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The April Issue: Lauren Cerand
+Fashion is Spinach, the Dutch Textile Trade, and Law Roach's retirement
I first encountered Lauren Cerand when she was the inaugural guest of Running on Fumes, an Instagram Live show for perfume-heads hosted by New Yorker writer (and Twitter’s beloved “perfume genie”) Rachel Syme. The brief cocktail-hour show was one of those lockdown-era rituals that helped me structure my week and be in community with others, even if they were strangers (and even if I didn’t know anything about perfume). Typically, Rachel interviewed her subjects about their relationship with different scents by playing word-association games and asking them to react to samples that she had mailed them before the show. Lauren spoke about commissioning scent designer and poet Marissa Zappas to create a one-of-a-kind fragrance, and about the aromas she had recently been exposed to while studying jewelry-making in Florence. I was dazzled by this impossibly glamorous woman and struck up an acquaintance with her afterward over DMs. We finally met in person on a hot sunny day last summer when she stopped by my library to pore over the Emily Dickinson collection (as well as a few books on jewelry and perfume I couldn’t resist pulling). Lauren turned up with a handbag in the shape of a flamingo and treated me to iced espresso and croissants afterward, consolidating, in my book, her iconic status.
Professionally, Lauren is a Public Relations Consultant and Publicist who has worked with many talented writers (including Claire Messud, Tayari Jones and Min Jin Lee), as well as publishers, artists, and cultural organizations. I was thrilled to have the chance to talk with her about how she fell into her work and how she gets dressed. Here’s our interview:
Meet Lauren Cerand
What do you like most about your work as a publicist? What are some books or projects you're excited about at the moment?
I remember one day when I was getting ready to go to jewelry school in Florence in late fall 2019, resenting the eight hours I'd be spending at my bench, thinking I didn't appreciate the freedom of my old life. The financial pressure was so relentless that I overlooked the value of time. So that's something I think about a lot: that almost all of my career choices have been about preserving that sense of independence and responsibility to myself and to my clients and to the larger world but rarely a corporation. I've been freelancing for twenty years, most of that time in New York City, on my own as a single woman, and I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in order to choose my projects, and, as long as I meet my objectives, how I spend my time. Recently, I moved to Baltimore so I could adhere to my principles and have a shot at long-term housing security. I was once asked to contribute to an anthology about home, and it was the only deadline I ever blew, because I couldn’t picture it. I like that I have a job, while with ambition and challenging goals and expectations, it’s meaningful rather than capitalistic, from my perspective. Writers want to sell books and they want to be read, for their work to outlast us. Ultimately, I see art as one means of achieving immortality, in the way that some people see their lineage continuing through children and subsequent generations.
If your readers enjoy campus novels, a particularly stylish vein of literature, I have two debut authors to recommend: The Bequest by Joanna Margaret, which I'll be on tour in England and Scotland with the author for the UK edition in April, and Foster Dade Explores the Cosmos by Nash Jenkins, which we'll launch in New York in May. I am already thinking about what to wear for both occasions.
I’m so glad you mentioned your time at jewelry school in Florence. In addition to being a publicist, you are also a professionally trained jewelry maker. How did that happen?
In my late thirties, I had a year where three long-term clients paid me every month, or close to it, and for the first time in decades, I didn't have to constantly wonder where the money for my rent or health insurance was going to come from, with increasing focus as the days of the month progressed, and started over at zero on the first. So I started to contemplate things besides those concerns, and I picked up a copy of The Artist's Way. By the third or fourth week of having to come up with an “artist date” to take myself on, I was at a weekend jewelry workshop, and then another. Everywhere I went, teachers took me aside and told me to keep going. As a publicist, I'd long been praised for what I could do for other people, but that was the first time, besides my own writing, which I only ever did for pleasure, that someone had praised my own talent. I was already taking Italian some evenings, because I had friends there, and after a particularly meaningful trip in August 2017, knew I wanted to spend as much of my life there as I could, so it wasn’t too much more of a leap to start going to night school for jewelry at Pratt Institute, one of the best art schools in the country, which just happened to be in my Brooklyn neighborhood. On the first day, the teacher asked us each to name our dream, and when most people said to have their own line, I said that I wanted to study in Florence. I would have no idea that I’d be living there, doing just that, exactly one year later, but fate sometimes has a way of getting us to the church on time. I studied contemporary jewelry design full-time there for a year, and then completed my certificate at Pratt online after I came back, due to lack of funds to keep going, on August 31, 2020. I also worked one day a week at a wonderful studio in Midtown during my last chapter in New York (fall 2020–spring 2022), and it was a lifeline for me. There are a lot of specialties, and mine is art jewelry, one of a kind, handmade pieces, and specifically, forging the metal. Almost everything I own is still in storage in NYC, and I hope to get my tools soon, and I'd love to work one day a week at Baltimore Jewelry Center, maybe this fall, if I can structure my life in a four-day workweek, which is now almost hopefully within reach.
