Last month at the Project Las Vegas trade show I had the chance to sit down and chat with designer Melody Ehsani. I’ve been a long time fan of her work but it’s been four years since we last did an interview so I caught up with her and asked about her work for Reebok, Jeremy Scott, NCLA and more. Watch the interview below…
Laurie Rubin is an internationally celebrated mezzo-soprano who happens to be blind. Growing up blind, Laurie Rubin often wondered what it was like to fit in. Midsentence she might discover that her “friends” had quietly slipped away. And while they bopped to pop, Laurie, with perfect pitch, was mesmerized by opera and was singing publicly by age 12. Even though she was happy, traveled, learned to water and snow ski, played music, and did normal kid stuff, her mother’s best friend expressed pity for their lot. When Laurie finally did find her crowd in the music world, an opera director would not cast her for fear she would fall off the stage.
A lifetime of unintentional discrimination—of assumptions being made about what she could and could not do—and a child’s innocent question that became the book’s title, prompted Laurie to write about her life. We all have traits that make us something other than “normal,” Rubin believes, but for the strong and persistent dreams can overcome any barrier. In her new memoir, Do You Dream in Color?, she explores the biases and fears we all harbor about those we perceive to be different within a life-story rich in detail an inspiration.
What woman, besides your mom or grandmother, do you find inspirational?
Barbra Streisand was always one of my biggest heroines. When I was growing up, my mother played her music for me in the car, and I just loved the richness and emotion in her voice. “Memory” from the musical “Cats” was the very first song I sang in my voice lessons at age 10 because I had loved Barbra’s rendition of it so much. Beyond Barbra’s singing, I admire that she was a director when it was almost unheard of for women to direct films, that she was a gifted actress, a mother, and a spokesperson for gay rights.
I also loved that she embraced her Jewish identity, playing many Jewish characters in movies at a time when being Jewish was also not as widely accepted by society. She never seemed to balk at the things that made her different, and I love that she’s had such a multifaceted career. As an author, co-song writer, singer, actress, motivational speaker, and even jewelry designer, I really admire those who have had careers that have encompassed many facets of who they are successfully. I’ve been told since I was a child that I look like Barbra Streisand, and I am proud that she is the celebrity people compare me too.
When did you realize you were musically gifted?
I’ve always had an affinity for music. When I was a very young child, I remember my dad playing classical music on his new stereo because at the time, classical orchestral music showcased the sound of great speakers the best. I was drawn to classical music. When my grandparents listened to music, they often listened to opera, so I was exposed to it at an early age, and that is when I started to experiment with my pipes for singing. I used to emulate the sounds I heard the sopranos making when they’d sing. My grandparents were amused and impressed, and suggested that I take voice lessons.
For years, I took piano lessons because it seemed as though it was the default for kids. I loved the music I was supposed to be learning, but didn’t feel the desire to practice piano. It just wasn’t my instrument. My piano teacher also noticed that I had a particular affinity for singing, harmonizing with the melodies she’d play for me, and she suggested to my mother that I switch to voice lessons.
In the meantime, my mother really loved the music of Kenny Loggins, and she met him in the butcher section of a market near our house in Encino, and near a house that Kenny owned at the time. My mom told Kenny that I loved listening to his music in the car with her, and he was touched that a four year old blind girl was loving his music. He invited us backstage at his next concert in LA. I remember being fascinated by certain things, like how he could make harmonies with himself.
At age 4, I started taking two tape recorders, recording my voice with one of them, and then playing my voice back and recording on a second recorder until I had created several tracks of my own voice in harmony with itself.
Of all the different musical genres, what was it about opera that attracted you?
When I started singing, I started in pop as that seemed to be the default for kids of my generation. When I saw “Phantom of the Opera” at age 12, that’s when I realized I wanted to sing opera. The show itself is a musical, but the style of singing is very operatic, and you are thrust back into 19th Century Paris, and the setting is the Paris Opera House. I told my voice teacher I wanted to sing the leading role of Christine, so I started learning her songs. My teacher who was a Juilliard alum in opera, was thrilled that I seemed to show some potential in classical singing, and she moved me into classical repertoire when I was 12.
