Interior Designer and Art Director Emily Henson on Writing her Fifth Book, Color Aesthetics, and Introspection through Design

Images courtesy of PR Rep

Emily Henson, Interior Designer, Art Director, and Stylist, tells Fashion Reverie “there is always room for change and exploration.” Henson started designing fashion in Los Angeles and Seoul and has since moved into styling and set design for photography and film as well as writing interior design books and directing shoots in her Margate abode. For her, life is almost like a set where the pieces can be arranged to create new gorgeous combinations and feelings. The young girl bouncing around her mom’s London-based antique shop wearing oversized shoes on her feet and a 1940s fox fur stole around her neck is now writing her fifth book amongst the raw walls and exposed ceilings of her newly bought home, and still sees the world as a brightly lit house with an endlessly stretching ceiling.

Even though she has certainly grown into those antique shop oversized shoes, she’s always looking for something new to grow into. After creating her interiors blog in 2009, Life Unstyled, speaking on panels in Taiwan, and debuting four interiors books—Modern Rustic (2013), Bohemian Modern (2015), Life Unstyled (2016), Be Bold (2018) —Henson is writing her fifth book to be published in 2022 and creating a debut collection of home products.

The same eye that saw the beauty of lace-trimmed peach silks in her mother’s antique shop, now sees the beauty in pinks popping against bright whites and greens, florals arranged in a perfectly unruly fashion, and light seeping in the windows. Henson tells Fashion Reverie about her upcoming book, details her own unique aesthetic, and recounts special childhood memories. Read below for the full interview with Emily Henson!

Image courtesy of Instagram

Fashion Reverie: So first, we know you just started working on your fifth interiors book, congratulations! Is there anything you learned from the first four books that you are implementing this time around?

Emily Henson: Thank you! Since my first book, social media has blown up and I think this has affected some readers’ attention span. Now we consume content quicker and we want information faster. With this book I’ve tried to cater a little to this by writing in smaller chunks rather than lengthy chapters. However, I love the writing part of my books and I have some amazing loyal followers who do read the words rather than just flipping through the pictures. So, for them—and for me—I won’t dilute things too much just to be easily digestible. I’ve also focused more on offering precise details about what we feature—readers want to know paint colors and where a lamp is from. I still get emails with queries about a peach wall color three books ago!

FR: You started from fashion design to display design for Anthropologie which then brought you into interior design and art direction. Throughout history, fashion and interiors have always been closely related. For you, how do you view this relationship in 2022?

Emily Henson: I think they are more closely linked than ever before. Now, we have fashion designers creating homeware collections and interior designers collaborating with fashion brands. Perhaps it’s to do with the emergence of the lifestyle brand—one company to provide you with everything from socks to bed sheets and candles to lip gloss. The thinking goes, if I like a lamp you design, then I’ll probably like a dress, as well.

FR: You’ve lived in Los Angeles and London and I’m sure you have also traveled to other interesting places. Is there a certain interior aesthetic specific to one culture that is your favorite?

Emily Henson: When I lived in Los Angeles, I missed that eccentric, almost tongue-in-cheek British style that you don’t see as much there. I’m always drawn to interiors that are a bit imperfect whether that means a clash in colors or an unexpected mix of furniture and in Los Angeles, at least when I lived there, things seemed a bit more polished and perfect. Now that I’ve been back in the UK for over ten years, I miss that gorgeous Los Angeles light where you can have white walls and simple furniture and somehow it still glows. In general, I’m inspired by many places I’ve visited, from Texas to Tulum, but somehow, they all get blended with my own style to create an eclectic mélange.

Image courtesy of Instagram

FR: I really love your art as well as your styling, what art print of your own makes you the happiest? My personal favorite is the “Peonies in Bloom!”

Emily Henson: Thank you! My favorites of the current collection are Pinks & Stripes and Wild Bouquet which are different colorations of the same illustration. I loved drawing them and then experimenting with variations in color and seeing how it changes the way I feel about the piece.

FR: If you could create a floral arrangement that represents you best, what would it look like?

Emily Henson: My friend Yolly (@yolandachiaramello) is an incredible florist and her work is me in floral form! Mostly locally grown, the bouquets are a bit wild and unruly in a good way, with intoxicating colors, and versions of ordinary flowers you’ve never seen before (frilled and striped tulips!). They are tied with luxurious ribbons or displayed in vintage vases. If I were a bouquet, that would be it.

Image courtesy of Instargram

FR: Do you tend to gravitate toward a particular color palette in your interior design, art direction, and artwork?

Emily Henson: I’ve always been drawn to color in general, although for art direction for clients it’s all about their brief rather than my personal preference. In my own design and artwork, I’ve always loved to use a pop of red, rarely a popular color in interiors until recently! But mixed with pinks and greens and a backdrop of white—it’s my favorite.

FR: I love the passage in Be Bold when you compare a mosaic of tattoos to interior design in a home. You write that homes should reflect who we are. So, how does your home reflect who you are?

Emily Henson: My homes are always evolving, never done, experimental, a bit rough around the edges and that sums me up pretty well! I’m currently writing from what is essentially a building site—the new house I just bought—and I find it weirdly liberating sitting amidst raw walls and exposed ceilings. When a place is unfinished there is still so much possibility. I guess I feel that way about my life, too. There is always room for change and exploration.

FR: I saw on your Instagram that your mom had an antique shop in London when you were young, and you have fond memories of costume designers and actors coming in to find vintage pieces. Are there a few pieces you can remember seeing in the antique shop when you were young that you loved?

Emily Henson: Of course, this is very un-PC, and I’m also a vegetarian now, but I remember parading around with a fox fur from the 1940s around my neck, over my school uniform. The classic scene of a little girl with too big shoes on, parading around the shop with my fur. She also had this huge antique cabinet with drawers with glass handles—inside was the lingerie. Picture peach silk negligees and short sets with the daintiest lace edging. So beautiful.

Image courtesy of Instagram

FR: Whether you’re styling interiors, photoshoots, or writing your books, you spend a lot of your time creating mood boards. What type of mood/aesthetic do you often feel most inspired by?

Emily Henson: It changes as my life changes, but I am always drawn back to a backdrop of clean whites and neutrals with pops of color and soft pattern layered over. Fresh, light, a bit imperfect, color, but not too much. Nowadays, there also has to be a modern element, whereas 20 years ago I loved a similar look but a lot more retro/vintage.

—Tessa Swantek

 

Stay in touch with Emily Henson!

@emilyhensonstylist on Instagram

@lifeunstyled on Instagram

Lifeunstyledblog.com

Emilyhensonstudio.com

For Wedding Planner Gigi McDowell, Necessity Is Not Only the Mother of Invention, It Is Also Profitable

Wedding planner Gigi McDowell understands that necessity is the mother of invention. In fact, she lives it every day.

When Gigi hit a bump in the road when a friend could not afford her services as a wedding planner, Gigi found a solution for not just her friend but for other consumers. What started out as way to bring wedding vendors and service providers and consumer together has morphed into a viable, profitable business that is making waves in the wedding industry.

Gigi McDowell

Gigi McDowell took time from her very hectic schedule to talk to Fashion Reverie about her business, Fetefully, and how her  innovation is taking root in the wedding indust

Fashion Reverie: How did you develop this love for wedding planning?

Gigi McDowell: I first became interested in the wedding industry at a young age, from the age of five to be exact. I was looking at a bridal magazine, and without my mom’s knowledge, I secretly subscribed to that magazine.

FR: How did subscribe to a bridal magazine at that tender age?

Gigi McDowell: I am an only child and I have always been super independent. I loved the bridal publication that I was looking at and wanted to continue to get the magazine every month, so I decided to subscribe. I knew where my mother kept her credit cards, so I subscribe to that bridal publication with my mother’s credit card. When my mother got her credit statement, she couldn’t figure out how this bridal magazine subscription was on her monthly credit card statement. I finally confessed to my mother that had used her credit card to purchase the subscription.

My mother was shocked and flabbergasted why a young child would want a subscription to a bridal magazine. I explained to my mother that I wanted to be a wedding planner. Even though my mother supported my career aspirations, she didn’t take me seriously at that young age.

For my sixth birthday party, my mother allowed me to create a fake wedding as a theme for my birthday party. Everyone came to the party in their Sunday best, and I had a wedding cake as my birthday cake.

FR: How did you get started in the wedding planning business?

Gigi McDowell: I planned my first wedding when I was 13 years old. I was paid $250, which for me, at that time, was a fortune. And from there I stated planning weddings for fellow parishioners at my church. I also used to plan house parties for school classmates. I also helped plan events in college.

I was informed by a college professor that I would not be able to make enough money as a wedding planner. So, after college I took a job in another field, and I was miserable. This job was so horrible that I went back to my first love, planning weddings. And, I have not looked back since.

FR: You saw an opportunity in the wedding planner business, and you grabbed this opportunity. Could you talk about that?

Gigi McDowell: In was living in Oklahoma City and I had put a lot of work into my wedding planning business. I was trying to get high-end clients who could spend tens of thousands of dollars on their weddings. I want to get those kinds of clients where your creativity can soar, and not have a limited budget.

I had a client who knew my work because I had planned her brother’s wedding. This client’s budget was much smaller, and she was having trouble paying for my services. I referred her to wedding planning books and wedding planning services online. She informed me that she had tried those options but that these alternatives were not working for her.

Because I was deep into planning her wedding and I knew her family very well, I decided to plan her wedding at no charge. At that time, my wedding planning business was my only source of income, so working from free was not an option I could take on more than one time.

Also, I was encountering wedding industry professionals who had to take on jobs outside of the wedding industry just to make ends meet. From those two conflicts I produced a concept that brings consumers who cannot afford a wedding planner together with industry professionals in need of more work opportunities. And that is how I started Fetefully.

Fetefully ensures that every bride can have the wedding of her dreams, regardless of budget, culture, or location. Fetefully helps to eliminate all the stress and expectations that come with planning a wedding. As I researched more deeply, I learned that there a more than 2 to 3 million weddings in the US and only a fourth of those weddings employ a wedding planner. And that is due to what is perceived as the unaffordability of a wedding planner. Fetefully helps to bring all the wedding services to together so that your very special day is more affordable.

