Sydney sisters build empire with ‘man-repelling’ Orthodox Jewish fashion

Posted February 11, 2018 09:00:00

Growing up in the beachy Sydney suburb of Coogee, sisters Simi Polonsky and Chaya Chanin stuck out like a sore thumb.

“On Saturdays everyone is wearing bikinis, shorts, guys aren’t wearing shirts,” Ms Polonsky remembers.

“It’s really just a fun, chilled beach vibe… and as a kid you just want to fit in, except we had to go to Synagogue.”

Her sister chimes in: “And my mother would buy us these frilly, collared dresses and patent shoes with matching bows … and it’s a really hot summer Saturday in Coogee!”

As Orthodox Jews and daughters of the local rabbi, the sisters were expected to follow the Torah’s teachings of tznius: modesty.

The Dos and don’ts of Orthodox dressing

The most common interpretation of tznius requires women to cover their elbows, knees and collarbones.

“If you do want to wear pants, leggings, trackies, jeans, whatever it is, it’s with a skirt or a dress over it,” Ms Chanin explains.

“We don’t wear sleeveless [clothes] and no plunging necklines.”

Married Orthodox Jewish women are also expected to cover their hair, but unlike in the Muslim faith, this is generally done with a wig.

“Once a woman gets married she covers her hair, whether it be with a wig, a scarf, a hat… any sort of level you’re comfortable with, but it’s covering the hair,” Ms Chanin says.

“I think it’s also beautiful that we make our wigs look like our [real] hair, because it just proves the point that this is a holy, special thing and it’s not for anyone else.

“Nobody even needs to know that I’m covering my hair.”

Making modest fashionable

What some might view as a restriction, Ms Polonsky and Ms Chanin saw as an opportunity.

Throughout their teenage years the pair nipped and tucked their conservative clothes, added extra fabric to on-trend outfits and spent countless afternoons paging through Vogue.

So when both sisters found themselves living in the United States working in unfulfilling jobs, fashion that promised a pathway to brighter things.

Inspired by glossy magazines and a phonebook of well-dressed female friends who were happy to sell last season’s wears, the pair organised their first pop-up.

“Our husbands were schlepping and carrying garbage bags full of clothing to this florist that we rented,” Ms Polonsky recalls.

“[The shop] was the first of its kind in our community, first of its kind in the Orthodox Jewish world of women, fashion, clothing… it was exciting.”

Numbers-wise, the sale was a hit, attracting more than 600 customers on the first day.

But not everyone in the community was impressed with their approach, or style.

“We photocopied four different images from Vogue, cut them up, made a collage … then by hand plastered them all around the neighbourhood,” Ms Polonsky says.

“We got phone calls — people said, ‘The posters put up, was that by you guys? It’s not appropriate! The girl’s wearing blue nail polish’.”

Their business, The Frock NYC, grew, and so did their families. Babies were born, the label received write-ups from Vogue and Vanity Fair, and sales spiked internationally.

It wasn’t just Jewish women purchasing their clothes, either.

“Over the past few years we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of women emailing us, and they would say things like, ‘I’m Jewish or I’m Muslim or I’m Mormon or I’m Christian, and I never felt connected to my faith because I didn’t like the way they dressed and I couldn’t figure out how to combine the two, but when I see you guys I’m like, maybe I can’,” Ms Polonsky says.

“That’s our whole ethos, we’re respectful of all different levels of religiosity, and people that aren’t religious at all.”

When tragedy strikes

In October last year, the family was struck with a tragic blow.

Ms Polonsky’s husband Yeshua — fondly known as Shua — contracted a rare and rapidly debilitating virus.

“My husband was the healthiest, fit, young guy and three months ago he had the flu,” she recalls.

“We rushed him to hospital because he was so dehydrated and it turns out it wasn’t the flu, it was a really bad virus that attacked his heart.”

For three weeks the family stayed by his bedside.

“I believed with every ounce on of my soul and mind and heart that he was going to make it,” she says, her voice beginning to break.

Mr Polonsky passed away on November 9. Prayers couldn’t keep him alive, but an online fundraising campaign to support the family has amassed more than $1 million from 9,000 donations.

Ms Polonsky, who’s expecting her third child, is still struggling with the loss.

“When I told my daughter… I came home and I had to tell her the news of what happened to her daddy,” she says, tearing up.

“She cried and then she said to me, ‘I’m so mad at HaShem — God — but I still love him’.

“I realised that I’m right now in a black hole with no light, stripped bare, and I’m here alone, but God’s with me.”