This coincided with middle school, a particularly difficult time in my life. I had just started at the college prep school my brother had just graduated from, and I was the first and only blind student there. I felt very isolated as the other kids had never met another blind kid before, and I also didn’t look very cool because I had a huge laptop computer (this was the early 90′s), a cane that I wore in a pouch every day on this belt over my jeans, a key to my locker hooked to a keychain on that same belt, so I sort of looked a little unapproachable to most people.
I found many of my friends in musical activities I’d do outside of school. I joined the All-State Honor Choir in 9th grade which is made up of the best high school singers from all over the state. When I was in choir, kids liked me because they could relate to me through the music we shared together. We all became friends through the music in spite of our ethnic, class, Race, and any other differences.
I found this same special bond with kids when I went to the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, a summer camp-like program for kids to study their instrument with world renowned faculty. We all sat on the Tanglewood lawn in this remote but beautiful part of Massachusetts, listening to the Boston Symphony, and all the world class artists that performed during the summers at Tanglewood, and that was such an amazing part of my education and inspiration towards opera.
Because music had treated me so well in a time when I felt so isolated, I decided to devote my life to it, and I went to Oberlin College and Conservatory where I studied classical voice. I then went onto Yale Opera, and then lived in NYC for many years to pursue my career in classical music. Oberlin was the first place where I felt celebrated for my blindness. I think that really made a huge difference for my self esteem, because for the first time, I felt cool in a school setting on a daily basis, and that feeling was so new to me.
What’s your favorite piece of music that you have performed?
Oh, there are so many. What first came to mind was an opera by the composer Francis Poulenc called “La Voix Humaine,” which takes place in Paris in the 1930′s in a woman’s apartment. The entire opera is about a conversation in real time she’s having with her lover who tells her midway through the call that he has left her to marry someone else. The piece is completely tragic, and captures all of the worst fears we have of abandonment, the utmost loneliness, and fear of what’s ahead.
The neat thing about the opera is that I am alone on stage while performing, and the only other character is a telephone which rings now and then when she gets cut off, and the person playing this role always has to make the audience hear what her lover on the other end must be saying to her. There are so many vocal colors and facial expressions I had to convey, and it was one of the most rewarding, viscerally human experiences I’ve ever had on stage. I also think it shows my vocal range.
Another piece I love singing is one that was written for me by the Israeli composer, Noam Sivan called “In the Mountains of Jerusalem.” The poetry is by the late Israeli poet, Leah Goldberg. These are also about isolation and longing, frustration with being disconnected from some sort of life experience. There are four pieces in this set, and each one is like a little opera in itself, the range of emotions and the vocal range in the song are both really dynamic. It is always great when a composer writes something for a specific singer because they can capitalize on the vocal and artistic characteristics unique to the individual performer. Even though I’m a mezzo-soprano, and a specific vocal range is attributed to my voice type, Noam discovered that I have a particular affinity for singing with emotion in the upper register which may almost put me in the soprano category, but he featured both my low and high ranges, making the piece very fulfilling for me to sing.
Who do you want to work with? What opera would you love to perform that you have not yet already?
I would love to sing with Placido Domingo. I just adore his voice. It just oozes emotion. It’s like eating a velvety piece of chocolate cake. I would also love to work with the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas because he is one of the most talented conductors out there, and he has gotten the orchestra to sound absolutely incredible. I’ve also always wanted to work with the director Peter Sellers because his productions are so innovative, and I had the impression that he would really see my blindness as an interesting trait to incorporate into an operatic role. I also feel the same way about Julie Taymor who also happens to be an Oberlin alum. I actually voiced this to her when I met her briefly at a talk she gave at the Lincoln Center Film Festival. I hope we do get to work together because she is so brilliant, and is also really good at getting the best artistry out of her actors. In terms of an opera I’d love to sing which I have never done before, anything by Claudio Monteverdi which is very early Baroque, and is just incredibly sensual music.