How would you describe your style?
I am aware that it is very individual, in part because there is seldom any competition for the things I want to buy. Classic, intellectual sometimes, and I'm not afraid to embrace glamour or stand out. It is really personal, in that sometimes a certain color or gemstone will console me, and I will want everything to be like that. In the winter of 2020, when I was in New York at, for me, the darkest hour of the pandemic, completely alone in the world except for my cat, Toscano, and at a much, much lower point than I had been during the first Italian lockdown, it was amber. I wanted to wear amber, I wanted to smell like amber, I wanted everything in my life to be honey-colored. Looking back, I think it was the only way to experience feeling truly stuck as beautiful. I bought huge amber necklaces, almost too heavy to wear. The rest of the time I lived in New York, there were no events at night, long the mainstay of both my professional and social life, so I got really into swimming and bike-riding near where I lived in Chelsea. My whole wardrobe revolved around activewear to get there, and then bathing suits and matching swim caps (required). When I moved here, with a suitcase, just as I had moved to Italy three years earlier, I brought some with me and joined a pool, but it was already a new chapter with a different structure. Where I live now, life revolves around horses and being outdoors, so I dress more for walking and the weather, and things I can garden in. Lots of sweaters, blazers, puffy vests, cords, and because I’m still me, a couple of vintage capes. The first hat I ever bought for necessity was to wear to a close friend’s wedding in England, and then I was with him last June in London when I was looking, after lunch, for one for Royal Ascot (I wore a pillbox and got the worst sunburn of my life—the brims should be big for a reason!), and so there's something special about hats for me, and the occasions that require them. I absolutely love knowing how people are going to be dressed when I go to a specific place or gathering.
Where do you find clothes?
Every other month or so, the horse & cat sanctuary Foxie G Foundation (named after a retired racehorse that lived a nice long life on the farm there) has a Facebook auction of donated equestrian chic and collectibles, and I will usually buy a few things there. The jewelry is especially good! Generally speaking, I like old things, and I like people who appreciate them, so usually individual sellers. My last big order was six or seven caftans I ordered from author and scholar and vintage dealer Susan Harlan in Winston-Salem, who’s trying to raise funds for quality-of-life care for her senior dog, Millie. I was careening around Lower Manhattan in a taxi while I was replying to her Instagram stories, already envisioning a summer at the neighborhood swim club, having a cocktail and watching the stars come out, and doing little else. Baltimore has some of the best vintage I've ever seen or experienced in the U.S., incredibly well-sourced and rarely picked-over, so whenever I see a pop-up mentioned online, I’ll usually try and check it out in person. RENEWAL Upscale Resale in Hunt Valley, Maryland, which is a project of the Women's Board of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, is probably my one regular destination. They shelve newer stuff in the front and vintage and occasion-wear by decade in the back. Last time I was there and tried on a Burberry trench that had apparently been lingering because it didn't fit anyone. As a current size 18, I can assure you I don't have that experience very often, but it slid on like a glove and I felt like Cinderella and thought of a Burberry trench I’d found on the Upper East Side years ago and dragged from place to place even though it never fit, until I finally told myself I had to let it go to make space for the right one. It was a long time coming, but it felt full circle. It would be very unusual for me to buy something new, but every now and then, I get a basic at Joules online, or the J. McLaughlin in Ruxton, near where I live. I bought a bone-colored boucle coat there one day when they were giving a portion of sales to the MD Center for History and Culture to support its Claire McCardell show, which is on all year, and it's probably the thing I grab the most when I go out.
Tell me about your favorite thing in your closet and how you wear it.
Betty Cooke is a 98 year old jewelry designer whose work I was familiar with from jewelry history, and one day when I was driving by Cross Keys, which is a shopping center in Roland Park, Baltimore, where the boutique she established is, I decided to go and see if I could look at any of her work in real life (there was an exhibition at the Walters Art Museum a few years ago). I was checking out the earrings when I was informed that she was right behind me, minding the shop. She is absolutely dazzling, as is her work, and exactly what you might expect a woman who literally forged a path would be like. It’s a lot of silver, in the modernist style, and if you know the pioneering New York artist Art Smith’s jewelry at all, I see them as being of a similar moment in time and in conversation in some ways. The pair I bought are big, loose, silver arches with lapis spheres at one end, like the cosmos in orbit, and I am so crazy about them that when I wore them without the backs one day and one slipped out, I drove very slowly around someone's driveway, not caring at all how strange my behavior would appear, until I found the one I was missing. I recently won the monthly drawing for a $100 gift card to any boutique in the village of shops and they were like, do you know which store you want to go to, and I was like, I DO.
