BOOK REVIEW: ‘Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain,’ by Portia de Rossi

Atria Books (2010), $26, 308 pp.

There’s a fine line between “want” and “need.” When you were a kid, you didn’t need another cookie, or that creamy glass with holiday garnish. And definitely, you didn’t need the calories. But oh, you wanted them.

So imagine denying yourself those and almost all other foods. Imagine living on 300 calories a day. Then read Unbearable Lightness, Portia de Rossi’s remarkable memoir.

Amanda Rogers was a smart kid who aspired to become a lawyer in her native Australia, until the modeling bug bit her and she quickly decided that the runway was the way to run. She convinced her mother to drive her to an interview, and she convinced executives that, at age 12, she could handle the world of high fashion. Though she felt uncomfortable and self-conscious about perceived body flaws, she persevered, changing her name to Portia de Rossi.

Later, when given the chance to be in a movie, de Rossi was surprised that she loved acting, though she wasn’t confident about her beauty. She thought her face was too round, her cheeks too fat, her thighs too chubby. Her weight yo-yoed. Wardrobe tailors on the Ally McBeal set were kept busy with alterations. De Rossi was mortified.

But that wasn’t her only source of personal loathing. She had always known that she was gay, but it wasn’t discussed. She married, but the union ended when he learned the truth at couple’s therapy. Co-workers weren’t told because de Rossi feared for her job. She denied her feelings and lived in terror of being outed.

Embarking on a nutritionist-recommended low-calorie diet didn’t quell the diet demon in de Rossi’s mind, so she went on a program all her own.

She meticulously weighed each ounce of food, fretted over “hidden calories,” and obsessively avoided anything that might add to her daily intake.

On the day she hit 82 pounds, she said that celebration was in order but, “first I had to silence the drill sergeant that reminded me of that extra inch of fat. First I had to get rid of that.”

As with many memoirs like Unbearable Lightness, I had two very dissimilar feelings while reading it. First, this book reeks with pain. De Rossi is very clear about the bruising thoughts and negativity that she felt in hiding so many personal aspects of her life, and though this book has a make-you-grin, wonderfully happy ending, getting there hurts.

Second, it hurts to read not just because of the pain de Rossi relays, but because it can be slow. In the end, de Rossi’s pantry held a paltry handful of items, for instance, and that fact was hammered home in many ways, many times.

Still, if you’ve ever lived too long with a secret that ate you alive, read this. You won’t just want Unbearable Lightness, you need it.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

The Village comes to Big D

ECLECTIC BOUTIQUE | Designer Tom John shows off some of the ‘retro, vintage chic, eclectic’ items for sale in his new shop Bryan Street Traders. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Store features an eclectic array of items from art to clothing created by owner Tom John

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

When clothing designer Tom John moved to Dallas, he found himself missing his Greenwich Village hangouts. So he decided to recreate that Village atmosphere here in Big D, and thus was born John’s new Bryan Street Traders in East Dallas.

John’s career as a designer started back in the 1970s in Mexico where he designed jewelry and swans made of papier-mache and wood that he sold to upscale galleries in Manhattan.

Then he started designing clothing made from hand-woven cotton found only in Mexico, turning peasant designs into high fashion and creating a clothing line that was an instant success. In the 1980s, his clothing was featured in magazines such as Exercise for Men Only.

John ended up in Dallas because the area’s airport allowed him to commute easily between Guadalajara and New York. And since 1990, he has manufactured his garments here. Although the wholesale cost, he said, was a few dollars more than producing in Mexico, he saved in shipping and travel costs.

In describing his creative process, John explained, “I see it in my head and an artist draws the pattern.” Then the pattern is cut and sewn into a test garment and John uses that to decide if that was what he had in mind.

Changes are made if necessary, and then the pattern is sized. John’s new store features his shirt designs that run in sizes up to 5X.

From his women’s rack, John pulled one dress that he said comes from his very first design — a cream-colored dress that he said he based on a design from a 1951 Sophia Loren film.

But Bryan Street Traders is more than clothing. John described the array of items as “retro, vintage chic, eclectic.”

The offerings range from art to jewelry, from furniture to an array of household items.

“I have ‘pickers’ who find things,” John said, describing how he assembled his assortment of merchandise, “But we don’t buy off the street.”

One customer in the store brought a straight-edge razor up to the counter.

“The razor is from Sheffield, the oldest metalworking factory in the world,” John explained and with a magnifying glass found identifying marks on the piece.

“Everything in the store is authentic,” he said.

The store is located just off Peak Street in an area just being redeveloped with new restaurants. on the corner and apartments on the block.

Bryan Street Traders, 4217 Bryan Street. Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.-5 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Gay retailer competes with the mall chains

Service, style and a little bit of avant-garde translate into success for this Oak Lawn eyeglass retailer

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

FASHION FORWARD  |  Morgan Metcalf transformed a failing discounter into the No. 1 fashion eyewear store in the Metroplex. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
FASHION FORWARD  | Morgan Metcalf transformed a failing discounter into the No. 1 fashion eyewear store in the Metroplex. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Over the past few years, Fashion Optical has gone from discount store to high fashion boutique, becoming the highest-volume optical shop in Dallas/Fort Worth.