What inspired you to write Do You Dream In Color?
I was inspired to write my book because I wanted to give people insight into just how rich and fulfilling a life I have as a blind person as many people sadly assume my life is isolated, lonely, and lacking in the normal joys and expectations most women have, such as being in a wonderful relationship, having children, having a successful career, etc. I wanted the reader to forget about the blindness, and just to experience a universal, relatable story about challenges, rewards, obstacles, and successes, while also taking a colorful journey with me through my own personal adventures.
I wanted to use the words “dream” and “color” in the same sentence because I wanted to challenge people to think past their limitations, to see their weaknesses as their greatest strengths. Some might think that dreaming in color is a paradox for a blind person, but the truth is that I do dream big, and that I have a colorful life. I think that people who forget to dream because they are so scared to rid themselves of their own self-imposed limitations just need a push in the right direction. They need to hear that others are doing it, whether we’re blind, faced with some other health challenge, unhappy with some sort of physical or other trait, or otherwise fearful. I hope that my story can help others, and I hope I also change people’s perspectives on blindness in the process.
Your story is so inspiring – how have you gone about spreading your message and why is it important to you?
I have gone about spreading my message mostly via my concerts and some motivational speaking engagements. In my concerts, I often tell stories from my life which pertain to the pieces I’m about to sing because I always go on stage thinking that there is someone in that audience who needs some lifting up, some encouragement, or else just a fun evening to let their hair down. When I bring my point home with the music, it really gives my message the emotional context it needs for each individual person with his or her own unique story.
It is so important for me to share my story because I know that we all feel like the underdog at times, but we all deserve to achieve the greatest success, and to claim the fulfilling life we deserve. I think that being blind has given me perspective on how it feels to be treated differently. I feel very strongly that difference should be treated as a positive thing, not a negative one, and yet people are so focused on the traits they don’t like about themselves. Often, these insecurities stand in the way of people’s goals, and I feel that people need to find the skill sets, the things they are best at to help them get where they need to be.
I also believe that many people do not see themselves as beautiful. It is so important to feel beautiful which I did not for so many years. It’s when I started to feel beautiful, happy with who I am that I started to have more success, and that is why my partner Jenny and I are in the midst of writing an album with the title track, “The Girl I Am,” about those times when we have been brought down, and how we need to rise above it and remember the people we are, and how wonderful that is. We’ve performed this song for a variety of audiences, most recently a high school girls choir in Rock Springs Wyoming. All the girls in the room were sobbing, and they told us that the music and our words gave them hope in a time when they feel so insecure about who they are. That is who we want to reach, the teens and young adults who need to know that life gets better as long as they remain truthful to who they are.
How did you get into jewelry design?
In 2006, I was living in NYC, and had been doing so for about a year and a half. I was trying to find my way, not only in music, but in general. Job opportunities seemed limited to a blind person because there was little trust from those out in the work force that we were equally contributing and valuable members of society as sighted people. I found that more and more as I interviewed for various jobs, and tried to get work even as a private voice teacher.
In the spring of that year, my mother’s friend was visiting NYC, and when I gave her a hug, I happened to notice a bracelet she was wearing. She told me she had made it herself, and that she thought of me when she was taking the jewelry making class because she used her sense of touch more than her sight. It was so nice to hear someone say that jewelry making was something accessible to me that I was inspired to start taking jewelry making lessons, and I asked the private instructor for the Jewish Community Center’s beading and wire wrapping classes to give me private lessons so as to show me hands on the techniques I would need.
