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Jenny Luckett of January Moon

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Patience is a virtue that we moms tend to indiscriminately extend to one another, in life as well as in business. Thankfully, Jenny Luckett–lifelong creative, glowing wife and mother, tireless go-getter, and founder of January Moon–proved to possess such patience.

When Jenny and I were originally scheduled to chat on a Thursday morning a few weeks back, we had a mix-up in time zones (Tennessee vs. New York) and had to push our call back an hour. Normally, I would be anxious about such a miscommunication, fearing that this error would reflect poorly on me. But when Jenny and I finally connected, we had a good laugh over it.

To say a mother’s life is incredibly busy would be to state the obvious. Juggling career, children, the responsibilities of home, and the pursuit of one’s own enjoyment leave little margin for error. Yet all too often a mother’s inability to be “perfect” (being late to a meeting, having to take a personal day, needing flexibility in her schedule) is viewed as a lack of professionalism. That is the kind of misconception that Jenny and other female entrepreneurs are helping to discredit by successfully navigating family and career.

Jenny was motivated to start January Moon during her first born’s teething journey. Having worked in the jewelry industry for years, she was disappointed in the lack of options for wearable pieces that could double as entertainment for baby. She knew that she could fill the niche. Named for the month in which her son was born and inspired by the sleepless nights of early motherhood, January Moon was launched in 2017 to great reception. Jenny took care in designing, safety-testing and planning for the launch of her business, and she had the opportunity to collaborate with many talented, dedicated and professional mamas along the way.

“I work with so many creatives who are also moms,” said Jenny of her extended January Moon family of photographers and branding specialists. “We all meet our deadlines and enjoy our families.”

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Although Jenny embodies the supermom grit that many of us strive to achieve, she doesn’t pretend to do it all on her own. She speaks affectionately of her supportive husband, Mike, whom she credits as being an encouraging partner in life and a collaborative partner in their shared creativity. They constantly bounce ideas off of each other, help one another carry the immense responsibility of balancing children and careers, and bring their unique, professional skill-sets to aid each other in work.

“Mike is an incredibly skilled craftsman. He can always turn my messy sketches into beautiful displays, craft booths and signage. I am just as proud of the displays that he makes as I am of the jewelry.”

To recap: Jenny has two beautiful children, a loving husband with whom she can share not only life but a creative passion, and a career that challenges, engages and fulfills her.

But before you mistakenly conclude that Jenny’s story is somehow inauthentic or unattainable for “real” mothers, consider that her business demands constant over-scheduling, intense deadlines and frequent late nights. Lack of sleep and virtually no time for regular, prioritized “me-time” can be trying for anyone, let alone a person who focuses so much on what she could be doing better or differently. To combat this she employs her own unique brand of self-care grounded in self-acceptance. Instead of beating herself up over beating herself up, she is choosing to focus on all that she loves about life. Although being a mother and business owner means that she will always come second, Jenny couldn’t be happier with the life she has created for herself.

So what is Jenny’s advice for finding balance when life stretches you thin?

“Take walks. Always take walks. When the baby doesn’t sleep, when the toddler has boundless energy, when you hit a creative wall, when you haven’t had a good conversation with your husband. The walk is essential to my life and Mike and I make the strongest connections when we’re walking outdoors with the family.”

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Read more about Jenny Luckett and discover her beautiful line of teething jewelry and accessories here: www.JanuaryMoon.com

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Photo credits in order of appearance:

Amy Miller

Brooke Dainty

Amy Miller

Amy Hobbs

Amy Hobbs

Amy Hobbs

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My Deep, Dark Secret: I Sleep Trained

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As I sat in the rocking chair this afternoon nursing Leo pre-nap, thumbing through momstagrams as I do, I came across a flagrant debate between two opposing viewpoints: to sleep train or not to sleep train.

Angry parents were openly criticizing the blog Your Zen Mama for posting an article by Beatrix James describing her personal choice to sleep train.  These upset individuals insist that sleep training is not exemplary of “gentle parenting” and that “scientific research proves” that sleep training is detrimental to a child’s development.

Well, guess what folks? My deep, dark secret: I sleep trained. It worked really well for our family. And I am pretty angry with the parents who make me–and other parents who decided sleep training is right for them–feel like that truth should remain in the shadows.

Firstly, let’s get a bit of context for the term “sleep training.” In simple terms, it is teaching your babe how to fall asleep on their own, in peace and security. As it was described to me by our pediatrician, everyone (you, your partner, your baby…) wakes up either partially or fully, multiple times a night. As adults we have learned that waking up in the quiet darkness is nothing to be afraid of. We can roll over and go back to sleep. But a new baby has yet to be given that reassurance. While the “cry-it-out” method has infamously become associated with sleep training, there are numerous techniques to chose from: verbal reassurance, pick-up-put-down (PUPD), a strong and consistent bedtime routine, graduated extinction, etc.

