Marrakech at Midnight

Eight years ago, I fell down a rabbit hole and landed in a a fantastical world of festivity in Marrakech.  When the invitation arrived from my friend and ibu ambassador, Meryanne Loum-Martin, I knew not to miss her merriment.  Meryanne weaves together her global friendships with ease and finesse, conjures mad magic at her soirees, and lights the air with mystery.  Each night’s party began at 9:00 and didn’t stop until each stranger had become a friend. 

It was during those days I learned to love a caftan.  What other dress can hold the spell of an exotic evening, can flow like music, can mirror the allure of a midnight sky?  I took my cue from our host, stunning in her white and black caftan, below, and wondered where she found her enviable wardrobe. 

Eight years later, she revealed her secrets - for ibu.  I was visiting with her again this spring, when Meryanne took me to a remarkable Marrakech exhibit of caftans by Tami Tazi.  I swooned; I studied the embroidery techniques, and finally I met the woman who makes Meryanne’s magic.  Nawal, in the selfie below, poured over swatches with me; we conjured caftans.  Over our two days together, she shared with me stories of her young childhood when her mother died and she was brought to the Jewish quarter of the city where embroidery was learned; how she mastered the complicated threads through her tears.  Now, years later, she works with women just outside Marrakech to create this beauty she loves.

The caftans I crafted with Nawal are here now.   I love their classic design - not trendy, never out of style.  I wear one every chance I get - to dinner at a friend’s home,  to dinner in my own home, cocktails in the garden, at the beach.  I wear them because I don’t know of anything both so comfortable and chic.  I wear them because the women in Morocco are carrying forward a remarkable skill that I want alive in the world.

I want to wear them everywhere.  Down rabbit holes.  Into midnight mysteries.  Into magic, everywhere.    

I bet you do, too.  

All the best,
Susan Hull Walker

American Icon

While our country stews nervously over who will be our next leader, the political process devolves into a bad reality show, and hands wring the air with exasperation, I am voting for this woman.  

You may think of Ali MacGraw as a movie star who embodied the fearless freedom of the sixties; or a breathtakingly beautiful style icon who has grown with grace and fortitude - and you would be right.  But then . . . there is somuch more.  

Ali tells the story of her mother sitting at the kitchen table each week with envelops in front of her, placing dollar bills on each one.  When young Ali asks what she is doing, her mother explains that in this envelop she is saving money to aid those who are blind.  This one is for persons with cancer.  This one for those who are homeless.  Though her family did not have much money, what they had, they gave away with generosity and heart, intending the best for others. 

Ali still lives this way.  She has made a life of service and giving - taking things lightly, taking people seriously.  Time and again - while admiring a little something beautiful Ali was showing me - she pressed it into my hands as gift - insisting that she didn’t need it at all.  Her heart tilts at an angle, always flowing out to others.

I cannot imagine buying another diamond ring when there arepeople everywhere in such great need.she says at dinner, trying to understand our country’s spending habits.    Instead, she puts her energy into addressing those needs - of children in schools, women in developing countries, artists in distress. She eschews animal products and champions the rights of all creatures. She embodies compassion. Humility.  Graciousness.  Generosity.  A conscious, well-crafted life.   

One thing Ali truly loves, in addition to being of use to others, is the fascinating world of global design.  Tirelessly, she supports artisans who have come for the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, where she lives.  She works in their booths, houses their families, stores their goods while they return home.  Her father crafted jewelry, her mother wove cloth;  Ali has an innate sense for understanding and creating authentic beauty.

Which is why, I think, her heart gravitated toward ibu and Ali became our celebrated ambassador.  It is the marriage of design and service that she loves - and she does love ibu!  She spreads the word every chance she getswith passion and joy in her telling.

And not only that.  Jumping in with both feet and a bit of glee, Ali is putting her design talents to work for ibu.  It is something she has always loved:  great style, simply wrought, divinely layered.  She is bringing to the world, through the face of ibu, her iconic style for all.  Stay tuned for this next year!

