The sex club was everything I thought it would be: gritty, grimy and borderline gross, but I didn’t let it get to me. When I arrived, no one was having sex, but the way my fashion crew was acting, you would have thought we had been dumped smack dab in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah. I guess the unspoken mysteries of sex can do that to a person.
The place was touted as a polite swingers club, but with the plastic wrapped mattresses, secluded rooms and one-way glass windows, it screamed unadulterated fornication. I know sometimes fashion can be weird, even sexual at times, but what we were about to do didn’t have anything to do with coitus, copulation or even coupling, for that matter.
We were there to shoot a holiday jewelry campaign with up-and-coming designer Jill Zaleski. Unfortunately, the studio we had booked a few months prior to the collaboration suddenly closed, forcing us to make a last minute, harried location change. I was actually out of town (on another modeling job) when I got news of the cancellation. I had planned on flying back to Miami that night and meeting Jill the next morning, but first she had to make her way from Tennessee.
With her in route and me out of town, I reached out to the photographer shooting the campaign and asked him to save the project. We needed a large space to accommodate a big team, including a camera crew. So, he found one and that’s how we ended up at the sex club. He had a contact who let us set up shop on the club’s expansive dance floor. It wasn’t how I had envisioned it, but it worked and the show went on.
The morning of the shoot was the first time I had actually met Jill in person. We had become social media friends first, bonding over our mutual love of vintage jewelry. Our Facebook friendship eventually evolved into a vow to work together, but honestly, it was her sheer tenacity and talent that single-handedly brought us together. That’s why I wanted to save the project and that’s why, despite meeting me in the parking lot of a sex club, Jill was warm, gracious and gregarious.
I wasn’t just impressed with her as a person, I was in awe of her as a designer, too. The quality of her jewelry was not only intricate, it was extremely well-crafted, unique and different. It was old Hollywood glamour meets modern day sophistication. I felt that each piece of her collection had its own story, with secrets only its true owner would come to discover. That was it: I was hooked on “Gorgeous Jill and her One of a Kind Jewelry.”
Our second collaboration would be much different and happened on a chilly day in the mountains of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I remember when Jill collected me from the airport after a long arduous flight. I was exhausted and not just because I had flown in from Miami. My high octane life; never seemed to stop. I traveled around the world constantly for my job, was trying to overcome major health issues and was suffering through a very tumultuous off-again, on-again relationship.
Despite all of it, I made my way to Jill and she welcomed me with open arms. She knew that I was struggling and provided a much-needed respite from my life. We had a heart-to-heart talk in the car as she drove me downtown to “The Stone Fort Inn,” a beautiful bed and breakfast. She helped me to my room, which she had gussied up with gifts and flowers, then left me alone to rest. I couldn’t. She eventually collected me for dinner and we dined at a beautiful, upscale restaurant with her husband.
It was the first time in a long time I had seen two people together so in love. Jill and her husband respected one another and were very much a team. It was a mature, healthy, solid relationship. I admired them both so much and longed to have a love like theirs in my life. Seeing their affection for one another (and I’m not talking physical) touched me profoundly and gave me hope that perhaps I, too, could find that kind of love. That night we stayed up too late, drank too much wine and the morning came too soon.
The next day, we made our way into the rolling mountains of the Tennessee countryside and it was nothing short of spectacular. Jill’s new jewelry line, “A Fairy’s Tale,” was about the whimsical, ethereal and mysterious. Her vision was to use the trappings of the woods to create a mystical land for creatures possessing an otherworldly beauty. She used a lot of flowers, velvet and crystals in her designs. The day was bone-chillingly cold, but her team, including gifted photographer, Jason Dunn, brought her vision to life. Even Mother Nature cooperated, sending us rolling fog, producing an austere beauty to our already stark, winter surroundings.
The shoot itself marked a milestone for me. It was the first time in a long time I had given up my usual creative control. I was very hands on with any project that involved my image. I had gotten to the point where I no longer used a modeling agency and I only took on projects that I truly believed in. At the time, my career was in a major shift because I had decided to concentrate solely on social media modeling. No one was doing it and quite frankly, a lot of people didn’t understand it and criticized me for the venture. What’s more, no one believed that Facebook, Twitter or Instagram would be used for advertising or to drive fashion, but Jill did.
Still, I was very strict about what pictures were released and how my image was used. Channel 7 and Deco Drive were, too, because at the end of the day, I was still on television and how people perceived me was and is important. It’s a delicate balance when it comes to fashion. I didn’t wanna get sucked into something weird, overtly sexual or cheesy. Once a picture is born, there’s no taking it back.
