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Woman Around Town: Lyss Stern—Mom On a Mission

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By Alix Cohen

It’s 5:30 a.m. Oliver and Jackson wake their mom, Lyss, who pads into the kitchen, or Café Stern, to make pancakes. Breakfast is a family meal. Husband Brian, joins them. When the men in her life have gone, Lyss curls up with a cup of coffee and her laptop in-box:

Kimora Lee Simmons agreed to walk the runway with her daughters at The Diva Moms Fashion’s Night Out party. Great. There’s a board meeting announcement for The Museum of Natural History. Noted. And a draft of the article “Taking Shape: How Model Moms Get Fit Post-Pregnancy” to edit. She checks a few salient online sites, then reads through half a dozen newspapers, stuffing Vogue and W into her carry-all. Is there time for a core fusion class today? Where’s the Whole Foods shopping list? Pink and purple flowers arrive…on schedule. Lyss’s lawyer telephones. As does The New York Observer. All her plates are spinning. Lyss Stern is content.

Elyssa Kreitzer always loved playing mommy. She cradled Cabbage Patch Kids, had tea parties for Madame Alexander Dolls, and fantasized with Barbie. At 7 ½ years old, the birth of her sister, Samantha, evoked every budding maternal instinct she possessed. A real live baby! Lyss telephones her twenty-eight year old sibling almost daily.

Raised in Hewlett Harbor by a stay-at-home mom and commuting attorney father, Lyss received a B.A. from Syracuse University and a Masters in Communication from NYU. The latter was earned while working for the iconic public relations agent, Peggy Siegel. A school friend got her the interview. Lyss had no idea what she wanted to do with her skills and needed a job. Siegel, described as “unflappable…formidable, indefatigable, and a brilliant hostess” by David Patrick Columbia’s New York Social Diary, apparently possesses many of the qualities attributable to Lyss Stern.

Deciding she wanted to be around children, Lyss left Siegel’s employ 2 ½ years later to teach Pre-K and Kindergarten at Rodeph Sholom on the Upper West Side. Still living with a roommate on Mercer Street, she traded the glamorous business-related nightlife for school, earning a second Masters in Early Education at Hunter College. Lyss met her husband Brian on a “blind date.” Then an agent at William Morris, he had seen her in passing and telephoned her office asking after “the tall girl.” They moved in together–uptown, married, and had their first boy, Jackson, now 6 ½ years old. Oliver followed 3 ½ years later.

One day at the hairdresser, Lyss had a eureka moment. She would “take a year off” to start a business catering to upscale, taste-making moms. Her husband, parents and many friends warned against embarking without experience or background. “I said watch me.” In conversation, Anna Lee Basani who ran Chelsea Passage at Barney’s deemed her “divalicious.” The description seemed right. A new term enfolding Lyss’s name, generated the unique spelling: Divalysscious. The brand would be Divalysscious Moms.

Lyss’s mother didn’t understand her daughter’s choice to work, let alone actually create a business. Her mother, however, thought otherwise. Nanny Natalie Posner ( her mother’s mom) ran an import company out of Kennedy Airport. Lyss watched her work hard and enjoy the rewards. She drove a blue Cadillac, shopped in multiples, smoked cigarettes, listened to Frank Sinatra, and she was a great cook! “My grandmother is, I believe, who I am.”

Every Tuesday for 2 ½ years, the Style Section of The New York Sun Newspaper ran Divalyssciously Yours under Lyss’s byline. She made a cold call to the then brand-new Cookie Magazine and became its Lifestyle Correspondent. And she started a blog www.divamoms.com, which has evolved into the current web site. Her education in communications and early childhood found forums. (Both The New York Sun and Cookie Magazine are no longer published)

Three months later, Lyss staged her first branded event “Breakfast, Bulgari and Baubles.” She called six friends each of whom called six friends. About forty women were served a lovely continental breakfast in the otherwise-closed Bulgari store on Madison Avenue. There was a raffle, a courtesy discount and an appearance by Santa Claus. The ladies shopped. Bulgari was delighted. Doors began to open, word to spread. (Her data base now holds 200,000 tri-state area moms and 60,000 on the West Coast-all word-of-mouth or, as Lyss likes to say, word-of-mom)

The second party, for Valentine’s Day, hosted 100 families at Dylan’s Candy Bar, 58th Street and Third Avenue. A successful relationship with Dylan’s spawned both “Spooktacular, the annual Howl-o-ween” party the weekend of October 31st and a “Mommy and Me” weekday Halloween event for mothers and babies. “What do babies know about candy?” I asked. “They just love the balloons, the colors, the music. The moms get to socialize, to network. A lot of friendships develop at our events.”

Divalysscious Moms produces an average of one event a month….for expectant moms, new moms, moms of toddlers, tweens, teens; some for glammas, (today’s glamorous grandmothers “Goldie Hawn is a glamma!”) some for families. Nannies are also welcome. Many events are sponsored, thus free. Lyss has created a marketing base immensely appealing to vendors. Stokke gifted Divalysscious Moms 100 very expensive strollers so that a new model would be utilized and seen by their demographic.

