Cole Rumbough, Caroline Jones and Katie Fong are three names to know. Given their extraordinary professional success, it’s hard to believe (not to mention, a bizarre coincidence!) that they’re each only 24 years old.
All three have known what they were going to do with their lives ever since they were little — which, lets face it, was just the other day. Cole was destined to sing and entertain. Caroline would use music to tell stories and inspire others. And Katie would design and create elegant ensembles for a special kind of client.
Their individual auras and aesthetics may differ, but they’ve each pursued their dreams in a similar way: with tremendous passion, intense focus and quiet confidence. So it’s not surprising, though it’s certainly impressive, that these three have emerged as rising stars. Remember their names, because they’re going to shine.
By Lexy Schmertz
Photographs by ChiChi Ubiña
A NOD TO A TIME GONE BY
“I was born in the wrong era,” says Cole Rumbough, the soft-spoken, meticulously dressed and exceedingly well-mannered great-grandson of the socialite and founder of General Foods, Marjorie Merriweather Post. An up-and-coming jazz and cabaret star, who regularly performs in white tie and tails, Cole is an elegant throwback to a bygone era. “I love the glamour, the clothes, the cars and the lifestyle of the ‘20s through the ’50’s,” he says.
Cole can certainly appreciate glamour. He grew up in Greenwich, East Hampton and Palm Beach, surrounded by the legacy of a socially prominent and successful family whose members founded brands like Colgate Toothpaste, Woolworths, E.F. Hutton and Post Cereal, launched the ski resort at Vail, CO, and even developed the Morse code. And then there’s Cole’s grandmother, the uber-glamorous actress and philanthropist, Dina Merrril, who has been his inspiration and role model. “I love her passion for her career, and the way she lives. She’s very gracious, glamorous and elegant,” he says.
As a child, Cole was always singing. When he was teenager, his grandmother took him to Café Carlyle in New York, for the debut cabaret performance of her Broadway co-star, Christine Andreas, and Cole knew he’d found his calling. He loved the intimate experience that cabaret offered, and he has found his niche performing the American Songbook, with classics by iconic composers and musicians like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hart.
Cole is rapidly becoming a fixture on the cabaret scene. He has performed at private events at the National Arts Club in New York and The Maidstone Club in East Hampton, and at society benefits, like the French Heritage Society Gala at The Pierre Hotel and the 26th Annual Preview Party for The International Fine Arts & Antique Dealers Show at the Armory to benefit The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He has also performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center and The Metropolitan Room, and he does a monthly show at Le Cirque Café. Cole says he was particularly honored to perform at The International Red Cross Ball at the Breakers in Palm Beach, where he sang a tribute to his grandmother, who was the evening’s honoree.
Cole recently graduated from The New School in Manhattan with degrees in Jazz Voice and History. He’s written three songs, including “Pour L’Amour du Chocolate,” about his love of chocolate and hopes to produce his own album at some point. But, he says he’s taking “baby steps” and his goals “are not lofty.”
Meanwhile, he’s continuing the family tradition of philanthropy, becoming the 7th generation family member to work with the New York City Mission Society, the city’s oldest charity. Cole recently co-founded the organization’s Junior Society, along with his friend, Brooke Laing. Cole noted that the organization’s town house in Harlem was the original site of the Cotton Club, where jazz stars like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington performed. It seems that for Cole, all roads lead to music from a time gone by.
A COUNTRY GIRL AT HEART OR SPREADING THE SONGWRITING GOSPEL
Caroline Jones is on a mission to share the beauty of acoustic songwriting. And with a nationwide music program, a monthly radio show, an incredible roster of performances to-date and four albums under her belt, she’s well on her way.
“I’m just a country girl at heart,” says Caroline. Her demeanor may seem laid back, but Caroline is an intense woman with a vision. Born in New York and raised in Greenwich, Caroline begged for singing lessons when she was nine years old. She trained in the Bel Canto technique and American Songbook cabaret under Andy Anselmo, the founder of the Singer’s Forum and went on to master the piano, guitar, banjo and harmonica. She adores Ella Fitzgerald and points to BB King, Willie Nelson, Emmy Lou Harris and Patty Griffin as just a few of the many musical influences in her life.
As a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Caroline wants to continue the historical tradition of music as way of sharing experiences and inspiring others. “Artists have always been the consciousness of a culture. They are the storytellers, the messengers,” she says. As an independent artist, Caroline has not signed with a record label, where she felt the primary focus would be on producing Top 40 hits. This ensures her independence, but it presents challenges in terms of building an audience. “I wanted to create a grassroots movement, a community among young musicians who want to maintain control of and integrity in their music. Without a record label, it’s difficult to get your name out and build a fan base,” says Caroline. “But I couldn’t rely on the old paradigms.” So she created her own strategy to bring her music to the others.
