was the first time I had really paid attention to tap dancing.

I was so impressed with what Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire were doing on the screen that I started trying to teach myself how to tap, imitating what Fred and Ginger were doing. I had varying degrees of success and it brought me great joy to be trying to do what they were doing in movies.

While I was an acting major at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (NYU), during my sophomore year, we had to take a movement class. I had the choice of taking Tai Chi or tap. Of course, I enrolled in the tap class and fell in love with the training immediately. Naturally, we were doing very basic things, but I still loved it.

By luck, one of my best friends was friend with Baakari Wilder who was a freshman at the time at NYU in the acting department. Baakari is an incredible tap dancer. And through that friend I was introduced to Baakari because we were both tap dancers.

Now, at that time, I was the best tap dancer in my class, which is not really saying much because I was in a beginner’s class. Baakari and me rented a studio to start working together and in that dance studio I realized that tap was an artform. Baakari was already a master tapper and he taught so much about the artform and the history of tap.

FR: How did realize you could turn tap dancing into a professional career?

Ayodele Casel: During the mid-90s diversity and inclusion were not buzz works in the performing arts. However, when I became interested in tap dancing, tap was having a resurgence. Savion Glover was one of the major forces behind this resurgence. Gregory Hines also used his celebrity to shine a light on tap dancing.

That said; Baakari invited to come see him in the show “Bring in the Noise, Bring the Funk” while that show was still at the Public Theatre. I still didn’t have a reference point for young people of color taking up any space in theatre. When I attended the show, I witnessed Savion Glover dancing so authentically and joyfully, I just knew I wanted to immerse myself in tap and be surrounded by the genre.

My professional career came out of joy of learning and performing the artform. I would practice incessantly. If Savion was doing a tap jam at the Nuyorican Café, I would go and participate. At the time, there were not a lot of women getting into the jam with men. But, I am from the Bronx, so I was not intimidated.

About two years into my deep immersion into the artform, Savion started a group called Not Your Ordinary Tappers (NOT), and he asked me to join. This was Savion’s first professional venture after he won the Tony Award for “Bring in the Noise, Bring the Funk.” I toured with NOT for about three years.

FR: When people think about tap dancing, they rarely think of women tap dancing and certainly not Latina women tap dancing. What challenges have you experienced around this misperception?

Ayodele Casel: In the mid-90s there were practically no roles for female tap dancers. Most of the tap-dancing jobs for women required you to be in high heels and fishnet stockings. I was not interested in that.

That said; I was the only woman in NOT and very few people had seen women tap dance with the intensity that I brought to NOT. I was told that I danced like a man, but I knew I wasn’t an anomaly. This prompted me to research and learn about women of color that were tap dancing along side men in the 1930s and 40s.

FR: You trained at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and the William Esper Studio as an actor. How do you combine tap dancing with acting?

Ayodele Casel: Dance is a form of storytelling. You have a clear point of view and there must be an arch to your storytelling through your performance and your interpretation. I am really interested in making dance theatrical and accessible in ways that go beyond just dance audiences.

I performed a piece entitled “Diary of a Tap Dancer.” In that work, I wanted to reveal the people behind tap dancing. Tap is very joyous, but sometimes it is seen as a gimmicky element to a production; an energetic, virtuosic dance expression. With “Diary of a Tap Dancer,” I wanted to create a piece where the tap artists got to speak about who they are and how they arrived at where they were in the artform.

FR: How did “While I Have the Floor,” your one-woman show at the Spoleto Festival come about?

Ayodele Casel: That show was borne out of a seven-minute piece I did for Encores! Off-Center at New York City Center. That seven-minute work was me talking about my roots, my passion for tap dancing and my fear of having poured my life into this artform and no one even knowing I existed. Which was much like the female tap dancers I had researched who had worked so hard at the craft, but many died without being acknowledged for their art.

The work was very well received and when I did the work at Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center, I was asked if I had a longer version of the piece. Then, I was asked to perform the seven-minute piece at Broadway for Hillary Clinton. I began to flush out the seven-minute show into a longer more extensive work which I later became “While I Have the Floor” that I later performed at Spoleto.

FR: Could you talk about your best performing experience, and your worst? 

Ayodele Casel: My best performing experience is performing “While I Have the Floor” at the Spoleto Festival. I was so nervous leading up to performing at Spoleto. And writing this piece was the hardest thing I have ever done. I had to tap into a lot of personal and emotional stuff to be able to write this piece. I really exposed myself in this work.

I became ill with everything from sinus infections to the flu and loss of voice right before I performed at Spoleto. However, when I got to Spoleto magically all my illnesses disappeared and “While I Have the Floor” was well received. I performed six performances of the work and people came back several times to see it. I still get emails from people praising the work.

My worst experiences have been performing at events where people don’t really appreciate what you are doing and in the end all you get is a cold meal. Fortunately, I have had many of those.

FR: How do sustain yourself financially from your tap dancing?

Ayodele Casel: Like a lot of dancers I maintain myself financially by teaching. I acquire work as a dance educator and teach tap at dance conventions and workshops. I have been fortunate in the last three years mainly performing and choreographing which has kept be very busy.

Choreography by Ayodele Casel

FR: You have been a frequent collaborator with New York City Center. Could you talk about that?Ayodele Casel: They have really adopted me. I first started performing at City Center as an artist in their Encore! Series. In 2016, I was a member of their artists’ board for Encores!. I also choreographed “Really Rosie” for City Center Encores! in 2017.

I was involved in a dance festival with them recently and I am now participating in City Center on the Move. I just love them. And they are champions of tap dancing!!

FR: With the advance of the marley floor, tap dancing is taking a beating. Could you talk about that?

Ayodele Casel: One of things I have done to deal with the absence of wood floors in some dance studios is open my own studio with wood floors. The Original Tap House is in a brownstone in the Bronx. The space is a full floor where I practice and is open to other tap dancers to come and practice and hold rehearsals.

FR: Is tap dancing growing in the US? 

Ayodele Casel: Yes, it is. The resurgence is due to being included more in musical theatre. Tap dancing is magic. You can have a show that has nothing to do with tap dancing and you can insert a tap routine in the show and that routine will bring the house down every single time. Remember, tap is joyous and not limited by age and size. Everybody wants to be a tap dancer. People are just curious about it.

All Photos courtesy of Ayodele Casel/Michael Higgins

FR: What’s next for you?Ayodele Casel: I am excited about creating work for other tap artists. I am so excited about the young people that are doing tap right now and they are bringing a richness and depth that is amazing.

I have the privilege of working and creating work for so many of them. The artform is going to do well in their hands.

—William S. Gooch

Raheem DeVaughn Still Reigns in “Decade of a King”

Fashion Reverie had the opportunity to sit down with Raheem DeVaughn at the listening party for Raheem’s sixth studio album, “Decade of a Love King.” “Decade of a Love King” was released on October 19 via all streaming platforms. 

Raheem has had a decade-long steady climb to international R&B prominence. And with his soul-satisfying musical style, Raheem has become many things to contemporary music culture and his ever-expanding core audience.

“There’s a lot of talk about ‘King of R&B’ and ‘King of Soul,” but I’ve got enough music for the next ten years,” says the three-time Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter.  “I literally have enough music for a decade to release. If I stopped recording now and said I wouldn’t record for five years, I’ve got enough music for ten. So I can’t wait, because I’m just warming up.” 

