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27 October 2019

Happy Diwali!

THE GRANDEST of Indian festivals is upon us. For those who celebrate it worldwide, Diwali means time for families to come together with gifts, light, and laughter. Today, and in the days around it, there is such positive energy brought about by fellowship filled with love.

Diwali comes only once a year, but the enlightenment that it brings is true for every moment of the year. May you all have a bountiful, joyful celebration with your loved ones!

RELATED STORY : Festival of Diwali

12 May 2019

Lenskart opens India's largest eyewear store

INDIA'S FASTEST-GROWING eyewear brand has just opened its 500th store, which, at 5,000 square feet, also becomes the country's largest eyewear store.'s new concept store in Electronic City, Bengaluru, encourages shoppers to reach out and touch, try, learn, and feel good about the latest eyewear fashion and technology.

The Lenskart design team created a space that builds upon the three points of modern selling: showcase, open-sell, and interactive. Nordic and East Asian influences direct the design theme with a balance of rough concrete and smooth marble on one hand, and warm birch and cold steel on the other. Open-ledge and pigeonholed product displays continue to recreate the open-sell Lenskart identity, and the introduction of nesting tables strengthen the showcase mindset.

The store's lighting is deliberately more reminiscent of a fashion store than an optical shop. Shelves lit in warm white drive attention to the chic eyeglasses and sunglasses. Graphics designed in the brand's language complement the ever-increasing flair of the product collections. At the center of the store is the Infinity Zone, an ellipsoidal seating area evocative of the brand's iconic emblem.

Lenskart has strengthened its equity on the uniqueness of its competitive differentiation. It continuously transforms the way shoppers experience eyewear online and in brick-and-mortar outlets. In this store, consumers interact with products using touch screens fitted with Lenskart's online application. The store further invites shoppers to indulge in an eye massage room, and create their own fashion looks in a styling salon. This is the first time such services are provided in an eyewear space in India. Once again, Lenskart has shown the way for the future of eyewear retailing.

12 February 2019

FOCAL POINT : Anne Rice, "Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis"

I FELL in love with Anne Rice's gothic fiction after seeing the film adaptation of her first novel, Interview With A Vampire, in 1994. Her writing was both sensuous and sensational, endowing her undead characters with nobility and munificence while plunging them into the insalubrious depths of horrifying and eventually tragic existence. I collected the first six volumes of The Vampire Chronicles, and stopped after moving to Israel in 2000. Physical bookstores eventually disappeared, making it tough to find the new volumes unless I went online. I never had the chance to go back to Ms. Rice.

So how thrilling it was to stumble upon Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, in a bookstore while visiting Manila late last year. This is the 13th volume of The Vampire Chronicles . . . and possibly the weakest link in the entire saga. Lestat de Lioncourt, the ever-dapper vampire, leads us to a voyage to the mythical Atlantis. In subsequence, we're led to a brave new world of extraterrestrial antiheroes. It's no longer a dark tale: it's become a utopian epic. Lestat himself now appears more sci-fi than gothic.

For those who, like me, read Anne Rice's tales in the earlier days but failed to follow the series assiduously, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis may look and feel truly alien. I'd rather have a supernatural Lestat than an extraterrestrial one, anytime in any realm.

05 February 2019

FOCAL POINT : Michel Legrand, "Cinema Legrand"

THIS IS Michel Legrand at his purest cinematic self, back in the sixties when film music was in its most uninhibited. His youthful exuberance on the conductor's dais is matched with his vibrant training in jazz and film scores, with strings reaching up to gloriously stratospheric levels to deliver that signature Legrand sound.

Released in 1967, Cinema Legrand contains 11 tracks that run the gamut of the most memorable themes and expressions. Max Steiner's "Tara's Theme" from Gone With the Wind scales the higher realms of the imagination, and Luiz Bonfá's "Manhã de Carnaval" from Orfeu Negro haunts the deeper recesses of the mind. "One Day" and "You Must Believe in Spring" present themselves on this album in their original titles, "Norma Jean's Theme" from The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean and "The Girl I've Never Met (Chanson de Maxence)" from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort.

It's a travesty that Cinema Legrand has never been made available in digital form for the younger generation to appreciate. Hopefully, it gets to be re-released in the future to continue delighting and inspiring cinephiles and music lovers.

