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Author Archives: alexawinner

Fall for Flannels

Nov 05 0 Comments

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Deciding to write this blog was more than just a passing whim-of-a-thought, rather, it holds a very absurd yet purposeful meaning in my life – especially my life at present. Yes, we all know that flannels have been around for eons, but what hasn’t been in my life as long as these wily woodsman weaves is my boyfriend, who shall remain anonymous. “T” as we shall refer to him hails from the “northern” part of the country and although he can rock a two piece suit, RayBan’s and fedora like no ones business in the very professional sector that he works in, he is absolutely obsessed with the “concept” of bringing the back the flannel: any time of the week …any time of day…anywhere in the world.

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As someone who feels reasonably comfortable calling herself a fashionista, however narcissistically prophetic that term might sound, I felt somewhat timorous as to how I would approach “T” about his perchance for flannels without, (let me make this clear), ABSOLUTELY not wanting to change him at all, but rather simply trying to expand his mind to the beauty of the oh-so-many other types of “comfy” shirts that exist and may, JUST MAY, perhaps bring the big city out of the boy with out compromising what I love about my boy outside the big city.

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When I reluctantly decided to broach the conversation, (not to mention with the hovering of a slightly broken heart for the pandora’s box of truth I was about to unlatch) I did my best to explain to him that although wearing flannels in Chicago may feel somewhat unique, the truth of the matter is that the hipsters of Brooklyn and neo-expressionists of downtown LA and Silver Lake have been on top of this trend for years.

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To push my point further, but to also give credence to his, we talked about the worthwhile fact that some of the greatest artists of all time were flannel-wearing men themselves (Kurt Cobain, Terry Richardson, Jared Leto, Eddie Vedder). So although I was initially pained to entertain the idea of doing a blog on something that’s novelty has pretty much been on an ever-circulating “trendy” spin and dry washing machine cycle since the evolution of 90s rock, I decided that in the spirit of my love for “T,” but even more so for my general discontent to adhere to writing anything in a blasé matter adhering to social conformities, I decided this topic in particular was worth shining new light on the old. With an equitable approach, I am decidedly hellbent on taking you through the framework of flannel, near and far, from the fishermen of Fargo to the fashion flambeau’s of Florence. Fall in love. I know I have.

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Although flannel is technically considered a “plaid,” what is unique about this pattern worn by lumberjacks and garage bands alike, is it’s versatility stems back to the 19th century. It’s popularity has the unique ability to transcend social gaps and gender, fashion and practicality. Before the days of Sienna Miller wearing $350 Alexander Wang flannels outside of Cipriani, Karlie Kloss riding her bike through the streets of Paris with the all-too-easy-to-spot “no one’s looking at me, are they?” Or my beloved Cara Delevingne posing in  thousand dollar Burberry flannels trenches for international glossies, what had been lost through all this fashion jargon is the true purpose of the fabric, which was to provide one thing and one thing alone: warmth!

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 Along with it’s warmth, the durability and affordability of flannel quickly became popular across Europe. During the 19th century, wool factories in England and France blossomed thanks to the more efficient mechanical processes, which were in turn utilized by mills all over Britain during the Industrial Revolution. In 1889 American entrepreneur Hamilton Carhartt, seeing the need to improve the working man’s uniform in the United States, opened his factory in Detroit, MI and started producing tough flannel garments, a first for the US.

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During America’s transitional period throughout the 19th century, specifically in the later parts, flannels played an important role in the factories and railroads that were seemingly under never endless construction. Flannel, already utilized during the Civil War as a cheap, tough material for soldiers’ undershirts and simple four-button coats, easily found a place as the ideal fabric for workmen.

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At the turn of the 20th century, perhaps because of its association with construction and frontiersmen, the flannel shirt became a symbol for rugged men, as (in many parts of the country/world) it still continues to epitomize today. Flannel’s first acknowledgment in the world of “designer” fashion came in 1975 when legendary designer Geoffrey Beene developed the scent “Grey Flannel”, one of the first ever designer-made colognes.

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Not just any flannel – but grey flannel – became a hallmark in menswear (and eventually womenswear). The 50’s epitomized the popularity grey plaid suits (*to make a distinction, although often confused with plaid, plaid is merely a pattern of woven flannel whereas true flannel is not just a pattern, but a fabric idiomatic with the warmth in which it provides).

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Generations later, through the ever-growing rebellion against the war and the voice of a generation that stood for liberation, flannel resurged with a vengeance the early ’90s as part of the grunge music scene. The shirts that had united America’s working class in the 1950s became a symbol of the anti-conformity zeitgeist. Pacific northwestern bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam were garbed in messy plaid flannels that were both cheap and built strictly for comfort — the polar opposite of the neat gray flannel suit of the ’50s.