People, you are not leaving your child to scream in terror in his crib for hours, or even multiple minutes. And if you are (now here I go judging…) shame on you.

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I, too, was resistant for so long to the idea of sleep training. I couldn’t detach from the idea that anything other than tending to my baby’s every nocturnal whim, regardless of our doctor’s reassurance that he was gaining weight well and thus wasn’t waking out of hunger, was cold and damaging. Every night before bed I would embark on a crazy routine that was one step away from wearing our underwear inside-out and drawing a circle of salt around our bed. I was convinced that dimming the lights just so and speaking in languid tones would help–this time I swear it–the baby to sleep more than a couple of hours. How my husband had the patience to jump through my nocturnal hoops, i’ll never know. Beyond regulating the height at which he could keep his bedside lamp (on the floor was preferred) I went as far as to insist that he hold the baby in certain ways before bed…and so on and so forth…

The reality is that a soul-aching exhaustion and the feeling that I was trapped in a terrifying cycle of helplessness was making me unwell.

We fed more. We gave warms baths and massages. We used dock-a-tots and zen sacks and whale sounds and mood lighting and lullabies and rhythmic movement. We also co-slept for many months. Even in our bed, nestled warmly between his two adoring parents, Leo woke up every 1 to 2 hours crying.

So before anyone berates me for not trying hard enough, not giving motherhood my all, or being withholding of love and nurturing for my son, consider that I TRIED EVERYTHING.

The regime that ended up working best for our family was a combination of PUPD, verbal reassurance and graduated extinction. It was important to me that we did not let Leo cry for long periods of time, and while the no-tear methods may take longer to implement, they do work. Also–and this is KEY–I stopped nursing (or bottle feeding) Leo until he was asleep. Instead, we did our bath (if it was bath night…because  let’s be honest…he doesn’t get a bath every night) got in pjs, did our feeding routine (which in our case was a bf/bottle combo) and then read a story. If Leo fell asleep during the feeding I would WAKE HIM BACK UP before reading the story. Crazy, huh? Crazy enough to work. It is imperative that your baby be laid in the crib awake so that he understands that it is bedtime and time for him to put in those long nighttime hours.

And thus our sleep training efforts did just as they were meant to….they taught our son how to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Sometimes we have a bad night, especially after returning from a vacation–or other unavoidable (and important) life events–when sleep routines get jostled. Inevitably after a trip we have to start back at square one to reteach Leo to settle into sleep on his own. The first night can be really tough and I hear the confusion, frustration and, sometimes, fear in his voice. On those bad nights we nurse and snuggle more, just so there is no doubt in his mind that he is safe and loved. But the point is that you can hear the difference in your baby’s cries. There is a distinct difference in a cry of panic and a cry of protest. When your baby cries in panic go to him. When he is fussing and grumpy because it’s bedtime, but he’d prefer that all the wonder and exploration of daytime not be over, let him communicate his displeasure. He’ll be happily dreaming in no time.

What I found most surprising about our sleep training journey was how peaceful our nights became in such a short time. Even with all of our above mentioned “gentle parenting” practices, Leo was swinging in and out of distress every. single. night. He would fall asleep only to wake (at most) a few hours later in a panic. I would get him back to sleep for a short spurt before he would wake again, just as panicked. After we implemented our sleep training regimen, Leo’s rare night wakings are punctuated by a couple of chirps before he falls back to sleep. Most often, when he is placed in his crib and the lights are turned off, he falls asleep on his own without even a peep. If ever he wakes and cries out in fear or hunger, I go to him. And with this newly adopted routine I can sense a greater ease for him overall. And of course, I finally feel at ease, too.

With all of the parenting noise out there–studies declaring that you should breastfeed until your baby is 2 years old vs. those saying 6 months is perfect; message-boards commending stay-at-home parents vs. warning non-working parents against losing their sense-of-self–what happened to gathering all the information you can and then using your gut.

How about instead of relying on facts and figures so much, we honor ourselves and trust in our instincts to be good parents? Let’s believe in the deep connection we have to our children, and intuit that while we may not know what is best for them, we can most assuredly feel it.

I’ll trust in your parenting if you’ll trust in mine.

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Baby’s First Purée

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If WordPress allowed for sub-headings, the full title of this post would be, Baby’s First Purée: A party in baby’s mouth, A pain in mommy’s butt. 

Early motherhood seems to be riddled with moments that were better as fond daydreams than as reality. The greatly anticipated journey to solid foods with Leo was one of those moments.

img_0983.jpgI had planned to share this post weeks ago: my triumphant Pioneer Woman mission of hand-making meals for my baby. Unfortunately, my pioneer-woman-visions were quickly replaced by the reality that Leo was bewildered and a little grumpy at the prospect of eating food.