Listen below to "One Day" (Norma Jean's Theme from The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean).

EPITAPH : Michel Legrand (1932-2019)

WHEN MICHEL Legrand passed away late last month, he left a large body of music for film and television, raging from the avant-garde to the more commercial productions. His music was romantic but never banal, original but never inaccessible. His most memorable works begin low-key, almost like a whisper, and then intensify in rhythm before finally surprising us with an unexpected jump from minor to major chord. His deep-seated love for jazz buttresses the playful, rhythmic, and sophisticated qualities of his compositions.

I grew up listening to my father's collection of Legrand. Many years later, when I began collecting the music of Barbra Streisand, the hobby turned even more loving as Ms. Streisand recorded a lot of Mr. Legrand's compositions. As an adult, I still turn to Mr. Legrand for inspiration. And every once in a while, when I want to lose myself, I plug him in and imagine what I can be doing the rest of my life, north and south and east and west of my life. His passing marks a bittersweet closure of a childhood-driven chapter in my life.

Listen below to "The Picasso Suite: Summer Song" from the soundtrack of the 1969 film The Picasso Summer.

03 February 2019

The sounds of growing up, Part 3

DURING THE eighties and nineties--the latter days of his life--Papa would play classical music in his bedroom with the same passion that he had in his younger years. My brothers and I often wondered when our neighbors would finally show up complaining about the decibels. Thankfully, such moments never occurred.

In some of the more reflective moments, I would sit next to Papa listening to and talking about the one contemporary singer we shared a common liking for: Barbra Streisand. Papa owned copies of Ms. Streisand's 1970s albums, both in cassettes and in long-playing vinyls. One day, when I was in high school, I decided to keep his cassettes of Wet and Songbird, thinking he would never notice. Well, he did, and he dispatched Mama to ensure that I returned those two cassettes back to his racks!

I wasn't the only one influenced by Papa's musical tastes. My brothers and sisters were all immersed in it. Many years later, I would buy several copies of the same Streisand CD: one would go to Papa, the second one to my younger sister Carla, and the third one to my own rack.

Tons of research show that our adult behavior stems from what we experienced as kids. My childhood exposure to a variety of orchestral and vocal recordings has shaped my lifelong taste for poignant and elegant music. More importantly, it has made it easy for me to share and transmit culture as an adult.

Listen below to Barbra Streisand's "One Less Bell to Answer/A House Is Not A Home". It appeared on New Gold Disc, a Streisand compilation album released in the Philippines in 1975. Papa had a copy of the album, and my brothers and I played this particular track the most.

The sounds of growing up, Part 2

MY PARENTS listened a lot to easy listening music. In the seventies, when everything seemed secondary to Manila's socio-political agitations, orchestral music was the perfect metaphor: it had unpredictable moments, yet it quietly fell into the background, moving along unnoticed unless it skipped on a scratched surface. Moreover, as background music, its sophisticated character matched the formality of family gatherings. (Those were the days of sartorial elegance: people dressed up even for dinner. Mama used to attire my siblings and me in similar, unobtrusive shirts and pants—yet another case of things falling into the background!)

At home, I soaked up the sounds of strings and percussions coming from Papa's Marantz™ and Lenco™ turntables. My parents owned hundreds of vinyl records, open-reel tapes, and eight-track tapes of recordings ranging from Enoch Light Orchestra and Electric Light Orchestra to Nana Mouskouri and Nina Simone. The most frequently played sounds were the lush, sweeping melodies of Ray Conniff, Arthur Fiedler, Hugo Montenegro, James Last, Michel Legrand, Henry Mancini, Mantovani, Paul Mauriat, and Peter Nero. The music of these orchestras all sounded the same, but since Papa played them at six in the morning and in the evenings till eleven o'clock, it became easy for me to figure out which version was playing!

Listen below to two of my favorite tracks from that era, Peter Nero's original composition "A Love That Never Ends" (1972) and André Kostelanetz's version of "Love Theme from Chinatown" (1974).

The sounds of growing up, Part 1

ONE OF the special things about growing up in Manila in the early 1970s was the exposure to the choral music of Catholic mass. As a kid, I attended Sunday church enraptured with the liturgical chant, pipe organ, and full choir of the Sacred Heart Parish Shrine, the neighborhood church that my family attended. "Tantum ergo" was my all-time favorite choral hymn: I knew the Latin words by heart, even though I never learned what they meant!

