I really thought I could have a fabulous blog where I would share all the wonderful things going on in my head and all around me and be this new creation "Leonarda", but there's something about writing, about blogging which forces you to share what is real, only what is real, and that is why I seem to be struggling, because, like I said in my last post, in order to move forward, you need to look backwards, I suppose that is why history is so important.
My name is Shirley-Ann and I'm from Ghana, Africa. I live in California with my husband. (That's the first and last, here, I am Leonarda!!!!!!!)
I have loved beauty all my life. Beautiful looking women (the first one I couldn't take my eyes off was my mother!), beautiful clothes (my mother's clothes.....), beautiful things, beautiful places, beautiful flowers, (all flowers are beautiful!!!!) anything beautiful has been food for my soul.
When I was 18, I had just finished my 'A' levels and I was given a treat, a to a trip to London. Now, I can't remember whether it was on the plane or at the airport but my very first splurge was on a Vogue magazine, it's not that we didn't have Vogue in Ghana, it's just that for a student, a current edition was out of my budget so up until this point, I relied on old old issues. It's been about 18 years since this happened (I didn't say that!!!!) so my memory is a little hazy. What I remember for sure is sitting in a plane, reading this current edition of Vogue and being in 'beauty' heaven.
There were two articles which I believe changed my destiny forever!
1. Gianni Versace, a collection in 1988, I don’t remember if it was spring or fall, probably fall. Christy Turlington in a black dress. Long, long sleeved, turtle neck, the most demure conservative dress you could think of. Then she turns around and the flashbulbs go crazy! The back of the dress open right down at the back, beyond the waist, held together by a sliver of thread and continued as a ‘beyond thigh high’ slit right down to the floor.
I was entranced!
I was in love!
I just knew I had to become a designer!
I knew I wanted to see people’s jaws drop (especially men) anytime a woman walked into a room wearing one of my clothes.
2. Christian Dior was unveiling their latest perfume “Dolce Vita”. No big deal, but I read on. This perfume was to celebrate the essence of happiness and life. Hmm. The article went on to describe “La Dolce Vita” and the sweet life. Life in Italy back in the 50’s, the glamour, theatre, decadence. It was an embodiment of everything that made life ‘sweet’ or so it seemed. I just knew then and there that if I ever started my dream company, I would call it “La Dolce Vita”! It just seemed to capture the essence of everything that was in my dreams!
Fast forward to June 1995. I finished University with a Bachelor’s in French and Arabic. Initially I wanted to become a diplomat; work for the UN and become a globetrotter! I applied for a couple of jobs, didn’t like what I was seeing and hearing so I decided to see if my dreams of creating beauty could come to life.
So, I spent a year sketching, taking clothes apart and putting them back together again, figuring out how to cut and everything else I could think of to make sure my clothes were special. I also did some research into sewing curtains and pillows.
It was such an exciting time; I was going to bring Paris, London, New York and Milan to Accra, Ghana. Women wouldn’t even want to travel to shop; I would take care of their every need! I was going to be the best! Hmmmm……..
So, on June 1st 1996, La Dolce Vita was born! I didn’t even register the company! But, I got two sewing machines, one hand, one electric and an over locking machine. Tailors and seamstresses had the very bad habit of using one color of thread- white to over lock everything! Imagine black trousers with white over locking! I wasn’t going to be part of that mess. I was special! Everything I was going to make was going to be special!
I don’t think you can ever duplicate the energy and excitement of starting your very first business. You’re full of passion, more than hope, positive about everything and feel you can do anything. I know for a fact that I will never feel that way again, and so I cherish these memories!
I employed one seamstress and one tailor and business began. There was this back room behind the main living and dining room in my house and that was my workshop, it wasn’t even finished properly, but I didn’t care! The living room was the ‘reception’. My bedroom was to be the fitting room and I didn’t care about invading my own privacy either! I just wanted to get going and make beautiful clothes and beautiful ‘anything!’
So business started. I remember I couldn’t wait for morning to come to make the one minute commute to my workshop! And at night my father would have to come over and scream for me to go to bed, usually past midnight! But it was wonderful. Really.
But, as with every business, challenges come along and boy did they come! My very first, and most talented tailor was a serious weed smoker and when he was broke I was lucky! As soon as I paid him, I was in trouble. My business sense was ZERO! And so you don’t want to know how that went. I bonded with my staff and just when everything was perfect, they left. I could never pay salaries on time. I compromised. I sold out. Things with clients got too personal because I was just so eager to please. This list goes on and on.
There were triumphs too. Lots of them! I did my best to make beautiful well fitted clothes. Yes I was obsessed about design but even more obsessed with fit! It took me about three years to finally get trousers right for the typical curvy African figure. Five years to get suits right. I made women happy! I could tell! So, I did make the 'Wow' clothes and I went on to decorate interiors, then on to events. Wedding gowns, extravagant gifts, one of a kind cakes, anything my mind could conceive, I would have to achieve, no matter the cost, which was a blessing and a curse!
But through it all, “I did it my way……” and I know I gave it my heart and soul and I did my best.
I know I’ll write a book one day, more than one I hope, maybe ten or twenty! So I think I will fill in this gap into more detail one day.
Fast forward 12 years…….I couldn’t take it anymore! Nothing seemed to be working! I had too many people to manage! I didn’t love it anymore! I actually hated it! I couldn’t wait for the day to end! And I dreaded the mornings! I had too much stuff all around me, clothes, machines, tables, people(sorry, I know they’re not stuff but……), table cloth, chair covers, fabric, flowers, work! I was suffocating! I was drowning! I couldn’t take it anymore! I was dying!
An angel, in the form of my husband came to rescue me and I ran, oh how I ran, even after I left I was still running! I ran from everything I had worked hard for. I ran from very special people and relationships; family,friends, clients, staff. I ran from everything I owned. I ran from I everything that I had known myself to be. I left them all behind.
But now, I am still, I am at peace.
I thought I didn’t ever want to have anything to do with all of the above ever again. But no, I still love fashion and beauty and so, I am rediscovering all these things that “make my heart sing”
I have many many regrets, so many that I don’t even remember what they are!
The biggest regret is that I didn’t document this very important phase of my life properly in pictures and that’s the one thing that makes me sad, every other regret, I’ve let go of (probably the reason why I can’t remember!). I’ll never forget my dear friend Ama, saying every time she came to visit- “Shirley Ann (sorry, Leonarda!), take pictures, you have to take pictures!” But I didn’t, I was only one person and I was juggling everything else. I really wish I had pictures of all my work. I watched Valentino’s “The Last Emperor” and I envied a whole lot of things! A whole lot, I think that’s a whole post! Anyway, what I envied most was the documentation of every single thing he had created and the pride behind each and every one of the creations. I really truly envy that and if I should ever do it again, I will do better! I will document EVERYTHING! And, I hope, I will take immense pride in everything.
However, I do have some pictures from, let’s say the last few months in Ghana. They just happened to be on the laptop that I brought with me.
I would like to share them with you.
Oh, and La Dolce Vita closed down about a year after I left.