The Brave Collection: Where Fashion Becomes Social Action

Fashion, jewelry and accessories have been used socially for generations to help others understand a part of our story. In some cases, it becomes like a second skin, reflecting our values, passions, interests, or industry. Whether artistic, formal, protective, casual or ever-changing — our fashions are always leaving clues and whispering hidden messages of who we are, or who we want to become.

THE BRAVE COLLECTION, created by Jessica Hendricks is a line of bracelets with a message of its own.  Made of sterling silver, 14k gold and recycled brass bombshell castings from the Cambodian Civil War, the bracelets proudly display the word “Klahan” which means “Brave” in Khmer, the language of Cambodia. After being charmed by the sweet designs of the bracelet, the obvious questions that arise are “what does that say?” and “what does it mean?” propelling the inquisitor into the heart of a terrifying and tragic story, one that’s all too real, but one that offers a call to action that can be as simple as wearing the fashion.

Now for Jessica’s story…

Jessica was an English teacher working abroad in Thailand. Having the opportunity to take some side trips, she ventured into Cambodia and fell in love with the culture and people until she learned of the horrible human violations plaguing the country as a result of the sex-trade industry. Amongst the horror stories, she learned that Cambodia is among the worst solicitors of sex slaves, and although now a global problem, Cambodian children, especially girls, are among the worst targeted. Like all sex slaves, they are stolen or traded and sold for enormous profits at the cost of their personhood. According to Jessica’s research, girls as young as four years old are being sold to brothels, are terribly abused, and sometimes forced to serve up to 30 “clients” a day. Unable to escape these enormity of the problem, she came back with a vision to make a difference. She discovered Cambodian schools and artisans that offered exploited women new opportunities, and this was perfect point of connection for her and the dream in her heart to take shape. Jessica’s company has helped bring girls and women over to New York to be a part of “THE BRAVE COLLECTION” team. This happens when brave individuals like Jessica unite to create awareness. She has developed a beautiful line, and given voice to a cause that needs our immediate attention. By wearing the bracelet, one not only supports an ethical, love-driven business, but helps share the story and raise awareness.

For me, Jessica Hendricks is a pioneering woman. Her passion to make a difference is contagious, and it’s one of the markers of a successful leader. This coincides with a message I’ve been passionately pursuing in my own life journey. I’ve just released my second book “Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women of the World” (Assouline), with the desire to encourage women to live their best lives, and follow the guidance of their conscience, regardless of how difficult a journey it seems. “Pioneers of the Possible” is a collection of stories of women who in their own right, have changed the world to make it a better place for us all, and what better examples can we give ourselves than the inspiring stories of other great women?

The First week of Pioneers of the Possible Book launch

I woke up Tuesday morning especially early. For those of you who know me, it is of no surprise when you receive an email from me at 5:30 am!  For the past few years, I have been waking up automatically at 5am, and quite frankly this is the only time in the day that I feel I can get uninterrupted work done. So just imagine, here I was—wide awake at 4:30 in the morning, in the pitch dark—thinking of my big day ahead. Yes. It was my book launch celebration that Tuesday.

I tiptoed out of my bedroom to my home office and saw a message flashing on my screen.  Women’s Wear Daily had just printed a full-page article on my book, Pioneers of the Possible, the very day of my book launch on Tues. Feb. 21st!  I hoped that this wonderful review is a good omen for things to come for my book—my labor of love for the past 2 years.

You never know how a book is received by the public; as a writer you do what is most fascinating to you and you only hope that you transfer that excitement to the reader.   That Tuesday morning, I stepped into the SLS Hotel to find 350 eager readers and supporters greeting me.

I don’t know if I have the words to describe the special bond one creates with the reader; but most certainly it is an intimate one, because the book becomes a medium for both the writer and the reader to take a journey together.

People who have been following my blogs, who had read my previous book were there in full support.  And may I add with such enthusiasm that there was a certain kind of electricity in the room.

I not only have created a bond with my readers, but I also have formed a special connection to the 20 pioneering women I have showcased in the book. While researching their lives, reading their memoirs and going over interview clips, I felt as if I was getting to know a new friend, or an admired mentor.  Their lives, their presence in the world inspired me. I posted their pictures on a board in my office and wrote down the quotes that resonated in my life.

My wish is that Pioneers of the Possible, and the lives of these visionary women around the world opens that door for the readers to once again take that special journey of discovery with me.  These are stories of hope, resilience, creativity, and the joy in celebrating the achievement of women.

