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Room with a view: Omaha Design Center

August 2, 2016 Leave a comment

The Omaha Design Center is THE swank new spot to hold events in town. It’s owned and operated by the people behind Omaha Fashion Week and they’ve crafted a flex space that hosts a diverse slate of events. Read my story about the Omaha Design Center and the entrepreneurs who make it happen in the Fall issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/).

 

 

Room with a view: Omaha Design Center

Creative space is new home for Omaha Fashion Week and more 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in Fall 2016 issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)

 

If Nick and Brook Hudson appear calmer at Omaha Fashion Week (OFW) this fall, it’s because they’ve found a permanent home for this once gypsy event at their recently opened Omaha Design Center (ODC).

Upon founding Fashion Week in 2008, the Hudsons were its sole proprietors and producers until bringing in Greg and Molly Cutchall as partners. Now the two entrepreneurial couples have joined forces as owners of Omaha’s newest event facility. Located in the former TipTop Ballroom at 1502 Cuming Street, ODC opened in March with the Spring OFW show. Omaha native Kate Walz, an OFW veteran and star Parsons School of Design student, was the first designer to show there. The space has earned raves from the fashion community from clients who’ve held weddings, parties, receptions and charity events there.

“People are just amazed at how beautiful and open the space is,” Brook Hudson says. “It’s impressive.”

“We’ve gotten lots of good responses,” Greg Cutchall confirms.

Nick Hudson says Fashion Week regulars and newcomers “loved it,” adding, “Our attendance was up 15 percent. People really like the energy of the space.” Its size and flexibility allows OFW to do more shows, including a new Kids Rule Fashion Show.

A 31,000 square foot flex space that is Fashion Week’s own rather than leased and that seamlessly accommodates diverse, design-oriented events is what drew the partners to purchase and refurbish the facility.

Supply and demand meet vision

The deal made sense for Fashion Week and for the catering operations the Cutchalls have. The couples met when Greg’s catering division started doing food and beverage service for Fashion Week VIP tents. They saw a shared opportunity for a year-round event space. The Cutchalls purchased the building last December and financed the remodel work. The Hudsons became co-owners in a stock swap.

“Nick and Brook are the marketing force behind the business. They’re great at creating and branding events of all kinds. My wife and I and our office team are more the business and operations side,” Greg says.

The architectural firm Alley Poyner Macchietto, who offices next door at the TipTop Building, did the redesign. The firm’s Laura Alley, a business development and community relations administrator, first recommended the site to the Hudsons.

“When Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture moved into this building and this neighborhood, we saw the potential for what it could be and we began looking for others who loved design in all its various forms. First we filled our space, then the Co-Lab next door. Then we started thinking of the ballroom. Ryan Ellis with PJ Morgan Real Estate suggested Nick and Brook might be looking for space. They were exactly the kind of passionate, design-minded, creative people we hoped to connect with.

“The space had all the right parts to fit their needs, and our design team – led by Michael Alley and Katrina Stoffel – was able to help them envision how the space could look. We are beyond thrilled to have the Omaha Design Center as our neighbor. It serves as a catalyst for some of our city’s most creative and passionate minds.”

Eight weeks of demo and construction produced an as-new, ready-to-use event space  “That’s kind of how it all came together. It was a big undertaking,” Greg says.

Makeover transforms facility

The facility’s once dull, generic banquet interior has been been remade as a chic, industrial warehouse-meets-party room. Extraneous walls and a drop ceiling were removed to open up the space, whose main ballroom has a high exposed ceiling. Polished concrete floors accent towering glass chandeliers suspended by chains from the metal beam-works. There’s also a smaller adjacent ballroom. An L-shaped granite-topped, mirror-backed bar is built into the lobby. A portion of the lobby serves as an art gallery. Another section supports pop-up vendor wares. Satellite bars can be easily set-up throughout the facility. Vintage furnishings round out the hybrid retro-contemporary feel.

Movable panels covered by sheer curtains can turn the space intimate or expansive. The panels are backlit with colored LED lights that can be programmed to create any mood or atmosphere – from casual to formal, from fun to romantic, from bridal or ball to rave.

“The lighting is immersive – it’s all around you,” Brook says. “It feels like you’re not just looking at the stage but you are a part of it. It’s really interesting.”