FR: What is the cost of a typical wedding planner?

Gigi McDowell: It depends on the experience of the wedding planner and what you want that wedding planner to do. The mid-tier price of a wedding planner is $8,000 to $10,000, and luxury planners charge upward of $30,000. You have day coordinators who charge around $1,500 for the day. There is a wide spectrum of price points.

FR: What services does Fetefully offer?

Gigi McDowell: Everything for ideation to getting the bride down the aisle.  We have a service where we can design your wedding and that includes everything that comes with that special day. Whether that is your table scape, flowers, your wedding dress, and everything that can be put on social media. We also help supply coordination and vendor management. Additionally, we can help you negotiate contracts with vendors and other service providers. We can supply day planners that show up on the day of the wedding and help execute from beginning to end.  And, you can customize our services to meet your needs.

FR: What are the price points?

Gigi McDowell: Our price points start at $99 for style and design to $1200 for a full-service wedding planner. You can break payments down to monthly payments. And if you choose the $1200 plan, you have 15 months to pay that off.

FR: I noticed that you have included same-sex couples wedding planning. Could you talk about that?

Gigi McDowell:  My best friend is in a same-sex relationship, and I helped plan her wedding. I witnessed how hard it was for her to plan her wedding and celebrate love. Watching her journey helped me to understand the challenges that same-sex couples face. No one should be denied love and happiness, so I was purposeful in ensuring that Fetefully had services that catered to the LGBTQ-plus community.

FR: What is one of the biggest mistakes brides make when planning their wedding?

Gigi McDowell: The biggest mistake is not hiring a wedding planner. A wedding planner can assist you in building out a timeline and how your wedding day will progress. You have to be very particular about how you plan out that weekend. There is always something that is going to come up. However, if you take a little bit of time to troubleshoot those things that could happen, you will be prepared.

FR: How has the wedding planning industry changed in the last few years?

Gigi McDowell: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the wedding industry. Many vendors have closed shop and supply chains and availability of product has become more challenging. Things that you never imagined would be in short supply have become harder to access. The cost of things has increased because of a lack of availability.

One of the benefits of the health pandemic is that consumers ahve became more comfortable accessing services and vendors online. And of course, that has helped Fetefully because we are an online vendor.

FR: How has your business survived during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have you had to make any substantive adjustments?

Gigi McDowell: At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we were only a year in business.  We went from trying to convince consumers that we were a viable and necessary entity to consumers understanding that they really do need Fetefully.

At Fetefully, we make sure we have enough resources to meet consumers’ needs. When COVID-19 pandemic hit we helped a lot of consumers with the rescheduling of their weddings. Over time, the health pandemic has put Fetefully in a good spot, facilitating our value to consumers.

Images courtesy of GiGi McDowell

FR: What’s next for you?

Gigi McDowell: We have a software platform coming out that will help consumers manage their entire wedding using our software. We will also be adding a celebrity planner component.

William S. Gooch

 

Mark Eric Talks about His Costumes for Ballet Hispanico’s “Dona Peron”

 

Image courtesy of Ballet Hispanico

When thinking of career transitions, rarely do you hear of someone who transitions from classical musician to fashion designer to stage costume designer. And even more rare is the segue to designing for elite American dance companies—Alvin Ailey American Dance Company, American Ballet Theatre, The Paul Taylor Dance Company, just to name a few.

Well, Mark Eric is just that breakout artist. Following the beat of his own drum, Mark Eric made that precarious transition and is rapidly becoming one of the emerging go-to costume designers for dance companies. Though not a Santo Loquasto or Barbara Karinska, two legendary dance costume designers, quite yet Mark is certainly on his way. And his design acumen will be front and center in Ballet Hispanico’s new production of “Dona Peron.”

Mark Eric took out time from his busy schedule to talk to Fashion Reverie about his art, his craft, and his love of all things beautiful.

Mark Eric

Fashion Reverie: You are graduate of FIT and started out designing for several fashion houses. Could you talk about that?

Mark Eric: My background is in classical music and played for operas and musicals. I become entranced with the stage costumes of the productions where I worked as a musician. I graduated my music program for the University of the Pacific, while there I worked in the costume design department at my university. And decided after graduation that I wanted to become a fashion designer.

 I received a career transition opportunity at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). The program is a concentrated, one-year program. The program at FIT is for people who are looking to transition into a career in fashion after having worked in another field or discipline.

After graduating from FIT, I went into an internship and my fashion concentration was women’s eveningwear. And that where I mostly stayed for the bulk of my fashion design career.

FR: Which New York City fashion houses did you design for?

Mark Eric:  I worked for Marchesa and worked also for Monique Lhuillier. It found it very interesting working for Monique Lhuillier in that I traveled between Los Angeles and New York City frequently. I loved that she had her clothes made in the US.

I worked for Monique Lhuillier for four years, mostly on her diffusion line. But after working for Lhuillier for four years, I concluded that fashion design, particularly ladies’ eveningwear, was not for me.

FR: Transitioning from designing luxury evening to creating stage costumes is a huge move. How did that all come about?

Mark Eric: I did like working for Monique Lhuiller, it was really inspiring, sourcing all the fabric; however, I missed working for the arts. The business of fashion is based mostly on commerce and can get grubby. At the end of the day, fashion is about mass consumption. I had fantasized about fashion through the lens of haute couture of the 1950s and 60s and fashion has moved way past that.

So, I made the decision to step away from fashion and regroup. And did all this with no job, no next opportunity. I just took the leap and followed my heart, which was a year of soul searching.

My first position outside of fashion was working as wardrobe supervisor for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. I got the job six month after I applied and I did not expect to hear anything, but they finally contacted me. They were willing to work with me and what I could bring to that position.

Image courtesy of timeout.com

FR: Your bio details that you work with specific choreographers, namely Robert Battle, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Rennie Harris, and others. Why the association with these choreographers?

Mark Eric: I found great mentorship while working for Ailey and the folks at Ailey helped me on the path to finding out what I really wanted to do. While I was at Ailey, I made great connections that served me well as I segued from wardrobe director to costume designer. Many of the choreographers I work with, I met while working at Ailey because they were creating new ballets for the Ailey company.

I happen to work with a wide variety of choreographers who are developing work in their realm. The huge dichotomy of dance idioms that these choreographers work in keeps me always searching for new ways in which the stage costumes can push the story forward and adapt to all the different dance styles.

FR: When you are creating stage costumes for a new dance work, are you sketching and sewing all the costumes, or do you have a team that assist you throughout this process?

Mark Eric: Every process is different, and I work with dance companies that are at various levels of organization from grassroots dance companies to companies that have great resources, like American Ballet Theatre. Ballet X, out of Philadelphia, is medium-sized dance company so their resources can be a little limited; however, I can still produce functional, great stage costumes for dance companies at that level.

At the bigger dance companies, it is more about leading the process from concept, sketch, and research to final product, than sewing the costumes myself. I can employee garment builders in the industry to help realize my vision. I am fortunate to work with four great costume houses—Eric Winterling, Jon Christensen, Colin Davis Jones, and Bethany Joy Costumes.

Sketches courtesy of Mark Eric

FR: Do you have to consider different fabric choices when designing for dancers, and if so, why?

Mark Eric: The primary function of designing dance costumes for the stage is that the costumes do not limit the range of movement of the dancer, especially when it comes to contemporary dance because no movement expression is off the table. There may be a more limited range of movement in ballet of the Petipa period. However, in contemporary dance, the dancer could be tossed in the air in an unusual way or be balled up on the floor and turned upside down. There are no restrictions on the dance lexicon.

For Ballet Hispanico’s “Dona Peron,” I had a particular challenge because this ballet lives in the realm of theatre and contemporary dance. “Dona Peron’s” choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is all about storytelling, and she tells the story of this epic historical figure, Eva Peron.

It was a big move on Ballet Hispanico’s part not to reference the movie or the musical “Evita.” In other words, they wanted to recoat the story. Their Eva Peron story is coming out of their own vision.

For “Dona Peron,” the fabrics must move and stretch with the dancers and the fabrics must also maintain a certain structure because the dance work will be performed several times. It is a definite challenge to find fabrics that relate to the story and reflect that period, but also the dancers can perform in.

Although spandex has a lot of stretch and durability, I did not want to use spandex because Eva Peron was a very elegant woman and would not wear spandex. Luckily, the fabric industry is creating more stretchable fabrics.

FR: What fabric choices or blends did you use for “Dona Peron”?

Mark Eric: The military outfits have military regalia for the male-presenting corps de ballet. We had to find fabrics that looked wool. We could not use wool because wool does not work well with sweat and water. We used cotton blends and fabrics that had a small percentage of cotton wool.

I also like to use crepe fabric that resembles wool. And you can now find great Japanese crepe fabrics. They are a little expensive, but what you get for the price, the fabrics works out very well. And some of the Japanese crepes have a bit of stretch from the lycra blend in the crepes.

For women-presenting dancers we used similar cotton blends and stretch lycra. We use a bobbing net which is a kind of crepe tulle. We also developed boned corsets for the ladies in some of the costumes, which is a nod to the classical ballet world. The costume is a romantic tutu of sorts. It is similar to the Dior silhouette of the late 1940s.

Images courtesy of Mark Eric

FR: Where you inspired by the silhouettes of the late 1940s and 50s for “Dona Peron”?

Mark Eric: We did look at the actual images of Eva Peron from that era. However, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa wanted to abstract that 1940s and 50s look so that the stage costumes would not be a direct representation of that period. We felt the “Evita” stage and film productions had done an excellent job presenting Eva Peron of that period, so we did not want to copy that.

FR: What’s next for you?

Mark Eric: I am moving directly into my next project which is designing stage costumes for another dance work. I have three new ballets for Ballet X that need costumes, one of those ballets is a work by Anabelle Lopez Ochoa, and a ballet with Jamar Roberts. My next big scale work is for the Paul Taylor Dance Company in the fall.

—William S. Gooch

Wilfredo Emanuel of “Table Wars” Gives Great Spring Tips for Sprucing Up Your Home and Workspace

Image courtesy of Naples Illustrated

Fashion Reverie: What got you first interested in interior design in your home country of Puerto Rico?

