‘Birds of Paradise’ reveals NY women’s everyday styles

Gallery owner Nyssa Frank and a friend. Images by Lee O'Connor PhotograpyGallery owner Nyssa Frank and a friend. Images by Lee O’Connor Photography

NEW YORK – In a small art gallery on one of the last slushy nights in East Williamsburg, among a swarm of black skinny jeans, leather jackets and those ubiquitous Rachel Comey boots, one woman was dressed entirely in red: a red patterned silk kimono over a red lace dress, complete with a red leather fringed purse that had a vaguely Southwestern feel. But what stood out the most was the zigzag of ruby-hued gems down the middle of her forehead. Smaller, clear crystal stones arched over her eyebrows, and a smattering of more rubies framed her eyes. She wore these jewels like I wore my jeans.

Stella Rose St. Clair, a fashion designer, is featured in Lee O’Connor’s book.

It had been a long time since I had seen a look that I had never seen before – between the bottomless world of Instagram, the runway-ready street style blogs and the New York City subways, the unique starts to all look the same and inspiration rarely shines among all of the blending in. But this was brand new.

Christiana is a musician.

Her name was Nyssa Frank, and she was one of the women featured in the gallery’s show, celebrating the launch of photographer Lee O’Connor’s book, Birds of Paradise.

Ingrid is a librarian.

O’Connor spent three years photographing the women she spotted in her north Brooklyn neighborhood, enticed by their colorful ensembles. What’s most striking about her portraits are not the women’s incredible outfits, but their strong presence. Her work does what most fashion photography does not – it shows the women who wear the clothes, not the clothes the women wear. Some are defiant, some are shy, others are happy and absolutely everything in between, but all are entirely themselves.

Doll is a filmmaker.

O’Connor’s own love of unique style begin with her mother, an actress who taught her daughter that you got dressed up everyday, regardless of what you were doing. All of the women Lee photographed are all entrepreneurs of some sort – whether filmmakers, artists, designers, photographers, gallery owners or musicians – and I realized that Lee’s lively portraits redefined her mother’s credo: dress as yourself every day, and you can create a life that you love.

Adia is a creative director.

As the night went on, more of these featured women trickled in and all were as striking as Nyssa yet entirely different – their vibrant colors, eclectic patterns and inventive makeup were more contagious than any editorial in Vogue. They drank beers, chatted with their friends and excitedly posed in front of their portraits.

These women aren’t only birds of paradise, they’re birds of our world and that’s what makes them so special, because we can be one too.

Veronika, a writer, is pictured at left with photographer Lee O’Connor at right.

For more information about Lee O’Connor photography and to order her book 32-page softbound book Birds of Paradise visit www.leeoconnor.net.