The chef Marcus Samuelsson would not have made it through the pandemic without the help of his community.
He says the support from his family, his Harlem neighborhood and his fellow restaurant workers made getting up every day have meaning. In the process, he fell even more in love with New York City.
“Why did it have to be Covid to create this sense of community?” Mr. Samuelsson said. “But that is something I choose to see positively out of a very, very, very difficult year.”
Mr. Samuelsson, 50, lives with his wife, Maya Haile Samuelsson, a fashion model, and their 4-year-old son, Zion, in Harlem, not far from his Red Rooster restaurant. When New York City went into lockdown in March 2020 and some residents decamped to second homes, the family stayed in their brownstone.
There was enough change to deal with already. As the founder of the Marcus Samuelsson Group, with 36 restaurants from London to Bermuda, Mr. Samuelsson was weighing options on how to proceed with his teams. For Ms. Haile Samuelsson, 39, all fashion work halted. Zion could no longer go to preschool or even the nearby playground.
After the initial shock, the couple began to acknowledge their privilege. For Mr. Samuelsson, that was realizing that he had health care when so many others living around him in Harlem did not. Ms. Haile Samuelsson wondered: How can I think about fashion when other people are fighting for hospital beds? The couple heard ambulances rush by all night.
Mr. Samuelsson saw the neighborhood fall into despair at a rapid pace. That was the motivation, he said, to turn Red Rooster into a community kitchen for Central Harlem. “It gave me purpose to get up in the morning, put on a mask and gloves, walk to Red Rooster, and feed 800 people a day,” he said. “I was back to being a chef again, something I’ve been doing since I was 17 years old.”
Ms. Haile Samuelsson became the glue that held the whole family together, creating new routines and taking on newly essential roles including cameraperson for Mr. Samuelsson’s online cooking classes and gym class teacher for Zion.
The couple said that they wouldn’t have made it through without leaning on multiple communities. As immigrants, they arrived in the United States from simple means and felt comfortable falling back to that way of life. (Both Mr. Samuelsson and Ms. Haile Samuelsson were born in Ethiopia; he was raised in Sweden and she in Holland.) They don’t need a lot, just each other, or their “tribe,” Mr. Samuelsson said.
“It shows how strong we can be as human beings when we are pushed into something that we did not plan,” Ms. Haile Samuelsson said. “It made us closer, and to care for one another and to look to our neighbors and our neighborhood.”
Throughout the pandemic, Mr. Samuelsson relied on the newly formed Independent Restaurant Coalition, a collection of chefs and restaurateurs and lobbying group, for support. Some of his Red Rooster locations, like Miami, have reopened; others, such as his restaurant in London, will remain closed.
The chef calls his 250-person team at Red Rooster his tribe. He said he felt like a failure if he couldn’t “have their back.” Partnering with World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing meals in the wake of disasters, to turn the restaurant into a community kitchen helped the team maintain their sanity. Since March 15, 2020, the kitchen has served more than 230,000 meals.
“Those conversations I had with our new regulars, the people in line, they became our neighbors knowing they could get food from Red Rooster,” Mr. Samuelsson said. “That gave me strength, and Maya strength, and therefore we could be better parents.”
Having a sense of purpose helped Mr. Samuelsson to design a new routine for himself and his family. Gone were the long hours in a hot kitchen and travels on the road — he could be home to make dinner with Ms. Haile Samuelsson and Zion. Some of their favorite memories from the past year include Zion’s spontaneous laughter in the kitchen and his mastery at pizza toppings. Mr. Samuelsson also finished a new cookbook he co-wrote, “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food,” which published in October 2020.
With more time at home, Mr. Samuelsson had the opportunity to be a more involved parent. In the past year, he’s helped Zion learn to swim and ride a bicycle, two activities he isn’t sure he would have done with his previously hectic schedule. He also includes Zion in his work projects, like Zoom cooking classes and his recently started the podcast “The Moment,” which he co-hosts with the Swedish musician Jason Diakité, known by his stage name Timbuktu.
As a family, the Samuelssons participated in the Black Lives Matter protests last summer to engage Zion in the dialogue and show him that they were working toward a solution to the “biggest pandemic of racism,” Mr. Samuelsson said.