Spring is finally here. Well, if you live on the East Coast, it doesn’t feel like it. At any rate, with the return of spring comes some very essential housecleaning, physical and emotional.

Remember, spring is the time of rebirth. It’s time to start anew with a new sense of purpose and creativity. And why not start by redecorating and giving a new identity to your home and workspace.

As most folks are still working from home, Fashion Reverie thought it would be great to speak with interior designer extraordinaire Wilfredo Emanuel. As one of the stars of HGTV’s “Table Wars,” Wilfredo Emanuel shared with Fashion Reverie some of his life experiences and some great tips for revitalizing your home and work-from-home-space for the current spring season.

Wilfredo Emanuel: In Puerto Rico, I was studying architecture. My grandfather was an architecture building bridges and buildings in Puerto Rico. At that time, there were no interior design courses in Puerto Rico. I didn’t even now you could have a career in that field. There was this interior design event at my university, and I attended the event and that was my first exposure to interior design as an occupation.

I learned so much at that event. I hadn’t even considered that after a building or house was constructed that someone designed the interior. I immediately switched my career aspirations to becoming an interior designer and here we are!!

FR: While working on your architectural degree Puerto Rico, you studied abroad in London. Why the study in London and what was your experience there?

Wilfredo Emanuel: I went to London on a summer student exchange program. London was a bit of a culture shock for me. I grew up in the countryside of Puerto Rico because my family owned a few coffee farms. At that time, Puerto Rico didn’t have a whole lot of tall buildings and I had never lived in a big metropolis, so many things were new for me.

London was also my first trip out of Puerto Rico alone. I really enjoyed the experience. While in London, I observed all the incredible architectural styles. I was still an architecture student during my stay in London; however, my summer study there convinced me that I should go into interior design.

FR: You also studied in Italy where you concentrated on classic design.

Wilfredo Emanuel: Correct. I love classic design because in that discipline you learn how to create an ambience and a mood that perfectly fits a particular room. Classic design entails creating an experience for different parts of the home.

There were many stately mansions and homes in Europe and many of these structures would have a great foyer to receive guests, a library, a tearoom, huge dining areas, and other living spaces, maybe even a ballroom. All these spaces reflected how people of great wealth lived and how they entertained. All these spaces had a pattern and were connected to other parts of the house in a particular way. Even the surrounding gardens and landscape reflected those patterns and curves and the interior design had to reflect the patterns and harmonious flow of the homes.

Of course, most people don’t live like that now, even if they have great wealth. But there are ways to incorporate elements of classic design into a home. Modern living centers mostly on relaxation and having casual living spaces. And like fashion, elements of interior design come into style and go out of style.

Some years ago, home theaters were the order of the day and then slowly that expression of modern living went out of style as families wanted to enjoy entertainment outside of the home. Now, home theaters are coming back in vogue due partly to the COVID-19 pandemic. I even have some clients that want to create a clubroom in their home. They feel that it would be a safer more controlled environment to have a clubroom in their home. My clients want more interactive spaces with everyone in the same room.

Image courtesy of Facebook

FR: Now you have been living in the US and working in Naples, Florida for 10 years. Why did you come to the US?

Wilfredo Emanuel: I first came to US on vacation after working as an interior designer in Puerto Rico and opening an interior décor firm in the Dominican Republic. I came to Orlando, Florida to visit Mickey Mouse’s house and while in Orlando I met this incredible woman who worked for Dior. She facilitated me getting a job at Dior, where I worked for about a year. However, I realized I missed interior design.

Because I was now living in the States, I had to get certified in interior design. And once I had my certification I was employed by a firm in Orlando. I have now been in Naples, Florida 10 years with my own interior design firm.

Image courtesy of gulfshorelife.com

FR: We know that you are on the HGTV show “Table Wars.” How did that come about?

Wilfredo Emanuel: “Table Wars” came about in an interesting way. I always look at the awards shows on TV and all the red-carpet fashion. I received a call about being on “Table Wars” on HGTV. At first, I thought it was a prank call; however, everything turned out to be legitimate.

FR: How did the producers of “Table Wars’ find out about you?

Wilfredo Emanuel:  We create a lot of table landscapes for charity in Naples, Florida. We had created a landscape table for an elite club, Naples Stables. I had created a particularly beautiful table that seated 24 that was inspired by a chess match. Someone from “Table Wars” saw the table and contacted me about being on the show And, it has been an incredible experience.

Image courtesy of wilfredoemanueldesigns.com

FR: What is one common mistake consumers make when it comes to interior design?

Wilfredo Emanuel: One of the biggest mistakes that consumers make is trying to decorate their homes themselves. People think hiring an interior designer is expensive or out of their budget range; however, many interior designers are quite affordable and most do-it-yourself home projects end of costing the consumer more money than if they had hired a professional interior designer. Most consumers don’t have the expertise or background knowledge of knowing what color palettes work well or which furniture and fixings work best in the space according to the size of the space.

FR: You have worked with several celebrities. What has been your best celebrity experience?

Wilfredo Emanuel: My best experience is walking on a celebrity red carpet with one of my celebrity clients.  And sitting in the movie theater at the premiere of the film with all those film stars, stars that you idolize. It was a very exciting night. I have to say that many of my celebrity clients have become personal friends.

Can you give consumers some tips on how to brighten their home for work-from-home space for spring 2022?

Wilfredo Emanuel: OK, a few tips. Select a place in your home where you are very comfortable. Remember, you are going to spend a long time sitting and working in that space. This space could be in front of a beautiful window or in front of some favorite wall art. I work with lots of colors every day, so I want my workspace to be in neutral tones. Working around neutral tones increases my creativity.

Because we are in the era of luxury comfort, place comfortable furniture that denotes luxury in your workspace that make your feel special. Since you will be spending 8 hours or more working in that space, it is some important to be comfortable and happy.

FR: Are there any color schemes that are on-trend that consumers should consider?

Wilfredo Emanuel: Rounded furniture or furniture with curves in on trend right now. Boucle fabric is on trend, as well. So rounded furniture in boucle fabrications is very popular. This trend matches the casual, comfortable mood that is being expressed.

We are moving away from sharp lines or minimalistic approaches to design. Very berry is the pantone color that is on trend for spring 2022. This can be paired with gold and silver. For this spring season, remember, your color palette should be soft and reflect luxury and comfort. You should use very monochromatic tone structures for this spring season. In essence, you are seeing these same color palettes on the fashion runways.

FR: What’s next for you?

Wilfredo Emanuel: Hmm, what is not? I am so fortunate to have had the opportunities in my life that has advanced my career. I have an amazing supportive team around me. I am currently working on a coffee table book about my life, my travels, and all the amazing experiences I have had. I also will be branding some products that reflect my lifestyle.

—William S. Gooch

Stylist Eric Daman Speaks about the Reboot of “Gossip Girl”

Image courtesy of variety.com

“Gossip Girl,” the popular television series about New York City’s young Upper East Side socialites, has been rebooted for a new generation on HBOMax. This time around, and in the spirit of Gen Z, the show features a more diverse cast of characters in terms of race and sexuality. Fans of the original “Gossip Girl” loved many things about the show, particularly the fashion, with the original “Gossip Girl” characters donning designer threads ranging from Henri Bendel to Gucci.

Fashion played such a huge role in “Gossip Girl,” because it is a challenge to portray a young New York socialite without looking the part. Enter Eric Daman, costume designer of the original “Gossip Girl” series, who was tapped to return and outfit the 2021 reboot. In the decade plus since the show first premiered, the style and fashion trends of the Upper East Side have evolved. Daman knows the who, what, and where of young New York City socialites’ style, and he expertly brings it to the television screen.

Image courtesy of uccexpress.com

FR: You costumed the original series. Tell us about the conversation and process of getting you on board for this reboot of “Gossip Girl.”

Eric Daman: Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who developed the original show, contacted me about the diversity of the new cast, and that the new storylines would show people of different races and sexualities. That was a big factor in me wanting to come back.

I have a legacy factor attached to my name, having costumed the original “Gossip Girl,” so Josh and Stephanie really hoped I’d return for the reboot. I came on board hoping to pioneer some fashion for a new generation.

FR: How did you conceptualize the style of each character?

Eric Daman: My degree is in French literature. I went to school at Paris-Sorbonne University, so it was beat into me to look at all aspects of stories and plot. I carry that attitude into reading scripts and try to peel back each characters’ personality like an onion.

For the character of Julien, I looked at things like how her dad is a music producer and was probably a DJ in late ‘90s and early 2000s. I think about how that would have influenced what Julien grew up with in terms of fashion and what she would have nostalgia for. With her character, I looked at the early 2000s VMAs and red-carpet moments with TLC, Destiny’s Child, and early Rihanna. I thought about how Julien would emulate that for the current day, which brought me to designers like LaQuan Smith and Christopher John Rogers. LaQuan Smith felt so much like a modern-day version of Destiny’s Child at the VMAs.  Instagram was a huge part of my research in developing the character’s style, especially since it’s such an essential plot point in the “Gossip Girl” reboot.

With the character of Zoya, who comes from a different socioeconomic class and is very socio-politically conscious, I had those aspects reflected in her wardrobe. Her tote bags for school are from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) owned bookstores. She wears a lot of vintage graphic tee shirts from the ‘90s. Zoya also has a NAMES Project tee shirt, which is a nod back to the AIDS epidemic era and those who died from AIDS causes. It’s an era that has come up a lot recently as people compare it to the current COVID-19 pandemic. It was exciting to play with sociopolitical messaging through wardrobe.

Image courtesy of crfashionbook.com

FR: The show is set in NYC’s upper crust Upper East Side (UES) neighborhood. How do you think UES style has changed in the decade since the original show?

Eric Daman: There’s been a huge overhaul in style. Upper East Side style has become much more unbuttoned in a way. There’s a more relaxed approach. The advent of athleisure has changed everything we know about how we dress. The show has come a long way from when Blair Waldorf said leggings are not pants. Now, crocs and sweatpants are almost everywhere.

