Thursday, December 27, 2012

This tip for shiny silver is golden

August Post, who lives in the Charlotte area, is the host with the most personality, taste and creativity. He’s one of my entertaining heroes. To be invited to one of his parties is to enter a world of absolute beauty and fun. And don’t even get me started on what a great cook he is, or how handsome and stylish. Or his interior decorating talents. His home is off-the-charts gorgeous.

I have to share this tip he recently posted on his Facebook page.

He says that to clean your silver in seconds, line a sink with heavy duty aluminum foil, and then bring a few big pots of water to almost boiling. Place the silver on the foil and pour water over it, then pour in some baking soda - use at least a box if you have more than a few items. It causes a chemical reaction that will leave your silver shiny in seconds.

For the reaction to work, the silver has to be touching the foil, so you will have to turn it. August adds that if you’re doing a large amount of silver you will need to change the foil, water and baking soda every so often for best results.

Afterward, wash your pieces with soapy water, rinse, dry and enjoy the sparkle.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hot dog! A new Christmas tradition is born

Sometimes mistakes can be a beautiful - and delicious - thing.

I found that out during one of the family Christmas feasts I attended where it's a tradition to serve Sister Schubert's Parker House Rolls.

As I tore into my roll, I saw something in the center. I quickly realized that it was a tiny smoked sausage. At first, everyone at the table thought there had been a mistake at the Sister Schubert plant.  Then they realized they all had smoked sausages, too. The hostess had accidentally bought the Sausage Wrap Rolls instead of the Parker House Rolls.

I had just done something similar for a small Christmas get-together I had a few days earlier at my home. I meant to buy the plain Carr's Table Water Crackers and accidentally bought some seasoned ones instead. Luckily, they ended up going well with the Port Wine cheese I served them with - in fact one guest told me it tasted better than just using the plain Carr's crackers. Then we laughed about how confusing it is to shop now because each brand has so many different versions - original, fat free, gluten free, seasoned, seasoned with garlic, seasoned with herbs, seasoned without garlic and herbs - it just goes on and on. If you're in a hurry mistakes can be made.

But when I bit into those Sister Schubert Sausage Wrap Rolls, which I didn't even know the company made, a new Christmas tradition was hopefully born. Although many people think I'm a vegetarian because I'm such a picky meat eater, the German in me has always loved sausages. The Sausage Wrap Rolls are a great, and in my opinion a better tasting, alternative to the retro Pigs in a Blanket that have become popular to serve now.

So, thank you Sister Schubert for making such great products. And thank you to the hostess for making such a tasty mistake. Please, please serve them next year!

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, December 21, 2012

The best Secret Santa gift ever

When I arrived at my desk this morning, there was a beautiful gold package with a bright red ribbon addressed to me from Stealth Santa.

Inside was the best Secret Santa gift ever - a desktop Scotch tape dispenser in the shape of a fabulous black high heel platform shoe.  Love it!

I did a quick online search and it comes in all sorts of different styles and colors. Office Max, Walmart and Staples were a few of the stores where you can find them. The price is in the $10 range.

The verdict is still out on whether I've been Naughty or Nice this year (a little bit of both is the most fun, so I'll be disappointed if it's one or the other).

Regardless, my Scotch tape shoe is going into my Hall of Fame of great inexpensive gifts.

Stealth Santa, you have made me so happy!

Merry Christmas!

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Step up to the plate

I wanted to share a trend I'm hearing from more and more hostesses: For big family gatherings such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, they're switching to paper plates to make clean up less stressful.

I'm not talking about paper plates from the grocery store - they're buying beautiful, sturdy ones that are anything but white and flimsy.

But still, for many of them, it's something they thought they would never do. But they've embraced it because it minimizes the time they have to stand over the sink hand washing china. For some it's due to their super busy lives and the fact that there are some really elegant paper plate options out there. For others, they're being practical and facing facts that they're getting older and are no longer able to stand and wash dishes for extended periods of time.

Many of them would normally hire servers to help with clean-up when they're overwhelmed, but for gatherings at the holidays, they want to keep it intimate with family and friends only. But it's not their hostessing style to ever ask guests, even family members, to wash dishes.

I don't believe in problems, only solutions, so if elegant paper plates make your entertaining life easier, don't let old fashioned notions of that being tacky hold you back from giving yourself a bit of a break.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Snazzy holiday gift ideas

Neiman Marcus at SouthPark mall recently hosted its second annual Snazzy Holiday Luncheon. A mix of its top customers and members of the media sat down to a delicious lunch from Delectable's by Holly as the store's manager, Kristine Matthews, and its public relations manager, Kristin Jackson, shared some of their favorite gift ideas from the store. 

As part of the festive atmosphere, model Star Kiser was dressed as a retro cigarette girl. During the presentation, she helped pass around the gifts so guests could get a closer look. And at the end of the event, her cigarette box was filled with those famous Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies individually wrapped so guests could take them home. Doesn't she look adorable?

For inspiration, here's a photo of the simple, elegant arrangements at each table. 

With their sparkling and witty personalities, Kristine and Kristin's presentation was informative and fun.They divided their gift selections into items for men, women and children, plus hostess gifts. Many of the gift ideas were $100 or less, so I highly recommend putting the store on your list of places to get some of your final shopping done. Not only will you know you're buying a quality item, it will be beautifully packaged. Who needs wrapping paper when your gift comes in an elegant Neiman Marcus bag or box?  

