Pearl River This starts with Lauren Fajardo. I had met her in Toronto when she was helping out with some of the earlier shooting on what became The Organizer film. She was from Cuba. We knew her partner, Joey Carey, who was producing the film, and had gone to school with our daughter, Dine’. I saw her from time to time with our daughter, when they were all living in Brooklyn, so it was a pleasant surprise when our daughter mentioned that she was doing something in New Orleans, and we should check it out on a recent Sunday afternoon.
The day had gotten crazy in the way that everything piles up on a Sunday that doesn’t fit during the work week, with another coming up quickly. Add to that, my longtime comrade and friend, Orell Fitzsimmons, was with us for the weekend. Mi companera had a meeting, but even though it didn’t seem like my kind of thing, I thought I should represent. I mentioned it was somewhere in the upper 9th ward on Port Street, did she know what was there for this CubaNola thing. There’s an ACORN group in that area, she said. There had been a community issue about loud music some years back, but she hadn’t heard anything recently. Who knows? Time almost got away from me, but we jumped in the truck and put the address in the GPS an hour before closing.
I know Port Street well. The late president of Local 100, Mildred Edmonds, lived there. Past her place were houses and warehouses. The front of the building was nondescript and looked like the open roof of the old auto repair shop that it used to be. I parked next to a well-ordered community garden, and walked into a whole different world. Everywhere were colorful clothes in a linen wonderland. We saw Lauren across the space almost immediately, and it turned out this pop-up was her thing, Dador. Dador means “giver” in Spanish. Interviewing her later on Wade’s World, she explained that she and two friends from design school in Cuba had founded this “slow fashion” company in Havana, where the clothes are handmade in their shop. Much of it is bespoke, meaning you send your measurements to them. This is not an Amazon operation. New Orleans was their first venture into the USA, with another coming in New York. Nothing is easy about starting a business in Cuba because of the ongoing, semi-permanent sanctions imposed by the US. Sourcing materials is a challenge. The general economy meant that when she returned she would be filling her two suitcases, that had held clothes to sell, with food to take home.
Cuba was only part of the story. She was in New Orleans because she had filled out an application to the Material Institute, that developed and operated this space, and had paid for her to come. She walked me through the space. There was a kitchen, a line of sewing machines, a music and recording area, and past a patio, several apartments where artists-in-residence stayed, and where they had put Lauren up while she was in town. The garden across the street was part of their effort to get along with the neighborhood. The relationship was uneasy. They cautioned guests not to walk in the area. The place was amazing, well-appointed, and equipped, and obviously represented a huge investment in the area and New Orleans dedicated to the cultural and art community. Increasing the exotic nature of this enterprise and trying to figure it out, I clicked on their website to try to understand who was behind all of this and ended up at MONA, The Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. This wasn’t just another world for me, but the other side of the world itself. There’s bound to be a longer story here, but I felt like I had walked behind the looking glass.
Visiting with Lauren was a window into a different experience, but the real takeaway here is all about Dador. I’m a jeans and t-shirts guy, but I know what I like, and I’d like to see Lauren and her partners make a go of this in Havana and abroad.