There’s like an alpha and omega of how different the times are right now. We’re reentering the early 2000s in terms of style, and next we’ll be emulating the late 2000s. Fashion is cyclical, so next thing you know we’ll be inspired by the last seasons of the original “Gossip Girl.”

FR: What designers and brand to do you think represent how Upper East Side fashionistas dress now?

Eric Daman: It’s more of an open playing field now. There’s a new interest in thrift and purchasing luxury brands from the past. The Christian Dior Saddle bag is cool right now. People want heritage luxury brands, but they want vintage pieces. They are more conscious about sustainability, and that’s a big part of the fashion conservation.

Thrifting and buying luxury labels second-hand are big right now because it’s sustainable, one-of-a-kind, and not everyone is walking down the street with these pieces. You see people carrying the tiny pink Prada nylon totes again, and those were popular in the early 2000s.

FR: The original “Gossip Girl” debuted in 2007. How have your costume choices reflected the evolution of style in the past 14 years?

Eric Daman: The opulence and ostentatious styling of the old days was heavier handed, candy-coated, layered, and bright. The character Serena on the original show would wear six MCL bracelets and three Steven Dweck necklaces at once. This new generation is more paired back and minimal. Gen Z has a desire to be comfortable and casual, but look incredible and idiosyncratic at the same time.

Those traits of this generation helped me decide how to dress these characters when it came to things like XXL, oversized clothes that harked back to the ‘90s, but done in a modern way. I paired oversized Celine sweatshirts with biker shorts. A lot of old school rules were thrown out of the window for the reboot. The school uniforms were the biggest adjustment we were doing this time around.

New York City is a constant source of inspiration for me. Early in preparation for the show, I was walking downtown, and Grace Church School let out, and there was a flood of four young girls who came out wearing oversized collegiate vibe clothes with biker shorts and Fila sneakers. Hailey Bieber then appeared everywhere in the oversized Princess Diana style sweatshirts with biker shorts. I thought that was the right tone to go with for the school uniforms. School uniforms are so iconic. We all have that nostalgia for the schoolboy and schoolgirl uniform look. It’s a fun vibe to play with.

Image courtesy of Gossip Girls

FR: How did you keep the characters wardrobe choices fresh and current when viewers are so familiar with the characters from the original series?

Eric Daman: These characters are such a different group of kids, and we are in such a different era. It was easy to switch off the idea that we weren’t emulating the original characters, like Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen. That wasn’t the fashion direction at all, which is what made coming back to costume this show exciting.

We threw out the old-world rules. While some of these kids were a bit newer money I’d say, you have someone like Monet, who is the richest girl in school, so she looks more old money. Monet has some Blair Waldorf type, Balmain-inspired moments. Julien has that free spiritedness that Serena van der Woodsen had when it came to fashion, but it’s catered toward more of an Instagram generation and her social media followers.

FR: What brands did you use in the original series that you also used for the reboot?

Eric Daman: A lot of the big fashion houses transitioned with us from the original show for the reboot including Chanel, Valentino, Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga. I had great relationships with these brands from working with them on the later seasons of original “Gossip Girl” and they were thrilled to come on board.

FR: What new brands and designers did you incorporate for the revamp?

Eric Daman: We used Monse quite a bit, and both Julien and the character Monet wear those designers in many episodes. The character Luna likes to wear her Telfar bag a lot. We used more Stella McCartney for the women this season, who isn’t a new designer, but with sustainability being such a big topic in fashion, she was very fitting for this era. Stella McCartney was an early adapter of vegan fashion and faux leather usage.

Christopher John Rogers fashion show in “Gossip Girls” image courtesy of wornontv.net

FR: The Christopher John Rogers fashion show was quite a feat to include in the show. Talk to us about the process of making that happen and costuming that scene.

Eric Daman: That was an incredible coup. Christopher is an amazing designer I’ve had my eye on for a while. Going into costuming “Gossip Girl, I felt he was one of the freshest faces in New York City as far as designers go. His collections felt so linked to the original show with the bright colors, taffeta, tulle, and the debutante vibes, so his clothes felt so cool and current.

When the script came out, an episode called for a fashion show. The producers hadn’t locked in a designer for that. Executives were hoping for a bigger, corporate house to do the fashion show, but after talking with the team we wanted something just cool and downtown chic.

I’m friends with Tyler McCall, editor-in-chief of Fashionista.com, who introduced Christopher and I through Christopher’s public relations team. Christopher was a huge fan of the original “Gossip Girl” and said the show was a huge influence on him becoming a designer. The collection featured in the show no one had really got to see because in-person New York Fashion Week was cancelled due to the pandemic, so the show became his way of debuting the collection.

I worked with Christopher and the director of the specific episode to select the clothes that would fit best within production design. Christopher was very involved and made sure the moment stayed true to his DNA.  We featured models he used in his lookbook and the hair and makeup were inspired by his past runway shows. It was a true communication highway between my team and Christopher to stay true to what would have been his vision.

— Kristopher Fraser

Emerging Songbirds Celebrate Music and Fashion

After a year in lockdown, new singing talent is coming out of the woodwork. With singing competition shows and SoundCloud giving artists access to new platforms, it’s gotten just a little bit easier for young and independent talent to break through the crowd. Fashion Reverie has spotlighted some up-and-coming artists who we’ve deemed ones to watch.

Tamara Jade

You might know her from season 19 of NBC’s “The Voice,” but Tamara Jade was working long and hard to make a name for herself in music before ”The Voice.” Growing up in a musical family, she naturally honed her craft from singing in church to formal vocal training. Tamara has found her heart in the genres of gospel, r&b, soul, and jazz and is continuing to make a name for herself as an independent artist.

Fashion Reverie: How did you find your love of music?

Tamara Jade: I was born into a musical family, so music was just always around me. I grew up singing in church, too. I didn’t really have a choice when it came to music being a part of my life. No one ever forced me to do music, I just loved it. My mother is a singer and was our church music director, one brother is an organist and pianist, and my oldest brother is my manager, co-producer and co-writer, so [he] and I are actively working on music together all of the time.

THE VOICE — “Knockout Rounds” Episode 1909 — Pictured: Tamara Jade — (Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC)

FR: I want to hear more about your educational background and how you started formally studying music.

Tamara Jade: My family did not just do music for fun. It was very serious to us. The whole attitude my family had was, if you’re going to do music, do it at the highest level, and the way to do that is to study.

I went to Suitland High School to their visual and performing arts magnet program. After that, I attended Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Oberlin College. I did the vocal performance program in the conservatory of music and I studied sociology in the college as a double degree student so I could explore my interests outside of music.

As soon as I graduated college, I booked the role of Mimi in Puccini’s “La Boheme” in Italy, but I wasn’t truly happy singing classical music. After that, I did a gospel tour for three months in Europe.

FR: What would you consider the turning point in your career?

Tamara Jade: When I worked with Lizzo for her MTV VMAs performance. Everything changed for me after that. I got to the audition, they gave us the dance routine to learn, and I never felt like something belonged to me more in my life. I made it clear to the casting directors I expect to get a phone call the next day. They called to book me the next day and told me I manifested this and they wanted someone that had the kind of power I have on board.

FR: You were cast on season 19 of “The Voice.” Why did you decide to go the reality TV competition route?

Tamara Jade: I was supposed to be touring with Cory Henry & the Funk Apostles, and we were supposed to open for Lenny Kravitz’s tour in Europe. While I was going through the process of auditioning for “The Voice,” I made it clear that if this show conflicting with the tour, I wasn’t doing it. Then COVID-19 cancelled the tour, so that potential conflict was out of the way.

This was actually my third time auditioning for the show. The producers reached out to me every time, they had wanted me on the show for a long time. Taping for season 19 kept getting pushed back because of COVID-19, but we made it happen, eventually.

FR: On “The Voice” you were coached by the legendary Mr. John Legend himself. Talk to me about that mentorship?

Tamara Jade: John Legend taught me so much exponentially in a short amount of time. From the moment I started working with John Legend, it was like we had known each other for years. There was immediate recognition of who we were outside of who everybody else was. One thing he said to me that they did not air was when he told me I have what church mothers called ‘the anointing.’ This man could look at me singing a Lizzo song and call me anointed. I was sold with him as a mentor from that moment.

THE VOICE — “Live Top 9 Performances” Episode 1913A — Pictured: Tamara Jade — (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

FR: Now that you’ve come more into the public spotlight, have you worked to cultivate your fashion and style to build your image?

Tamara Jade: I hired a stylist. I had a vision in my head of what I wanted my fashion sense to be, but I didn’t have the time to go find clothes to create the image I wanted.

Working with a stylist has helped me learn the language of fashion, so that I could communicate my needs accurately to stylists.  

Fashion is an outward representation of who I am. Even if I’m wearing all black, I still want people to feel inspired when they see me, of course. I love mixing prints and patterns. I’ve learned what colors look good on my skin tone.

FR: Who do you want the world to see Tamara Jade as in ten years?

Tamara Jade: Love, light, and power.

Image courtesy of Ella Isaacson

Ella Isaacson

Ella Isaacson has become a major pop star to watch. The young starlet on the rise has over 40 million streams across multiple platforms and is being produced by Norwegian super producers Stargate, making her the first artist to be developed by the duo. She has a trained operatic voice. She might just be on the early leg of her journey, but make no mistake, she isn’t one to be underestimated.

FR: What inspired you to pursue music?

Ella Isaacson: I grew up in New York, and I was driven to start singing at a very young age. My father was an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor, so he treated a lot of singers. I started classically training my voice at age 7. At 16, I was already taking lessons with major opera coaches.

I also had a natural love for writing and poetry. When I was in my teens, I had a cousin that was a music producer and musician. I begged him to help me record and start doing demos.

FR: You came from a more operatic background in terms of your music training. How did you make the transition from that to doing more pop and commercial music?

Ella Isaacson: My writing came from a place of being a lyricist, and I just loved pop music. When I was in the studio, I found that pop music came very naturally to me. That is what I was drawn to versus performing classical music professionally.

FR: You have over 40 million streams of your music. How do you think streaming has been beneficial to developing independent artists?

