Merry ‘Sismas’: A holiday tradition honors friendship

LAKE SUCCESS, NY — It was a week before Sismas, the holiday party hosted by jewelry designer Simone I. Smith, and organizers were on the phone to discuss the menu.

“Honey, you already know I want oxtail,” said Ms. Smith, 52, telling her scheduler Janice Diamond and her boss Nancie Greene about the call. “Nobody does a better oxtail than Nancie,” added Ms. Smith, who has known Ms. Greene since high school.

Woman. Smith, who is married to James Todd Smith the rapper better known as LL Cool J, paid special attention to the menu this year after skipping her Sismas party in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Oxtail was one of several comfort foods she and Ms. Greene decided to serve along with sweet potato casserole, mashed garlic, and collards.

Sismas, who has hosted Mrs. Smith for more than a decade, is named after Christmas, but also includes Ms. Smith’s initials (SIS) and the sorority of mostly female friends she has invited to the event over the years. In 2009, after Mrs. Smith and her husband moved from their hometown of New York to Los Angeles, where they now spend most of the year. She started the party as a reason to return to the east coast and see people on vacation.

“My sisterhood is the best hood, nothing is more important to me than my family and my sisterhood,” Ms. Smith said. “I just want to bring everyone together.”

On Friday night, about 56 of their loved ones came to the Lake Success home of Revital and Ronny Seliktar, Ms. Smith’s partner in her eponymous jewelry company for the 2022 Sismas party. (Ms. Smith usually hosts the party at her nearby home, but switched locations year because her husband didn’t want a reporter in the house.) Guests included stylist Misa Hylton, “Love & Hip Hop” producer Mona Scott-Young, and Justine Simmons, an author and wife of Joseph Simmons ( a.k.a. Rev. Run of Run-DMC), arrived to find Mary Mac, a DJ who has played for Madonna and New York Mayor Eric Adams, under a grand staircase in the foyer of the palatial home.

The tables in the dining room were adorned with candelabra and Versace china. A caricaturist was stationed near an entrance to the living room to draw portraits of guests. And near a grand piano in the living room, a tree was placed to mark the occasion. (The Seliktars, who are Jews, do not usually decorate for Christmas.)

In recent years, every Sisma party has had a theme – glitter in 2019; a Black Panther-inspired African motif in 2018; “Heroes” in 2017 – and guests are expected to dress accordingly. Inspired by this year’s venue, a more than 100-year-old mansion originally owned by William K. Vanderbilt Jr., Ms. Smith initially chose a royal “Bridgerton”-esque theme. But she said when she shared the concept with her husband, he suggested throwing “a little bit of hip-hop into the mix.” She ended on a theme from “Regency Meets ‘Around the Way Girl’,” a nod to “Bridgerton” and her husband’s 1990 love song about girls from the Queens neighborhood where he grew up.

“Something of ‘Bridgerton’ mixed with hip-hop fashion is so contemporary,” said Ms. Hylton, the stylist, noting that the television series, set in Regency-era England, has prompted a renewed interest in clothing from the period and that oversized hoop earrings, a style long associated with hip-hop culture, have become a modern day staple.

Many guests said they found their outfits on Amazon. Woman. Hylton, 49, who lives in New Jersey, paired a black graphic tee and long red skirt from the online retailer with Nike sneakers and a gravity-defying white wig from Etsy seller Veil & Crown. (Hers was one of many elaborate wigs at the party.) Four women wore the MyheroCos floor-length “Daphne” dress, which is listed on Amazon for $90, some with Gucci sneakers and others with Nike Air Force 1s combined.

Woman. Smith, the hostess, donned a turban and silk gown by bridal designer Karen Sabag, which she had custom made for her husband LL Cool J’s 2017 Kennedy Center Honors honors. Smith had the dress altered with denim patches and graffiti detailing by artist Jon Bennett. Her friend Mechelle Richardson, a mortgage broker in Brooklyn, also wore clothes made for the occasion.

“As soon as I heard the subject, I called my tailor MJ in Brooklyn,” Ms. Richardson, 60, said. Together they designed a floral jacquard coat and sage-green gown, which she paired with black knee-highs from Bakery HNY and boots from Jimmy Choo and Timberland. In her hair, Mrs. Richardson wore a tiara she bought at a bridal shop and Kitsch-brand hairpins that spelled out the words “Queen” and “Vibes” in rhinestones.

“I’d wear this to brunch again,” says Frau. Richardson said about her ensemble. “Maybe without the tiara.”

Just before 10pm – and just after someone said mercy in front of the group – dinner was served buffet style. About an hour later, guests were herded into the living room, where they were treated to a performance by Grammy winner Miri Ben-Ari. Then, as midnight approached, they lined up for more performances during a talent show that has become a popular part of Sismas.

This year’s program included a rendition of the anthem “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” a soulful performance of the song “I’ll Take You There,” and a three-person dance number that began with a waltz of sorts before fading into one hip hop routine. The five guests judging the talent show – after snapping footage of Casamigos tequila – named the dancers the winners.

“When the other performers started singing, I was like, ‘Oh no, we need to make it more intense,'” said Misty Montes, 53, a friend of Ms. Smith from Queens and one of three women in the Victory Dance act. “So we made a few last-minute adjustments to our routine.”

Dancing continued after the talent show as the crowd blasted off to music by DJ Mary Mac. Around 1 a.m. Saturday, a few people gathered for another Sismas pastime: a white elephant gift exchange, for which more than half the guests each brought a wrapped gift worth about $150.

Although white elephant exchanges traditionally allow people to steal gifts from others, Ms Smith said the theft has caused “serious chaos” in the past, prompting her to change the rules at Sismas. Attending guests were given a number upon arrival at the party; later, when their numbers were called during the exchange, each chose a gift from the pile of gifts, including a copy of Assouline’s photo book Louis Vuitton: Virgil Abloh and a Rag & Bone hat and scarf.

At 2 a.m., some guests made their way to Ms. Smith’s house for an after-party. Others were so filled with the spirit of Sisma that they could not bear the thought of leaving.

“I have to go, but it’s too hard,” said Ms. Simmons, who lives in Saddle River, NJ. “How can someone walk out of a party so easily?”

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