I boiled, sautéed, steamed. I mashed and blended. I put away an auxiliary stash of delicious, handmade food in the freezer as I had been told to do.

img_0324.jpgimg_0318.jpgAt first Leo would apprehensively tongue the purée he was presented with. Then his face would take on a look of confusion and disgust. He would begrudgingly swallow or, just as often, casually expel the contents of his mouth.

Worse than that, each time during the dinner dance, he would utter the animalistic growl of frustration that we’ve come to dread. It’s the sound a meat-grinder makes when you turn it on but forget to put the meat in: metal on metal. He makes this sound when he’s hungry but we’re not meeting his requirements. It happens occasionally at the breast when my milk isn’t letting down quickly enough. And now it was happening…every single time…when we fed him solid foods. It is the sound of my nightmares.

Needless to say, my dreams were dashed when my hard work of preparing and blending baby’s first purees seemed to go unappreciated.

Perhaps it was the fantasy of a full-bellied, soundly snoozing babe that had me so excited to introduce purees. Perhaps it was imagining Leo’s first foods as a gateway to our whole future together: rife with exotic travels and tastes.

Or perhaps it was ego. Another notch on my “perfect mommy” belt: nourishing my baby with my body and then by my sweat and elbow grease. Since our breastfeeding journey had led us to supplementation at 4 months, and no matter how much I rationally understand that supplementing is ok as long as baby is getting what he needs that’s all that matters, maybe I thought this was my way of somehow taking back the status I had lost.

Regardless, I felt defeated and nearly gave up on the whole concept until I read that it can take up to 15 times of introducing the same food before baby responds. He’s learning a whole new approach to eating, after all.

So we tried, again and again.

We used prepared foods, sometimes doctored up with cinnamon or paprika from our spice cabinet, to get an idea of his tastes before I would make the foods on my own. And now that he’s graduated to stage two foods…blends…I feel more confident sharing watered down versions of our dinners with him.

He seems to be getting the hang of things. Though there are some foods he still doesn’t care for, there are many that he flashes big smiles at the taste of, and I have come to realize the joy that I had originally anticipated in introducing my son to a world of new flavors.

img_0985.jpgimg_0335.jpgTherein lies the beauty, of course, of becoming a parent. It is learning that happiness doesn’t come from a perfect, manicured version of mothering but rather, the montage of messy, head-scratching (and head-aching) scenes that we navigate and become stronger as a result of. It is meeting the fear and unpleasantness head on and rejoicing in the ever-present silver lining.

Leo’s First Apple Purée:

  • 2 sweet eating apples (Pink Lady, Gala, etc.)
  • Water

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  • Peel, core and quarter the apples
  • Sautée in a pan with water until soft
  • Blend in food processor until smooth
  • Add a dash of cinnamon
  • Freeze for up to 3 months in a covered ice cube tray.

Voila!

Amber Beads for Teething Woes

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For starters I want to clarify that I am no expert on amber beads or teething in general. But, since getting so many questions about how I chose mine, how they help baby, and how to tell if they are genuine, I thought I would share my experience here on the blog.

I’m not sure where I originally heard about genuine Baltic Amber Beads and their supposed relief for teething babies in need, but they have been on my radar for quite some time. It is believed that when worn on the skin, body heat causes amber to release an oil containing succinic acid, which if absorbed into the skin, might act like a natural Ibuprofen, blocking pain and reducing inflammation. This is how wearing a strand of amber beads can help fight teething woes. Of course, when I finally had a baby of my own, I was eager to try a strand for myself.

Was I intrigued by the potential for natural pain management to help my sweet baby get through what can only be a deeply uncomfortable and distressing time? Yes.

Was I also excited to see how cute my baby would look in a tiny necklace? Absolutely.

IMG_0425IMG_0422IMG_0428I am happy to report that we did, indeed, see a difference in Leo since he has begun wearing his amber.

Firstly, the amount of drool that soaked through his shirts while he determinately and indiscriminately chomped on objects noticeably decreased. Drool of course being a huge indicator that your baby is teething because the increased saliva helps to cool-down swollen gums.

Also, his mood was markedly sour when he wasn’t wearing his necklace as he got more deeply into teething. For example, if I would forget to replace his beads after a nap (baby should never wear his strand unsupervised and especially not while sleeping) he would be fussier than his normal post-snooze self.

The above points considered, as well as the fact that Leo cut two teeth before Thanksgiving with little more than stage-one crankiness, has led me to believe that the amber beads work for us.

IMG_0962But how do I know that my beads are authentic Baltic Amber when there are so many fakes on the market?

I did a simple home-test. Here’s how:

  • Mix together a solution of 1 part salt to 2 parts water. (For example, use 1/3 cup salt to 2/3 cup water)
  • Dissolve the salt completely.
  • Drop your beads in the mixture. Plastic and glass will sink, true Baltic Amber will float.

