Thursday, April 30, 2015


Like a magician's illusionary cape a spring fog unfurled its mantle on Central Park. Like nature's light switch the fog dimmed the lights of the surrounding avenues and its towering ring of celebrity buildings. The manmade world with its flashing lights and billion dollar facades disappeared, stolen from view with the swiftness of a professional jewelry heist. In the dusk of an April evening when the sun has been locked in a starless heaven there's a quiet gifted to the city not used to standing so still. The undressed trees of winter just about to unfurl their linen frocks showed off their dewy bark under the filtered light at the end of that rainy day. Mother Nature had muzzled the finch's mating calls, only the water fowl had come out to leave their rippling wakes on the mirrored surface of Central Park's lake. There's a Monet quality to the park when the fog sets in. It's as if everything has been painted with the eye of an eighty-year-old artist suffering from failing eyesight but with a mandate to create beauty. Everything loses its crisp edges. Everything becomes a little soft, only the black limbs of the soaked oak trees can hold their shape against the weather's gray paintbrush.  It's the hardier colors of tulip and daffodil that can stand up to the fog's gray mantle. The lone thump of a single runner's rubber sole on the asphalt ribbon of road that ties its bow around the park is the only sound doing a percussive solo where a symphony of noise is normally heard. It's not until you walk the precipice, the outer edge of the park before the city begins to reappear. The co-ops and condos growing like Jack's beanstalk through the fog and into the clouds overhead.
Tomorrow the fog will have melted like the snow of winter and the sun will turn the sky blue. The birds of spring will find their voices and the single song of yesterday's lone runner will turn into the cacophony of a thousand footsteps and spinning wheels making a different music from the fog's whispered eerie solo.

Photos taken in Central Park
Lee Melahn, photographer
April 14, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015


APRI. 18, 2015
The Saturday morning sun was making it difficult to get through the paperwork I had to complete before I could wrap up the week's work and enjoy at least part of the weekend. If you have cable in New York City when you turn your TV on it opens up on Channel One, a channel dedicated to local news and events. As I was typing a final client order out of the corner of my eye I caught the image of a gang of race horses and their riders decked out in Renaissance outfits fighting to make it around the hard angle of a temporary track.  Two of the horses smashed into the wall dumping their riders onto the hard packed sand brought in for the running of the Palio in Siena. The Tribeca Film Festival had opened Thursday night. Periodically on Channel One a reviewer would wind up introducing one of the films selected for the festival. This one had the one word title, Palio. Since spending several summer vacations at the Fattoria Armena, twenty minutes south of Siena seeing a documentary about the event started climbing my what-to-do-on-a-Saturday-night list.
I'd never gone to the Tribeca Film Festival event before so my education began with a quick entry onto What I immediately became aware of was you need to buy tickets well in advance.
They do offer a standby option that they call, "Rush". I'm not sure I understand the term but what you do is go to the theater approximately forty-five minutes before the movie is to start and you stand in a line in hopes that there will be some extra seating and they'll allow you in for the eighteen dollar single ticket admittance.
This is how I started my Saturday night and this is why it had to start at four-thirty. I felt a little like I was going for a senior citizen early-bird evening at Denny's but if I wanted to catch the six o'clock showing I needed to start out well before the sun had begun to descend. Showering and shaving had taken place earlier in the day. I hopped into a New York age appropriate outfit, lightly starched striped shirt, jeans, no socks, vest, Euro scarf and an over shirt tied rakishly around my waist. I'd grabbed my phone, an unfinished crossword puzzle and a pencil and off I went to catch the "C" train that would stop at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Twenty-third Street. I'd been feeling lucky for the last few days. As I leapt off the last step leading onto the downtown platform the train doors were just about to close. With the agility of someone much younger than myself I zipped sideways and onto the train without getting any of those black rubber skid marks on my vest or rakish shirt. I also got a seat. Not bad.
When I got off the train I was almost fifteen minutes ahead of my forty-five minute advance time for the "Rush" line. Still I was number ten in line. The woman ahead of me had stepped out of line to schmooze with the line keeper and had apparently done a knock-up job of it. He came over to her and told her to remember she was number nine. He then turned to me and out of necessity or nicety told me I was number ten. With nothing much to do but wait to see if we'd make it in, Jane and I started a conversation. She had picked the film because of a love of horses (I think that at the end of the film she might have been disappointed). I told her about our love of Siena. She told me about all the films she'd seen. I tried to come up with something better than Dumb and Dumber Too. I told her I commuted between New York and Madison. She told me she was born in Neenah and grew up in Milwaukee; small world. Then they started letting us in. Person one, two...nine, ten and that was it. I told you I was feeling lucky. The film was worth the risk of being left only a "Rush" hopeful and having to settle for a regular ticket to Fast and Furious Seven. The film contained more real corruption, daring and danger than FFS could manufacture with all its special effects and skinny plot lines. Now let's see if the film gets picked up and finds a distributor and then makes it to a screen near you.
I walked out on a high into the eight o'clock dusk of the first really warm day of spring. The streets of Chelsea were crawling with New Yorkers hungry for a long awaited evening with the potential of dining al fresco in blouses without sleeves and polo shirts sporting logos by Izod and Ralph Lauren.
Dining alone in the city buzzing with potential is mostly a spectator sport. I wandered through the village trying to find a restaurant with a table that wouldn't make me feel guilty depriving some couple the opportunity for wine, fresh oysters and romance. I decided it was enough to inhale the aromas of the adventures of others. I'd go home and grab a take-out burger  at Jackson Hole around the corner from the apartment.
I was a block away from the IRT station and the No.1 train that would get me back up to the Upper Westside. As I was descending the steps into the bowels of the Fourteenth Street Station came a voice so rich you could not ignore it. Sitting on a bench next to a shopping cart filled with his possessions was a man singing the pants off of classic MoTown tunes. As he sang he leaned into every note and let it slip out of the side of his mouth. His name is Geechee Dan. I slipped him the five dollars for his CD. I missed two trains while he talked about New Orleans, Jazz and the Blues, and then he sang some more. How can you not love a city where this kind of talent sits on a subway bench for your enjoyment? How can you not feel regret for a city where this kind of talent sits on a subway bench living out of a grocery cart filled with his sole possessions.


