The Golden First Lady

First Lady Michelle Obama has a well-established reputation of supporting lesser-known but talented designers, and she upheld that practice with her choice for the state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It was a strapless, cream and gold number with a wrap, and was designed by Indian-born designer Naeem Khan. Personally, I’m lukewarm on the dress, because I haven’t seen it up close. Overall I think Ms. Obama looks fantastic. Normally, I admire the masters. It’s not to say that lesser-known designers are not talented, but to me, fashion is not democratic. Although my closets are not littered with designer labels, I don’t express my views about inclusion and support of the little guy through my fashion choices. Top artisans get my dollar, and if you presented a zipped up garment bag and told me that there was a Valentino in there, I might ditch the up-and-comer and go with the mystery dress. I would love, love, love to see our first lady in Gucci or Versace.

Ms. Obama, however, is the type of person with deeply held beliefs, one of which is to identify and support the potential in people. When it comes to her wardrobe for very formal events, it means going with the lesser known designer. Perhaps it’s just as well that she stays away from the heavy hitters. If she walked into an event adorned in something from a top designer, then President Obama might lose the power of speech and the other ladies would look plain.

Sisters’ Hair Roundtable

I know that I was just criticizing Essence magazine for being too staid and celebrity focused, and for several reasons I still feel that way. But the magazine is still an institution, and will probably always be the premier lifestyle magazine for black U.S. women. When you consider our collective buying power and the fact that Essence gets our attention, that’s a big deal and you cannot ignore them. Anyway, I have to point out that the November issue had an interesting ’roundtable’ of black women talking about their quest to achieve beautiful manageable hair and the impact that the pursuit of beauty has had on their lives.

There is a Lattecafe moment—and a hilarious one—when Solange Knowles talks about an argument that erupted between her and a French boyfriend over her hair!  I won’t give away all the details, but basically they were on his father’s yacht (jealous over here) swimming in the ocean or wherever they were and having a good time. At the end of all that, he told everyone that dinner would be ready in 30 minutes. The problem was that Solange was wearing tracks at the time, and she needed more than a measly 30 minutes to prepare before dinner. I won’t give everything away, but the story is funny. If you can still sprint to newsstands and find a copy of the November issue before the whisk it away to make room for December, then please do.

The gathering was the November cover story, but it wasn’t promoted on the cover as a bunch of sisters getting together to dish about hair dramas. Essence decided to feature just Nia Long, an actress well liked at the Lattecafe, who was unnecessarily airbrushed to an inch of her life. It also mentioned the Chris Rock documentary “Good Hair”. The old Essence might have featured several of the women on the cover, of different complexions and hair styles. Who knows? Maybe they did a couple of different cover versions, but I never saw a different one.

Man, this is too bad: Essence has lost some of its verve. Now, picking up Essence is almost like being presented with a ‘black’ Barbie. It seems like a doll made just for me, but on closer inspection it’s really just a white one dipped in brown paint.

I don’t have a copy of the article here, but I found a trailer for “Good Hair,” which does feature Nia Long. Go check out this funny movie.

It’s Catching On

Mia&JasonThe black community is racking up more notable ‘firsts’. Last year, we joyfully elected the country’s first Black (who is actually biracial) president, and this year we made history again. On Jan. 3 (Sorry for my lateness. Full-time life calls.), Mia Love, a Saratoga Springs Councilwoman became the first black woman elected as mayor of a Utah city. Lattecafe readers will be interested to know that Mia married across color lines to a guy named Jason Love. That’s them smooching in the photo from The Salt Lake Tribune. (Mr. and Mrs. Love—too much!) I suppose that in a state like Utah, where blacks are a tiny minority, just about anything a black man or woman does of note is bound to be historic!  But that doesn’t diminish Mia Love’s accomplishment one bit. Let’s wish Mayor Love a successful first term, a decisive reelection should she want it, and a distinguished career of service to her community marked by integrity, wisdom and the respect of all her peers, even if they have philosophical differences. I’ll also include Mia’s campaign video, which just happens to feature another Lattecafe-type couple.