Here's video of Kristine talking about some of the tech savvy gifts:

If there are any little girls on your list, these designer dresses that are part of the Neiman Marcus collaboration with Target, were a big hit. They're designed by Marchesa and Jason Wu. Here's Kristin (in red) and Kristine (in green) showing them to guests:

Of course the luncheon had to have a fashion element. In this video, Kristin talks about the must-have pant for right now in an off-white color that can be worn throughout the year:

Read more here:

This holiday look would be the hit of any party:

In this video, a model shows off a dress from Lela Rose:

One of the interesting trends I learned about at the luncheon is that dog owners are buying small Christmas trees for their precious pets and decorating them with dog-themed ornaments (an example they showed was a beautiful and amusing dog bone decoration). As a card carrying member of the cult of dog people, that idea gets two paws up from me.

Charlotte style experts Susu Bear, Sonya Barnes and Catherine Horgan loved this coloring book that's technically a children's gift but would thrill fashion addicts of any age.

I'll end with this photo of super chic guest Karen Spratt, who was wearing a medical boot on her foot. But a plain one just didn't fit her style so she went to Michael's craft store and bought some gems to bedazzle the boot. In another display of fashion brilliance, she figured out a way to wear the boot safely while not having to give up wearing at least one high heel shoe. With her doctor's approval, she took  a golf towel, rolled it up and placed it at the heel of the foot in the boot so that way she could at least wear one high heel shoe. (If you want to try her clever trick, please consult your doctor first.)

Karen, you are a style hero. 

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Read more here:

Read more here:

Read more here:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Good times with Good Friends

The motto of the nonprofit Good Friends Charlotte is "An Hour of Charity...A Year of Giving" and that efficiency is one of the reasons this group that does so much good is so popular. I'm proud to say I'm a Good Friends member - and for a $55 annual donation you can be one, too (go to for details. (The photo above was taken by Observer photographer Todd Sumlin)

I just came back from its 26th annual luncheon at the Grady Cole Center where close to 1,000 women gathered for fellowship and fundraising. The event was completely sold out to the point where some kind members volunteered to give up their seats at tables to sit in the balcony with their box lunches from Reid's on their laps.

That unselfish spirit is one of the many reasons I love this event. Plus, it's so exciting to walk into a room filled with energetic women of all ages who are dedicated to helping their neighbors in need in Charlotte. Although the numbers aren't in yet, it's estimated that during the hour-long luncheon more than $120,000 was raised.

The money will help out the working poor in little ways that have a big impact. We all need to be reminded that even in shiny, happy Charlotte where so many do so much to help others, there are still people living on the edge. For most of us, if we needed $75 to buy new locks to keep out an abusive person who had tormented us and our children, our families would swing into action immediately. But not everyone has that support system. And even if they did, their families may not be able to afford an amount of money we take for granted. That's where Good Friends steps in and lives up to its name.

After everyone listened to testimonials from those who had been helped by the group, a magical moment took place. What's better than Santa? How about a dozen Santas. I turn into a six-year-old when members of Good Fellows, the male version of Good Friends, come out in Santa suits and collect money from everyone in the most jolly way.

Do you recognize this Santa?
It's Mayor Foxx! (The photo was taken by Observer photographer Todd Sumlin)

Here are two snippets of video of the Santas in action:

The event ends with everyone singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth" Those are such pure words that are so appropriate for the spirit of the event. Here's a video, and the lyrics are below:

Let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me
let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment 
and live each moment 
with peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me. and let it begin with me.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A gift that gives twice

The Mint Museum has partnered with the Charlotte nonprofit Thompson Child & Family Focus for a “Gift of Membership” campaign that will provide gift memberships to families who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to participate in the Mint’s educational programming.

For every gift membership purchased by a member of the public before December 31, the Mint will give another membership to a family identified by Thompson Child & Family Focus. Memberships cost $60 for individuals; $100 for families; $45 for students and teachers; and $80 for two adults. Memberships include unlimited free admission to both museum locations year-round; invitations to special members-only events; free or discounted admission to educational programs and classes; and reciprocal privileges at designated Southeastern museums.

The museum packages gift membership cards in wrapped gift boxes and mails them to the intended recipients. To ensure delivery in time for the holidays, givers are urged to purchase them by Dec. 14 online at

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Jingle Bell Bash was a ball

On Dec. 1, I attended the Jingle Bell Bash at Wells Fargo Atrium. It's been several years since I've been able to be there, so it was exciting to see some of the changes that are going on with the event and the nonprofit it raises money for.

(Here's a few seconds of atmosphere video from the event, including a fun glimpse of photographer Daniel Coston in action):

One change is that it's now a fundraiser for Safe Alliance, formerly known as United Family Services. The name of the event has changed, too. It used to be called the Jingle Bell Ball, but is now known as the Jingle Bell Bash. To me, substituting the word bash for ball was a great idea because bash reflects the energetic and fun event. Plus it signals that the benefit, which was started back in 1994 by the Single Adult Ministry at Myers Park United Methodist Church, has now been turned over to a new crop of young professionals who are committed to the cause. (Below are photos of event co-chairs Kristi Salvatore and Kara Tanenbaum and a photo of guests having fun in a photo booth area.)

