Brooke Garber Neidich is 68, but age isn’t anywhere near the subject line when talking with her. The words: indefatigable, intelligent, giving, endlessly chic and warm are more to the point. If we had to man the lifeboats, Brooke is someone we would want along for the ride because she would bring her grace to turbulent seas and we would all feel safer in her company. We just had to ask questions about how Brooke grew to be Brooke….
Give us an overview of your career.
I was in college in the in the late 60s–I marched, I believed, but in the end, all I ever wanted to do was get married and have children. I had no real ambition. I’ve lived lots of places. Of course, I always worked, I had to work, but none of them were a calling or a career. I came to everything really late, after I was 31 and married, I had our son and in a sense that settled me, my adult life began. It didn’t matter what else I did, I was a wife and a mother, life was based around children and Daniel, hearth and home. Now that my children are grown, sometimes I say I’m a grandmother, or a trustee, an advocate for children’s mental health, a passionate Democrat, an art collector, a theatre lover, sometimes I say I have a jewelry business. It just depends who I’m talking to. But I don’t really see myself as any one of those things because they’re all a part of me. I guess as a woman I wear a lot of hats.
Obviously, jewelry has always been a big part of your life, but has it always been one of your passions?
Being the daughter of a jeweler, I have always worn jewelry, it is part of my DNA, and now since taking over the business, jewelry is certainly a bigger focus.
How did you realize you wanted to take over the family business?
I didn’t. In the last ten years of my father’s life, I became involved in Sidney Garber again. My friends were starting to acquire jewelry and they often turned to me. They liked what I liked, what I wore. My father died just as the recession began . I inherited the business and had to decide. Do I sell it or go forward? We had 6 employees most had been with us for many years. They would have lost their jobs so I kept the store open.
Running a business is hard work – what advice would you give yourself ?
Not to do it! Really I was ridiculously naive I had no idea what I didn’t know. In 2013 I was profiled by the WSJ Magazine, I said I had decided to give away all my profits to causes I was passionate about, children’s mental health, the arts and education. My accountant called me and explained that I had no profits . . . thank goodness my friend Laurent Claquin suggested I hire Susan Nicholas as President of Sidney Garber. Now I have profits and I do give mine away.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I’m very romantic about jewelry. I love the idea of it and I love that it can be a present. I love the idea of women buying it for themselves, of receiving it from a lover or a loved one, the idea of adornment, the idea of permanence, of passing it on, giving it to your daughter, giving it to your son for his wife or his partner. I think about what I would want, I look at jewelry a lot, on chic women, in paintings, in photographs, in old auction catalogs, I have shelves and shelves of jewelry books. I have been educated over and over by Selene Vollandes. I think Sidney Garber has a uniquely timeless wearable aesthetic. A ball gown to blue jean aesthetic. I really care how jewelry feels when you wear it. I don’t want a ring with a lot of stuff going in a lot of different directions because I talk with my hands, and in a minute I’m going to have pulled my sweater.
What are some of your favorite jewelry pieces of all time?
Our rolling bracelets, I have worn them since 1985. My charm necklaces and titanium feather earrings. I never tire of them.The flexible ring I have it in 3 colors, in ruby and blue and green sapphire and the zodiac pinky ring I have had it since I was 16 and we are still selling it!
What’s your style philosophy when it comes to jewelry, fashion, and home?
I layer my jewelry and I love color and texture in my home. But for clothing, I am completely pared down . . . even with Dries Van Noten, which I adore. When I stray from “minimal “it ends up going to resale.
What is your go-to outfit?
I am never without a stack of bracelets, I have a new prototype I am test- wearing and it is yellow gold so lately I have been wearing my large yellow gold hoops and my yellow gold Tivoli necklace over a charm necklace. Of course a wedding ring and a pinky ring.
Usually a black silk shirt, black pants and either a Row jacket, a Dries coat or a Vintage Chanel jacket
Jewelry carries a lot of weight for women – have you found that buying a piece of jewelry for yourself carries more power than having someone buy it for you?
Not really, I love it both ways. But, if I had worked hard and become financially successful, I could see the purchase as an emblem of accomplishment — that would be pretty powerful.
You are also a fantastic philanthropist who’s passionate about the arts. Can you talk a little bit about why you’ve chosen this cause?
Actually, there are three causes I care about deeply. Art and theater are what I love and The Child Mind Institute is what I owe. I always wanted to be on the board of Lincoln Center Theater. It is the jewel in the crown of American not for profit theater. I love theater; it is an amazing escape but also lasting, thought-provoking. A stick to your ribs kind of experience. I wanted to be an actress when I was young. Then art, The Whitney, Daniel and I started collecting art probably about 27 years ago. Beth Rudin DeWoody saw me in a gallery and said, ‘Are you collecting art?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t think we’re collecting, we’re sort of buying.’ She said, ‘Okay, you need to get involved with the Whitney.’ That was it. I joined the print acquisition committee. I learned so much. I was asked to be a trustee and then became co-chair of the board from 2008-2015 as we built the new Whitney downtown. It has been an extraordinary life-changing experience I loved it and though I no longer co-chair the board I am still involved.
Not really last is The Child Mind Institute. It is what I believe I owe, really what Daniel and I owe because Jon, our oldest son, actually all three of our children ended up with impactful brain differences. They all did well, but Jon was the oldest and it was a hard fight when he was young to diagnose and to treat him. Dr. Harold Koplewicz is the doctor who figured Jon out. I was so grateful and said, “What can I do to help you?” Jon is now 36, he was 12 then, and I’ve been with Harold Koplewicz since. We built the NYU Child Study Center, then we left and started again from scratch, which was a nightmare, but now we are flourishing. We have a major research study, the Healthy Brain Network, and there’s a great website. It’s incredible, but it’s exhausting. The Scientific Research Council comes to my house every summer, scientists from all over the country who supported us when we left NYU, who know how fragile children’s mental health is. No one values it. No one cares and the stigma is tremendous. If I had been raising money for pediatric cancers it would have been so much easier. Mental health problems carry a terrible stigma. Finally, our #myyoungerself campaign has taken off and I know that will make a difference.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel 63. How do we change the conversation around aging? How do we let people know that women are still vibrant and important as they age?
Just by being – our lives, our energy, our attitudes are the example.
What’s one product you would add to our list of Groove-Approved items?
I have been using Marilyn Miglin tissue cream on my lips and cuticles since 1964!
What is your favorite hostess gift to give, and the best hostess gift you’ve ever received?
I give honey from our bees in Wainscott; I always love being given a book.
What would your superpower be?
To never procrastinate again.
If you had a warning label, what would it say?
“Often 5 minutes late.”
In our view, Brooke is worth waiting for.