A Glance inside the Gates

In the pantheon of fashion, the fashion publicist is the most powerful mortal on the planet.  They hold the keys that open the gates providing entrée to the gods, goddesses and titans of the runway. They are the priests and priestesses of media.  Without proper tribute, your request will never reach the deities of design.  Bravo’s first season of Kell on Earth shined a spotlight on the zany universe of fashion PR.  There are times when Ms. Kelly Cutrone and her team appear to be fierce Medusas piercing an arrow through the heart of any ne’er-do-well who does not have the fortitude to pass the series of tests it takes to make it in this glittery/grueling industry.  Truth is they are not far off the mark.  It takes the will of a titan and skin as thick as a Michelin tire to be successful as a fashion publicist.  A fact that Claudine Desola knows all to well.  She stands at the gilded gates, a place of undisputable power, but as I have come to learn, she wields her force in a benevolent manner.  “I wouldn’t say everyday is crazy, it’s pretty calm right now,” Claudine expresses, “but if you come when we’re putting an event together, everyone is running around and it looks like they have two heads.  I do think you need to have thick skin but not at all points because some clients are super chill. You just have to go with the flow.”

The most important role of a PR rep is to make a client desirable enough that a demand is created, which can also be interpreted as sell…sell…sell.  Fashion publicists look as if they lead a chic, glamorous life, but there is a lot of elbow grease behind all the shimmer.  To succeed at the business of public relations, one must have desire.   “I think it is important to know if you really want to do it or not.  It takes a certain type of person I think to be in PR because you have to be outgoing.  You can be an introvert but you have to be sort of an extrovert too,” Claudine explains, “You’re essentially a sales person. Do you want be in sales?  If the answer is no, then you don’t want to be in PR.  You are selling something whether it’s a person, event or a product.  Before you have the skills, you need to have the attitude.  That is fifty percent of what we do here.”

Claudine entered Marist College as a Communications major with a concentration in PR and Marketing and a minor in Fashion Merchandising.  While attending classes, she interned at JCrew, WWD and Pfizer Inc.  Soon after graduating with a B.A., Claudine received a phenomenal opportunity to work at Yeohlee Inc.  For three years Claudine carefully honed her skills working alongside one of the immortals of innovation.  As the public relations director/global sales account executive, she oversaw all press aspects of the 7th on Sixth Bryant Park shows, special events, trunk shows and exhibitions.  She was also part of the organizational team for ENERGETICS: Clothes and Enclosures, an international exhibition that combined the disciplines of fashion with architect Dr. Kenneth Yeang and designer Yeohlee Teng.  “That was a great experience because I did everything.  [Yeohlee] gets amazing inspiration from architecture [and] artists.  She is very intelligent, besides being talented; it’s almost to the point where you feel silly talking to her so you take notes and look it up later,” Claudine recalls jokingly. 

No one forgets their first time, for Claudine the first show she helped to organize came with a dose of anxiety.  “For the first five years of my career, especially at Yeohlee, I always got nervous, like freak-out nervous,” she says.  But over time this seasoned pro has learned to brush the nerves off her shoulders.  “I’m much calmer now. We just did a show with Kim Kardashian and we did a show with Pete Wentz and Khloe Kardashian.  We’ve gotten to work with some really amazing people so now there’s like a formula, if you do all the legwork you need to do, you’re organized, troubleshoot and if you’re encountering a problem, you let the client know sooner rather than later, there is no reason to be nervous,”  Claudine adds.  

 
 
Another element in Claudine’s formula of success is surrounding herself with an equally talented team.   After leaving Yeohlee, Claudine worked as a freelance publicist before moving to Fonte PR where she would meet future partner Reshma Patel.   At Fonte PR both Claudine and Reshma worked with fashion brands like Urban Outfitters.  In 2001, both Claudine and Reshma left Fonte to create a public relations and marketing agency that reflected their eclectic, “indie” style.    THINK PR became the result of their entrepreneurial efforts.  Claudine and Reshma employ a team of 18 publicists, with boutique offices in Manhattan and Los Angeles and offer publicity, event production, marketing and branding to an array of fashion, beauty, hospitality, design, art, luxury goods and entertainment clients.  “I think Reshma came up with it or one of the managers at the time,” Claudine answers when asked about the naming of THINK PR, “We looked it up and no one else had it.  And that was kind of what we were trying to do, not to be quirky, but it’s like ‘Think outside the box.’  We didn’t want to be so traditional.”
 
 

 

 

Since THINK PR opened its doors, Claudine, Reshma and staff have worked with DKNY Jeans, STYLELOUNGE, Rock & Republic, Too Faced Cosmetics, ArgyleCulture by Russell Simmons, Bensimon, EMU Australia and The Humane Society of the United States.  “A lot of what we do is thinking about how we are going to position someone, like this isn’t just a pen,” Claudine explains, “what can we say about this pen?  All of our clients have something so interesting about them, so the first step is for us to think about it; the second step is to get the editors to think about it.”  Other services offered at THINK PR are celebrity wardrobing for red carpet events, premiers and appearances as well as product placement.

Thinking outside of the box is not just a phrase for Claudine, it is a lifestyle.  In June 2005, Claudine launched Caravan; a refurbished RV converted into a clothing store on wheels.  The Caravan RV could be seen in densely populated areas in the city such as the West Village and the Meatpacking District creating a phenomenon.  In 2006, Caravan opened its first store in NoHo totally revamping the shopping experience by combining the elements of a cool lounge setting and a retail store, and in 2007, Caravan expanded opening an appointment only boutique in the Carnegie Hill area.  With Caravan, Claudine has met with numerous celebrities such as Ashlee Simpson, Chevy Chase, Eva Mendes, Gabrielle Union, Miley Cyrus, Sophia Bush, Penelope Cruz and Christy Turlington and dressed them in peices from the store.

Music is an essential component in fashion.  Designers use music to create the best aural effect and the music played in retail stores can transform a shopping experience.  Constantly searching for ways to expand her creative horizons, Claudine has started to dabble in world of DJing.  “It really is an art form,” Claudine says, ”cause you look at a really good DJ and they’re just doing amazing things up there.  But I guess it goes back to fashion, there are all these fashion houses that are all about music for their runway.  And it is a way to learn more about music.”   Merging the two worlds together Claudine interviewed 20 designers and asked about the songs they were listening to when designing their collection and on the day of their shows, their answers ended up becoming a mix that Claudine used at her first DJing gig.

To excel at DJing one must have the same inner abilities as a fashion publicist.  Desire, the ability to sale yourself, an extroverted personality and a deep knowledge about your craft are essentials.  DJs spend hours “digging in the crates” and downloading music to create an experience that is heard in the audience’s ears and expressed in their feet.   There is more to DJing than playing music; being able to lay a set down using vinyl, looping, blending, knowing when to drop the beat and let the song go are what make legendary DJs great.  “I use turntables.   I’m trying to do it the right way so it’s not just on the IPod,” Claudine states.   Just recently Claudine prepared a spring 2010 mix for Beba’s preview.  During fashion week she djed at Capitale.  The event  attracted musical celebrities such as Fabolous, Charles Hamilton, Josh Madden and Pras Michel.  On May 8th she will be DJing at Joonbug.com’s and FashionIndie.com’s Prom 2010.

With all Claudine’s achievements, she could rest easily at the threshold of fashion taking her place amongst its divine.  But for Claudine the journey to make sure the creative voices of the world are heard is one that continues.  “The one thing I love to do is to get more people to be inspired and come up with more creative ways to show creativity,” Claudine reveals, “You can have a creative idea, but you also have to figure out a way to present your idea.  I meet a lot of creative people, with good ideas that want to work with us so I also want to find ways to be more creative with my time too.  I have a lot of creative friends.  I have some friends that have lost their jobs and have been out of work for more than a year and they have brains of steel.  My goal is to raise enough capital here so I can figure out a way to put a creative team together because I think you’re better when you’re inspired, you do a better job.”

Dresses designed by Claudine

 

To learn more about THINK PR, visit www.thinkpublicrelations.com. 

 To learn more about Claudine’s DJing endeavors or Prom 2010, visit http://caravangirl.com/.

Photos provided by Claudine Desola 

Remembering Guru

On April 19 the music world, hip hop in particular, lost one of its most illuminating lyricists.  Guru, whose real name was Keith Elam, lost his over year long battle with cancer at the age of 43.  Guru was part of one of the most prolific duos in hip hop, Gang Starr which consisted of himself and DJ/ producer Premier.  Gang Starr was formed in 1985 and released six albums before disbanding in 2005.