"Cupid", Lyrics by Sam Cooke
Geechee Dan, singer
14th Street IRT station, April 18, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015


There's a very fine line between sartorial elegance and narcissism. The term sartorialist is a finger pointed primarily at fashion and most frequently at male plumage. In the age of metrosexualism there's an ease of acceptance that has allowed more men to express themselves through their own personal styles broadening the male look beyond tee-shirts and jeans. This isn't a new phenomenon nor is it restricted to the human genus alone.
All winter long I've been watching a cardinal family unit flit from branch to fence post in our backyard. That male cardinal has put his little wife to shame with his brilliant red relegating her to second fiddle with her drab brown low-lights.
And lets not forget how foppish the male species could get and did get during the Louie-Shmooey period; extravagant wigs, silken britches and lots of lace.
Today's sartorialists can simply be categorized as well-dressed. It's not foppish. It's just making style something you think about before you open your door and walk out in public. It's not for everyone but the more of us that embrace it the more interesting it becomes to take a walk down Fifth Avenue.
Stirring the pot of intrigue were two major finds over the past two weeks. One happened during a conference I attended in Madison. The Writer's Institute has been a Wisconsin tradition spanning over the past twenty-six years. The conference brings in writers, publishers and authors from around the globe for an intensive three day round of lectures, tutorials and the chance to sit down for eight minutes with a publisher to try to get them to snap up your book.
Putting me on the outside lookingin was a lecture on Steampunk as a Literary Vehicle delivered by Lord Bobbins. Even spellcheck hasn't caught up with the genre and only recognizes "Steampunk" by way of a wavy red underline.  Apparently Steampunk is a form of science fiction/fantasy that weaves a storyline into a 19th century world where steam-powered machinery intertwines with technology and aesthetic design in a power struggles between good and evil. The Steampunkers create their own fictionalized history. Lord Bobbins is actually a Madisonian (real name: Eric Larson) who has created a conference for Steampunkers much like Comic Con that last year attracted almost five thousand attendees dressed as steam powered robotic characters.  Although I don't think their costumes could be categorized as street wear the look is sartorial to the extreme.
The second, as with so much of the world of research these days, was when I googled "Sartorial". What came up was a blog called, "The Sartorialist"
There's virtually no dialogue here only the photographs of photographer, Scott Schuman, who travels the world either street snatching picks of male and female sartorial splendor or working professionally for the likes of GQ, Vogue and Interview. It's a candy shop of style for what goes on in the real world.
I've added it to my favorites and have been going back daily to check out what he's seen in London, New York, or Milan. It's not the Bill Cunningham trends he goes after; it's the splendor. It's the ones who have taken personal appearance one step or maybe a leap beyond.

