Remembering A True Original

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Inspirations. They are incredibly important in shaping a strong personal brand. So it’s only befitting that I write this blog in memory of Zelda Kaplan, an immensely powerful personal inspiration of mine.

Zelda exited this world in incredible style  – at the front row of a fashion show during New York Fashion Week last month.  She looked amazing that night, as vibrant and fabulous as always. She was 95.

Her final picture

I met Zelda about six years ago at a late-night hot spot in New York City, one that consistently attracted a motley crew of wacky and wonderful nightlife celebrities. And there was Zelda, in her trademark oversized glasses, bold, African print dress and matching hat, with a glass of champagne in hand. All she had to do was sit there, and the crowd came to her.

Zelda was impeccably branded. In my opinion, here’s what made her so remarkable.

Zelda had presence.
You knew when she walked through the door. She seemed to part the seas, and a seat instantly became available for her, even at the hottest clubs. Her charm would melt even the toughest bouncers, and sometimes she would even be lifted over the red velvet ropes. She was always full of life — and attracted life to her, with magnetic force.

Me and Zelda at the Rose Bar, Gramercy Park Hotel


A rare quiet moment, meeting Zelda for coffee, 7/12

You instantly knew what she stood for; her passions and values in life.
Zelda made it a point to share her passions. She championed humanitarian causes such as clean water in African villages, inheritance rights for African women  and the prevention of female genital mutilation. Her stories of travel in Africa and Southeast Asia were simply captivating.

Zelda had a distinct personal style.
Her passion was captured through her fashion. She purchased tribal cloth from the African villages she visited, and designed them into dresses with matching hats and purses. She was never seen without her trademark oversized sunglasses, day or night.

Zelda was an original.
She wasn’t afraid to be different…to be bold. In fact, she was featured in MAC Cosmetics “Originals” Campaign in 2008. In 2003, the documentary Her Name Is Zelda followed her life from housewife to nightlife celebrity.


Zelda in the MAC Cosmetics “Originals” Campaign


Zelda with Snoop Dog


Zelda’s message was consistent.
“Celebrate life and live each moment to the fullest.”  For Zelda, life in the city was more vibrant at night. She made it clear never to call her before 2pm. Her bedtime was anywhere between 12 and 7am — she much preferred a nocturnal existence.


Zelda was independent.
She lived life on her own terms. It was extremely rare for Zelda to allow anyone to “assist” her…getting out of cabs, descending stairs, etc. When venturing out in the winter, I would sometimes need to insist that we link arms so we both didn’t slip on ice in our heels!


Zelda always made it a point to tell people her age.
During a Village Voice interview in 2006, Zelda shared: “I hope I inspire people not to be afraid of being old – really old. And not to feel empty about life, because life is worth living, don’t you think?” And did she ever live her life to the fullest.

So I raise my glass to Zelda. A remarkable woman and enduring inspiration who will be deeply missed.



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