Ella Isaacson: It’s has become easier for artists to take more power into their own hands. Record labels have questions about what can work. If you have a voice or sound that’s different from what’s being pushed currently, record labels are afraid to take a risk on you.

I met with a lot of people, but there was the question from music executives about my sound being too different. I put my first song out on SoundCloud, and overnight it had 400,000 plays. There’s no guarantees in this industry; you just have to put the music out there and see what people feel.

Image courtesy of Bong Mines Entertainment

FR: How did you come to get produced by the duo Stargate? They are living legends who have produced lots of artists from Sam Smith to Rihanna.

Ella Isaacson: I had been releasing music online, and I came to a point where I felt a bit lost. Travelling and meeting new creators always make me feel inspired. I was living with a friend in England, and then I went to Sweden and got to meet other creators.

I went back to England and my friend I was staying with convinced me to go out for a drink. We went to a hotel bar, and in walked Stargate. My friend had worked for their publisher several years prior. She told Stargate I was a singer and they invited us to have breakfast the next morning. I felt like Stargate were the first people that really saw me for me. I really trusted them, and it was so natural.

FR: How would you describe your fashion style?

Ella Isaacson: My style is very classic and feminine. I love vintage pieces. Most of my wardrobe pieces are vintage, hand-me downs, or consignment. I love things that have a history. I’ll even redesign and alter old things myself so I can keep them longer.

I’m a big thrifter. I love the hunt. Sometimes you have these really beautiful pieces you come across and you can mix them with something more ‘90s or retro..

Zimmermann is one of my favorite designers, so they are one of the few brands I wouldn’t necessarily get on a vintage hunt, but aside from them I love vintage Chloé, Ralph Lauren, and Mugler. Mugler’s vintage cut is gorgeous from the shoulder pads to the cinched waists. I also love vintage Jean Paul Gaultier.  

Alice + Olivia is one of my favorite modern brands. One time I tagged the brand on Instagram and I got a personal message from the designer Stacey Bendet!

Image courtesy of Ella Isaacson

FR: What’s next for you?

Ella Isaacson: I have an EP I’m working on; we’re working on figuring out the release date.

—Kristopher Fraser

Musical Stars Comment on Broadway’s Comeback

Image courtesy of lovingnewyork.com

It’s back, bold, and beautiful! Broadway is set to return after shutting down for over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most shows are slated for return this September, just in time for some post-New York Fashion Week theatrical exploits. New York is making a comeback and will leave you nothing short of impressed.

The re-emergence of musical theatre is also being helped by hit musical TV shows like “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” and “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” The roaring ‘20s 2.0 is shaping up to be a golden era for musical theatre madness.

As stars return to the stage, they are also returning to the red carpets and public appearances, and of course that means more fashion. Fashion Reverie has interviewed several musical stars on the resurgence of musical theatre, their return to public appearances, and how they cultivate their own style.

Image courtesy of imdb.com

Julia Lester — Ashlyn in TV’s “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”

Actress and songbird Julia Lester brings Disney’s hit “High School Musical” franchise to an entirely new generation. Growing up in an entertainment family, Lester had long been drawn to the world of performing arts, and her big break came when she was cast as Ashlyn on “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” on Disney+, catapulting her to being a highly recognizable face among young television actors. While millennials had the original “High School Musical” movies and Ryan Murphy’s “Glee,” Lester is helping bring the world of musical theatre via television to Generation Z. With the return of the red carpet, she’s also exploring one of her other favorite things aside from performing: playing dress up.

Fashion Reverie: You come from a family where many people work in the entertainment industry. When and why did you pursue acting as a career?

Julia Lester: My entire family is in the industry, so. it was in my nature to be interested in performing since I was a young kid. Had I been naturally interested in pursuing something else, I would have done that, but, from the get-go, I was always into music, dancing, and performing. It was great growing up in a family of performers to nurture the love I had for the arts. I did theatre growing up as well, and that led me to my role on “High Musical: The Musical: The Series.”

FR: Were you a fan “High School Musical” before you were cast in the show?

Julia Lester:  A huge one! I was around seven years old when the first movie came out, and I have two older sisters who are really into musical theatre, so it was the perfect family movie for us to watch. I knew the creators of “High School Musical” were trying to find a way to continue the story in some way, so, when I got the audition for the series, I thought it was the best way to continue “High School Musical” in a way we all love and know so well.

FR: For the past two decades musicals seems to inspire a new generation of fans. Now, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” seems to be building the next generation of musical theatre nerds as one of Disney+’s highest rated shows. How do you think this show is helping propel and inspire a new generation of musical theatre lovers?

Julia Lester: “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” is introducing a lot of people to musical theatre who may not have been familiar with that genre of music or got to be in a space where they were introduced to musical theatre. The show also helps introduce so many different genres of music, while still having a plotline that can appeal to a lot of people. The show writers do a incredible job of incorporating musical theatre into the everyday lives of the characters on the show, and it’s done in a way that’s so natural.

Julia Lester

FR: With outside starting to reopen as we emerge from COVID-19, press tours are a thing again, and there’s been tons of press around “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” How do you work on building your individual style as you’re doing more publicity, especially this season now that your role on the show has gotten bigger?

Julia Lester: That is something I really enjoy doing. I’ve been styling myself for most of our press events. It’s been fun for me because I have a huge love of styling and fashion. It’s been great getting to dress up and put on real outfits again, especially after I’ve been wearing sweatpants every single day for almost a year. The fact that we can go out and dress up again has been very exciting.

A few of the cast members from “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” including myself, got to go to the world premiere of the “Cruella” movie. It was the first real movie premiere since the COVID-19 shutdown. That was a great opportunity to play dress up.

FR: What else do we have to look forward to from you in a post-pandemic entertainment industry?

Julia Lester: I produced a film with my sister, Jenny Lester, called “What She Said” with her production company Shallow Graves. It’s a kitchen sink drama that’s so incredible that I’m hoping it will have a firm release date soon.

We’re also hoping for a renewal to do season 3 of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” There’s been no news on that yet, but that’s what I’m most hoping for right now. Fingers crossed!

Image courtesy of thenewyorktimes.com

Jarvis B. Manning — Al Bryant in Broadway’s “Ain’t Too Proud”

Jarvis B. Manning is no stranger to the world of Motown music. The actor grew up in a family that was big on the genre, and he was previously in the ensemble of “Motown the Musical.” Now, he’s ready to dust off his dancing shoes again as he prepares to step back into the role of Al Bryant in “Ain’t Too Proud,” a hit Broadway musical that focuses on the story of famed Motown group The Temptations. As he’s making a name for himself in song and dance, Manning has also found himself thinking more about fashion and his public image now that he’s getting ready to say hello to audiences again.

Fashion Reverie: When did you first find your love of music and theatre?

Jarvis B. Manning: I grew up in the church, so music was so much a part of my life. Anytime “Can’t Touch This” by M.C. Hammer came on, my sister and I would run to the dance floor and we had a whole dance routine going. If you asked my parents if I was a natural at anything, it was song and dance.

I went to the High School for Visual and Performing Arts in Houston. I studied classical voice and jazz. I noticed there was a theatre program in the school, and we also had an all-school Black history program.

My sophomore year, I auditioned to be a dancer in the Black History program because they were short male dancers. I fell in love with dancing and singing at the same time, even though I still didn’t know much about musical theatre. By my senior year, I was tired of singing classical music all the time, so I sang in the jazz group for our young performers showcase where I got to both sing and dance. That was when I realized I had to do musical theatre as a profession.

Jarvis B. Manning

FR: How familiar were you with the music of The Temptations before your current role in “Ain’t Too Proud” and your previous role in “Motown The Musical”?

Jarvis B. Manning: Very familiar. Growing up, we weren’t allowed to listen to anything in the house but gospel, old school blues, and Motown. I knew the music of The Temptations through and through..

I saw “Jersey Boys” on Broadway and wanted to do a Black version, so of course my next thought was The Temptations. I was working on it for a year, and I put it down and kept saying I would come back to it someday. Next thing I knew, Dominique Morriseau was writing the book for this musical. I always joke with her that she stole this musical from me.

FR: Of course, with musical theatre, costuming is a huge part of any production. How do you feel costuming helped you really embody and develop your character?

Jarvis B. Manning: Costuming helps so much.. Once you get on stage, the costume is on your body, and you see the actual set pieces, it puts you in a new land. I have an idea of what my character would be, and once the costume shows up, it’s a whole different situation.

Al’s main costume was a blue stripe shirt, grey pants, and his hair is also pressed. The costumes make you hold yourself in a different way, from the pants coming up to the belly button to the boots hitting a certain part of your ankle. The costumes are truly the last piece of the puzzle that can put you and your mind in a [time] period.

FR: How do you think the reopening of Broadway will spark a new musical theatre renaissance for this decade?

Jarvis B. Manning: I’m hoping it will spark more space for people who are not the ‘norm.’ We have all heard and seen those people’s stories on the Broadway stage, and the rest of us are tired of it. People who are coming to see Broadway shows look like everybody and come from all walks of life.

If the people who have been creating during this lull and silence can speak up when Broadway reopens, it will be a beautiful thing. If Broadway falls back into its old, nasty habits of feeding the same crowd they have always fed, it would be a major let down to old creatives, new creatives, people who have lost their lives, and the future Broadway community.

There’s the opportunity to allow change. It’s crazy that we must think about ‘allowing change,’ but it’s the perfect time. It might be a forced moment at first, where producers feel obligated to do things because that’s what’s expected, but that could open up people’s eyes to show them the rest of us are capable of creating work that will make money.

When Broadway takes a chance on new formulas, we get things like “Hamilton,” which was a hit. The powers that be just need to let people work and let all people work.

FR: Now that Broadway is reopening and there’s press events and public appearance opportunities, how do you cultivate your style and image as an actor now that the spotlight is back on you?

Jarvis B. Manning: Recently, toward the end of 2020, I started doing more film and television auditions, which have been going well. I had a well-known casting agent reach out to me, who happened to be a Black woman. She had ‘the mama’ conversation with me and said, ‘You are great. Your audition was great, but you need to start promoting yourself. I shouldn’t go on your Instagram and see you promoting everyone but yourself.’