A few years later, congressional singing under Vatican II church music came into vogue. I mourned the loss of full choir's reverent melodies and harmonies, now buried under the massive popularity of guitar-driven chord structures. Suddenly, the sublime "Prayer of Saint Francis" no longer sounded beatific, and the movie song "Fill the World With Love" (from Goodbye, Mr. Chips) became the anthem of choice for communion. However, my loyalties to the choral tradition persisted: I would quietly sing the melody of the polyphonic "Lord's Prayer" while the rest of the faithful sang the prayer differently!

Listen below to Gabriel Fauré's "Tantum ergo" and Sebastian Temple's "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace (Adapted from the Prayer of Saint Francis)".

20 November 2018

Holiday Windows 2018 : Saks Fifth Avenue

CHRISTMAS IN Midtown Manhattan is always more than just a holiday shopping tradition. It becomes the world's preeminent showcase of visual merchandising at its grandest and most enchanting form. For decades now, beginning in mid-November, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and other department stores on and around Fifth Avenue outdo each other in transforming their windows into elaborate, magical wonderlands. It's the stuff that visual merchandisers dream of.

On Monday evening, Saks Fifth Avenue unveiled its 2018 windows called "The Theater of Dreams" at the flagship on Fifth Avenue. The launch, in partnership with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, was a stunning theatrical event with over 120 Broadway dancers and a theatrical 10-story light show. The store's six windows are themed around Broadway and depict a shopper’s visits to The Fifth Avenue Club and The Salon & Spa at Saks. Digital images are used as backdrops, the first time that Saks ever incorporated such technology in their windows.

The entire launch event encapsulates the New York City we all love: electric, aesthetic, ecstatic! Watch it by clicking the "play" button on the video below. The program starts at 13:40.

18 November 2018

Joining Lenskart

THIS WEEK, I joined Lenskart to form and run the visual merchandising function for the company. The venture is now the fastest growing eyewear group in India, almost a decade after it started. This marks new beginnings for me. I'm amongst true innovators, entrepreneurs who take risks and go for it, young leaders who always look at new ways of doing things.

The atmosphere at the headquarters is awesome. I'm surrounded by youth and youngness, transformative ingredients that anchor a culture of continuous learning and doing. Jeans at work. Long tables instead of cabins and cubicles. Lounge seats everywhere. A masala chai station. A game room. A sleeping room! I can make a few jokes to my "table-mates" (the executive assistants and the merchants, all old enough to probably NOT know how to repair a broken cassette tape), and expect the jokes to land flat, which makes it even funnier (to me, at least). Everyone moves fast. Everyone talks with passion. Everyone works hard. There's a strong sense of personal ownership and liberty. It's such a contagious spirit.

I'm about to help Lenskart in further changing the way Indians shop for eyewear. What a special thing to join them on this ride.

03 November 2018

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, "Walls"

BARBRA STREISAND's new studio album, the lush and variegated Walls, showcases the triumph of two voices. One is that unmistakable singing voice, unchallengeable since 1962, now sounding almost outworldly with its surprisingly pliant crescendos, effortlessly intuitive phrasing, and dramatic resonance. The 76-year-old icon proves on this album that she remains the singular force of nature in pop vocal music.

The other voice is what's on Ms. Streisand's heart and mind: social principles advancing the unity of the human race. She created the album in light of contemporaneous sociopolitical tensions in the United States. However, the project is far from being a partisan vessel. There are no references to political parties or individuals in the carefully-selected songs.

To the contrary, Ms. Streisand explores the themes of gender equality, racial harmony, elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, and, above all, love in its most unifying power. No other studio album in Ms. Streisand's long, spectacular career is as principled as Walls. This is clearly a musical project with nothing but the best intentions.

My personal standouts: "Love's Never Wrong", a new anthem of equality, and "Happy Days Are Here Again", Ms. Streisand revisiting her classic song in her best form as an actress who sings.

15 October 2018

What my ex-bosses taught me about looking ahead

RECENTLY, a former colleague surprised me with a short message. "You were the best (boss), and always will be best," this person wrote. I’m fortunate to have been in several positions of leadership, and even more fortunate to have been led by really awesome bosses. My ex-colleague's wonderful compliment gave me a chance to reflect on what I've learned from being a boss and standing out as a leader.

