Lives of Style: Rita Moreno and Fernanda Fisher

‘It’s Mexican blue,” Rita Moreno says, “isn’t it wonderful? It’s a special blue that they made up for me.”

She’s pointing to an amazingly vibrant wall and fountain pool that encloses the front of her property. Dark-haired, slim, elegant, stunning, she’s relaxed, yet reserved.

Then her striking, dark-haired daughter, Fernanda Fisher, walks over, and the star visage that’s embedded in our minds breaks into a sunbeam. Academy Award-winner (West Side Story), Grammy (Electric Company), Emmy (Muppet Show & Rockford Files), Tony (The Ritz) becomes Mom.

Guard is down. Warmth flows like a warm sea into a sandy beach.

Rita Moreno and Fernanda Fisher, only child of a mother who clearly adores her — and whom she adores — are more than just friends. Theirs is a love that is partnership, camaraderie and sheer bliss.

“She’s the light of my life,” Rita proclaims.

“She’s such an amazing mother,” Fernanda says softly. She gave me a gift: that I can do anything.”

“I hated the name Fernanda when I was little,” Fernanda admits, “so I had my friends call me Nandy. When I formed my jewelry line, I called it Nandiz.” Nandiz, a one-of-a kind line of fine jewelry in “kinetic harmony,” features rare colored stones, unique cuts and very unusual texture combinations of colored forms, like carved Burmese Jade, agate, aventurine.

Before starting to design jewelry five years ago, Fernanda attended California College of the Arts and majored in graphic design. Stumbling upon jewelry design at the Tucson Gem Show, she had an epiphany. This was her calling. And she taught herself to do it. Married with two children, Justin, 8, and Cameron 6 — “Even my son’s an early entrepreneur, making jewelry and selling it in school” — she lives blocks away from her mother.

Life with Rita, however, was always center stage. From early on, Fernanda traveled with Rita “a lot of the time,” as a dancer, in musical theater, as a backup singer, in Rita’s nightclub act. In “Glass Menagerie,” Fernanda played Laura, the daughter.

“It was thrilling,” Fernanda says of their working together. “She was a supportive mother with a fabulous career and we traveled all over the world. It was an amazing double education.”

Rita Moreno was born in Puerto Rico, moved to New York at age five and began singing and dancing at a young age. Her big break came when she was cast in the role of Anita, in the film adaptation of the Broadway hit West Side Story, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. “I was 26.”
 
She was the second actor and first Hispanic to win the quadruple slam of Emmy, Oscar, Grammy and Tony. Her film and television work would comprise ten pages. In addition to her awards performances, she’s appeared in such classics as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The King and I” and “Carnal Knowledge.”

She broke ground as a nun/psychologist in the HBO series “Oz” — “I didn’t look good. It gained me a new kind of respect in the business. It made a big difference. Allowing myself to look unfrivolous, unsexy” — and with a female version of “The Odd Couple” on Broadway, with Sally Struthers. She opened PBS’s “The Electric Company” with the iconic phrase “Hey you Guys!” and her role as Millie. She’s appeared in countless other film, television and Broadway roles.

This fall, she stars in “Cane,” a new “‘Dynasty’-style” series about a wealthy Hispanic family in Florida. Jimmy Smits plays one son. Hector Elizondo her husband. Nestor Carbonell plays her other son. It airs on CBS, Tuesdays at 10:00 p.m. In September, she’ll be appearing in concert at the Napa Opera House.

Her home — “We’ve lived here eight or nine years” — is a top-of-the-hill, expansive contemporary structure, capacious with wide stanchions, high ceilings, an open floor plan and a sunken living room with two-story panes that offer killer views of the Bay and San Francisco. Warm earth tones, livened with a fushcia wall and floor-to-ceiling windows that welcome the outdoors (there’s even a floor-to-ceiling window by the front door) open to the views beyond on one side and the spacious patio within the blue wall on the other — a repository for Rita’s art collected from “around the world.”

During my visit, mother and daughter frequently looked at one another and smiled. Fernanda adjusted Rita’s brooch and Rita advised Fernanda on hair. They laughed. It’s so easy. It’s love.

Keys to Rita Moreno and Fernanda Fisher’s style

STYLE PHILOSOPHY
Rita: I love glamour
Fernanda: I like eclectic pieces.

STYLE SECRETS
Rita: I love to wear hats. You don’t have to dress up or anything. Different kinds of hats. Accessories are everything when it comes to dress.
Fernanda: I start with shoes and jewelry and build an outfit around them.

GOT STYLE FROM
Rita: I have TWO HUGE FILE BOXES filled with pages I’ve torn from magazines. Combinations, trousers and tops and outfits and scarves. Every conceivable category. It’s all about different looks. And shoes. I’ve probably got about 500 shoes. I never give them up. We share the same shoe size.
Fernanda: I used to dress up from my mother’s closet. I get inspired by historical periods. And shoes. About 200. When you compare that to hers it seems small but she’s had more time.

COMFORT VS. STYLE
Rita: I combine them — very stylish but comfortable.
Fernanda: Even though I’m a mom and sometimes I’m just wearing sweatpants, I find that if I add some little touch to my outfit, like a scarf or a funky hair thing, it can make my day.

COLOR VS. TEXTURE
Rita: Color
Fernanda: Color imparts viscerally. Immediately.

FAVORITE COLOR
Rita: My palette onstage is black and white and burnt orange; then I combine them with a white Armani tux, and the only thing I wear with it is a gold-sequin vest. Gold and white.
Fernanda: Saturated colors, jewel tones

WHAT WOULD PEOPLE NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU?
Rita: I can be extremely shy and very insecure.
Fernanda: Not only do I love shoes, but I think a shoe collection is an art collection. Sometimes I walk into my closet and look at my shoes and just admire them.

WOULD NOT DO
Rita: I would never be deliberately unkind even to terriblepeople.
Fernanda: I would never undermine a child’s confidence.

FAVORITE DESIGNERS
Rita: I love Carolina Herrera. She’s just the essence of elegance. Oscar de la Renta.
Fernanda: Stella McCartney, Yoshi Yamamoto, Commes des Garçons, Christian Louboutin. Romantic.

MOST UNUSUAL THING ABOUT ME
Rita: I have a messianic side that comes out when I perform, when I sing. I feel I have something very special and unique to impart to people, as a performer who’s also a human being. I love sharing it. A big chunk of that I give away. I affect people very, very strongly on the whole.

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