The remodel added state of the art lighting and sound systems. Backstage are ample amenities to support events and crowds from 200 to 2,000. There are dedicated bridal and grooms suites that double as green rooms or dressing rooms. two commercial kitchens, storage bays, a loading dock. Offices and meeting rooms are planned.

“We finally have everything we need in one spot,” Brook says, adding  that OFW no longer has to bring in things like portable restrooms or to rent off-site storage units.

The whole works remedies issues the Hudsons contended with during OFW’s first eight years, when the event got staged at various indoor and outdoor sites, most recently under a football field-sized tent in the Capitol District downtown. Certain risks and limitations come with leasing spaces others control. And where the outdoors in Nebraska is concerned, weather plays a factor.

 

metroMAGAZINE’s mQUARTERLY Fall (AUG/SEPT/OCT) 2016 Issue
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Finding home

Nick says, “Everything possibly that could go wrong at those events would go wrong. The building helps make Fashion Week more stable.”

Before, Brook says, “when things came up, such as inclement weather or equipment failures, we were hostage to the site. Here, we know what to expect. It’s predictable. We know it’s going to be air conditioned and heated, it’s not going to get flooded. It’s a home.”

Participants finally have a venue to display their skills to full effect.

“There’s a lot of different people involved and it’s really important they have a good platform to showcase what they’re doing for their experience and their work,” Nick says. “It’s a very growing and building experience for designers and models, for hair and makeup people, for the photographers, musicians and artists. It is too for the people planning and producing the event. Brook has a whole program of young volunteers and interns who make it their career. This new space means they can have a better experience.”

Brook says, “It’s a place where they can come and be their best.”

“The reason Fashion Week became successful was the basic concept we’re giving a professional platform for all these different creative young people who wouldn’t normally have that opportunity for free,” Nick says. “Now we can do it even more professionally. That is a huge breakthrough for us. The reason we kept moving is we could never find a space quite right in terms of infrastructure. The ceilings were too low, the space backstage was too cramped,”

Brook says, “It took a lot of energy just to compensate for all that and to reinvent the wheel every season and now we know what the wheel is. Now we can focus on just continuing to improve the productions and the creativity and the entertainment value. It opens up so much more time and energy to focus on things we’ve never been able to do before because we were busy getting water and air conditioning.”

Fashion Week audiences can expect ever more theatrical shows to go along with full, well-outfitted guest services at OFW events.

Nick says not only do participants have a better experience, the audience does, too. That’s important to an event that’s been so embraced. “Lots of people have really supported this event over the years, they’ve helped it grow, in some cases they’ve helped support some of the creatives, and because the creatives can focus more on being creative the audience is going to benefit from that as well and have a great evening, so it’s a really big step up for our community.”

Staging events in this flex space affords unlimited possibilities.

“When we have Fashion Week we design it how we want it to look and in a lot of spaces that’s harder to do – you have to take it how it is.

Here, it’s very easy to adapt it individually to what you’re looking to create,” Nick says. “It’s very creative inspiring. You come in here and personalize it to your tastes. There’s lots of things you can do.”

Brook says, “It’s a blank canvas and a playground. It can be used for many different events, in many different ways. It imposes few restrictions. Every time you walk in we have totally different events with totally different setups. It’s always something different. It’s really great.”

Design central

The owners saw that a single venue that could provide the right fit for many kinds of events is in short supply in Omaha.

“There’s a void in the market for facilities that can accommodate       mid-range sized events,” Greg Cutchall says.

“We realized if we needed something like this for Fashion Week there were all these other people who needed something like this for their nonprofit or their family or their business,” Nick says  “We called it the Design Center to reflect the designing of individual events here but also because we encourage design. Besides Fashion Week we do design-oriented things here, which is exciting, and were trying to help the fashion eco system, which this is now a big part of. The fact that it’s in the heart of this North Downtown neighborhood that could be Omaha’s design district is even more exciting.”

Creatives abound in the area. As a creative hub and staging ground,

Omaha Design Center aligns well with creative community neighbors Co-Lab, Alley Poyner Macchietto, the Mastercraft, the Hot Shops Art Center, Slowdown, Film Streams and the coming Kiewit University.

