“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Opening in the former studio of Basquiat and Warhol, Angelina Jolie’s clothing brand is not another vanity project
Every day, it seems yet another big name launches a clothing brand. Kylie Jenner just announced her own fast fashion brand, Khy. Phoebe Philo just launched a high-ticket eponymous luxury brand with LVMH. But for Angelina Jolie, her foray into fashion isn’t about her.
Angelina Jolie launched Atelier Jolie with all the fanfare you could expect from an A-Lister and one of the most recognizable faces on the planet. She graced the cover of Vogue. She bought the iconic former home of Andy Warhol, 57 Great Jones Street in New York -which still bears graffiti from Basquiat- to give the brand a home. And she even posted to her Instagram account, which followers will know is a rare occurrence.
But all of this impressive marketing is not an attempt to build Jolie’s ego or even her own brand. It’s to support the careers of other artists. Atelier Jolie is a brand of collaborations:
“I’ve met a lot of artisans over the years—very capable, talented people—and I’d like to see them grow,” Jolie told Vogue. “It’s not really about fashion … I don’t want to be a big fashion designer. I want to build a house for other people to become that.”
The atelier itself promises to be a collaborative space — part store, part cafe, part creative community where patrons can stitch and mend and tailor their pieces. “I’ve always wanted to take my family to a place where I can say: Does your clothing really represent you?” she said in Vogue. “Absolutely you? And do you love it? I think the average person would not think it does. But I think tailoring does that for you.”
The brand is a community. The designers and collaborators are mostly “refugees and other talented, underappreciated groups.” Its global collaborators include the London-based milliner Justin Smith, the American artist Duke Riley, South African lacemaker Pierre Fouché, and more.
In the brand announcement, Jolie wrote:
“I am building a place for creative people to collaborate with a skilled and diverse family of expert tailors, pattern makers, and artisans from around the world. A place to have fun. To create your own designs with freedom. To discover yourself.
We will use only leftover, quality vintage material and deadstock. You will be able to repair or upcycle pieces from your closet you wish to revive, perfecting fit, breathing new life into what could have been thrown away, and creating quality heirloom garments with personal meaning.”
“We hope to create a community of creativity and inspiration, regardless of socio-economic background. We will spotlight the people who play a part in each creation. We will bring together a diverse team, including apprenticeships for refugees and other talented, underappreciated groups, with positions of dignity based on skill. And as we work with global artisans and creators, we hope to help share the richness of their cultural heritage and support the development of their own businesses.
But what about the clothes?
It should come as no surprise that the brand’s creative vision is full of timeless silhouettes inspired by Jolie’s simple approach to fashion. “Sometimes the way you dress says, ‘Don’t mess with me—I’ve got my armor on,’ ” Jolie told Vogue. “But I want a woman to feel safe enough that she can be soft.”
Their first collaborator is B Corp-accredited luxury Maison Chloé. Together with Creative Director Gabriela Hearst, Jolie designed this capsule full of eveningwear with an emphasis on fluid silhouettes. Lots of tailored pants and fluid gowns. Lovers of the Chloe, The Row, and Phoebe Philo should eagerly await this one.
This new venture aligns with Jolie’s personal commitment to service. A former UN Refugee Agency Goodwill Ambassador and Special Envoy, Atelier Jolie’s focus on uplifting and supporting creatives from marginalized communities is on brand for Angelina. When she’s not working on this new creative venture, she’s writing pieces for TIME magazine, doing philanthropic work, and using her platform to speak on global issues. Moved by her work with refugees, she has been one of the only major celebrities to use their massive platform to explicitly address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
As with everything she does, Jolie’s brand is a labor of love filled with passion and purpose. She has even gotten her kids involved to drive home the communal aspect of the brand. It’s for everyone and it’s about everyone — not just Jolie.
Atelier Jolie opens its doors later this year. I’ll see you all in line at 57 Great Jones St.