But here's the most impressive change of all about the gala, which is now in its 18th year: Over the years, it has helped raise money for Safe Alliance's Victim Services programs and its Shelter for Battered Women. Soon, the shelter will reopen as the new Clyde and Ethel Dickson Domestic Violence Shelter. It will have 80 beds (the other shelter had 29 beds). I haven't toured it yet, but I've heard that it's incredible how much thought was put into making it a place where families can heal and begin to have hope about their future.

One of the special people at the event was committee member Rosalind Richmond (her photo is above), a Charlotte banker who is a domestic violence survivor. It takes so much courage to not only get yourself out of a bad situation, but to turn your pain around to help others, so I applaud her. I also admire all the other event organizers and supporters who may not have gone through the same things Rosalind did, but whose hearts simply cannot bear to sit by without doing what they can to help others escape lives of fear and pain.

I was very taken by the crowd the Jingle Bell Bash attracted. There were lots of fixtures on Charlotte's philanthropy scene who were there - Jill Dinwiddie, Bernie Hargadon and Rick Bainbridge to name a few. Then I met a whole new group of smart, young and big-hearted committee members and guests who are carrying the torch for the future of philanthropy in our city. Among them was Kathleen Murphy Leveseque, creator of the Kathleen Murphy Jewelry line. I interviewed her several months ago when she was one of the winners of Belk's Southern Designer Showcase (look for her jewelry in select Belk stores this spring). I've heard the jewelry will also be featured soon in Vogue and Lucky magazines. She donated a beautiful piece for the gala's silent auction. (A photo is below)

I Tweeted live from the event, which is always fun. One of the first people I took a photo of was the evening's emcee, Anthony Michaels from 107.9 The Link. He has a deep yet pleasant voice that was meant for radio - and he looked stylish, too.

In fact, there were so many stylish people there I put together a page of holiday fashion photos from the event for the Dec. 6 Style section of the Observer that I hope will inspire you if you're unsure about what to wear to your next holiday party. (It's online now at and also has great tips from style expert Jania Massey).

Safe Alliance stellar staff members Bill Coy and Carol Roth were very indulgent of me when I came swooping in to take video, Tweet and pull people aside who stylishly stood out in the crowd. When I attend a party for a wonderful cause that's also full of interesting, amazing and fashionable people I'm overcome with a desire to share it with others.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, November 30, 2012

Anatomy of a Party: Jazzy Holiday Luncheon

I've got the Christmas spirit now after attending the Jazzy Holiday Luncheon on Nov. 30 at the Westin. The 32nd annual fundraiser for the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture is so popular it was sold-out. The 500 guests were some of Charlotte's leading arts patrons, business people and philanthropists. It was fun to see them dressed up in festive attire.

Here are videos from the event:

Here are some of the details that made the event special. They might just inspire an idea for your next party.

Registration began at 11 a.m., but guests weren't seated in the ballroom until 11:30 a.m. To entertain them while they mingled, Santa roamed around the crowd and asked guests what they wanted for Christmas. It was cute to hear them joke around with Santa about their Wish Lists. Johnson C. Smith University President Ron Carter wants a Jaguar. I hope he gets it. He has been especially nice this year.

The center booked the fantastic band A Sign of the Times. In the lobby beforehand, three of the band members performed, then later joined the full band on stage. That was a nice touch.

Once the doors were opened, the ballroom was decked out for the holidays, but in a sophisticated way because the colors were red, white and black. Soft red lights created a lovely glow, and a red damask print was projected onto the ceiling.

The menu included food that was in season - an absolutely delicious sweet potato souffle with grilled chicken on top that came with an an optional maple syrup glaze. The dessert was pecan pie.

A highlight was the presentation of the Gantt Center Legacy Award. This year, awards were given to Belk for its commitment to philanthropy; community leader and retired arts educator Jeanne Brayboy; and On Q Productions’ artistic director Quentin “Q” Talley.

All the recipients kept their acceptance speeches brief, amusing and sincere with meaningful appreciation of how important the center is to all of Charlotte.

Jessica Graham of Belk made the crowd giggle when she charmingly worked in that she hoped the guests would add a little modern, Southern style to their holiday (Modern. Southern Style) is Belk's catchphrase.

Q brought the crowd to its feet after his spoken word poetry rap that included a line that made everyone bust out laughing: "(This award is) for those of you who say I love what you're doing, but I haven't seen you in the theater yet." That's a great reminder that it's nice to tell people things, but it's actions that really count. 

And retired educator Jeanne Brayboy quoted a famous poem about how if you have two loaves of bread, sell one to buy hyacinths to feed your soul. "My soul is fed every time I visit the Gantt," she said.

Seeing what everyone is wearing is always a perk of going to social events. Here are just a few of my favorite looks from the luncheon.

Portia Kee is wearing a handmade shawl from Dubai that a friend gave her as a gift. She had a sprained ankle and couldn't wear her normal heels, but her flats looked so cute. You'll never believe this, but they're fancy Crocs. 

I loved Rosa Williams red jacket with military accents and the way she paired it with bright golden yellow.

The orange red of Amanda Gray Williams' dress from the Limited looked modern.

Award recipient Jeanne Brayboy's granddaughter Jiana (being held by her mother, Cheryl Brayboy) looked so adorable. 

Herb Gray's outfit from Paul Simon was so stylish.