This opened up a world of artistic explosion for me. I’ve always loved jewelry, and now I could create my own styles. I would go to bead stores for hours, and just listen to the beads clinking against each other, feeling the different textures, being told about the amazing colors of each strand of stones. I loved the idea of making unique statements by juxtaposing unusual texture, color, and shape contrasts. That same friend of my mother’s who had recommended that I take jewelry making classes hosted my first showing at her house in Santa Barbara, and I’ve since had my pieces in various boutiques around LA and NYC, as well as having my own online site for my jewelry: TheRLook.com.
Any advice for ladies who are just starting out in a musical career?
I would tell ladies who are just starting a musical career to trust their mentors. Never believe what the nay-sayers say. Those people don’t understand us, so we need to find those who get why we’re unique, and why we have something special to say in our music or art.
I would also tell them to always know who they are as artists, and what they are trying to convey. Never try to emulate another artist, but know what makes them special as individuals.
Finally, I’d tell them to always be kind people, and to be compassionate. I’ve met so many people in my career who are so lonely because they forgot to take the time to get to know other people and their stories. I always find that putting community and family first will help make for a rich and well-rounded happy life.
If you’re into nail art then you’ve probably heard about the documentary film NAILgasm that is releasing today. Brass, a documentary filmmaker, decided to delve deep into the nail art subculture to find out about its roots and the main players in the industry. I had the pleasure of meeting Brass when she interviewed Liz and me for NAILgasm. She was a great interviewer and I could tell that she was exploring nail art not as an outsider, but as someone who had a true passion for it. I decided to turn the table on Brass and ask her a few questions about what makes her tick and on her new film NAILgasm.
What woman, besides your mom or grandmother, do you find inspirational?
How did you get your start as a documentary filmmaker?
First I fell in love with documentary photography back in 2009. Then I quickly realized no one really makes money doing that so the next logical step was making documentary films where I get to combine my love of photography and exploring the lives of other more fully.
When did you first discover nail art?
Nail Art has been apart of urban culture for as long as I can remember so it’s not new to me. However, I first started seeing it go “mainstream” aka outside of the hood back in 2008.
Why did you decide to make a documentary about nail art? What is it about nail art that inspires you?
The things these women and men are able to put on their nails is AMAZING! It’s like miniature paintings on your nails. What really inspires me about nail art are the people that take it seriously and are making a career out of it even though it’s not the most respected profession in the world, yet.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned about nail art while making Nailgasm?
All of the technology that goes into nails. There’s so much chemistry involved. It’s almost like rocket science in terms of how these products are made and applied.
Favorite manicure and shape that you like to rock?
Super impractical, but stiletto (sharp pointy nails) were my favorite to rock.
What’s your favorite film that you’ve worked on?
NAILgasm. I definitely got to live my dream in a lot of ways with this project.
Who do you want to work with?
HBO, PBS, MTV and any other company that supports the making of rad documentaries, hint hint
What part of documentary film making is the most challenging and do you dislike the most?
Editing. OMG, this took MONTHS to edit, literally.
Any advice for ladies who are just starting out in a career path similar to yours?
Ladies, you are unstoppable. Once you fully grasp and accept your power the world better look out!
I found out about Hazel Rose aka Miss Haze through MISS photographer favorite Amanda Lopez. I immediately noticed Miss Haze’s strength, but most importantly her positivity. With so many artists, men and women alike, talking down to women it was a pleasure to hear about strong women. In a lot of ways Miss Haze represents what the Bay Area is about to me – you take away the sheen of LA and the grit of NY and your left with Bay Area soul.
What woman, besides your mom or grandmother, do you find inspirational?
I love legendary women like Frida Kahlo, artist/activist Arundhati Roy, or someone like Bjork, who let every aspect of their being become their art and mission. From social interactions, to clothing, performance, to spirituality. I want to push the boundaries of art and explore this multi-dimensionality and new ways that art can be integrated in and can transform society.
How did you get your start in music?