When Morgan Metcalf bought Fashion Optical, located on Oak Lawn Avenue at Lemmon, several years ago, he thought he could increase the store’s volume. But, he said, sales have increased beyond his wildest dreams.

Within his first year as owner, business tripled. Today, he’s more than doubled that total again and plans to open a second store.

And all that success happened while the country was in the throes of a deep recession.

A high-profile location is important, Metcalf said. But the location didn’t sustain the previous owner, who had sold discount eyewear there for 15 years.

“There’s no one silver bullet,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf’s background was in employment placement, so he said when he came into the optical business he looked at it with a fresh eye.

He upgraded lines and dropped the word “discount” from the name. He remodeled. He upgraded the service and did runway fashion shows.

“We serve champagne on Saturdays,” he said.

Looking for a way to compete with the mall stores, Metcalf recently added $55,000 in equipment that trumps all of his competitors.

“I’m spoiling all of my customers with a 24-hour turnaround time,” he said.

He can actually produce lenses faster in an emergency when customers lose or break their glasses and are relying on him for a quick replacement.

“We’re the only store within a 300-mile radius that can produce progressive lenses with all the coatings in as little as two hours,” he said.

Mall stores usually promise them in a week. That’s because stores that used to do the work on-premises now send the work out to central locations.

Metcalf has even increased his sales volume by servicing other small optical stores, offering them the same quick turnaround time.

When Metcalf first bought Fashion Optical, he said the store was in need of remodeling. He planned to do stained concrete floors. But when they stripped the floor, they uncovered 75-year-old terrazzo tile. Although the facade of the strip center is new, the building dates from the 1930s.

HI TECH  |  Fashion Optical is the only store within 300 miles with this equipment to produce progressive lenses themselves. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
HI TECH | Fashion Optical is the only store within 300 miles with this equipment to produce progressive lenses themselves. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Metcalf said his taste runs to the avant-garde. But when he was choosing new lines for his Oak Lawn store, he didn’t want to be too way-out for Texas. The lines he picked up included Gucci, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Dolce & Gabbana and Armani.

While some vendors were hesitant to place their upscale products in a store that had only recently removed “discount” from its name, Metcalf has become the No. 1 retailer in the state for those and other fashion lines. Currently, he’s working on his own line of glasses that he hopes to debut later this year.

The store has become a destination and has attracted a celebrity clientele. He counts Jeff Bridges and Troy Aikman among his clientele. Many customers drive from outside the immediate area and even from out of state to shop with him regularly.

Metcalf has been active in the community and his lenses will be included in the Black Tie Dinner auction. Among others, he’s supported the Turtle Creek Chorale and Resource Center Dallas at their fundraisers.

While this store keeps Metcalf busy six days a week, he plans to get busier as he launches his new line and opens a second location.



After 10 years on Cedar Springs, Zen Salon moved to the Centrum where owner Paul Kraft had his first business. Mark Reavis, Isabel Munguia, and Kraft offer cuts, color, highlights, facial and body waxing, award-winning sunless airbrush tanning, and Pearlbrite teeth whitening in their new facility. … Lula B’s moved from its Lower Greenville Avenue location to 2639 Main St. in Deep Ellum. Their second store is on Riverfront (Industrial) Boulevard and features 80 vendors selling funky, kitschy and collectible, vintage and pimpadelic items.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Patti hits the red carpet

This year’s Fruit Bowl host offers some advice on being glam and sporty

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Patti Le Plae Safe
STRIKE HER UP | Patti Le Plae Safe knows how to vamp it up — even for a bowling tourney.

USA Bowl, 10920 Composite Drive. Aug. 15 at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. $30 individual, $100 team.

Unless you’re George Clooney or even Pamela Anderson, the red carpet treatment doesn’t come everyday. Film openings, swanky parties and awards shows up the ante by giving guests a fancy entrance, so why not a bowling tournament, too? This year, the annual Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Day Projects adds a little scarlet glamour to Fruit Bowl. And host Patti Le Plae Safe has some advice on what to wear for those flashing cameras.

“This is all about the paparazzi,” Plae Safe says. “People will be taking pictures and asking for autographs. Since it is the red carpet, people should have on their finest bowling attire.”

She figures all the big designers will be making an appearance on Fruit Bowl players: Prada, Ralph Lauren and Gucci — if they actually designed bowling wear. Shoes are both an accessory and equipment, so the trick is making high fashion also utilitarian. Plae Safe will play it safe, but she’ll nix her usual glam heels for a regular pair of sporty flats.

“I’m gonna have to wear bowling shoes,” she says. “I don’t wanna fall! The rest of me though is going to be all red carpet.”
Despite the encouraged attire, she wants people to come out for some lane action and support the HRC. She was on board with this event since last year, which turned out to be fortuitous for both parties.

“I have a strong connection to the event and to HRC,” he says. “Plus, I’m on a bowling team and people know me, so I think it really was a perfect fit this year.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 13, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas