Nick and Brook Hudson, Their YP Match Made in Heaven Yields a Bevy of Creative-Cultural-Style Results – from Omaha Fashion Week to La Fleur Academy to Masstige Beauty and Beyond
Every city has its dynamic young professionals who help shape or in some cases help reset the creative-cultural-style bar, and that is most definitely the case with Nick and Brook Hudson of Omaha. They are a much-admired couple who embody the having-it-all ethos in their personal and professional lives. Their contributions to Omaha’s emerging aesthetic covers fashion, beauty, social entrepreneurship, education, and night life. Nick’s Nomad Lounge became THE high-end night spot in the Old Market. The Halo Institute he co-founded with Creighton University has now been absorbed into that school’s College of Business, where Brook was the marketing director. He co-founded Omaha Fashion Week and now he and Brook together are taking it to new heights. The same holds true for Omaha Fashion Magazine. And now the couple is coalescing OFW’s support for the burgeoning Omaha fashion scene with the new Omaha Fashion Institute, which you’ll be reading more about here in the coming months. Nick also has his beauty (Masstige Beauty) and social networking (Xuba) businesses and Brook has her mentoring program/finishing school, La Fleur Academy. There are a lot of moving parts in their life and work and all their activity touches a wide range of people and organizations here and beyond. You’ll find other stories on this blog about some of the things they’re involved in, including Omaha Fashion Week, an event growing so fast that it’s gaining some regional and national attention. There’s also a profile here about Nick. I am sure to be revisiting their story again down the road as they engage in new endeavors and adventures.
©by Leo Adam Biga
A version of this article was published in Metro Magazine
As fabulous Omaha young professional couples go, Brook and Nick Hudson are stars.
The former Brook Matthews won the 2004 Miss Nebraska crown. The Blair native and University of Arkansas graduate completed her MBA in 2010 at Creighton University, where she’s marketing director in the College of Business. She was honored as the school’s graduate woman of the year and the Omaha Jaycees have named her an Outstanding Young Omahan.
She volunteers with the American Heart Association, the Omaha YMCA and Junior League of Omaha. Her passion for etiquette and self-improvement led her to launch La Fleur Academy, a mentoring program for empowering girls and young women to tap their inner beauty and potential through the social graces.
“I love to see the difference I can make when I work one-on-one with girls.” she said.” It’s one of my favorite things to do.”
Advising her on La Fleur is hubby Nick, a business development and strategic marketing veteran of international beauty brand companies. He owns Nomad Lounge in the Old Market and founded Omaha Fashion Week. OFW grew out of Nomad, which doubles as cool entertainment venue and creatives hang out. Nomad showcases talent through meet-and-greets, exhibitions and performances.
The native Brit’s entrepreneurial instincts led him, in partnership with Creighton, to form the Halo Institute, a nonprofit incubator for nurturing start-up companies with a social entrepreneurship spirit. He’s now pursuing a new for-profit venture, Xuba, that seeks to leverage social networking sites with commercial opportunities.
Just as Nick consults La Fleur, Brook lends her marketing expertise to OFW and its goal to be a sustainable support system for the local design community.
Teamwork is a defining characteristic of this couple’s relationship.
“Our encouragement of each other in our endeavors really is what drives a lot of success,” said Brook. “We rely on each other, and we spend a lot of time talking and brainstorming and coming up with ideas.”
“We have really good complementary skill sets,” Nick said.
Their openness to being inspired by one another helped bring them together.
“We realized we are more than the sum of our parts, and I think that’s where we have an opportunity to make an even bigger impact in the community than we did as individuals,” said Brook. “We both feel confident we’re capable and intelligent and able to make a difference. It energizes us to be able to employ all of those talents for the betterment of our community. I think that’s what keeps us going.”
Said Nick, “Most people have different kinds of hobbies, but I think for me my hobby, my passion is I just love helping people create things and achieve things, and I think Brook and I are similar in that.” As Brook puts it, “The whole idea is building other people up and helping them achieve their dreams.”
“I’m not the best at doing certain things myself, but I’m quite good at encouraging other people to do things, and that’s just really satisfying,” said Nick.