Ta da!

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“Papoum Papoum”

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Papoum Papoum.” The name says it all as it’s meant to represent the tiny heartbeat of a baby or our own happily beating hearts as we think of our little ones. My heart certainly skipped a beat when I discovered this teething doll, named Sweet Pea Baby by creator Sophie Guindon, while poking around Vieux-Montréal on our recent trip.

In the grand tradition of my family traveling across borders before turning one year (my first flight was to France at two and a half months), Leo crossed into Canada at two months. I was turning 30 and Joe’s most recent film, The Sleepers, had been accepted into the famed Fantastia Film Festival. A trip to Montreal seemed to be the perfect celebration of our new parenthood, our shared creativity and my 3rd decade of life.

Joe kept busy during our stay in the great city of Montreal attending his own film’s screening and catching some of the other programs that the 3 week festival had to offer. I split my time between our Downtown Montreal AirBNB and the beautiful streets, shops and cafes of the city—baby-in-tow—meeting up with Joe between screenings for some quality family time.

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On our third day we devoted the morning to exploring Vieux-Montréal and the old port. What became our favorite part of the city was criss-crossed with cobble stone streets, awash in summer blooms and, of course, teeming with tourists and the tacky shops catering to them. Although the old part of the city lacked originality in some of its gift shops, hawking the same wares as all top international destinations (insert “Montreal” on your $10 t-shirt), it made up for it with its galleries and art shops.

Metiers d’art du Quebec caught our eye with its entrance off of the main street in a little side corridor. Designs by local artisans filled the sunlit space, including a comprehensive baby collection. Sweetly embroidered children’s clothes and fantastic, cooky animal pillows were among the most exciting offerings. But the delicate, imaginative Sweet Pea dolls and teething friends were perfectly made for our growing babe.

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Sophie, creator and designer of the PapoumPapoum brand, is a native of Canada. Her vision for these precious, keepsake toys came as she was a stay-at-home-mom and made the first rag doll for her daughter. She then devoted every free moment to creating her original dolls and the business was born. With a background in herbal therapy and a love of the planet, Sophie instills the same morals into PapoumPapoum. The toys are as safe as they are durable, hand made in Quebec using environmentally-friendly materials, like her series of bamboo blanket animals. Uniquely created, each toy slightly differs from others in the same collection, and all are made to love for years and years.

Papoum Papoum… is the sound of a little heart beating, it’s what we feel for a new-born, and it’s also a sound that can trigger a small child’s laughter, the kind that fills the world with sunshine.”

Leo isn’t yet teething so he is still too young to use his Sweet Pea, but I know he’ll be enjoying it sooner than we think. If new parenthood has taught us anything it is that time truly does move too quickly. Another month of his life has already clipped by, filled with his first travels in our blissfully nomadic summer. Now we’ll have his first doll to remind us of these moments and of his first, tender heartbeats. Papoum papoum. 

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Fast Food Fashion

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It was five days after I had come home from the hospital with Leo and sleep was hard to come by. So was clothing. On one particularly upside-down day I found myself wearing a tank dress rolled down to my waist and an old workout teeshirt knotted around my mid-section, holding up the makeshift skirt. It was a disaster and the last thing I needed in the midst of my hormonal maelstrom was something else making me feel crazy. Why the DIY ensemble failure, you ask? I had all-too-quickly discovered that when you are breastfeeding a newborn baby every 2 hours, there is no time to dress and undress. You need the wardrobe equivalent of a drive-thru restaurant. Aka fast food fashion.

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Everybody’s breastfeeding journey is different. Just ask my mom who insists that I was a dream baby who slept well and nursed at accommodatingly infrequent intervals. But when you give birth to the son of a man who as tall as he is handsome you’re in for an adventure. I believe my lactation consultant’s actual words upon learning Joe’s height were, “Oh, shit. Strap in, honey, it’s going to be a wild ride.”

And so I find myself, three months into this “wild ride”, with my son averaging only about an hour off of my breasts between each feeding (except for at night. thankfully he takes after me in that regard…), and getting very creative with the ways, places, positions in which I nurse him.

The most exceptional places I’ve find myself breastfeeding, so far, are as follows:

  • the on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge in gridlock traffic
  • friends’ empty Chinatown apartment in the midst of a move
  • the Canadian border
  • parking lot of a rural gas station in the White Mountains
  • Amazon’s NYC conference rooms
  • TJ Maxx

I always have to be ready to serve up a fast food lunch for my son and so long sleeves, tight straps and all manner of restricting clothing is no longer in my wardrobe rotation, rendering half of my closet unwearable. Nor have I been moved to purchase the expensive and completely non-versatile wares advertised as “nursing clothing.”

