There’s the original and then there is the original’s original – that’s Valerie. She is the type of person who can take her favorite striped beach sheet from childhood, wrap it around her head and look like a French New Wave Katherine Hepburn in Woman of the Year. If Valerie went to the fashion shows, the street style paparazzi would be snapping away, wondering whose cream coat with navy piping she was wearing. It might be Versace or YSL from the ’80s, but she would say it’s her glamorous Aunt Carol’s. She cuts the yoke or, as she says, the “good part” of an Escada sweater off to throw over her shoulders and it wouldn’t even occur to her to remember where she got the classic tweed three-piece suit that she wears with a top hat and red suede shoes with lips to match.
Fragile and intense are words that E. E. Cummings once put together, Valerie says, and it describes how she sees this dichotomy of herself in her own hands. The tender hand holds the rings that she never takes off, including a silver one from her Grandmother Vera with whom she coincidentally shares the Yiddish name Veykhna, which means the tender one and an emerald birthstone from her mother, who raised her as a single mom and whom Valerie describes as among the amusing and epic women that have defined her life. Her fervent right hand remains bare. Valerie has the courage to admit that she went through a deep and at times overwhelmingly painful search for how to be her “intense, beautiful, fragile, alive, victorious, tender, dynamic, performer-self” for many years. She graduated from the prestigious Juilliard School having done nine films, lots of press and walked the red carpet, but she was not at peace. She recalls attending the opening of her movie premiere for Queenie in Love and thinking, “I don’t full-on think that this is such a great film.” It was also a time in which she was uncomfortable with getting overly sexy roles. It became Valerie’s priority to drop out of acting in order to own herself first, having the confidence to know that the great performer inside her wasn’t going to go away. “What I needed to become was comfortable in my own skin,” she says.
Through the practice of Raja yoga, Valerie no longer romanticizes the myth that says to be brilliant at what you do as an artist, you have to suffer. “Not only do I not have to be suffering… but working on yourself not only leads to your own transformation but to world transformation, because we cannot change the world without changing ourselves.” Her most recent creative rebirth has come as a musician with her electronic pop opera album, Antenna. It is an anthem to being a believer and a performer, “somewhat like a mission statement,” and it documents how heartache can transform into freedom. Like an antenna, Valerie feels that as an artist she is not just one thing, but a chameleon that can channel many talents.
Valerie loves singing the standards like her Grandmother Vera’s favorite, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” but she is a pioneer deep down. She can find a classic wedding dress in a tree and make it look the epitome of unconscious hip and on Antenna, she has experimented with different layers of harmony through which she uses her ear to inherently compose music through her voice. She wears her grandmother Vera’s folkloric green wedding dress that matches her eyes not because she cares about what she “puts on,” but because she wants to archive her life, a process she feels has added to her overall sense of empowerment. A story of leaving her suitcase behind, when checking it would have caused her to miss her flight to Berlin, says it all. Clothes do not give power to Valerie – she gives power to them and to everything that she does.