Streets of Dreams: The Diamond District

The Diamond District, located in Midtown Manhattan, has been the center of the diamond trade for over a hundred years. Marcus Lemonis, the star of CNBC’s: The Profit, has a five part series covering five interesting city districts around the U.S.. He decided to to cover the business and trade aspects of NYC’s diamond district. Diamonds are a valuable commodity and have been used as one of the most precious gemstones in jewelry throughout history to the present day. The traditional diamond engagement ring and a wedding proposal conjure up images of love, romance and fidelity. Marilyn Monroe sang; Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend and Madonna’s Material Girl hit video illustrates the allure of sparkly white diamonds. Elizabeth Taylor and her jewelry collection as well as her signature, White Diamond perfume is another pop culture reference to the gemstone’s desirability. The show portrays West 47th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, as rows of store fronts with jewelry displayed in windows and the booths. Men use a magnifying tool to inspect the diamond and business people scurry around the diamond shaped building which is the center of the district. Lemonis’s goal, breaking some of the mystery on the streets which sell diamonds, the hawkers in front of stores, negotiations, backrooms and the trade which rocks the area. Movies such as; Uncut Gems and A Stranger Among Us are films illustrating the lives of characters who walk paths of diamonds, money, intrigue, generational mystique and gambling. Marcus Lemonis questions if the millennial generation will buy the same jewelry as past generations. The answer is yes. Even if the stores, nature of business, branding, people and styles change, the diamond district will carry on.

The diamond market has international business centers in New York, Antwerp, Belgium, Amsterdam and diamond mining in several African countries. India is a major force in the diamond trade. The blood diamond conflict is brought up, but the presentation centers on the standards which the diamond district adheres: a code of trust and the production line of: mining, stone cutting, polishers, distributers, traders to the retail-merchandise floor. The industry uses the Rapaport book to describe the value of a diamond’s clarity, cut, color and carat. Lemonis talks with several companies which showcase the diversity of styles. Shiffon Company is a line which features a pinky ring, named the duet ring. The start up venture began as the brainchild of Shilpa Yarlagadda who is creating “a new generation of jewelry.” She is a business student and entrepreneur is on a hiatus from her studies at Harvard. Yarlagadda taught herself jewelry design online. The pinky ring is a symbol of a pinky promise which pledges that females can achieve entrepreneurial status and spiral upwards to their dreams. The ring’s spiral design comes in silver, yellow gold and rose gold with a diamond positioned towards the top. Shiffon is comprised of an all female team who work together on the jewelry and 50 % of sale’s profits support capital venture funding to female owned businesses. Their website features prominent female CEO’s in technology, cosmetics, fashion and education. Shilpa Yarlagadda developed The Startup Girl’s Foundation to support other females. Shiffon focuses on this ring which is worn by Emma Watson, Nicole Kidman, Shalaine Woodsy and Michelle Obama. Instagram influencer, Richie Rich, runs a third generation company, selling higher end bling to a men’s market. Big rings with large stone settings and thick layered gold chains, which can run up to millions of dollars. Richie Rich creates “high end art” and the jewelry has a hip hop vibe. Many of the clients are athletes, celebrities and influencers. Richie started a new phase of the business, posting images of the jewelry on sites such as; Instagram. Jacob and Co., owned by Jacob Arabo, is a known for a hip hop style collection, intricate colorful stones and trendy high end watch merchandise. Jacob was born in Uzbekistan, a Mizrahi Jew who immigrated to the US. He worked in the diamond district before opening a store off of Madsion Avenue and is nicknamed; “The King of Bling”. His jewelry is styled with big and plentiful diamonds and unique watches with design images of a roulette wheel, collaborations with Paramount Pictures for The Godfather watch, a Bugatti brand watch and the Astronomia collection. A fairly new jewelry niche are synthetic or lab grown diamonds which are expected to reach peak sales by 2025. They are now classified as diamonds, similar to the natural ones, but the diamonds do not take billions of years to develop underground and cost less. Lemonis takes us to see an office where the owner sells synthetic diamond jewelry, The owner’s marketing message; they look just like the natural ones to the human eye, educate the consumer. Another store has estate jewelry from Cartier and Bulgari. A model shows a ruby and diamond necklace as well as elaborate blue sapphire and diamond drop earrings. Many years of trade and trust have been built on these Midtown Manhattan streets, mostly occupied by a majority of the Orthodox Jewish community. It has been “easy” for the community to trade in diamonds, as they are small and easy to carry. As Orthodox Jews often fled persecution, the diamond business became a stable occupation. The tradition has passed through many generations. Trust is earned and anyone who violates the trust in the trade, can be blocked from ever doing business again. The majority of diamonds pass through the diamond district and are sold to other household name brand boutiques, even if the new price is slightly higher. The motto; diamonds are a girl’s best friend can ring true.