“It’s Our Turn” Brentwood School hosts it’s first ever Young Women’s Conference featuring Maria Shriver, Mary J Blige, and surprise guest Lady GAGA.

Eight hundred and fifty young women from 150 schools in the Los Angeles area had gathered in the Gym of Brentwood School for its first ever, Young Women’s Conference, called “It’s Our Turn.”

It was a proud moment for all of us women and especially Brentwood parents to see such a thoughtful and inspirational day unfold before us.  Maria Shriver was the honorary chair for the event and the executive committee—the ones who put on the conference—was made of 10 brilliant Brentwood School Girls that had a passion for growth and for tackling some modern-day issues facing girls today.

It goes without saying the discussion panels and the speakers were beyond belief! Yes, just imagine that the fierce and talented Mary J Blige spoke onstage about her journey, her relationships, and her own experiences with work and rejection.  She was so gracious, candid, and open-hearted that you couldn’t help but admire this woman for what she has done.

I had the great privilege of being a presenter as well and I when I was in the green room, I ran into her and told her how real and remarkable she was.  She smiled at me and said, “Thank you, it means a lot to me.” She wasn’t acting like a larger than life personality, but rather a humble and authentic woman.

A whole host of accomplished women took the stage talking about balancing work and family, about giving back to the community, self-defense and creating boundaries, self-esteem, and bullying.

The big surprise came at the final hour of the event. The surprise guest speaker was blonde donning Chanel sunglasses, a bright red lipstick, a biker leather jacket with studs all over. Any clues? A red silk blouse was tied around her waste that served as a make shift mini skirt and heals that must have been 10 inches high. She came on the stage and the entire gym went wild—there she was—Lady Gaga!

In a world where everything dwindles down to images and sound bites, Lady Gaga sat and talked about her difficulties she faced in being excluded in high school, her own insecurities, and some of the obstacles that have come across her path.  Well over a hundred girls stood in line to ask her questions, and I was amazed to see the level of connection and truthfulness she shared with the audience.

As everyone headed out of the conference, all I could hear were the girls chatting among themselves about the incredible day they had all shared. I was thinking to myself how wonderful it would have been for my generation to have had this kind of opportunity to talk about such issues when we were in the midst of our tumultuous, hormonal ride through high school.  Indeed “It is Our Turn” was the most appropriate name for the conference for these girls.

Margaret Thatcher: If You Want Anything Done, Ask a Woman

“In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man — If you want anything done, ask a woman.” — Margaret Thatcher 1982.

Margaret Thatcher, known best as the ‘Iron Lady’ and former Prime Minister of Great Britain (from 1979-1990), will forever be remembered as the United Kingdom’s most powerful Prime Minister since the days of Winston Churchill.

She entered government during difficult times, and is largely credited to turning things around. Labor Unions were on strikes for various reasons, and the nation’s economy was facing recession. As the first ever woman Prime Minister, and leader of the Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher put a plan into action. She privatized public housing and formerly nationalized enterprises such as coal, iron, steel, gas, electricity and water supply, and restricted some of the power of trade unions. Her riskiest move of all was the way she tried to control inflation. She believed inflation was a disease of money and only controlling the money supply could cure, and that she did. During her tenure, inflation fell from 27% in 1975 to 2.5 % in 1986.

She never lost an election, and won wars — most notably the Faulkland Islands. She forged a key alliance with President Ronald Reagan, where Britain and the US became the most powerful allies in fighting the Cold War.

Born into a middle-class family in Grantham, Lincolnshire (13 October 1925), Martha neither knew great lack or great privilege in her youth.

Margaret’s father, Alfred, was the single biggest influence in her life.

He stressed the importance of handwork and duty, and always asked her to form her own opinions on matters. She graduated from Oxford in 1947, with a degree in Chemistry, and was the first in her family to go to University. In 1951 she met Denis Thatcher, a wealthy divorced businessman, with whom she married and had two sons. He funded her continuing education, which enabled her to become a barrister. This man must have been an incredible man for knowing and understanding who Margaret was and supporting her in her dreams. And she was also quite grateful.

When she finally resigned as Prime Minister, she asked the Queen that Dennis not she, be given an honorary title, as Sir Dennis.

As much as she didn’t have many close women friends and enjoyed the company of men, she had no qualms about her identity as a woman. When running for premiership, she explained, “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home, will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.”

Respected by Presidents, World Leaders, and civilians Margaret Thatcher will be remembered as a strong politician who was never afraid to put up a fight for her country. I can’t wait to see the new movie coming out that features Meryll Streep as Mrs. Thatcher. I hear that the movie is not so kind to her, but in the world of politics, even the kindest of women is fair game.

Marchesa Casati: A Living Work of Art

When we think about pioneering women, we think of women who have broken boundaries in different arenas. But pioneering women have many faces. Take for example the first American dare devil woman, Annie Edson Taylor, who was the first person ever to go over Niagra Falls in a barrel. The good news is that she survived, and went on to make a career for herself. Yes, you might wonder “what was she thinking about?” But, there is no rhyme or reason to following what takes hold of you.

Luisa, Marchesa Casati was another one of those eccentric women who marched to the beat of her own drum. And, in the meantime, she became a fashion icon, a muse to many of the most well known artists of her era. She invigorated European fashion, and will be forever remembered by her striking visage, ensembles, and entourage. In 1881 she was born into a world of privilege and grandeur. Her father was given the title Count Amann by King Umberto I himself. An Italian heiress of incredible wealth, her parents died when she was only 13 years old, leaving her and her sister an immense fortune – one that she would spend creating her fantasy dream world.

She bought a grand villa in Venice, which would later become the home of another extravagant woman, Peggy Guggenheim. There she would have some of the most talked about masquerade balls in Europe. Imagine Luisa Casati entering the room in her characteristic cadaverous makeup, shocking red hair, and coal-rubbed-eyes and her fantastical clothing ensembles that resembled costumes. Think Cher 1980s but on steroids! Of course, Cher never dared to walk around town with a leashed cheetah or wear a boa constrictor as a necklace. But Casati’s famous words encapsulate her philosophy on life, “I want to be a living work of art.”

She wanted to create a life and image of herself that was beyond convention, but purely based on imagination. As the famous Laurel Thatcher Ulrich used to say, “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” – and this one-of-a-kind woman sure made an imprint in the annals of history.

Never mind the big parties, and the grand lifestyle, Casati was able to inspire generations of artists, poets, and fashion designers. In September 2003, Karl Lagerfeld provided a portfolio of sketches and photographs of Marchesa Casati for for The New Yorker magazine. Yves Saint Laurent and Tom Ford have also looked to Casati as a muse.

Although I am not one that is drawn to fantastical or extravagant life, I can still appreciate Casati’s choices because she showed a certain kind of boldness and confidence that is rarely seen. The lesson learned here, is that when you are truly being yourself and expressing your individualistic style, there is a level of authenticity that resonates with people. And this, in turn, moves others to do the same.

Becoming an Ageless Joy-Hunter

I will never forget that Wednesday afternoon in my writing class where a group of us writers were editing each other’s work. Samantha, a gorgeous woman with an effervescent personality, was sharing a chapter in her memoir. Heads turned when we stumbled upon a paragraph describing her family life and kids. No, she was not a molester; she was not in an abusive relationship; she had a thirty-two year-old daughter!

We are all guilty of this. The minute a mother says how old her child is, we immediately do the math to find out her age. Well, it didn’t take us long. We all looked up in disbelief, and Scott, a fellow writer blurted out, “What? You must be fifty something? I mean, you look fabulous-I mean, you look like you could be 40 or something!”

Samantha looked up and smiled. But, you could tell from the look in her eyes she was dead serious. “Well, I am 53 years old to be exact. And no, I don’t look younger. This is what a fifty-three year-old looks like,” she told Scott.

While I put my head down to smile, I heard the woman sitting next to me say, “Yeeeessss,” under her breath. This was the first time I saw a woman not be flattered by “you-look-younger-than your-age” compliment. Samantha was making a point that nowadays fifty-year-old look fabulous too. Gone are those stereotypical images of 50 or 60 year olds as dowdy women, settled into a habitual and boring life.

So what made Samantha so attractive? For sure, Samantha was endowed with good looks and probably great genes, but what made her particularly attractive was her magnetic presence. To put it simply, she radiated a vitality and love for life that was ageless.

I have been intrigued by this ever since. After having done more than two years of research on an international group of women for my upcoming book: Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women of the World, one characteristic seems to shine through their remarkable lives. It was Passion.

Passion is that fire inside that fuels us, adds depth to our lives, and brings the glow of vitality on our face. And this phenomenon holds true for all people— and not just women. When Henry Moore, the famous sculptor, was asked why he was still continuing his work so richly into old age, he replied that he had a passion so great that he could never chip it all away.

