DIGITAL DIMES: Serena Morris

Interview by Brynn Wallner, photo collages by Ethel Moore
APRIL 2021 
            Serena Morris is a 3rd generation Californian with a heart of gold and a thing for gold jewelry. But not just any gold jewelry! Every piece she wears has been passed down to her by her grandmother, Mae Mae, including a two-tone ‘70s era Rolex Lady-Datejust. We immediately bonded over the watch, and I was lucky enough to catch Serena over video chat one Saturday afternoon at Mae Mae’s house in Pasadena. Serena was rocking her grandma’s Armani suit, her gold rings, necklaces, and, of course, her Rolex – complemented gorgeously by the feminine purple shade in Mae Mae’s room. I even got to meet Mae Mae, who slipped into the screen at the beginning of our call. She exuded such glamour and wisdom that I could begin to understand why Serena felt such pride wearing her belongings. So let’s just dive in:

Mae Mae: I’m so lucky that I have a granddaughter who wants to wear my jewelry because my daughter (Serena’s aunt) is too cool and didn’t want any of this. During my travels, since 1970, I started collecting jewelry from Greece, France, Italy. Serena also inherited some of my mother’s jewelry – she’s wearing her ring and a Nefertiti pendant from Egypt.

Serena Morris: I’ve been so nosy ever since I was a kid, and I would always come into her room and dig around, play with things, see what I could find. But my grandma always said I couldn’t have her things until I was ready. These are super cherished, prized possessions. When you’re young, you lose things… so I had to prove that I was responsible enough to wear them. And now I wear them with such pride and joy – it’s like I’m wearing my family history, I’m carrying on the legacy.

[Exit Mae Mae]

...And, you know, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that, when I was little, we went to the opera together, she took me to the ballet, we’ve traveled to Europe a few times. She’s the matriarch of the family, my cultural beacon – a representation of the fact that you can travel the world and have nice things no matter who you are. She grew up in Watts and came from humble beginnings… she had my dad, aunt, and uncle all by age 24. She worked really hard and became a successful business woman later in her 30s, and it’s been really cool for me to have her in my life – not only as my best friend, but as a mentor. I’m super close with my parents, too, but our relationship is particularly special. She exposed me to so much at such a young age, and that was really important for me to see because, in some moments, we were the only Black people in certain places she would bring me to. And she made sure to instill in me that we belonged there just as much as anybody else did, and for me, to have that representation while being a young Black girl, was so essential and crucial to who I am today.

DIMEPIECE: That’s so incredible, you’re so lucky to have a grandma like that.

SM: Everyone who knows me knows that Mae Mae is my A1 Day 1. I’m a grandma’s girl.

DP: Okay, so back to the watch.

SM: Back to the watch: so yeah, I’ve known about it for a long time. Mae Mae actually gave me a tennis bracelet from my great-grandmother and – it pains me so much to even think about this – I took it out one New Year’s Eve and lost it. When you’re young and in your early 20s, it’s easy to get caught up and not pay attention… I feel like when that happened, it was a signal for me to get it together, take a beat and reflect. I had just graduated from Howard University in DC and just moved in with her in Pasadena. My friends and I called it ‘boot camp’ as a joke, but she really helped me tighten my life up, and become more responsible and self aware – and not take things for granted! Her ultimate life goal for me is that I become fully financially independent and 100% confident in myself and abilities, and I feel like the watch represents that. As young women, we can be out here, we can travel, do what we want… it’s a symbolic reminder of that.

DP: When did you get the watch?

SM: She gave me the watch for Christmas in 2019. By this time, I’d moved out of her house, and I was becoming the woman I’ve always wanted to be – the woman she worked so hard to help me become. And for her to finally trust me enough to give me the watch was unreal… she really surprised me and I started crying. It felt like such a token of my womanhood, an item that represented everything I’ve worked hard for. We wound up getting it engraved – it reads “Precious darling girl”, which is what she’s always called me.

DP: What do you feel when you wear it?

SM: I look down at it and, not only do I think of her, but I think of my whole family. I think so many people project onto Rolex that 1% life – which, of course, it has that element to it because it’s always been an elitist brand. But for me, it’s more of a symbol... that you can have anything you want and desire, no matter where you come from. So it has a lot of meaning and value, but it also just looks fucking fresh! It was perfect as is… I didn’t need to get any links removed. It has a bit of wear… a few scratches here and there, but I kind of like that.

DP: Do you wear it often?

SM: I wear it everyday – especially within the past year… I’ll be in sweats, chilling, and I’ll put it on and it ties the whole look together. It’s a good mood elevator and a positive reminder for me. A stamp of security. It gives me the juice I need to keep going, to continue the legacy. I’m not driving a Rolls Royce like my grandparents once did, but I’m gonna do some version of it, my way.

DP: So what’s up with your project, Best of the Real Real (@bestoftrr)?

SM: I love to dig through archival images and the Real Real… during the beginning of quar, I’d have friends come to me with specific fashion needs… like they wanted a certain dress, or shoes – and I’d be like, okay what’s your budget? What are you looking for? I know how to filter the Real Real so well and my friend suggested I start an IG page of my favorite pieces from the site.

DP: Are you a stylist?

SM: I actually work for a communications/marketing agency. It’s funny, I’m not ever the girl who gets interviewed – I’m always the one looking for talent, looking to feature others. I’m a total behind-the-scenes girl.

DP: Where in LA do you live?

SM: I live in the Baldwin Hills / Crenshaw area. It’s super prideful, with a ton of amazing architecture and history. I moved 2 years ago… I really wanted to be in an area that represented the culture that I love so much – sort of a reflection of my experience of going to Howard. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by so many amazing Black people from all over, and I needed to be around that at a young age graduating high school in a predominantly white area. I really craved cool, fresh, Black energy… which ultimately led me to be around people that helped inspire my own creativity.

DP: I love your take on life in California.

SM: I’m very California. My whole family is from California – everyone from both sides actually. I love surfing and being in the water, I’m always at the beach. It’s my happy place, and where I feel most spiritually connected! There’s nothing like hearing ocean waves to keep you grounded.

DP: Back to the watch… again. How did your grandma decide on the Rolex Datejust?

SM: It was actually a gift. In the ‘70s, my grandma and grandpa were doing really well, doing their own thing. He was a mortgage banker, she had a jazz club and an ice cream shop. Young, Black, out here getting it! But throughout the success she was always very strategic and practical with money – she didn’t buy anything unless it was absolutely necessary. He loved to give her gifts, though, and one day she visited him at his office in Pasadena. He brought her around to the trunk of his car and presented the Rolex to her. She rolled her eyes, like I don’t even wear watches. I didn’t ask for this and I don’t need it. She’s that cool. She wore it occasionally, when they would go out. She liked it, but she put it away, and of course… me being nosy, I went through her stuff and discovered it a long time ago. But again, she always reminded me that things of great value need to be taken care of with love and respect.

DP: How does the watch fit in with your personal style?

SM: I love finding special, pre-owned things. I don’t really wear much that’s new. It’s such an honor to wear something that’s been worn before, that had a life before me. I love that I have blouses that belonged to my mom in the 2000s or blazers that my grandmother wore in the 80s. I think there’s real value in inherited luxury items, especially when you’re Black. We’ve been excluded for so long that to obtain and wear these things is a testament to our strength and pride. The Rolex… it’s from 1975, I think. I love the two-tone jubilee bracelet and the gold dial. I think all gold would have been too bling bling. The steel adds that more understated, low-key feel. I dress it up, I dress it down. It’s so versatile and goes with my casual looks and sneakers as much as it goes with a more glam look. I hope one day my precious darling girl (or boy!) will wear it.

DP: How has wearing the watch impacted you since you got it?

SM: It’s been so transformative. I think the timing of it all was destined. When I got it in December, right before 2020, it made me think about who I am, how much I’ve grown and how bright my future is. Then 2020 happened... and it reminded me of all those feelings even more! My grandma and I have been through so much together and I’ve been so fortunate to absorb so much wisdom and life lessons from her. She brought me into her home when she was in her 70s… I was young and wild and thought the world was mine. And it was, to some degree, but she’s taught me to become more grounded. How to navigate life and grow to become a strong and confident woman. I’m 27 now and still have so much more learning and growing to do but I am doing my best and I don’t take any of her words for granted. The watch is helping me hold it down, especially when I’m going through those moments like what am I doing with my life? I could talk forever about what my grandmother has taught me; she will always be with me. It’s been an honor to have her in my life and to wear this watch.

Serena’s grandparents in 1970s Italy.