The Center is also within walking distance of several hotels and a short drive from the airport and the Old Market. The site’s already seen a broad menu of events, including a Terence Crawford victory celebration, the Berkshire Hathaway MoneyBall, a fight card and a comedy troupe. It is hosting College World Series events, a Halloween bash and a New Year’s Eve party. Everyone from models to boxers to aerialists to fire dancers to musicians have performed there. Weddings will always be, as Cutchall says, “our bread and butter.”

“We thought there would be demand for something like this and there has been,” Brook Hudson says. “We started promoting it in December and I don’t think this space has been empty since April.”

Nick Hudson says, “We’re now facilitating events for these other communities here in town. It’s exciting having these different communities and organizations coming in and doing events here. It’s all about creating community and the community building you get through events. We’re big fans of diversity. It’s always been very important to us having a really diverse crowd of people doing different things and we’re getting that same thing here. Now we just want more people to be aware there is this new space available to come celebrate through events.”

Brook says, “Yeah, we want people to come make some memories.”

“Bookings are going stronger than we anticipated our first year,” Greg Cutchall notes. ‘We’ve been very pleased and we think it will continue to grow as more people learn about the facility and see what we have to offer.”

After all the moving around OFW did, Brook Hudson is just glad to have a place she and others can count on.

“It’s good to be home,” she says. “My team is excited about that as well. All of our interviews, meetings and programming happen here now. And we get to share this great space with other communities.”

Fall Omaha Fashion Week unfurls there August 22-27.

Visit http://www.omahadesigncenter.com.

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Omaha Fashion Week & SAC Federal Credit Union: Building the fashion eco-system via business focus

August 5, 2015 2 comments

One look at me and my duds and you instantly know I am no fashion plate, at least where my own apparel is concerned.  However, I do feel I have a good enough fashion sense where others are concerned.  None of which means a hoot when it comes to the fashion stories I write, and I’ve written a whole bunch of them, mostly in connection with Omaha Fashion Week, because I go the experts who know fashion for my information.  This story for Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/) is the latest OFW piece I’ve done and where in the past I’ve focused on designers and shows and trends, looking sometimes back and other times forward, this story examines a burgeoning business relationship between emerging designers and a local lending-financial institution, SAC Federal Credit Union.  The idea being explored by this pilot program and thus by the story is the importance of desginers having access to capital to grow their lines, their brands, their businesses if Omaha is to ever foster a true design community and industry.

The next Omaha Fashion Week is August 17-22.

ecosystem: Omaha Fashion Week & SACFCU
Building the fashion eco-system via business focus

©BY LEO ADAM BIGA

Originally published in the August-September-October 2015 issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)

Hooton Images

When Nick and Brook Hudson aren’t caring for their new-born girl they nurture their other baby, Omaha Fashion Week (OFW). The couple cultivate the local fashion eco-system through a multitude of showcase events, educational experiences like Omaha Fashion Camp and fashion sales organizations such as Design Parliament LLC. They were the inspiration and catalyst for the developmental organizations Fashion Institute Midwest and Omaha Fashion Guild.

This infrastructure gives area designers venues to show their work, experts to advise them on aesthetic and market matters and a support system for resources and professional development opportunities.

Now, with SAC Federal Credit Union as a partner, the Hudsons are bringing designers together with bankers to maximize commercial potential. Thus, the new financial support program gives designers the financial acumen and services to put their creative pursuits on a business basis. As SACFCU members, designers have access to credit lines for purchasing materials or equipment, for expanding into new spaces or for doing anything else to enhance and grow their business.

Banking on potential

The test program may eventually work with other kinds of designers as well as visual artists, filmmakers, photographers, playwrights, et cetera.

SACFCU president-CEO Gail DeBoer opted to work with fashion designers to initiate the program since her institution already had a sponsor relationship with OFW. She shares the Hudsons’ vision for building a sustainable fashion community.

“We really saw the potential of the designers and what the development of that industry could do for our region,” she says. “We wanted to be part of an event that’s not just entertainment but also adds to the quality of life here by nurturing these young entrepreneurs. We felt this was a niche nobody else was addressing from a business perspective.”

DeBoer says her credit union is well-positioned to work with the micro-size businesses most local designers operate.