In 2010, Caroline launched The Heart is Smart (“T.H.I.S.”) initiative, a curriculum and school tour that through which she brings her music to young people across the country. At schools like Andover, Exeter and University of Virginia, to name only a few, Caroline gets together with students in what she describes as “an intimate acoustic experience” that includes her storytelling-based guitar performance, as well as workshops and student showcases. This kind of interaction spreads the gospel of acoustic songwriting and also establishes a real bond between Caroline and her students. “When you’re 7 to 17 years old, you never forget a concert that touched your heart. You feel emotionally connected,” she says.
Caroline is also working to connect with underserved communities through a partnership with the Live Sonima Tour, which brings performing arts, health and wellness and character development to public schools. The Live Sonima Tour is a collaboration with The Sonima Foundation, which was founded by Caroline’s mother, Sonia Jones, and the Identity program, founded by the author and businessman, Steadman Graham.
Caroline also finds time to host a monthly radio show, “Art and Soul” on Sirius XM’s Coffeehouse, in which she invites musicians like James Bay and Steve Cropper to talk about what inspires their songs. “Every artist wants to be validated artistically. This is an opportunity for them to share the stories behind their song,” she says. In addition, she’s building an incredible performance resumé, with shows at Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Café Carlyle, among others.
Just as Caroline’s music tells a story, so do her instruments, which have witty but meaningful names, as if they’re part of the family. There’s Surfer Dude, Banjo Bear, Big Mama and Sundown. And then there’s Rosie, an antique guitar named for Rosie the Riveter, an iconic symbol for American women during World War II. Rosie stays home most of the time, but Caroline carries forth the message that women can accomplish their dreams.
An Overnight Classic
Katie Fong always knew she would be a designer, but she never imagined that she would rocket through the competitive world of fashion to launch her own label by age 22. Hard work, talent and a bit of luck all came together to make it happen.
Katie’s family owned Thomas Cleaners, a dry cleaning business in Greenwich, and she grew up surrounded by beautiful garments. She discovered early on that she loved to draw, particularly the evening gowns that her family cared for. Over time, Katie got to know the clientele, and she learned how to connect with people and build relationships. “I learned about customer service when I started working at Thomas Cleaners’ store front at age 12 with the guidance of my family,” she said.
She also developed an appreciation for the good taste and simple elegance that surrounded her. “I love the effortless elegance of Greenwich women. They like to dress up, and they always look put-together. Flirtatious and feminine but not dressed provocatively.” It was a style that resonated for Katie, who was drawn to the classic, feminine looks of designers like Carolina Herrera and Christian Dior.
After graduating from Greenwich High School, Katie headed off to the Fashion Institute of Technology (“FIT”) in New York. A customer at the dry cleaner noticed one of her sketches and asked if she’d be interested in working with the designer, Oscar de la Renta. The rest, as they say, is history.
For the next three years while finishing her studies at FIT, Katie did an internship with de la Renta’s design team, where she was seen as rising star. The internship helped Katie realize that for her, it wasn’t just about fashion; it was about her clients, as Oscar did. “Oscar was all about his customer, the woman he designs for. His loyalty was to that customer, not just to his business, and people loved him for it,” she said.
Unlike most young designers, who take time to identify their target market, Katie instinctively and definitively knew her customer. “My muse is… it’s the women I know in Greenwich.” After graduating, she began designing custom pieces for clients, while working full time, first for J.Crew Corporate, then with mass market brand Maggy Boutique, a division of Maggy London. She would hold fittings after work at her New York apartment and hand sew the dresses at night.
In January 2013, Katie formally launched her own brand, taking a small office space in Manhattan, where the clothes were manufactured. She built the business through world-of-mouth, trunk shows and e-commerce, selling online through Taigan.com, an upscale marketplace. Fast forward to this month’s grand opening of Katie’s store at 60 Lewis Street in Greenwich and the launch of her third ready-to-wear collection, Spring 2015.
Although Katie will maintain a presence in Manhattan, the Greenwich location, which she describes as an atelier, will enable her to build the relationships and offer the service that she has always considered essential to the kind of brand she wants to build. “I was thinking about Oscar, and I decided to open the store because I wanted to create a special environment for my customer, and not everyone has time to get to the City. People in Greenwich have events all the time. We’ll carry limited production pieces in stock, so you won’t have to wait three months. And I’ll be able to work with a customer to make sure that no one else will be wearing her dress at the same event.”
Returning to Greenwich gives Katie a chance to enjoy some time a way away from work. You’ll find her at Tod’s Point, which she describes as her “Zen,” dressed casually in jeans, a cashmere sweater and pearl earrings, or decked out at the Bruce Museum’s Renaissance Ball, where she is a committee member. Typically, it takes time to create a classic, but Katie Fong, with her innate sense of self, well-defined aesthetic and deep understanding of her client, has become one overnight.