Wawa and Elda

Waeeny "Wawa" des Sources works as an architect for the fashion brand Alice and Olivia and lives in Manhattan with her boyfriend. Wawa is one of four children with an older sister Fanny, a younger sister Gigi (who are not featured in the interview) and a baby brother. Her mother, Elda Abel, was born in Haiti, but moved to New York "for the clothes." Hey, we've all been there. I met them in Chelsea to discuss fashion, Haitian mothering techniques and the challenges their relationship faced when Elda re-married unexpectedly. 

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Elda: I was born in Haiti. I moved to America in 1980 for school. I almost went to Canada, but I came to New York to shop for clothes and ended up here! I stayed and studied nursing, working with autistic children.

Wawa: I grew up in Sheepshead Bay, a very Russian neighborhood, but I went to high school at La Guardia High School. I studied visual arts. All my sisters went with me. My older sister studied voice and she’s now an opera singer and my other sister is about to go to Korea to teach English for a year. I still paint, but work as an architect. I currently work for Alice and Olivia. I’ve worked for Tory Burch and Chanel. I’m in the meatpacking district which is very fashionable! 

Elda: In Haiti, you can stay at home for years.

Wawa: We have cousins who are married with children who still live at home with their mothers! They are both professionals but Haitian mothers hold on tight.

Elda: I didn’t want Wawa to leave home. I lived at home until I was 26. 

Wawa: I would have lost my mind! I am a control freak. I’m kind of bossy aren’t I?

Elda: Psssh kind of? Ha! 

Wawa: My mom was very strict with us growing up. If I came home with a 92 she would ask why I didn’t get 100?

Elda: My dad used to say to me "If you can get 98 you can get 100."

Ruthie: Was your dad strict too, Wawa?

Wawa: Yes he is Haitian as well.

 Elda and Wawa

Elda and Wawa

Ruthie: Is your dad still around?

Wawa: Yes, but my parents are divorced. Actually my mom got divorced and remarried within a year.

Elda: Not a year! Four years ago.

Wawa: No but officially.

Elda: Oh, well, yes. I didn’t think I’d ever get re-married.

Ruthie: How did you meet your new husband?

Elda: I think God sent him to me.

Wawa: Wow I’ve never heard you say that before.

Elda: We met and 19 months later we were married.

Ruthie: What did you think about this Wawa?

Wawa: Well it was a little difficult for me because it was so fast. It was her birthday and she announced she had some big news and then she told us she was getting married. We hadn’t even met him at this point. Mom, don’t laugh it’s not funny! Then she told us she had the wedding date all set and she had the venue booked. We were all upset, we thought he was illegal and wanted a green card! We obviously know him now and know that wasn’t the case. He’s a nice guy.

Elda: He’s Brazilian, it’s the way they do it.

Wawa: I’m not sure that’s true.

Elda: It’s true. 

Ruthie: What about the wedding dress?

Elda: Ah that was another problem. I went by myself.

Wawa: We wanted to go but...

Elda: They were so aggressive, I'd say, "You know what, it’s my money, I'll do whatever I want." The first dress I found, I tried it, I loved it, I bought it. When I was in the showroom there were two girls my daughters’ age with their mother who was re-marrying and when I came out of the fitting room they started clapping telling me I looked beautiful. On reflection I wish my girls had been with me.

Wawa: It would have been so fun.

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Ruthie: Do you shop together in general?

Wawa: We do, especially vintage shops. We also steal each other’s clothes.

Elda: No you steal my clothes! 

Wawa: We love designer clothing. Some people tell me I dress older, but I like to be modest. I’m not a ripped jeans girl. I like Celine, Saint Laurent, Chanel. We spend lots of money, but we also shop sample sales.

Ruthie: Do you think your style comes from you mom?

Wawa: Oh yes! We have similar tastes. That’s how we can share clothes. We love all black.

Elda: We love winter so we can be covered and classy.

Wawa: I hate to be sweaty and exposed in the summer.

Ruthie: What do you most admire about each other?

Elda: I love my daughter, very bossy though. She gets it from me. 

Wawa: My mom is extremely confident. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Sometimes I think "take it down," but then other times I think, "I’m going to do the same."

Elda: I’m confident, I feel young. I don’t see myself as a grandma, I see myself as a young woman.

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Ruthie: What are your differences?

Wawa: Oh my god, where do we start? You’re stubborn, I’m not.

Elda: Ha…..okay. We’re not different.

Wawa: Hmm maybe we aren’t that different.

Elda: There are some things but as a whole, we are the same person. 

Wawa: When we were growing up I used to wonder why she had to be so strict all the time, but as I’m growing older I am starting to understand.

Elda: When you’re a mother you want them to be perfect. I wanted to raise my children to be on top. 