Paying it forward is “a great reward,” said Brook, adding, “People have limitless opportunities — the only limits in life are the ones we place on ourselves — and I think Nick and I are all about helping people see past those self-imposed limits.” It’s no different than how they push each other. It’s why she calls Nick her “chief go-to mind” when she needs to run an idea by someone. He does the same with her.
“I’m learning so much from my best friend and from my soulmate because Brook is probably the best person at telling me where I need to improve and what I need to work and what I need to think about better or what can we do better,” said Nick.
“I appreciate him so much for encouraging me and my dreams — I don’t think I could do it all without him,” said Brook. “Nick’s the dreamer and I’m the realist. When I need to think bigger I call Nick and when Nick needs to be brought down to reality he calls me. It’s a beautiful thing. We’re good at giving each other tough love and encouragement when it’s needed. Not a lot of couples can communicate as openly as we do.”
A shared interest in social entrepreneurship helps.
“I think it’s just integral to the spirit of the young professional and what’s important to us. We want to be connected to something greater than ourselves and we want to collaborate to solve problems,” she said. “Omaha’s in an interesting place in its evolution because there will very soon be a big shift in power and wealth in the community and we’re all sitting back wondering, Well, who’s going to be the next Warren Buffet or next big corporate titan in Omaha? Looking around, it could be any one of us. It’s a great time to be a young professional in Omaha.”
“It’s pretty amazing what groups of young professionals are doing around Omaha — I’m really impressed,” said Nick. “I think there’s still so much more to do. I’m still just learning what the potential is and how we can do things.”
With Nomad, Halo, Fashion Week and La Fleur, the couple are actively engaged in helping people achieve their dreams.
- Living the Dream: Cinema Maven Rachel Jacobson – the Woman Behind Film Streams (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Omaha Film Festival Celebrates Seven Years of Growing the Local Film Culture (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Omaha Fashion Past (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Nancy Bounds, A Timeless Arbiter of Fashion Beauty, Glamour, Poise (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Art as Revolution: Brigitte McQueen’s Union for Contemporary Art Reimagines What’s Possible in North Omaha (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- The Mastercraft Revival: A Building Dedicated to Craftsmanship Finds New Life as a Creatives Den (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
Imagine my surprise when I searched for images of the late Nancy Bounds, the subject of this story, and could not find a single one. My surprise stems from the fact that Bounds was a much photographed stylish woman whose entire career was built on image enhancement work with aspiring models and actors. She was a personality and celebrity whose all about town comings and goings were grist for the Omaha society mill pages. She frequently appeared on television, too. So, instead of pictures of Nancy I bring you pictures of one of the talents who came out of her modeling school, indeed the most famous graduate of all –model-actress Jaime King, an Omaha native like me. My search for Nancy Bounds images continues and I expect before long to have her lovely, smiling face and well-outfitted figure gracing this post. For now though, Jaime King is not a bad compromise. If you’re into all things fashion and style, you’ll find other articles of interest on this blog.
NOTE: Special thanks to fashion photographer Michael Dar, who got his start under Nancy Bounds in Omaha, for his photo of her.
Nancy Bounds, Timeless Arbiter of Fashion Beauty, Glamour, Poise
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in the New Horizons
For 40 years, Nancy Bounds was Omaha’s saucy arbiter and symbol for good looks and social graces. The owner of a string of modeling/finishing schools bearing her name, she applied her tastemaker’s role as television host, magazine columnist, pageant director and self-improvement guru. This former model, singer, dancer and actress best embodied her own beauty ethos. Whatever the gala, she was always the stylish, well-turned-out fashion plate looking like she was poured into her haute-couture designer clothes, which her closets overbrimmed with.
Bounds shared her story with the New Horizons a few years before her passing. Her repuation preceded her and she proved to be everything and then some that was said about here.
An expert in the rules of attraction and feminine wiles, Bounds is just what you’d expect from a Southern-born and reared beauty queen. She exudes a soulful, sassy, sweet, sad quality that almost makes you think that at any moment she’ll utter Blanche du Bois’s famous line from A Streetcar Named Desire. You know the one: “I’ve always depended upon the kindness of strangers.”
A coquettish charmer with milky skin and sun-dappled hair, Bounds greets visitors to her resplendent Dundee home in the warm honey glow of her broad smile, sparkling eyes and sultry voice. Wearing an antique blue silk ensemble and a pair of high-heeled silver sandals, she’s still every inch the fashion maven and beauty diva who’s made men weak-kneed at the sight of her since her ingenue days.