This sartorial search in the sphere of manliness has led me to looking at the world of the barbershop where primping and pampering have taken the domain of Steel Magnolias to a whole new level. The bearded man of the turn of the twentieth century has returned the maintenance of all that facial hair has initiated all resurgence the barbershop as a symbol of that sartorial elegance. Here are some of my favorites

Vintage Photograph, London, ca. 1940-1950
Photographer unkown
Found on

Thursday, April 9, 2015


The guy had the swagger of a young Basquiat as he slid to a halt on an imaginary skateboard in front of a painting by Howardena Pindell. With the ease of a professional driver he parallel parked between two women completely unaware of his presence. His hat, for the brief moment he stood there, appeared as a piece of graffiti spray-painted on Pindell's piece. It splattered a momentary exclamation point to the end of Pindell's artistic sentence.
It was the interaction of this boy with his hat and Pindell's artwork that took me on a momentary detour to my normal touring track at MOMA, New York's Museum of Modern Art. I walked from room to exhibition room many times before with my eye trying to pierce the meaning of the art on the walls. This time I stumbled on a new way of traveling through the museum.  It wasn't the beauty of the paintings, it was the way I saw how others appeared to connect with the art. They became my inspiration for the day. They gave me the ability to transport my imagination to places I'd never been to before, creating my own narratives on the people in front of the art.

He had moved away from the two women who mattered most to him as they met each other unexpectedly. He had come with his wife on a whim after Sunday brunch. The other woman had come to meet a friend. She had bought tickets to the Bjork exhibit. She had a fascination with the absurd and swans. His wife had known the other women from yoga class. Neither woman had yet known the man in their lives was one and the same. He knew nothing of yoga. The two women greeted each other as faces they had seen in class but not as friends. He had no idea how long their conversation would go until either they decided to each go her separate way or one of them would innocently acknowledge him. He kept his back to them his mind a jumble of fear and flight. Like a deer in headlights he looked at Boccioni's fleeing man wondering how to make his escape.

Their parents had arranged for their daughters to make a cultural visit to New York. It was to be two weeks of museums, history, and American culture, a rite of passage for three girls from Japan. There had been promises of the Met, the opera and the ballet. They had been shown maps with stars by the Guggenheim and BAM. The girls promised to come back enriched and wiser having experienced the capital of culture and forever grateful for the experience. This they said with their fingers crossed and hidden behind their backs. With Daddy's credit card in hand this was going to be a shopping trip to beat all. One week into their exercise in shopping gluttony had every day finding them either drooling at Bergdorf's windows, stepping through the glass doors of the brand designers on Madison Avenue, or slumming at the chic shops now lining the streets of the lower eastside. Their first New York Sunday afternoon found them ready to stop and stock up on essentials at the UNIQLO on Fifth Avenue. Naoko had pulled out her map with all the stars. It was then it dawned on her they were around the corner from the Modern.  To appease their Tokyo parents she suggested that maybe they should take in one cultural event, and maybe it was best to do it before they were too laden with bags imprinted with names like Saks Fifth Avenue, Armani, and Versace. The trip into MOMA hadn't been planned. They hadn't known about Nervous System's 4-D printable dress when they entered the product exhibit down the hall on the second level just beyond the suspended Bell-47D1 helicopter. They had only come to honor the promise they had made to their parents. They had not expected to find themselves, jaws reaching for the floor, in awe of fashion posing as art. Aimi turned to Naoko, "Do they take American Express?"

