Monthly Archives: February 2011

L’AFRICANA NIGHT


Isaiah Washington and Tracee Loran

What’s better than a good cause, good food, good music, good fashion and good conversation?  Having it all on the same night! That’s exactly what I experienced Friday evening when I, along with Michelle Stoddart and Nadia Vassell, attended L’Africana™ Night New York Fashion Week Finale Party.  L’Africana™ Night, sponsored by Segal Family Foundation and Greylock Capital Partners, is the brainchild of MacDella Cooper, whom you met last week via my compelling two-part interview. The event was created to showcase African culture, artists, designers, cuisine and musicians while raising funds for the MacDella Cooper Foundation Academy, Liberia’s first free boarding school.

Patrick Brassard, my brilliant photographer for the evening, arrived ahead of me and was already holding court on the Red Carpet. If Patrick is not shooting covers for Vogue soon, something is seriously wrong!

L'Africana Night Creator MacDella Cooper & Tracee Loran

As soon as I stepped foot in the New York Society for Ethical Culture I saw MacDella; we hugged and chatted it up for a second.  I then spotted Isaiah Washington and made a beeline.  Through a friend, the prolific actor and activist had already agreed to an interview with me.  Isaiah was as debonair, cool and intelligent in person as he is on TV. Read more about this “Man From Another Land” here.

After snapping a few red carpet photos and making new friends, I headed upstairs to grab some African cuisine.  Apparently everyone beat me to the dining hall because all of the goodies were practically gone. I did manage to cop two pieces of this extra yummy banana bread from Taste of Africa; I’m still thinking about it.

Fela! Actress Saycon Sengbloh

Isaiah was our Master of Ceremonies for the evening, guiding us through award presentations for honorees Barry Segal, Basila Bokoko and Anna Schilawski as well as performances by many gifted artists like former C + C Music Factory chanteuse Zelma Davis, Fela! Star Saycon Sengbloh (if you haven’t seen Fela! run, run as fast as you can!), Rachel Fine and Liberian Pop singer 2C.

The highlight of the event was the L’Africana™ fashion show. Catwalk Vixens Millen Magese – the first Black female model signed to do a campaign for Ralph Lauren, Georgie Badiel, Danijela Lazarevic, Brianna Michelle, Former America’s Next Top Model contestant Aminat Ayinde, and Former “Face of Africa” Kate Aba Tachie-Menson were just a few of the models who strutted down the runway in stunning fashions by a collective of designers including Farai  SimoyiSelma Berisalic Starfinger, Taylor Forrest, and Korto Momolu, who previewed a snippet of her Fall 2011 Collection.

Tracee Loran & Designer Korto Momolu

You remember Korto?  She was the designer who was robbed of first place on season 5 of Project Runway.  Korto’s PR finale collection was hot and deserving of a victory; her new collection is even hotter! It contains a mix of dramatic, sweeping pieces that will surely command attention for any woman wearing them. I wanted everything! I caught up with the talented Liberian couturier after the show for a little girl talk.

What was your inspiration for this line?

One of the places that we had when I was home – we would go on weekend trips with my family – is this beach. But to get there you’d have to go through all of this bush, had to go and cut down the trees and everything. I was inspired by telling that story. You know, going through all of that darkness then you get to the sand and the water. You have to go through some stuff sometimes to get to paradise. And that’s pretty much my life story; I’m still going through it, but I know its [paradise] there because I’ve seen it.

Kate Aba Tachie-Menson Wearing Korto Momolu

What is your creative process from inception to finished product?

I like buying the fabrics first and sitting there and looking at everything and then start thinking, “How can I tell my story?  When you see the full collection, I’m actually going to show one in Nigeria at the Arise [Magazine] Show, I want you to see that story so when I explain it later you can say “Oh yeah I get it.”  Or you might just see it without it. But how can I show this turmoil, this darkness using the color palettes and use of the shapes to create texture?

How important is it for you to participate in an event like L’Africana™ Night?

It’s almost like you have to. I met MacDella years ago before the school was even [built],

Millen Magese Wearing Korto Momolu

so to be a part of it…And one day when I go and show my daughter and say, “This is what you do…you give back what you can.  It doesn’t mean you have to have thousands of dollars, you can give back your talent, you can give back your time.” And that’s why I’m doing it. It’s definitely important.

What’s your big vision?

To have a legacy.  I don’t want to just always be about clothes. I lend my voice to a lot of charities and they’re all Liberian-based because charity starts at home.  That’s where I’m from. And I see so many people there who would trade places with me in a minute even though I may think that my life is not where I want it to be, but so many people would trade for that. So giving back to them and helping them get the main thing, which is education, helps for me.  But just having one day where I can look back at my legacy and say, “You know what I did fashion but also through my fashion I did that and that and that and helped other people to hopefully pursue their dreams.”

What is the one thing you can’t leave the house without?

My PR hair.  (Laughs) Even if you don’t have make-up, the hair will cover it.

♥♥♥

Don’t mess with a Black woman’s hair! 😉 Korto Momolu might not have gotten her just desserts on Project Runway, but she’s surely getting the recognition that she deserves now.

The Godfather of African Fashion

After our conversation, Nadia and I headed to the after party at Nikki Beach.  There I had a chance to meet and converse with a fashion icon, Alphadi, who is known as the “Godfather of African Fashion.”  He’s such a sweet man and his designs are regal!