The family also regularly restocks a community fridge. Each house that participated paid about $160 to help with maintenance, and they refill it with food for anyone who needs sustenance.
Like many people, the couple yearned for social interaction and new activities to engage their son’s attention after months cooped up in the house. Luckily, the couple lives on a block that Mayor DeBlasio closed off to traffic as part of his “100 miles of streets” plan to allow more pedestrian access outside. This meant that Mr. Samuelsson’s neighbors could allow the 12 children to run around, ride bicycles down the street, and color with chalk on the pavement. Mr. Samuelsson jokingly calls it “day care” as the parents conspired to come up with “classes” to entertain the younger set. Mr. Samuelsson, of course, did a cooking demo but other parents taught art, yoga and exercise, jazz music, and even skateboarding.
In the evenings, the block’s residents would take turns offering a meal to the children and parents as a way to lend a hand. For Ms. Haile Samuelsson, it was a delightful way to get to know her neighbors, from the Jamaican woman who served jerk chicken to the family from Australia who made lasagna. She cooked an Ethiopian dish when it was her family’s night. She said she enjoyed the opportunity to talk to other women, a sort of modified girl’s night as they sat socially distanced.
“As humans, we have to talk about our emotions,” Mr. Samuelsson said. “Being able to talk to your neighbor about how you feel if you had a rough day is the reason for community. I am fortunate to be a part of my communities, be it chef, Ethiopian or Harlem. This is what 2020 gave us.”
The Espresso Martini Is Everywhere (Again)
Ms. Chastain, 38, considers the relationship between espresso martinis and the Bravo universe as a chicken-or-egg paradox: Did reality TV stars (re)popularize the drink, or are their tastes a symptom of larger American trends?
Coffee culture flourished during the pandemic, most notably on TikTok (remember dalgona coffee?). Ty Bridgwater, 23, began a series of iced coffee reviews on the app in January 2021, and some have been viewed 6.7 million times.
Mr. Bridgwater uses TikTok’s “duet” function for his commentary on other users’ coffee-based drinks, some of them boozy. Videos with the hashtag #icedcoffee have more than two billion views, and the hashtag’s landing page reads, “It’s not just a drink, it’s a lifestyle.”
The appeal of mixing uppers and downers needs little explanation: Consider the popularity of vodka with Red Bull among clubgoers, or the appeal of Four Loko among pre-gaming college students (at least, back when it was caffeinated).
Now, as the United States approaches the post-pandemic era, that enthusiasm for caffeine will be put to good use. Bars are reopening, parties are returning, and many of us are tired (it’s been a long 15 months). This is a cocktail designed for a reawakening, and we’re on the precipice of a grand one.
Which is not to say that the drink doesn’t have its detractors. “I’m convinced this is some conspiracy,” said Andrea Hernández, 31, who writes a newsletter about upcoming food and beverage trends. She has been tweeting about the ubiquity of the espresso martini since April, when she began to feel that “it was a trend that was going to be forced on us, like it or not.” For now, she says, she’ll stick to her preferred drink: a dirty martini.
Late Night Sums Up the Biden and Putin Summit
Welcome to Best of Late Night, a rundown of the previous night’s highlights that lets you sleep — and lets us get paid to watch comedy. Looking for more to watch? Here are the 50 best movies on Netflix right now.
Ending Things Early
President Biden’s short, tense meeting in Geneva with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was the talk of late night on Wednesday.
“I had a feeling those two weren’t going to make it to the hometown date,” Jimmy Kimmel said in a reference to the dating show, “The Bachelor.”
“You do not want this guy giving a toast at your wedding. [imitating Putin] ‘Congratulations to Jeffrey and Diane. May the specter of happiness haunt you. Now, please have some cake. It is made of vanilla and children’s tears, for what is life but a difficult birth astride a grave? The light gleams for an instant, then it is night once more. Mazel tov!’” — STEPHEN COLBERT
“I’m guessing this is probably why Putin isn’t asked to speak at a lot of graduations.” — JAMES CORDEN
“There’s another expression that goes ‘If Vladimir Putin gives you pudding, don’t eat it — because it’s probably filled with plutonium.’” — JIMMY KIMMEL
The Bits Worth Watching
James Corden took the cast of “Friends” for a ride around the Warner Bros. studios, ending on their iconic set.
