By Karen Rempel
This month’s look veers into very quirky territory, bringing a confluence of three distinct elements into a unique look that combines disparate sources into a true Rempel original. But before I tell you about the fashion, let me set the scene. We shot this month’s column in the storied Minetta Lane, in a Spanish-influenced doorway. The Algonquin peoples called the brook that runs under this street Manette, meaning Spirit Water or Demon Water, and there was a time in history when Minetta Lane and the perpendicular, curving Minetta Street were known for speakeasies, brothels, and “black and tan” bars. Referring to this period, author Stephen Crane called Minetta Street and Minetta Lane, “Two of the most enthusiastically murderous thoroughfares in New York.” No doubt due to the influence of said Demon Water driving people crazy with drink at the locals.
Prior to this riotous period in its history, Minetta was home to a large African American population, after slavery was abolished in New York in 1827. By the mid 19th century, the area was known as “Little Africa.” It was a peaceful haven at this time, and today’s Minettas have regained this peace.
If you’ve been following my Catch and Release story, you might remember that I planned to take a side trip to Barcelona after my pre-Christmas rendezvous with Keith in London. I did indeed go to Barcelona, where I saw a Flamenco performance at the stunning Palau de la Música, a magical music box of sculpture, mosaics, and stained glass that is now a designated UNESCO world heritage site. I was so stirred by the passionate dancing and music that when I returned to New York I immediately signed up for Flamenco dance lessons at Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana, just off Fifth Avenue on West 43rd Street. I shivered with excitement each time I entered the Renaissance Revival building and climbed the increasingly narrower marble staircase to the eighth floor, where I met with an odd assortment of beginners to learn to strike my feet in golpe, planta, and tacón. We had a live Flamenco guitarist for accompaniment for part of the class. A hidden world in New York! I felt like an insider in this world at Menkes, the highly regarded Manhattan source for all things Flamenco, where I purchased nail-studded Flamenco shoes and this flouncy Flamenco skirt.
The quirky top I’m wearing is made of ghost beads, which I learned about when I was on a vision fast in the Eastern Sierras. Ghost beads are actually dried juniper berries. Ants find the berries on the ground and nibble off one end to eat the inside of the berry. The berry is then hollow and dry. Artisans make a hole in the other end to shape the berry into a bead. This top is a Donna Karan original sample and there might not be another like it in the world. I found it while foraging on Greenwich Street. No nibbling required.
The roots of this look are the boots, of course. I spotted these at Bergdorf’s while shoe shopping with my designer friend Andrea on my birthday last October. I first fell in love with Dries Van Noten shoes while writing an article about Edon Manor on Bleecker Street (sadly now closed), and love the whimsy of this designer. These boots are so seventies, and give me the commanding height I love that raises me above the crowd. They fit perfectly when I tried them on, but on my birthday I decided to be practical and get my first pair of Manolos instead. Five months later, Andrea saw that the boots had been marked down 60% on the Bergdorf website and she sent me a note. Within days, they had arrived on my doorstep. Magic! Soon I was striding all over the city in them, garnering looks of astonishment and admiration.
These are the origins of a quirky look—world travels, soul-searching in the desert, and shopping with my bestie in the big city.
- Donna Karan tank top of pale yellow polished ghost beads. Once-in-a-lifetime Donna Karan storage sale, next to Urban Zen, 701 Greenwich Street.
- Black Flamenco skirt with lilac underskirt. Menkes Flamenco. 250 W. 54th Street. (Temporarily closed.)
- Dries Van Noten snakeskin-embossed leather platform boots. Bergdorf Goodman. 754 Fifth Avenue.
- Gold hoop earrings with orange and gold beads. Gift from a friend.