I was first introduced to Guru in 1989.  I was tween fresh out of jheri curls, watching Yo! MTV Raps after school when I saw the video to “Words I Manifest.”  I was hooked from that moment on.  I watched him stand behind a podium and spit as if he was the reincarnation of Malcolm X.   Conscious lyrics behind a danceable sample are always a pairing for success in my book. 

 The combination of DJ Premier’s beats, Guru’s lyrics and monotone vocal delivery was nothing more than pristine.  Gang Starr soon became one of my favorite groups releasing hits like “Mass Appeal”, “You Know My Steez”, “Step In The Arena”, “Dywck”, “Just To Get a Rep”, “Ex Girl To Next Girl” and so many more.

Another reason I loved Guru and Gang Starr was their music set the blueprint for fusion of hip hop and jazz, a genre of music I grew up listening to courtesy of my dad.    Gang Starr’s music blended my childhood like no other group.

To me Guru was one of the representatives of hip hop’s golden age.  It was a time of great diversity and lyricism at its finest.   Throughout his career Guru showcased what is best in hip hop and it is through his and many other’s pioneering efforts that hip hop dominates FM radio and pop culture today.

Thank you for all the gifts you have bestowed on your fans.  Although you are gone in body, your spirit lives every time I hear your music and the light you gave to hip hop will never be extinguished.

More Carrie, More Big, More City

 

Speaking of films, the countdown is on.  All the shoe-loving, cosmopolitan drinking, fashionistas of Manhattan will be creating massive lines around the corner on May 27 when Sex and the City 2 will be released in theaters.  Yes, the Big Apple will be going Carrie-crazy yet again and pre-orders for tickets are selling at a fast pace.  The sequel of the utterly fabulous HBO series promises to be bigger than the last.

Two years have past; Carrie and Big explore the ups and downs of married life and the girls make a trip to Abu Dhabi.  Also Aidan is back.  Will he stir up old feelings?  Will Samantha try monogamy again?  Is motherhood cracking Charlotte?  Has the marriage of Miranda and Steve remained on solid ground?  Well FAMERS, all will be revealed on Memorial Day weekend.  See you opening day!

Check out the movie trailer and slide show.

Photos and video:  www.sexandthecitymovie.org.

Films, Fun and Drive-Ins

April 21 marked the start of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs to May 2.  This is the festival’s ninth year and the A-list celebrities, films and events should attract close to half million visitors.  Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 following the attacks on the World Trade Center to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of the lower Manhattan district through an annual celebration of film, music and culture.  TFF’s mission is to help filmmakers reach the broadest possible audience, enable the international film community and general public to experience the power of cinema and promote New York City as a major filmmaking center. 

For me the Tribeca Film Festival and cherry blossoms always mark the true beginning of spring.   With dozens of films and events to attend, TFF also provides fun and educational opportunities to attend the festival for free.  Check out the list of the free events:

Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair

Saturday, May 1

10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Greenwich Street from Chambers St. to Harrison St.

BMCC Tribeca PAC (199 Chambers St. bet. Greenwich St. and West St.)

Washington Market Park (Chambers St. at Greenwich St.)

Tribeca/ESPN Sports Day

Saturday, May 1

10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Duane Street between Greenwich Street and Hudson Street

Authors at the Helm

DATE: Monday, April 26

TIME: 12 PM

LOCATION: Barnes & Noble Union Square

Docs Doing It Right

DATE: Monday, April 26

TIME: 2 PM

LOCATION: SVA Theater 2

Dollar and Sense: Making the Most of Your Production Budget

DATE: Wednesday, April 28

TIME: 3 PM

LOCATION: SVA Theater 1

Talking With Pictures

DATE: Thursday, April 29

TIME: 2 PM

LOCATION: SVA Theater 2

To purchase tickets for the Tribeca Film Festival, visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/.