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Today we see flannel worn just as much by men as we do by women. And the one thing that hasn’t changed – flannel continues to suspend social classes, religious preferences, racial barriers, and so much more. With that said, I’ll get off my podium and relinquish my dissertation to show you some of the real goods; a few of my favorite flannel pieces, and some of my favorite way WOMEN who are wearing them.

THE “I’M WALKING DOWN THE STREET AND I DON’T CARE BUT I TOTALLY DO”-FLANNEL

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KEY CONCEPTS:

  • Layering
  • Mixing prints
  • Bold accessories
  • Leopard and leather
  • Playing with proportions (tight skirt, loose top)
  • ONE piece of flannel at a time!
  • Let your hair look natural and free

THE “I TOTALLY DON’T GIVE A F*** BUT I’M GOING OUT AND I’M NOT COMING HOME ALONE TONIGHT” -FLANNEL

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KEY CONCEPTS:

  • Black boots/heels
  • Always gold (accessories)
  • Playoff on Rockabilly 2015
  • Leather Skirts
  • “Distress-ive but Impressive” vibe
  • Play with proportions (skinny pants, boxy jackets)
  • Well Taken Care of Hair! 
  • When in doubt, red, black and/or blue
  • Draw attention to the legs
  • Don’t be afraid to accessorize
  • Keep the handbag small
  • Don’t obsess about buttoning the right button or letting your layers do just that: layer!

Ready to go out on your own plaid pursuit? Below I have chosen some of my favorite plaid/flannel items all available for purchase on the internet. When it comes to your wardrobe, don’t just plead the fifth…plaid it!

nfg

bissous

 

 

 

Halloween on the Lean

Oct 29 0 Comments

Stuck with a lean budget this year?

Sick of all the stupid chicks dressed as playboy bunnies?

Been too busy to get around to costume shopping and looking for a last minute DIY?

Alas, SGABW has a solution!

If you have $12 to spare, I’ve prepared some very quick last minute costumes for a girl on the go who wants to look sassy and not [like a] ho. If you’re a reader of my blog, then I’m fairly certain you already own most of the basic components of the costume:

1) Black leggings, jeggings, or skinny jeans.

2) Black heels, boots or converse

See, this isn’t that painful so far, is it?

The next step: Purchasing a tee-shirt (or using one of your own solids!)

By using a professional screen printer, fabric pens, or just a simple sharpie, you can copy one of the ideas below.

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Even my mom made me a custom Halloween shirt when I was 7 months old!

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Last but not least? For ~$15 (or less!) you can buy some basic face paint and skeletonize your smirk.

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Feeling fancy? Other fun (and budget friendly items!) include:

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Skull Ring

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Wings

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Halo Headband

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Dark Kitty Headband

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Fingerless Gloves

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Spike Earrings

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Fedora

So let’s recap, what will your final outfit look like?

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Happy Halloween!

bissous

Watch Out

Oct 21 0 Comments

  What’s the one accessory that transcends time itself? A watch, silly! Okay, bad fashion joke, however what’s not bad is sporting a killer timepiece that can transcend your look from average to awe-worthy. A recent study from Business Insider shows that the first (of nine) things that a person judges another person by is their handshake. And what does one notice when shaking hands? A watch! Forbes also impresses the importance of the watch in their article “5 Ways to Make a Killer First Impression,” stating that “Clothes, make-up, jewelry, watches and shoes are all types of ornamentation and people definitely take these into account when making initial judgments… For many men, they do not realize that their watch can say a lot about them. For women, purses and large earrings or jewelry *(such as watches) can also indicate a lot to a new person they are meeting. Make sure that what you are wearing…says what you want it to say to the people you are meeting for the first time.”

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Watches as we know them (those worn on the body) were first invented in the late 1400’s by Peter Henlein of Germany, though many believe the origin of the word “watch” comes from England because it was used for watchmen to keep track of their shifts. The watches worn during this period were  powered by winding a mainspring which turned gears and then moved the hands, thus keeping time with a rotating wheel known as a “balance wheel.”

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The 1960s was a revolutionary time as the “Quartz” watch was invented. Instead of keeping time on a balance wheel it ran on electricity and kept time with a vibrating quartz crystal. During the 1980s quartz watches took over the market from mechanical watches. Although mechanical watches still sell at the high end of the market, the vast majority of watches now have quartz movements.

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Below I have compiled a wide variety of watches, some old, some new, some yellow, some blue, that are categorized into appropriation of gender and generation. Per usual, I always try to include a wide spectrum of price ranges so there is usually something affordable for every budget. As they say “time heels all wounds and time wounds all heels,” so kick up your shoes and shop for a watch!