His latest single, “Don’t Come Easy” is currently the #5 R&B song in the country. 

Fashion Reverie: When it comes to your top 5 R&B hit “Don’t Come Easy” what’s the inspiration behind the song?

Raheem DeVaughn: The inspiration is the words; it’s the message “Love Don’t Come Easy.“ You’ve got to put in the work; you gotta be willing to change. It really speaks to turmoil that all relationships go through. I think the message that I want to put out there is that when dealing with the matters of the heart and love, it’s worth fighting for. Fight for the things that matter to you and in some cases you even have to challenge that person that you’re into, in love with, dating, or courting.

Fashion Reverie: This is your sixth album! That’s a lot. Tell us about your growth since the first one. How much have you changed and evolved? 

Raheem DeVaughn: I think that’s for people to decide. Artists are very vulnerable, whether they want to admit it or not and you don’t know what the response will be when you put your music out. You are exposing yourself and you are taking a chance, you are taking a risk of being a failure. It takes a lot of guts. Because I could easily put this record out and although the feedback has been great thus far, it could’ve been the total opposite.

Fashion Reverie: How do you cope with reviews that aren’t exactly the best?

Raheem DeVaughn: First and foremost, you have to have tough skin in this business. If you are going to worry about what somebody thinks and responding to every negative tweet or Facebook message, there is just not enough time in a day. You can’t please everybody all the time.

Fashion Reverie: How would you describe your fashion style? 

Raheem DeVaughn: I have a wonderful stylist, Tiffany Barenger. Shout out to my previous stylist, Bria Stantson, we have a great relationship. All the years I worked with Bria and with Tamika Foster, they were always telling me fashion is important and early in my career I was hard-headed. I was one of those people that was very music-driven, and I felt as long as I make great music it shouldn’t matter if I come out there in my socks or in a bathrobe. I’m still one of those guys that dislikes shopping. I’m a hustler’s hustler so I could wear the same clothes seven days in a row on a rap boy song; however, I’m now enjoying style and fashion, and leading by example. Because of my community work and my foundation we do talk to the young children and challenge them to pull their pants, getting young people to realize that you are treated you differently when you are well dressed. You feel good, you feel good when you’re groomed. These are things that I encourage my sons to do as well. 

Fashion Reverie: You are wearing a double-breasted suit, is that your usual choice when it comes to suits? 

Raheem DeVaughn: This is what I am wearing today. When I was told that there would be best of the best of the influencers at this listening party, I knew I had to look the part! 

Fashion Reverie: Do you have any favorite designers? 

Raheem DeVaughn: To be truthfully honest, my team has been kind of designing my looks. I got a real dope tailor named Barry that helps my stylist envision my looks. We buy the fabrics and Barry puts it together and we’re smashing it!!

I do have a secret; I love Zara. I would love to do something like a type of brand ambassadorship or endorsement with Zara; they have some dope pieces and it’s very affordable and you can be fly and find ways to still make it stand out.

Fashion Reverie: Who are some of the music artists you still haven’t collaborated with, but you would like to? 

I’d love to pin a song for Beyoncé; I’d love to work with Lauren Hill; I’d love to work with Shade, and I’d love to do an entire album with The Roots—the Roots are the Rolling Stones of hip hop or the Beatles of hip hop when you talk about bands, music and progressiveness—I had the opportunity of being on The Roots last album.

I’m really studying South African culture and music, and my sister Zonke and me are working on a project that will include those South African influences—she is a huge talent in South Africa. Zonke and a lot of the other dope artists would like to bridge the gap with Caribbean sound, Nigerian artists, and mixing it up a little bit.  I have a Caribbean, I guess you could say reggae album, in the can. 

Photos courtesy of 2R’s Entertainment & Media PR

Fashion Reverie: You mentioned in your press release that you would like this album to be a shock to people’s system. What do you mean by that? A shock for people, hmm; well, this album is my futuristic 90s time machine. The only thing I could compare it to is when D’Angelo dropped his first album 1995. It sounds like nothing that was out in ‘95. And what I’m also discovering is that this album sounds like nothing that’s out sonically in 2018. 

Raheem DeVaughn can be seen in a comic role in the upcoming film “Love.com.” Raheem continues to focus on his Love Life Foundation whose initiatives include domestic violence, art and education, HIV/AIDS, and text book scholarships for in-need students.

—Tijana Ibrahimovic

 

R&B Music’s Triple Threat: Porcelan

R&B singer Porcelan is a triple threat. She’s got talent, looks, and intelligence. In an age when market traction can be about how great an artist looks in a video or magazine spread, Porcelan harkens back to a not-long-ago era when R&B singers had great looks and a great voice. (Think Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Tamia, Toni Braxton, and Deborah Cox.)

Add brains to beauty and talent, and Porcelan’s success is guaranteed. With her top 30 R&B hit “Lois Lane,” Porcelan is on her way to R&B stardom. Still, Porcelan is not an overnight success story or a one-hit wonder. She has been in the music game for a few years with her freshman release last fall earning her a Top 40 debut. And Porcelan is the R&B-Soul Chanteuse and Apple Music Independent Artist for the month of June.

Porcelan graciously took time out of her busy schedule and spoke with Fashion Reverie about her music, her personal style, and being an empowered woman.

Fashion Reverie: Where does your love of music come from?

Porcelan: My love of music comes from growing up around music. My mother loved music and my father was in a small band, so music has always been a big part of my family. As a child, we would take long rides and my mom would play R&B classic and oldies on the car radio. Some people say they can hear those influences in my musical styling.

FR: You are from the South, more specifically Memphis, how does being from the South affect your musical tastes and style of music?

Porcelan: Being from the South where music is heavily steeped in Gospel and Blues influences, you cannot help but have those influences in your music and stage performances, particularly when you sing from the heart. I sing from the heart so that conviction and those Southern influences are evident in my musical choices.

FR: How would you describe your musical style?

Porcelan: My style is young and fresh, yet relatable. I would say my music is melodic and connected with my emotions. My music has a message and is definitely crafted about and for strong women.

FR: Let’s talk about your name, Porcelan. Is that a stage name or your real name?

Porcelan: It is my birth name.

FR: Since that is your birth name, how did your parents come up with that name?

Porcelan: My mother is always very well dressed and polished. She was the only woman in my dad’s band. My mom’s hair was jet black and worn in a ponytail like Sade; so, because of her look, her stage name was ‘Porcelain Doll.’ When I came along, they decided to name me, Porcelan. As an R&B artist the name really fits me well.

                               Porcelan in “Lois Lane” video

FR: Interestingly, your name is Porcelan, which infers something that is beautiful, yet delicate. In your new song and video “Lois Lane,” you talk about a woman looking to a man or needing a man to rescue or protect her. Did your name influence the “Lois Lane” song in any way? Porcelan: I do see the correlation and it meshes well together; however, that is just artistic irony and it was not something that was thought about or planned. There was no intention of connecting my actual name with the “Lois Lane” song. Now, there is the blond coif and my name that some folks try to tie into “Lois Lane.” Which I understand, but it is all coincidental.

FR: That said; how did you come up with “Lois Lane”?

Porcelan: The “Lois Lane” concept came about through the writer Denarious Holmes. He is a great friend of mine and he knows my background and my life challenges well. All this makes for a very easy collaboration with a songwriter. He writes songs specifically that align with me and what I am experiencing as a black woman and musical artist. So, we sat down with the producer Hamilton Hart and magic was made.

FR: Did you have any trepidation about creating a song in which women speak about the need to be protected, particularly in this Cardi B, female-empowered moment in music?

Porcelan: Depending on how the concept of “Lois Lane” was put across I knew that some clap back could happen. However, I put trust in my creative team and I knew, especially after the video came out, that we were good!!

I loved the “Lois Lane” concept. I believe the character in the song came across as sexy and empowered, not desperate or a victim. This song was about those moments when you are strong and confident, but you need support and assistance. Everyone needs that. And I heard from a lot of male consumers who love the song and video, and like the fact that this particular woman is asking for help. Men like to feel that they can assist a powerful woman.

Sometimes, women in put in positions where they are forced to be strong, even when they don’t feel so powerful. This song is about a woman who needs a break, and is not afraid to ask for help!!

FR: I noticed that in one point in the “Lois Lane” video you have your love interest walking with you and protecting you on the red carpet. As you have become better known, do you feel that you need more protection or have you become more cautious about outside forces?

Porcelan: I am very cautious and always have been. As my career builds, I will need more security; however, I am always around people who love and respect me. So far, everyone has been great. I currently have no stalkers. Right now I am fine and keep myself out of situations where I would feel threatened.

At the moment, fans just want to take a picture with me or get an autograph. And I am always up for that.

FR: Right now, you are doing a lot of touring. Could you talk about that?

Porcelan: It has been really great. Currently, I am on my radio tour, doing lots of interviews and appearances. I have thoroughly enjoyed all the personalities I have met since I’ve been on the road.

I am very busy, sometimes in two cities in one day. However, I am not tired because I am doing something that I love. I was recently on TV One’s “Sister Circle,” and I performed at the 2018 Essence Music Festival.

FR: What other musical tracks are soon to be released?

Porcelan: I am in the studio right now recording new music. So, the new releases are coming!!

FR: How would you describe your personal style?

Porcelan: MY fashion style is very statement based. When it comes to jewelry, I am a minimalist. I like to mix classy and regal garments and them combined with edgy pieces. You could say, I am a classy chic with a bit of an attitude, a good attitude, that is.

FR: Who are some of your favorite designers, and why?

Porcelan: I love Alexander Wang. Though I still shop on a budget, I have fallen in love with this LA–based company, Dark Star, and Elisabetta Franchi. Elisabetta Franchi’s clothing looks amazing on me and it is always the perfect fit.

FR: Who styled you in your music video?

Porcelan: Ken Law styled me in the “Lois Lane” video, in fact, that is when I fell in love with his work. He researched my personal style and brought clothes to the video that reflected that. He actually brought a lot more garments to the video than we used. We used a baby blue ensemble in the video and I had never worn blue before, except for blue jeans.

I loved his work on the “Lois Lane” video so much that I decided to keep working with him as my stylist. He is very talented. 

        All images courtesy of 2R Entertainment and Media PR

FR: What’s next for you?Porcelan: I am continuing my radio tour. I will be making some appearances at New York Fashion Week: The Shows spring 2019 in September. I have an event coming up in October with Vivian Green in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And I have new music coming out in late September.

—William S. Gooch

Judy Gellman Makes Excellent Costume Choices in “American Woman”

Alicia Silverstone is currently singing her dramatic song in Paramount’s new television series “American Woman.” The show, based on the childhood of actress and socialite Kyle Richards, takes us through 70s wave of feminism as women began entering the workforce in higher numbers, seeking independence from traditional roles.

Costume designer Judy Gellman managed to capture the wealth and wonder that went into the wardrobes of those upper crust Beverly Hills women in the 70s, showing us how women communicated through 70s fashion their style and passion. Fashion Reverie had the privilege of speaking with Judy Gellman about her role costuming “American Woman.”

                  Judy Gellman, Costume Designer for “American Woman”

Fashion Reverie: How did you get involved with this project?Judy Gellman: The guy who created the show and I had worked together before. When he was putting it all together he contacted me and asked for my input on what things would look like in 1975, and so I helped him put together some things to show prospective writers. I became involved when the project was bought and he got a green light for the pilot.

FR: Where did you get your inspiration for the garments in “American Woman”?

Judy Gellman: There was so much actually. It was a complicated process, but one that costume designers always relish. There is the research of trying to bring the period to the screen without it being “Hello, here’s a fashion show of the most iconic things that happened in 1975 for characters like this.” The main thing is to serve the story. We wanted very much to have the clothing be fun, evident, and exciting, but to support the characters. My inspiration came from the fashions that were promoted at the time, the culture, and people of Beverly Hills, and the economic bracket these three women lived in.

FR: How did you do your research?

Judy Gellman: I first started with things like Time magazine copies from that era, other vintage magazines, and of course the Internet, as well as information about New York in the mid-70s. Alicia’s character came from New York, which made her unique in that her look had to encompass what a woman from New York would dress like going to Beverly Hills.

FR: Is that why she had that mink coat?

Judy Gellman: Yes, that was an iconic look from that era, the Diane von Furstenberg dress, and the mink coat.

FR: What other fashion brands did you use?

Judy Gellman: There were so many, we found, Pucci, Chanel, Hermes, Pierre Cardin, Halston, even jackets from Fiorucci. There was a designer who did his own prints out here whose worked I managed to find. We also used Mary McFadden and Fendi. There were tons of designers that I really wanted to present.

FR: Did you have difficulty finding clothes that were in good shape?

Judy Gellman: In some cases, I did have difficulty. The two biggest issues were condition and size. Sizing was very different then. Everything that I acquired or made for the show had to be measured. A size 4 back then was like a size 0 today. The sizing was a challenge, as well as, the condition of the pieces. Sometimes, I’d find something and we’d have to remake the lining or buttons would be missing, a new zipper would be needed. All sorts of things needed some attention. However, we found some amazing things.

FR: Were replicas made?

Judy Gellman: I can’t say I actually needed a specific garment that I had to have copied, but there were things I had made. I found a pattern for a Peignoir coat, and I found vintage fabric and to make a top for a nightgown. I was able to find vintage patterns on etsy.com and different Internet sites.

FR: What can viewers expect from Alicia’s wardrobe next on “American Woman”?

Judy Gellman: What we’re going to see is more things she has to work in. At the beginning of the series, Alicia’s character doesn’t have a job, and doesn’t know where to get employment. You see her a few times working at a department store. You’ll see her in things that would be suitable to that environment. Her character also grows in many different ways between levels of independence, self-confidence, and her romantic life.

FR: Talk to me about feminism wave one and how that affected fashion in the show?

Judy Gellman: One of the things that is really important in “American Woman” is what a professional working woman of the 70s needed to look like. Nowadays, fashion has exploded to such a level of freedom in the workplace that didn’t exist back then. If you look at Jennifer Bartel’s character Diana, who worked in a bank, her wardrobe is very conservative. What was appropriate back then was to support designers like Calvin Klein and Anne Klein. It was the whole development of suits that were appropriate for the workplace and had some style to them. That was an important visual that I was glad to have there. Things couldn’t be considered provocative in any way. Women were trying to be treated as equal, but fashionable at the same time. If you were working in a law firm or bank, you had to be concerned about certain things to be taken seriously.