Tracee Loran: Wardrobe Provided by Raif Atelier (Gown) and Kiini Ibura (Jewels)

Speaking of regal, I felt like an absolute African Queen the entire evening.  Makeup Artist Extraordinaire Sherry Singleton did it again! She had my face glowing radiantly and she even convinced me to step outside of my cosmetic comfort zone. Now that’s real skill cuz I likez what I like. My beautiful floor-length Tie-Dye Mesh Gown was provided by African designer Raif Atelier of Brooklyn; Haby is a sweetheart for tailoring the dress to fit me perfectly!  Melody Burns of Kiini Ibura Jewelry had me sparkling with blue pearl earrings and a dazzling necklace made of Ghanian glass, blue quartz, fresh water pearls and Austrian crystal. Miss Melody also supplied a reversible silk and velvet wrist purse; she is a master craftswoman! To finish my look, I wore a pair of “Blue Suede Shoes.” Elvis would be proud. A Queen needs a chariot, so hugs to Dalton Burke of Queens Care Auto Repair for keeping my vintage Beemer running smoothly allowing me to make it to my events!

Necklace by Melody Burns of Kiini Ibura Jewelry

The evening was all that I expected it to be – meaningful, glitzy and fun! The MacDella Cooper Foundation is a wonderful organization. And the future of Liberia looks a lot brighter because of it. Even though you might have missed L’Africana™ Night, its not too late to help educate the MCF Academy children or any child in need!

If you want to support any of the artists, companies or organizations featured on The Socialite Design, just drop by their websites and tell ’em Tracee Loran sent you!

♥♥ Special thanks to my Gurl Jodi Smith for being a staunch advocate for youth and quality education. Despite the fact that she’s in my Sweet Home Chicago she still supported the MCF cause by sponsoring a ticket purchase so someone else could enjoy the event. Kudos, Jodi!

Until next time…stay radically fabulous!

Georgie Badiel Wearing Korto Momolu

Leila Rahji Wearing Korto Momolu

Aminat Ayinde Wearing Tedd Ion

Bianca Warren Wearing Frank Osodi

Georgie Badiel Wearing Sunhee Hwang

Danijela Lazarevic Wearing Taylor Forrest

Brianna Michelle Wearing L'Africana Collection-African Queen by MacDella Cooper; Styled by Sergio Alain Barrios, Georgie Badiel & Millen Magese

Kaya Wilkins Wearing L'Africana Collection-African Queen by MacDella Cooper: Styled by Sergio Alain Barrios, Georgie Bandiel & Millen Magese

Kate Aba Tachie-Menson Wearing L'Africana Collection-African Queen by MacDella Cooper; Styled by Sergio Alain Barrios, Georgie Badiel & Millen Magese

Pop Diva Zelma Davis

Philanthropist & MCF Honoree Barry Segal

Isaiah Presents Plaque to Honoree Bisilia Bokoko

Greylock Capital CFO Alsion Roach

L-R: Michelle Stoddart, Nadia Vassell, Tracee Loran

Nadia Vassell & Tracee Loran at Nikki Beach

Tracee Loran & Miss Sierra Leone Marie Mansaray

Tracee Loran & Fela! Dancer Lauren DeVeaux

Tracee Loran & MCF Chief Marketing Officer Thomas Tafuto

Tracee Loran & Model Brianna Michelle

Celebrity Hairstylist Nadia Vassell at Nikki Beach

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A MAN FROM ANOTHER LAND

 

I only became an actor to make the world fall in love with a dark skin man.”

-Isaiah Washington

 

Actor and Activist Isaiah Washington

Mention Isaiah Washington’s name and the immediate response is, “What’s he been doing since…?”  The “since” refers to the big pink elephant in the room also known as Grey’s Anatomy.  The “since” more specifically refers to him being “resigned” after three years on the Emmy Award-winning program.

It’s natural, really. There are innate misconceptions and assumptions that go along with being famous.  You lose a high-profile gig; people don’t see you for a while, so you must have faded off into a Hollywood sunset, right? Well, the Grey’s Anatomy drama is so last decade; it’s old school news. And Mr. Washington is brand new.

What has Isaiah been doing since…?  He’s been writing a book. He’s been carrying the torch of the Pan-African movement began by pioneers like W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. He’s been unearthing his roots. He’s been busy realizing the Pan-Africanist dream of dual-citizenship by becoming a citizen of Sierra Leone in 2010, making him the first African-American to receive such an honor. He’s been making history. He’s been occupied with The Borgen Project, an organization dedicated to ending global poverty and his own non-profit, The Gondabay Manga Foundation, which aims to ameliorate living conditions for the people – his people – in Sierra Leone.  He’s been saving lives. And, oh yes, he’s been acting too…on his terms.  So Isaiah Washington has been doing his thing, thank you very much.

Isaiah took a few minutes out of his hosting duties at the L’Africana™ Night New York Fashion Week Finale Party Friday evening to speak with me about what he’s been doing since…

TL: How did your journey to Sierra Leone and your recently acquired citizenship come about?

IW: It started with W.E.B. DuBois. I’ve been reading Marcus Garvey, Martin Delaney,

Marcus Garvey

Martin Luther King, Jr., Kwame Nkrumah…this is not new; everyone has been trying to accomplish what I’ve been able to achieve through the blessings of a higher being, the ancestors and the aligning of the stars and the Universe and the timing.  So what I’ve been able to accomplish is public, but its not new.

 

Isaiah Shows Off His Sierra Leone Passport. Photo Courtesy of Sierra Express Media

I carry this passport with pride, but at the same time it’s a bit melancholy that those individuals took their whole lives and some lived in exile trying to achieve what I was able to achieve recently.  Some would say its because I’m a celebrity, some would say its just my time, some would say because I’ve worked hard and I’ve earned it. I would say its just time.

TL: Time for what exactly?