All hail the season of the tube top as I find this style of dress to be most handy in breastfeeding. Another blessing to having a May baby is that I can get away with wearing as little clothing as possible in these warm summer months. A close second to the convenience of the strapless dress, and best for giving the illusion that you’ve considered fashion when dressing, is the off-the-shoulder look which can transition seamlessly to accommodate a quick feed. Button-down ensembles, like the vintage dress pictured below (poached from my mother’s closet on our recent trip to Maine) are yet another way to discreetly get the job done.

Honestly, I don’t love wearing the modest nursing cover when I feed my baby (though I love and will occasionally use my beautiful swaddle blankets by Aden + Anais) because I can’t see where his face is to ensure the correct positioning. At this early stage in his nursing he is still often falling off the latch and needing to be put back into place.  And so these simple, wearable outfits are the best for accessibility, but also to keep most of my body concealed while offering up the goods.

As an added bonus? I can integrate them into my permanent wardrobe after my stint in fast food fashion has come to an end.

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MariNoLoves || Norway Through The Eyes of Designer Mari Norden

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Snow was falling when we arrived in Oslo, Norway—albeit spring snow, the kind that melts the moment it touches the ground—and we were immediately reminded that we were arriving in a place where warmth, sunlight and color is a luxury. There was some sort of marathon in the city center that kept us laughing as we acquainted ourselves with the city streets. The runners were galloping in circles and in criss-cross fashion. They went up and then down the same streets, marked by partitions and onlookers yelling encouragement, around Oslo Center. The Norwegians were out in large numbers, some bundled appropriately against the still frigid spring, and some letting the strengthening sun of late April kiss their exposed skin. We were witnessing the frenzied energy of the return of the warmer months and feeling the palpable excitement of the Nordic people who must hideaway throughout much of the year against the truly fierce cold.

We were seeing Oslo during its seasonal awakening, a spark of life emerging after the dormancy of winter. There was a palpable excitement of the Nordic people having left their wintertide hiding places.  It was only appropriate, then, that we visit the studio of designer and silk screener Mari Norden whose designs exist as a reflection of this excitement and as a spark of color emerging from the staid Scandinavian design scape of black and white.

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Designer Mari Norden, who’s namesake brand MarinoLoves sparked my attention on an evening scrolling through Instagram searching #NorwegianDesign, is a beautiful blaze of color and warmth. The aforementioned snow was falling on a particularly grey morning when we came upon Mari’s studio in an old industrial-residential area of Oslo. When she opened the door to invite us in out of the cold it was like stumbling upon a stoked fire in its hearth.

“It’s not chic, it’s sheep.” – Mari Norden

Her bright, friendly eyes—as full of sparkle and smiles as she is—see the tradition of minimalism in Scandinavian fashion a bit differently than I do. When I used the word “chic” to describe the controlled, color-blocked street fashion of the Norwegians, she immediately corrected me with the quip, “It’s not chic, it’s sheep.”  Mari’s almost counter-culture view on fashion in the land of black & white—that it should excite, draw attention and be an extension of your own energy—is no surprise when you walk around her studio. A rainbow of color in silks and wools, so vibrant it almost vibrates, paints the clothing rack positioned in the corner of the room. Tufts of snow cone colored reindeer hair—the same that adorns the lapel of her fuchsia coat pictured above—seemingly grow from a section of wall in her studio. The models that grace the pages of her look book carry balloon bouquets and wear balloon crowns. When you discover that the first piece of clothing she ever designed was made from a sky-blue bean bag chair that she deconstructed, followed by years of finding those little synthetic balls all over the house, the picture completes itself.

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After beginning to sew at age ten, Mari daydreamed about her future as a designer getting good grades along the way, and arrived at Middlesex University in London where she studied fashion. It was there, during her last year of university, that she got really into silkscreen printing, practically living in her school’s excellent printing facilities. You’ll recognize this technique in her work to this day, balancing the solids of her collection with playful patterns.

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But not all of Mari’s approaches to design are counter to her homeland’s approach to fashion. She focuses on all natural fibers and sustainable practices that fall directly in line with the Scandinavian tradition of social and environmental consciousness. It is this cobimnation of mindful, yet unfettered, creation that makes Mari’s pieces such treasures and her collections exemplary of a new understanding of Scandinavian design.

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After spending the morning chatting with Mari about Norway, New York City, The Netherlands, London, cinema, fashion, art, and beyond, it was clear that, while her last name—Norden, or “The North”—identifies her as a native daughter, we were meeting a person that redefine what is considered quintessentially Norwegian. In a land of people perceived (and often identifying) as introverted, wild emotions—especially those in opposition to the norm—are rarely visible. Mari’s unique perspective on design and true passion for turning the conventional on it’s ear is an inspiration.