I told her that makes me feel weird, but she told me get over it. I don’t like that aspect of the business, but after talking to her she told me learn to treat it as art. I’m also a photographer. She told me I don’t have to be vain about it. She said find some amazing clothes, come up with some ideas, and take photos.

I’m now cultivating what that’s going to be when I return to Instagram. I’ve been off social media since April 2020. I’m getting ready to come back artistically and showcase myself.

A costume designer had reached out to me and gave me a bunch of vintage clothes. She blessed me with all these beautiful free clothes, so be on the lookout for that.

Luba Mason in “Girl from the North Country”

Luba Mason – Mrs. Burke in Broadway’s “Girl from the North Country”

Luba Mason is a veteran of the stage with an extensive list of Broadway credits under her belt including “The Will Rogers Follies,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” and “Chicago.” She’s also no stranger to the small screen with guest starring roles on acclaimed television series including “As the World Turns,” “Law & Order,” and “NYPD Blue.” This fall, she’ll be returning to a role that she loves. Mrs. Burke in the Broadway musical “Girl from the North Country.” She’s a true triple threat.

Fashion Reverie: What’s your musical theatre background and describe for me the moment you decided to be a performer?

Luba Mason: My love for music and theatre started very young. I was a classical pianist for thirteen years. There was really the question of whether I was going to pursue being a classical pianist or go into musical theatre. I know I made the right choice. I have much more fun doing musical theatre than sitting in a room practicing scales.

My piano teach was also a choral director in the local church, so I started taking singing lessons with him and progressing in that direction. My older sister was an opera singer who studied at Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, so I started studying voice with her teachers from those schools when I was in high school. That’s when musical theatre started to pull at my heartstrings.

FR: You have trademarked your own style of music called Mixtura. How did you develop that?

Luba Mason: My musical background is very diverse. I’ve done classical music and I love pop music, folk songs, and showtunes are obviously a huge part of my life. My husband is Ruben Blades, who is a Latin music icon, so, when I married him, Latin music became a huge part of my life. As I’ve matured, jazz has also become a big influence in my musical background as well.

When I went to record my first studio album, I had to ask myself what kind of an album to record, so I recorded an album that was a mix of my various musical influences. I had songs of different genres from pop, to folk, and I even sang a song in Spanish. By the time my third album came around, I said I had to put a label on this and create my own genre, so I trademarked Mixtura, and there you have it.

FR: Tell me about your role in “Girl from the North Country”?

Luba Mason: The casting process was very quick. It wasn’t one of those three or four callback situations. I got great feedback in my first audition, and I had a good feeling about it. I got a response the day after my audition that I got the role of Mrs. Burke. I guess the director knew what he wanted and I happened to be it.

My character, Mrs. Burke, is a rich Southern woman whose husband loses his fortune during The Great Depression in 1932. We have an autistic son who’s about 30 years old. Since we lost our money, we are trying to find a new place to resettle ourselves and find a way to make a living.

All thirteen principal characters in the show have found themselves in a boarding house type situation in Minnesota. Each one of the characters is either running toward something new or away from something, like a problem or secret. My family in the show is running from a secret, but one you’ll have to come watch the show and find out what it is.

FR: After several decades in the business and now surviving a global pandemic, what are your predictions for the next decade of Broadway?

Luba Mason: When Lin Manuel Miranda created “Hamilton,” that changed the trajectory for musical theatre. He helped make Broadway more contemporary. He brought in a whole new audience and skew of musical theatre lovers.

Also, you’re seeing a lot of pop composers creating jukebox musicals to highlight their music. Disney always has their hand in Broadway. If a Disney musical franchise is successful, they’ll create a Broadway musical from it.

I’m hoping revivals will continue and I’m hoping for some more real creative shows from composers like Lin Manuel Miranda. I think our show, “A Girl from North Country,” is one of the contemporary shows because it’s music and lyrics are from Bob Dylan.

FR: Press events are about to start happening again, putting an emphasis on what talent is wearing. How would you say your approach to fashion and style has changed over the course of your career?

Luba Mason: There’s way more of an emphasis on fashion and style with social media, for sure. Whenever I tell people I have a show or concert coming up, the first question I always here is ‘What are you wearing?’ Everyone wants to see your picture and comments on it on social media now.

I recently was watching the Netflix series on the fashion designer Halston, and on my most recent photoshoot, a friend of mine loaned me a vintage Halston halter top. It was this stunning gold lamé top. The same friend of mine also told me go purchase some new jumpsuits for my upcoming public engagements, and that’s on my to-do list.

Luba Mason

FR: What are some other upcoming projects?

Luba Mason: I released my fourth studio album, “Triangle,” during October of 2020. There was a good three months of album promotion before that, and I got rave reviews. The album itself was filmed live. It was a live recording we had filmed in 2019 in front of a live studio audience at the legendary Power Station Studios in New York City.

In 2021, I started getting more auditions for television and film. I recently also did a livestream performance for soapboxgallery.org, and there was a venue in Brooklyn where they livestreamed the performance.

I get ready to go back to rehearsals for Broadway in September. I also have a benefit I’m doing that goes back to my dancing days when I was in “Will Rogers Follies.” We are recreating the choreography from one of director and choreographer Tommy Tune’s numbers he did for the show. This project is through the affiliation of the American Dance Machine who recreates the original choreography of past Broadway shows. They asked some of the original cast dancers to do the recreation along with their younger company of dancers. Now, we’ve got a beautiful collaborative project coming up in July.

I’m about to start campaigning for the Grammy’s with “Triangle.” I’m hoping to leave a few weeks between going back to Broadway and my Grammy’s campaign, to go on vacation.

—Kristopher Fraser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costume Designer Jeriana San Juan Talks about Her Work in Netflix’s Miniseries “Halston”

Image courtesy of Netflix

In his prime, Roy Halston Frowick was among the pantheon of America’s fashion design talent. The famed American designer, whose life was tragically cut short by AIDS, was arguably the “people’s designer” of his generation. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Halston would rise through the ranks of the fashion industry to become renowned with a name that is still revered to this day.

Halston’s story once again appears on screen in a new biopic miniseries on Netflix. Respectfully titled “Halston,”  this miniseries stars Ewan McGregor and is produced by critically acclaimed television producer Ryan Murphy.

Image courtesy of IMDB

No film about a legendary fashion icon can be complete without impeccable detail to the garments used in the production. Jeriana San Juan, the brilliant mind behind the wardrobe in this miniseries. Fashion Reverie simply had to find out how she recreated this era of fashion history.

Fashion Reverie: How did you become involved with the Halston miniseries?

Jeriana San Juan: I had an initial meeting with the director Daniel Minahan. I had worked with the line producer of Halston in the past, and she gave me a whisper about the project when it was early in production. She’s a friend and collaborator of mine, and she thought I’d be a perfect fit to costume the series. Daniel and I share such a mutual love for Halston’s work and his creativity as an artist. We had a common goal in creating this show, and it was a match made in heaven.

FR: Aside from the obvious Halston fashion shows and those direct references, were there other places you draw inspiration from for the costumes?

Jeriana San Juan:  To draw inspiration for the costumes, I really wanted to highlight as much contrast between Halston’s aesthetic and the rest of the fashion landscape. I wanted to highlight how modern he was in his aesthetic and how minimalism along with very close attention to construction, detail, and fabric was the key to his success. Halston’s idea of centering glamour around comfort was revolutionary at that time. It was something that really changed the face of fashion. I have such a deep respect for it. He really had a respect for women by making women feel free in their clothes.

I wanted to show the contrast between that and what someone like Givenchy or Yves Saint Laurent were doing simultaneously. Halston’s clothes still look so contemporary and modern today, even more so, and arguably futuristic for the time period in which they were presented.

FR: What period does the miniseries reflect?

Jeriana San Juan: The show starts off in the early 1960s and takes the audiences through the arc of Halston’s career starting with his work as a milliner at Bergdorf Goodman. It takes us to his death in the ‘80s.

HALSTON (L to R) DAVID PITTU as JOE EULA, EWAN MCGREGOR as HALSTON, KRYSTA RODRIGUEZ as LIZA MINNELLI, and REBECCA DAYAN as ELSA PERETTI in episode 102 of HALSTON Cr. ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA/NETFLIX © 2021

FR: That obviously required a large breadth of costumes trying to encapsulate three different decades of dress.

Jeriana San Juan: There was not only a difference in finding a specific note for Halston and his own creative journey, but the tone had to be set for every different decade, including the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. I really had to sink my teeth into what trends were driving the fashion scene during those times.

FR: As you were working on costuming the miniseries, did you interview any current designers who had worked with Halston, like Ralph Rucci or Naeem Khan? Did you reach out to any of the “Halstonettes”, his former models?

Jeriana San Juan: Yes, it was important that I do this story as accurately and authentically as possible. I went to anyone who had firsthand connections with Halston, as well as Toray International, the developers of Ultrasuede, and I met a guy who worked with Halston to develop the Ultrasuede collection. I went to Chris Royer, who was a former house model and creative collaborator of his. I went to her house and went through all of the clothes Halston made for her and samples that were given to her from the showroom.

I had extensive conversations with Sassy Johnson, who was the former head of his women’s wear division for made-to-order of Halston’s company. Sassy originally started off as his personal secretary and had tons of stories to tell me about Halston. She gave me great insight on not only her personal photos, but what went on at Olympic Tower, how Halston would walk into a room, and the details about his shoes and sunglasses, as well as how the other assistants were dressed in the work room. Naeem Khan had a great meeting with me at his studio. He told me wonderful stories about Halston, and I even worked with Naeem to recreate one of the beading patterns on a dress that is featured in the film that Naeem’s father had created for Halston.

FR: Toward the last few years of Halston’s life, although his name was still on his fashion line, there was someone else designing the collections. How did you create costumes around that and what were those challenges?