I’ve written poetry forever, since unrequited love poems in grade school . I got into spoken word poetry with an organization called Youth Speaks, who I now teach with. I got into emceeing in high school with my girl crew we called “Galaxy” freestyling on my stoop and drinking 40oz’s in Dolores Park. Then I started getting down with SF family like Since88 and 40Love in high school.
photo credit: Adapt Advancers Clothing
How did 40Love get together?
Our producer Mikos and emcee G-OFF grew up together in the same Buddhist community, practicing Nichiren Buddhism, based on the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, a transformative practice based on humanitarian values and the shared goal of World Peace. Myself and Julio (DJ The Whooligan) now practice it as well. I met Mikos at Youth Speaks, and the boys met through Amoeba Records, where Julio was working at the time and where they would always go in and chop it up about new releases. We started about 40 years after the Summer of Love in SF, so we also got inspired by that movement and thinking of new ways to try and use music to unify.
How is it being the only woman in 40Love?
It’s a great dynamic for me, because the boys are so dope, they’re crazy, funny, and music nerds so I’m always learning from them. People never expect me to rap, so I like surprising them .
Photo by Amanda Lopez
A lot of your music has a “girl power” message. Is it important for you to convey that through your music? Why?
It is important for me to convey a conscious message, not even necessarily just for women, but for all beings. I studied Peace and Conflict Studies at UC Berkeley, and have always been interested in the use of art as a tool for shifting dominant paradigms that are pushed by our empire. I’ve started my life’s work through art and teaching, because also something I learned through international studies is the importance of starting out at home, where you know the history, with an aim to make a global impact. Especially because people in this country do have so much power– we are deeply connected to global systems and power structures, and need to be aware and take action based on that. It’s even more important to me to be an example to young girls and students who I see don’t really have role models that can affirm their experience and their value, especially in hip hop. I want to help be that for young men and women.
What’s your favorite song that you’ve written or performed?
I think I’m moving into a new stage in my writing , and when I feel unsettled or challenged like that I know I’m where I want to be as far as growth. So it could be my newest track, “Dynasty” I wrote on my birthday in collaboration with Since88. (VIDEO DROPPING NEXT WEEK!)
Photo by Amanda Lopez
You recently collaborated on a piece of jewelry for the release of the 40Love Dreams Don’t Sleep album. Is it your first design project? Any interest in designing more jewelry, accessories or clothing?
Yes, it’s my first design project, although I’ve always loved visual arts and made stickers and drawings, as well as making props and art for videos. I think I’ll have to leave the design to the designers, although I loved being a part of making jewelry with stones that had powerful properties, like our Warrior of Love earrings that had a sword and healing Rose Quartz. I will be getting into more video production however, specifically in my arts collective’s new Webisode series based on alchemy, that’s gonna be dropping next year .
Who do you want to work with?
So many artists! Anyone that really has a deep passion for their craft and wants to share minds and build. But as far as producers, Flying Lotus and Diplo are two that I would love to vibe with.
Photo by Arnelle Lozada
What part of writing and performing is the most challenging and do you dislike the most?
Hmm, it could be the pressure (outward or self-imposed) to fit the kind of music that is really selling these days. But I just have to believe I am a vessel, and as an artist all I can really do is truthfully reflect on the human experience and work to transform my own mind state and vibrations in doing so. So that’s really not a choice, I have to honestly express or else the music would be false.
Any advice for ladies who are just starting out in the music industry?
Yes! There’s room for more than one of us, and don’t be afraid to speak on all of the multitudes you contain. I think we should be able to own our own sexuality at whatever capacity we want to. Carve out spaces for yourself and never stoop lower than your value in order to progress in the industry. Holding self respect, dignity, and mission for whatever it is that’s your expression are key. Also I would say, although “don’t drink the pickle juice”, (-Nicki), take every opportunity to perform, even for just a couple people, but constantly hone your craft so it’s something you’re proud of and can stand behind. Plant seeds and network with your community, because they won’t show love if you don’t. Try and figure out ways your work can be necessary to people, creating a new niche. and as obvious as it sounds, keep grinding every day and don’t give up, because no one will advocate for you if you aren’t.