IW: Time for us, particularly our community, to look to the Continent and reach back in order to give back.  Because the thing that’s so painful for me is when something like Hurricane Katrina happens everybody gets upset because they don’t think that Michael Jackson when he was alive, Bill Cosby or Oprah Winfrey or Michael Jordan, or Earl Graves or Magic Johnson or Shaq O’Neal, they don’t think they are doing enough to help our people.  You know what? That’s not fair. These individuals like Oprah have worked hard for their affluence; they’ve worked hard for their wealth so it is really up to us. Like President Obama said, “If you want change we have to participate.”

Isaiah Delivering Citizenship Acceptance Speech

And the one way that I was thinking of doing that, “What if I use myself as a guinea pig to say that I’m going to give to a particular community, actually increase sustainability there, actually connect with them through my DNA and actually show them humbly that I want to be a part of the culture, I wanna reverse this Middle Passage.  Take my time – the last five years I’ve been doing it – make it work, then get the attention of the world and then branch out from there because you can’t move forward if something is not working.

I’ve gotten pretty far. I’ve got a lot of neighbors and friends in Liberia and now Guinea, people that are supporting this concept, which is a very old one, that it would behoove African-Americans to reach back to the Continent. We are the only ones, the only people, the only community on this North American soil that does not have a country that we are attached to. Even the President has Kenya; he has a country that he’s attached to. We’re the only ones that do not. So that’s it in a nutshell – getting our people to understand why it’s important for us to connect with the Continent.

TL: Why is it so important?

One because of the resources. One because of the innovation that we already have. We have all of these PhDs and high unemployment. So lets take all of that talent and that expertise and go back [to Africa] humbly and say, “Brothers, sisters, we don’t speak the same language, we haven’t in 400 years but there’s enough of us to come together as one big united nation and make something happen and have ownership.”

With me being a citizen of Sierra Leone I can own land and put on 99-year leases on any corporation or company that wants to come and do business.  To me it’s like a no-brainer. I’ve been thinking like this for years and I couldn’t understand why other people were not excited about it.  But hopefully they’re excited about it now.

TL: Scripture says there is a time, and a season for every activity under heaven.

IW: Absolutely.

TL: How significant was your exit from Grey’s Anatomy to your journey?

Isaiah Washington on Grey's Anatomy Set

IW: Everything happens in trinity. I left in exactly 3 years. God, Father and the Holy Ghost.  I did what I was supposed to do on that show; I made Black beautiful, intelligent, sexy, some people say. So I was done.  I’m a Pan-Africanist; I only became an actor to make the world fall in love with a dark skin man. And because I didn’t see…God bless Billy Dee and Terrance Howard, Will Smith, but they don’t look like me and Djimon Hounsou.  You see what I’m saying?  That was always at the front of my mind and in our community for years. So when I experienced racism in our own community at Howard University; that pissed me off. I said they are treating me like I have to take a paper bag test and I want to join a fraternity. That’s crazy!

I said I’m gonna take the next ten years and go about the business of becoming an influence in this industry. So when I did that, however I made my exit, I didn’t leave it. My talent is still my talent, but its time for me to go back to my original concept. And my original concept is how can I move those stereotypes, challenge those stereotypes and show the world that we are intelligent, we’re sexy, we’re lovable, we’re complex and yes we’re filled with contradictions, but we’re also beautiful. And we’re not all thugs, we’re not all cheating on our wives, our girlfriends and we’re not doing all these things.

TL: Do you believe that timing of your personal “Back to Africa” crusade has been or will be questioned?

IW: I’ve always been about the Continent since I was nine years old.  My book [A Man From Another Land] is really gonna galvanize that concept because people say, “Oh it didn’t work out on Grey so now he’s all about Africa.”  Nah, it’s not that way.  I’ve been dealing with this since the apartheid movement when I was the only one marching at Howard University; no one was interested. Everyone was trying to go to all the parties. And I was like, “Yo, lets go Soweto, let’s go march.” I’ve always been my book, “A Man From Another Land”, I’ve been a bit of an aardvark, and I’ve always marched to the beat of a different drum so to speak. But boy and I glad I did.

TL: What is your favorite movie line from your body of work?

IW: Love can be a motherfucker. (laughs)

TL: You know what my favorite is?

IW: What’s that?

TL: Let me break it down…[Isaiah chimes in], so it can forever and consistently be broke!

Isaiah Heading to the L'Africana Night After Party

 

IW: I made that up and they let me get away with it.  But that’s my saying. Yeah, let me break it down so it can forever be broke. That’s what I’m about.  We don’t have to remediate the past, to get the future right.

♣♣♣

Isaiah Washington will definitely break it down for you! I overheard a reporter at L’Africana™ Night ask him for his Oscar predictions.  He simply replied, I have no idea who’s at the Oscars. I have no idea who’s nominated.  If you want to ask me about Liberia and Guinea and Sierra Leone I can talk forever about it. But whoever it is and whatever their doing up their in Hollywood, God Bless ‘em. Poor thing; I guess she didn’t get the memo.

Talking to Isaiah is like talking to your really intensely smart and deeply impassioned friend – you can’t help but learn something or build on what you already know.  When you hear someone ask, “What has Isaiah Washington been doing since…?”  Make sure you break it down and tell them “a lot”!

Isaiah Washington’s book, A Man From Another Land, will be released on April 27th, the day of Sierra Leone’s 50th celebration, but you can pre-order it now.  And if you’re aching to see him light up the screen again, catch him on an upcoming episode of Law & Order: Los Angeles.

♥♥ Thanks to Lavaille Lavette and Adrienne Ingrum for their support in making this interview happen!