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watch50

watch60

bissous

Jump Around!

Oct 17 0 Comments

This summer was all about romping around in rompers, so it should be of no surprise that this Fall we’re going to be jumping right into jumpsuits. Although we haven’t seen a jumpsuit revival quite like this since the 1970’s, they call them JUMPsuits for a reason. Once you have found the right one (which I am here to help you with), you can literally jump right into it and make a nearly effortless super quick jump in and out of your closet, seamlessly moving on with your day. Even my mother, Nan Ruvel, who is an always on the go interior designer, couldn’t help but boast about how absolutely in love with this trend she was *(a trend that at her age, my age, and truly any age, women can all JUMP on board with!) In fact, mom was so excited at the prospect of today’s blog subject she insisted on making her first SGABW cameo appearance in her favorite polka jumpsuit. I styled mom by adding pearls to bring out the pattern and (not pictured) she threw on a casual white denim jacket to keep warm in the cool Fall weather (although dare I say, doesn’t my mom look hot?! xo!

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Even though my mother is a celebrity in my eyes (wink wink), many “real” celebrities are jaunting in jumpsuits with an enviable yet attainable panache from day to night. From supermodels like Petra Nemcova to actresses like Emma Stone, some of my favorite celebrity “jumpers” are absolutely killing it in this trend.

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There are loads of great jumpsuits available on nearly every woman’s budget, however finding the perfect jumpsuit for Fall is very similar to finding the right diamond; pay close attention to cut and color. When it comes to cut, the trend for the bottom right now is a loose billowing leg or a straight cut above the ankles. On top the cut is not so much about a “trend” as it is about choosing something that is both flattering and occasion appropriate. On the subject of color, the laws of the land are pretty obvious but I will lay them out for you just in case; black is always safe, sticking to solid colors as opposed to prints generally bodes better for Fall, and please, PLEASE, don’t feel stupid if you’re looking for a solid orange jumpsuit and can’t find one (or worse yet if you do, and fail to accessorize properly)… because when someone yells “Piper Chapman!” at you, you better hightail it back to Litchfield before I send the real fashion police on you.

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 With that said, below I have compiled some of my favorite jumpsuits available online and paired them in a creative, albeit methodical, layout that I like to call the 4 S’s to Success.

The aforementioned S’s work as follows: S + S + S + S = Success

Start with the Suit

add the

Shoe

add the

Sweater/Sheath/Scarf/Shell

add the

Supplement

= Success!

Still not making sense? Take a look below to see a variety of xSamples ; )

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With so much inspiration, you may very well be JUMPing out of your seat to go buy a jumpsuit. However, many of my more practical readers may find themselves wondering; Can I still transition my shorter romper into Fall? The answer: yes. The reality is that you need to be creative with it though. Work around the nature of the short hem and skimpier cuts by introducing simple yet clever pieces to your look such as wraparound skirts, leggings, and above-the-knee boots.

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bissous

 

7 Days of CARAcatures

Oct 13 0 Comments

Love her or hate her, Cara Delevingne is undisputedly the model of the moment. Those eyebrows, that walk, her style – everything about her screams supermodel.

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What I like most about Cara, and makes me believe there is more than two years of longevity in her career, is her multifaceted talents that expand beyond the catwalk. Cara is a consummate music fanatic; herself a drum player and singer (prepare yourselves for the upcoming duet of Cara and Pharell in the latest Chanel ad campaign!), as well as a contributing designer for brands such as DKNY. Whatever she does, you can tell that this saucy Brit truly walks to the beat of her own drum  (excuse the drum pun).

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At 5’7, when most models are at least 5’9, Cara owns every inch of her presence when she walks into a room, almost like a modern day Kate Moss. Unlike the other girls who show up to castings in black shirts and jeans, Cara has a style so uniquely her own that she makes jaunting around Le Carrousel du Louvre look like a fashion show in and of itself.

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Born into an aristocratic family in Hammersmith, London, Cara was one of three sisters (including model Poppy). Fashion and success were almost fortuitously fateful as her paternal grandfather is the renowned Condé Nast executive Nicholas Coleridge, and her maternal grandfather was executive and English Heritage chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens. Being immersed in such a high brow fashion world at an early age led Cara to her first official assignment at age eleven in an editorial shot by Bruce Weber for Vogue Italia. After a break from the modeling world, in 2009 Cara was once again discovered by Sarah Doukas of Storm Management (the scout who ironically was responsible for discovering Kate Moss). Since then Cara has walked the runways and landed the campaigns of companies such as Burberry, Chanel, Tom Ford, and Yves Saint Laurent to name a few.