We said our goodbyes and emptied back out into the frigid spring air. There was a context now, for this vast, snowy land and a comfort in knowing—at least in one specific example—how the beautiful minds of this society stoke their own creative fires. Our eyes were attuned now, finding the pops of color, warmth and rebellion wherever they sprang up. Be it a grafitti’d wall blooming amongst the concrete, an underground club washed in the cathartic screams of Death Metal or the radiant rainbow of the MariNoLoves collections, the Norwegians are getting their fix.

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For more on Mari Norden and MariNoLoves, please visit: www.marinoloves.com.

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The “Captain” Queen of Vintage

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There may be no better story suited for these pages than that of Nicole Katherine Alexander, aka The “Captain” Queen of Vintage. It was she that became my guardian goddess when I arrived back in Brooklyn after my year teaching and writing in Korea, feeling rather lost and in need of someone to shed some light onto my life and help me to distinguish the direction of my path. In essence, by example, it was Nicole that helped me get my feet under me and start finding my way as the creative hopeful I was in the big city. I had arrived back to NYC in the late summer of 2010 and came to work during the fall at the local Brooklyn boutique, A. Cheng, where Nicole was the manager at the time. My memory of those days is filtered through bright orange mornings, the sounds of gated store fronts clattering open and the smell of Gorilla Coffee. Nicole would always arrive to work in some vision of vintage: full skirts, dramatic capes layered over functional wool sweaters to protect against the growing cold and statement pieces of jewelry either collected or created by her. We spent our days tending to the shop and, in the moments of calm that occasionally came, talking about life, art, womanhood and our city at large. Nicole was perhaps one of my first examples of a life perfectly curated. What I witnessed in her was a cultivated balance of self-love and an outpouring of creative energy that is really, in many ways, the inspiration behind Naked City Style.
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Autumn and the weeks leading up to Halloween will always remind me most of Nicole, given the fact that it is when we first came together so many years back, but also because nobody brings the fire to a costume party like she. I once attended a Halloween party with Nicole where she was dressed in a fabulous outfit carrying a giant cardboard cut out of a phone. When people would ask her what she was dressed as, she would confidently reply, “Shhhhh….I’m on the phone.” Her humor, sense of style and craftiness make Halloween the ultimate playground. This must have been on our minds when I visited her Bedstuy apartment for this shoot, because our photographs took a turn in the direction of all things witchy and whimsical. I had asked Nicole how her vintage collection was coming along—perhaps one of her longest running passions for which she has an indestructible gift—and without missing a beat she asked, “Well, do you mean clothing, shoes or bags?” Anyone who has a collection thriving enough to necessitate breaking them down into succinct categories certainly has a lot to teach the rest of us. And so, without wasting time, she began to dive into said collection to pull out the choice pieces that are featured here. Nicole tried to suggest that she wasn’t the most comfortable being photographed. The camera immediately called her bluff. If there is one thing I’ve always known about Nicole, it is that her contagious (and seemingly unceasing) energy demands attention. 

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In fact, in the years after working at A. Cheng, Nicole has found her way to the stage. A place, in my opinion, she was born to inhabit. She and her team, Solarium, perform every third Saturday of the month at The Triple Crown Alehouse & Restaurant on the border of Chelsea and Midtown. But Nicole also occasionally performs solo, like during the recent Blood Moon Kaleidoscope. There she improvised monologues initiated by the audience, all in the name of sister witches, the moon and comedy. I asked her if styling is a big part of her performance, and, while she confirmed that she has done some prop building and costuming for her shows and for the shows of friends, it would seem as though her attention to dress is a part of her life that simply and happily permeates all that she does. Spending the day at her home was a performance in and of itself, watching her flit about piecing together enviable ensembles of vintage Versace, vintage Norma Kamali and a bounty of other treasures found on Etsy (she is a self-proclaimed “Etsy Sleuth”!) and across the United States.

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It is this contagious spirit, this laughter and love of life and inherent sense of style that make her such a prime example of supreme womanhood. But, moreover, it is her fierce femininity and her desire to help bring other women up that make her an idol. In addition to her incessant vintage collecting, her improv work and her days spent at the incredibly hip LES outpost of Love Adorned, Nicole also works as an organizer for the company The Artful Bachelorette which hosts parties at which women learn how to sketch live nude male models. Her business cards read (only naturally) Nicole “Captain” Alexander.

This beauty is a beacon of serious girl power vibes each and every day of her life. The world is lucky to have her.