“They’re small and so there’s not a lot of profit at the beginning for a financial institution and that’s probably the difference between a credit union and another financial. I don’t have shareholders to satisfy, so I don’t have to show necessarily a return on every deal we make. The return on the relationship isn’t our motivation.

“Our mission is people helping people, so we have a passion for helping them reach their goals and hopefully someday they will grow. But that’s not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is just to help our members. This is not just giving back to the individual designers but it’s giving back to the whole community because if we can foster that entrepreneurial spirit then it’s an economic benefit to our community.”

The Hudsons see close alignment between OFW’s goals and SAC’s.

“One of the things the team at SAC is very passionate about is helping people get started. They’ve got that mission,” Nick says. “And we have that, too,” Brook says. “We’re a social enterprise.”

Nick says, “I’ve never come across another financial institution willing to put the time and effort into all these small businesses, because we’re talking about tiny loans – a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars.”

Getting up to speed

A typical designer who shows at OFW requires assistance with everything from establishing a business checking account to devising a business plan. But there’s much more they need to learn, including
understanding finance, buying, pricing, sales tax and various legalities.

“There’s a whole set of skills around doing those things,” Hudson says. “You might have it all worked out but then you need access to money – you need some money to make some money. Designers might have an opportunity to sell $10,000 worth of clothing but they don’t have the money to buy the $1,000 or $2,000 of fabric they need.

“We still have a lot of designers we deal with who don’t have bank accounts or credit cards.”

The Hudsons regard the financial literacy entrepreneurs have to gain as empowering and critical to their success.

Nick says OFW and SAC are committed to “help people turn their passions into businesses or to help their existing businesses go further to make them self-sustaining. We’ve got wonderfully talented people having to fund their passion by working in a coffee shop during the day and then spending all night doing their passion.

“We’re trying to help them get to the next stage.”

He says with the skills development that goes on now informally through OFW and formally through Fashion Institute Midwest “more and more are now making a living – some are even employing people.”

Brook Hudson says it’s all about giving designers the tools required to reach more customers and find financial stability.

“In this day and age it’s a lot easier for an artist to turn their passion into dollars because of the Internet. They have a worldwide community they could potentially be selling to. So part of our challenge is helping them unlock that opportunity,” she says.

It’s important designers have the right mindset by being, what Nick calls, “more commercially-minded and thinking what customers want.”

“It”s a totally different ballgame to go from custom pieces to something designed from the beginning to be mass-produced,” Brook says.

Tailoring financial services to designer needs

The Hudsons introduce designers to SAC they consider ready to take the next step.

“Not every designer is ready for that,” notes Brook, who adds that some are intimidated by the prospect of working with a lender.

Bryan Frost and Erica Cardenas, owners of vintage-inspired boutique Wallflower Artisan Collective and designers of their own Wallflower apparel line, are excited to see how SAC can help them expand their apparel production capabilities. They say money’s critical if they’re to grow their business and if Omaha’s to grow a fashion hub. They’re encouraged that designers and lenders are finding alignment.

Samone Davis, owner-designer of the luxury streetwear brand Legalized Rebellion says she’s worked “diligently” with the SAC team to establish a line of credit for her label. She adds, “I definitely feel financial help is key to growth as long as there’s a solid plan and execution behind it. As designers we tend to get lost in our own minds. Sometimes we have to make sure we are focused and know exactly who we want to market to, otherwise there won’t be any progression.”

For designers like these, Gail DeBoer says, “we’re offering a kind of a concierge service,” adding, “We’re walking them through this journey. That begins by really developing a relationship with them to know what each one needs because they all have different needs depending on their business stage. We do look them in the eye to gauge how serious they are, how committed they are. We do talk with them in order to understand the uniqueness of their business and their challenges.”

SACFCU vice president of operations Keli Wragge is that concierge figure working with designers.

“Some are ready to take their designs to the marketplace and others are just getting started and wondering what they need to do in order to be ready for financing down the road,” Wragge says. “One client needs to expand and is looking at buying a commercial building. Another is about to open their first business checking account. Prior to this they transacted in all cash. There is a big gap between what the first member needs and what the second member needs.”

There are also many common issues designers face.

“Supplies and the cost of production are large expenses, especially if the designer isn’t a seamstress and has to hire outside talent,” Wragge says. “One of the big issues faced by designers is irregular cash flow and finding a way to live a comfortable life while trying to perfect their craft, innovate new designs and get a collection ready. Many designers have to have another income or job in order to support themselves.”