It took all of her cheeky guile to get where she is today, which is a long way from her rural Arkansas roots. It may surprise some that this sophisticated lady, who’s the epitome of chic, owns a background closer to Dogpatch than Fifth Avenue.
Growing up the youngest and brightest of six children, the former Nancy Southard was born, on an undisclosed date, in the Ozarks, where her gentrified father owned land, saw mills and other interests. Despite such backwoods environs, she comes from good stock. She said her mother’s family, the Tayloes, are descendants of George Washington and her father’s family is related to the Astors of old New York high society. Still, there wasn’t much in the way of culture where she lived.
And her precocious bordering-on incorrigible personality didn’t sit well in her “very strict Christian” home that her father ruled with an iron fist. “I was an obstinate, self-confident tigress. I don’t know how anyone stood me,” she said.
Her rearing came in a series of small towns — Rodney, Norfolk, Mountain Home — she felt confined in and pined to escape. The rote learning of a small school was torture for a girl bursting with starry-eyed dreams and ideas inspired by the books and magazines she devoured. In class, which she found “boring,” she’d either fall asleep or break out in hives or draw the ire of a teacher, and be sent to the principal’s office, where she played duplicate bridge and chess with the headmaster. As a young schoolgirl she exhibited an extrovert’s expressiveness and a knack for makeup and performing, but had no real outlet for her gifts.
If not for her astute godmother, Maude Washington Arthur, Bounds may not have broken away from the shackles of that constraining life. A kind of down home grand dowager duchess holding court in a cabin atop a mountain, Maude was an educated, well-traveled woman who saw the potential in Nancy and held out the possibility she could live out her dreams. Nancy lived for a time with Maude, who became her personal finishing school mistress.
“She somehow picked on me and wanted me to have the sophistication she thought I was lacking at school,” Bounds said. “She helped me to choose the good books to read. That lady — she knew I was going to be something in the world. She believed in me. She was my mentor.”
Making a mark is what Bounds wanted more than anything.“I didn’t have so much a dream. I just knew I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to be well-known. I wanted to be a star. It never crossed my mind I was going to fail,” she said. “I had more guts than good sense, in some cases, but for some reason there’s always been a little star following me around all of my life, and it’s always sort of taken care of me.” Consumed by a sense of “ambition, wanderlust and loneliness…a lot of loneliness,” Bounds just wanted to be free and Maude encouraged her to try her wings. “She kept saying, ‘You can do it.’ And I knew I could do it.”
So convinced was Bounds that her future lay in the wider world that the first book she bought was “a book on manners,” she said. “I wanted to be able to move in whatever kind of society I was ever going to be in.” Her intuition served her well, too, as she’s lived a storybook life that’s found her mixing with everyone from world famous designers, models and entertainers to politicians to royalty.
Emboldened by Maude and by a grandfather who also recognized her destiny, Nancy one day just packed up and left. She was only 14, but her exasperated parents let her go, knowing she had to try. “That’s how much I wanted to get out of Arkansas and to get out where it was happening in the world,” she said. Her destination? Springfield, Mo. It was as close to cosmopolitan as she could get. Why Springfield? “I had enough money to get there –$35. I got on a bus. It stopped every 20 minutes and I’ve never ridden a bus since. That was not going to be my style,” said Bounds, who nowadays tools around in a chauffeur-driven limo.
Without knowing a soul in Springfield, she put on a brave face and made herself up to look older than she was, quickly landing jobs as a waitress and cosmetics clerk. Then, she really showed her brass when she auditioned for a singing slot on a local radio station. She got the gig and sang a few times a week on live broadcasts.
Then she met a man who looked good in an Air Force uniform. She was 15. They got hitched. Before she knew it, he was off flying Goonie Birds in the Berlin Airlift. “I didn’t see him for a year,” she said, “and by then I’d forgotten what he looked like.” While he was away, she found she was pregnant. She moved back home, where she’d kept the news of her marriage a secret from her father, who’d warned her to stay away from those “hound dogs.” After “having it out,” she went to Wichita, where family lived nearby.
On her own again, Bounds made do. A couple of sailors, Ronnie and Jean, befriended her in the weeks leading up to her giving birth. “They both fell in love with me, but they were always like brothers to me. Better than brothers,” she said. They were with her when the labor pains began and flagged down a taxi to take her to a military hospital. She was still so young and naive she thought doctors “cut you open to get out your child.” To show her undying appreciation to her friends, she named her daughter Ronnie Jean after them.
When her long-absent husband returned from overseas, she greeted him with, “I’ll take you to meet your daughter.” The couple’s ill-advised union fell apart when he took her to live with his family in Minnesota. After three months, she said, “I had to get out of there. So, I got up and packed at three o’clock in the morning and snuck out with about equal amount the money I had when I left home.”
She fled to the Ozarks. He found his child-bride, but she would not have him back. She filed for divorce and went to Minnesota to get it. “I didn’t want anything except the right to my daughter for the rest of my life and that he was never to come near me or her.” To her dismay, she learned the state only granted divorces then on the grounds of adultery. “Well, I wasn’t about to do that,” she said. “So, we picked one of his good friends and he and I sat up all night long and played gin rummy. We came down the next day and he went to court and swore he spent the night with me. Totally staged. But I got my daughter back, which is all I wanted.”
Living back in Wichita with her baby girl, Bounds screwed up her courage and reinvented herself again. “I learned a group was looking for a singer. I auditioned, but I didn’t like the group. It gave me an idea, though. Why don’t I get my own group? Of course I had no money, but I had the audacity to start doing interviews.” Soon, she assembled a pianist, bass player, drummer and saxophonist. She fronted with her vocals. After some Wichita area gigs, her group moved west, landing jobs in Colorado. When band members began bowing to pressures from home, she disbanded the group and went solo. “I had to support my daughter,” she said.
She headlined at a nightclub in Denver and a hotel in Estes Park. What her voice lacked, her sex appeal made up for. “I sang love songs and lots of blues. I had a soulful, smoky sound. There’s something about a saxophone that could really turn my voice on. But I was never a fabulous singer. I was a much better performer than I was a singer. I could sell a song. And I had a great bod,” she said.
Her hunger next took her to Chicago, where she variously modeled, sang and danced for a living. She also acted in TV spots. Her growing interest in acting led her to join a repertory summer stock company in Boston, where she appeared in several plays over three seasons. Theater, for her, fed a desire to improve her mind and broaden her knowledge. “I wanted to improve my ability to articulate my feelings,” she said. “I learned a lot about the language by doing different parts.”
Back in Chicago, the ever-enterprising Bounds continued her education by hiring a Northwestern University professor as her private tutor. “He was a wonderful guy who wanted to teach me what I wanted to know — everything. He was interested in my life and in my mind and I was incredibly interested in all that he knew. I always called him Webster.” With the prof’s help, she lost her Southern accent and further refined herself. He was her Dr. Higgins and she his Eliza Doolittle.
She eventually found romance with a man, Carmen, who became her husband and dance partner. She, her new hubby and her daughter moved to Kansas after her little girl was diagnosed with asthma and doctors advised the child live in a dry climate. Nancy and Carmen were performing as a dance team in Wichita when an agent saw them and recommended her to band leader Xavier Cugat. The Latin maestro signed her up and she happily performed with his band in the Dallas area. “Oh, play me some Latin music and watch this body and hear this voice work it. I’ve always loved Latin music,” she said. Cuggie or Papa, as he was called, became her newest Svengali. “Oh, he was such a puppy dog…the sweetest guy.” She recalls him painting surrealistic images in his spare time as she “sat at his feet and watched him” work. “His courage with color was amazing. He said I was a muse for him because I was so enthusiastic about his art. He said, ‘When I see you, I see golden…yellows…rainbows.’ He painted my personality. I adored him.”
Meanwhile, her marriage to the dancer fizzled. Her life turned again when she bought some Fred Astaire Dance studios in Kansas and fell in love with and married an Air Force colonel, Robert S. Bounds, who gave her her professional name. She wound up in Omaha when he was transferred to Offutt. At first, Nancy thought she “would be happy playing golf, playing bridge and just being an officer’s wife. Well, that lasted about three months.” Restless, she looked into working for a local modeling school. Instead, she ended up running it. When the owners of another school noticed her business savvy and offered her a 50 percent piece of their place, she held firm for a controlling share. She soon made over the business as her own, moving it into the suave penthouse quarters of the old Fontenelle Hotel.
Marriage number three ended when the colonel got reassigned and she balked at moving. Besides, she said, he’d run her burgeoning modeling business into the ground after she sold it to him. “It’s then I decided it was I who had the brains,” she said, “when he had me believing all the time it was him.”
Every time she’s started over, Bounds has gritted her teeth and feigned her famous moxie, but it was all a facade. “I felt frightened, but I never let anyone know it. I was scared to death about half the time, but I kept saying, I can do this.”
Do it, she has. A breakthrough for Bounds occurred in the 1970s. Tired of her models being snatched up and under-used, she made elite agents, such as Ricardo Guy in Milan, take note of Omaha as a rich talent pool and launching pad for serious careers in modeling, films and television. As soon as agents learned her models got magazine covers and film-TV roles, her annual graduation show at the Orpheum Theater drew talent scouts from New York, L.A., Milan, Paris and Tokyo. Several of her graduates have gone on to major careers, most notably model-actress Jaime King.
She feels Nebraska’s gold mine of talent springs from something in the water or gene pool here that creates “The Look” everyone’s after. Then, too, she adds, “I think I was blessed with good eyes. I start watching them when they’re 9 or 10.” She said the model standard hasn’t changed much in 35 years. “It’s just gorgeous, gorgeous and more gorgeous. It’s the beauty of the face and the personality. The naturalness.” She said one difference is more women of color are now top models.
As her Nancy Bounds International Modeling Agency and Nancy Bounds Studios thrived, she opened schools in other cities. Helping her grow the company was her fourth husband and business partner, Mark Sconce. “He just believed in me 100 percent,” she said.
Eager to improve the image of the modeling school field, which is plagued with disreputable operators, she formed the International Talent and Model School Association. It was an attempt to create industry-wide standards and practices and, via ITMSA conventions, provide showcases where models from many schools could strut their stuff before top agents. After a rough start, when she “chewed out” school directors, the association proved a success. Then, she said, it all fell apart and the “rip-off” artists took over. It’s a long-standing problem, even in Omaha.
“People enroll and pay some thousands of dollars, and they’re taken to these conventions and they’re lucky to get five seconds on the runway,” she said. “There isn’t regulation. Before I got here, you didn’t even need a license. There’ve been 17 schools open and close here since I’ve been in business.”
She got an improbable ally in her efforts to clean-up the industry when state Sen. Ernie Chambers came to her bristling over modeling schools reneging on promises made to constituents of his. When he asked Bounds — What can we do about this? she said, “We can write some laws.” They collaborated on a bill the legislature passed that requires operators be licensed. “She was extremely helpful and professional in guiding me through what was very strange territory for me,” he said.
Bounds is the first to admit that while models are the “X-factor,” most of her clients neither expect nor seek a modeling/acting career. Instead, she said, they come in search of personal image development.
“It’s the most exciting thing I do,” she said. “The real purpose for me beginning this school is that I had seen so many young people that didn’t stand a chance in this world of being successful because they were insecure. You gotta love yourself. And in my opinion the only way you can get self-esteem is to be proud of what you do. It’s a total growth process. We start with the facade and then we go deeper and find out who this person really is. We try to give them the best of who they are and, more importantly, we give them things to go out and accomplish.”
She said the training is really about life skills. “We teach kids how to communicate. We teach them manners. We teach them how to order food and what clothes to wear to an interview. We talk about romance and relationships. We have them sing and dance and do anything to pull out their personalities and to get them out of their boxes.” Nothing excites her more than seeing kids blossom before her eyes. “It just turns me on,” said Bounds, who regards herself a teacher.
She’s honed the image of everyone from aspiring models to corporate execs to politicos. Modeling career or not, grads come away with “great confidence.”
These days, Bounds oversees a modeling empire she’s franchised out, but still very much “involved in.” She has franchises in Omaha, Norfolk and Kansas City and is now looking to franchise Japan. “I train the teachers and the franchisees, because then I know things are going to be done right under my name,” she said. Her decision to franchise came in the wake of a dark period a few years ago when her 29-year marriage to Mark Sconce ended. She took a bad fall at home and suffered pain and depression. “I didn’t want to work every day. I became reclusive.”
Single for the first time in awhile, she’s not ruling out marriage. “I’m not finished with romance. Romance makes the world go round. Someday I’ll run into somebody I care about. I could never become somebody’s mistress. That’s not the way I do things.” As for the men in her life — “There’s been so many men in this world that have taken care of me, and I married most of ‘em,” she said with a laugh. “But I’ve never had one penny of alimony. Never wanted it.”
All in all, she said, “It’s been a fun ride, and I’m not finished yet.”
- Front Row: Fashion Changes, and So Do the Magazines (nytimes.com)
- Opening Ceremony x Glamour: Get Our Cute Cat Sweater For Under $100! (glamour.com)
- Timeless Fashion Illustrator Mary Mitchell: Her Work Illustrating Three Decades of Style Now the Subject of a New Book and Exhibition (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
The words Omaha and fashion may seem incongruous, certainly not synonomous, and no one, including this writer, would argue the fact that as a Midwest city far removed from the fashion centers of America this place is in a perpetual state of catching up with and therefore always behind trends in clothing and accessories and other aspects of style. Of course there’s always been a fashion scene and community of its own here, just as there is in any city of a certain size, and no matter how small or insignificant that fashion conscious segment may be by national industry standards it has still produced its share of highlights and notables, even if on a scaled down size. There was a time when high fashion in Omaha was catered to by a whole range of stores, shows, and figures. Then owing to several factors high fashion activity here faded away. Recently though there’s been a resurgence of interest and activity, much of it coalescing around the wildy popular Omaha Fashion Week, and the fact that this article is for an upcoming issue of Omaha Fashion Magazine is an indicator of just how far things have come around. Omaha never had a fashion week or fashion magazine before. And the same people who’ve made those things happen, Nick and Brook Hudson, now have the Omaha Fashion Institute in the works. In their own way this power couple has done for fashion in Omaha what individuals and institutions like Elaine Jabenis, Nancy Bounds, J.L. Brandeis & Sons Department Store, and the Clarkson Fashion Show did in an earlier era. There’s more to come in future issues on the fashion institute. In the meantime, think of this story as a guide to what Omaha’s Fashion Past looked like and check out my other fashion stories on the blog: a profile of fashion illustrator Mary Mitchell, who has a new book and exhibition out featuring her work; a look at Omaha Fashion Week; and profiles of past and present style mavens – Nancy Bounds and Nick and Brook Hudson.
Elaine Jabenis, center, hosting telecast of Omaha Community Playhouse opening
Omaha Fashion Past
©by Leo Adam Biga
Soon to appear in Omaha Fashion Magazine
Just as fashion is of the times, so is the infrastructure supporting it, which is why the Omaha fashion scene once looked quite different.
It used to be fashionistas frequented multi-story fine department or apparel stores. Attentive customer service ruled the day. The same way boutiques do, box stores employed a fashion arbiter to select the latest seasonal looks in men’s and women’s clothing and accessories from the major American and European fashion centers.
The area’s penultimate arbiter was Elaine Jabenis, “Omaha’s First Lady of Fashion.” The radio-television personality and theater actress was fashion director for the pinnacle of department stores – J.L. Brandeis & Sons. She later served the same role for the Crossroads and OakView malls. Twice a year she visited New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Milan to view top designer collections.
“There was a whole way of educating the customer about what the trend was and why, and Elaine was in the forefront of that,” says designer Mary Anne Vaccaro. “She was always checking on what was in fashion.”
“We never let our customers down. People understood what we stood for and what was important,” says Jabenis, who found a happy medium between West Coast daring and East Coast sophistication to fit the Omaha market.
Always an innovator, she integrated theatrical elements into her runway shows.
“I felt all the shows I had seen were very boring. Models just walked down and somebody talked forever. It was kind of nothing. I thought there must be a better way to do this. I wanted music, dance, interesting staging. I decided to break it up into scenes and do a color story, a trend story, transition from day to night and night to day. Brandeis really loved that and the audiences loved it too.”
She went over-the-top with sets, actors, singers, musicians, celebrity guests.
“That kind of show could never be done today. You could never afford it,” she says.
As corporate fashion merchandiser she implemented themes throughout the entire Brandeis chain, extending to window displays. Models strolled through the stores. In-store fashion illustrators and copywriters carried the themes into print ads, articulating the look and feel of garments in a few strokes and well-chosen words.
Always attuned to trends, Jabenis was a pioneer in focusing on plus-sized women. “I was really a maverick,” she says. Mademoiselle and Seventeen magazines recognized Jabenis, who’s authored fashion merchandising books.
“Elaine is the crowning diva queen of all fashion ever in Omaha,” says Scott.
Other fashion forward figures made their own marks. The late modeling agency maven Nancy Bounds put on a smashing graduation show that launched international modeling careers, including Jaime King‘s.
“Nancy Bounds had a huge impact for not only opening up doors for young models but also creating a great sense of style in Omaha,” says retail consultant Wendy Chapman.
Fashion Culture, Then and Now
Upscale retailers abounded (Nebraska Clothing Co., Topps, Zoob’s, The Avenue). Stores, large and small, strutted their wares at the Clarkson Fashion Show – “THE huge fashion happening here,” says Scott. Trunk shows featured major designer lines and sometimes the designers themselves. Vaccaro met Oscar de La Renta at Brandeis. Scott recalls Michael Kors, Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene and Halston all coming here.
Local designers like Vaccaro turned heads too with their custom couture works.
Though the Ak-Sar-Ben Coronation and Ball is not a fashion show per se, socialites used it as a stage to out-dazzle each other in their designer gowns.
“Everybody would wait to see who was going to wear what by these famous designers,” says Scott. “Everybody held their breath for Rosemary Daly to come from Paris. As she swept in she would have on Yves Saint Laurent and the crowd would ooh and ahh.”
The fabulous traveling Ebony Fashion Fair often stopped here, giving locals a chance to ogle the latest European and American lines.
When the Clarkson show ended after 1999, the era of big Omaha shows, with the exception of bridal wear events, ended too.
“The audiences became less and less. Fashion sort of became passe,” says Scott. “It wasn’t as prominent in people’s lives because then things were coming off the racks and fashion wasn’t just a one-of-a-kind thing for a woman. Anybody could go buy it.“
Chapman says where the emphasis was on building wardrobes of enduring high style, “I think today some of that is lost because things are more geared to disposable fashion. It’s all about getting the look and if the customer knows she’s only going to wear it four times, she doesn’t care if it’s going to fall apart.”
Many exclusive department stores, Brandeis included, disappeared. No longer, Jabenis says, did someone tailor selections to the Omaha market. The big chains, she says, “don’t buy on a personal level” but rather via “a central buying office.” The intimate connection between store and customer faded. “The human touch is gone, service is gone. It’s not at all the kind of thing it used to be, consequently the department store is losing its foothold and the specialty shop is doing much better.” Nouvelle Eve, Tilly’s and Trocadero are among Omaha’s high-end boutiques today.
Chapman says department stores “need to continue to reinvent themselves to be relevant with customers.”
Malls and national chains (Ann Taylor) featuring ready-to-wear designer brands became the new norm. The changing times made it tough on specialty shops too.
“People started going to Target and buying online what they bought in designer stores,” says Vaccaro. “In the fashion business if you go sour or you cannot sell one seasons’s collection, you’re in trouble. That’s the way it is. To outlast all the challenges coming at you you’ve got to have the strength of God practically.”
Changing Times, New Directions
“This industry has just changed so dramatically, I wouldn’t say either better or worse but just that fashion is moving much faster,”says Chapman. “Things are instantly knocked off and on the streets.”
“Today, fashion is about celebrity and it’s quick and it’s highly competitive,” says Vaccaro. “There’s not a few big name designers, there’s one celebrity designer and stylist after another.”
Vaccaro has changed with the times. She still has a design studio, but she’s mainly an image consultant these days. She says, “If you’re not willing to change then you are not a person of fashion anymore. You have to be what it is.”
Scott pines for what once was. “I miss it in the fact it was such a fantasy era,” he says.
To the delight of Scott and Co. fashion matters again in Omaha, where magazines, events and organizations support the emerging local design community.
“It’s an exciting look back and an exciting look forward with the evolution Omaha’s gone through and what’s happening now with Omaha Fashion Week,” says Chapman.
- Timeless Fashion Illustrator Mary Mitchell: Her Work Illustrating Three Decades of Style Now the Subject of a New Book and Exhibition (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Fashion Week Front Row Roll Call (stylecaster.com)