And Felicia Gray looked stunning in this Isaac Mizrahi suit. 

Follow me on Twitter @oliviafortson

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Meet Dr. Kulbersh

There are many wonderful plastic surgeons in our area, but I do want to let you know about a new one who has recently moved to Charlotte. 

Dr. Jonathan Kulbersh of Carolina Facial Plastics and medical director of A New You Medical Wellness Solutions is from the Carolinas, but he trained with one of the most well-known facial plastic surgery practices in Beverly Hills. He received his training under Dr. Paul Nassif (from "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"), who is his mentor, and Dr. Babak Azizzadeh. 

Dr. Kulbersh says his speciality is "obtaining natural-looking results for aging faces through rhinoplasty, face lift, eye surgery and 'bruiseless' facial injectables."

In an effort to give back to his new community, he's partnering with United Family Services  to help the victims of domestic violence by lending his expertise to help victims of abuse. 

Throughout the month of December, he's also donating 10 percent of all fees and revenue from A New You Medical Wellness Solutions to United Family Services Domestic Women's Shelter.

I've talked with Dr. Kulbresh and his new wife, Sara, at several events (yes, I asked: Dr. Nassif was a part of their wedding). The photo above is of the newlyweds at a recent March of Dimes benefit.

You can meet Dr. Kulbresh and learn more about him, his work and United Family Services during a Grand Opening event at A New You Medical Wellness Solutions office Thursday, Nov. 29, from 6 to 9 p.m. at  2835 Providence Road. Reservations are required: 704-910-6924. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Be a Santa to a senior

My heart goes out to all the seniors in Charlotte who are living alone and struggling to make ends meet. Here’s a great way you can help them over the holiday.

Home Instead Senior Care is making sure isolated seniors receive gifts and companionship through its Be a Santa to a Senior program.

Here’s how it works: Through Dec. 14, trees will be up in Dilworth Coffee locations with ornaments that have the first names of seniors and their respective gift requests. Once you buy the gift, return it wrapped to the store with the ornament attached. They’ll be collected and given to residents and members of Friendship Trays and the Charlotte Housing Authority.

These are the Dilworth Coffee locations with trees: 1235-B East Blvd. at Kenilworth Commons; 110-A Matthews Station St. in downtown Matthews; 3565 Matthews-Mint Hill Road in Mint Hill; Dilworth Coffee inside Belk at SouthPark mall; 5815 Prosperity Church Road at The Shoppes at Highland Creek.

Organizers say the need is especially great this year.

Details: 704-344-0801;

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gobble, gobble

On Thanksgiving Day, my official greeting to family and friends is "Gobble, gobble!" instead of hello. It's a lot of fun. Try it.

And speaking of hello, Nov. 21 is the 40th annual World Hello Day. I would never have known that if I didn't receive a press release from EarthCam, which has street cameras all over the world that stream video live.

The statement says, "this celebratory day was begun in response to the conflict between Egypt and Israel in the Fall of 1973 and has since then been observed in more than 180 countries." Obviously it hasn't really helped, but it's a nice gesture.

To celebrate the day, EarthCam has asked people where they have street cameras to wave or to stop and say hello to family and friends. Below are the links to four of its street cams in Times Square, New Orleans, Miami and London. Too bad they don't have one set up in my hometown of Spartanburg, S.C. There would be lots of people stopping to say, "Hey, y'all!"

I went online to watch, and to be honest I didn't see anyone who even realized the cameras were there. But, if you're a people watcher like me, it's really fun to get a live glimpse of another city. Times Square is as bustling as you would imagine. In New Orleans, I saw an SUV come thisclose to hitting a delivery truck - that was scary. In Miami, a lot of the men are super good looking and dress well. I couldn't see much in London because it's nighttime there.

If you're having a slow day at work and want another video to watch, I highly recommend a hilarious one the Observer wrote about this week. It was created by a Gaffney, S.C., native and three of her friends (one is from Spartanburg, whooo!, but to all of them I say, "Hey, y'all!" Yes, we really do say that. A lot.). They absolutely nail the funny things Southern women say. It's bawdy in places, but it's a hoot.

The only two things I couldn't relate to are the use of the word "dern" (I say dang); and the Bless Her Heart sequence. (I didn't grow up hearing anyone say that -whether they meant it as serious or sarcastic, so I'm puzzled as to why it's become such a Southern cliche). If you need to perk up your Thanksgiving gathering, share it with some of your family members who you think may appreciate its humor. Here's the link to the story and video:

The only thing I'll add is that when us Southerners say our prayers on Thanksgiving and every day, we always thank God for living in America, and then we thank God for living in the South. Wait. Why am I lying? We give thanks for living in the South first.

Gobble, gobble y'all!

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Monday, November 19, 2012

When technology fails

In the last blog I wrote, I talked about how I was going to Tweet live from celebrity designers Cortney and Robert Novogratz's talk at the Mint Museum Uptown. Unfortunately, the technology gods had other plans.

As we were all packed into the museum's auditorium, I was trying to Tweet, and nothing would happen. In the meantime, Cortney and Robert were saying some really interesting things and I couldn't switch over to video because my Tweets were still trying to go through. (I learned later it was because I didn't have a wi-fi connection in the auditorium.)

I finally gave up and decided to switch solely to video and I caught some fascinating footage of the duo speaking about their love story and what it means to them to be from the South. But they weren't using microphones so  my video camera didn't pick up what they were saying.