DeBoer says, “Just getting started and getting them to think about things they’re not even thinking about – often you don’t know what you don’t know – is huge. We bring in the right person at the right time from the credit union to help them through that next decision or that next product they might need. We want to make sure they have a business partner holding their hand, walking them through the process.”

There’s no guarantee any designers will make it.

“Whether they will all be successful, that’s up to them,” DeBoer says. “But we can certainly help them by taking away the challenge of writing a business plan or getting some early money to realize their dreams.”

Growing a design community and fashion industry
Nick Hudson is heartened by the way the metro’s fashion eco-system has evolved in less than a decade.

“There’s just so many more people and organizations involved and that’s what makes it grow,” he says.

The Hudsons have been planting seeds to see what takes root.

DeBoer says if a true fashion industry is to emerge here it must take the same intentional, step-by-step path that OFW has followed.

“You don’t start out with everything all at once. It has a life cycle and I think this is an exciting next step for Omaha Fashion Week and for us. I think everybody’s excited about taking it to that next level.”

Nick says, “The next stage is going to be helping with marketing and bringing the customers and sellers together.”

Increasingly, he says, designers sell their wares before and after OFW events.

He and Brook envision a brick and mortar base to anchor a dedicated design district. Having a critical mass of designers in close proximity to each other would provide access to shared spaces, facilities and services for sample making or material production and to economies of scale, efficiencies of operation and synergies of creativity.

“We’ve got to have everybody together working in one place and all that collaboration going on in order to reap some of those other benefits,” Brook says.

Ultimately, the Hudsons say if enough capacity is built a factory would be needed to manufacture the garments and accessories of not just local designers but of some select national and international designers.

Brook notes several major designers already have or are looking to move manufacturing from overseas to America, but many U.S. cities make that cost prohibitive. She says Omaha offers certain advantages, such as “great work ethic” and “low cost of doing business and living.”

Should fashion manufacturing ever happen here at scale, she says, “it would be powerful because that positions Omaha on a whole different level as a national player on the fashion scene, plus it’s creating jobs.”

Meanwhile, the creatives behind Wallflower and Legalized Rebellion say they appreciate the financial support system SAC offers as it propels their dreams and strengthens the design community.

The next OFW designer showcase is August 17-22. For details, visit omahafashionweek.com.

“We really saw the potential of the designers and what the development of that industry could do for our region. We wanted to be part of an event that’s not just entertainment but also adds to the quality of life here by nurturing these young entrepreneurs. We felt this was a niche nobody else was addressing from a business perspective.”
“I’ve never come across another financial institution willing to put the time and effort into all these small businesses, because we’re talking about tiny loans – a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars.”
“This is not just giving back to the individual designers but it’s giving back to the whole community because if we can foster that entrepreneurial spirit then it’s an economic benefit to our community.”

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

February 4, 2012 10 comments

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.

 

 


 

 

Nick and Brook Hudson, Their YP Match Made in Heaven Yields a Bevy of Creative-Cultural Results – from Omaha Fashion Week to La Fleur Academy to Masstige Beauty and Beyond

©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.

Pysh Creations. The Art of Michael Pysh's photo.

 

 

 

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.

 

metroMAGAZINE's photo.

 

 

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.

Nomad Lounge, An Oasis for Creative Class Nomads

June 21, 2011 6 comments

Nick Hudson is one of several Omaha transplants who have come here from other places in recent years and energized the creative-cultural scene. One of his many ventures in Omaha is Nomad Lounge, which caters to the creative class through a forward-thinking aesthetic and entrepreneurial bent and schedule of events. This Metro Magazine (www.spiritofomaha.com) piece gives a flavor for Hudson and why Nomad is an apt name for him and his endeavor. Three spin-off ventures from Nomad that Hudson has a major hand in are Omaha Fashion Week, Omaha Fashion Magazine, and the Halo Institute.  You can find some of my Omaha Fashion Week and Omaha Fashion Magazine writing on this blog.  And look for more stories by me about Nick Hudson and his wife and fellow entrepreneur Brook Hudson.

