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Fashion

By Michael Tessler

History came to life this past weekend as the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy hosted an exquisite “Downton Abbey”-themed fashion show, complete with high tea, light snacks and beautiful costumes provided by Port Jefferson’s very own Nan Guzzetta.

This special event was the brainchild of former Port Jefferson mayor and Conservancy chairwoman, Jeanne Garant. This longtime local leader has a great record of bringing to life history in fun community-oriented ways. Having helped found the village’s beloved Charles Dickens Festival, it’s no surprise she’d dream up such a unique fundraiser.

Organized by Conservancy President Lisa Perry, her fellow board members and many volunteers, this event was one attendees won’t forget.

Nan Guzzetta, who provided the costumes for the event, is a true treasure in our community. Her passion for history, attention to detail and her ability to bring to life any bygone era is an extraordinary talent. Every piece of clothing she selects is so perfectly prepared, adorned with accessories that embellish without distracting, every ornate decoration on a hat so cleverly placed, every shoe properly fit and polished. She is a master of her art form, and what a splendid art it was to spectate.

Models from all across the country joined to be a part of this spectacular presentation of Edwardian era clothing. Each outfit appeared to outdo the next, so beautifully capturing not just the style but the stories of the early 20th century. Styling of suffragettes, elaborate evening gowns, feathered flappers and everything in-between showed what an exciting time it was to be alive. From the Titanic to the twenties, it was a beautiful demonstration and a roaring good time!

Guest curator adds personal touch to exhibit at Long Island Museum

‘Portrait of Beth,’ 1999. Photo by Bruce Weber

By Rita J. Egan

When Beth Levine, designer of innovative footwear from the 50s to the 70s, passed away in 2006 at the age of 91, she left behind her unique footprints on the fashion world. To honor the former Patchogue resident’s accomplishments, the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook recently opened the exhibition Beth Levine: The First Lady of Shoes.

Helene Verin, an adjunct professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and guest curator of the exhibition and author of “Beth Levine Shoes,” was a young shoe designer when she arrived in New York City in the 1970s. After meeting Levine, she quickly found a mentor and friend in her. The curator said she looked up to the innovative designer who she described as funny and unique. 

“She was larger than life,” Verin said.

The ‘Cinderella’ shoe, 1961, clear vinyl with lucite heel, silver kidshin details and lining by Beth Levine from the collection of Helene Verin. Image from the LIM
The ‘Cinderella’ shoe, 1961, clear vinyl with lucite heel, silver kidshin details and lining by Beth Levine from the collection of Helene Verin. Image from the LIM

The curator said she holds one of the largest archives of Levine’s work. The shoe designer closed her factory, which she owned with her husband Henry Levine, in 1976, but kept a storage unit that contained her work as well as material. According to Verin, the two designers would often stop by the unit, and Levine would give her mentee random items such as buckles and plastic flowers. Verin said she sometimes wasn’t sure how Levine utilized the pieces in her designs, but in later years, as she researched the designer’s work, she would see pictures of shoes that once were adorned with the flower or other accessory pieces she was given.

Levine, who was born in 1914 and raised on a farm in Patchogue, arrived in New York City as a young woman with aspirations of becoming a social worker, according to Verin. However, when the Long Island native began working as a shoe model to earn money, she found a career that was a better fit for her. The future footwear designer wore a size 4 shoe, which at the time was considered the perfect sample size. Verin said Levine realized she had a knack for picking out comfortable shoes and compared her feet to a potter’s wheel.

“It’s such an amazing story. Most shoe designers are men, and they come from generations of cobblers,” Verin said.

Levine quickly realized she knew more about shoes than the men that were designing them at the time. When she went on to become a designer, she tried on every style to ensure a comfortable feel.

She quickly became a favorite among first ladies Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson and Pat Nixon who needed stylish yet comfortable shoes. “Everything she did was based on comfort,” Verin said.

In addition, Levine’s clients included Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Barbra Streisand, Lauren Bacall, Liza Minelli, and Cher. Levine also collaborated with designers including Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass and designed all the footwear for Braniff airline’s flight attendants.

When creating her Cyrano shoe, which featured a pointed toe, Levine didn’t just narrow the toe. The designer added the pointed end to extend past where the toes would fall so they weren’t jammed into the tip. “She always used to say things like, ‘There’s no such thing as breaking in a pair of shoes. They’ll break you first,’” said the curator.