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So, like any stylist, I thought I would have a little fun and dress Cara up for a Chicago Fall week. Where she’s going – I have no idea, but I tried to remain true to both her own unique style as well as mine. AND, to make things just a little bit sweeter, I tried to replicate her outfits at an affordable cost. Have some fun with my CARAcatures and be sure to comment and let me know which ones are your favorites!

Goofy CARAcature #1cara1

How to Get the Look for Less?

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Goofy CARAcature #2CARA2

How to Get the Look for Less?

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Goofy CARAcature #3CARA3

How to Get the Look for Less?

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Goofy CARAcature #4cara4

How to Get the Look for Less?

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Goofy CARAcature #5cara5

How to Get the Look for Less?

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Goofy CARAcature #6cara6

How to Get the Look for Less?

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Goofy CARAcature #7cara8

How to Get the Look for Less?

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bissous

SIGN up for Fall

Oct 12 1 Comments

By now, if you are a reader of my blog you invariably share at least some common interests with me, namely fashion and astrology. If you have followed my blog over the past few years, you will note that from time to time I always like to throw in a post about astrology and how the colors behind the astrological signs relate to our present lives. Since the seasons are changing and Fall is at our doorstep, I thought it befitting to provide you with a guide, sign by sign, of what you should be flaunting, favoriting, and fixating upon as you step outside this Fall.

Author Spring Liao presents us with a table that matches sign by sign your specific color for Fall 2015, as well as some other interesting tid bits about what to expect from your spirit, body, and mind these next few months.

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 astaries

asttaurus

astgemini

astcancer

  astleo

 astvirgo

astlibra

webscorp

websagi

webcapri

webaqua

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bissous

AKIRA: Look Like A Million, Spend Under $100

Oct 07 0 Comments

Whether you’re in college or not, all of us understand that it’s just not fiscally responsible these days to buy head to toe designer pieces season after season. While I am all for buying high and low and mixing it together, sometimes it’s nice to be able to put together what looks like an Oscar de la Renta to the world but feels like a trip to the Salvation Army to your wallet. With that said, I would like to introduce you, my loyal viewers, to one of my favorite online stores, Akira.

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I had the pleasure of working for Akira over a year ago in their warehouse, styling many of their online looks that are similar to those that you will see posted here today. The name Akira originates from one of the owner’s names, Erika, who decided that her name phonetically pronounced backwards (and “artistically altered” a little bit) felt like the perfect fit for a distinctly original name for the stores.

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In addition to having online stores, Akira also has unique and consumer conscious boutiques all around the Chicago area. Today I am specifically focusing on what is available on the online boutique so that those of you who don’t live in this treacherously windy city can have a taste of the fun, too. I have compiled outfits from their website, ShopAkira.com, that for under $100 are meant to emulate exactly what you are seeing on the runways and red carpets. Buyers beware though; Akira’s turnover rate is EXCEPTIONALLY high so if you see something you like today, there is a very good chance it may not be there tomorrow. As Erika might say, NUF EVAH! (backwards for those of you slow catcher-oners).

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bissous

 

Hats Off Tibet!

Sep 20 0 Comments

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a deep affinity for all things Asian. I even have a two foot sumo wrestler statue in my living room. That aside, it is always a pleasure (and a treasure) when I come across a store that has unique findings from the far east. Stores like Takashamiya are lovely, and I have no qualms with commercialism, but there’s always something delightful in knowing that something you own is yours and yours alone – not mass produced, not found in America, perhaps not even from this century.

One of my favorite findings that I have recently come across is a Tibetan store called Do Kham. Do Kham is run by a man named Phelgye Kelden who, himself, is equally as intriguing as his store. Mr. Kelden arrived in the United States from Tibet in 1979 due to the Chinese occupation of his homeland. The move was not an easy one, as Tibet is a country of such extraordinary beauty and New York city is, to put it mildly, the polar opposite of Tibet.

Mr. Kelden Himself

Having studied Tibetan art and culture in India as well as learning practical sewing and design skills from his family, Mr. Kelden decided to bring a piece of his homeland to a city that knew so little of it. Thus said, Mr. Kelden opened a store called Do Kham (meaning Realm of Desire) located at 51 Prince Street in Manhattan. Mr. Kelden’s store is a mixture of both his personal designs as well as pieces he has found along his travels that interest him, ranging from scarves to coats to jewelry and even perfume bottles.

A Selection of Antique Jewlery

Although I could easily photograph (and wish I could purchase!) nearly everything in the store, what inspires me most are the hats that Mr. Kelden himself creates by hand. The Tibetan hats that he was exposed to in the 70’s were, in his words, “unrefined and not presentable” to show to the American market. He decided the style of the traditional hat was beautiful enough that something could (and should) be done about them so he began to create his own line of traditional Tibetan hats that had more of a fashionable “New York” flare to them.