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If You Ain’t Got Nothing Good To Say…

Raise your hand if your Mama or your Mama’s Mama ever said, “If you ain’t got nothing good to say don’t say nothing at all.”  Well, it’s been an interesting week of socialiting thus far.

Photographer Nicholas Small put me on to a neo rock group, The Crisis Team.  I listened to some of their songs, liked them and was excited to see their concert at Crash Mansion on Tuesday evening. As always I rsvp’d & received a confirmation. Um,yeah. Showed up at Crash Mansion all bright-eyed and was met with, “They are not on the list for tonight.  They cancelled.”

“If you ain’t got nothing good to say…”

Greenhouse Lounge

An emerging and pretty high-in-demand stylist, Steven Styles Cobb, invited me to a fashion show/after party at the trendy celebrity-magnet Greenhouse Thursday night. It was for the Rosa Pusher womenswear line.  The after party was to be hosted by self-made socialite Devorah Rose. Devorah is all plugged in to the Hampton’s scene and for some reason she keeps popping up in my web surfing, so I thought perhaps I’m supposed to meet this person.  Sounds like the recipe for a fun evening, right?

Yes, I rsvp’d and yes I received a confirmation. The phantom fashion show was to start at 7. Um, yeah. I arrived a little after that time and was greeted by locked doors. Called the lounge and was told that the show was really starting at 11.

“If you ain’t got nothing good to say…”

Nicholas, who came along to snap pictures, mentioned another fashion show for an up and coming designer that was to begin at 7 in the East Village.  I LOVE the Lower East Side, so I was all for it. The show was being held at La Vie, an ultra hip spot where taking a toke on a hookah is encouraged…if that’s your thing.  The ambiance is trés magnifique! Beautiful chandeliers, nice cushy seating and a great bathroom (that is key.)

I met the designer, Tapti Tapan of Soul by Tapti Tapan; we chatted a bit and I waited for the show to start.  The models didn’t hit the ‘runway’ until a couple of hours later.  Patience is not normally a strong suit for me, but I maintained. My Grandma would be proud.

Designer Tapti Tapan & Model

Tapti worked in the industry for over 9 years, before deciding to branch out alone. This is only her second solo show.  Prior to launching her womenswear collection she sold a line of gorgeous lampshades to the uber chic ABC Home & Carpet where you can blow rent money on a candle purchase. Tapti says her new collection is designed for the comfort of any woman and is inspired by “the waves of the ocean.”

Nature’s influence is definitely apparent as she used lots of color in the collection along with long airy skirts.  My favorite piece was a yellow tank top paired with a long flowing skirt that resembled a light-textured denim. The look was finished with a real cotton belt. Super cute.

Met a new homie, aspiring fashion coordinator and super fashionista Maria Bryant.  Miss B. was dipped in a black vintage blazer with red buttons, red, black and white plaid mini, super cute black tights w/bowtie & crisscross patterns and a pair of hot black metallic Carlos Santana pumps.  To quote Maria she was rocking the “throwback classy” look.  You can catch this fashionista-on-the-rise in the February issued of Essence in the “Street Style” section or follow her stylish musings on Twitter @MisMariaB.

As for my gear…I wore my absolute favorite article of clothing, a long black vinyl/leather skirt from Exodus by Jon Berry. I paired it with a really funky gold metallic tank provided by the Mess Queen, who specializes in snazzy “leggingz”.  Thanks Courtney!

Jewelry designer Ayaka Nishi benevolently entrusted me with her uniquely exquisite creations, which pay complete homage to earth and its wonderful creatures. I was honored to be the first person to wear the  lava,  brass & leather Fish Scales Necklace.  Ayaka had just finished making the piece when I walked into her East Village studio and she allowed me to christen it.  Awww shucks! The work of art was partnered with a pair of gold/diamond bubble earrings, gold and gunmetal bangles and sea urchin ring.

Tracee Loran featuring Ayaka Nishi Jewelry

Ayaka’s work has been featured in Vogue and ELLE and various fashion shows. Seems I have something in common with Miss Willow Smith. Jada & Will’s little starlet also pulled (borrowed for laymen) a few pieces from Ayaka’s collection for a new video shoot.  Yes I said new video! So I haven’t figured out if it’s a good thing that I have the same taste as a ten-year old miniature diva. Hmm?

After Tapti’s presentation I headed back over to the Greenhouse to see if this

Willow Smith

phantom fashion show had begun.  Guess what? This show was nowhere to be found. Big surprise there.  To top it off I was hassled by clichéd velvet rope security.  Apparently the owner/manager or whoever he is was falsely led to believe that he walks on water and is the most important person in NYC. We all know that title belongs to Puffy, right. 😉

“It you ain’t got nothing good to say…”

Yeah, pretty interesting week indeed.  But Friday night promises to be smashing! Until then…stay radically fabulous.

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LIBERIA’S ANGEL – PART DEUX

 

Humanitarian MacDella Cooper

Sunday I introduced you to a person who Maya Angelou would call a “Phenomenal Woman.” MacDella Cooper is a philanthropist, activist, humanitarian, fashionista and proud Liberian.  Fortunately, she carved a few minutes out of her hectic schedule to speak with me about her life and life’s mission. In case you missed Part I of the interview I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version.

MacDella Cooper was born in Monrovia, Liberia in the late ‘70s. War erupted when she was 12; her father was killed, her family’s home was bombed and she had to flee the country.  Moved to the States, became successful in the fashion industry. Left an exciting job in the fashion industry in ‘04 to start a non-profit organization, the MacDella Cooper Foundation, aimed to educate orphaned Liberian children.  Six years later the first students were accepted to the MacDella Cooper Foundation Academy in Charlesville, Liberia.  MacDella and friends are hosting a benefit next Friday, L’Africana Night, to showcase African artists, designers and musicians.  The event will definitely be Page Six & The Socialite Design news, so you should get your ticket today! All proceeds will benefit the MCF Academy. And now for Part Deux…

After experiencing such strife and escaping a harrowing situation, many people try desperately to forget their past.  Why is it so important for you to remember?

Because my past made me everything I am and where I’m going. So trying to get away from my past would be

Liberia Ravaged by Civil War

tragic. My past created MacDella Cooper.  There is no MacDella Cooper without the civil war, without the African, being born in Africa. I have no power in me to create something that’s fake and phony, to create another character, another MacDella Cooper.  So I’ve accepted everything that’s happened from the war, to losing my father, to losing all the riches we had, to living in the projects in Newark, New Jersey. That’s all part of the structure of who MacDella Cooper is. And I’m sorry to keep talking about myself in third person. But I can try to create this MacDella Cooper who’s this glamore queen, who’s this fashion person and now is doing good and leave the past out, but it just doesn’t make sense.  I can only sell that but for so long and eventually it would get old and boring.  But accepting my past, accepting what happened and knowing that there were things that shouldn’t have happened, it helps me grow.

When I talk to these young children that I talk to today and the ones we have in the school, the knowledge that I have to share with them, I only have that knowledge because of the experiences I’ve had.  So I can tell them today war is not a solution, war hurts people, war destroys families…if I didn’t have those experiences or the past that I had there would be nothing I could tell them about that topic.

I know the Academy is a big part of your Foundation.  How did it come to fruition?

They, Too, Can Be President!

We were in Liberia for so long helping children, helping people rebuild their lives, we just knew this country couldn’t go further or this country couldn’t advance without education.  And we have the first female president [Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf] on the entire continent of Africa and she’s struggling to find good people to run her government.  Because you have a small country of 3 million people, 85% maybe below the poverty line, the illiteracy is sort of high.  I thought she’s having a hard time today.  Imagine 85% of 3 million people unemployed; they cannot afford to send their children to school.  That’s going to be a huge issue tomorrow, it’s going to be worse.

If you have uneducated people running your government, it just doesn’t work…across the board it just doesn’t work.  So the fear of knowing that the next generation didn’t have a chance or that there will be a lost generation really inspired us to focus on education and just educating children. So maybe not my generation in Liberia now, but the one after will have at least a handful of people who can help the country, help the government. They can have enough people in government who are educated enough to say “This is the right way for things. War is not the solution.”  It’s tiring, old; everyone wants to use war and violence as a solution for everything.  And when you’re educated you don’t go down that route.

Can't Learn on an Empty Stomach!

When you came up with the idea to build the Academy how long did it take from inception to finished product?

It took a year.  Just a year. We were determined.  That’s usually [the case] with me; when I set my mind on doing something, it has to be done.  [Note: MCF raised over a million dollars in one year to build MCF Academy.]

What would you like for people to know about your country and the children you tirelessly advocate for?

The children are different there. All they want is an opportunity. They never ask us for the latest Jordans or Nikes.  When you meet them they are so gracious; they are so appreciative.  If you ask them, “What do you want?”  They would just say, “I want to go to school. I want to learn something. I want to be somebody.”  And those are words that usually don’t come out of children’s mouths. The kids that we work with are just so grateful.

What has been the global response to your efforts?

Looking Up To Destiny

It has been great.  People are very excited, that’s why they come on board. I have some amazing friends. That’s why when people talk about the MacDella Cooper Foundation it’s more than MacDella Cooper, because without my amazing friends this work would not have been where it is.  For example this fashion week event [L’Africana Night] we’re doing, I just met some new friends who just came on board and took over

Liberia's Future!

the project as if it was theirs.

You just really realize the power of people and this is what the work has really shown me that there are great people.  That when you establish something great, it draws great people. People ask how much I need to run the project and they just write a check for X, Y, Z.  That’s how we were able to build a school in one year.  It’s almost impossible.  People just keep asking me, “How in the world did you build a school in one year?!”  And I say “Oh well, I was determined and I had great friends who wrote checks and great friends who traveled to Liberia when I couldn’t go.”   So it’s really just more than me. And I strongly believe that the cause will continue to go on with or without my presence because there are so many people who believe in helping these kids just like I do.

What has been the most gratifying thing in this entire process for you?

Seeing one of our first students graduate from college with the highest level degree in his University. A kid whose

I Am Liberia

mother makes $60 a month – she has four kids and is raising them on $60 a month – going to the equivalent of Harvard in Liberia. Seeing him coming to us in 2006 just asking for help saying, “I just want to go to college.”  We paid his tuition, which is $3,000 US a year and he did it in 3 years. I was just so proud and thought if we could get more of that kind [of success] we’re definitely going in the right direction.  That to me was exciting.

It sounds like everything has been great, but surely there have been obstacles?

There are always obstacles.  But just knowing that the work is going to continue beyond MacDella Cooper puts me at ease knowing that these kids are going to have the opportunity to be heard.  So when obstacles come up, for example we recently had our website hacked into, someone was trying to destroy the website. And one person started a rumor that we were trafficking children, that we were building the Academy to take kids and sell them to another country. People just say crazy things. But those things are just so below me really because I have my focus, I have my purpose and I know my purpose is going to be accomplished. [Negative] things I know are not going to hinder anything I do, so I don’t even pay attention to it.  In everything good you do, there will be obstacles, there will be problems, there will be negative people coming around but I’m not bothered by any of those things really.

Talk about L’Africana Night and how the event was born.