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The Social Media and Fashion: The Couture Clock goes TikTok

TikTok, the social media channel, the spot for dance moves, music, and lifestyle videos .. has become the major channel for fashion. Due to COVID, the social media is the next best thing to being there. New York FW, London FW, Milan FW and Paris FW have had live-streamed shows and have been on YouTube, the past few years. This has been the target market for those who do not attend shows, but the insider’s glimpse has became more public. This year, everything is virtual. TikTok, although under the radar of China vs the US, is a tool which captures images well. TikTok sponsored the “Gucci Model Challenge” and this gives publicity to the brand as well as models, keeping Gucci fresh with 7.9 million views. Lachlan Watson from “The Adventures of Sabrina” played an audio promoting the Gucci scarf. Bethann Hardison, another contestant, will be featured in the Epilogue Collection 2020 show. All potential future young faces for Gucci. Fendi, Dior, Louis Vuitton, major luxury brands, as well as emerging designers, turn to social media until it is safer to go to the ateliers, studios and runways. Spring/Summer 2021 fashion weeks will use social media and live streaming. Most in person shows have been cancelled, but the Jason Wu collection at NYC’s Spring Place, presented a socially distanced performance with a theme from Tulum, Mexico. The CDFA has designed a platform called Runway360 to help present virtual fashion. A designer, last season, showed their designs on a 3-D avatar, a unique and effective way for the audience or consumer to see the designs dimensionally. The way the fashion industry advertises and debuts the new collections and upcoming trends will change, for awhile. Even though stores have opened, online shopping is the new normal and people flock to sites such as; Yoox, Net a Porter and Moda Operandi to purchase a selection of merchandise. Online shopping has been a great presence the last half year and will continue to grow, according to” Business of Fashion” and “Business Insider”. Culture, music, virtual museums tours and home delivery emails, fashion, movies, cooking, travel, the way we can appreciate culture, has turned marketing avenues.

Danish Influence: Supermodel Helena Christensen’s Dreams

Photo by Daniel Jurin on Pexels.com

Helena Christensen is a 90’s supermodel. She has worked in high end international runway, editorial and is a well recognized presence for the apparel industry. Christensen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and won the 1986 Miss World title. A picture does not seem to do her justice with her olive skin, dark hair, bedroom green eyes, chameleon look and perfectly toned body… one might think they are seeing the Danish version of Wonder Woman. Her mother is Peruvian and her father, Danish. Thus, a combination of dark sensuality and lighter Danish features. Christensen rose to popularity in the late 80’s and 90’s as one of the models coined a supermodel. She worked along fashion supermodel colleagues: Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Stephanie Seymour. Aside from sauntering down the Versace, Chanel and Cavalli catwalks, gracing magazine covers from Vogue to i-D and posing for countless ads, she has been a fixture of pop culture. She dated lead singer of INXS, Micheal Hutchence, and starred in the erotic beach music video for Chris Issak’s pop love song; Wicked Game. The romantic black and white music montage was photographed by fashion photographer, Herb Ritts. The song is played in David Lynch’s noir film; Wild at Heart. She had a long term relationship with actor, Norman Reedus, and they have a son, Mingus.

Flash forward a decade, Helena Christensen models and looks amazing at 50, but she channels her creative side too. A passion for photography, fashion, architecture, design and film enable her to use these skills for alternative business venues. Her lingerie design creations became the initialed brand H.C.. Helena is co founder and creative director for Nylon Magazine. Nylon, an avant garde publication, shows a style and creativity of photographic fashion spreads which rival the larger media outlets. Christensen is creative director for high end perfumery; Strangelove. The new perfume house is modern and focuses on interesting fragrance notes: oud, amber, chocolate and jasmine. The sizes vary from a pocket spray to 50 ml and larger, prices range from $200 to $800. This is an exclusive fragrance brand and has not yet become a household name. The scents are packaged in black lacquer boxes and the four bottles have names; Silence of the Seas, Dead Night, Melt My Heart and Lost in Flowers. Christensen’s latest endeavor, NYC studio, Staerk and Christensen. Camilla Staerk, a fellow Dane, was a textile and fabric major in London and is now a photographer and artist. Staerk’s style and eye for the camera is a perfect match for partner, Helena, the model and photographer. Together, they work on photography, films, architecture and fashion. The studio focuses on collaborations, projects, merchandising and exhibitions. The decor is Scandinavian with a gothic, romantic and noir aura and features mythological images. The website Staerk and Christensen, along with social media, profiles samples and pictures of their work and vision. Photography from the current resort collection is filled with pictures online of Helena and Camilla modeling. Their bathing suit line consists of alluring suits which are styled in a design called the wave. It is a black suit with the middle of the garment open with a wave pattern, another suit is the rope. There are variations of black swim apparel and beach or pool coverups. One can even purchase a turban to go with these ensembles. A golden sandal follows in the shape of a swallow bird which is often used in their designs since the swallow is a native breed in Denmark. Gold earrings with flower filaments and golden wide rimmed sunglasses also echo the swallow’s shadow and shape. The bird has become a signature of the company. Of course, vacation clothing is a major piece of the collection. Currently, 30 % of the store’s sale proceeds are going to City Meals which provide 250,000 prepared meals for those homebound and affected by COVID19. The sizzling summer 2020 resort collection was photographed for a campaign at The Dorado Resort, A Ritz Carlton Reserve. Helena Christensen, Camilla Staerk, Maye Musk and Brooke Shields modeled the bathing suits, outfits and accessories with a background focus on Puerto Rican geography, the beaches and a carefree colorful lifestyle. A percentage of sales profits go to help victims of Hurricane Maria, causes are as relevant as fashion. Christensen travels in order to help refugees and displaced people. To lighten the mood, Helena Christensen recently walked around NYC in a 1991 silver Thierry Muglar bikini which she had saved in her closet. Barring many stares, she summed it up as being typical of the oddities which occur in NYC and her ideology of a body is a body. Much of Camilla Staerk and Helena Christensen’s brainstorming takes place in upstate NY, even though they both live in downtown NYC, Nolita and The West Village, respectively.