His efforts clearly proved worthwhile as soon enough the his hats and various other designs were being featured in the likes of Vogue and Elle magazines.

Scarf, Vest and Bag ALL Designed by Mr. Kelden

Mr. Kelden makes all of the hats himself, and they are handcrafted with Tibetan wool and silk brocades that are handwoven in India and Tibet.

While most of his hats are lined with fox fur, Mr. Kelden also tries to help the environment accommodate his varied customers by creating “vegetarian” hats as well (a.k.a. fake fur – LOVE that term!) Mr. Kelden uses the best replicated “vegetarian” furs so you can seldom tell the difference between the real furs and the fakes.

A “Vegetarian” Hat

No two hats are the same, and by appointment Mr. Kelden will design a unique hat for you based upon the color palate and furs you desire.

For more information on Do Kham you may go to www.dokhamny.com or call 212.966.2404

Fierce Like Venom: Taylor Taxin

Sep 20 0 Comments

Jewelry designer Taylor Taxin isn’t your typical cutesy one-hit wonder; with the middle name “Jade” she was essentially predestined to design jewelery.

Retail Value $35

Taxin began designing jewelry as a child as a means to enhance her outfits. It didn’t matter what she was wearing; what was more important to her was what she added to it. That philosophy still maintains today with Taylor’s unique and charming pieces that give any outfit that little extra je ne sais quoi. 

Retail Value: $50

Snakes are one of Taxin’s main inspirations and accordingly so, she has branded her present line as Venom by Taylor Taxin. As a side note, venom actually works quite well for Taylor as she herself is just as impressive, beautiful and cunning as a snake.

Retail Value $40

So What is next for Ms. Taxin? After the success of Venom, Taylor is looking to take a more subtle approach with a line she is in the process of developing based off of Buddhist ideals, symbols, and color schemes. And no, she is just not just throwing the skulls into her designs like so many designers do ala Alexander McQueen; Taxin has a purpose for their use and understands why and where they came from (something I didn’t even know). The use of the skull in jewelry, at least in the Tibetan culture, is to be worn as prayer beads to contemplate the meaning of life and death during meditation. Based off the sheer amount of jewelery Taylor has been producing, I can’t imagine she has much time to contemplate anything other than work!

Retail Value $35

Taylor Taxin Jewelry can be purchased on her Facebook website,  and direct orders (custom too!) can be placed by emailing her at taylorjadetaxinjewelery@gmail.com

*MY PERSONAL FAVORITE, Retail Value $90

And with prices starting as low as $20, YOU TOO should “contemplate” purchasing one of her pieces!

 

 

Love it or Haiti it

Sep 20 0 Comments

To my loyal blog readers, I’d first and foremost like to wish all of you a happy and healthy new year. I have not posted for the past two weeks as I have been traveling in Haiti with an extraordinary foundation called Wings Over Haiti.

Nearly a year ago, one of the most devastating earthquakes in recent history erupted directly in the center of the capital city of Haiti, Port Au Prince. Leaving over 100,000 dead in a matter of minutes, the earthquake injured millions more and continues to devastate the living inhabitants of the city even today, (most recently with the Cholera epidemic). I could go on and on about facts and statistics but I’d prefer you go to CNN.com if that is what you are looking for. What I am here to do is share with you my personal experience in Haiti; perhaps, if nothing else, to offer you incite into the lives of real people whose stories you won’t find on the news or elsewhere on the internet. Love it or Haiti it, the truth must be told and I am proud to be able to share with you a visual voyage of my time in Haiti.

*All images photographed by Alexa Winner (with the exclusion of any photos in which I appear).

Featured in this photo is Wings Over Haiti founder Jonathan Nash Glynn, myself, and volunteer Carina Blon (only 17 by herself!) in the background.

Having been lucky enough to have traveled to some of the most compelling and remote destinations in the world (many of which clearly advise travelers NOT to go to unless absolutely necessary), I truly didn’t think twice about the advisory warnings against going to Haiti. Wings Over Haiti promised to look out for me, so it was an easy decision for me to spend my holiday vacation experience in a third world country. Having also recently been lucky enough to be asked to be a committee member for the Carma Foundation (another foundation committed to helping Haiti), I felt that in my opinion, it would be irresponsible and selfish to represent a foundation and speak about a country having really had no hands on knowledge of what I was putting my name on. To show up to a benefit in a lovely dress is one thing, but to sign your name to something as a featured member of the committee to me means that you must truly understand why, what, and whom you are representing. The answer was clear: if I was to accept this gracious title presented to me on behalf of Danae Cappelletto and Melky Jean (sister to Wyclef), there was no way I WASN’T going to Haiti.