                                All images courtesy of the Paramount Network

Judy Gellman: Alicia is so easy to work with, there was nothing that was a challenge, except, trying to acquire and make the things we felt were appropriate, as she came into being a working woman, I think what you’ll find that in work suits back then the fabrication was much different. The fabrics were not stretchy, even though there was a lot of polyester. In the workplace, the suits and other garments were more rigid.For me, what I wanted to do was to give Alicia’s character things that were appropriate to work in that might not be a suit. I wanted to put her in things that still showed off her figure and had texture and color. It’s a complicated process to find things your character can stand out in and work with the color scheme of the set. It’s kind of a complicated process to make sure that the colors, styles, and silhouettes don’t disappear and don’t clash with what’s happening on the set.

“American Woman” stars Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari, Jennifer Bartels, Lisa McHugh, and James Makenna. “American Woman” premiered on June 7, 2018 on the Paramount Network and continues through August 23, 2018. 

—Kristopher Fraser

 

 

Interview Exclusive: Arden Myrin Expands her Character Repertoire in “HeadShop”

                                           Image courtesy of amazon.com

A good thing is happening in Hollywood. No longer do actresses have to be pigeonholed into one type of character for the entirety on their film career. (You know those stereotypical roles; romantic lead, ingénue, quirky best friend, working girl, comic relief, vamp, foil, hard-working mom, psychopath, tragic mulatto.) In this new version of Hollywood, actresses can move more easily through a variety of characters, being deeply conflicted and dramatic on one hand or top banana on the other. And for some actresses, especially if they have that facility, the days of being confined to one type of acting genre is over and the sky is the limit.

Arden Myrin is one of the new breed of actresses who is breaking the typecast mold. Known primarily for her comedy skits on “MadTV” and “Chelsea Lately,” Arden Myrin has had film roles in”Kinsey,” “Christmas with the Kranks,” “The Imformant!,” and “Wrong Cops,” just to name a few. And some of her strong performances demonstrate her versatility in comedy, as well as dramatic roles.

With her star still rising with a starring role in a new Netflix series and the soon to be released “HeadShop,” Arden took the time to speak with Fashion Reverie about her craft, her love affair with standup, and her passion for creating characters.

                 Images courtesy of celebmafia.com and wikipedia.com, respectively

Fashion Reverie: Arden is an interesting name, where does it come from and how did your parents pick that name?

Arden Myrin: My mom grew up in Queens, NY and went to Bayside High and I am named after my mom and my last name is some weird Swedish Viking derivation.

FR: You became involved in theater and acting as a young child. Where did this love of theater and creating characters come from? 

Arden Myrin: I grew up in a tiny town in Rhode Island. There is still mostly just a general store and no stoplights. My parents had moved from New York City to this small town and every year my mom would take me to NYC. One year I saw “Annie,” and that was it for me. I was a redheaded kid and I just knew I could play Annie. My parents even recorded “Saturday Night Live” for me and I would watch and not understand some of the adult humor.

So, I just grew up in this country town and I couldn’t wait to be an adult. All we had was old movies on TV, so I believed that when I grew up I would be a Judy Holliday or Myrna Loy character.

FR: Do you think growing up in a small town fed into you’re desire to act and create characters?

Arden Myrin: My mom kind of strategically left NYC because she wanted her children to be able to create their own fun and their own magic. I think when there is a lack of constant stimulation you can be forced to use your imagination more. There is a beauty in growing up in a simple place that spurs creativity. I wanted to razzle dazzle, and there was no razzle dazzle in my home town. I wanted to be like Gypsy Rose Lee with sequins and feathers, anything other than the corduroys I saw every day.

                       Image courtesy of pinterest

FR: You really got your start in this industry as a member of the famous Groundlings and doing standup. Why comedy as a starting point?

Arden Myrin: I always loved Gilda Radner, Teri Garr, and Madeline Kahn. I just knew that if I didn’t go to Yale or Juilliard I needed some way to get on stage to show what I could do to get an agent. And I was always a kind of silly girl. I knew I could write something to help get me an agent.

I like making people laugh and I come from a very funny family. If you can brighten someone’s day with laughter than you have accomplished something good.

FR: You obviously love stand-up because you’ve been doing it for some time now. Why do you keep coming back to standup? 

Arden Myrin: That’s an interesting question because standup terrifies me. You know there are not that many women who tour as standup headliners.

In this political climate we feel that the country is so divided; however, when you tour you get to know people in a way that you never would. And people who may have different political views don’t seem so strange and odd. It is a humbling experience to be welcomed in a town or city and share an experience with people who on the surface seem so different.

FR: You have done stage, screen, television, and stand-up. Which platform do you prefer, and why?

Arden Myrin: If I had to pick one, I like television the most because you can tell a story and develop a character over several episodes. Still, there is a thrill of doing live theater every night.

                             Image courtesy of “Chelsea Lately”

FR: Could you talk a little bit about appearing over 100 times on “Chelsea Lately”?

Arden Myrin: That show was so much fun, as well as a little frightening. You are flying solo on “Chelsea Lately” because you never did retakes. It was always fun because you so much wanted to do a good job. The audience would let you know if they got your jokes or not, and you were also on the show with really good comedians.

I was so grateful to be a part of that show and watch Chelsea build her whole brand and image. She is such a hard worker. You know, she was writing all those books in the middle of doing five shows a week. She would also fly all over the country on the weekends and do stand-up, as well as promote her books. She worked her ass off, and built that whole machine.

FR: How did being cast in “HeadShop” come about?

Arden Myrin: It was really a magical present. It was offered to me and I wish all my roles appeared so magically. I didn’t have to audition; my manager represented a couple of people who were cast (Evan Ross and Nicole Ari Parker). From beginning to end it was a great joy. I loved working with the writer/director Kim Bass.

                                              Images courtesy of “HeadShop”

FR: Could you talk a little bit about your character Shelby in “HeadShop”?

Arden Myrin: Shelby is a sweet, newly divorced trophy wife who was married to a much older, wealthy man. She acquired a huge settlement from her divorce and now doesn’t know what to do with time and all this money. She has been seeing a therapist (played by Nicole Ari Parker) in San Francisco and has become obsessed with her. Shelby thinks her therapist is her best friend although she pays her.

FR: Without giving too much away, what do you think viewers will get from and like about “HeadShop”?

Arden Myrin: Audiences will find the movie funny, and that there is a lot of wit to it as well. The film celebrates community which is one of the themes of the film. The film speaks to gentrification, community, love and finding that place of acceptance.

FR: Fashion Reverie is a fashion magazine; that said, who are your favorite designers?

Arden Myrin: I recently have fallen in love with the YSL mini dress. I have been stalking online trying to buy vintage ones. When I come to NYC, I love going to the store ATT. They have such great clothes, they have Self Portrait, a brand I love.

FR: Which designers would you like to wear that you haven’t already worn?

Arden Myrin: That is an interesting question. I love ethereal clothes that make you feel like you are playing dress up. I am not afraid of a little whimsy. I would love to wear Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Rodarte, and Miu Miu.

                    Blake Patterson and Arden Myrin image courtesy of “HeadShop”

FR: Lets talk about the Blake Patterson clothes you are wearing in “HeadShop.”

Arden Myrin: Nicole Ari Parker’s therapist character moves her San Francisco practice to Oakland. I trail behind her to continue working with her as my therapist. So her I am driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in my white Bentley to Oakland because I am obsessed with this therapist. Now mind you, I am the only one from her practice in San Francisco who follows her to Oakland.