Having no luck with all my modern means of reporting, I reached into my bottomless pit of a purse for my reporter's notebook and pen to take notes the old-fashioned way. I had especially picked out a stylish notebook for the event. I dug and dug and couldn't find it. That, and the curse word I let slip because I was so frustrated, were starting to annoy the stranger seated next to me, so I stopped.

Based on my memory, here are my impression of the couple and the event. First, let me get this out of the way even though I feel weird saying this, but it's true: they are a very sexy couple. Cortney has a dynamite figure. She's a natural beauty and was dressed NYC chic in a short black dress with leather sleeves, black tights and high heeled black booties. Robert has great style - a mix of preppy and edgy - with his rolled up jeans, collegiate jacket and tie. They definitely turn heads when they walk into a room. (Later this week, I'll have a slideshow of photos Daniel Coston took for my Scene & Heard column).

It's so funny their love story started at a party in Charlotte. One of the amusing tales Robert told was of the moment they met, which they say was love at first sight for both of them. At a party in the early 1990s in the Dilworth neighborhood, Robert walked over to Cortney and asked her what she was interested in. She said she wanted to be an actress or a model. Because she's not super tall, he told her to stick to acting. "If I was a model, I wouldn't be standing here talking to you," was her reply. Seeing that funny but fiery part of her personality is when he knew she was the one for him.

During their talk, these are the things they said that really stuck with me:

  • Your eye doesn't lie, and always go with your gut: If you can't afford a designer or decorator, learn to trust yourself. If it looks and feels right to you, then it is. Your home should be a reflection of you, not someone else.
  • To stay relevant, you have to keep up with what the younger generation is doing. Whenever you get the chance, ask a young person you know what is "hot" right now in music, books, movies or art. 
  • Expose your children to as much culture as possible so they can learn what they like. Visiting museums is one thing they think is crucial.
  • Art in schools is imperative. Do all you can to help schools offer arts programs to students.
  • If you're doing something in your life and it doesn't seem to be working, don't be afraid to switch gears and try something different. Don't waste time going down a path that isn't right for you. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Home Neat Home by Novogratz

I'm so excited about husband-and-wife design team Cortney and Robert Novogratz's talk on Nov. 15 at the Mint Museum Uptown as part of its Contemporary Architecture + Design series. The event starts at 7 p.m. Admission is $10; $5 for museum members; free for students with a valid ID.

The Novogratzes became a familiar name in design circles in 2010 as their reality TV show, Bravo’s “9 by Design,” followed the busy designers and their seven children in New York City. The next year, their current show, “Home by Novogratz,” premiered on HGTV. Now in its second season, that show focuses on their interior design projects.

The popularity of the show and the couple’s emphasis on home and family – combined with their signature mix of vintage and modern style – has allowed them to create a lifestyle brand. They have a paint color line for Stark, a furniture and accessories line for CB2 and a new book, “Home by Novogratz.”

What I didn't realize until I talked to them recently is that Charlotte is at the heart of this couple’s story.

Robert grew up in Virginia and moved to Charlotte in 1986, right after college.
“I was a finance guy – I worked for Smith Barney – and bought my first house there in the Eastover neighborhood in 1990 for $75,000,” he said by phone from the Novogratz fort in Greenwich Village. “I was young, just 26, and I had more fun in Charlotte than I did in college.”

In the early 1990s, Cortney, a Georgia native living in Miami, came to town for a party hosted by her sister, a teacher who was renting a house in Dilworth. It was love at first site for the couple.“I had a great life in Charlotte, I had success in finance, but Cortney wanted to live the big life in New York,” he said. “But it was in Charlotte that my love of home started.”

On Nov. 15, they plan to talk about how the South has influenced their style and to show photos from some of their work. They’ll also discuss the new book, which breaks down the details of 20 projects that have names such as Hipster Haven, Brooklyn Modern, Seaside Cabana and Last-Minute Nursery.

The book includes each project’s budget with a list showing how the money was spent.
“My parents in Columbus, Ga., looked at that and said, ‘Oh, we could have had that done here for much less,’ so you have to take that into consideration because most of our projects are in New York or the West Coast, where it’s more expensive,” Cortney said.

Before beginning a project with a client, Cortney is adamant about one thing that doesn’t add to a budget: clearing out the clutter.
“We all have too much stuff,” she said. “If it’s something you’re not using and you just can’t give it away, put it in storage. Instead of spring cleaning once a year, I do a big sweep through our house every three or four months.”

Here are their tips for decluttering:

  • Does it bring beauty to the space? If not, get rid of it.
  • Does it hold special meaning for you? If not, get rid of it.
  • Can you actually use it? If not, get rid of it.
  • Spring clean every season. Every three or four months, do a massive home purging.
  • If you have attachment disorder with your stuff, have a friend or even a professional help you decide what needs to go.
  • You can sell almost anything on Craigslist (just don't be greedy when setting the price).
  • If you just can't part with something but it doesn't work in your space, put it into storage.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Krushing on Russell Simmons

One of the perks of working for the largest newspaper in the Carolinas is that you get to interview a lot of famous people. Meeting Russell Simmons last week during his Argyleculture menswear line launch at Belk at SouthPark mall was one of my favorite celebrity encounters. 