Ruthie: Was it a lot of pressure for you Wawa?

Wawa: Yeah a lot. There were a lot of expectations. People are different though, children have strengths and weaknesses. You can’t expect children to be good at all things.

Elda: It’s the Haitian parenting style. I thought I would be different, but when I became a parent I acted just like my mother. 

Ruthie: Elda you mentioned to me as I arrived that you like to paint, did you encourage Wawa's artistic side?

Wawa: Oh yes she did, we always painted at home and my older sister is a singer. Architecture was a great place for me to land because I could use my artistic and academic sides at once.

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Ruthie: How did your mother dress you growing up?

Wawa: She dressed all of us the same. Same outfit, three different sizes.

Elda: When they were old enough to dress themselves we went to Macy’s and I sent them off to find what they wanted and they all came back with the same outfit!

Wawa: We always had matching hats and bows. It was fun as a kid. I think people thought of us as the immigrant family. We were always overdressed. We would wear church hats for school. I mean, no one openly told us we looked crazy, but we knew.

Ruthie: Do you think people were excited to see what you would show up wearing every morning?

Wawa: Oh I don’t doubt it. I’m sure it was the parents that were most intrigued. 

Elda: Especially in the building we lived in. All the other kids had jeans on. You never wore jeans or sneakers, I don’t think you owned sneakers until you were teenagers.

Wawa: I still don’t like them.

Ruthie: Was there a time when you rebelled against this?

Wawa: No not really, we didn’t want our mom to buy our outfits at a certain point.

Elda: By that point they knew who they were and how they wanted to dress.

Ruthie: Did you and your sisters emerge with different styles?

Wawa: Yes, I chose a more conservative way of dressing. 

Elda: Fanny was wild. She’s a star.

Wawa: She’s a diva you mean! Nothing is subtle with Fanny.

Elda: An opera singer through and through.

Wawa: Gigi is fairly conservative too. She looks up to me somewhat and she’s fairly shy.

Elda: Gigi is very responsible. When she was three years old I got a pain in my shoulder and the doctor gave me a muscle relaxant. I never take medication so it knocked me out. The two older girls were in school so I slept and my new baby was in his crib. Gigi was next to me in the bed. When I woke up at 5pm, the baby was changed and fed. I called my husband to see if he had come home, but he had not. I went to the door and Gigi had tied up the diaper and left it there. They are good girls.

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Ruthie: Have you been through any difficult times?

Wawa: When my mom and dad would fight.

Elda: I remember my husband started screaming one day and Wawa ran out the door.

Wawa: It’s one thing I hope to never have around my kids. You think it’s the norm that parents scream and it shouldn’t be that way. 

Elda: I didn’t want to get divorced. We loved each other, but we weren’t born to be together. 

Wawa: No.

Elda: When I had the children I wanted them to have a father around. I remembered the joy of having a father.

Ruthie: So you put up with that tension so that they could have a relationship with their father?

Elda: Exactly. I did it for my kids. We aren’t used to divorce in Haiti. 

Wawa: She lost friends when they divorced.

Ruthie: Do you want to be a mother Wawa?

Wawa: Oh for sure, but I’m not married and I need to be married first. I want to take on some of the traits my mom has given us, I want to take her cooking skills and her confidence. I hope I have daughters! I don’t think I’ll be as strict. One time in high school a guy was calling me, my mom found out and she changed my phone number without telling me! 

Ruthie: Wow you don't take any s**t do you Elda?

Elda: No I do not!

Ruthie: Did you have any philosophy about body confidence?

Wawa: Well we come from a culture where people will say things to your face. Someone might say “oh you got fat!” My mom would never say it, but my aunts would. 

Elda: I would be more sensitive. 

Wawa: We all love to eat. So our weight is always fluctuating. But I always dress for my body type.

Elda: You have to dress for your body.

Ruthie: Do you ever tell Wawa you don’t like what she’s wearing?

Wawa: When I was living with her, yes. 

Elda: If they ask me I may say "no" if I don’t like it, but only if they ask me. I tell the truth!

Wawa: If the piece is expensive and she doesn’t like it on me she’ll say “nuh huh!” 

Elda: Then she starts lying about the price, she would say “It was only $40” and I know it cost $500!

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Ruthie: What do you like to buy?

Wawa: Classic pieces. That way they never go out of style. We shop sample sales together.

Elda: We have a system. We grab a load of things and take them to a corner and start sifting.

Wawa: Otherwise all that’s left is size 0 or 16.

Elda: I love the shoe sales. I love heels.

Wawa: Heels aren’t practical mom.

Elda: For me it’s heels all day and all night.

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Wawa: Shall we take photos now Ruthie? 

Ruthie: Yes let’s.

Wawa: I don’t know what to wear...

Elda: When you don’t know what to wear, it means you have too many!