I learned that the hard way as a young model in New York, where I experienced my share of over-the-top, strange and heroin-esque pictures. Growing older in front of the camera is thankless, but liberating at the same time. Once I hit 30 (a dinosaur in modeling,) I developed a taste for true beauty and consciously chose to steer clear of the bad and the bizarre. That’s one of the reasons I loved working with “Gorgeous Jill and her One of a Kind Jewelry.” Her ideas were fresh, clean, glamorous and beautiful. What I’m trying to say is, I totally trusted her.
Before our shoot was over, Jill insisted we do one more look, a throwback of sorts to a simpler time. The picture sequence involved a bright orange, refurbished pick-up truck, the wardrobe was that of a laid-back country girl and Jill’s jewels were romantic, soft and delicate. I had never modeled in such a relaxed, natural way. The pictures we took that day are some of my favorites to date. Speaking of…
Jason, the photographer, who shot the campaign was in the middle of moving to NYC. Unfortunately, because he was so busy, we were not able to fully agree on a lot of the final images. It put a strain on all of us. Without his editing, we lost what I believe could have been some amazing shots, but when Manhattan calls, an artist must answer. I completely understood, after all, I had done the same thing twice in my life; once for modeling, once for television.
After the shoot, Jill and I drove back to Chattanooga in the dark and gabbed about what went wrong, what went right and the fact that despite everything, a great friendship was blossoming. We headed to dinner in a part of town known for its cool artsy vibe. Honestly, though, most of Chattanooga was that way. I fell in love with the city and longed to move there if my Key West retirement plan didn’t pan out. Jill and I even peeked through the windows of a refurbished victorian house close to where she lived. I jotted down the realtor’s number and thought seriously about making an offer.
The next day, before Jill drove me to the airport, she took me to breakfast with her husband and son. I’m not exactly sure why, but being with them made me feel safe and loved. Perhaps, it was their pretty little family, their generosity of spirit or the fact that Jill didn’t seem to care what television show I was on or what celebrities I interviewed, she just cared about me.
As my plane took off bound for Miami, I felt peaceful and grateful for my experience in Tennessee and I was glad to have the opportunity to work with “Gorgeous Jill and her One of a Kind Jewelry.” It’s been awhile since we’ve collaborated, but over the years, I’ve watched Jill master her craft and grow as a designer by working with amazing photographers, models and like-minded artists.
Recently, she uprooted her life and moved to California with her family. When I heard the news, I reached out to congratulate her and of course, she started talking about our next collaboration. I told her I was on board, but only if she’d let me feature her 2014 holiday jewelry collection in my fashion blog.
It’s called “Motown Starlet” and Jill says it’s about being “fearlessly confident.” When I asked her to describe it to me in a sentence, she easily replied: “A stage stealer who loves hard, fights for what she believes in and knows how to ROCK some red lips and high heels.” I chuckled under my breath when she said it, because, well, it reminds me of her.
Shireen Sandoval: How would you describe your jewelry?
Jill Zaleski: I’m a huge lover of all things vintage and I have three distinctly different lines: FREEDOM, Floral and L.O.V.E. FREEDOM is my bohemian/gypsy inspired line, which is reminiscent of the 60’s and 70’s. Floral is an ode to the 50’s pin up era and L.O.V.E is all about old Hollywood; mainly, the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
SS: Every year you release a holiday collection and this year, we’re featuring your “Motown Starlet” collection. What is its feel and texture?
JZ: I always revert back to “Old Hollywood” this time of year. I feel it just truly fits the season. It’s a time of year to get dressed up, feel glamorous and celebrate with the ones you love. This year, the Art Deco era of the 30’s is a huge inspiration for my collection.
SS: If you could travel back in time and style one famous starlet from the 30’s or 40’s who would it be and why?
JZ: That’s a tough one. There are three that I am constantly pulling inspiration from: Veronica Lake, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. I have a slight infatuation with femme fatale, Veronica Lake, I love Audrey’s classic beauty and Marilyn, well, you gotta love a woman who’s glamorous enough to seduce you in a photo. Who doesn’t love to feel beautiful, seductive and refined? It would be a deadly combination to combine all three.
SS: What modern day celebrity epitomizes the look and feel of your jewelry?
JZ: Emma Watson is my Audrey Hepburn and Amanda Seyfried is my Veronica Lake, but the one girl that I am continuously inspired by is undoubtedly, Nicole Richie. She is my Marilyn! Whether you love or hate her, she’s got it going on in the edgy and glamorous department.
SS: What type of women do you see wearing your jewelry?
JZ: There are always two types of women that I see drawn to my jewelry: the classic refined beauty and the vixen.
SS: Tell me about where you are from and how you grew up?
JZ: I was actually born and raised in Michigan. I grew up in the country, off of a dirt road, in a house my father built with his own hands. I grew up with goats, chickens, ducks, sheep, horses, dogs and cats. My father created irrigation systems to help farmers grow their crops more efficiently. Sometimes, he was paid in live stock, hence the menagerie of animals at our house. My brother and I loved it. It made me a mudpie making, tadpole catching, wilderness adventurer and I’ve never lost that spirt.
SS: South Florida used to be your home, what do you miss about it?
JZ: I miss my girlfriends the most. I spent 12 years in South Florida. I still think of it as my home. I made such an amazing group of friends that became family.
SS: How would you interpret my sense of style?
JZ: I remember when you first found me via social media after seeng my Fredericka Cocktail Ring. I was honored that you felt it was beautiful and unique. I remember gazing at your photo thinking, “this gorgeous woman needs to model for me!” You epitomize old Hollywood glamour and soon you became my muse for “Black Tie Affair,” my 2011 holiday collection, our first collaboration together.
SS: Describe our relationship.
JZ: It’s mutually supportive and we have a tremendous amount of respect for one another. We both strive for greatness in whatever we do: our wish to make a difference, make the world a better place, how we are inspired by others and how we hope to inspire in return.
SS: You’re known for you collaborations, how do they help you grow as a designer?
JZ: Collaborating with talented individuals has taught me more than anything else. Everyone brings their own unique skills to the table, something different. I learn from each experience. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it falls short. You change and progress every time you collaborate. It forces you to step up your game and ultimately, can result in something magical.
SS: What is your most prized jewelry possession?
JZ: I have an ivory gold, diamond ring; it was my grandmother’s. She let me choose from several pieces in her sweet little jewelry box and had it fitted for me right before I moved to Florida. I wear it on special occasions.
SS: I’m very drawn to your butterfly rings: they’re exquisite. What do they signify?
JZ: Butterflies are beautifully feminine creatures. The road they travel is a difficult one and they only shine for a short time. Their journey inspires me. Like a lot of people I, too, have traveled difficult roads and despite it, have managed to spread my wings.
SS: If I handed you a priceless cameo from ancient Egypt dating back to 6th Century B.C. and gave you 48 hours to make a piece of jewelry, what would you create?
JZ: It would be a large gold cuff, with the cameo as the focal point. I would adorn it with plenty of gemstones and beaded fringe under the wrist for a special JZ (Jill Zaleski) twist.
SS: A lot of guys read my blog: what do you suggest they gift their special lady?
JZ: My crystal bow tie would be the perfect gift for any girl. It can be hip or classic, it’s all in how you present it.
SS: What’s your perfect holiday gift (to receive)?
JZ: Anything handmade from a unique artist or craftsmen. I love knits. They’re so uniquely beautiful and I love how they make me feel. I also have a love for books on lost art forms. Especially ones on jewelry and textiles, I find them inspiring.
While Jill looks to be inspired, she continuously inspires me. She first asked me to shoot “Motown Starlet” in the flesh. My birthday suit, however, couldn’t do her jewels justice. Instead, I chose one of my favorite purple vintage dresses by Betsey Johnson (pictured in the blog.) I’ve had it as long as I’ve known Jill and it always reminds me of her. I think it’s the butterfly theme of the dress and how it perfectly matches her butterfly rings.
The elegant black vintage dress (pictured in the blog) is from Hollen & Jen’s Vintage Showroom in Bay Harbour. Its simplicity is what makes it stunningly beautiful, which is exactly how Jill’s jewelry is. Whether it’s a ring, necklace, earrings or cuff, when I slip a piece of her holiday collection on I feel sophisticated, glamorous and regal.
I don’t know where the fashion road will lead Jill and I next, but I’ll tell you one thing: whether it’s a sex club, the side of a mountain, a foggy forest or a beautiful Miami beach, I’ll proudly be there beside her as a muse, a model or just a friend and that’s why “Gorgeous Jill and her One of a Kind Jewelry” will always be one of my favorite things.
Blog Jewelry provided by: Jill Zaleski ~ One of a Kind Jewelry
FB Jill Zaleski One of a Kind Jewelry
Wardrobe provided by: Hollen & Jen Vintage Showroom
FB Hollen & Jen Showroom
styling by: Shireen, Jill & Tod
photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Editor: Matthew Auerbach