Ethel Lee Bowden my Grandmother and inspiration for Ethel Lee Vintage and Art (ELVA)

It's true, my grandmother was my heart. I was devastated when she went home to be with the Lord. She taught me everything I know about fashion and the art of the “red lips and nails”.  Those were her signature trademarks!  I remember when I was a child I would love to go and explore in her attic and play dress up. I loved all the old fashions that she and my Aunt Agnes wore, even up to their passing. They were some “fly” ladies! In fact, some of my most coveted pieces belonged to them. There is a black wool bell cut dress with an 8” fur cuff around the hem from my Aunt Agnes and a pair of white kid leather opera gloves that belong to my grandmother Ethel Lee in my collection.

My grandmother has never been to an Opera but she spent many weekends at the Cotton Club and the Apollo in New York. My mom would tell stories about how they would prep to go out. They had to have the cute face (including the signature red lips) and the small waist. When the outfit and the dance moves were tight, they were off!

My wonderful parents provided for me in every way but my grandmother and I shared a love for fashion. Don’t get me wrong, my mother Mattie Mae Bowden-Barber is a force to be reckoned with too. She, too, is a fashionista at 88 years old.  I might have to do a blog just to talk about her “Church Swag”.

My grandmother purchased my cotillion gown and along with my parents she financed my first apartment in college where I took art as a minor.  I’m sad that she never got to attend any of the plays where I designed sets that brought the playwright’s scripts to life. She would love to see me as one of the lead set designers.  She wasn’t there but I’m sure she was smiling from heaven and cheering me on. I can hear her saying, “Go ahead, Black Pearl, show them what you got!” She nicknamed me Pearl when she heard the song “Black Pearl" which is a song written by Phil Spector, Toni Wine, and Irwin Levine and performed by Checkmates, Ltd. I didn’t like that nickname as a child but I love it now. I would say the lyrics but I don’t want to get into trouble with the writers estate.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Why my Grandmother Ethel Lee Bowden-Moore is my inspiration for ELVA.Ethel Lee was a “bad” lady.  She was the one who watched old black and white movies with me. I remember watching Imitation of Life and Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a child with her and we couldn’t stop talking about the clothes “costumes” that they wore. She was also the one who taught me how to “coordinate” long before John Witherspoon started talking about it(Sorry John, Ethel Lee got you beat.) My grandmother even coordinated and designed clothes for my Barbie Dolls. My dolls were the best dressed Barbie dolls in the neighborhood. I still have those Barbie clothes to this day. 

My grandmother always encouraged us to follow our dreams. She was always proud of our little art projects. She would be so pressed to show her friends what her grand babies made. She even talked up the lopsided ashtrays and the birdhouses with no entry point that we made for her. Only a grandmother could love some of the hot mess designs their kids and grand kids make. Don’t laugh because you all know you have some messed up art projects around your house that you can’t let go!

I’m so excited about launching ELVA! I am so blessed by the outpouring of love from the people who encouraged me when my love for vintage and art was just a hobby. I am truly thankful for the people who worked tirelessly to help me to do all those things that needed to be done as a start-up business (you know who you are). I’m so thankful for the people who prayed for me and continue to pray for me. Most of all, I would like to thank the Lord for Ethel Lee Bowden-Moore because through her and His stripes, ELVA is born.

I hope you enjoyed my stroll down memory lane with my grandmother Ethel Lee Bowden-Moore now go shop my vintage and art store at and be beautiful!

Tags: Blog, News


  • Posted by Lisa Barber

    That was very entertaining and heartfelt. Truly an inspiration for those of us who unintentionally pushed our dreams to the wayside. Reading your article has inspired me to stop procrastinating and just do it. Thanks for sharing and helping others to light that flame within them so that they too can become an inspiration to others. Praying for infinite blessings for you as you pursue your dreams.

  • Posted by Lisa Barber

    Thanks for the comment Kim. Time to live our best life!

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