Next door to her office in Oakland is fashion store called the Nubian Queen run by Evan Ross’s character. The clothes are the beautiful African inspired-clothing made with the most luxurious African fabrics. I am like Malibu Barbie who has just found her design aesthetic in these unbelievable garments. I buy almost everything in the store from head wraps to you name it. It’s like I have found my true self. I become so obsessed with the clothing that I start to fund his clothing line.

Blake Patterson designed all these garments for me. Now, Blake is this small white guy from Ohio and it was a surprise to me that he was going to create all these incredible garments for me. The clothes are so magical and he made them all in one week. He went to an African fabric store and bought the fabric. He played with the different shapes and silhouettes. I got to wear one exquisite garment that was like a jumpsuit with a huge ruffle down one side.

Now, when Blake Patterson made the garments in the film, he didn’t know I was cast in the role. At any rate, the garments fit like a glove. The clothes are so beautiful and joyful and I got to wear maybe five or six of these incredible garments in the film. It was the most beautiful wardrobe I have ever worn in a film.FR: What’s next for you?

Arden Myrin: I am in a new Netflix show. It is called “Insatiable,” and it’s about beauty pageants and murder, and I play a bad character. I am like Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blond,” but I act like Reese in “Election.” I am all deception and duplicity. My character is Regina Sinclair and I am all southern charm, but evil. By the way, “Insatiable” is filmed in Atlanta. I am ruthless and wound tight. Alyssa Milano is also in the cast.

—William S. Gooch

 

 

Nicole Ari Parker Discusses Life, Career Choices and “HeadShop”

                                                  Image courtesy of Kim Bass

Getting and maintaining traction in the fashion industry is a circuitous journey that takes talent, perseverance, hard work, providence, and nerves of steel. Acting has similar requirements. And success and good fortune have eluded talented thespians who would have become household names if only the fickle of fingers of fate were pointed in their direction.Nicole Ari Parker is one of those fortunate actors who has been blessed by providence. Well known for her role in the Showtime series “Soul Food,” Nicole Ari Parker for the past two decades has successfully portrayed characters that run the gamut of emotion, sensitivity, humor, and pathos.

Equally known for her roles in television, as well as film, Nicole Ari Parker continues to hit her stride in the upcoming independent film “HeadShop.” Conceived and directed by Kim Bass, “HeadShop” examines issues of gentrification, class, cultural appropriation, and community.

Scheduled for release in early 2018, Nicole Ari Parker chatted with Fashion Reverie about her love of acting, her career trajectory, and her role in “HeadShop.”

                                              Image courtesy of Kim Bass

Fashion Reverie: Now you started out as a ballet dancer, why the shift to acting?Nicole Ari Parker: Well, I studied ballet mostly as a kid and I was more serious about becoming a classically trained actress. My mom had me involved in lots of things as a child, and theatre and acting kind of stood out over the other creative pursuits.

FR: Where did this love of acting come from? 

Nicole Ari Parker: I was just full of drama as a kid. I am an only child and I had a vivid imagination and read a lot of books. I would turn the stories I read in books into plays. I would also write my own plays and produce them. I just had a natural affinity for the stage; it is truly my first love.

I am from Baltimore and my parents had sacrificed so much to put me through private school that lead me to going to New York University (NYU) a year early at the age of 17. I went to NYU as an English and drama major that I thought would be more stable than majoring in theatre. I wanted to do something that would make my parents proud of me.

In my second semester I auditioned for the Tisch School of the Arts—that is a part of NYU—and I called my Dad and asked him if I could change majors. He said if I did, I had to be diligent and not give up. So, here I am!!

FR: Your range as an actress is phenomenal from “Boogie Nights” to “Subway Stories” to “Soul Food’ to “Brown” Sugar,” and “200 Cigarettes” to “Almost Christmas.” The depth and width of your roles have gone from comedy to drama, and back again. That said; what do like best comedy or dramatic roles?

Nicole Ari Parker: The older I get, the funnier I have become. Life teaches you so much. My heart is always on the stage and with more dramatic roles. There is a whole world of opportunity out there to tell more stories, and we need more people of color writing those stores (both funny and serious), so that there is more range and a diversity of voices.

                                           “Headshop” cast images courtesy of shadowandact.com

FR: You have done a lot of big studios films and well as independent films, what do you like best, independent or big studio?

Nicole Ari Parker: I like work that is more character driven whether it is from a big studio or it is independent film. I jumped at the change to work on the character I play in Kim Bass’ “HeadShop” when the role fell in my lap.

FR: Why did “HeadShop” excite you?

Nicole Ari Parker: Kim is a visionary and that is a rare opportunity in this industry to work with someone who is a visionary. When you are creative person in this industry, you have to take a lot of jobs to pay the bills that don’t challenge you as an artist. You have to take guest starring roles in television and other mediums that are not always challenging.

I have played some sort of executive on television now for over ten years. You get pigeon holed and then you get a script that is just beautiful on the page and saturated with color and nuance and all the sensibilities that excites you as a creative person. Add to that, Kim Bass, a director of color, and “HeadShop” as a film is a dream come true.

FR: Without giving too much away, could you talk about your character Dr. LaTrice Monroe?

Nicole Ari Parker: She is a therapist in San Francisco in private practice. She breaks up with her long-term boyfriend, and reconsiders the direction of her life. She drives into her old neighborhood in Oakland, and decides to open up a practice in Oakland, meeting a coterie of characters that change her life in unexpected ways.

FR: What appealed to you about this character?

Nicole Ari Parker: Kim wrote this character with a keen sense of where a lot of professional women are in their lives. They have sacrificed so much to get ahead and now they are at a crossroad. And it is right in this moment of that success that these women are looking for a deeper connection. And that crossroad is what appealed to me about the LaTrice Monroe character, because she is at that critical moment in her life.

                                                  “Headshop’ set images courtesy of Kim Bass

FR: There are some gentrification storylines in the film. How does your character relate and play that out in the film?

Nicole Ari Parker: Kim layers a whole lot of themes that are affecting communities right now in real time in this film. Things that are going on with small business owners; issues around gentrification; misconceptions of cultures, all these things are packed into this sweet film.

FR: Now you worked with Michael Jai White in ”Black Dynamite,” and Kimberly Elise in the “Loretta Claiborne Story” what was it like working with both again?

Nicole Ari Parker: This was my third time working with Kimberly Elise and it was awesome working with some of my former co-stars again. Come on, I am working with Marla Gibbs and Loretta Devine, what couldn’t be better than that?

It was a real pleasure. I also worked with Evan Ross, Deon Cole from “Blackish,” it was good times on the set. Kimberly and I laughed so hard and had so much fun.

FR: What was the shooting schedule like, and how long did it take to shoot the film?

Nicole Ari Parker: We shot the entire film in under a month with really long hours and a six-day schedule. We shot mostly in San Francisco with exterior shots done in Oakland.

FR: Fashion Reverie is an online fashion magazine, so our viewers would like to know, who are your favorite designers?

Nicole Ari Parker: I love Byron Lars and CD Greene.

FR: Which designers would you like to wear that you haven’t worn, yet?