To get through the darkness, Simi has dived back into The Frock NYC with her sister.

They both see the business as a testament to Mr Polonsky, who loved fashion and even appreciated their label’s “man-repelling” styles.

“My husband didn’t mind that I wasn’t wearing some sexy number, he was excited about the fashion and the out-of-the-box thinking that we shared with thousands of other women,” Ms Polonsky smiles.

“He just loved all people — Jewish, not-Jewish, black, white — and his outlook on life, and on people, translates so much into our business and the way we look at women of [all] faiths.”

Topics: judaism, women, religion-and-beliefs, fashion, family-and-children, death, spirituality, coogee-2034, united-states, australia

Father of South African jazz Hugh Masekela dies at 78

Posted January 23, 2018 21:09:29

Trumpeter and singer Hugh Masekela, known as the “father of South African jazz” who used his music in the fight against apartheid, has died at 78.

Key points:

  • Masekela’s hit Soweto Blues was a soundtrack to the anti-apartheid movement
  • Another of his songs called for the release of then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela
  • Jacob Zuma says the nation will mourn a man who “kept the torch of freedom alive”

His family said on Tuesday he died from prostate cancer.

In a career spanning more than five decades, Masekela gained international recognition with his distinctive afro-jazz sound and hits such as Soweto Blues, which served as one of the soundtracks to the anti-apartheid movement.

Following the end of white-minority rule, he opened the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup Kick-Off Concert and performed at the event’s opening ceremony in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.

“Hugh’s global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theatre, and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memory of millions,” a statement on behalf of the Masekela family said.

“Rest in power, beloved, you are forever in our hearts.”

His song Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela), written while Masekela was in living in exile, called for the release of the then-imprisoned Mandela and was banned by the apartheid regime.

South African President Jacob Zuma said the nation would mourn a man who “kept the torch of freedom alive”.

“It is an immeasurable loss to the music industry and to the country at large. His contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten,” Mr Zuma said in a statement.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa tweeted: “A baobab tree has fallen, the nation has lost a one of a kind.”

After honing his craft as a teenager, Masekela left South Africa at 21 to begin three decades in exile.

His global appeal hit new heights in 1968 when his instrumental single Grazin’ in the Grass went to number one in the US charts.

As well as close friendships with jazz legends like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Mingus, Masekela also performed alongside stars Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s.

He was married to singer and activist Miriam Makeba, known as “Mama Africa”, from 1964 to 1966.


Topics: arts-and-entertainment, music, history, community-and-society, death, south-africa

Tom Petty died of accidental drug overdose, family reveals

Updated January 20, 2018 12:35:02

Legendary rocker Tom Petty’s death last year was due to an accidental drug overdose, his family says.

Key points:

  • Tom Petty was on seven different medications when he died of accidental drug overdose
  • His family hopes his death sheds light on opioid crisis
  • Petty was found unconscious, not breathing and in cardiac arrest in October

Petty, whose ringing guitar riffs, distinctive vocals and well-wrought everyman lyrics graced such hits as Free Fallin’ and American Girl, was found unconscious at his home on October 2 last year, and died in hospital that night.

His wife and daughter, Dana and Adria Petty, released the results of an autopsy in a statement on his Facebook page, saying coroner results showed the overdose was caused by a variety of medications.

“We knew before the report was shared with us that he was prescribed various pain medications for a multitude of issues including fentanyl patches and we feel confident that this was, as the coroner found, an unfortunate accident,” the statement said.

It was posted moments before the Los Angeles coroner’s office issued its official findings, which attributed Petty’s death to a “mixed toxicity” of fentanyl, oxycodone, generic Restoril, generic Xanax, generic Celexa, acetyl fentanyl, and despropionyl fentanyl.

The medical examiner’s report lists the manner of death as “accidental”.

Petty’s family said he had suffered from emphysema, a fractured hip and knee problems that caused him pain, but he was still committed to his 40th anniversary tour in the US.

“As he did, it worsened to a more serious injury,” the statement said.

“On the day he died he was informed his hip had graduated to a full on break and it is our feeling that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his overuse of medication.”

Petty’s family said they hoped the report of his death would shed light on the opioid crisis in the US.

“Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications,” the statement said.

“On a positive note we now know for certain he went painlessly and beautifully exhausted after doing what he loved the most, for one last time, performing live with his unmatchable rock band for his loyal fans on the biggest tour of his 40-plus year career.

“He was extremely proud of that achievement in the days before he passed.”

Petty was born in Florida in 1950. He carved a career as a solo artist as well as with his band the Heartbreakers and as part of supergroup the Traveling Wilburys.