More so than many other countries I have visited, the safety warnings did indeed prove valid as I did find myself, at times, in what one may consider compromising situations. Riding in a “tap tap,” often people on the street such as the gentleman featured above would grab at our legs or cling to the vehicle in hopes of getting a free ride…or at least so I believe those were their only intentions. This didn’t bother me. Wings Over Haiti employs some of the most extraordinary Haitian men in the world. They would, quite literally, put their lives on the line just to protect you. And lets acknowledge the obvious truth here; I’m not naive to the fact that as a tall blond American girl I stick out like a sore thumb and am somewhat of an easy target. Being the thrill seeker I am, the incredible Haitian men I was with would cautiously agree to walk me through some of the most dangerous parts of Port Au Prince so I could get a true glimpse into these people’s lives. Thank goodness my Creole is less than mediocre because I’m sure the men looking after me like Shad St Louis censored some of what was said about me by the locals. However knowing he was there to protect me, I could only help but chuckle when an uproar occurred in a market I passed through when a woman about four times the size of me announced my arrival to the crowd and shouted “who wants to watch me beat the blond girl up!”

I can’t take the market insults, or any other insults I received on the trip personally, because when you see an image like the one featured above, it is easy to understand how despair, depression, fear, and frustration can culminate into hatred for someone such as myself. A year later, Port Au Prince looked to me as if the earthquake had hit yesterday.

Not only had the rubble from the earthquake remained, but additionally trash began to pile on top of the rubble creating what has become in often cases worse of a mess than the day the earthquake happened. What shocked me considerably about this, (cholera, sanitary issues, and other problems aside), was when I learned that many of the bodies that had been trapped in this very rubble still remained, dead and untouched, the legacy of their souls forever lost in a breeding pile of garbage.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the unpaved streets were filled with men and women such as the lady above trying to sell the remains of whatever seemingly random pieces of salvageable products (relatively speaking) that they could find. It is the sadness in this woman’s face, and so many others, that tells me those wooden boxes and empty paint buckets have been sitting there for awhile and aren’t going to be sold any time soon. After all, in a city where the only police I saw were in front of and inside the supermarkets, I don’t believe a broken pot is on the top of these people’s list of things to buy when there is no food to put in the pot in the first place.

 Although commonplace, (a man collecting scraps through piles of garbage), as soon as I saw this man in particular I insisted we stop the vehicle so I could try to get a sense of him. I don’t know what precisely compelled me to do this; was it a conversation I was looking for? Was it a high-five? Was it an empty bottle of Mountain Dew? What I realized eventually was that this figure, and I say the word figure for a reason, drew me in because what I was looking for was his face. Physically speaking he was alive, but in an eerie way, he was almost an identifiable enigma. No matter how hard I looked, how many photos were snapped, I could never find this man’s face. This moment symbolized a lot for me. Not only had he lost his obvious belongings, but he had lost the very thing that enables us to belong; his face.

 I call this photo the smashed cake because to me, it looks like a perfectly delicate birthday cake that I envision some child smashing their head into (Okay, maybe I may have done that once). What this picture is in fact is the remains of the palace where the governor lived right in the heart of the city. The entire palace has been looted, and even the whereabouts of the governor himself are a mystery to anyone you ask.

With such chaos, corruption, and uncertainty, it’s easy to understand why you’d not only want to flick off someone taking your photo, but deeper than that, why you’d want to flick off the world.

 On Christmas day, we invited all of the children that attended the Wings Over Haiti school along with their parents to meet us at a building to have a special lunch and dinner with us and for the children to receive gifts. When most of us think of Christmas, we envision Christmas trees, lights, JOY, perhaps even snow. Snow aside for obvious reasons, lights aside for electricity issues, and Christmas trees aside for exportation complications, I was certainly expecting the joy to still remain on a Christmas day in Haiti. Instead, we found ourselves in one of the most awkward situations I think any one of us had ever felt on a Christmas day. For upwards of three hours, the parents and children blankly stared at us as if it were a classroom and they were seated in detention. I had expected everyone would be mingling and dancing and curious to open presents, but instead, those first few hours felt more like we were holding them hostage than we were celebrating one of the most blessed days of the year. Did someone forget to tell them it was Christmas?

 In response to the above question, the answer was no. They clearly knew it was Christmas as many of the parents had dressed their children up in their finest attire. This little girl, who I simply could not stop myself from photographing over and over again, was, in a weird paradox, the most beautifully dressed yet seemingly the most shell shocked and unhappy, remaining the entire day with the exact same face as if she was a deer in headlights.

