Champagne Mystic

May 22, 2012:  

I was at a women’s networking event celebrating Madame Veuve Clicquot with lots of champagne and chatter with many accomplished ladies.  You might not recognize the name Veuve Clicquot off-hand but you will definitely know the bottle of bubbly – the one with the yellow label and the star, which is now a household name.  Madame Clicquot inherited the House of Clicquot after the death of her husband and transformed it into a champagne powerhouse.  She was responsible for inventing the “riddling rack”, essentially the technology behind the production of champagne.   She also branded it with the star, after the great Comet of 1811, which represented a great vintage year for wines.

I also had my celebrity sighting of the week – Shelley Von Strunckel – yes the Shelley Von Strunckel, yes the same one, the world famous astrologer.  Despite having grown up in India, I have never been intrigued by astrology.  I am what you would call a Hindu heretic and did not even get married based on the age-old custom of “matching the stars” and picking the “date and time” of the ceremony (blasphemy - not sure how we have survived ten years of marriage)! 

My family on the other hand lives, breathes and sleeps astrology, as does most of India from the richest to the poorest.  Without being disrespectful, there is always a day of the week when someone is vegetarian or someone who does not wear black or red or blue (not sure there are many colors left)!  There is always something you can eat or not eat or a ritual you can perform to improve your current situation.  Mothers in India now even give birth at a time picked by the jyotshi (astrologer), which is considered auspicious.  While astrology has played really no part in my life to date, there is often a time I do read the horoscope in the paper or wonder if I am headed in the right direction (possibly a function of me hitting 40 soon!).  I was definitely interested in going up to see Shelley.  I wanted to know what she had to say and really wanted to know what made her pick astrology as a career choice – not one you see often.

Shelley was very warm and forthcoming.  She grew up in Hollywood and began her career at the Federated Department Stores.  She was a buyer there having studied the History of Costume at UCLA.  However, she always had a keen interest in aspects of the mind, body and spirit.   Prior to Federated, she had meditated as a teenager and practiced yoga regularly.  While at Federated, she joined the Vedanta Society (lineage Ramakrishna Mission of Bengal, India) and studied Eastern philosophy – the Gita, the Upanishads (books even many Hindus have probably not read).  She even read the Quran. 

While her parents were not an influence as to her choice of career, some others around in the family were.  She decided to study astrology privately.  She noticed that astrology was perceived very differently in the west - people associated it with bohemians!  In her own mind she wanted to do something more meaningful with her own life; selling clothes led to a very empty existence.  She wanted to help people.  Her eastern philosophical education made her seek anew and speak out and her background in marketing gained while at Federated helped her create the new image she thought astrology needed.  She combined her astrology training with her learnings in the corporate world to create astrology, as we know it today.  

You can now see Shelley in the Sunday Times, Tatler, Vogue, the Times of India and even the Pakistani Express!  She works with CEO’s of companies, private individuals and many successful people and helps them do what they already do well, even better.  She has been thanked both publicly (such as on BBC’s – Desert Island Discs) and many more multiple times privately for what she has done for others around her. 

Finally, of Madame Clicquot, eastern philosophy would say that it was in Veuve’s “destiny” to inherit the business. Shelley would add argue that it was Veuve’s “free will” that made her take it to the next level.  She believes that one can go out, take the initiative to do things and change the world around them.  Shelley who currently tweets will soon be blogging as “Champagne Mystic”




Lot 17 on May 17!

16 inch by 18 inch child's portrait donated by Farwa Tahir fetched £2,800 at a silent auction in London last night. Buyer was a Chelsea mom wanting to capture a "Moment in Time"!


To Calcutta with Love!

On my “free day”, thanks to a good friend Gauri, I had the honor amongst others, to have tea with Sabyasachi (or “dada” as I would have addressed him if I was in Calcutta, our home town).  For those of you who know him, I need not say much more.  For those who do not, when it comes to design and creativity, Sabya is an Indian icon.  He graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in India in 1999 and twelve years and many awards later is one of the top most celebrated designers in the world.    