Indeed those who have a strong life force streaming through their veins seem to go about doing what they love and continue doing it into their old age— quite happily. For example, Martha Graham’s went on her dance company tours well into her 80’s and 90’s. Critics believe that the most joyful work was the one she created at the ripe old age of 96!

Estee Lauder, who built a multi-billion dollar cosmetic empire, worked well into her 70’s and was noted to say, “It wasn’t youth that made me so energetic-it was enthusiasm. That’s why I know a woman of any age has it within her to begin a business or life’s work of any sort. It’s a fresh outlook that makes youth so attractive anyway, that quality of anything is possible. That spirit is not owned only by those under thirty.”

These people were what I call “joy-hunters”-guided not only by the goodness of their heart by the fullness of their courage to take a step after another, to reach beyond the confines of age, background, and cultural conditioning, to become the larger, happier person that they were meant to be.

This does not mean that we should have started a successful career in our youth. As a matter of fact, most successful women tell you that they made sense of their career trajectory in hindsight. While making decisions, they did not have every bit of information to move forward, but they moved forward nonetheless.

Two lessons learned from happy, successful women is that they trust their instincts and they have no qualms about fine tuning or readjusting their direction when it doesn’t resonate with them. Remember: it is much easier to change direction when a bicycle is moving than at a standstill.

Jack Canfield’s book “The Success Principles” offers another piece of good news. He notes that venture capitalists rarely invest in business start-ups, because so many of them fail. But there is one exception. In the case of entrepreneurs 55 years or older, the business odds of success skyrocket. Those who are 55 years or older are “Simply a better risk because through a lifetime of learning from their failures, they have developed a knowledge base, a kill set, and a self confidence that better enables them to move through the obstacles to success, ” Canfield notes.

Anais Nin was very perceptive to note this subtle way we all age: “We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in.

We carry bits and pieces of younger selves into our present life. Perhaps joy-hunters instinctively know how to harness their greatest reservoir of untapped energy later in life.

They dare to dream, listen to themselves, and most importantly give themselves permission to discover those overlooked or underdeveloped parts of themselves that they had no time to nurture, in the hopes of recapturing the lost feeling of being in love with life itself.

Our culture is picking up on the reality that there is no expiration date on passion. One can have it in their nineties, while some loose it in their youth. Finally we are accepting a greater truth: age no longer defines us. It’s time to let our passions do the talking.

The ‘Woman in the Mirror’

It’s been six years that I’ve been conducting women’s workshops. And it was just recently that I sent out this intention into the universe “I want to talk about inspirational topics with women from all different walks of life.”

What fuels my life is being around likeminded women who support me in figuring out who I am. So it was only a couple of months ago when I had gone to visit my publisher in New York that I stole two hours for myself to venture out and see great art.

And Voila! This is what you get: Woman in the Mirror, by Picasso.

There is so much to say about this image that captivated me.

How many times have we are the culprits that limit our own growth? When I first wanted to write a book, all of these negative and fearful thoughts came to my mind —Why would anybody be interested in what I have to say? How dare I change my work from being a psychology professor to becoming a writer! It’s too late. How can I manage the workload with my family’s needs? I’m too old. Am I going through a midlife crisis?—You can just imagine the laundry list of all the reasons I came up with.

I’m sure all of us have gone through this at some point of our lives or another. And magically, when I was doing research for my second book Anais Nin’s quote hit home:

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” — Anais Nin.

As we go through life’s journey, we stumble upon ourselves over and over again —our deepest desires, the important relationships in our lives, our career choices, strengths and limitations, force us to reexamine who we are and where we are heading.

Our life is seldom a straight path, but rather a series of unfolding takings and turnings. Do we check in with ourselves to see if we are headed in the right direction?

In the hopes of creating meaningful dialogue for us women who are embracing the journey, I will be posting thoughts, discoveries and topics that may interest you. But most importantly, I would like to create a forum where we inspire one another to experiencing greater and deeper lives. Just remember, re-visioning ourselves does not require us to tear down all that we have worked for, but to refocus our energies on what invigorates us most.

Here is a great quote to think about “A little change is all it takes to make a big difference,” —Editor at O, Magazine.

Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman

What happens if you spend a whole year reading biographies of incredible women?

The simple answer is that you keep going even when your project is done.