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In closing, it felt only appropriate that I should ask Nicole to share some of her sage knowledge with us here, straight from the unicorn’s mouth:

What are your top 5 rules of wisdom that you would share with your 10-years-younger-self or a freshly landed creative about chasing dreams? 
1. Be your own best friend. This world is cruel and filled with people that will want to tear you down…be kind to your inner self & be forever encouraging, only you can stop you.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. The worst thing that can happen is a no – but I have found that in most cases, when you are clear about want you want and your intentions…the universe makes a way for it to happen.
3. Do some fucking push ups or something man!!! (I’m) slowly getting flabbier…(I) really should have gotten that base layer muscle in my twenties…
4.  Travel more. While I love the work that I do…I get ULTRA committed to it. I love being successful in my work, but am still working on that perfect balance.
5. WEAR SUNSCREEN. Why didn’t I do this????? Ladies & gentlemen, wear that shit everyday. Even though I have lived a life out of the sun more than others (I tend to burn), I still see the effects of sun damage (and old age).
When the little voice inside of you says “you’re not good enough” what do you do to quiet it?
This is a very good question…and relates back to “being your own best friend.” I’ve practiced this type of thinking since high school – and honestly it has been a saving grace in so many of life’s darkest hours. I am also sure to tell myself that everyone has to start somewhere – and if I do feel a lack of ability/confidence…I WILL FAKE THAT SHIT TIL I MAKE THAT SHIT. Then I always end up making it – truly, I do always have faith that I will. By now, I trust myself at 34, to get it done. I am very excited about what life is yet to bring…and the projects that I have yet to take on.

If you were to be stranded on a desert island, what are the most important items you’d take with you?

– Weed plant & weed pouch
– Beach boys ‘Friends’ album (with record player b/c they are married)
– A monkey best friend (will also accept a feathered tropical bird friend…or dolphin)
– SUNSCREEN – we talked about this
– Three HUGE shipwrecked crates of peanut m&ms
For more advice, to book parties with The Artful Bachelorette or to have the sleuth track down your most coveted vintage item, email Nicole at nka.brooklyn@gmail.com.
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Hands of Creation

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Fall, in its infinite crispness and newness, always brings me deeply in touch with my meditative side. I turn inward after the mania and excitement of the summer months and celebrate the opportunity to get back to routine and back to nesting after summer’s nomadism. Fall is also my favorite time to delve into life’s slow arts—cooking, crafting, creating in all manner—and so it is appropriate that I should have the pleasure of introducing to these pages a wonderful creator who has come to discover the slow art that moves her most and who is making her life for it and from it.

It was still the height of summer when I first came to visit Ivy Weinglass at her studio in all her sprightliness and warmth. It never ceases to amaze me that, while wandering the streets of Brooklyn, one can be in the presence of such magic, tucked away just beyond sight and consciousness. And so it was that I came to discover her ceramics studio, cool and earthen smelling in delightful contrast to the tinny August heat, nestled in an unassuming building off of a dead-end street in Williamsburg. Here Ivy spends her days in the company of other artists who share this studio, the healthy buzz of creation filling the railroad style space and the gift of a grape-vined secret garden in the back to escape to for moments of calm.

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A voracious crafter of all disciplines, Ivy has tried her hand at many projects. And something that she may do just to pass the time inevitably yields enviable and covetable results. Her vintage bandana bags and quilts, for example, are straight out of a southwestern, wanderlust dreamscape, conjuring images of cowboy kisses, dusty road trips, and sleeping under the stars. Likewise, her latest adventure in embroidery has garnered well deserved attention from all angles and adorns the wearer in a happy neo-grunge halo. But it is her work in ceramics that, above all of her other artistry, makes her feel completely herself. She found the craft after a stint of creative drought and took to it feverishly, compelled by the challenge and patience that it required. And here she is today, creating truly stunning pieces (now available at ABC Carpet and Home {yeehaw!} among many other awesome outposts across the country) that feel simultaneously ancient and cutting edge, original and universal. She says that her devotion to long hours in the studio surprised her at first, having thought of herself previously as someone lacking in attention. But the nature of working with clay has found her in complete meditative clarity and possessing a work ethic with a laser beam focus to achieve the pieces that she envisions.

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Perhaps her most iconic pieces are her ceramic hands. Always having been drawn to the symbol—collecting hands of all mediums from thrift stores, markets, etc—she conceived of her own motif completely out of function, to serve as an elegant spot to snub out her beloved palo santo sticks that she burns incessantly in her home. (It is her practice, even, to gift purchasers of her ceramic hands with a stick of palo santo, known for bringing balance to the spaces in which it is burned.) The result, of course, is the perfect, soulfully pleasing designs that enchant every person that lays eyes on them. The ideal talisman to adorn our homes with as we settle into these months of sacred nesting, with shorter days and falling temperatures.