She could have walked in blind-folded to the wall where Jackson Pollack's One: Number 31, 1950 hung. It was her Sunday go-to-church routine, a routine she had on her calendar for almost as long as she could remember. She'd rise around ten in her third floor loft on Mercer between Grand and Canal. Her bed sat dead center on the wooden floor, a mess of Frette linen. A size two dress form wearing her Sunday uniform stood in front of an open rack of clothes. Her black cashmere sweater clung to the form under the blood red wool three-quarter coat she bought on a trip to Paris over a decade ago. Her black tam set cocked on top of the headless form. Her black leggings were neatly folded on top of her high-top leather boots, the ones with the heels that made her five-six rather than five-three. That morning she stretched out her arms with the slow-motion elegance of a ballet dancer, Jackson already splattering his magic on the canvas of her mind. She could see him in her morning coffee as she played with the swirling lines of cream she poured into her cup. In another hour she'd be standing where she stood every Sunday transfixed waiting for him to show up.

She had curves he'd never seen in real life. Once his parents had moved to the next exhibition hall he snuck back to look once more at the Rousseau. Without his parents in tow he didn't care who saw him push his face into Rousseau's jungle. If the guard hadn't been standing nearby he would have shoved his nose right into her crotch to draw in its scent. He'd dreamt Rousseau's Dream night after night since he first saw a reproduction of the painting in an art history book tucked between an autographed copy of The O'Reilly Factor and a bound set of the first four years of Garden&Gun magazine on a shelf in the family library. Some high school boys left their fantasies up to Playboy or Internet porn sites using the "clear history" prompt after the fantasy was done. He had taken to calling her Cosette after Victor Hugo's little urchin in Les Miserables. She was both tragic and innocent. She possessed his vulnerability. It made his imaginary relationship a bit incestuous but that made it exciting as well.  His eyes closed, a small drop of saliva slipped out of the corner of his mouth as he uncontrollably leaned even further in. The security guard's stern reprimand startled him out of his reverie. He jerked back with a shutter that looked more like a convulsion. Then he turned with one boyhood sigh and retraced his steps in search of his parents.

The color splattered on the wall would be no match for the blood waiting to be splattered on the floor. Nine works on paper, each the same size, each spaced out with identical borders on a flat black wall. She had just texted Mark letting him know she was at the museum. She'd meet him later that evening at Montmartre for an early dinner. She was so focused on trying to one-hand text she didn't see the woman in black. She didn't notice the woman assuming the position of Degas' Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans. She didn't see the woman's over-sized white sneakers stuck in that perpendicular stance only a young ballerina can attempt. She was draped in the cloak of mourning even before anyone was aware that mourning might be an option. Her hood hid a shaved head, a mark of devotion and subjugation to a fanaticism few could understand. The explosive in her oversized black bag had been undetectable to the metal detectors at the museum's entrance.
It had been two hours since her last text. Mark waited twenty minutes at Montmartre before he tried to text back, "Where are you?"

The Indignant Woman, 1948
Robert Doisneau, photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise, New York City

Emmy was not the kind of kid who wanted everything she saw. She wasn't seduced by Saturday morning commercials advertising Tickle-Me-Elmo or Barbie's Playhouse. When we took her to sit on Santa's lap the only thing she ever told him once she found the courage to speak to the man with big white beard was a puppy. We thought we could hold out until she was old enough to take care of a dog on her own. In New York that would mean around eighteen or twenty but at five we gave in. On the morning of her fifth Christmas, there under the tree, in a tiny antique carrier was a little yelping ball of Cock-a-poo fluff. We let her name him while girding our nerve in fear that she might come up with a name like Princess or Queenie. She named him, Buddy. He would be the sibling she'd never have. She didn't walk him, she didn't always feed him but she taught him to wrestle and to pull her hair and how to play hide-n-seek. There wasn't a day she didn't come home from school and play with him until she was finally too tired to do one more round of chase me. Buddy's devotion to her was boundless. For thirteen years Buddy never gave up.