Verin said Levin also enjoyed many firsts during her career. Saks Fifth Avenue opened their first stand-alone boutique, Beth’s Bootery, which carried the designer’s footwear, and Levine was the one to figure out how to create a clear Cinderella shoe similar to other brands but with no visible screws. She also was the first to draw a picture of the footwear on the outside of the box to make it easier for shoe sellers to find a particular style for their customer.

The Patchwork Boot, 1967, cotton, silk, velvet and Lurex boot quilted by Adirondack artisans from the collection of Ron and Nancy Bush. Image from the LIM
The Patchwork Boot, 1967, cotton, silk, velvet and Lurex boot quilted by Adirondack artisans from the collection of Ron and Nancy Bush. Image from the LIM

The designer has been credited with introducing boots to haute couture as opposed to them just being worn for utility use, according to Verin. One of her most famous boots were worn by Nancy Sinatra while publicizing her 1966 hit song “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”

Among her unique designs were a pair of shoes with AstroTurf as the insole called “Splendor in the Grass,” and a shoe with no upper that was secured to the foot with adhesive, according to Verin.

When it comes to the shoes included in the exhibition, Verin said, “When you look at them, even though they’re 60 years old, they’re so current. Today you would wear them.”

Besides pieces from her own collection, the curator has been able to borrow items from other collectors for the exhibition. One of the lenders is Levine’s nephew Ronnie Bush who inherited the family farm and has dedicated a corner of his barn to the designer and her work. Also, on display will be a photo of Levine by another one of her family members, professional photographer Bruce Weber.

In addition to Levine’s iconic footwear, visitors will find photos, paintings, illustrations, film footage and other artifacts on display. The curator said even those who aren’t footwear aficionados will appreciate Levine’s work.

“I think you can see these shoes as works of art,” Verin said. “You can really see a brilliant mind and talent at work.”

Beth Levine: The First Lady of Shoes will run at the Long Island Museum, 1200 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook, through Jan. 3, 2016. Sponsors include Astoria Bank, Bank of America, Nancy Burner & Associates and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Regular admission is $10 per person, $7 for seniors and $5 for students ages 6 to 17. Children under 6 and museum members are free. During the exhibition run, special events will be held including an opportunity for seniors 62 and older to visit the show for free on Sept. 8 from 10 a.m. to noon. For more information, visit www.longislandmuseum.org or call 631-751-0066.

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Black Cherokee “Hermina” Fashion Boots ($27.99) at Target. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

Summer is mostly over, and according to most retail stores, that means fall (and Christmas) is right around the corner.  While you do still have ample time to go back-to-school shopping, you might as well beat the rush and stock up on these style essentials before you have to race another customer to grab the last purple backpack off the shelf.

1 Statement backpack. A backpack is an obvious back-to-school essential, and I recommend it over a one-shoulder book-bag because two straps provide better weight distribution and make carrying tons of books less of a huge cramp-in-one-shoulder situation and more of a slight-overall-cramp situation (which, trust me, is preferable). Because a backpack is something that will be carried everywhere, in any weather, paired with any outfit, make sure to choose something durable and versatile. Neutral colors like black, white, beige and brown usually lend themselves to interesting patterns that won’t look out of place with most outfits, while solid bright bold colors can add a fun pop to your style without overwhelming the eye.

2 Something black, something blue, something white (condition: new). Unlike the old wedding rhyme, these items don’t really symbolize anything more extensive than a fresh start to a new school year, but hey, that’s still pretty significant. You’d be surprised by how far a few new basics will go. Black and white clothing items go great with any everyday outfit and come in handy for school concerts and formal events, while a standard pair of comfortable blue jeans will become your literal other half when you can’t find anything simple enough to offset a bold shirt.

3 Vest for success. You may be wondering, what’s so functional about a clothing item that covers approximately half of someone’s torso and leaves appendages to freeze in the cold?  First of all, you know all those long-sleeved shirts that you spilled coffee down the front of, the ones that now live in the back of your closet? Well now they can see the light of day again because a vest is perfect for selectively covering unfashionable areas of fashionable shirts. Also, just like fall, a vest represents that not-too-hot, not-too-cold weather, easy to take off and put on again and possible to layer over almost anything. It’s a true fashion essential.

Coral peaches Trans by Jansport backpack with built-in laptop sleeve ($34.24) at Target. Photo by Talia Amorosano
Coral peaches Trans by Jansport backpack with built-in laptop sleeve ($34.24) at Target. Photo by Talia Amorosano

4 The best boots. Give your flip-flops the actual boot by investing in a functional pair of boots.  Sturdy boots made from quality leather come in all shapes and sizes, at least one of which is sure to match your personal style. From cowboy to combat, ankle to knee-high, quality boots keep feet warm and dry, whether they’re accompanied by a dress or denim jeans. In this instance, quality beats quantity. These shoes are a worthwhile investment.

