Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Night of "Vintage Black Glamour" at the Schomburg

A photo posted by Desiree (@itsdlovely) on

Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of going to "Between the Lines: Vintage Black Glamour", a talk about the book "Vintage Black Glamour", at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. "Vintage Black Glamour" is a coffee table book with brains. Journalist Nichelle Gainer started sharing rarely-seen photos of black activists, entertainers and socialites on her Tumblr of the same name and it became so popular, British publisher Rocket 88 approached her about a book. I was one of those people on Twitter asking, "where's your book?" and she definitely delivered last year. It's a stunning volume that I still don't have my hands on yet (Ma, if you're reading this, my birthday's coming up next week, eh hem.)

Ms. Gainer chatted with A'Lelia Bundles, journalist, author, and great-granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker, the subject of one of my proudest grade-school book reports. In an hour and a half, Ms. Gainer walked us through some of her favorite photos, starting with the "club women", or women who were community leaders and philanthropists, and ending with the "disco queens" like Sister Sledge. If you looked around the auditorium, everyone was taking notes on the women they'd never heard of and wanted to learn more about. I loved how people oohed and ahhed when they say a new picture of an old favorite, like Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, or, my personal favorite, this one of Lena Horne:

Look at the hate on those women's faces. I love it,

The book is called "Vintage Black Glamour", but fashion sort of took a backseat for the night, which makes sense. Gainer said that, for her, "Glamour is style and substance. It's whatever you make it." She went out of her way to stress that the entertainers in her book worked really, really hard. They danced, sang, acted, were accomplished musicians; they rehearsed relentlessly to build careers with the few opportunities available to them as black artists and found time to be activists as well.

Just as important, Gainer nipped that sugarcoated nostalgia thing in the bud, too. It's very easy for people to look at these gorgeous photos and say, look how classy people were back then! None of the bad behavior our coworkers/entertainers/neighbors exhibit today. That's just not true. "The same woman wearing pearls would sleep with your husband," she explained. Like my mother says, there's nothing new under the sun.

After the talk, the book sold out in minutes--my heart broke when they cut off the bookstore line just before me. But it's OK! I dressed up a bit for the event and attracted the attention of burlesque performer and pinup queen Bettina May.

Post-show selfie
Vintage mink collar - New England Shake-Up vendor
Cashmere sweater - Bloomingdale's/Christmas present from mom
60s raw silk skirt - Reminiscence
60s stockings - eBay
Pumps - Aldo

We chatted and I ended up at Red Rooster with her, Dulce de Leche and Tangerine Jones for a great meal and even better conversation. We met Marcus Samuelsson (he's so dreamy) and took a selfie.

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