What We’re Excited About on Thursday Night
Saweetie will perform on Thursday’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Also, Check This Out
Victoria’s Secret Swaps Angels for ‘What Women Want.’ Will They Buy It?
The Victoria’s Secret Angels, those avatars of Barbie bodies and playboy reverie, are gone. Their wings, fluttery confections of rhinestones and feathers that could weigh almost 30 pounds, are gathering dust in storage. The “Fantasy Bra,” dangling real diamonds and other gems, is no more.
In their place are seven women famous for their achievements and not their proportions. They include Megan Rapinoe, the 35-year-old pink-haired soccer star and gender equity campaigner; Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Chinese American freestyle skier and soon-to-be Olympian; the 29-year-old biracial model and inclusivity advocate Paloma Elsesser, who was the rare size 14 woman on the cover of Vogue; and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, a 38-year-old Indian actor and tech investor.
They will be spearheading what may be the most extreme and unabashed attempt at a brand turnaround in recent memory: an effort to redefine the version of “sexy” that Victoria’s Secret represents (and sells) to the masses. For decades, Victoria’s Secret’s scantily clad supermodels with Jessica Rabbit curves epitomized a certain widely accepted stereotype of femininity. Now, with that kind of imagery out of step with the broader culture and Victoria’s Secret facing increased competition and internal turmoil, the company wants to become, its chief executive said, a leading global “advocate” for female empowerment.
Will women buy it? An upcoming spinoff, more than $5 billion in annual sales, and 32,000 jobs in a global retail network that includes roughly 1,400 stores are riding on the answer.
It is a stark change for a brand that not only long sold lingerie in the guise of male fantasy, but has also been scrutinized heavily in recent years for its owner’s relationship with the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and revelations about a misogynistic corporate culture that trafficked in sexism, sizeism and ageism.
“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” said Martin Waters, the former head of Victoria’s Secret’s international business who was appointed chief executive of the brand in February. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”
The seven women, who form a group called the VS Collective, will alternately advise the brand, appear in ads and promote Victoria’s Secret on Instagram. They are joining a company that has an entirely new executive team and is forming a board of directors in which all but one seat will be occupied by women.
Rarely has a company so dominant in its sector been exposed as trailing so far behind the culture as Victoria’s Secret was in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
It was, Ms. Rapinoe said bluntly, “patriarchal, sexist, viewing not just what it meant to be sexy but what the clothes were trying to accomplish through a male lens and through what men desired. And it was very much marketed toward younger women.” That message, she said, was “really harmful.”
Victoria’s Secret’s cultural influence is a product of its industry standing. Though the company’s share of the U.S. women’s underwear market dropped to 21 percent last year from 32 percent in 2015, according to Euromonitor International, it is still a powerhouse. Its next closest competitor is Hanesbrands, with a 16 percent share.
Founded in 1977 as a store where men could feel comfortable shopping for lingerie, even the name referred to male fantasies of prim Victorian ladies who became naughty in the boudoir. The retail billionaire Leslie H. Wexner bought Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and turned it into a phenomenon that helped shape society’s view of female sexuality and beauty ideals. Central to its ethos were the “Angels” — supermodels like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks who posed exclusively for the brand, often in G-strings, stilettos and wings. In 1995, it introduced the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, a sort of cross between a runway show and a pole dance that aired on network television for nearly two decades.
It has taken years for Victoria’s Secret to acknowledge that its marketing was dated. In that time, the value of the brand eroded and a slew of competitors grew in part by positioning themselves as the anti-Victoria’s Secret, complete with more typical women’s bodies and a focus on inclusivity and diversity.
“I’ve known that we needed to change this brand for a long time, we just haven’t had the control of the company to be able to do it,” Mr. Waters said. As for the Angels? “Right now, I don’t see it as being culturally relevant,” he said.
Daily Business Briefing
Mr. Razek and Mr. Wexner will not be a part of the new Victoria’s Secret, which will split from L Brands and Bath & Body Works to become its own public company this summer. (The pandemic scuttled a sale to a private-equity firm and swallowed $2 billion in revenue.) There are more women in charge, including a new chief marketing officer, Martha Pease, who has led the Collective initiative. The stores that survived a year of culling are becoming lighter and brighter, and mannequins — which have typically been a size 32B — will come in new shapes and sizes. The Angels imagery, which once even appeared on store bathroom TVs, will be phased out. The company will still sell products like thongs and lacy lingerie, but its purview will expand, especially in areas like sportswear.