Ford Model Millen Magese

Just as much as we are all about helping kids and giving them a hand to pull them out of the gutter and point them in the right direction, when I travel to the continent of Africa I see so many great artists and musicians. And when I go to a shop, I’ll have a woman make me a dress.  When I come back to the U.S. sometimes I wear these dresses on the Red Carpet to an event and my friends…just went crazy over these little dresses. And I said, “Wow if my friends in New York who are so accustomed to couture fashion are so interested in this dress that this woman made, this woman deserves a platform.”

If I can have her bring light to what she does, she can in turn take care of her own kids so MCF does not have to do that.  So the creation of L’Africana is that very thing; giving artists, designers, craft-makers a platform to show their work to an audience they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

How significant has your family’s move to the U.S. been in your journey?

This country is so great. I couldn’t have been what I’ve become in any other country other than this country.  I don’t know where I could have gone to accomplish the level of success.  Not saying that I’m successful in any way.

Model Brianna Michelle

♥♥♥

Of course, she’s successful!  But humility is sewn into the fabric of MacDella Cooper.   It’s a quality that was handed down from her strong Mother and spiritually rooted Grandmother. We need more MacDella Coopers in the world and maybe just maybe it would be a better place.

If you’re in New York City and would love to attend the spectacular L’Africana Night, you can purchase tickets here.  Or if you’re elsewhere on planet earth and would like to sponsor a ticket purchase for another person, drop me a line below .

Lastly, if you feel inspired by MacDella Cooper’s story, go ahead and do something great for someone today. Then tell me about it, so I can share your kindness with the world!

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LIBERIA’S ANGEL

 

Humanitarian MacDella Cooper

In a society that’s saturated with people who are self-absorbed, self-serving and obsessively materialistic, it’s rare to find a person who would leave an exciting  & lucrative job to help complete strangers.  But that’s exactly what MacDella Cooper did when she vacated her Marketing and Events Coordinator position at Jones Apparel Group to start a non-profit organization, which endeavors to educate orphaned and abandoned children in her homeland of Liberia.  Sounds crazy, huh? Wait, before you raise eyebrows and say, “Why on earth would she do that?!” You must hear the whole story or at least enough of the story to give you an idea of exactly what kind of woman we’re dealing with.

In 1977 MacDella Cooper was born into a prominent family in Monrovia, Liberia.  No doubt she entered the world with all of the promise and dreams of a newborn babe. But 12 years later, Cooper found herself in the throes of a vicious civil war that would take the life of her father, strip her of her home and force her to flee her native land.   She and her family first sought refuge in a neighboring country before eventually settling in the United States.  That was in 1993. Now 18 years later MacDella is tirelessly and selflessly working on behalf of children in Liberia who explicably remind her of herself.

The MacDella Cooper Foundation was formed in 2004 with a solid purpose – to feed and educate Liberia’s forgotten children. For the past seven years the organization has done that very thing by paying the tuition for, feeding and clothing countless African youth. In 2010, the manifestation of the MCF mission became even more profound when MacDella Cooper Foundation Academy opened its doors in Charlesville, Liberia.

MacDella Cooper Foundation Academy - Charlesville, Liberia

Because of her dogged humanitarian efforts, Cooper has deservedly earned the title “Liberia’s Angel.”    Next Friday this Angel, along with her stellar MCF team and many celebrity friends, is hosting L’Africana Night, an event established to honor and promote African fashion, art, music, culture and cuisine.  All proceeds will benefit the MCF Academy. I can’ wait!

MacDella took a break from event preparation to have a phone chat with me.  Rather than give you a word-of-mouth version of her story, I thought it best that she deliver it herself.  This is the first of a two-part series, because someone this phenomenal has earned it.

What was life like growing up in Liberia?

From 1980-89 we lived a normal life, we went to private school. My father ran a division of the United Nations, the Refugees Division. And we were around an international crowd…they came from the Middle East and all parts of Africa.  Life was normal, we had great friends; we had a great home.  I’m one amongst 5 brothers, so everything seemed normal until 1989 when rumors of war started floating around.

The National Patriotic Force of Liberia (NPFL) — the rebel forces in the country's brutal civil war — left their mark on news organization buildings they destroyed. Photo by Gregory Stemn.

There had been several attempts for civil war but nothing came to pass. Everybody thought there was just another rumor that was circulating.  But by 1990 the war really got in full gear, my stepfather was killed, we had to leave the country, my mother was on vacation in the U.S. Life changed forever.  Our home was taken away, it was actually burned; a bomb fell on our home. It was just one thing after another.  We escaped to a bordering country and spent 2 1/2 years there, came to the U.S. and really tried to live a normal life.

How did you adjust to life living in the United States?

Of course when you live in Africa you have a different notion of America.  You think that everyone has a big white house with a picket fence. So when we came here…we came to a totally different world, because we ended up living in the projects in New Jersey and I thought, “Where is the big white house? What is this thing called the ghetto? This is not the America I signed up for.  Can I go back to Africa?”

You had to keep going.  You didn’t have time to turn around or look back or regret.  You just had to keep going, so

Housing Project - Newark, NJ

we made the adjustment.   My Mom is a very strong woman; she just constantly encouraged us, “You gotta do your best, gotta do your best, gotta do your best. This country has everything. If you want to become successful everything that will help you become successful is available to you; you just have to seek after it.”  And so we did.  There were 8 of us living in a 2-bedroom apartment. My Mom worked crazy hours, but you had to make do.  That reality really inspired all of us, my siblings and I to really focus on school and education and so that’s what we did.

I got a full scholarship to the College of New Jersey.  It was great. It was four years. That was a major culture shock to me because there were these normal kids who were living normal lives with two parents.  And I sort of have a little regret of what had just happened to me.  The situation of the war started facing me and I felt, “Wow, why did all these bad things happen?”  But it was my first time realizing that what had happened in the war was not normal.  But thank God my Grandmother instilled a strong belief of Jesus Christ in me at an early age of my life. I just always had faith knowing God will take care of the rest and He has a purpose for everything.

How did you get into modeling?

MacDella Cooper

I was so skinny.  I used to joke that I was refugee thin when I came from Africa just from having one meal a day everyday for a couple of years.  Photographers [said], “Oh wow, you have the look that we’re looking for.”  And I thought, “What are you talking about?”  I never considered myself to ever be a model. I did a lot of print work and I was constantly asked to do things here or there and it was fun.

The crazy part is they were willing to pay me for those jobs but I would have done that for free. For a young gal like me it was just a thrill to see how much you could do in this country. I was just so excited about that. If you’re really determined to make something of yourself like my Mother said everything was available to you and I really took advantage of that.

How did you transition from modeling to being in a different capacity in the industry?

I never wanted to be a model. I never considered myself to be one. I work with models now and these girls are

Africa's First Elected Female Prez, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

amazing. They’re everything a model should be and I never considered myself that.  But my interest was always to be more on the production side of things and the corporate side of things.  So I went for an interview at Ralph Lauren and I got the job.  And I just like PR and I like events and production.  That’s why I transferred.

The people at Ralph were great. We got along very well, so I took the job and it was exactly what I wanted to do.  But then something else stole my interest.  As soon as Liberia elected a first female president [Ellen Johnson Sirleaf], since the country was safe to go back to I went there and visited and saw the need. And so we started an organization to help children, to help people in Liberia.  And that’s how MacDella Cooper Foundation was birthed.

Was the decision to leave a job that you obviously enjoyed a tough decision?

No.  It wasn’t a tough decision for me because I had spent a lot of time in the [fashion] industry.  I did what I wanted to do, I saw enough. I saw…how can I put it?  My industry is not so great sometimes.  I saw a need for me to do more. I saw my people struggling and I was living a fabulous life in New York City, a jet-setting life, traveling the world and being fabulous. But there was something in my heart that, ok these kids are you, you were them, you could have been any of those kids and here they are suffering.  So it wasn’t a hard decision at all because I knew [what was] involved in the fashion world, so I didn’t have any fear.  But I knew I needed to help the people in Liberia. I knew I needed to help the children.  I couldn’t help the entire country, but I definitely could help.

Some people would say you’re crazy for leaving an exciting  job to start a non-profit.  What would you say to those people?

I always believed my life had a purpose or a reason. And as much as I loved the fashion world and it was everything I wanted to do and I was so excited about it, I knew that the fashion world would not satisfy that purpose that I felt was my life calling.  And I tell you today I look back and I would do it again.  Everyone is different.  I never thought of myself as being the director of a fashion company or the CEO of a fashion company, but I knew that I had been blessed.  I had been extremely blessed to have gotten out of the civil war. There are a lot of young girls my age who were raped, who were murdered or who just came out of the war with a major scar.  I came out of the war with nothing.

I managed to come to this country, to this great nation and was given so much.  I knew at the end of the road there was a fork and

MCF Academy Pupil

there were two directions I could have gone into – to serve myself or to serve others.  And I’m more of a serve others sort of person. So the fashion world I felt like I had served myself enough. And although when I started the not-for-profit it was in a time when it wasn’t the cool thing to do.

So what would I say to a person with a question of why would you start a not-for-profit?  I cannot explain the joy I have gotten out of changing the lives or direction of young children.   When I came out of the civil war I needed help and there were so many people who helped me to get me to where I am. And I felt it was my time to go back and help others just as I was helped.  So the satisfaction I get from the work I do, there is nothing about the fashion world that can replace that.

Earlier you spoke about your life’s purpose. What exactly is it?

My purpose is to serve others using the talents and resourses that God has blessed me with, with the hope of one day raising up African leaders with servants hearts.

♥♥♥

L'Africana Night Featuring Supermodel Georgie Badiel

MacDella Cooper is indeed living out that purpose.  Please check back tomorrow for part two of this compelling interview.  In the meantime, take a virtual trip to MCF to learn more about the exciting L’Africana Night New York Fashion Week Finale Party. Actor and activist Isaiah Washington is set to host the event. He’ll be joined by Matt Dillon, singer Zelma Davis, Project Runway Runner-Up Korto Momolu (She was robbed!), current catwalk divas and many significant luminaries. Tickets are still available. Believe me, you don’t want to be left out! But if for some strange reason you happen to miss this magnificent affair, you know I’ll be here to tell you all about it.  🙂

 

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BETEL NUT BEAUTIES

I’m going to let you in on a little secret; New York City is bubbling with talent. I’m talking about pure, raw, unrefined, bona fide TALENT!  What are you going on about, Tracee? Well, my latest “discovery” is architectural and landscape photographer Magda Biernat and believe me she’s more than worthy of the conversation.

Tracee Loran & Magda Biernat

Originally from Poland, Biernat now calls New York City home. Lucky us. With her she brings a cornucopia of prestigious awards like the TMC/Kodak Grant, a Lucie Award, a Magenta Foundation Flash Forward/Emerging Photographers, and Photographic Center Northwest Photo-Op.

Biernat’s work has been praised by The New York Times and has nestled between the pages of Metropolis Magazine, Afar Magazine, and ELLE Décor. And, she’s been the subject of many solo shows in New York City, Seattle, Belgium and Poland.