When we presented the children with their gifts (albeit wrapped in small black garbage bags) I was also shocked at the fact that none of them were immediately responsive to opening what was handed to them. Did they not understand it was a present? Did I not understand how to approach the situation? To me, being handed a gift is so joyful, and to be blunt, fairly obvious that it is what’s inside that matters, not the outer wrapping (you can analogize that statement if you so choose). The gifts we gave them however (and let me add that it was translated to them in Creole that the were indeed gifts) simply remained in most of the children’s laps until it finally became clear that perhaps the reason they weren’t opening the gifts was that maybe, just maybe, they had never received a Christmas gift before. Practically child by child, we had to instruct them and often unwrap the presents for them so they could enjoy the stuffed animals, books, and chocolate treats that we had stuffed inside.

 Sensing we had to change the tone of the day, we decided that we would turn the music up a bit louder and try to get everyone to join us in dancing. For whatever reason, I was asked to be the first to start dancing in a room full of people sitting in confusion. Sure, I can feign my way dancing through nightclubs in New York, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a white girl like myself possesses very little in the way of dance moves, particularly in a crowd of people who are known for their inherent rhythm and dance to begin with. Embarrassment aside, I tried my best to shake my stiff hips and lanky arms to the sound of muffled Christmas music and soon enough (thank god) we began a NON-DANCE REQUIRED conga line that ended up changing the entire vibe of the day. Suddenly the children were smiling, the parents were giggling, and we must have conga’d around the same small room for a solid two hours.

 Although easily one of the shyest of the bunch, this particular student had the most beautiful radiance to her – as if she was angel in starched white clothes that had somehow fallen into a world in which I couldn’t perceive that she belonged. Not to say that any of these children belonged in this situation, but there was something about this child, something inexplicable; an aura she possessed that spread itself across the room. It is something I cannot define, but this girl almost felt like a movie star; mysterious, reserved, untouchable…inexplicably beautiful.

 While much of our days were spent helping rebuild the children’s school and playing outdoors with the children (they too were on holiday, but to put things back into perspective for a brief second, winter holiday doesn’t mean vacationing in St. Barths, winter holiday simply means an absence of homework. The kids still showed up at the school, although unrequired, nearly everyday). Personally I wanted to interact with all of the children, whether they were students of Wings Over Haiti or not. A  child is a child, and if they want to laugh and play, who am I to pick and choose? As such, I asked that we visit some of the refugee camps. While the adults were significantly more guarded and uninviting, the children would often run up to me, sometimes in overwhelming crowds, eager to have their photo taken or touch my hair or show me their dolls.

Lost in a sea of happiness.
The girls trying to braid my hair like theirs. For some reason I just can’t pull off the cornrow…

  So why, you may ask, have I chosen to put this picture consecutively after the picture above? The answer may shock you but what you are seeing right here is a bucket of baked clay; clay to fill the stomachs of those very girls in the picture before. Like a placebo effect, their stomachs are tricked into feeling full from the clay as a means of replacing the food of which they can’t afford.

Bunnies, swans, pigeons, guinea pigs and even a small cat, in my ignorance I thought I had stumbled upon a touching, albeit fairly disturbing, roadside pet store. “How lovely” I thought, until I realized these animals weren’t to be taken home to be loved, they were to be taken home to be fried for dinner.

 With all the malnutrition and mysterious concoctions being passed around, in addition to legitimate illnesses and extreme pain (both physical and emotional) combined with a system that provides little to no health care, and forget about even trying to find a counselor or therapist, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that it is common place to find pharmacists drug dealers your average joe selling bulk quantities of mysterious pills on street corners as nonchalantly as if they were selling bananas. It is difficult to say whether these pills are what they claim they to be (although if I were a betting man I think I’d surely put down my money in confidence that these pills were either completely synthetic, containing 20% of the actual medicine they claim to be, or strictly generic at best, and I too believe that is a stretch). In a private discussion with a Haitian woman involved with Wings Over Haiti, I heard directly from the horses mouth so to speak that these pills will do one of two things; make you more ill than you were to begin with, or do absolutely nothing as they are often made of chalk and other non-effective materials that can be casted into the shape of a pill.

 With all the barriers that are preventing these people from getting the help they need, it is no wonder that it is sometimes just easier to sit down and give up than to try and trudge ahead when your efforts may seemingly feel fruitless. The man in the picture above was sitting outside of a Church, not unusual given that someone who appears to be in as much duress as he is may turn to the Church for comfort. Interestingly enough however, as soon as I approached the Church to enter they immediately slammed the doors on my face and locked me out. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the whole premise of a Church to be accepting of everyone? I’ll do my best to avoid right now sharing my own personal feelings on politics and religion, but for me personally, this felt incredibly disheartening. I genuinely wanted to see the Church. I had absolutely no intention of taking pictures inside, yet for one of the first times in my life, I really began to understand what it feels like to be discriminated against. You can hear stories from friends of other ethnicities who have been discriminated against, but until you actually feel it for yourself firsthand, you truly don’t know how bad it hurts.