“In the old days, the Victoria brand had a single lens, which was called ‘sexy,’” Mr. Waters said. While that sold for decades, it also prevented the brand from offering products like maternity or post-mastectomy bras (not considered sexy) and prompted it to sell push-up sports bras (sexy, but not so popular). It also meant, he said, “that the brand never celebrated Mother’s Day.” (Not sexy.)
There are plenty of people who do, in fact, find motherhood seductive, but the myopia of the Victoria’s Secret lens was such that they were never acknowledged, let alone listened to.
“As a gay woman, I think a lot about what we think is sexy, and we are afforded the ability to do that, because I don’t have to wear the traditional sexy thing to be sexy and I don’t think the traditional thing is sexy when it comes to my partner or people I’ve dated,” said Ms. Rapinoe. “I think functionality is probably the sexiest thing we could possibly achieve in life. Sometimes just cool is sexy, too.”
Victoria’s Secret, which did finally introduce a Mother’s Day campaign last month and even featured a pregnant model, will soon begin selling nursing bras. It also said it would work with its new partners like Ms. Rapinoe and Ms. Chopra Jonas on product lines set to appear next spring.
While it was “probably time for the Angels to go,” the lingerie powerhouse will have to strike a balance between moving forward and maintaining existing customers, said Cynthia Fedus-Fields, the former chief executive of the Victoria’s Secret division responsible for its catalog.
“If it was a $7 billion business pre-Covid, and much of that $7 billion was built on this blatant sexy approach, be careful with what you’re doing,” she said.
According to Raúl Martinez, who joined as creative director in January, every aspect of the brand is being reconsidered.
“It has to have a purpose, a reason, be there for the consumer to say: Wow, they’re really evolving,” he said, acknowledging that it was his 15-year-old daughter who persuaded him to join Victoria’s Secret. “She said, ‘Dad. Do it for us. The Gen Zs,’” he recalled.
Still, the question remains: Why would women like Ms. Rapinoe and Ms. Chopra Jonas want to risk their names by placing their stamp of credibility on Victoria’s Secret? The line between selling out and infiltrating from within can be hard to discern.
“Of course there will be people who are like, ‘Does this make sense?’” said Ms. Rapinoe, who acknowledged that when she was first approached, “I, too, was like, ‘What? Why do you want to work with me?’” She said she had been convinced by the willingness of the brand’s executives to acknowledge their mistakes and history, and by the fact that her role is not limited to the typical “brand ambassadorship,” but extends to consulting on language the company uses, the assortment of products it offers and narrative it’s putting out.
Ms. Elsesser said her decision to join Victoria’s Secret “goes back to the sheer metrics of the situation.”
“I didn’t start modeling to just do all the cool stuff; I did it to change the world,” she said. “With platforms like VS, where you enter the living rooms of all people, that’s where you make radical change.” She saw part of her role as lobbying for Victoria’s Secret to increase its sizing to XXXXXL, she said. (It currently carries up to 42G in bras and XXL in nightwear.)
The VS Collective also includes Valentina Sampaio, a Brazilian trans model; Adut Akech, a model and South Sudanese refugee; and Amanda de Cadenet, the photographer and founder of #Girlgaze, the digital platform for female photographers. All of them, in the words of Ms. Rapinoe, are people who were not “typical brand targets in the past.” As for the fashion show, Mr. Waters said it would most likely return in 2022 in a very different form. What the brand will offer soon is a podcast featuring the women in the collective, a medium that requires no visuals.
“To rebrand is going to take a lot of steps to ensure that they have the consumer trust, that this isn’t just inclusivity-washing,” said Erin Schmidt, a senior analyst at Coresight Research.
Victoria’s Secret is betting a chunk of its marketing budget that persuading such unexpected personalities to join its cause will in turn convince consumers, and potential investors, to similarly believe in its shift, giving a new meaning to halo effect.
As Ms. Rapinoe said, “I don’t know if Victoria has a secret anymore.”
Contact Sapna Maheshwari at email@example.com or Vanessa Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org.