How did you get started as a dancer?
Both my parents came to this country in 1920 and settled in Harlem. My parents did not want me to dance because there were more opportunities to make a living as a secretary. But there were no secretaries of color at that time–in the 1940s. I didn’t have guidance. A young man taught me how to dance in his mother’s living room. We would dance at all the ballrooms, the Audobon, the Savoy. Harlem had a lot of ballrooms and a lot of theaters at that time. [But then] he let me down when he said he was going to go to Europe on tour. Here I was left with no one. [...] I was young and innocent with no direction and no one to guide me. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t going to run away from home. I wanted to leave and go to Paris, but I was the youngest of three girls and I was daddy’s little girl. So, I just continued [with dance].
What did you do after dance?
When my marriage broke up and I had two children, I went to work at NYU in the mathematics building and they had tuition remission. I worked from 9-5 and went to school from 6-10 and I earned three degrees from NYU and I made the Dean’s List.
Did you ever model?
From a very young age, I wanted to model [and] to go to Paris. The opportunity was not there at my time for women of color. I’ve always loved style and fashion. I used to go to the movies and see these movie stars in the 30s and 40s. They were so elegant. You know, I’m strictly high fashion. I think a person should dress according to their lifestyle. If I had gone to law school, then I would probably dress more conservative, but I mostly dress very glamorous. Like Saturday, I was walking down 3rd street and two young ladies stopped me. They said ‘We loved you on the blog!’ I said, ‘All I did was take a bath and then I threw on a dress.’ It was very plain, but it was elegant. Spaghetti straps and that was it–with a pair of flip flops. I have my own style.
How would you describe your style?
I would say it’s more high fashion. People stop me all the time asking if they can take my picture. My grandson says I should make a t-shirt that says, ‘Don’t ask, just take the picture.’ Anyway, they did not divulge to much about the campaign, but to me, it was a great honor because I had always wanted to go to Paris when I was 18 years old.
What was the process like of making the campaign? Did you meet the designer, Alber Elbaz?
[The crew] said, ‘Oh, you kept your figure didn’t you!’ I’ve always been slim. I’ve never weighed more than 120. I’m 5’9. I thought I was 5’10–but I’m 5’9. [...] Alber Elbaz kept kissing me and saying ‘I love you, I love you, I love you!’ He came to say goodbye to me and said, ‘Imagine if I never met you.’ He said, ‘what’s next?’ I said, ‘Paris, that’s what’s next!’ We’ll see.