I come from a very large family — my father came to Rhodesia, what is now Zimbabwe, during the war and never returned to England [where he is from]. My father was a professional soccer player before joining the Rhodesian Air Force.
Growing up we used to go on family picnics and campouts — I love to fish; people think that’s so funny. I’m actually a bit of a tomboy. They had trouble putting shoes on me, but the next day I would be performing in a large production looking like a little princess; the day before I was covered in dirt, barefoot, up a tree. I’ve kind of kept that.
I started dancing when I was 4 1/2 years old. I had a wonderful teacher, a brilliant teacher, who taught her students how to interpret and act, as well as dance — I was a full artist already as a young child. I loved the fact that my parents used to rehearse and coach us — they were very supportive. My mother made all of my costumes and taught my sister and me to sew. I can sew anything from a tablecloth to a wedding dress.
My first real professional job was Stuttgart — they were the leading company in the world at that time. I took a big chance leaving my homeland, my family, my friends and my language. I was working with a company composed of 17 different nationalities — it was like the United Nations of ballet. It was such an amazing experience; I loved my years there. The company had a wonderful musical reputation, I worked in the theater with the opera, the ballet, the dramatics, the symphony, with the artists on new productions. And we had huge budgets — real minks on stage. It was incredible to be a part of that. I performed in all of the great opera houses of the world for 14 years. Every day when I got out of bed it was so exciting knowing that something great and incredible would happen that day.
In ballet, you work with designers all the time, and not just ballet designers. I can remember we had clothing designers that would take a stab at doing a ballet. I was always in the costume department — I loved watching the creative design of the production. But I think it was also living between Paris and Stuttgart that spiked my interest in fashion. Everything was a cut above, everything was so beautiful, the streets, the buildings, the restaurants, everything — it was such an easy style. And my mother being an artist, watching her make my costumes and décor, learning from her at such a young age and being in two companies with the best design — I’ve always loved it. I’ve always been fascinated with sequins, crowns, I loved it and I can do it. I used to make my own costumes, sew on every sequin.
I had always shopped at secondhand stores in Paris — not the mothball-smelling, grubby secondhand stores, high-end stores with secondhand designer clothing. There is a great deal of taste and style in this community, so I thought, “Let’s do something like that.”
I’m a hard taskmaster — as a dancer, you’re always correcting what you’re doing wrong. I’ve come to work slightly different with people who aren’t professional dancers. The way I correct (and have been corrected) is taken as criticism to someone else. People need that feeling that you are aware of what they are giving forth. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is knowing how to thank people. There are thousands of shoulders on which we stand and we must appreciate.
Strategic planning, that’s how I handle my companies, my businesses. It’s like choreography — everything must be planned out, a business plan is all about organization, it’s as if you are putting together a choreographed dance.
My dad taught me, “If you’re going to lead, you can’t lead from the rear. You have to be up front, doing what you expect any other person to do.” And I live by that. If you’re going to do this, I’ll do it too.
I’m perhaps busy too much at times — too involved. I’ve had to let go a little. Being newly married, I have to be able to devote a little more time to my husband — being with him, having fun together. It’s nice now with Skype and Facebook, I can be available for a meeting or whatever, but be anywhere.
We enjoy yachting. He’s got a new boat that he loves and he is just enjoying it — I think if he had his way he’d never come back again and he’d be on the boat. We are going to spend a few months in the Mediterranean this summer, visit a few different places; the trip will really just evolve as we go.
Alfred and I have been married one year. He’s a great philanthropist. We’ve been friends for 25 years. He’s a brilliant man — he has a work ethic I understand.
I’ve collected vintage gowns for many years — I have a few of those. I love embroidery work. I was in Turkey and I bought this beautiful split sleeve jacket with heaving embroidery, on a heavy black base, just amazing. I’ve kept pieces for many years. But really, I’m a pant girl. And I like a pant that can move, that I can move around in.
There are so many wonderful people in this community — dedicated people trying to give back. And that’s a very American thing, giving back. You don’t see that in other countries, at least nothing like what we do in this country. I still sometimes shake my head and can’t believe the generosity here — and I believe, that if you took everything away that is volunteer-based, the country would come to a standstill.
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