Rebecca Moses’ Fashion of Da Times
The Designer's Covid-era portraits are a way to create and connect real and fantastic Women
Fashion designer, creative director, and artist Rebecca Moses has added “fashion blogger” to her resume.
Thanks to the stay-at-home rules to stop COVID-19’s spread, Moses’ creativity spawned a new fashion gossip column, Fashion of Da Times, on Instagram in January. It was inspired by the former name of the New York Times’ fashion pages, and the “They Are Wearing” fashion reportages from Women’s Wear Daily, explains Moses, who added that she also was galvanized by Julie Andrews in Bridgerton playing the role of a snarky narrator reading from the anonymous society gossip column she pens.
Each post features a Moses painting of a female style-maker in a fantastic ensemble, with a caption describing the outfit and where it was worn. It is entirely made up, says Moses, except for some names of restaurants or other merchants, all independent businesses Moses wants to support. The paintings are fun, flamboyant, and fabulous. And, Moses says, a necessary outlet for her bubbling spring of creativity.
“I need to express [myself] creatively because I’m exploding right now. It’s a hard time for creative people,” explains Moses. “And, [I need to] have a laugh. If we don’t have a laugh, we’ll keep crying.”
Meanwhile, to celebrate the March 31st anniversary of her The Stay Home Sisters portrait series of COVID women (in theory at home), and coinciding with March being Women’s History Month, Moses is taking The Sisters live on Instagram. Every day in March, Moses will have interviewed a “Stay Home Sister” from around the world. And Moses started #thefashionablekind series of fashion paintings and illustrations. Talk about exploding.
The first nudge Moses felt pushing her to create Fashion of Da Times happened earlier this winter, after she froze her arse off while dining outdoors.
“I woke up in the middle of the night, still defrosting from the dinner outside,” Moses says, recounting the absurdity of it all, “wearing 17 pairs of gloves, hats, 34 layers and was like WTF!! I know I’m a New Yorker and I’m tough, but dinner on the sidewalk in 30-degree weather, putting my gloves on in-between every bite…It’s not St. Moritz!”
That morning, Moses began her daily pre-COVID discipline of painting in her Manhattan apartment’s studio and created The Official New York City Dining Attire 2021 illustration. The piece, which debuted on Instagram on January 4, features a New York skyline with a woman in the foreground bedecked in a turban and dangling earrings, wearing a flowing full-length down coat, ski pants, corrugated-sole boots, and carrying a plaid cashmere blanket. There are arrows pointing to items and instructions such as “Wear insulated underwear on your chest!!” The illustration was posted accompanied by music, of course: Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z with Alicia Keys.
“Everyone really laughed!” Moses proudly boasts. “My mission is to entertain. I want to keep people’s spirits up. I have a following of people who are down. If I can give you a giggle I’m really happy. For me I am projecting my own desire of what I want to see in New York.”
Moses, wistful for how the city and its snazzy style used to be pre-pandemic, has kept her signature style throughout these last 12 months. She wears her favorite turbans, big earrings, and perfectly imperfect layers of jewelry, and sports rouge, lipstick, and bright nail polish like a pro. Style and routine, she says, are essential for our well-being even while we’re working from home, hardly socializing, and largely fatigued by a worldwide virus. Moses’ decade-old book, A Life Of Style, where she writes about and illustrates all domains of style, from fashion and accessories to home decor and table settings, remains vastly relevant.
“I haven’t changed that much [during COVID] but maybe because I’m on ‘live’ a lot; it’s psychological for me, I need to get up and get dressed in the morning and do my brows, my lips, and my turban,” Moses explains, referring to the Instagram live interviews she does for her feed as well as others. “I try to encourage women to put on some lipstick, cream on their skin, perfume, not for anyone but [themselves]. I have my partner at home with me, my adult children in and out — I want to look good for them too. Who wants to look sloppy? You want to project good energy and put [it] out there.”
Moses doesn’t define style by what someone wears or how they dress up. She explains that if someone is using and capitalizing on their five senses, they get to their sixth sense, which is style. Style is humane, personal, and really a reflection of someone’s life and character, not their accoutrements.
It’s this interpretation that is reflected in two portrait series on Instagram that Moses developed during COVID. One, The Stay Home Sisters, started with a first painting done March 30, 2020 shortly after lockdown began. Moses asked women to write her a note about their COVID lives, respecting Instagram’s character count, and to submit a photo. In exchange, Moses painted their portraits and published their stories. Moses has completed roughly 400 portraits thus far — sometimes creating up to five portraits a day — and she appreciates the ability to communicate with, and support, her followers.
“This is not just to keep myself busy but to give women who are going through challenging times a voice,” Moses recounts. “Letters were not different if they came from Albania or Paris. Women were lonely, frustrated, frightened, did not know how to be better parents, mates; they lost their jobs, quit their jobs. I had women that had just come out of chemo and fell into COVID and women who were going to give birth.”
Shortly after the Stay Home series started, Moses was contacted by the sister of Linda Valentino, a registered nurse and Vice President of Nursing and Patient Care Services for Women’s and Children’s Services at the Mount Sinai Health System of New York City. At the time, Valentino was running the nursing operations at Mt. Sinai’s overloaded COVID treatment center in Brooklyn, and to honor her work, her sister Anne requested a portrait. Moses painted Valentino side by side in her full personal protective equipment and civilian clothes. Valentino, meanwhile, was concerned by what her nurses were dealing with emotionally and physically. Moses, who’d been working on a project for the Fragrance Foundation, and that organization’s president, Linda Levy, conceived of a plan for Moses to paint the portraits of 46 nurses. The portraits were enlarged for an exhibit “Thank You, Mt. Sinai Nurses” at Mt. Sinai’s Guggenheim Pavilion. The nurses received their portraits as gifts; Levy donated 5,000 self-care products to the participants; and based on testimonials, the nurses felt honored and touched that Moses captured a part of them that no one gets to see behind their scrubs and protective gear.
“One of the most beautiful things that Linda related to me — A nurse turned to her husband [after seeing her portrait] and said she never thought she was that pretty, and husband said ‘you’ve always been so pretty,’” Moses recalls.
Moses has spent most of her life in fashion. She enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology at age 16 having graduated from high school a year early. She has had her own eponymous fashion collection and for years was the creative director for Italian fashion label Genny, after Gianni Versace had left, an opportunity that made Moses among the earliest of American fashion designers to work for a European label. She also created the lifestyle collection for Pineider, an 18th-century luxury stationery company. Having settled in Italy, she fell in love with the owner of a mill supplying her signature collection. But her husband would succumb to cancer, and she left Italy in 2010 and returned to New York with her two sons to start over.
Though she no longer has her own collection, Moses is still active in the fashion industry doing a variety of things, from consulting with fashion companies to providing fashion illustrations to Vogue Japan, among other publications. She also continues to hand paint used luxury and vintage handbags under the Imperfectly Perfect moniker, some of which are for sale at New York’s Marlene Wetherell vintage emporium. Yet Moses is dismayed by the current state of the industry.
“Fashion is not functioning and it hasn’t been for a long time. It’s a business that is filled with a lot of passion and creativity but its business model is so defunct,” explains Moses, referring to the multiplicity of collections that labels produce every season. When Moses started out, companies were making three collections a year. “There’s a lot of product that has no value. Branding has killed the creative process. It has become an exasperated marketplace that drowned itself.”
So, until further notice and among other endeavors, Moses will continue to chronicle women and the idiosyncrasies of New York City. And, keep us entertained.