Saratoga Springs looks like a beautiful place to live and raise a family. I’m from North Jersey, so whenever I see pretty pictures like that I automatically think: high property taxes. That’s the way life is here in the Northeast: if you don’t want to live in the ghetto and send your kid to a school with dropout, gang and drug problems, fork out the money for high property taxes. But Ms. Love appears to be dedicated to keeping taxes low. For a long time, I couldn’t understand why people in certain parts of the country had such an aversion to taxes. They had such a well-developed distrust of the revenue source that it seemed to be a phrase applied generally to anything detestable.

And then I started paying tithes regularly at church. At that point, I truly began to appreciate (though I do not always agree) where some American voters are coming from when it comes to keeping all taxes low. A lot of Americans are devout Christians, and are taught to pay tithes regularly. When you consider that tithes is defined as one tenth of a family’s gross earnings, paying it regularly is a major financial commitment along with meeting other obligations, not the least of which is saving and investing. So you can’t blame a person for wanting to elect politicians that promise to eliminate wasteful public spending of any sort. I don’t happen to think that all public spending should automatically be deemed socialistic or wasteful, because I do benefit from some of it. Some of these subsidized government programs really do help middle class families live a little bit more comfortably—certainly without living high on the public dollar.

Reading, Writing and Dividends

MellodyHobsonI always like to hear what Mellody Hobson, the brilliant and photogenic president of Chicago-based Ariel Capital Management has to say about money. Mellody recently made a speech at a conference in San Francisco and I listened to part of it before going to bed. The running time is just short of 45 minutes. She’s right in suggesting that investing should be part of standard school curricula.  Between pay cuts, the scarcity of company-sponsored pension plans and the gradual replacement of formal healthcare plans with high-deductible health savings accounts, skyrocketing college costs, and the realities of retirement, middle- and upper-class Americans are going to have to shoulder more and more HUGE expenses. Which means that they will have to be very smart about money.

For Black women (78% of whom are single if you believe Oprah) an education, gainful employment and financial health are more imperative now than ever. And since a lot of Black women are unwilling to do what I did (marry a white guy) figuring it all out solo is going to be a reality. And that’s OK. No judgements either way. And let’s be honest: Not all married women will stay married. Life is unpredictable and any married woman could eventually find herself divorced or widowed. There are times, especially when Hubby is driving and he turns half-way around in his seat, eyes off the road, to talk to Baby or Little Sister in the back seat that I think I’ll be a widow. (It drives me crazy! And makes me think I need to shop for 20-year term life policies, just to make sure there’s enough money to get the baby through college.)

Start by listening to Mellody, if for no other reason than to get you thinking about where you stand in the whole ‘investing’ world. I remember watching one of Mellody’s segments on Good Morning America on one of my days off between Christmas and New Year’s and she was talking about the ten financial new year’s resolutions that we should all stick to. I didn’t abide my all her advice, much less remember them, but I did do one thing: save your raise. Take that percentage increase in your salary after your next performance review and bank it. If you are disciplined with your spending and diligent with putting the money away, you won’t even miss it. I tried it, eventually, and she was right! It helped that I had direct deposit and worked for cheapskate company that offered measly pay increases, more like cost of living adjustments (COLA) that were just slightly above the rate of inflation. So it’s not like I was getting 10% raises and had to turn around and force myself to save all that dough instead of vacationing or taking writing classes or getting a bigger apartment. My raises were small, and so the impact of my savings were small.

Invest the time in listening to Mellody’s speech, and maybe into reading the article, too. The story appeared in a first-rate pensions industry publication called Pensions & Investments. According to the research that she diligently dug up about our investing habits, we are not nearly as engaged in the investing process as we should be. But financial health is still attainable. The key: get started early and stick with it.

As for the Latte Cafe angle, the last I heard and saw, film director George Lucas was still sweet on Mellody and they were still an item. But first things first. Listen to her speech and think about whether you and your family need to make any changes in the way you invest and manage your money.