Friday, April 3, 2015


I don't think I've missed a year attending DIFFA's Dining by Design event since we started participating back in 2004. We've been table designers, invited guests for the dining event, and now voyeurs walking through the maze of tables at Pier 92. The event is now simultaneously held with the Architectural Digest Show. Attendance at the show gets you a free entrance to into the Dining by Design event space, the cocktail party and dining event are separate with entrance fees of $200 and $500 per person respectively.
This is the first year that the event has been relocated to a separate venue since the pairing with the Architectural Digest Show. I wasn't fond of the space although I had to travel through it during daylight hours. Perhaps at night, when the main events occurred, the curtains dividing the space and the large windows open to the view of all the floating debris in the Hudson wouldn't have been so visible or disturbing.
When we started out with the event prominent designers were more involved in sponsoring their own tables. Maybe because the costs were becoming so high to produce a table, or the fact that the entry fees have escalated to a level where a sponsor needs to get involved, or worse that the cause is losing its cache, the participation is more big brand driven than it was when it started out.
Given that, sponsorship by industry biggies has made for a very professional show. Ralph Lauren chose to focus on their line of paints where the paint cans were tucked into shelves in brick walls.
Tarps fastened to the walls, ladders stacked in corners and exposed light bulbs suspended on cords gave the entire space a feel of a very exclusive storage room clandestinely set for an elegant Prohibition dinner.
Anthropologie brought forth the mystery of a romantic forest with dinner served under a canopy of surreal blue flowers and suspended candles floating in glass hurricanes.
Who wouldn't want to lounge on the banquettes in Benjamin Moore's café designed by Tyler Wisler. The soft green tufted seats and Parisian wicker café chairs were the perfect setting for coffee and romance.
Architectural Digest has been one of the main supporters of Dining by Design for the past several years. This year their table designed by event planner, Bronson van Wyck, was inspired by tented French follies. The tent was draped in stripped fabric and the back walls were lined with over 10,00 Delft tiles. These are the kind of touches a brand like Architectural Digest can pull in in the form of favors from its friends.
The very sartorial Corey Damen Jenkins designed the table for Beacon Hill where he turned the element of proportion upside down using floor lamps as his centerpieces. Oriental panels with exotic birds flew around the perimeter of the room
encompassing a table decked out in rich gold tones and emerald green.
Kravet produced a two-sided space designed by Hunt Slonem with Gothic chairs set around rounds and the walls covered in whimsical bunny paintings. It was a riot of Spring and Easter, pastels and tulips, and a precursor to their new line of fabric.
Perkins + Will took the minimalist route with their table covered with ripped and folded paper,
on the floor, over head and all over the table
I don't remember DIFFA turning the event into a competition in previous years but this year there was a designated winner, The New York Design Center. This year their table was designed by Marks & Frantz, two women with a flair for the dramatic.
Their history as set designers for film and television helped to create the Moulin Rouge inspired Victorian room.
Another winning design went to the student group from The New York School of Interior Design. Having mentored one of the student design groups in the past I know that one of the tasks they need to conquer is defining their space with a limited budget.
These students made use of every penny with a clever envelope of slated boards and an Asian influenced bottom lit table.
Even the Canadians got in the act this year with their ode to Ottawa. Set in theater marquee lights spelling out O-T-T-A-W-A it looked like a travel postcard right out of the forties.
David Rockwell, Chair Emeritus for DIFFA and principle of the Rockwell Group, not only offered a table for the event but during the public viewing he had a chef making and distributing small tastings of his culinary prowess free to anyone willing to stand in line.
The element of camouflage in fabric was one of the more intriguing tables by Echo where everything including its occupants was swathed in the same fabric. From plate to table to chair to chandelier to walls, not an element of the space was left untouched by the pattern of leaves and vines on a raspberry sea.
I fear AIDS fundraising may becoming harder and harder to generate now that there are regiments in place to help those who can afford it to live close to normal lives. But until a real cure is found there still exists a need to educate those who think themselves immortal and those in places where treatments aren't available. Lets hope that Dining by Design can hold on until they really aren't needed anymore.

Marche aux Puces, 1948
Willy Ronis, photographer
Represented by Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta