By Karen Rempel
My love affair with New York began in Washington Square Park. I parachuted into the Washington Square Hotel on my first trip to New York in 2014, drawn by the fact that the Rolling Stones and both of the Dylans had stayed there. Within minutes of ditching my bags, I was walking past the park on my way to the Blue Note. It was close to midnight, and you all know what goes on at the west side of the park! But I felt completely at home, as though I was in the Bohemian Vancouver neighborhood I lived in. A few days later, the sound of a piano playing enticed me into the park. How could this be? A piano in the park?
I tracked the source and sat down on a bench to listen to a person of indeterminate gender playing an upright piano. I wondered how the piano got there. I wondered about the person playing it. As I sat there, a drummer started off in the distance, playing the proverbial different tune. Soon after, a third busker, began playing saxophone behind me. Each instrument was playing its own melody, creating a discordant harmony. The vocals soon joined in, in the form of the quintessential New York soprano, a siren. My heart was on fire with fierce joy, and my Another New York Love Affair: Sounds of New York art project was born. I’ve produced 54 videos for that project to date. Five years later, I was honored to have a photo I took that day exhibited at the venerable Salmagundi Club on Fifth Avenue. What a potent moment!
When you first look at what I’m wearing this month, you might think, “That isn’t quirky style!” I wanted to dress in tribute to the park’s 1970s period of creative expression that inspired me so. If you look a bit closer, you might change your mind about quirkiness or lack thereof. I’m wearing a vintage Etro designer dress that I had a tailor massacre into a tee. Actually, into an approximation of the Kansai Yamamoto rabbit romper that David Bowie wore on tour in 1972 as Ziggy Stardust. When I saw this former dress in a vintage store in Vancouver in 2016, I was struck by how similar the print was to the fabric in the romper! A quick search on my phone confirmed it. I paid too much for the dress and immediately found a tailor who could convert it to a romper within 24 hours, so I could wear it to a David Bowie tribute concert at the Orpheum Theater. People loved my costume, hair, and makeup. One young woman sobbed in my arms as if I was actually David Bowie. We all missed him terribly. After I strutted in front of the stage to the song “Fashion,” the band invited me onstage to conduct the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra! Another potent moment that touched the first, and sparked alive again in 2021 for your viewing pleasure.
- Vintage red patterned Etro dress, converted to a romper (top half worn here). Turnabout. 3135 Granville Street, Vancouver.
- Veronica Beard 1970s style “Beverly” high-waisted skinny flare jeans. Bergdorf Goodman. 754 Fifth Avenue.
- Michael Kors fawn-colored suede platform sandals. Michael Kors. 133 Fifth Avenue (now closed).
- Ruby and diamond teardrop pendant with gold filigree. Gift from my mom.
- Red Swarovski crystal bracelet. Made by author with beads from Michael’s. Here’s how: Complete Beading for Beginners by Karen Rempel.