Could I be more thrilled?  Could it be any more fun?  This summer, we shopped the flea market for treasure to work into her collection. She introduced me to textile dealers she knew by name and knew also of their plight in Nepal, or Mexico, or India.  She buys to support others.  She lives to create. And now, she creates so that others may live.  

Here is a woman I respect utterly.  An ibu from her silver crown to her denim blue toenails.  In a season of slippery words and thin promises, I’m voting for Ali’s vision of life- for strength, compassion, integrity.  Beauty and imagination. Fairness. Opportunity. Joy.   And her own big-hearted Love Story for this troubled but glorious world.

All the best,
Susan Hull Walker

The Embrace of Strangers

top:  Photographer Peter Ogilvie and crew.  second row:  Bella Slagsvol, Beth Slagsvol, Austin Walker & Tiala Neufeld,  third row:  Sachi Royer, Nancy Vignola and Ann Ash, Leon Morrison, ibu ambassador, Ali MacGraw.  Fourth Row:  Linda Vignola, Ann Ash, Marisa Nemirow, Austin Walker, Susan Anzalone of Fine Line Catering, SHW, Ali MacGraw

She called the showroom, a perfect stranger, to offer ibu a Trunk Show in her Santa Fe home.  What was I to think?  The previous summer I had looked for a venue, hoping to introduce ibu to the beautifully eclectic people I had come to know over the past nine summers in Santa Fe.  So, the call came as a kind of answer to my wish, a random act of kindness.  I just knew, somehow, that Ann Ash was not a stranger but a friend, and that time would tell that story.

So it happened that last weekend, Austin and Marisa from Team ibu joined forces with Ann and her rock star line up of merchandisers and party planners and friends to put on a two day event that sent the town into a buzz.  I do not know why a stranger calls to extend her hospitality like an angel in disguise, flies in her talented cohort from New York to merchandise our displays, hires her friends to cook delectable squash blossoms, concoct signature drinks, rearrange her colorful home, distribute invitations by hand.  All I know is that Ann and Leon and Nancy were a band of strangers a few weeks ago whom I am honored now to call my friends.  The kind of friends who make magic and laughter in equal parts.  And make life better, all the way around. 

A day later, after our strikingly successful trunk show, I headed out into lone ranching territory where Beth Slagsvol, another perfect stranger, welcomed me and 9 others into her home to photograph ibu’s fall collection.  What can I say, except that she and her beautiful daughter Bella simply found it in their hearts to not only open their creative home but to fly out to meet us and to model our new clothing against the wide New Mexico sky.

Sometimes, I am just on my knees at the feet of strangers.  I fall into their wide embrace - and only later realize that all along, friendship was the latent truth between us, waiting to bloom.  

It's been that kind of week for me, when angels appear unaware in the hospitality of strangers.  I’m realizing that ibu is on the move way out there ahead of me - a great surge of believers leading the way, carrying the torch for women everywhere.  I'm lucky, so lucky,  to catch the ample grace in their wake.  

All the best,
Susan Hull Walker

Mad for Mola

It started with a tattoo.  A line drawn on the torso signified power or totem or clan.  Bodies were the first canvas upon which one might make an artful mark, claim an identity.  Only later, much later, did clothing take over that job - textiles are often the extension of tattoos, a literal second skin, carrying forward the same symbolic patterns while also offering warmth and modesty.

Never more so than for the Kuna Indians in Panama.  At home on the San Blas Islands, the Kuna (or Guna) women are celebrated for their molas, a unique form of reverse appliqué, layering cotton and then incising the cloth like a tattoo, turning it back in tiny stitches to reveal another layer of color beneath, and then another.  Kuna women wear these molas, the full blooming of their imaginations, around the waist and chest, attaching them to a blouse.

In the past 50 years, visitors to Panama have made collector's items of these unique textiles.  Though I have them framed in my home, and covering cushions on a sofa, and though I surely have enough, I cannot resist collecting yet another vintage, storied piece.