The runner-up would be a secondhand black satin Etro backpack I found when I was in Lecce, Italy, for a month in August 2020, just before I returned to the U.S. I was riding a bicycle around for hours every day and went across the city (maybe the most beautiful I've ever seen in sum-total) to a vintage shop looking for a backpack specifically, so I could ride more and not drop anything, and there it was. I am carrying it right now and I still think chic backpacks are hugely underrated, but maybe that's just the part of me that was a teenager in the Nineties talking.
Do you have any style icons?
I just met Anne Waldman in person for the first time in New York this week and had dinner with her and fellow poet Eleni Sikelianos at Freeman's and was too starstruck to talk at first. She’s as stunning up close as her work has been for me to read on the page. Peter Hujar's mid-1970s portrait of her is a lookbook in one image.
I was in JAR's atelier in Paris for about five minutes a few years ago, and that imprinted on me permanently a love for dusty pink interiors, paintings leaning up against the wall, and small, precious objects scattered across a worktable. And how that might materialize in an ensemble. In jewelry history, you mostly study paintings because most jewelry is melted or broken up over time, and that felt very natural to me, because I am always taking cues from art and books and films.
When I lived in Florence, it was Angela Caputi, who is not only the chic jewelry designer with two boutiques (you can find a small but very good selection at the boutique, Baroness, on Lexington Ave in New York), but could also be seen at her regular table at the restaurant nearby. You would know she was an artist even if you had no idea who she was, and I like that. I love how new Maryland First Lady Dawn Moore approached her inauguration look (she wore Jody Davis).
Beyond that, anyone with a rose named after them.
Do you have a fondness for a particular clothing item or accessory? (Like, say, Carrie Bradshaw and her shoes.)
I can always find room for another handbag, somehow. Yesterday in SoHo, it was a red satin Brandon Blackwood box tote embroidered with cherubs, that instantly gave me a sense of how I would look and what I would wear in London in the spring. Coats, maybe, especially since they can make a whole look. I do feel like I am always convincing myself that it is “the last one.” I love gloves, the long, elbow-length leather kind, and if I had a glove store in my life, I would have too many. Currently, I have a saffron orange pair I bought in Rome when I was at the Film Festival to accompany a director once, and a more recent black pair from Florence that I remember wearing with my Gucci cape on my way to meet my landlords for lunch and feeling like I had finally got it right. They gave me an Angela Caputi bracelet when I left!
Would you like to share a book, film, or cultural heritage object with readers of Luxe Libris? I believe you once collected cookbooks by duchesses?
Thank you for asking about my collection of cookbooks written by duchesses, which is long dispersed (see lack of housing security above) and probably the only real collection I've ever assembled. It was featured in the New York Times Magazine, a forum in which I thought it was very clever to say the thing that I love about them is that duchesses don't cook (as I recall, one said her favorite place to eat was the restaurant in the lobby of her apartment building, and that her favorite recipe was a Pink Gin) and some of the others leaned a little too heavily on borrowing, with credit, recipes from their cooks. A few years ago I posted a screenshot on social media and got absolutely roasted, with perfect manners, by duchesses in the comments, including a gentle rejoinder from one who I had actually taken a very illuminating cooking class with (Butera 28, if you're ever in Palermo). So let the past inspire you, but don't be afraid to learn something new every day.
In March, the graduate students at the Fashion Institute of Technology celebrated fashion writer and designer Elizabeth Hawes with an exhibition of her work. Hawes is most known for her 1938 book Fashion is Spinach but less known for her other excellent titles such as Why is a Dress (1942), Why Women Cry; or, Wenches with Wrenches (1943), and of course, It’s Still Spinach (1954). Hawes was also a labor organizer and a socialist who dedicated her life to changing labor conditions in the fashion industry as well as the garments available for working class people. Though the exhibit came and went in a flash, you can get a peek of it on the FIT exhibition page.
The Dutch Textile Trade Project recently debuted its inaugural dataset reflecting twenty-five years of textile exchanges on Dutch ships (1700–1724), and the beginnings of their Visual Textile Glossary. Created by Carrie Anderson and Marsely Kehoe, the project seeks to understand the circulation of textiles on Dutch ships in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as well as to contextualize different production methods behind different textiles.
The best thing I read last month was this interview in The Cut with Law Roach about his decision to retire from celebrity styling. There’s plenty of tea about the nightmarish world of celebrity publicists, but Roach also frankly discusses the racism and suffering he’s endured over many years while giving us some of the most iconic moments in recent fashion history.
As long as there is war in Ukraine, Luxe Libris will ask readers to donate to ForPeace, an organization carrying out vital aid and paramedic support on the front lines.
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