And so this summer, I read the biography of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman, yes she was as interesting as the many lastnames that she had. She was from an aristocratic family and became Winston Churchill’s daughter-in law. But she soon found herself in the center of the jet-set life, and seducing the most powerful men around the globe. With all her viciousness and torrid love affairs, she buckled down and became the “Mother Superior”, and “Duchess” of the Democratic Party—a very serious endeavor indeed. And Bill Clinton awarded her by making her the American ambassador to France. She was the consummate host, some in certain social circles referred to her as the consummate courtesan, who entertained and unified the Democratic Party after the Reagan years and afterwards when they were cast away in the wilderness.

While I was in France last year, visiting the ambassador’s residence, I saw some of the furniture that she had left behind, during her years there—a lot of large floral prints and 80’s furniture remain the private quarters.

Stay tuned for the next English Aristo that made waves in the US …

Seasons: Life is a Beach – in the Summer

For me, the eternal student, Summer has always been a time for fun. It’s a time to travel, spend time at the sea, and relish in the relaxing moments with my family and friends…time seems more generous. If you like to barbecue or lounge around the pool—you know that California summers are made for such things. It’s also the time of the year when all kids are out of school, and we who are parents can freely plan activities for our families without the constraints of the school schedules which encourage us to stay in for the night, to eat at home more often, and go to bed early.

I can’t believe it’s June already. It seems that it was just September a moment ago, and I was sending my eldest son off to college. Here we are now, the months have passed, and now I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with my family at the beach. Time is an interesting thing, as we all experience it differently at different seasons of life. For me, though, being a student and then becoming a teacher, and now a working mother, my rhythms have always been tied to the school calendar. When I think of the New Year – my first thought is September – not January. This may sound odd, but let’s face it, I find odd things more interesting…if you haven’t noticed by now!

This summer we’ve decided to rent a house on the beach for a week in Santa Monica— something that my friends may smile at seeing that we only live a city away. But realistically, who wants to drive in summer traffic (which is worse when all kids are out of school and on the road), when there are such places to rent on the California coast?

By the way, I’m not just an eternal student, but an eternal traveler as well. We have some an exciting trips planned for the summer so I will update you on that in the coming weeks.

I’m looking forward to slathering on the sunscreen, laying out on the sand with a good book in hand and sipping something cold to drink. The sound of the waves crashing and the chatter of other beach dwellers softly traveling in the wind is a luxury most of us Californians stay here for.

If you want to try some new dishes this summer, I recommending picking up a copy of “Persian Food from the non-Persian Bride”. This is a great resource and you can read my book review on Facebook.

Also for your summer reading I recommend the Churchill family biography entitled, “The Churchills”— a good blend of history and family drama.

If you get a chance, please check out an article profiling me by Slavica Monczka.

Passover Surprise from Israel

“he-lllllloooooo, an-ge-lllllllaaaa,” she greeted me on the phone on an early Thursday morning.  I hadn’t talked to her for a year or so, but I knew instantly who was on the line. It was my dear friend, Anat from Israel–my exotic Moroccan-Hungarian friend has a knack of making a two-syllable word into a five syllable one. She happens to have a great sense of humor too.  When I told her I had just come out of the shower and was thinking of her, she responded, “Honey, I have to be funny now. What were you doing in the shower thinking of me?”

We both laughed and seemed to pick up our conversation from last year in a matter of seconds.  I guess this is where a deep sense of friendship comes from, the ability to connect with another with ease and delight.  When Anat used to live in Los Angeles, she used to come to our house for the Passover Seder. Ten years ago, she decided she wanted to go back to Israel to be with her family.  She has a thirteen year old son and is an attorney now.  So much has changed in our lives, yet every Passover I think of her. I think about the silly comments we used to share at the table and how we used to crack up and giggle like little school girls.

This year, she had come unexpectedly to Los Angeles, right before Passover for a visit.  But, this time, she has come to help take care of a friend who was getting chemo.  I know this adorable friend of mine loves my cooking–she often tells me that the Hungarian side of her lies dormant.  She doesn’t care for the typical Ashkenazi dishes, but dreams of Persian rice and home-made stews.  As much as I tried to cajole her with the promise of a great seder and food, this year she has decided she will stay with her friend and nurse her back to strength.

You know, I love her even more for not joining me, because she is being a great friend to someone in need of support.  The other day, we walked down the streets of Beverly Hills, arms around each other. “We’ll catch up some more when I go to Israel in July,” I said.  “yessssss.  I hope we see each other in good health alwayyyyyyyysssss.”

At the start of this sacred holiday, this is also my wish for all of you as well!