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What I find so special about Ivy’s story is that she has truly made a life of her passions, seemingly unfettered by any commonly used excuses or frequently referenced obstacles like time, money, and the thing her mom calls “monkey brain” (aka the chief demon of all creatives: the little voice that tries to stop us each day as we sit down to make our art). Her recipe to keep focused when the voices of doubt and distraction surface is to take a break. When her work flow is off and things don’t feel right in the studio, she escapes completely until she is ready to return to the task at hand. And it turns out that sometimes those days away are more important to her continued work than days spent at her bench. She references, and I couldn’t agree with her more, that we have to be our own best cheerleader if we are ever to accomplish (and still find joy in) our work. Ivy also fights against the societal constraint to put money above all else by reveling in the beauty of trade. She’s found many other incredible artists on Instagram whom she has cultivated relationships with and made exchanges of her work for theirs, rendering her life and her spaces full of amazing artifacts that fuel her creativity. But money inevitably comes with great effort and determination, and I am so happy for all of Ivy’s well deserved success.

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It is the solid influence of friends and family and the vision of other creatives that keeps her motivated and inspired. She is intimately aware of the fact that when you keep trying your hand at “making it” in the creative arena, something is bound to stick. And like the sage she is, she acknowledges that inevitably  one will have to keep trying to break through to the next source of inspiration. One thing that she never hopes to be is complacent, understanding that complacency is the ultimate enemy of creativity. And so Ivy strives to keep learning, keep exploring and keep building upon her creative foundation. And we, the awestruck admirers of her work, couldn’t be happier for it.

To purchase, or for more on Ivy’s work, visit her at her brand’s website: IIIVVVYYY.

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The Brooklyn Bruja

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I was happy that big fat raindrops were falling on the day I visited Melissa McGill’s home studio for this shoot. We had wanted to take our photographs outdoors—her brilliant red hair would have looked stunning punched up against a colorful Bedstuy backdrop—but my creative spirit always feels most open during a storm, and what better time to collaborate with such an electric, soulful beauty as Melissa?  Besides, it gave me the opportunity to explore her wondrous space and share it with you here.

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Walking into Melissa’s home is like walking into a still life curated by time: rife with natural curiosities, happy plants in all shades of green, keepsakes and totems of a lifetime of adventure and experience and, of course, the tools and treasures of her labor, all perfectly placed and humming with good energy.  Founder and creator of Morphologically NYC—a line of hand crafted aromatherapy wares for the body and home—Melissa has made it her mission to help heal and hearten all who use her exquisite products.  Nothing is more apparent when walking over the threshold of Melissa’s home, a proverbial pot is always bubbling on the stove, her home (as well as the host), is always warm and welcoming and a testament to a life lived in wellness.

Melissa had a houseguest during my visit—a miniature Yorkie named Bubba, a sweet little girl who stole the show and somehow made it into almost every frame we shot that day.  There is also a house mouse happily living in a fancy new cage—saved from an untimely death and immortalized in a framed portrait that is displayed on Melissa’s mantel. The true protectress of the house, Melissa’s 19 year old cat Mephistopheles, wisely spent the day sleeping, hidden in the fabulous mess we created of vintage, thrift and coveted designer pieces that Melissa has collected. A couple of these outfits that laid strewn about, in the organized chaos that only those truly clothes-minded can understand, she had picked up from a local Brooklyn street vendor the day before this shoot. Having left a decade long career in the industry to make some magic of her own, her day-to-day is still a flurry of fun sartorial choices.  A stunner with a background in performance art who rolls with a veritable coven of stylish, driven goddesses like herself, Melissa feels just as much at home in some wild costume she has created—red lips and skull ring ablazin’—as she does in an understated pair of denim jeans and chuck taylors with a bit of studded embellishment left over from her metal kid days.

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“I’m holistic, but I have an edge too; it’s important that people understand that about me.” A woman who meditates daily and eminates a feeling of calm, Melissa also has an infectious, feral personality.  She’s exactly the person you’d want to call when you’re feeling ill to ask for one of her custom aromatherapy blends and perhaps curl up on her couch while her spritely energy soothes you, but she’s the same person you’d call to catch a midnight concert and dance into the morning light. She would probably wear a hit-the-floor black dress to the latter, perhaps with some feathers braided into her hair.

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A vision of humility and grace, Melissa is the first to tell you how blessed she feels in this new entrepreneurial chapter of her life. “I don’t like to use the word too much because it feels insincere, but I really do feel so blessed.”  She certainly puts as much good into the world as she receives back and fosters a univeral connection with all people.  Her willingness to talk to everyone and to listen to advice as she “dives all-in” in pursuit of her passions will undoubtedly be her key to continued success, both in life and career.  Just remember when dream chasing to “carry a tube of bright lipstick with you for when you have a surprise first encounter and can’t do anything else to prepare but show up.”

Proof that you can take the girl out of fashion, but you can’t take the fashion out of the girl.

 

 

For more on Melissa and her exquisite brand and to shop her products, visit www.morphologically.com

Window Portrait photo credit: Dawn Marie West