Many times when we think of fashion designers we think of runway shows and flashy ad campaigns. But those types of designers barely scratch the surface of the pools of talent that are designing and producing clothes we actually wear in real life. Sue Fuller is one of those hidden people behind the scenes at one of the largest workwear companies – she’s the General Merchandising Manager at Carhartt, Inc. In this role, she is responsible for both men’s and women’s product development, design and licensing. As part of the senior management team, Sue helps develop the overall strategy to support the growth of the brand as the company focuses on introducing more consumers to its products. With over sixteen years experience in the field, before joining Carhartt, Sue held positions L.L. Bean, Land’s End and Polo Ralph Lauren. Here’s a little bit more about Sue Fuller…
1. What woman, besides your mom or grandmother, do you find inspirational?
Margaret Thatcher and Coco Chanel
2. How did you get your start in the fashion industry?
An internship in the fashion industry at Liz Claiborne. From day one of the internship I knew exactly what I wanted to do for a career.
3. Tell us about what you do for Carhartt and take us through a typical day.
I am in the General Merchandise Manager at Carhartt. I oversee the functional areas of Merchandising/Design/Technical Design/Color/Sourcing. What I love best about this position is that there is no typical day – EVER! Our main objective every week is getting product to the consumer that is Carhartt worthy (impeccable quality/durability/authentic).
4. What is it like working for Carhartt? With its feet firmly planted in workwear and tradition, how do you balance that with “fashion.”
I am fortunate to work for a company that embodies such legacy, history and heritage. How many people can say that they work for a company that has stayed true to itself for over 123 years? With this type of legacy comes a great deal of responsibility to ensure that every product that we produce is built with the worker in mind. We obsess over every last detail to ensure that we are staying true to workwear roots and our workwear consumer. The people that work on the product genuinely care about the consumer. We start every product with the consumer in mind.
5. You work in developing product for both men and women. How is your product development approach different when tackling men’s and women’s collections?
Our product development approach for Men’s and Women’s is actually very similar. We start with the consumer in mind and build product that will really work for them. We also ensure that we are discussing the same qualities of a garment regardless of gender. We always ensure that we are building an impeccable quality/durable and authentic product that will last.
6. The Carhartt licensed apparel in Europe is more streetwear based and the brand is heavily involved in promoting urban culture and lifestyle through music and art, while the original US brand is based in workwear. Are there any plans to expand the scope of the US brand to include more streetwear and lifestyle like the European license?
Regardless of location, we strive to have everyone think of Carhartt and the great durable/quality product that we make.
7. Any exciting new developments at Carhartt that you want to share?
We are working on so many exciting developments at the moment! We are introducing more newness and innovation than ever before across all product categories. A big focus for us is on lightweight and durability. People always think of Carhartt for durability because of our strength in our fabric. We are expanding our line to include just as durable product as we always have had, but with lighter weight options (25-30% lighter). We perform rigorous testing on each and every fabric to ensure that we are exceeding the expectations of the worker.
8. What’s your favorite piece that you’ve worked on?
This is like being asked which child I like the best! It is difficult to choose since we put so much energy into each product and trim component of a garment. I am very excited for our new Quick Duck offering that will be debuting in F’12 where we are launching our first lightweight and water resistant outerwear pieces.
9. Who do you want to work with?
I love individuals who are passionate about what they do everyday. These are type of people I try to surround myself with.
10. What part of being part of the senior management of a large company is the most challenging and do you dislike the most?
I am fortunate to work with an inspiring group of leaders with a common focus and vision. We all greatly respect the worker and the heritage of the company. It is wonderful to be part of an organization where we are all striving toward the save goal.
11. Any advice for ladies who are just starting out in the fashion industry?
Do what you love! I am fortunate to be able to say that I have never had a “job” in the fashion industry – I have had a passion for the past 18 years. This is how I know this is what I am supposed to be doing.