Sabya in person was the Sabya I had seen in print.  "Down to earth"y look and a warm persona. Sabya spoke to us of materials and processes.  He spoke of history and embroidery and the weaves and threads that go into making his clothing what it is.  He also spoke of  the “hands” that go into making his clothes and accessories look the way they do. There is only one of each piece since they are all handmade by ladies, a lot of whom have either suffered from domestic violence or those whose husbands rely on them as sole bread winners of the family.  Sabya not only “empowers”women that wear his clothing (anyone who owns anything by him will testify to this - it's like owning a piece of history) but also tries to “empower” those women who spend hours making them.  This is Sabya's way of giving back to his community.  

I also had the pleasure of meeting other inspirational women – all those who inspired and “empowered” me in their own way!  Gita Pandit, a Loreto girl from Calcutta who left LH in 1980 in the pursuit of excellence in tennis.  Gita is one of those few women in India (or the world) who also has a zero handicap in golf.  All this done at a time when sport in India, forget women in sport in India were really non-existent – amazing!  Alice Cicolin (www.alicecicolini.com) who was Head of the British Council in Delhi for many years and also the woman who was behind the making of the Indian version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream – with the use of ten Indian languages all at the same time in the play!  Alice now has her own jewellery brand and the pieces she designs are handmade by one of the last few remaining “meenakari” trained artisans in Jaipur.  Last but not the least, not to forget Little Natasha Platt, young lady from Delaware, Harvard alum, self-taught in design, who now works for Sabya in India and calls Calcutta her home!

Coming back to my “free day”.  I owe it completely to Liz Scully.  Liz who invited me to a Rethink Retreats (www.rethinkretreats.com) earlier this week taught me a few things but two completely stuck in my head! .  The first - every entrepreneur should plan his/her days as "strategy days" (when you do all the thinking and researching around your business), "focus days" (when you do all the work, make calls, meet clients) and "free days" (as implied when you do absolutely nothing and take a rest)!  The second thing Liz asked us me to do was, even in the worst of times, no matter how big or small, write down what you have to be grateful for every single day.  

Yesterday, I was grateful for both my “free day” and also to my music teacher for canceling my tea-time lesson.  Playing music, I find is therapeutic for my soul but meeting and hearing inspirational people and stories is more “empowering”!  Here's to owning a piece of history in time.  


The Business of Beauty or the Beauty of Business – “shiny and new” on the outside and “simple and smart” on the inside!

May 10, 2012:  Neetu is 35 and Nepalese.  She started working in a nail salon at 13 and started a small business after moving to London in 1988.  She goes to people’s homes and does beauty treatments for them – she can do you a mani-pedi, blow dry your hair and make you look “shiny and new” for one third of the cost of any salon.  A mother of three, Neetu is the quintessential mumpreneur; she acquired a skill and now uses it to support her family. 

Her business is all word of mouth; she gets clients through referrals and her marketing costs are zero.  Most of her clients are sticky and she sees them monthly, if not more often.  She has no overheads and therefore can run a model, which is low-cost; passing on this cost advantage to her consumers and also keeping a healthy margin for herself.  Because of this cost advantage, she also has very limited competition. 

Neetu has no child care at home so only works when her children are in school.  When she goes home at night, she helps her kids with their homework and does the cooking.  I proposed that Neetu try and become an Avon sales representative.  Since she is already in the business of beauty, I figured she could potentially earn some extra cash by selling beauty products to her clientele.  I will now explore this option for her.

In her spare time, Neetu also plays beauty salon with her girls just like a lot of us mothers!  Her girls and we have a lot to learn from Neetu.  While Neetu makes us look “shiny and new” on the outside, her business model is “simple and smart” on the inside. 



Danai - The light in me honors the light in you!

7am (for those who think I am a nutter, the class was packed!) yoga at Jivamukti with the beautiful Danai combined with breakfast club - lady chatter on Bollywood, Hollywood, babies, boarding schools, ballerinas and business - a skinny cap and avocado on toast is always a great start to my Wednesday!  Being an entrepreneur is hard - moving from a cushy job with a regular paycheck to running around like a headless chicken makes me glum some days.  Sometimes I feel on top of the world; at other times I feel pardon my language, in the gutter! But today I feel fab - as Danai asked me after the class, in her typical warm Greek manner - "are you feeling strong"?  Yes I answered "feeling very strong physically, now for some mental strength".  If you haven't done it already, I highly reccomend yoga with Danai to lift your mind, body, spirits but most importantly your soul.  The light in me honors the light in you Danai! Namaste.