Nicole Ari Parker: I love Monique Lhuillier, Oscar de la Renta who I’ve worn before, but I would like to keep wearing him. I also would love to wear Michelle Blanchard. I have a real eclectic taste, so I am open to a lot of designers.

                                                     Image courtesy of people.com

FR: What’s next for you? 

Nicole Ari Parker: I have a movie out on TV One with my husband Boris Kodjoe called “Dowsized” about a couple that had a baby when they were still teenagers and now they are in their early 40s, and everything is different. I just wrapped filming a thriller with Forrest Whitaker. And I am just very busy and happy with my life.

—William S. Gooch

 

Fashion Reverie Exclusive: Antonia Franceschi Comes Full Circle

Antonia_Franceschi1“Do you know where you’re going to, do you know the things that life is showing you, where are going to? Do you know? — Theme song from “Mahogany”

Antonia Franceschi may not have known exactly where life would take her, but she sure she has ended up in some pretty spectacular places. And where she is right now is just right!!

Most people, if they are old enough, know Antonia from her role as the spoiled ballerina in the movie “Fame.” But that was kind of just the beginning. After “Fame” Antonia spent 11 years in the New York City Ballet and another two decades working in Europe. And all those years on the world’s stages have given her a keen eye and life perspective that is more precious than gold.

Still, life didn’t turn out exactly the way Antonia envisioned. (It rarely does for most of us.) Antonia was the ‘It’ baby ballerina of the early 80s with name recognition and a promising career at the New York City Ballet. That potential went unrealized and for those who never saw the movie “Fame,” or New York City Ballet in the 1980s and 90s, Franceschi’s name does not resonate.

But, life is more than some familiar nods. And Antonia has turned what could have been just 15 minutes of fame into a lifetime of nuanced experiences and creative satisfaction. How many people can name George Balanchine, Natalia Markarova, Jerome Robbins, Alan Parker, and Karole Armitage as personal influences? Not many.

Fashion Reverie was given the extraordinary opportunity to reminisce, revel, and luxuriate in the meandering, sometimes slippery slope, of Antonia Franceschi’s life. And we are all the better for it. We expect our readers will be, too!!

Fashion Reverie: How did you get started in ballet?

Antonia Franceschi: I was born in Ohio and then we moved to Detroit, later to New Rochelle and finally Manhattan. My mom is a painter and she loved ballet and used to take evening classes when we lived in Detroit. I would accompany her and sit on the floor while she took class. I started to imitate her and my mom thought I had some talent and enrolled me in ballet school. 

FR: How did you become one of the dancers in the movie “Grease”?

Antonia Franceschi: “Grease” happened in a very interesting way. I was a student at the High School of the Performing Arts in New York City (PA) when the school was located on 46th Street. I auditioned for both the drama and dance departments because I wanted to be a great dramatic ballerina. I was accepted into both departments, but I opted for the drama department and took ballet classes after school.  I studied the Cecchetti technique with Margaret Craske. Cecchetti technique is one of the hardest techniques because you work without mirrors; you have to feel everything. The core of the training is so good that it keeps you from getting lots of injuries.

One of my very good friends Jerry Regan at PA told me about the “Grease” open call. Now mind you, I had never heard of the musical “Grease,” although it had been a successful production on Broadway. Patricia Birch was the choreographer and she gave a dance phrase and you had to replicate it very quickly. I did my phrase and they kept me and told me to come back the next day for the second part of the audition.

The next day at the audition Pat Birch told anyone under eighteen to leave. (I was sixteen at the time.) I stayed because I figured I would never get the job. A month later I was contacted that I was cast in “Grease.”

The only way I was able to take the job—all the filming was in LA—was that the film was shot during the summer. That way I didn’t get in trouble at PA. But I got kicked out of PA anyway because filming went into early fall and PA found out. It is really hysterical when you think about it because the following year I am cast in the movie “Fame,” which is about my alma mater, PA.

The good thing about “Grease” is that I earned enough money to go to Professional Children’s School (PCS), which was necessary for me because I was now studying at the School of American Ballet (SAB), being that I was expelled from PA.  At the time no one knew that “Grease” would turn out to be the box office hit that it turned out to be.

Antonia Franceschi in "Grease" and Franceschi with "Fame" cast

Antonia Franceschi in “Grease” and Franceschi with “Fame” cast

FR: Now, lets talk about the movie “Fame”, we all know that you played the character Hilary van Doren. How did that all come about?

Antonia Franceschi: Because of the filming of “Grease,” I felt I had lost some valuable ballet training. So, I auditioned for SAB and got a scholarship while attending PCS. I lot of the students from PCS and SAB were talking about auditioning for the movie “Fame.” I didn’t want to lose more time in my dance training, so initially I was not interested. And at the time the ballet world frowned upon doing anything outside of the dance world.

The producers of “Fame” were having a hard time finding ballet dancers of the appropriate age to be in the ballet classroom scenes. So, a bunch of students from SAB went in and auditioned. Also, one of the casting agents from “Fame” contacted me and asked me to audition.

I went to the casting and they had me read Hilary van Doren’s abortion clinic scene. They liked my read and immediately had me read for the director Alan Parker. And just like that I got the part. I really liked the script and Alan Parker, so I thought it would be great to be in the movie.

The only thing that had me kind of freaked out was that George Balanchine would sometimes observe the morning advance class and choose dancers. I was worried that the day he scouted dancers for New York City Ballet (NYCB), I would be filming “Fame.” The day that Balanchine did come in, my filming schedule was in the afternoon. I was in Stanley Williams’ class that morning and Stanley organized the class to show off my best qualities. After filming “Fame” sequences that afternoon, a friend of mine, Cynthia Lochard—who was also in “Fame”—called me and screamed in the phone, “We’re in. We both got into City Ballet.” So, it worked out perfectly, I got to be in “Fame” and I was signed to the NYCB. Coincidentally, I didn’t go to the premiere of “Fame” in NYC because my graduation performance from SAB was the same night. But, I did go to the “Fame” after party at Studio 54 with my boyfriend in a limousine.

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Images of Antonia Franceschi in “Fame”

FR: By the time “Fame” was released you were already in the New York City Ballet. Did you know that you wanted to be a ballet dancer as opposed to an actress while you were filming “Fame”?

Antonia Franceschi: Honestly, I only wanted to be a ballet dancer and work with a genius like George Balanchine. With “Fame,” the director Alan Parker is also a genius. So, early in my career, creative masters surrounded me, and that desire to collaborate with the best has stuck with me.

Also, Hollywood turned me off when I was in “Grease.” I was sixteen and very insecure. I had acne, I didn’t have large breasts, and I didn’t think I had anything special. After “Grease,” John Travolta’s manager wanted to manage me. But, I knew at that young age I couldn’t emotionally manage being in Hollywood. I didn’t have a strong support system, my parents had separated, honestly, and I really just wanted to dance. So, I opted out of becoming an actress.

When the “Fame” television series was being developed, I was asked to be a part of the cast. But, by that time I was already in the NYCB. I didn’t realize at the time that Mr. Balanchine would be dead in three years.

Even after I got into the NYCB, Hollywood would always call. I got offered a three-picture deal after “Fame.” But, I had blinders on; you have to if you are going to have a career in ballet. When I left the NYCB, I did other things. I moved to London, I acted in plays and did some film. I even wrote a play that I choreographed and starred in.

FR: You were one of the last dancers that Balanchine personally chose for NYCB. What was it was like working with Balanchine?