5 Nice sweats. This phrase may sound like an oxymoron, but contrary to popular belief, it is possible to roll out of bed and look like you didn’t just roll out of bed. A pair of nice, comfortable sweats can look stylish if done right.  Sweatpants called Joggers usually have an adjustable drawstring waist, are loose-fitting, tighten around the ankle area and come in many different styles and colors. And a long, cotton maxi-skirt is just as comfortable as old sweatpants but looks dressed up.  Finally, instead of a typical pullover hoodie, opt for a zip-up sweatshirt and pair it with any T-shirt or tank.  With nice sweats like these, you can keep yourself warm and still look cool.

If you’re not sure about what your personal style is or want to change your look, check out the “What should you wear on your first day back to school?” quiz at www.seventeen.com or the “Fall Fashion Guide” on www.Refinery29.com. Happy shopping!

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Rich Zayas Jr. works his girlfriend’s tattoo. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

The intermittent sound of buzzing machinery rattles off like machine gun fire, while guitar riffs and drum work pour from the sound system of the Inked Republic storefront at Westfield South Shore mall in Bay Shore.

Inked Republic is a retail store that doubles as a tattooing and piercing parlor owned and operated by Tattoo Lous — a company established in 1958 that has several shops scattered across Long Island.

Inside Inked Republic, apparel featuring tattoo-inspired designs sits on shelves and hangs from racks, and opposite them is an array of custom guitars that are proudly displayed on the far wall of the shop.

The work of Jay Mohl. Photo from Mohl
The work of Jay Mohl. Photo from Mohl

Just past a roped-off motorcycle emblazoned with skulls and a Lou’s company logo is the shop’s live tattooing area. The first of two work stations belongs to Rich Zayas Jr., a 36-year-old Long Beach native living in Bay Shore, who works for Tattoo Lou’s and who has been tattooing professionally for just under four years.

Zayas is of average height and has long hair tucked underneath a black baseball cap that he wears backwards. His loose-fitting, black T-shirt has an oversized print of some original artwork drawn by Dmitriy Samohin, an artist from Ukraine, that features a skull design with octopus tentacles.

He and his girlfriend, Melissa Ann White, make their way to his workstation, passing the front desk where the glow of warm neon lights casts a shimmering bright blue hue onto the piercing supplies and tattoo aftercare products shelved behind glass displays.

Zayas says that he started work on White’s back tattoo in 2012, and that it was finally time to finish it. The design: a Day of the Dead-themed sugar skull girl wearing a cowl.

As he begins prepping his station, Zayas reaches for the bottom shelf of his stickered tackle box to reveal a rainbow assortment of tattoo ink in the neighborhood of 200 bottles. “It’s totally normal for artists to have this much,” says Zayas.

A tattoo parlor operating inside a mall is a recent phenomenon. “Irish” Jay Mohl, 45, owns Irish Jay Tattoo in Miller Place and is an artist with 23 years tattooing experience. He recalls a different time when first getting his start in the industry back in 1992.

“When I first started, it was a completely different business; there was a different mentality and it was a very rogue profession,” says Mohl. “You had a whole different segment of people that came in here. They were drinking and crazy, and you had total outlaws coming in, and now it’s not crazy anymore; it’s very normal.”

Now that tattooing has gone mainstream, body art is no longer a choice of expression solely for outlaws and drunks with criminal records. People from all walks of life, who value the beauty of art and the freedom of self-expression, have made and continue to make the leap into body modification. With the practice having become more culturally accepted, more people are seeking quality artists, and the demand for custom tattoos has risen.

“[Tattooing] is so culturally accepted right now, it’s almost like a rite of passage,” said Mohl. “I think it’s become a new way of people expressing themselves, and with the popularity of it on TV and all the media and everything like that, it really has opened the door for a lot of people.”

Work by Lake Ronkonkoma tattoo artist Stacey Sharp. Photo from Sharp
Work by Lake Ronkonkoma tattoo artist Stacey Sharp. Photo from Sharp

Mohl isn’t alone, as more and more artists have noticed this trend and understand the changes affecting the industry as a whole.

Zayas understands this shift, and his employment at a retail and tattooing hub nestled in a shopping mall shows just how far the industry has come. Years ago, a mall would have been the unlikeliest of places to get tattooed, but things have undoubtedly changed, with artists adapting to new customer demands for convenience and greater accessibility.