Topics: music, death, arts-and-entertainment, united-states

First posted January 20, 2018 12:14:54

Help this family find the last photos of their grandma

Updated December 27, 2017 14:55:43

Grandmother-of-three Patricia Joyce took a dream trip with her husband for his 80th birthday, and she died on the night they returned to England.

Now her family are desperately searching for the photos from two cameras misplaced on the trip, which they believe were lost in a taxi in Sydney.

“Having the photos back would mean everything to us as a family, because these are the last images we have of my nan,” her granddaughter Charlotte Masters told the ABC.

A dream trip that was their last together

Mrs Joyce surprised Brian Joyce, her husband and partner of 63 years, with the tickets for his birthday.

The trip to visit Sydney for the first time and to see the Opera House was a “lifelong dream” for the Hampshire couple, her granddaughter said.

“She passed away the evening of their return to England and without us having the opportunity to talk to her about her trip,” Ms Masters said.

“Whilst my grandad can describe the excitement she expressed from the moment they docked in Sydney Harbour, it would be lovely for us to share that memory with the photographs she took.”

Ms Masters’ plea on Facebook has already been shared more 12,000 times and she said she and her family would be forever “indebted” to the people from all over the world offering their sympathy and help.

“The response to the posts on Facebook have been phenomenal and my family and I have been overwhelmed by the messages of condolence, offers of help and prayers [with] one person in particular spending her Christmas Eve phoning taxi companies, restaurants and bars for us,” she said.

Holiday details could provide camera clue

The Joyces travelled from Singapore to Sydney on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship from November 21 to December 8.

They still had their cameras when they docked in Sydney some time between December 7 and 9. The cameras were:

  • A black Panasonic Lumix FX33 — serial number: FJ7SA005329
  • A silver Panasonic Lumix FX55 — serial number: FK7JA004534

Mr Joyce thinks they may have left their cameras in a black handbag on a trip between the Sydney Opera House and the Cambridge Hotel in the inner-city suburb of Surry Hills, but is unsure of which cab company they used.

The family are hoping that the memory cards can be found and returned to them and are not concerned about getting the cameras back.

They have asked anyone who finds the memory cards or cameras to contact them via Ms Masters’ Facebook page.

Topics: community-and-society, death, photography, sydney-2000, surry-hills-2010, united-kingdom

First posted December 27, 2017 13:12:06

Kim Jong-hyun of South Korean K-pop boy band Shinee dies

Posted December 19, 2017 00:58:34

The lead singer of South Korea’s top K-pop boy band Shinee has died after being taken to hospital unconscious, local media has reported.

Twenty-seven-year-old Kim Jong-hyun was found unconscious at a rented apartment studio in Cheongdam-dong on Monday evening, the Yonhap News Agency reported, quoting police.

Police arrived at Kim’s apartment in southern Seoul after receiving an emergency call from his sister, who received a text message from his brother shortly before his death.

The singer was moved to a nearby hospital but was later pronounced dead, police said.

Kim arrived at the hospital under cardiac arrest and received emergency CPR treatment but failed to regain consciousness.

Yonhap said investigators believe he died from inhaling toxic fumes. No immediate confirmation from police was available.

Kim debuted in May 2008 as the main singer of Shinee under SM Entertainment, South Korea’s biggest music label and entertainment agency.

He has boasted a nearly decade-long prolific career not just in group activities but as a solo singer-songwriter.

Shinee are considered among the best K-pop performers for their music as well as their complex dance routines.

Many fans took to social media to express their condolences, with many fans also in disbelief.

Kim’s last public appearance was on December 10 at his solo concert in Seoul, titled “Inspired”.


Topics: death, human-interest, arts-and-entertainment, music, korea-republic-of, asia

French farewell ‘the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of’

Updated December 10, 2017 12:55:00

France bid farewell to its biggest rock star Johnny Hallyday with an extravagant funeral procession down Paris’ Champs-Elysees Avenue, a presidential speech and a televised church ceremony filled with the country’s most famous faces.

Key points:

  • 1,500 police were on duty to secure the area around the funeral procession
  • French President Emmanuel Macron delivered an eulogy
  • Hallyday died age 74 after a battle with lung cancer

Few figures in French history have earned a send-off with as much pomp as the man dubbed the “French Elvis,” who notched more than 110 million in record sales since rising to fame in the 1960s.

Hallyday died at 74 after fighting lung cancer.