Antonia Franceschi: Even though Balanchine didn’t live a long time after he chose me for the NYCB, I was so fortunate to work with him closely. When Nureyev and Patricia McBride performed Balanchine’s “Le Bourgeoisie Gentilhomme,” I was one of the six SAB students chosen to perform the work. I also was in some of Balanchine’s last ballets—“Ballade” and “Noah’s Ark.” He would talk to me a lot in class and in rehearsal. He was nicest man, but his classes were not kind to your body, everything was extreme.

NYCB, at that time, was an amazing ballet company because Balanchine chose every dancer for their unique gifts. That was my environment and everything was sugar for me. Just to be in his presence and learn from this great genius has made an indelible mark on me as an artist.

FR: How were you received at NYCB because of your early fame?

Antonia Franceschi: By the time “Fame” came out I was already in the corps de ballet of NYCB after having danced with “Markarova and Company.” While I was dancing with Markarova, she got injured and I had to dance one of her roles. Clive Barnes, the dance critic for the New York Times, predicted I would be a great star.

So things at NYCB for me were a little odd in the beginning because I was already famous. Ballet companies tend to make dancers stars because of their association with certain choreographers and/or for dancing major roles. I was already well known before joining NYCB because of “Fame” and “Makarova and Company.” There were some people at NYCB that were threatened and were not as nice as they could have been. It took a while for me to prove to certain folks at NYCB that I was serious. There was some jealousy because early on choreographers would make roles on me, which is highly unusual for a new dancer. It was a tricky time.

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Images of Antonia Franceschi in the New York City Ballet

FR: Do you realize that to people who were not ballet fans you were more well known because of “Fame” than most ballet dancers with the exception of Nureyev, Baryshnikov and maybe Margot Fonteyn? How did you deal with that recognition early on in your career?

Antonia Franceschi: Because of the Internet and social media it is now a good thing to be famous. However, thirty years ago in the dance world you had to be humble and self-effacing. I would take the subway and people would recognize me and I would pretend I was someone else. The best compliment I ever got was this girl came up to me on the subway and said, “I hated your ass in the movie.” That comment confirmed I did my job well.

The whole world has changed since “Fame” and being in NYCB from 1980 to 1992. You can live your life in a bubble in a ballet company. I was working from 7:30 in the morning to 11pm at night, six days a week. The only people you meet are mostly those involved with the ballet world. You give everything to that world. If you had any energy left over, you’re made to feel you were not giving enough. Mr. Balanchine used to say, “What are you saving it for.”

FR: How long were you in the New York City Ballet, and what was your experience there like?

Antonia Franceschi: For most of the 11 years I was in the NYCB, I would say it was great, but very hard. One of the hardest things is that I didn’t have the success at NYCB that I wanted or that was predicted. The good thing about NYCB is that you perform a lot and dance a wide range of roles, even soloist and principal roles, while still in the corps de ballet.

I had the great disadvantage of being a transition dancer. Balanchine chose me for the company and then he passed away in 1983 and Peter Martins became the creative director. You hope things will stay the same, but they weren’t. By the time I realized how different things were I was 27 years old and too old to go to another company; which is not the case now, but back then you stayed where you were.

When Peter Martins took over NYCB, he had to learn how to run this huge institution. That said; I was never a hater; I felt I had to work harder and continue to prove myself. So I continued to work really hard, but nothing was happening. At 27, I got married and decided to get really thin, because Peter Martins liked really thin ballerinas. Immediately, I started getting soloist roles. I stayed really thin for three years but couldn’t maintain it. It was too hard counting every little calorie all day. I was worn down mentally trying to maintain my weight.

I would always get asked to do things outside of NYCB, but I would always turn things down. However, in 1992 I was offered one of the leads in a production of “Brigadoon” and some other things and I decided why not leave NYCB on a high note while I was getting all these major roles. So, I left with my dignity at the age of 30.

FR: You were in the NYCB corps de ballet for 11 years. What lead roles did dance and what roles were created on you?

Antonia Franceschi: Jerome Robbins made “Piano Pieces” for me and Jean-Pierre Bonnefous made a beautiful pas de deux for Ib Anderson and me. I did leads in Balanchine’s “Four Temperaments,” “Episodes,” a demi-soloist in “Diamonds,” Tenderness fairy in “Sleeping Beauty,” and one of the leads in Lar Lubovitch’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” When I moved to Europe I danced as a guest artist in the works of Mark Baldwin, Wayne McGregor, Michael Clarke, Arlene Phillips, and Karole Armitage for ten years and then started producing and choreographing my own work. I had a second life in Europe in my thirties that has taken me to where I am now. If I had become a principal dancer with NYCB, I never would have explored more acting opportunities and dancing with these great European chorographers, as well as realizing my gifts as a choreographer and producer, and teaching at the Royal Ballet and Rambert Dance Company.

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Antonia Franceschi’s dance company AFD Just Dance and Antonia Franceschi in rehearsal

FR: How would you describe your choreographic style?

Antonia Franceschi: When you start choreographing, your work looks like everything you have ever danced. You don’t have your own voice yet. The starting point for me, like Balanchine, is the music. My style is an amalgam of all the things I have learned from Cecchetti to Balanchine and the contemporary choreographers I worked with in Europe.

You don’t really learn to choreograph when a choreographer puts a work on you, you learn watching them work and teaching. I have worked with Richard Alston for over 15 years and I learned from him how to get people on and off stage and link movement.

FR: You continue to perform, why?

Antonia Franceschi: I continue to perform because I stayed healthy. I am so healthy because I was trained by Margaret Craske in the Cecchetti technique which when done properly keeps you from getting so many injuries. If I am asked, I will dance things that I can still dance well. I have no injuries, I have no pain and my body feels good.

I recently danced some excerpts from Balanchine’s “Serenade” and “Symphony in Three Movements” for a group piece called “Museum de Dance” at the Sofia Museum in Spain. Mark Baldwin recently made a solo for me. Still, I only perform if I think it is the right thing to do.

Downloads361FR: How has the dance world that you were such an integral part of changed? Have the dancers changed?

Antonia Franceschi: I am at a disadvantage answering that questions because I just moved back to NYC after living in London for 22 years. One of things I noticed was that there is just a quick turnover at NYCB. Balanchine rarely fired dancers. You could stay there until you didn’t want to perform any more. That is not the case now.

Also, when I was dancing I was very much on the down low about going to classes at Fordham University on my day off. Now, everyone talks about what they are going to do after they stop dancing. Dancers are now more realistic about their careers. However, the flip side of that is that maybe dance is less precious and there is less of a commitment because there are more options. And some of the magic is gone. So, there is a trade off.

FR: In your ballet for New York Theatre Ballet “She Holds Out Her Hand” one of the lead dancers was a dancer of color. That said; how do you feel about diversity in ballet?

Antonia Franceschi: When I was in “Fame” I had scene where I had to kiss Gene Anthony Ray. Now, that was back in 1979 and I was advised not to do it because it could ruin my career. I did what I wanted to do, kiss Gene Anthony Ray, because I wasn’t going to be an actress.