Photos: Getty Images

Time Traveling With The Scottsboro Boys

All aboard!  This train is travelling to Dixie, but not the “Hooray Dixie Land” sung in lyrics, it is Jim Crow’s Dixie that is the subject matter of this musical.  The Scottsboro Boys, playing at the Vineyard Theatre, is a portal into a time in America’s history that has been forgotten.  It almost seems peculiar that a story as heavy as the Scottsboro Boys trial,  a series of trials in which nine black youths were tried and convicted of raping two white women, would end up on stage as a musical, but it is the musical numbers that makes the subject matter more palatable.  The musical takes on some of elements of minstrel show and is a nonstop rollercoaster of emotions.  At times I was offended, other times I was brought to the brink of tears and at certain times I could not help but to burst with laughter, regardless of what I was feeling I was always entertained.

I enjoy viewing productions in which the actors play multiple roles because the audience gets a true glimpse of the actors’ range.  The cast with exception of Sharon Washington (the omnipresent female figure) play several parts and the character changes are as smooth as the choreography. 

Each character was thoroughly developed and the passion for the material was reflected in the actors’ performances. Another interesting aspect of the production is the cast with exception of the Interlocutor, brilliantly portrayed by two-time Tony award winner John Cullum, are all black.   Watching black actors playing white southerners so convincingly proved the level of depth and talent that illuminated the stage.  Lights make the actors come alive, but it is the actors that make the stage come alive.   

When the curtain opens with a woman waiting to get on a bus then the mood suddenly becomes electric as Mr. Bones, Mr. Tambo and the Scottsboro boys make a raucous entrance down the aisle steps to the stage for the first musical number “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.”    The set is basically comprised of chairs and wooden planks that are seamlessly transitioned by the cast to suit a scene or musical number, and it is the musical numbers that are the real treat of this production.  “Financial Advice” was a scream, “Make Friends with the Truth” was equally as hilarious, “You Can’t Do Me” was compelling, but my favorite was “Electric Chair.” 

The thought of turning capital punishment into a song and dance may appear to be reaching, but reaching is exactly what John Kander, Fred Ebb and Susan Stroman did and the result is a thrilling tap sequence that Bojangles and Gregory Hines would have been proud of.  From the opening number to the closing one, the songs and choreography transformed The Scottsboro Boys from experimental theater into a rootin’ tootin’ time.  I was completely mesmerized.

Bold, contemporary and filled with vigor, The Scottsboro Boys sizzles with electricity, hats off to the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb and Susan Stroman.  I also salute the cast; they worked like a well-oiled machine oozing with experience and raw soul.  In the wake of President Obama’s historic ascension to the highest office in our country, it may be easy for some, the youth in particular, to overlook this nation’s turbulent history with regards to race.  The most important component about The Scottsboro Boys is that it builds a bridge between the past and present and through quality art like this production an interest can be sparked inspiring us to learn more about the countless stories that prelude the day Rosa Parks decided not to go to the back of the bus.

Photos:  Carol Rosegg    

A Village in The Village

When it comes to Caribbean culture in New York, the planet (yes, I said planet) of Brooklyn is hands down the place to go.  Countless Caribbean clubs, restaurants and the annual West Indian Day Parade down Eastern Parkway on Labor Day prove why the borough of Brooklyn is the Caribbean capital of the northeast.  But on W. 3rd Street sits a venue that rivals any restaurant experience that can be found in Brooklyn. 

Negril Village is located in the heart of Chelsea and has brought the flavors of the Caribbean to the island of Manhattan. Husband and wife team Marva Layne and Carlton Hayle along with Peter Best and Sim Walker pride themselves in producing the best quality Caribbean cuisine and strive to be an accurate representation of Caribbean food and culture.

Negril Village boasts a style of cuisine that is referred to as “New York Savvy Caribbean.”   The menu combines myriad dishes, cooking styles and techniques of different Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Jamaica.  The Roti dishes from the island of Trinidad have an extremely authentic taste and the Oxtail Stew is cooked to perfection and is served with savory brown sauce and rice and peas.  The soup of the day makes awesome appetizer; this warm treat overflows with flavor.  Their tropical drinks are a tasty bonus to an already delectable menu.  Whether sipping on a cocktail or non-alcoholic fruit punch, you will taste all the beautiful flavors of the Caribbean captured in a glass.