As team leaders, we plan courses of action, give directions, and follow through on execution. We organize the resources. We approve and disapprove changes. Eventually, nothing moves without our consent. We’re at the helm of control. We convince ourselves that we are indispensable.

I had three bosses who taught me exactly the opposite. We are never indispensable. When we leave, the organization continues to sail. Yet, how beautifully it sails depends in great measure on how we looked ahead before we left the ship.

As design heads, we're usually interested in the immediate effect of our work. Mina Escaño taught me the value of foresight at Triumph International. She always dared me to think big, but to never overlook the indirect effects of thinking out of the box. As I grew into roles of increasing responsibility, I learned how to prevent future nightmares for my team by forecasting potential shortcomings and creating plans to overcome them.

Jean Wilkey told me to always understand the long-term consequences of my work at the Baha'i World Centre. I learned that we aren't done with our jobs unless and until the future is secure for the team, for the people who will keep the systems running when we leave. Many years after I quit my role as visual merchandising (VM) head of Shoppers Stop, a former teammate delighted me with the fact that the file management system that I had devised for the department remained in full use.

Samar Singh Sheikhawat encouraged me to build a team that could grow together in Spencer's Retail. He and I rejected several promising candidates for the VM team, not because they were expensive or culturally unfit, but because they weren’t willing to commit to collective change. The young men and women who eventually formed the VM department worked and grew with me in Spencer’s through the next four years, a long tenure by Indian standards. One of them, Haimanti Upadhyaya, took over the team when I left.

Mina, Jean, and Samar led me by focusing on the future. Consequentially, I led my teams by not losing sight of tomorrow. We become better bosses and standout leaders for this.

14 October 2018

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, "Imagine/What a Wonderful World"

THE SECOND release from Barbra Streisand's upcoming album Walls is a medley of John Lennon's "Imagine" and Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World". This is vintage Streisand—or at least the Streisand we all knew way back with recognizable singing traits. The impeccable breathing. The much-copied full-octave glissando. The grammarian's phrasing.

Above all, the story-telling. Ms. Streisand has always sang songs as if they are three-act-plays—a peaceful beginning, a soaring conflict, a dramatic resolution. She's done it again on this medley. Merging the two songs actually works. The context becomes meaningful.

Imagine all the people living life in peace
with skies of blue and clouds of white,
the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night,
and I think to myself, "What a wonderful world!"

To paraphrase two other Lennon and Armstrong songs, "Woman, it's so nice to have you back where you belong."

05 October 2018

FOCAL POINT : Kokila's logo

PENGUIN BOOKS' new imprint, Kokila, focuses on diverse books for children and young adults. According to Penguin, the imprint's mission is to “add depth and nuance to the way children and young adults see the world and their place in it.”

Kokila's brand identity has one of the prettiest logos that I've seen this year. When I first look at it, I immediately understand the idea: a bird whose wide-open eye is an invitation to read. I like the simplicity of the circular form, a shape that children immediately relate to. Uncomplicated, with nothing in it but the pupil. An excellent focal point.

Indeed, graphic designer Jasmin Rubero explains in Adobe Create Magazine that the provenance of the word "kokila"—Sanskrit for the koel bird, a large cuckoo—is her source of inspiration. I can already imagine how beautifully this logo will be adapted to media other than book spines and covers.

Memorability and simplicity are two characteristics of a really great logo. Kokila is flying beautifully with both..

03 October 2018

The mockup and how it makes stores look better

I ALWAYS mock up show windows and in-store displays before rolling them out. Not because I need a pre-approval, but because mockups reveal the essence of an abstract idea and enable other stakeholders to understand and accept it . . . and eventually learn it.

These stakeholders include the brand head, fashion designers, buyers, merchants, and sales operations leads. They're as responsible as I am in getting the product experienced and sold in the stores. Partnering with cross-functional teams allows me to get all the information I need to advance my designs and keep them cohesive and implementable. When I show them the mockup, I always explain this isn't the finished product, but rather an overall rendition of the product within the branding context. Being the "shepherd" ensures that we all look at the bigger picture so that it’s almost impossible not to see the blocks in execution. It forces me to make the right decisions before I dive into details. Most importantly, it brings everyone together in common consensus, enhancing a culture of collaboration and customer-centricity.