“Being in the mall kind of closes that weird stigma gap in between things to where you can have the lady that’s shopping in Lord and Taylor or Macy’s come in and maybe have something that was done bad years ago…fixed or covered up,” Zayas said. “Or maybe [she can] get that first tattoo that she’s been petrified about forever.”

When it comes to the kind of art being tattooed, themes and the art itself range anywhere from lettering to hyperrealism. Deciding on the right design and its placement will always be dependent on the client’s tastes, personality and life experiences.

Stacey Sharp, a 42-year-old tattoo artist working at InkPulsive Custom Tattooing in Lake Ronkonkoma, said that people who get tattooed do so to express themselves and to connect with others, and sometimes certain events in a person’s life can heavily influence their choice in art.

“Life-changing experience I think is a big one — a birth, a death, something that’s profound,” says Sharp. “There are a lot of people that say, ‘I normally wouldn’t do this, but I feel like this is a momentous occasion and I have to keep that with me all of the time.’”

On the other hand, Sharp also acknowledged there are people who have always known what they’ve wanted to get tattooed.

“Other people, they know from a very young age like, ‘Hey, this is what I’m going to get done … and I know that I want to have these marks,’” said Sharp.

Now that spring is here, artists say that they expect a bump in business. And while the winter season sees serious collectors taking advantage of shorter wait times, the warmer weather allows people showing more skin a reason to flash some new ink.

“Summer and spring are always the biggest, and I think it’s just because people are showing more skin,” says Mohl. “It’s almost like they’re priming themselves all winter, working out in the gym … and it’s kind of like a new paint job on a car; people want to get it, and they want something to show.”

As far as tattoo tips are concerned, artists agree that researching a new artist or shop and planning ahead are things that customers should do before booking time in a chair to undergo a lengthy session.

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew; I get a lot of people that do that a lot,” Zayas said. “If you want to get a sleeve for your first tattoo, you totally can, but just find a decent artist that is going to work with you and design you a cool custom piece.”

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North Shore native revives homegrown business, using late wife as motivation for revamped brand

By Jenni Culkin

After two decades, a Smithtown-based fitness clothing line that once enjoyed stellar success in the 1990s is making a brute and swift comeback.

Robert Alario stands with a model showing off his BRUTE FORCE fitness clothing line. Photo by Jenni Culkin
Robert Alario stands with a model showing off his BRUTE FORCE fitness clothing line. Photo by Jenni Culkin

Robert Alario, who was born and raised in Smithtown, started bodybuilding as a junior high school student.

He used his weight-lifting skills to develop his wrestling team reputation, eventually becoming co-captain of the team.

“Fitness has always been at the center of my entire life,” Alario said.

Alario originally began selling his products under the brand name BRUTE FORCE INC., during 1988 at Macy’s through a licensing agreement. The brand was completely homegrown with a Smithtown resident using Smithtown businesses to help propel him to fitness clothing prominence on a local scale and beyond.

But Alario eventually decided to take a break from the business, citing a problem with the licensing agreement.

Alario officially began bringing the line back in 2013, raising funds from private investors and crowdsourcing.

Alario is making his way back to success in his business without a licensing deal this time.

“I’m setting the stage for a multimillion-dollar platform,” said Alario. “I’m going for it.”

BRUTE FORCE’s website will be up and running in mid-May. The World Gym in Ronkonkoma will also be selling the clothing.

“I call it fashion-forward fitness ware,” Alario said about his clothing line.

Alario continued to describe the clothing line as sexy, explaining that the clothes don’t conform to the status quo.

Products from Alario’s BRUTE FORCE clothing line are being manufactured locally in a factory in Bellmore. But what motivates Alario most of all, he said, is bringing the clothing line back to life in the wake of his late wife Angela, who died from a pulmonary aneurysm after undergoing a surgery several years ago.

Angela was once a model for Gold’s Gym television commercials and was enthusiastic about fitness just like Alario. Alario restarted his business, calling her the inspiration for the new and improved line of clothing.

The tags on each piece of clothing even bear the words, Inspired By Angela.

“She’s amazing in every way,” Alario said about his late wife, explaining that she was always encouraging him to get back to his business. “I learned a lot from her and I see through her eyes.”

Alario currently lives in Miller Place with the hope of moving back to his hometown of Smithtown sometime soon to spread the word of his comeback. He has two stepsons, Angela’s sons, who are planning on becoming doctors.

BRUTE FORCE has huge plans, including plans to eventually expand into footwear to go with the clothing line. Alario can be reached at 800-326-9059.

“This is not a small-time thing,” Alario said. “We’re going to make it big.”