Now, that incident was over 30 years ago. However, I was producing a ballet program in London some years back and I brought some dancers over from the NYCB—Wendy Whelan, Peter Boal, and Albert Evans. There was beautiful poster featuring Albert Evans with the caption “New York Ballet Stars.”  Albert Evans is African American and a big star with the NYCB at that time. One of sponsors didn’t want me to use the poster because a black person didn’t represent ballet to her.  I went with the poster and we sold out. So, there!!

Still, even in Europe there is this embedded racism in ballet. They don’t want to see a brown or black girl in the corps de ballet of “Swan Lake” because in their minds all the swans should look the same. That is still a factor on the other side of the Big Pond.

To use Amanda Smith as the lead in my ballet was a no-brainer. She is deep, musical, and has a beautiful quality. Perhaps, I got that from Mr. Balanchine, he liked people who could dance.

Image courtesy of NYTB.

Antonia Franceshi’s “She Holds Out Her Hand” image courtesy of NYTB. All other images courtesy of Antonia Franceschi

FR: What is life like for you now back in the States, and what’s next for you?

Antonia Franceschi: Well, my son is 13 and I moved back because I wanted him to experience NYC and more cultural diversity. I have been substitute teaching at Barnard College and Julliard, I have two ballet commissions and I have work back in London for the summer.

I started a company called AFD Just Dance in London and we were invited to perform at the Opera House in Malta. I handpicked dancers from the Royal Ballet, Rambert, and Random DV8. We sold out, so I decided to keep the company going. We performed at the Royal Winchester and also sold out.  So, voila, I had a company. I am planning to do the same thing in NYC, mix British dancers with American dancers, performing to live music. And there were other things in the works.

—William S. Gooch

 

Antonia Franceschi’s choreography will be a part of Barnard College/Columbia Dances at Miller on April 21 & April 22.

Fashion Reverie Exclusive: Laura Michelle Conjures up “Chuck Norris” and the “Rockstars of Fashion”

Laura_Michelle_Chuck_Norris_05The synergy of fashion and music has become such a constant presence in music videos that the hard work, the style options and the delicate balance that’s necessary to create that seamless flow is not obvious to most viewers. Still, when it all comes to gather—which is a miracle in itself—the videos can create an indelible impression in consumers’ memory.

Who can forget Madonna in Jean-Paul Gaultier’s cone-breasted bustier in “Vogue,”  Michael Jackson’s leather jackets in “Beat It,” Toni Basil in cheerleader gear in “Mickie” or Janelle Monae’s androgynous style in most of her videos. Being styled in certain fashion can bring more audience engagement to fashion designers and/or help launch the career of style. (June Ambrose holler!!)

This cross-pollination of music and style has created some iconic music videos. And the evolution of fashion and music continues with Laura Michelle’s new video “Chuck Norris.” And though the Chuck Norris reference doesn’t necessarily conjure up images of high fashion, stylist Jill Christiansen has injected some Alexander Wang, Alexander McQueen, Gucci and some Louboutin’s into this off-beat video.

After the release of “Chuck Norris,” Laura Michelle spoke with Fashion Reverie about her personal style and how Chuck Norris served as a reference point for this wacky, but stylishly chic video.

Fashion Reverie: How would you describe your musical style?

Laura Michele: That is always such a hard question because my taste in music is very eclectic. However, my musical style can be described as pop rock. The “Chuck Norris” video is more pop, but the rest of the CD. “Novel With No End,” is more pop rock.  There are a lot of influences in my music. One time on the way to the studio to record I was listening to country music and when I got to the studio my sound came out sounding very country western. So, the technician at the studio said ” No more country before you come into record.”

FR: Your have an eclectic musical style, as well as an eclectic fashion sense. Where does this all come from?

Laura Michele: I have always been really silly and quirky, although I was shy as a child. My Dad was always sick when I was kid so I would use humor to try to cheer him up. So, that is where my quirky side comes from. Plus, my whole family loves to laugh and likes to make jokes.  We are a silly family and that quirky silliness comes out in my music and my fashion style.

12_TopOfTheWorldFINAL2FR: I read in your bio that one of your early musical influences was Donny Osmond in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Laura Michele: My mom would buy me these CDs and she brought me “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond. I must have worn that CD out, playing it over and over again. Once when my family was in Hawaii on spring break we found out that Donny Osmond was performing in the show in Maui. My Dad couldn’t get us tickets and later I found out that that particular performance was the last time Donny sang in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I also love the song he does in the Disney movie “Mulan.”

FR: Who are some of your other musical influences?

Laura Michele: When I was really little I loved all the music from the Disney musicals. As I grew older, I was enchanted with Celine Dion. I couldn’t have a good day at school unless I started my day listening to Celine Dion. Then, I transitioned to N’Sync and Britney Spears. Now, my tastes are all over the place. I find inspiration from so many artists; there are so many good musical artists on the scene right now.

Image courtesy of Venone PR

Image courtesy of Venone PR

FR: Could you talk a little about your musical training?

Laura Michele: I started voice lessons in the third grade. I started with a guy with named Jim Beckford. I started recording in my senior year in high school. And Beckford taught me a lot about studio singing. I later studied with David Corey in LA and he was been vocal coach ever since.

FR: Why did you choose Chuck Norris as a cultural reference point for this video?

Laura Michele: As I mentioned earlier my Dad was sick for most of life and in the last four years of his life we watched a lot of  “Walker, Texas Ranger” that starred Chuck Norris. And I found out that Chuck Norris also gives a lot to charities and his own foundation. And who is more badass than Chuck Norris?

FR: So in a way in this video an homage to your Dad.

Laura Michele: To some extent, this video does give honor to my Dad. I kept thinking when we were shooting this video about how much my Dad would have gotten a kick out of this video. In the video I am wearing a diamond heart pendant necklace my Dad gave me. There is also a framed photo my Dad and me in several scenes of the video.

Images courtesy of Venone PR

Stills from “Chuck Morris” video. Images courtesy of Venone PR

FR: What are some of your styling choices in this video?

Laura Michele: My taste is very eclectic. There some very 50s silhouettes mixed with rock n’ roll.  That is what I am very drawn to. I am also very drawn to comfort that is one of the reason I love Alexander Wang and he clothes are used quite a bit in this video. In the waiting room scene I am wearing Alexander Wang. Jill Christiansen, my stylist, really understands my style aesthetic and is always directing me to get great garments for my own personal wardrobe.

FR: How did your relationship with Jill Christiansen develop?

Laura Michele: I met her through Matt Beard who is the photographer for my current CD. I have known her for ten years and we hit it off immediately. She is so hard working, really understands my aesthetic and so easy to work with.  Most of all she never tries to dress me in clothes that I am not comfortable in. And consumers can see when you are not comfortable in certain stage costumes or clothes in photo shoots.

FR: You are somewhat of a curvy girl, does being curvy dictate how you choose fashion and which designers you are attracted to?

Laura Michele: I gravitate toward what I like and in reality I really only a size 6. Sometimes because of the curves, consumers think I am larger, but I am really only a size 6.  My style is geared toward more what catches my eye.

Images courtesy of Venone PR

Images courtesy of Venone PR

FR: What’s next for you?

Laura Michele:  I filmed a Comcast on Demand special and that should be airing soon. My new CD comes out August 7. I will be touring and doing shows in the fall and I am already working and writing music for my next CD.

For more information on Laura Michelle, go to www.lauramichelle.com. And to check out Laura Michelle’s “Chuck Norris video, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UFllztXKU4

—William S. Gooch

 

 

 

 

 

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