Thursday night, I trotted over to my new hot spot, the Clic Gallery, to check out Magda’s latest work of art, Betel Nut Beauties.  In Taiwan betel nut beauties are young scantily clad women who sell betel nuts (or paan) and cigarettes along the roadside from brightly lit encased huts.  As you can imagine, the Beauties cater to a mostly male clientele with transient occupations.

A Betel Nut Beauty

Picturing these women being imprisoned behind glass and put on display immediately conjured up thoughts of loneliness and drear. In my mind’s eye, I saw smoky gray hues and splotches of black.  But Magda shoots with a different eye.  She managed to find beauty in the Beauties.  The result is bold, lively photographs that somehow dance and capture the humanness.  The colors are really striking – green grass sprouting in front of one betel hut or the pretty pink tint used to paint another (my favorite).  Vibrant, rich colors that really draw you in.

Adrian Adaramoye & Tracee Loran

Perhaps one would argue that by making the photographs so pretty, Biernat is attempting to hide the seedy ugliness of the profession.  To those people I would say, life is heavy and often burdensome. And every human deserves to be seen through rose-colored glasses even if for just a fleeting moment (chalk it up to my romantic idealism).

Although those women are in reality still scantily clad and still hawking cigarettes and paan and still very lonely, with her lens Magda Biernat gave them a different story. One that’s pretty in pink…and rose.

Don’t take my word for it; stop by the Clic Gallery to see the Betel Nut Beauties for yourself!  The exhibition runs through March 6, 2011.

Thanks to Nicholas Small of N-Scene Photography for using his great skills to help capture this wonderful event!

PR Director, Angharad Coates & Tracee Loran

Tracee Loran & Thane Wright

Christian Ducharme & Tracee Loran

Wearing Cotton Biker Jacket, Skinnys w/Black Ankle ANA Boots, Red Zara Clutch

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SOPHISTICATED LADY

The Kimberly Taylor Fall 2011 Collection

Wednesday night I dropped by the Dop Dop Salon in Soho for the Kimberly Taylor Fashion Week Fall 2011 Presentation.  Bearing the name of its 25-year old founder, the womenswear label launched in Spring 2009 to rapid success and buzz-worthy reviews.  And why not?   It features fun, classic silhouettes and timeless garments that will undoubtedly transcend many eras of fashion.

L-R: Tracee Loran & Model Greta Sundquist

Using a predominantly black color palate with splashes of vibrant hues in the new collection, Kimberly remains true to her love of versatility as she pays homage to an inspirational London excursion. A long flowy maxi-dress and striking red gown that can double as formal wear or really snazzy night-on-the-town attire make strong, elegant statements while short playful cocktail dresses with animal prints speak to the flirty girl who desires to be trendy yet chic.  Also incorporated in the collection are boyfriend pieces like an over-sized vest and ankle-length trousers that are smart and stylish.

Tracee Loran

Knowing that KT runs a cute & classy operation, I knew that being cute & classy myself was a must!  I enlisted a talented squad of artists to help put my look together. Makeup Artist Sherry Singleton airbrushed my face to perfection.  Her work is flawless and she’s a real sweetheart!

Once again Queens, NY-based jewelry designers Robin and Rachel Adler of Mockfrog helped me accessorize with a lovely Bakelite Bib Necklace that perfectly complemented my Bisou Bisou Scarf Dress, black lace tights and Rampage Pumps.

L-R: Tracee Loran & Celebrity Hairstylist Nadia Vassell

Nadia Vassell, Celebrity Hairstylist and urban fashionista, was my P.I.C. for the evening. She was super hot in a cream DKNY mini and smoldering studded Sam Edelman Peeptoe Pumps that literally stopped traffic!

L-R: Model Kelly Gervais & Tracee Loran

Photographer and Graphic Designer Hideki Aono came along to document the evening. He most definitely worked the room snapping great shots of us with the models, event guests as well as Designer Kimberly Taylor.  Amid all of the hoopla Kimberly took a few minutes to chat with me about her line and vision.  Check out the interview below:

What was the inspiration for this collection?

My inspiration for this collection was a trip to London.  I saw some really sophisticated women dressing more classic than they were trendy. You couldn’t tell what pieces were old and what pieces were new because they were so put together.

L-R: Tracee Loran & Designer Kimberly Taylor

What adjective would you use to describe your line?

I would hope versatility would come to mind.  I would hope pieces with enough detail, but not overdone.  Simple.  Less is more.

What celebrity do you think embodies the Kimberly Taylor label?

That’s a good question…A modern girl; someone with a unique sense of style from a Sarah Jessica Parker to a Kate Bosworth.

If you could dress any historical figure who would it be?

I get to dream?  [Yes.] Jackie Kennedy.  She was elegant.  Elegance is something you can’t buy.

What motivated you to become a designer?

It’s a creative outlet.  My family’s in fashion.  I was always looking for what to wear…  How I would find my own points of view, personally.  Just a way for me to show that [POV] to everybody.

Fill in the blank. When I’m not wearing Kimberly Taylor, I’m wearing_______________.

Underwear. (Laughs)

♦♦♦

Designer Kimberly Taylor

Kimberly is cute as a button and she’s imbued with impeccable fashion sense.  Did I mention that she has no formal training (or appearances on reality shows) and she started her label at an age when many people are still trying to find themselves? I’m willing to bet KT designs will line the racks of chic boutiques and high-end department stores for many years to come.  If you want to learn more about Kimberly Taylor or own one of her beautiful pieces, click here.

Fashion Week continues and there’s so much more to share. Until we meet again, stay radically fabulous…

L-R: Model Deanna Thomas & Tracee Loran

L-R: Sunday Wright, Roman Sipe & Tracee Loran

Got Style?

L-R: Greta Sunquist, Nadia Vassell & Kelly Gervais

Fashion Forward

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