Brilliantly, these prized molas are now being created by a cooperative of 60 women in northern Columbia, on the border of Panama.  Designer Yasmin Sabet is working with this cooperative to create clutches so chic, Vogue magazine heralded them as immediate, outfit-elevating, soft, squeezable nods to your own international scope.  Moda Operandi applauds how these darlings transition from street to beach . . And, I would add, into evening with a bit of pluck.  

Ibu, along with Rosemary and the women of Mola Sasa, is thrilled to offer you these original, handmade marks of identity - now as enviable art for your wardrobe. Consider each a collector's piece.  A second skin.  Your own tattoo in thread.  

All the best,
Susan Hull Walker

Around the World in Santa Fe

I tiptoe around the mountain of DHL boxes and perch on the bed amongst piles of woven bracelets. Reinel is returning to his Zenu family in northern Colombia, repacking handwoven hats and jewelry that didn't sell.  The Folk Art Market is over - we have both survived three days in a warren of tented stalls under the hot, beautiful skies of Santa Fe.  Almost 200 artisans from all over the world have come to offer their hand-crafted genius.  I have come with open eyes and heart to look for what is alive and fresh and deserving, to bring new skills to ibu, to bring new work to women.

The day after the market, my work is just beginning. I must grab every possible moment with these artisans before they disappear back into their distant homes.  Starting with Reinel, now, in this cramped hotel room, and the director of his cooperative and translator, Magno.

Magno Caterino Mahecha Lopez reaches over the boxes and bracelets to show me images on his computer - the Zenu women wrapping Cana Flecha palm, the homes which they have built from their earnings, the plants which burst open with dyes, bright and colorful.  We are concocting a new thing for ibu, something exciting I dare not talk about yet, but before we even begin, he wants me to understand the people behind the product. He wants me to know that the symbols on the cuffs are not decoration but identity - marks of a people and their pride, totemic signs full of memory.   He is not just selling me a cuff.  He is offering me a bridge to another world.

While you are reading news of a Bangladesh terrorist attack,  I am sitting in another hotel room with Mishael, who is telling me other news of his home in Bangladesh - news of Sona and other landless women, once the poorest of the poor, who are now cultivating acres of indigo, learning the mysteries of dyeing, cleaning up their water and sanitation, starting schools, stopping their abusive husbands in their tracts, with money in their hands.  He leans in, with urgency in his voice, and pride, as he delivers news of this year.

While you hear of hundreds of South Sudanese killed in Juba over the weekend,  I am talking with Anyieth D'Awol, who started a center there where women from 19 tribes come to bead jewelry of their own native designs - together - even as the men in their families continue to fight one another.

While Oaxaca mourns 8 killed in hostile clashes, I am meeting with Moises, who cultivates silk in the higlands of Oaxaca, showing me colors so deep and vibrant I could weep for them - silk taking the palette of plants and leaves -  natural and pure and undefiled.  

From the cloud forests of Guatemala,  the streets of Istanbul, the embroidery capital of India, the needleworkers of Nigeria, the felters of Kyrgyzstan, - from all over this small planet, artisans bring another story altogether to our visits, just as significant, just as real as the violence burning up the news.  They are stories not of terror, but of courage, of strength, of fearlessness and beauty.  They are stories that make me small, but happy.  They are why I come, these stories.  These inspiring women and men who quietly share them.  And their faces, like Reinel packing boxes in the morning light, undetetered. 

All the best,
Susan Hull Walker

Walking a Fine Line

I met Razaan at a New York market when I came to a dead stop in front of her artful layout and let out an audible gasp.  She laughed and introduced herself - an artist in Cape Town, South Africa, pushing the envelop to experiment in the artistry of felt.  

Razaan pounds layers of wool roving - the fiber before it is spun into thread - andkneads it like dough.  Slowly, under long periods ofpressure, moisture, and heat, the tiny fibers open and lock arms with one another forming a cloth, not woven, but cajoled into being.

But then, she keeps going to form an imaginative fine line - squiggly, handmade, imperfect - and layers it in. The chicest thing I’ve seen in stripes for quite a while.  