In an honour usually reserved for heads of state or literary giants like 19th-century novelist Victor Hugo, Hallyday’s funeral cortege rode past Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe monument and down the Champs-Elysees to the Place de la Concorde plaza on the Seine River.

Hundreds of motorcyclists accompanied the procession in a nod to the lifelong passion that Hallyday, born Jean-Philippe Smet, had for motorcycles. His biker image included signature leather jackets and myriad tattoos.

French President Emmanuel Macron — a Hallyday fan himself, like three generations of others across the French-speaking world — delivered an eulogy on the steps of Paris’ Madeleine Church for the star known to the public affectionately by only one name.

“Johnny belonged to you. Johnny belonged to his public. Johnny belonged to his country,” Mr Macron said.

“He should have fallen a hundred times, but what held him up and lifted him was your fervour, the love,” add Mr Macron, referring to the star’s health troubles and famously excessive lifestyle.

Hallyday’s death unleashed a wave of emotion across France, where he had been a symbol of national identity and stability for more than half a century — even though his private life had been far from stable.

Aside from the drinking, smoking and partying chronicled in juicy detail by the French press, Hallyday had been linked to a string of glamorous women and had married five times.

About 1,500 police officers secured the area in Paris, a police helicopter flew overhead and emergency vehicles filled nearby streets as tens of thousands of fans lined the procession route.

Many dressed to emulate Hallyday’s flashy, rebellious style. Some climbed on fences, stoplights, and even the roof of a luxury hotel to get a better view.

Dubbed by some as “the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of” — Hallyday’s position as one of the greatest-selling musical artists of all time is unusual as he remained largely unknown outside the Francophone world. But in France, he influenced styles, music and even children’s names.

Laura Dublot, a 30-year-old Parisian, and her brother David are among many who were named after Hallyday’s older children, Laura and David.

“He’s a national icon. This scale of funeral is not surprising — he’s united three generations of French,” Ms Dublot said.

Hallyday likely would have approved of this send-off, having told French media he dreaded the idea of an isolated funeral like the one he attended for his father in 1989.

He is survived by his wife Laeticia, two of his former wives, four children and three grandchildren.


Topics: death, community-and-society, arts-and-entertainment, music, history, art-history, france

First posted December 10, 2017 12:51:19

Touched by an Angel star Della Reese dies aged 86

Posted November 21, 2017 12:42:51

Actress and gospel singer Della Reese, best known for her role in television series Touched by an Angel, has died aged 86 at her home in California, her family said.

The actress “passed away peacefully at her California home surrounded by love” on Sunday, her husband Franklin Lett and her family said in a statement.

The statement was posted on the family’s behalf by Reese’s co-star Roma Downey on her Instagram page.

“Through her life and work she touched and inspired the lives of millions of people,” the statement said.

No cause of death was given, but Reese suffered from diabetes, which was diagnosed about 17 years ago.

Detroit-born Reese was trained as a gospel singer, and first found fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s with pop and jazz hits like Don’t You Know.

First African-American woman to host a talk show

By 1969, she had her own talk show Della — the first to be hosted by an African-American woman.

She then landed roles in shows like It Takes Two and Crazy Like a Fox.

But her biggest part was her role as sarcastic supervisor angel Tess on supernatural CBS TV series Touched By An Angel, which ran for nine years until 2003.

The show’s first season brought mediocre ratings, but its audience grew until it became one of TV’s highest-rated dramas.

Reese also sang the show’s title song Walk With You.

In 1997, she went public with a salary complaint, claiming CBS had reneged that season on an agreement to match her Touched by An Angel pay increases to those of Downey.

CBS said at the time it was “puzzled” by her comments.

“I’m trying not to believe it’s because I’m black, ’cause I was black when they hired me,” Reese said at the time.

“They knew what age I was … I don’t know what it is.”

Reese complained of typecasting

Reese’s other TV and movie roles included Beauty Shop, That’s So Raven, MacGyver, The A Team, LA Law, Harlem Nights, Promised Land and The Royal Family.

In her 1997 autobiography, Angels Along the Way, Reese complained she had difficulty avoiding being typecast for roles before Touched by an Angel.

“There were usually only three types I was ever considered for — the singer, the aunt or the mother [or] neighbour,” she said.

“God knows how I wanted to break out of those three categories and show what else I could do as an actress.”

In the late 1980s, Reese started a church from her Los Angeles living room.

The church, called Understanding Principles for Better Living, known as UP, later moved to its own facilities and Reese became known as The Reverend Dr Della Reese Lett.


Topics: actor, television, arts-and-entertainment, film-movies, death, united-states