The organization is extremely active with charities. Lyss’s dad is a cancer survivor. Working closely with Matthew Bauer of Madison Avenue BID, she continues to helm  ”Moms Shop Madison,” originally started in association with Cookie Magazine. The Avenue is closed to traffic from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., from 57th to 84th Street while parents shop. There are raffle prizes, gift bags and refreshments. Participating stores donate to a charity. One year the charity was Baby Buggy (dedicated to providing the city’s families in need with essential equipment, clothing and products for their children). The next year, it was Breast Cancer Research. “Moms Shop Madison” will take place November 2010.

In July, Lyss & Divalysscious Moms hosted a benefit for The Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton. This year supported by such celebrity parents as Christie Brinkley and George Stephanopoulos, $100,000 was raised. The organization also participates annually in The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund’s Super Saturday at Nova’s Ark in Water Mill. Camp Divalysscious, organized and run by Lyss, provides a special area for the diversion and enjoyment of kids while their parents shop for the cause. Super Saturday, created in 1998 by Donna Karan, the late Liz Tilberis and OCRF’s President, Faith Kates Kogan raised $3.7 million at its most recent event.

Last year, Lyss Stern and Julie Klappas (television producer and mother of two,) co-authored If You Give a Mom a Martini…100 Ways to Find 10 Blissful Minutes for Yourself”* (Clarkson Potter) in which one is advised to “take care…and find the positive energy required to go back out there and face the music, even if it is The Wheels on the Bus.” “Did you go from wearing La Perla to wearing La Fruit of La Loom?” archly asks the slim, nicely designed gift volume. I was interested to see a chapter on Laughter Yoga, discovered by The New York Times just a week ago. Clearly, these women have their fingers on the pulse. Lyss and Julie are at work on To Glammas House We Go! spotlighting the modern, high-heeled, active grandmother. Lyss is putting together a guide to being a Divalysscious Mom.

Her fiefdom having established substantial credibility, Lyss wondered how else she could reach out to diva moms and, at a time when print magazines are going belly up by the dozens, decided to start one. She met with The New York Observer’s Jarod Kushner and Chris Barnes proposing the now one-year-old Playground Magazine, of which she’s co-owner and editor-in-chief. “…we trust its stories will help make parenting in New York City feel a bit more like, well, a day at the playground!” So far bi-monthly, the entertaining and informative resource has defied all odds growing in both size and stature. Featuring celebrity moms like Mary Louise Parker, Bethenny Frankel, and Liya Kebede on the cover and in interviews, the broadside touches on everything “the well-heeled and fabulous” New York mom needs to negotiate the city with her kids.

You might think at this point Lyss would be taking increased advantage of her favorite mode of decompression: a bubble bath, green tea, and a book (paper, not electronic,) but this engaging alpha personality still has hills to climb and baths seem fewer. Brillstein Grey is shopping the book as a film. One Louder Productions is shopping her life as reality TV. In conjunction with Observer Playground, a series of celebrity mom interviews are being readied for NYCTV, Channel 25 and the back of New York taxis. There are long term plans for clothing and cosmetics lines. “Divalysscious is my third baby,” Lyss says with a grin, crediting her husband’s sustaining support, encouragement, and creative sensibilities as ballast.

“I just love what I do!”

Tonight, Lyss will be at dinner with Oliver, Jackson, and Brian. Afterwards it’s bath time and then reading, sometimes aloud and sometimes quietly. Lately, it’s the Pinkalicious and Purplelicious books by Victoria Kahn. Much to her husband’s amusement, Lyss read to her sons in the womb. “But you know, both my kids love to read.” Then, traditionally, just before lights-out, the boys are encouraged to make up stories-about anything they like. Apples fall not far from the tree.

“I know first hand that being a mom is the hardest job in the world. I want moms to be happy.” Happy is Lyss Stern’s raison d’etre. She believes in spreading it around.

*The book title is a smiling nod to Laura Joffe Numeroff’s book series, including If You give a Mouse a Cookie and If You Give a Moose a Muffin.

Woman Around Town’s Six Questions:

Favorite Place to Eat: For Chinese, Philippe Restaurant on East 60th Street. For sushi, Tomoe Sushi on Thompson Street. Also, I have to admit I love steak, so Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn. You can find me there every year faithfully on my birthday

Favorite Place to Shop: Bergdorf Goodman’s 5th Floor…mixed with some H&M and Gap

Favorite New York Sight: The view when we cross over the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan. I get this rush every time. I’d never live anywhere else.

Favorite New York Moment: When my husband proposed to me at the Cort Theater where we met. It was snowing. I thought we had to go on business. Brian rented the whole theater. The lights came on and there were hundreds of roses and petals. He went down on one knee with a ring and a Playbill that had our photos in a heart. (They’ve been married ten years).

What You Love About New York: The energy. I’m a people person. If I walk outside my apartment at 3:00 am, there’s always someone exciting and interesting to talk to. What would I do in a HOUSE somewhere?! I talk to everyone.

What You Hate About New York: The heat, humidity and smell in August. I wish we could take that bad smell out. And I hate the dirtiness. But I love it too.

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