Razaan invites women from the poorest areas of CapeTown to learn her techniques and work with her in the studio.  For them, it’s a fine line between health and life in a hell-hole.  Between prosperity and poverty.  Between hope and another day without it.

From her studio, stunning and innovative blankets and throws are making their way across Europe, and now, quietly, into this country at ibu.   For interiors, modern and classic, these handsome throws dress the end of a bed, the back of a chair, or curl up with you on a a sofa.  

There’s a fine line between CapeTown and Charleston, between felting and feeling strong, between you and me and the women of ChicFusion.  it’s a line worth walking, I want to say -  this random, but beautiful thread between two worlds.

All the best,
Susan Hull Walker

Ystania's House of Dreams

She’s known for her sense of humor, her fashionista leanings, and beating anybody with her crochet finesse.  Ystania, after working at Haiti Babi for one year making our coveted baby blankets, bought a parcel of land.  Yep,  though only 10 percent of women in Haiti own land, Ystania defied the odds.  A triumph, really. Finding her place on earth.

Her two sons, her mother, plus a niece and nephew all depend on Ystania’s income as a single mother.  But in her work with Haiti Babi, Ystania earns more than twice the minimum wage.  She sends her sons, niece, and nephew to good schools, though fully half of the children in Haiti can not afford an education.  

This is the power of a woman’s hands.  Her strength.  Skill.  Imagination. Resilience.  Her capacity to dream.  It is astonishing to know how this woman has transformed the lives around her.  Not only those closest who depend on her, though the story there is remarkable enough.  But the economic multiplier effect at Haiti Babi is six, meaning that for every job there, 6 other jobs are created, and in a country where jobs are rare.

With every paycheck, Ystania is putting away savings to build a house for her family on her land.  To build a house.  I am swept with tears of astonishment as I write this, looking upon these faces, sensing again (and again and again) how powerful is a woman’s spirit.  How big her love.  All she needs is a needle and thread and an unstoppable dream.  With that, and fortitude and patience, hard-work and humor, Ystania is building a life.  And a home to hold it all.

I would be so proud, one day, to enter it. 

All the best,
Susan Hull Walker

A Bold New Score

Her grandmother is from Ghana; her father from Guyana, South America, her mother is Danish/American. Growing up, her arm jingled with bangles from India, where her father worked for the World Bank.  Alyson Cambridge is a global composition, bursting forth in song on the stages of New York, Chicago, DC, LA, London, Berlin, Paris, Warsaw, Beijing - Charleston!

One of our country’s most celebrated voices, soprano Alyson Cambridge rocks the world stage.  Fulfilling the operatic roles of Mimi, Madame Butterly, Violetta, Donna Elvira, and now, our beloved Bess, in the Spoleto production of Porgy & Bess, Alyson is championed for her powerful, clear voice, her subtly in acting, her radiance in being.  But, I want to say: there's more.

When ibu ally, Gregg Smythe, read our newsletter two weeks ago on Dressing Bess, she called immediately.  Well, why don’t you really dress Bess???  she asked. Let me make the introduction.

When Alyson went to our website, she was moved by the images.  Bold, strong, chic . . . are the words that came to her . . . and as a performer, I appreciate the truly stunning visual impression they make!

When she came to the showroom, Alyson tried on look after look, loving each one more.  I felt instantly transformed in every piece I put on . .  I was ready for a sophisticated cocktail party, a garden party, a house party, a red carpet night at the opera . . . 

Alyson Cambridge has agreed to wear her ibu out onto the world stage as an Ambassador of our Movement.  I couldn’t be happier -  having this radiant being illuminating the world with ibu.  Having earned every right to be a diva, she chooses instead to be an ibu.  Generous of heart. Joyful in spirit.  Gorgeous any way you look at it.  And now she picks up this challenging score for her next act:  singing a new song for women everywhere.  Bold.  Strong. Proud.

Here's to Alyson,
All the Bess ~
Susan Hull Walker