I interviewed him several days before his Charlotte appearance via phone while he was in his Seventh Avenue headquarters in New York City. He is incredibly smart, funny and authentic. But actually sitting next to him and talking behind-the-scenes at Belk was thrilling for me.

I find him to be one of the most fascinating people of my generation because he's such a creative, visionary thinker. That's something I admire more than his bank account or his status as a living legend in the hip-hop community. 

Going back to his Krush Groove days (what a fun movie), he's always been one step ahead of what the future was going to look like. 

Before I met him in person, I had hoped to work in two personal things that I thought he needed to know. With his interest in multiculturalism, I wanted to give him my brief "Redheads are the ultimate minority" speech. (We're all descended from Vikings, so watch out. We may only make up one percent of the world's population, but we raise half the hell). And I wanted to give him my two-minute pitch for the sequel to Krush Groove. It's brilliant, I swear. It has a message behind it that young people especially need to hear. Russell, please have your people call my people! 

I never got around to that because time was limited and it would have been unprofessional and unkind of me to start talking about myself while a line of fellow journalists were waiting for their time with him. That's what blogs are for. 

Plus, another Krush interrupted us. Russell is so nice and accommodating that he moved his chair all the way over to mine so we could have our picture taken together. While he was doing that, we heard a very loud crushing sound. Russell had left his phone by his chair and we both thought it was history, but it turned out his chair legs missed the phone but hit the base of Argyleculture backdrop he was sitting in front of. "Everyone thinks I'm a yogi but I would not have been calm if that was my phone," he said, referring to his devotion to mediation and yoga.

I'm trying to train myself to shoot videos from events I attend, so here's what I have from Russell's appearance:

I also shot pictures and Tweeted live from the event, which is my new obsession. Here are some of my favorite photos that capture the mood of his live appearance. 

I love this fan's style - who knew red plaid, a camo print and neon Nike's could look so great together.

Louis Langston of @amped4acure wears a bow tie with everything as part of his signature style. 

Teacher and model Andrea Jackson, whom I mistakenly called a mom as well in one of my Tweets (she was telling me that she's a mom to her students, not that she was a mother now). She was very gracious about my error. "I do want to be a mom one day," she said sweetly. 

Larry Cornwell looking sharp. We have exchanged emails and phone messages over the years about events he's involved in, but I had never met him in person. Terrific guy, and he and Andrea are part of the Flight 1118 Fashion Show. It's from 2:30-4:30 p.m. Nov. 18 at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge; proceeds benefit Crisis Assistance Ministry and Metrolina Food Bank. Here's a link to the Facebook page:

Love the look of this super cool duo. Yes, he's wearing a vintage Members Only jacket. 

Russell Simmons was so attentive to this young fan, but he cracked everyone up when he checked the label on the boy's argyle sweater. That's why admire Russell so much - he's always thinking. 

Russell with the future screenwriter of his Krush Groove sequel that's destined to be a megahit.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Holiday House is filled with inspiration

Holiday House, presented by the Mecklenburg Medical Alliance and Endowment (MMAE), is open Nov. 9-11. It features decorations from 15 of Charlotte's top floral designers displayed in a private home in the Sharon Hills neighborhood off Sharon Road. It also includes a Gift Shop.

The address is 6304 St. Stephen Lane. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 9-10; 1-5 p.m. Nov. 10.  Admission is $15 at the door. Proceeds benefit the health projects of the MMAE, a nonprofit organization whose members are mainly the spouses of doctors. Among their projects is providing schools and law enforcement with life saving AEDs, a device that can help someone who's going into cardiac arrest. Details:

After attending last night's preview party, I can tell you that Holiday House is bursting with decorating ideas. Here's video from the party:

Before we get to the inspiration portion of this blog, here's a very important public service announcement:

Do not wear stilettos to Holiday House. The home is beautiful, but the walk to the front door is up a short, but very steep, driveway. I had on a fabulous new pair of shoes with a very high metallic heels and I didn't think I was going to make it.
Also (and I should have remembered this), it's a common rule when someone is nice enough to open their home to the public for a tour, they don't want their floors damaged by any kind of pointy shoe. So once I made it inside, I was asked to take off my shoes and wear disposable booties.
I checked my shoes and had a wonderful time. But when I left, I had to take my heels off again to get down the drive or I would have wiped out. They have a handrail you can hang onto, but when you're wearing ridiculously high heels it doesn't matter.

Now I'll jump right into photos of some of my favorite ideas from the preview party. You'll see some food in these photos, but please know that was only for the preview party. During the public tour, just the decorations and arrangements will be on display.

Members of MMAE made all the delicious food, but they wanted to enjoy the party so they hired a crew to come in and take care of all the dishes. That's an option that hostesses who love to cook, but hate to clean up, should always consider. You don't have to hire a caterer to do the food - you can also hire them to just serve and clean up.


White and silver mixed with glass and a reflective surface makes a simple but beautiful display.

A modern take on traditional Christmas colors.

Crystals mixed with natural branches - and a few dollops of fake snow - add to the wow factor of this dining room chandelier.

Elizabeth House Flowers created this stunning Christmas tree bursting with orchids.

These cake pops rolled in shimmering sugar looked beautiful standing in red goblets filled with "snow" (coconut flakes) to help them stand up.

Two turtledoves made from squash.

The shades of purple on this dessert from Wow Factor Cakes looked so right amid the white, silver and sparkle of the dining room. Fun fact: Carrie Underwood ordered a custom cake from Wow Factor for a party she threw for her crew after her recent Charlotte concert.

The vegetable tray was accented with stars made from turnips.

Follow Olivia Fortson on Twitter @oliviafortson

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Leave your shoes at the door for this gala

This first-time gala is also the first time I've heard of a fundraiser in Charlotte where guests are required to not wear shoes. It's a brilliant idea when you understand the backstory. 

Called The Barefoot Gala, it's hosted by the Samaritan’s Feet Women Ambassadors. It starts at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Marriott City Center uptown. The goal is to raise awareness about children in need here and around the world, but especially in Africa where many children go without shoes. 

The Women Ambassadors of Samaritan’s Feet was founded by Tracie Ohonme in 2011 as an extension of the Samaritan's Feet nonprofit her husband Emmanuel Ohonme started in 2003 to inspire hope in those in need by washing their feet, giving them a new pair of shoes and encouraging them to believe their dreams can come true. (Emmanuel's photo is above.) 

Here's the story behind Samaritan's Feet: When Emmanuel was 9 and living in Nigeria, a stranger from the U.S. gave him a pair of shoes. He had only owned one pair before that gift - some flip flops that he only wore to school so they would last longer. The rest of the time, he went barefoot. Years passed and he was recruited to play basketball in the U.S. and moved to North Dakota. He studied international relations and economics, married, had children and moved to Charlotte. But along the way, he never forgot the stranger who gave him the luxury of a much-needed pair of shoes. So he and Tracie came up with the idea to find children who were barefoot like he was, wash their feet to show them love and then give them a pair of sneakers. 

The goal of the gala is to secure funds to build a school for orphans in Burundi, Africa, and to provide shoes to needy children here and in Africa.

Guests will check their shoes at the door, then enjoy the gala. The evening includes a silent auction ranging from jewelry to art and getaways. The live auction items will have sports fans cheering: A VIP Final Four Experience, and a VIP Superbowl 2013 Experience. 

Tonia Bendickson will be the emcee of the evening that features a performance by the Indigenous Drummer Boys of Atlanta, and recognition for Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown who'll be honored for her community leadership, support of children's charities and her mission work in Africa. 

Tickets are $100 each and a few are still available. Details: 

If you can't attend the gala, but still want to offer your support, here's how your monetary donation will help, including buying a brick to build the school: 
Uniform & Shoes for One Child …. $30
Buy a Brick … $50
Tuition for One Child for One Year … $100
Outfit a Classroom … $1,000
Build a School … $100,000

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pin Up, Pin Down will be a knock out

Fashions inspired by the 1940s and 1950s but with a modern twist will roll into 10 Park Lanes on Nov. 11 for Pin Up, Pin Down, a runway show to benefit Levine Cancer Institute’s Carolinas Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

It starts at 6 p.m. at the bowling lanes on Montford Drive. At 8:15 p.m., models will turn the lanes into a runway as they show off clothes from area boutiques. There's also a silent auction with donations from Tiffany & Company and The Palm. 

Among the shops sharing their interpretation of the modern day pin-up girl are Blush, Blvd at Southend, Vivian B, Vestique, Summerbird, JT Posh, Sloan, Nordstrom and Solstice. Merritt Rea of FashionFrontRunner is in charge of the styling and production.

Tickets are $10; a VIP table is $200 and includes a bottle of Mo√ęt rose,  a gift bag and appetizers. Details:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A trick, then a treat

The evening of Nov. 1, I'll be Tweeting live from the March of Dimes annual Signature Chef's Auction at Carmel Country Club. It features from some of Charlotte's best chefs plus silent and live auctions to help the nonprofit's mission to improve the health of babies.

Silent auction items include merchandise from Tory Burch and Lilly Pulitzer, a $500 gift certificate to Morrison Smith jewelers and multiple wine packages. Among the live auction items are a week at Kiawah Island in a four-bedroom house on the exclusive Vanderhorst Plantation and a weekend stay at the Inn at Half Mile Farm in Highlands, which also includes golf at the prestigious Highlands Country Club.

The list of participating chefs will make your mouth water:

Chef Jean Pierre Marechal – The Marriott/Savannah Red.
Chef Kimberly Stoll – Aspire Bistro.
Chef Paul Ketterhagen – Carpe Diem.
Chef Cornelius Hodge – Dessert Fetish.
Chef Time Groody – Mama Ricotta/FS Food Group. 
Chef Michael Vergili – Carmel Country Club (his photo is above). 
Chef Jon France – Ritz Carlton.
Chef Geoffrey Bount – CPCC.
Chef Tom Condron – The Liberty.
Chef Bernard Brunet – Global Restaurant.
Chef Colin Johnson – The Palm.
Chef Bruce Moffett – Barrington Restaurant.
Chef Paul T. Verica – The Club at Longview.
Phillip Lloyd & Maria Marequez – The Art Institute of Charlotte.
Chef Tessia Harman – Custom Culinary Creations.
Jim Alexander – Zebra Restaurant
Executive Chef Scott Hollingsworth – Dressler’s.
Executive Chef Thomas Dyrness – UPSTREAM, Harper’s Restaurant Group. 

The trick is, the event is completely sold out, but before you throw a pumpkin at me, here's the treat:

You can also support the March of Dimes at another upcoming event honoring one of my favorite Charlotteans. The "Celebrating Contributions to Charlotte Honoree Breakfast" is 7:30-9 a.m. Nov. 29 at the Mint Museum uptown. This year, it's chaired by Wray Ward CEO Jennifer Appleby and will honor Linda Lockman-Brooks for her many contributions to Charlotte's business and cultural communities (her photo is above). She will be the first female to receive the honor. Details:;

Monday, October 29, 2012

Humpy Wheeler walked into a bar and...

Actually, Humpy hasn't walked into the bar yet, but he will from 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 1 at the VBGB Beer Garden at the N.C. Music Factory. The NASCAR legend and author of "Growing Up NASCAR" will be a celebrity bartender that night along with WBT-AM Charlotte Morning News co-host Stacey Simms (her photo is below) and Mark Copeland, managing partner of Ernst & Young who's also the JDRF board president.

The trio will be giving customers service with a smile all in an effort to raise money for JDRF (that's the new name for what used to be called the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). All tips collected during the two hours the celebrity bartenders are there will go directly to JDRF. Customers are encouraged to pay in cash or with a check made out to JDRF. The money will go to help improve the lives of all people with Type 1 diabetes.

The VBGB Beer Garden is at 920 Hamilton St. next to the Fillmore and the TWC Amphitheatre; parking is free. Details:;

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Party alert: Halloween at Duke Mansion

Duke Mansion is hosting a Halloween Mystery Machine Party at 7 p.m. Oct. 26. It's the second year the historic site has turned into a haunted mansion. Based on last year's event, I highly recommend this party for adults who love to celebrate the holiday and want to have a spooky but upscale night out. (The photo above is a group who attend last year's party dressed as gangsters). 

Tickets are $75 per person ($25 is tax-deductible) and includes gourmet food, brews and music by the Bad Daddies.  The money raised goes to preserve the mansion. 

A silent auction will include trips and jewelry. You can check out all the items in advance at

Organizers say to come in a scary costume or shag-adelic threads. 

If you've been thinking about doing something special for some of your friends, it's a great way to have a supernaturally good Halloween party without all the work. You could either pay for your friends to go, or just organize a group and everyone pays their own way. 

To reserve your spot, call 704-714-4445 or email 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bright & beautiful: Behind the scenes with Trina Turk

This morning I joined designer Trina Turk at one of my favorite places in Charlotte, The Duke Mansion, for a one-on-one interview. She is as bright and beautiful in person as her colorful clothes. The mansion is the site of a trunk show of her brand's clothes, jewelry and home decor that runs until 5 p.m. today, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow (Oct. 16). Her designs are so well priced and absolutely ooze style and fun that I urge you to check it out. And, 20 percent of the proceeds go to the Mint Museum.

Trina is here as the speaker at tonight's Fall EnrichMint Forum at the Mint Museum uptown. Hosted by the Mint Museum Auxiliary, it includes a fashion show and Trina talking about her "Mid-Century Modern Musings." It's sold-out, but here's a link to Trina and some of the models from her appearance with super fan Colleen Odegaard on WCNC's Charlotte Today:

Also, here's video of atmosphere in the jewelry and home decor section of the trunk show:

Trina's equally fun and handsome husband, Jonathan Skow, accompanied her to Charlotte. His title is Director of Inspiration. I love that. He's over the menswear line and is in charge of the company's photography. They are such a great couple - Trina told me they've been married 27 years. They're both are so relaxed, welcoming and interesting.

Jonathan told me the menswear line is a small but growing part of the brand. It's for a guy who likes fashion and wants to look cool. The silhouettes are classic, but they're loaded with great colors, prints and textures for interest. Here's a photo of fashion-obsessed Charlottean Franklin Headen looking fabulous in one of the jackets - it would definitely make any man stand out in the crowd at a holiday party.

Trina says that bright colors that look so right paired with gold and black are the basis of her Winter Luxe collection that's part of the trunk show.

When style expert Sonya Barnes came over to say hello, I asked her to use her expert eye to pick out a favorite piece for herself, and a favorite piece in general. For everyone, one of Trina's dresses with swirls of color and great attention to design detail in the way it drapes was Sonya's all-around favorite. Here's video of Sonya talking with Trina:

For herself, Sonya chose one of the jumpsuits in black and white. "It's hot, hot, hot," she said.

Also hot? The Balenciaga shoes Trina was wearing. Earlier, I had to ask Trina which designer created the shoes, but Sonya recognized them right away.

Trina is known for her signature Louise Brooks bob with bangs, and her simple but dramatic makeup. A makeup artist at Neiman Marcus worked on her this morning. "I'm very bossy when it comes to how I want my makeup to look," she said with a laugh. She was thrilled to find nearby Polished for her manicure and pedicure.

When my interview with Trina runs later, you'll read more about what inspires her designs, how she likes to entertain at her homes in L.A. and Palm Springs, and what she has coming up for Spring.

In the meantime, do something good for the Mint and your wardrobe by buying something at the trunk show. I didn't have time to shop today but I can't wait to get back over there tomorrow.

I'll leave you with this photo that makes me smile. I love the way this formal oil painting of William H. Grigg, a former Duke Energy CEO, seems to be looking at the Trina Turk orange sequined party frock on display. Do you think he approves? I do, because any woman wearing it would light up the room.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

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