Because mockups can be done quickly, they can immediately tell me if I’m on the right track. For Biba's Autumn-Winter 2018 range launch, the "Everyday Specials" sample window took four days to set up. One round of stakeholder inspections, and the concept was rectified and immediately executed in all stores.

Like most engineering prototypes, the first samples usually give a 90% estimation of the way forward. If the first try doesn't give a good approximation, I give it a second and final shot. Stakeholders will say that there's always room for improvement; I say that there's never room for time and money spent on repeated trials and errors. Two rounds of sample displays, with a lot of buffing up, is enough.

When I assisted in launching the “Taste the World” campaign for Spencer’s hypermarkets in 2009, we fixated on using a skeletal globe as the main display prop inside the stores. After a few weeks of testing and improving on the skeletal globe, we realized that the model wasn't scalable. We quickly abandoned it and pursued a different and final approach, one that was easier to understand by everyone else. The final approach was a 2D, solid-colored version of the skeletal globe. A lot easier to execute, a lot prettier to experience. And it became the centerpiece of a VM program that won merit as one of India’s best at the 2009 Retail Design Awards.

02 October 2018

The seductiveness of Ray-Bans

WHEN FORM and function are wrapped in usability and seduction, you get a well-designed product. I can think of one: the Ray-Ban.

In 1937, the American medical equipment manufacturer Bausch + Lomb developed optical glasses for the US Army Air Corps to address vision and glare concerns suffered by their pilots. The eyeglasses blocked 85% of glare and high altitude light. Eventually, Bausch + Lomb created similar glasses for the general public, introducing what eventually became the Aviator model of metal sunglasses and giving birth to the Ray-Ban brand of eyewear. It was an instant runaway success. It stayed on the runway since then.

Eighty years later, Ray-Ban has become the most iconic brand of eyewear in history. From its military roots, the product has now evolved into a fashion must-have. It instantly transforms a user’s style statement, either by adding an edge to the user's overall look or by channeling a celebrity image, thanks mainly to its heavily favored use in film (think Reservoir Dogs, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Michael Jackson).

The Aviator model kicked off a series of lines, each created to address the ever-evolving sociocultural tastes and needs of subsequent generations. In all its style manifestations, the Ray-Ban design aesthetic remain consistent: it entices users and meets their desires with the advantage of owning such a chic and classic pair of frames and light-shielding lenses.

That’s form and function wrapped in usability and seduction. To date, no other eyewear brand has ever managed to do so with a limited range of styles, yet in such massive scale of user engagement.

My eldest sister Kathleen bestowed on me my first pair of Ray-Bans when I entered college. It was a brown-tinted photochromic Ambermatic model that I used for a long time until I got a new pair way after college. I was skinny then; the sunglasses' thin frame matched my overall physical structure. Its light-sensitive lenses were perfect for adapting to sunlight and shade when coming in and out of campus buildings in the sprawling University of the Philippines. When I began my work in visual merchandising, it served the same purpose as I zipped in and out of stores and streets. I was known as the tall thin guy with layers of clothing and Ambermatics.

Since then, I’ve kept and worn several other Ray-Ban models. This product has always made it so much easier for me to project myself. Today, I occasionally use my Wayfarers over my prescription glasses--an extra shield for my aging eyes, and no one really notices (except a younger sister!).

An iconic frame, an industry-marked optical lens, and an enticing usability all make Ray-Ban such a desirable and worthwhile piece of product design.

28 September 2018

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, "Don't Lie To Me"

FIFTY-SIX YEARS after she recorded her first album, Barbra Streisand releases a single (the first from her upcoming album Walls) that continues to place her squarely in the front and center of contemporary pop music affairs. "Don't Lie To Me" is a thumping pop anthem with catchy hooks that could have been written by Adele, Lady Gaga, or Mick Hucknall. The vocal and instrumental arrangements sound so modern, one is left to wonder why Ms. Streisand’s last two albums, despite a slew of pop-music collaborators, didn't leverage on her uncanny ability to still sing on the beat.

Ms. Streisand wrote "Don't Lie To Me" as a plea to the current presidency, but the song can also be interpreted as a paean to a mistrusted romance. It contains several references to her rich canon of recording work. On my eleventh consecutive listening, I sensed melodic traces of three songs from her radio-friendly era: "Widescreen" (1975), "Make It Like A Memory" (1980), and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" (1979). I imagined a violin and cello borrowed from 1985’s The Broadway Album. There’s throwback to her 1960s patter-song days with those quick phrases in the middle of the song. James Newton Howard, The Prince of Tides (1991) composer, would have enjoyed its use of minor chords, and Barry Gibb, Guilty (1980) partner, would have related to its catchy refrain. And was the chorus channelling Cydie King and Veneeta Fields from Ms. Streisand’s backup vocal band in the early 1970s?

The last time Ms. Streisand sounded this contemporary was in 2005, with Barry Gibb on Guilty Pleasures. I never imagined that she would return to singing pop on the beat, especially at 76 years old. Listen to the new recording and you'll realize why Barbra Streisand remains the supreme vocal interpreter of popular song, possibly the only one left in our generation.

23 September 2018

The story of Biba, or how it all began

THIS IS the story of Biba, encapsulating 30 years of excellence in product and service. I created this video to help commemorate the company's vision ahead, with the idea of linking past, present, and future. It also celebrates the men and women who have helped build Biba as the most admired ladies' ethnicwear brand in India. The video debuted at the company's annual get-together in June 2018. It is now being used as part of corporate orientation sessions for new employees.

Leaving Biba

I HAVE left Biba after four years and nine months, the longest time I’ve ever spent in a company in India.

I wasn’t planning to stay long in Delhi and with Biba. On my first year, I struggled with the city, an unforgiving place to those who couldn't adjust to its weather extremes, pollution woes, and unfriendly neighborhoods. However, at the end of that first year, I had stopped crying over its chaos and started loving its great, uncompromising ways. The Baha'i House of Worship became my beacon. The winters were fabulous. And I got an extended family through Shradha Singh, hardcore Delhi-ite, ex-colleague, and fellow Baha'i. Big treasures.

I also found that I enjoyed working in Biba. I had a decent salary, created many experiments in displaying the products, and collaborated with colleagues who had worked there for over five years. These were people who could easily leave, but never did because they believed in what we were all doing there. Passion and commitment were strong values in Biba, and they were infectious.

In the years I spent there, my skills were incubated indirectly by colleagues who were younger than me. While I learned cool ideas about customer engagement, I also unlearned many things that guided me in my younger years as a visual merchandiser. I let go of old ideas. I assimilated new ones. I matured. It was a gratifying time to be there.

And now is the time to leave. I resigned from Biba so that I can do things that I’ve never done and start doing things that I have been wanting—but delaying—to do.

I want to help other companies change the way shoppers experience their products and services. I want to create a visual merchandising program for an industry that has never been exposed to VM, at least exponentially, at least in India.

I want to be more involved in the Baha’i community. I want to make a bigger difference in the collective work that we do. I want to go back to truly practicing the moral values that the Baha’i Faith has taught me.

I want to make a larger bit of money so that I can finally save up for the retail design institute that I’ve always been wanting to create. I want to teach—not just train, but teach.

The next part of my career will be exciting. I was sad to leave Biba, but I’m thrilled to be moving on.

13 September 2018

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, "The Way She Wore"

BARBRA STREISAND's larger-than-life entertainment persona has always been defined by the way she wore her costumes, hairstyle, and makeup on screen. I've always been impressed with the production values of her film and television projects, and I'm even more fascinated with the manner that she keeps her identity intact even through the various clothes that she wears on screen.

On this video are Ms. Streisand's most memorable looks on television and film in the past 50-plus years. It's my tribute to her legacy on costume design.

03 September 2018

EPITAPH : Nina Lampe-Fiorentino (1923-2018)

"COMO FUERTE brisa, eres tu, eres tu, asi, asi, eres tu (Like a strong breeze, that's how you are to me)", I sang to my aunt, Nina Lampe-Fiorentino (1923-2018), over her kitchen table a few years ago. As the first-born of many cousins, she incessantly showered care and grace on her family during her long life. That heart of gold was matched with a beauty of diamond, a spirit of steel, and a mind of titanium. She was a breathtaking presence. Singing to her that night was my moment of thanking and loving her for all that she'd given.

"Eres tu el fuego de mi hogar (You're the warmth on my home)". Hasta la vista, Tita Neny.