The décor of Negril Village is the first thing you notice when walking pass the threshold.   Set on two levels, the restaurant’s’ décor is fashionable and enchanting.  The spacious dining room on the upper level has bamboo floors and contemporary furniture.  After dinner, the Rhum Lounge on the lower level provides its patrons with the opportunity to work off their meals.  The raisin interior gives this basement level spot a sultry atmosphere.  The DJs spin the best in reggae, calypso, R&B and hip hop that will keep your body moving for hours.  A trip to one of the islands of the Caribbean may not be feasible in this economy, but Negril Village offers the best solution to bring the Caribbean to your lips and hips.  Guess you will have to settle for Coney Island if you want to go to the beach.  

Reflections of a Colorist

The use of or lack of color is the foundation of most artwork.  Color draws upon memories and emotions.  It can make a grand or simple statement, or just be pleasing to the eye.  Washingtonian Robert Kent Wilson has brought his idea of color to the island of Manhattan with Pixel by Pixel, currently showing at Raandesk Gallery until April 16.  Pixel by Pixel marks the culmination of a decade of Robert’s work.  “I don’t know if people are really going to get it,” Robert comments when asked what he would want the audience to take away from the exhibition. 

“This is ten years of mental snapshots that I have articulated in larger form.  I see them as little scenes, little vignettes that one person has captured.  Sometimes it’s like focusing on a little bit of color.  Other times it’s focusing on a scene and taking this one little thing that’s going on there that most people would never look at.  So it’s kind of like I’m a photographer capturing things and putting it out there.”

Robert Kent Wilson is a native of D.C., but one would be hard pressed to find political statements in his work.  “It has caused me to not focus on politics in my art,” Robert remarks about living in our nation’s capital.  “I choose to focus on what I consider to be positive artwork,” he adds.  “Usually my messages are more social than political statements.  I like more positive influences; I think it makes a big difference.”

Although his political views can be seen in his work, Robert Kent Wilson does not beat the viewer over the head with highly wrought displays of political opinions.  Instead, his beliefs deepen the depth of each piece.   “My work always has a statement, but is the statement shocking?  My meanings are how people respond to color and how people respond to composition,” Robert affirms. 

 

 

A perfect example of a colorful hidden statement in Robert Kent Wilson’s artwork is #05 (pictured on the left), an awe inspiring piece that blends multi-hues of blue, green and hints of brown creating harmonious balance on canvas.  #05 is Robert’s homage to the shore, a location that has been a constant muse for artists since the beginning of time.  Looking at piece I got lost in the colors; they seemed endless, similar to the feelings I receive when I stare at the ocean, infinite and hopeful.  I wanted to dive into the canvas and float with the tides as they crashed against the shore.

 Their America (not shown in the exhibition) is another example of how the use of color and subtlety create a powerful image of beauty.  Upon first glance, the piece seems to be a commentary about America’s roots.  The rustic reds blended in the cowboy’s faces illustrate people that are of the land; however as Robert pointed out when we spoke, art is subjective.  The subtle statement waiting to be discovered in this work is about homosexuality, but unless the viewer was actually looking for the statement, they may not find it.  Then again, the statement is whatever the viewer wants it to be.  Robert prefers when the audience is able to enjoy his art by finding the element that makes them personally connect with a piece.

One of the reasons I believe it is easy for anyone, regardless of their knowledge of art, to connect with Robert Kent Wilson’s body of work is his focus on an element he calls “discarded stimuli.”  “Things always aren’t what they appear to be,” he states, “There’s more than what is put right in front of your face, and often times there’s something more interesting going on when people are put off guard.  My original inspiration for disregarded stimuli is the road trips my father, brothers and I would take growing up.  Everyone else would be sleep, except I couldn’t sleep, so as the car drove down the road I’d take pictures of the countryside and the people, analyzing a girl or boy in the backseat of a car passing by.  They were all momentary but there was something about them that stuck.”

Robert Kent Wilson took those moments and other experiences (as he also admitted as child he felt put to the side) and created imagery where disregarded flashes in time would live in vivid splashes of color.  In fact, his use of color is captivating and exquisite and is another reason why his work would appeal to the public.  The microcosms he uses to explain the larger story are well selected and along with his use of mix media tell a story that is even more revealing then the bigger picture.  Although there is always more than meets the eye with his work, one can simply enjoy the beauty of color, even if the colors are black and white. 

To learn more about Robert Kent Wilson visit www.robertkentwilson.com or http://raandeskgallery.com/artist.php?artistId=41.

Photos:  Courtesy of Raandesk Gallery