Besides basically breathing life back into my body, Spring also opened up a lot of creative looks for me. The warmer temperatures allowed me to take more risks, rock more colors and show more skin, most notably, my scalp! I became more comfortable strolling around au natural when a wig was inconvenient or too warm.
My new Spring wardrobe was kicked off when I received an email from a friend and former colleague Marcy Hariell. Marcy and I worked together during In The Heights when she played Vanessa and I was her understudy. To add to her long list of talents: singer, dancer, actor, bad ass mofo, total sweetheart and possessor of the greatest head of hair you’ve ever seen, she is also an incredibly talented clothing designer. When she heard about my diagnosis, she contacted me to ask if she could design something for me. That’s a girl who knows what’s up! What a gift to have someone understand that what I needed in that horrific moment was to be clothed in beauty made with love.
I started out by browsing her own website oonaballoona.com which you should all do. That’s Marcy modeling all the outfits, looking sexy as hell, in case you were wondering. Once I got inspired by something, she and I brainstormed ideas. What I love about her style is the strong influence of vintage shapes and silhouettes without sacrificing a modern edge. I had an instant vision of 1940’s crooner, ala Billie Holiday, singing the blues but dripping in technicolor, surrounded by the burst of florals that nature was providing outside. Marcy instantly knew what she wanted to do and got to work on a dress/light coat combo. What she created was so perfect and beautiful and instantly turned my hazy vision into a bold reality.
These first photos came about from two ideas I had. One part was the Jazz motif I described above. The other was something very out of character for me. I have never wanted a tattoo. Ever. It never seemed like something I would be able to decide on. Permanent alteration of my body? I was intensely reluctant. I joked to people that I would get one as long as I would never have to see it. I felt that nothing important enough had happened to me that required commemoration. Combine that with the nuisance that they can be to an actor. Therefore, tattoos remained the lowest on the list of beauty wishes.
Cancer changed that to some degree. My concerns were no longer valid. Here was a significant period of my life and the survival of it certainly deserved acknowledgment. And I was about to become a specialist in permanent alteration of my body so that worry went out the window. All of a sudden, I wanted a tattoo. And not just any tattoo, a scalp tattoo. It seemed so logical. I could display it while I was going through chemo and then my hair would grow back over it, leaving a little secret hidden neatly under my regrowth. I went to my doctor, an older man who is also a father of a 22 year old, and said “Can you give me the DOCTOR reason, not the DAD reason, why I can’t get a tattoo.” After he shook his head, rolled his eyes, and gave a heavy sigh akin to a teenager bringing their father home a bad report card, he delivered his verdict. I was strongly advised against it because I’m supposed to avoid needles and their infectious potential while during chemo. This meant I would have to wait until after chemo which would mean my hair would be growing back already and I’ll be damned if I’m going to shave all that hard work!
The desire eventually passed until I dreamed up this Spring look. One of Billie Holiday’s signature accessories was a flower in her hair, tucked gingerly over the ear. What better way to integrate that bit of irreverent modernity into a classic pose than a temporary tattoo. All the reward and none of the pain. Here are the results!
I rocked the temp tattoo look for about two weeks. I totally loved it and loved my new dress even more!
The next look I dreamed up with Marcy’s help was a combination of a swingin’ 60’s woman about town and a modern east village hipster paying homage to a more glamorous time. The coat she made me was a flirty lilac wool in a mod shape that evoked a very put together woman. Then she added a bold lining that created some unexpected urban flair. Again, I wanted to throw a wrench in convention so I put on my recently purchased violet bob and a vintage hat to concoct my own aubergine Mary Tyler Moore.
Once I enjoyed my fashion trip through the decades, I wanted to punk it up a bit more so I added my own knit hat I had been wearing all winter and flashed the inside of the coat and shiny metallic-like trim on the bottom. Trash? Hardly!
I hope your Spring was full of fun fashion experiments like mine was! Summer will most likely be full of surgery pajamas but I will continue to challenge myself and find beauty and fun in any way I can!
All Photos by Peter Westervelt
Photo edit and color correction: Adam Deen
Gorgeous clothes: Marcy Hariell
Special Thanks to Vince and Audrey for the props!