A big architecture project is the prefabricated design of a modular chic cabin style home. It resembles the hull of an upside down Viking vessel and has a curved black lacquer roof which angles the shape of a swallow. It is primarily designed in metal and persimmon black and grey woods. There are two master bedrooms and one other bedroom with a plan for a spa and gym, the team has named it the pavilions. The pair has received help with design consultation and mentorship from Robbie Antonio. Antonio is a real estate developer who has worked with 13 Pritzker Prize architects/starchitects such as; Jean Nouvel, I. M. Pei and Zaha Hadid. Robbie Antonio engages and collaborates with fashion designers; Armani for Armani Casa, Missoni Home and Versace, bringing contemporary “dressing” to the buildings. Antonio has done real estate work in his birthplace of Manila. He has worked for the family real estate company, Century, in the Philippines. Robbie’s work highlights modern residences and beachfront architecture. One well known residence; The Trump Manila Towers. Robbie Antonio came to NYC, ten years ago, and started Antonio Development. His new architectural brand is Revolutionary Precast. Some Filipino citizens have been in awe and or criticized his lavish Manila residence, monikered, Stealth. Robbie Antonio is an avid art collector with works from artists such as; Julian Schnabel. In addition to Robbie Antonio’s guidance with prefabrication, Staerk and Christensen have been influenced by Daniel Stile’s architecture which uses a combination of wood and metal. Architect, Christian de Portzemparc, gravitates towards glass structures and open spaces, elements Staerk and Christensen embody in their homes. The success of the prefabricated homes, remains to be seen. Yet, the design work and architectural conception is impressive and unique.

Helena and Camilla have been avid photographers and were involved, in 2014, with Copenhagen Fashion Week, an exhibition and a photography competition in Denmark. The images are stark, sensual, frequently black and white images and they often use their own images in the works. The entrance to film consists of projects the studio has done in collaboration with Waris, Sean Penn, Salman Rushdie, Trentmoller/Fritz and female singer, Chrysta Bell. The National Arts Club has been of assistance to the studio. The film, “In My Dream Last Night”, is an artist collaboration of a universe displaying sight and sound. It illustrates darkness and light as well as themes of love, eroticism, solitude and personal dreams and thoughts. A noir romance genre, it focuses on physical movement and emotional impact. “In My Dream Last Night” is filmed by Christian Larsen and James Demetri with production by Milk and Velem. “Nightsong” is a short film with Sean Penn. Snapshots of the rebel actor are caught on tape, showing a rugged demeanor. “Waris” is a solo performance, featuring, Waris Ahluwalia. Waris is an artist, actor, in Wes Andersen’s movie; The Darleejing Limited. In NYC, he entered fashion as the first Sikh GAP model, collaborated with Illesteva eyewear and was chosen for the best dressed list by Vanity Fair US. Waris made it as a fashion designer and he developed the House of Waris. He was born in Amritsar, a Punjab region of India and immigrated to Brooklyn. He focuses his trend setting designs on ancient kingdoms in Rome and Rasjathan, these locations used to make crests for royal families. His style was picked up by Maxfield’s of LA because they admired Ahluwhalia’s diamond rings. A new enterprise, he started the company, Waris Botanicals. The consumer can make healthy mixed drinks from plant science or adaptogenic blends, no alcohol mixology is required. In the film of black and white images, he rides solo along the beach on horseback while wearing a turban headpiece. It has an artistic fashion theme with highlights from Indian Sikh culture. The film clips move fast, maybe connoting speed or an escape from reality. “Waris” depicts arduous terrain and movement, sending an interpretative message of possible solitude in the desert, strength, self reliance, athletic prowess and fearlessness by a male figure. Helena Christensen has moved in high powered fashion circles and now we can watch her rise as a super artistic and creative talent.