Garcelle & The Guys

Garcelle & BoysIsn’t this a beautiful picture? This is Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, her husband Mike, and her two-year-old twin sons, Jax Joseph and Jaid Thomas. Maybe they’ll get a copy for the family album. The great thing about this photo is that they are all together. Oftentimes, media magazines and Web sites will crop out the husband and kids from a photo to focus solely on the famous wife—and vice versa. But does anyone honestly believe that all of these beautiful married actresses exist without any input or influence at all from their families? I don’t believe it. And I also think nixing the husband and kids so often just makes the women come across as narcissistic. I can just imagine flipping through a magazine or clicking their mouse and shaking their heads because the husband and kids are never around when the cameras are. I’m not interested in the reasoning of these Hollywood celebrity editors who make those decisions. Just because they cover an industry built on celebrity worship, it doesn’t mean they have to exclude the famous person’s family so often. I say run more pictures like this one.

The Little Black Dress

KorsDressSunday mornings are not an appropriate time to read hard news stories, so it is no surprise that I was perusing the Style section of the Sunday Times several days ago. I was happy to spot Paula Patton in the Pulse column. She looks lovely and glamorous in that little black Michael Kors dress, and she has a few things to say about the merits of looking feminine and beautiful. But I wish they hadn’t cropped out so much of the footwear. What little I saw of those Zanotti boots looked quite promising.

Separately, reports are going around on the Internet that Paula and husband Robin Thicke are expecting their first child. Well, I guess Paula can relax and enjoy the good news now, unlike last year, when some reporters began speculating about a pregnancy after observing the way a certain dress fit on her. I wish them well, and hope that they cherish every happy moment.

Listen To Michelle

I was really hoping that Michelle Matson (her Website, RichChick.com, has been added to the blog roll) would not pull a September Essence out of her stack of glossies hawking the latest trends in fashion and, of all things, investing. She is right: Our precious, hard-earned money is not supposed to be subject to the latest trendy scheme to accumulate wealth in “three easy steps” or whatever other jackrabbit form of money management people come up with. It takes time and discipline to become financially secure or attain wealth, and we all should adopt good habits to increase our chances. Maybe the financial tips inside Essence are actually sensible, manageable things that every woman can do to attain affluence and maybe wealth, and that’s why Matson overlooked it? At any rate, I was glad that Essence was not in the company of those monthlies that looked good, but had no substance beyond their surface beauty.

And yet the more that I think about it, Essence had no chance of being pulled out of Michelle Matson’s stack of September books. And it’s not because it is a black woman’s lifestyle magazine, but Essence has become, unfortunately, a bit staid in its coverage of our subculture. So it probably had no interesting covers or cover lines to grab her attention.

For at least a couple of years now, my interest in reading Essence magazine has plummeted. I know I haven’t aged out of its core demographic (its median age is 37, my exact age), but I suspect that ever since it was taken over by Time Inc., it has begun to spew out a lot of what I consider to be mainstream nonsense. The cover lines used to have a lot of impact, and the editors used to allow space on their covers from time to time for compelling, charismatic everyday women. Now, its a stream of actresses and singers, which is okay, but kind of dull, actually. And with cover lines like “#1 Sex Secret: Make Him Say Your Name” or “Be the Woman You Really Want to Be” (June 2007) or “Be the Woman You Want to Be: Your Health, Wealth and Sex Plan” (November 2009) I can barely tell one month from another. Half the time, I don’t even care. Especially not if I’ve read Vanity Fair’s latest slam on Bill Clinton,  Sarah Palin, or whoever.

I don’t expect black magazines to do those kinds of take downs, for several reasons. But continuing to deliver classy coverage of black women with uplifting messages, and doing it in an attractive and fun format, while being profitable, does not necessarily mean that Essence has to be boring. But I’m afraid that it kind of has become a bit of a snore. And that’s why I let my subscription expire last year. The covers and cover lines had stopped being compelling, daring, real reflections of me and the women I know. It now documents the lives of celebrities, for the most part (just like all the other money losers), and while it does advise us on how to dress, love, spend, etc., I still feel like something is missing.

That’s my two cents. Of course, considering that I have not opened an Essence in several months (except for a quick glance in the supermarket checkout aisle the other day) I could be wrong.