Some of my fondest memories in Haiti were the times I spent with a girl name Katiana. Katiana was deaf and mute, and no one quite knew where her parents were. Although I was warned that she had a temper and to be careful around her, Katiana and I connected in some special way that she felt it her duty to protect me, and in some odd way, I too began to feel a duty to protect her. Although she could not speak to me, or hear what I would say to her, she took to me like a sister and I developed a genuine love for this touching young girl. Despite my trying to refuse, Katiana would always insist on grabbing my bag and carrying it for me, on trying to move me out of the sun and into the shade, on slapping my skin to kill the mosquitoes that were about to bite me; truly going out of her way to do anything she could to protect me. Of all the people I met, Katiana felt most like a sister to me because I truly believe she and I connected on a level that doesn’t require speech or sound, it requires love and compassion; something most people get too confused or frustrated by to bother wasting their time with. Because I allotted Katiana the time and treated her as equal to the other children, I realized she had an amazing fascination with photography, often taking my camera and snapping hundreds of photos. In turn, I made a promise to find a way to send Katiana a camera of her own, because as I have experienced with Katiana and other disabled children, when you actually take the time to interact with them and figure out what interests them and what can make them feel special and unique, it is then when they begin to gain a self confidence, motivation and pride that they are able to do something or have something that no one else can. If Stevie Wonder can play the piano blind, then I have every faith in the world that Katiana could be the next Annie Leibowitz.

Now it wouldn’t be a fashion blog if there wasn’t a little fashion involved, and to tell you the truth, this incidence happened completely unintentionally. One day I was carrying my bag around and inside I had a copy of Vogue and W magazine. Katiana opened my bag to see the magazines and before I knew it, all the children from the village had gathered in completely and utter awe catching glimpses of Elizabeth Hurley seductively holding a Dior bag and Karlie Kloss bending in fascinating positions in balloon pants. It was as if I had opened Pandora’s box. The children couldn’t keep their eyes off the magazine pages and I eventually had to succumb to discarding my reading material because I don’t believe I had ever seen such excitement in any children’s eyes before.

*Side note to Ms. Wintour: Perhaps there is indeed a market for Vogue Haiti…

There is an old saying that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Artist Celeur Jean Herard took that expression to heart. Herard will have his own separate blog because his artwork is truly too compelling to only show one piece, but in summary, Herard has made a living off of creating sculptures from garbage and rubble he finds through his scavenging. And yes, the skull above is real, and one of many disturbing yet fascinating ways Herard has taken what would otherwise be garbage and turned it into art.

Artist Celeur Jean Herard’s younger cousin: Living in a studio as eerie as Herard’s, it’s no wonder this little cutie has mastered the tough guy pose at such a young age.

One of the most joyful days for the children, parents, volunteers and teachers at Wings Over Haiti was report card day. Every child was called up to the front of the room, one by one, parent in hand, and given special honors for their own individual accomplishments. The joy on the mothers faces, to see their children not only in school but actually succeeding, brought tears to many people’s eyes.

I also have to give mad style props to another student from Wings Over Haiti. On report card day, this girl rocked her sunglasses with such pride and pazzaz while walking up to receive her grades from the teachers. She didn’t even so much as take the glasses of when she received her marks and handshakes, she rocked the stage with such confidence that we all were in stitches laughing.

Another student receiving accolades for her outstanding academic success from one of the heads of Wings Over Haiti, Shad St Louis.

Wings Over Haiti’s fundamental goal is to build a quality school that can provide it’s students with the best opportunities that we can possibly give them. In the above picture you may see us quite literally moving through the forest carrying supplies by hand, but Wings Over Haiti is already in motion to develop an advanced art and math program, build a basketball and tennis court, create a playground based off of solar energy, and that’s only where the list begins.

As Hillary Clinton once said, “it takes a village to raise a child.” That statement couldn’t be more true and applicable to Wings Over Haiti. And even in our village, the littlest members want to help too.

It’s an image like this with of one of our students that shows her understanding smile and knowing eyes that there is indeed something greater out there for her, that perhaps she can prevail through all the suffering. And for every child with that look in their eyes, we must not give up on them and keep their smiles growing.

For more information on Wings Over Haiti and opportunities to donate and receive newsletters, please visit www.wingsoverhaiti.org

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