Meet Lucy Lee

Location: Memphis, TN
Age: 60
Marital Status: Married
Education: BA, Southwestern at Memphis, MS, University of Tennessee

The 24-year-old got the job, and she learned about art—fast—starting with a dinner party at her new employer’s house. “I had never been in a house quite like it—it was 1974, and it was very contemporary,” she recalls. “It made a huge impression on me.  After dinner I went home to my own house and got a big box and took every object in my house that was neither an antique nor a piece of art and put it in the box and never took it out again.  I have maintained that decorating credo to this day.”

Whose art do you collect now?

We have a collection of regional art, Southern artists primarily. However, we do have pieces by David Bierk, Bruce Brainard, Jian Wang, Marsha Myers, Anita Huffington (a sculptor from Fayetteville, Arkansas), Robert Rector, Anton Weiss and Ed Giobbi.

Who are your favorite artists?

If money were no object, I would love to own a Joan Mitchell or a Helen Frankenthaler.

Tell me about your time at Memphis College of Art

It just expanded my world. I was thrown into a community in Memphis which otherwise I would never have known. I traveled all over the country. At the time I thought it was the best job that a woman in Memphis could possibly have.

And you learned all about art?

I did. I evaluated the portfolios of all the applicants along with a faculty committee.  I learned a lot by watching and listening to them.  I was also able to take courses at night while I was there, so I studied two-dimensional design, drawing and photography.

Is your husband interested in art, too?Image

Yes, but he’s primarily interested in the decorative arts–armorial porcelain, antiques and silver.  When we married sixteen years ago, I thought it would be difficult to mesh our things together. But in doing so our things have become more interesting than they were on their own. Like us. We’ve become more interesting, too.

You left your job to raise your two sons, then when they reached school age, you went to work at a clothing store, James Davis.

Yes, and I adored working retail—I love clothes and I loved selling them. At the time James Davis was a very traditional store. Then one day in about 1986, the owner Van Weinberg said that he’d heard the up-and-coming designer was a woman named Donna Karan. He wanted James Davis to start carrying her line. I knew enough to know that would be a major leap for us. We went to New York to her showroom and there were buyers from Bergdorf’s at one table, buyers from Neiman’s at another table, models in catsuits cut down to their navels, and Donna Karan herself. There we sat from this little store in Memphis committed to make a $100,000 buy. So we bought it. And we sold it—it was a phenomenal success!”

How do you define your style?

Classic but contemporary and not trendy, I hope.

Which designers do you love?

Jason Wu is fun to wear now, and I adore Lanvin. And my dear friend Neil Bieff does spectacular clothes for evening–very delicate beading.  He’s also a master of color.

Shops you love?

Of course I love Joseph. It has an energy the minute you walk in the door.  It’s like a little Bergdorf’s. You can buy everything there. Besides designer clothing, they carry incredible shoes, jewelry, handbags, and makeup. I work with a fantastic sales associate Mary Ann Barton. She knows me, knows the kinds of clothes I like and is honest with me.  She’s become a close friend.

Favorite jewelry?

A string of multicolored Tahitian pearls by Paul Morelli that my husband gave me.

Who influenced your style?

My mother had great style. She would always buy a complete outfit—suit, shoes, purse, sometimes a hat—I never saw her in slacks.

You are inspired by your mother?

My mother was the kindest, most delightful person I have ever known. She died in 1992, and I still miss her.

What other women inspire you?

Shirley Wexner, the owner of Joseph, is a terrific woman.  Her divine husband Alfred died suddenly a few years ago.  She knew how important the store was to him, and she has stepped up to the plate and run the store exactly as he would have wanted her to—he would be so proud of her!

I’m also inspired by Hilary Clinton, who has, in my opinion, really hit her stride as Secretary of State. And Madeleine Albright, the first woman to be Secretary of State.

Signature perfume?

La Base by Helvetica. Takashimaya used to carry it, but it’s hard to find now. I found some of it online at a site called Lucky Scent and I bought six bottles—I have one left!

Do you have a special cleanser and moisturizer?

I use Erno Laszlo and some La Prairie.

Do you have a regular dermatologist?

I go to an excellent dermatologist, Gwen Beard, and to an esthetician Mona Sappenfield of the Mona Spa of Wellbeing, for facials and some laser work. I think Mona knows as much about skin as anyone. I’m trying to avoid ever having a facelift.

Do you have a passion project?

ArtsMemphis, the support organization for all of the arts in Memphis. I serve on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors and am co-chair of the Development Committee.  I have also co-chaired one of their major fundraisers, Artafactor, for the last four years. ArtsMemphis allocates around $4 million to community arts groups each year. It is an incredible organization and does a great deal for Memphis.

What do you do for fun?

I’m taking bridge lessons, French lessons, and I’m an avid golfer and moviegoer.  My husband and I also love travel. We love England and France—but also going to exotic places.  We’ve rafted the Grand Canyon and taken trips to Africa, Morocco, India, Turkey, Vietnam/Cambodia and Peru.  Through travel I have rekindled my interest in photography, which began when I was at the College of Art.


Favorite book?

The Great Gatsby. It’s more than just a good story—there are many layers to that book—so much depth. I’ve read it quite a few times.

I also recently discovered Ann Patchett. I loved Run so much I went back and read all her books.

I just finished Game Change about the 2008 election, which I found fascinating.

How do you rejuvenate?

If I have just a little time I take a walk. If I have a little more time we go to our house in the country for the weekend–the house I grew up in, which we renovated in 2001.

What’s your biggest indulgence?

I asked my husband if my answer should be “contemporary art” and he said, “Only if you lie.” My biggest indulgence is my clothes. I’ve loved clothes my whole life. When I was a little girl my mother would take me into Memphis to shop at a store called Helen of Memphis.  When we got home I’d put on a little fashion show for my father.

What about a favorite wine?

Veuve Clicquot Rose Champagne

Your exercise routine?

Two times a week I work with a personal trainer and we do aerobics, floor work, and weights, and twice a week I do Power Pilates. I try to play golf three times a week, and I like to walk the 18 holes.

What about the most important thing you’ve learned about money?

A lot can turn into a little very quickly if you’re not careful.

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