Jeriana San Juan: The most important thing to me was to celebrate Halston’s work and Roy Halston Frowick’s immense creativity and artistry. I wanted to be as accurate as possible in bringing those clothes to life. After we meet Halston at that point in the story, John David Ridge had was designing most of the garments at Halston Limited. That’s when I took more creative license. I found a few pieces that are featured in the show that were John David Ridge-designed, Halston pieces. I took a lot more creative license to help dramatically play toward the story and the swing of the ‘80s and the “Dynasty” era. There definitely starts to be a bit more creative license taken at the very end of the story and Halston’s departure from his brand.

FR: How do we see the fashion evolve throughout the series? Halston goes from an  unknown fashion designer to fashion star, so through the clothes how to you capture that transition?  

Jeriana San Juan: I was able to speak to a gentleman from Bergdorf Goodman who was a milliner that worked alongside Halston. He was featured in Halston’s documentary on CNN. He said that Halston was always Halston in his mind. There is some level of Halston inhabiting his existence and how he dressed, even prior to the quintessential black turtleneck and black trouser. There is a lot leading up to that to clue us into Halston’s interest in modern thinking and wanting to create vibrant youthful looks. He himself was dressing with ‘70s trends before the 1970s trends occurred. I definitely tried to play toward him always being ahead of his time in any decade.

HALSTON (L to R) RORY CULKIN as JOEL SCHUMACHER, REBECCA DAYAN as ELSA PERETTI, and DAVID PITTU as JOE EULA in episode 101 of HALSTON Cr. JOJO WHILDEN/NETFLIX © 2021

FR: What do you think was the most defining thing about Halston’s style that we see in the series?

Jeriana San Juan: The most defining thing about Halston and his clothing is the way he made women feel. That’s my takeaway from everyone I spoke to who had firsthand connections to Halston. He was so charming and funny, and he had such an impact on people. In my role as costume designer for the show, that thought was always in the back of my mind. I wanted to not only present Halston’s clothes well, but pay them justice, and honor the people who helped me in researching for the miniseries.

FR: Who was the toughest character to costume?

Jeriana San Juan: Joe Eula! He was the creative director at Halston for ten years, and there was so little documentation of him. I tried to use fashion classics on him, focusing on things that felt sartorial, but unfussy and worldly. Joe Eula was also a fashion illustrator and artist who worked with fashion designers all over the world, but he had humble roots and a very New York story. How do you dress a worldly character, who is also incredibly artistic, but is a confidante for everyone from Andy Warhol to Yves Saint Laurent? There are not many photographs of him, but Joe is mentioned all over Andy Warhol’s diary book. I had to invent someone who was creating their own thing and persona.

FR: What was the greatest costume piece you think you did in the series?

Jeriana San Juan: You’re asking me to toot my own horn or pick a favorite child. That’s a hard one, because there are moments of the show designed like an orchestra, like the scene where they recreate the Battle of Versailles.

FR: Wait, so we see the Battle of Versailles (a fashion event in Paris to raise money for the restoration of Versailles) in the series?

Jeriana San Juan: Yes.

FR: What was it like costuming that scene?

Jeriana San Juan: It was tremendous and a very big task. Doing Versailles was a real study in editing because it had to be very clear about what Bill Blass was doing versus Stephen Burrows versus Anne Klein versus Halston in a matter of minutes. To do that, I really had to edit down the concepts, and the color palette, textures, and fabrics they were working in. I also had to build a cohesive collection that felt inspired by each designer.

FR: I know Ryan is very collaborative with the creative teams from set to costume design. Was that the case for this series, or was that not possible because of COVID-19?

Jeriana San Juan: Initially, I did share my moodboards with Ryan and his producing partner Alexis. I was given a little bit more license creatively, and after that initial pass, the director, Daniel Minahan, really took hold of this project and made it his baby. This project is so great because of Dan and his guidance on cultivating a unique voice between costume design, set, and actors. All of the elements came together through him.

HALSTON (L to R) REBECCA DAYAN as ELSA PERETTI in episode 102 of HALSTON Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2021

FR: If you could go back in time and have one Halston look for yourself, what would it be?

Jeriana San Juan: I crave so many. What I’d want is an entire closet full of Elsa Peretti jewelry. After doing this show, I respect Halston as an artist on a whole new level. He really was a revolutionary thinker. Fashion was so democratic in his eyes and celebrated all women. He had a whole tapestry of different ethnicities of women and women of all sizes. We used the word inclusivity now, but he was inclusive early on. Halston wanted women to wear clothes with a freedom of movement.

Netflix’s “Halston” premieres on May 14. The cast includes Ewan McGregor, Rory Culkin, Rebecca Dayan, Sullivan Jones, David Pittu, Krysta Rodriguez, Gian Franco Rodriguez, Bill Pullman, Kelly Bishop, and Maxim Swinton.

— Kristopher Fraser

Despite COVID-19, Rebecca Olson Continues to Make Inroads in Television and Film

You might recognize her from her various small screen roles—“A Wedding to Remember,” “Just My Type,” and “Tempting Fate,” just to name a few. As a matter of fact, actress Rebecca Olson has been lighting up your TV for over several years. Since landing a guest starring role on the hit CW series “Supernatural” in 2014, Olson has continued racking up television credits including “Hell on Wheels,” “My Best Friend’s Bouquet,” and most recently a role in The CW’s widely talked about “Kung Fu,” which debuted earlier this month.

The Vancouver-based actress has found herself at home on the small screen, and in a year crippled by the global COVID-19 pandemic, Rebecca has managed to continue stacking her acting resume with a TV movie, “A Vineyard Romance.” Rebecca Olsen found a brief moment away from the set of  her current project to chat with Fashion Reverie about her new role in “Kung Fu,” upcoming projects, and how she managed to keep accumulating acting credits during a year when most of us were stuck at home.

Image courtesy of wikifeet.com

Fashion Reverie: Hello, Rebecca. You’re in Vancouver right now, correct?

Rebecca Olson: I’m back and forth between Vancouver and shooting a project right outside of the city. We aren’t allowed to travel abroad right now, so any chance to get out of the city with work is a treat.

FR: Congratulations on the projects you’ve been booking lately.

Rebecca Olson: Thank you so much! It’s crazy, because it’s been such a difficult year for so many people. I’m in a long-distance relationship across the border. I have family I haven’t gotten to see in a year. But, somehow, this has been good for the acting industry in Vancouver, in some ways, because of more opportunities going to local actors.

FR: There’s been so much film and television work produced in Vancouver recently.

Rebecca Olson: It’s been crazy. Opportunities with American productions and ensembles where American actors would have been guaranteed a certain number of roles have gone to more actors based here in Vancouver ever since the borders closed and people were unable to travel.

Image courtesy of The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

FR: I want to talk about your role in the new CW series “Kung Fu.” How were you cast in that series?

Rebecca Olson: I was lucky I booked that role prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. We weren’t sure what was really going to happen with the show after the pilot episode. All production shutdown, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen after that since a lot of productions decided not to come back to Vancouver. There was a waiting period of uncertainty. One of my co-stars, Gavin Stenhouse, who plays the character Evan, reached out to connect to see what I was doing. He kept me in the loop, [as] he was part of the main ensemble, so he was likely to hear what would happen with the show before I did. By the end of summer, the show resumed production, and we went back to filming.

FR: Were you getting nervous about having your character cut?

Rebecca Olson: Yes, I was for sure. I wasn’t sure whether they were going to change around the plotlines or relocate. I had booked another small role on a Netflix production during that in-between time, and that production decided they were going to relocate so they didn’t have to deal with the quarantines. The fact that “Kung Fu” came back to shoot in Vancouver was amazing.

FR: What’s it been liking forming working relationships with co-stars between the quarantines and COVID-19 pandemic? 

Rebecca Olson: That’s what’s been so interesting. I shot a movie called “A Wedding to Remember” this summer. As far as I know, it was either the first, or at least one of the first productions to start back up in North America after the height of pandemic. We shot in Colonna on a resort and my quarantine bubble was me and three other actors. Most of us knew each other from previous projects, but that was a very unique experience. Everything was shot in one location and all four of us were constantly hanging out with each other.

 It was a unique situation because usually when you shoot on location, you’re with the same people for a while, and you’ll bond in different ways, but now I’ve got co-stars seeing me come downstairs in my pajamas. Working this way creates a different bond, because a lot of people don’t have their families up here or couldn’t go home to them because of the pandemic, so the cast got so close.

For “Kung Fu,” we shot two episodes I was in before I went on to work on other projects, then almost two months had passed before I came in to shoot for my next scene, and when I walked in, I was immediately treated like family.

I did three movies last summer, and the working relationships I formed with co-stars last year were some of the strongest I’d ever formed because we were only allowed to socialize with each other. You’re living and working together, so that’s something I will miss in a post-COVID world when things go back to normal. I created bonds over the past year that I don’t think I would’ve had under usual circumstances where a shoot day wraps and everyone goes back to their after-work lives at the end of the day.

FR: How would you describe the character you play in “Kung Fu,” because I know your role gets bigger in later episodes that haven’t premiered yet?

Rebecca Olson: What I loved about the character Sabine and the direction they are taking with her is the love triangle. Sabine is clearly struggling with her boyfriend’s ex coming back into the picture, but nothing is ever done with malice. That insecurity is inevitably going to be there for her, but she’s trying to fight against it and be supportive. When it comes to Evan helping Nikki, she puts her own insecurities and feelings aside because she feels it’s the right thing to do. It would’ve been so easy to fall into the trope of pitting these women against each other, and it’s so not that, and I love that.

FR: You describe your character Sabine with such complexity. How did you prepare for this role?

Rebecca Olson: Life. When you get to a certain age you’re dealing with other people and other relationships in their life and history and learning how to navigate that with a balance of great, at the same time making sure your feelings are heard and validated. There was so much for me to tap into in things that I’ve been through in my own life, it was so effortless. When I read the role I immediately connected with Sabine and felt this hasn’t been something that is seen enough. I know so many women who are like this and it often gets portrayed as the need to go after the other women, but it’s not always like that.

Image courtesy of Jenna Berman Photography

FR: In your character development process as an actor, do you typically draw on your own past experiences or do you ever look to people you may know for inspiration and physical characterization?

Rebecca Olson: I feel lucky in that the roles I have played most of the time I was easy to connect with the character. I’ve yet to play a villain, that would be interesting for me. But if I did, I would still find the parts of them that are lovable to make it interesting.

For me, especially with the romantic comedies I did this summer, I build organic relationships with my castmates because then we read better as an ensemble on screen. I’m most comfortable when I can draw on my own experiences.

FR: Television shows and television movies seem to be a real sweet spot for you as an actress. What do you love about working in television ?

Rebecca Olson: What I love about television shows is the potential for growth and arcs that are unseen. Your character can get brought back in later episodes if they are guest or recurring. Your character can go through a process that isn’t even written. Whereas when you are shooting a movie all the action are determined already. With television, another season could happen, and your character could be taken in a whole new direction. I love that unpredictably and how you can sink your teeth into something that is going to evolve. Even with a show like “Kung Fu,” I’ve an found opportunity to change and adapt as a recurring character.

FR: You have an upcoming role in a new made-for-TV rom com, “A Vineyard Romance.” Could you elaborate about that project and the role you are playing?

Rebecca Olson: I play Sam Hart, she’s a journalist who works for a wedding magazine. Her passion is writing, and her dream is being a romance novelist. She’s a total book nerd, just trying to pay the bills. She’s been waiting for a promotion and she gets the opportunity to cover an influencer’s wedding taking place in her hometown. She’s confused because her hometown is a nothing town and can’t believe that’s where the wedding is happening. She goes home and finds out it’s her ex that’s getting married. She covers this wedding of ‘the one that got away.’ She and the ex-boyfriend never had closure, and she has her own feelings, but she’s doing her best to be supportive and be the bigger person and do right by this couple, even if she’s still dealing with old wounds. She and her ex-boyfriend finally figure out where things went wrong and try to figure out what this means for them going forward.

Image courtesy of Jenna Berman Photography

FR: What’s up next for you?

Rebecca Olson: I’m in the middle of working on “American Dreamer.” The cast is stellar. It’s Peter Dinklage, Shirley MacLaine, Danny Glover, and Matt Dillon. I’ve died my hair brunette for the first time in my career, and I’m playing a twin, so I’m playing two roles. It’s been a whirlwind of a few weeks. I’m so excited.

“Kung Fu” is currently airing on The CW Wednesday at 8pm EST.

—Kristopher Fraser

Amber Chardae Robinson Speaks about Her Role in “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Actress Amber Chardae Robinson is now proud to say that she’s been a part of a film that received the Oscar nomination for Best Picture. “Judas and the Black Messiah,” where Robinson plays Betty Coachman, a supporter of the Black Panther Party, tells the story of party chairman Fred Hampton and FBI informant William “Bill” O’Neal who went undercover to gather intelligence on the civil rights martyr. The role of Betty Coachman was a turning point in Robinson’s career, and she got to work with an amazing group of actors including Academy Award nominees Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, and rising star Dominique Fishback. Fashion Reverie recently sat down with the actress to discuss the importance of this film, the history of the Black Panther Party, and how this project changed her life.

Fashion Reverie: How did you get cast in this film?

Amber Chardae Robinson: It’s a funny story. I was living my regular actor life in Los Angeles, and I got a phone call from my agent to do the table read for the parts they hadn’t cast. Ryan Coogler, Daniel Kaluuya, and LaKeith Stanfield were all going to be there. The casting director said there was no promise of a role, but I took it as an opportunity to deliver the material the best way I know how

 When I went in, I met Ryan Coogler, who sat directly across from me. After that, I did everything I was supposed to, some folks would say I went in and ‘dropped the mic.’ I thanked everyone when I left, and I didn’t hear anything for two weeks after that. In the meantime I just became obsessed with the history of the Black Panther Party.

FR: Were you aware of Fred Hampton and his story before you found out about “Judas and the Black Messiah?”

Amber Chardae Robinson: No, I had no idea who he was. After I did the table read, all this extra research I was doing on the Black Panthers was leisure, but some people would call it manifestation. I went to Florida on vacation, and I was speaking at Bethune Cookman University about “Always a Bridesmaid,” another movie I was in. Two weeks after that, I got a call from my agent saying there was a role in “Judas and the Black Messiah” for me. I hopped on a flight to Cleveland and lived there for three months shooting this film with these amazing people. It felt so divinely ordained. What are the odds you get cast from a table read?

FR: Do you know the producers came up with the name of the film, “Judas and the Black Messiah?”

Amber Chardae Robinson: For the longest we were shooting; we didn’t have a title for it. It was called “The Untitled Fred Hampton Project.” When the story of the film broke in the press, that was when I learned about the name of film. The entire time we were shooting the movie, we didn’t know what it was going to be called. It was like raising a child without a name, saying you’ll let them find themselves. The producers wanted to finish the project and feel what works.

FR: Talk to me about the preparation to play your character, Betty Coachman?

Amber Chardae Robinson: I engulfed myself in the culture of the women in the Black Panther Party. They played such a vital role in the movement. I listened to speeches from Angela Davis—who coincidentally was never a member of the Black Panther Party—and Kathleen Cleaver, just hearing the intelligence and gravitas they spoke with was very similar to who I am today.

I have an MFA in acting from Columbia University, and I did my undergrad at an HBCU, so I went from a predominantly Black environment to one with a lot less people who look like me. I had to constantly remind myself who I was and that I was worthy of being there.

Thinking about on my time in graduate school, there was a parallel for me. I tapped into my own strength of being a Black woman at a predominantly white institution. I had to learn to assert my intellect. I’m a Black girl from the South with a country accent. People don’t think Ivy League graduate when they see me. White people back then did not look at these women as intellectuals, they were seen as demonizing, rebels, or radicals. These women need their stories told. We need an Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver biopic next.

FR: What do you think you brought to the Betty Coachman character?

Amber Chardae Robinson: I brought myself and all of the things I possess as a Black woman in this time. I’m growing up in a time that’s very similar, but where racism isn’t as overt. I tapped into my real life and used those feelings as fuel for this character.

Growing up in the South and being Black, smart, and loud, and going off to do things like art weren’t supported. I brought strength, power, and knowing who I am to this role. I learned so much about myself doing this movie as well, and I’ve been fueled to chase after my purpose. Learning about Fred Hampton and the vision he had for us as a collective of Black people really changed me and has fueled me in my current process as an actor and person.

FR: Fred Hampton’s murder has been documented in Black Panther Party documentary films, but there’s never been a feature film about his life. His murder happened decades ago. Why do you think “Judas and the Black Messiah” needed to happen at this time?

Amber Chardae Robinson: So many people are uninformed or just don’t know about this history. I heard the name Fred Hampton before, but I didn’t know the history and issues surrounding his murder, the FBI’s involvement, or the role J. Edgar Hoover played. To this day, Fred Hampton is still held on this pedestal, and there’s a reason for that. This movie has given people the initiative to do their research and learn about the actual issues that are going on. The conditioning of this country has led us to believe things that aren’t true or accurate.

FR: Although the film takes places in the 1960s, many of the issues of race and civil rights are still relevant today. Do you think the story and issues of racial justice will appeal to current audiences? If so, why?

Amber Chardae Robinson: I hope this film educates. The reasons I tell stories is to liberate people through art. The people who don’t know anything about Fred Hampton, Bill O’Neal, the FBI, and J. Edgar Hoover will be educated from this film. One of the things that was really astounding for me about this film was someone in the FBI pushed for a bill to take J. Edgar Hoover’s name off the FBI building after he watched this film. The amount of black civil rights activists that died under J. Edgar Hoover’s watch was astonishing. Films like this cause us to reflect and make adjustments to our society. That’s why I do the work I do.

FR: Most people don’t realize the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover were involved in Fred Hampton’s murder. Do you think the film conveys the historical accuracies and horrors of the situation well?

Amber Chardae Robinson: The film does an excellent job of that. It really gives just insight and peaks into just the surface of what happened. I hope people will be motivated to go do more research about what the FBI did to the Black Panther Party and see what else really happened.

FR: Many people know very little about the Black Panther Party and don’t realize the party was established to uplift all people. How does this film help clear up some of the misinformation about the Black Panther Party?

Amber Chardae Robinson: It shows people Fred Hampton’s mission. The party was created to take care of Black people with clinics and free breakfast programs. We had to protect ourselves because they were killing us. It wasn’t about rebelling against white men. That narrative was constructed because people were scared Black people would want revenge for oppression, but Black people wanted to live and be taken care of after we helped build this country.

FR: How has working on “Judas and the Black Messiah” enriched your life?

Amber Chardae Robinson: For a long time, I had imposter syndrome. I kept telling myself get it together, and I forget that I am worthy and ready to be where I am. I spent the money and had the training to be at the point I’m at in my acting career. After working on this film, I have more confidence in my work. I don’t want to say this movie showed me my worth, but it allowed me to watch people who are where I want to be career wise, and I had intimate conversations with them, and built a familial relationship with them. Working on this film changed my outlook on this business and showed me how I’m going to grow in this field. After this experience, I feel like my opportunities are limitless, and I’m so excited about it.

FR: What did you take away from working with a cast of incredible actors including big names like Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, and Dominique Jackson?

Amber Chardae Robinson: I think I’ve gained another family. I learned so much being around these people, because they are so rooted in themselves. If they are ever second guessing themselves, I can’t see it. Their confidence and knowing who they are and what they bring to the table and knowing no one can get in the way of their journey was a privilege to witness. It helped me so much with myself. It helped me understand myself and made me feel more comfortable about what I do. Going on to the next set, I won’t be as nervous. “Judas and the Black Messiah” is the biggest set I’ve worked on. I’m grateful to have experience people who are strong in their foundation.

FR: What are some projects you have coming up this year?

Amber Chardae Robinson: Right now I’m in the process of taking a couple meetings and auditioning. We are still in a pandemic, but I’m using the time to write my own feature film. Writing has always been something I’ve done since I was a little girl. Being able to write a feature has been an interesting process. It’s kept me busy through such turbulent times, and it’s given me a foundation to come back to while the world has felt like its collapsing around us. I’m excited to share it with the world.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” is currently in theatres and streaming on HBO Max. The film was directed by Shaka King and is a contender at the 93rd Academy Awards for Best Picture.

—Kristopher Fraser

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