 

 

 

 

Nomad Lounge, An Oasis for Creative Class Nomads

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in Metro Magazine (www.spiritofomaha.com)

Another side of Omaha’s new cosmopolitan face can be found at Nomad Lounge, 1013 Jones St. in the historic Ford Warehouse Building. The chic, high-concept, community-oriented salon captures the creative class trade. Tucked under the Old Market’s 10th St. bridge, Nomad enjoys being a word-of-mouth hideaway in a shout-out culture. No overt signs tout it. The name’s stenciled in small letters in the windows and subtly integrated into the building’s stone and brick face.

The glow from decorative red lights at night are about the only tip-off for the lively goings-on inside. That, and the sounds of pulsating music, clanking glasses and buzzing voices leaking outdoors and the stream of people filing in and out.

Otherwise, you must be in-the-know about this proper gathering spot for sophisticated, well-traveled folks whose interests run to the eclectic. It’s all an expression of majority owner Nick Hudson, a trendy international entrepreneur and world citizen who divides his time between Omaha and France for his primary business, Excelsior Beauty. Nomad is, in fact, Hudson’s nickname and way of life. The Cambridge-educated native Brit landed in Omaha in 2005 in pursuit of a woman. While that whirlwind romance faded he fell in love with the town and stayed on. He’s impressed by what he’s found here.

“I’m blown away by what an amazingly creative, enterprising, interesting community Omaha is,” he said. He opened Excelsior here that same year — also maintaining a Paris office — and then launched his night spot in late 2006.

If you wonder why a beauty-fashion industry maven who’s been everywhere and seen everything would do start-up enterprises in middle America when he could base them in some exotic capital, you must understand that for Hudson the world is flat. Looking for an intersection where like-minded nomads from every direction can engage each other he opted for Omaha’s “great feeling, great energy.”

“We’re all nomadic, were all on this journey,” he said, “but there are times when nomads come together, bringing in different experiences to one central place and sharing ideas in that community. And that’s exactly what it is here. Nomad’s actually about a lifestyle brand and Nomad Lounge is just the event space and play space where that brand comes to life for the experimental things we do.”

He along with partners Charles Hull and Clint! Runge of Archrival, a hot Lincoln, Neb. branding-marketing firm, and Tom Allisma, a noted local architect who’s designed some of Omaha’s cutting-edge bars-eateries, view Nomad as a physical extension of today’s plugged-in, online social networking sites. Their laidback venture for the creative-interactive set is part bar, part art gallery, part live performance space, part small business incubator, part collaborative for facilitating meeting-brainstorming-partnering.

“That whole connecting people, networking piece is really exciting to us because it’s not just being an empty space for events, we’re actually playing an active role in helping the creative community continue to grow,” said Hudson.

 

 

Nick Hudson

 

 

Social entrepreneurship is a major focus. Nomad helps link individuals, groups and businesses together. “It’s a very interesting trend that’s going to be a big buzz word,” Hudson said. “Nomad is a social enterprise. It’s all about investing in and increasing the social capital of the community, creating networks, fostering creativity. My biggest source of passion is helping people achieve their potential.”

“He’s definitely done that for me,” said Nomad general manager-events planner Rachel Richards. “He’s seen my passion in event planning and he’s opened doors I never thought I’d get through.”

The Omaha native was first hired by Hudson to coordinate Nomad’s special events through her Rachel Richards Events business. She’s since come on board as a key staffer. With Hudson’s encouragement she organized Nomad’s inaugural Omaha Fashion Week last winter, a full-blown, first-class model runway show featuring works by dozens of local designers. “That was always a dream of mine,” she said.

Under the Nomad Collective banner, Hudson said, “the number of social entrepreneurs and small enterprises and venture capitalist things that are coming from this space from the networking here is just phenomenal. Increasingly that’s going beyond this space into start-up businesses and all sorts of things.” Nomad, he said, acts as “a greenhouse for ideas and businesses to expand and grow.”

Nomad encourages interplay. Massive cottonwood posts segment the gridded space into 15 semi-private cabanas whose leather chairs and sofas and built-in wood benches seat 8 to 20 guests. Velvet curtains drape the cabanas. It’s all conducive to relaxation and conversation. Two tiny galleries display works by local artists.

There’s a small stage and dance floor. The muted, well-stocked bar features international drink menus. Video screens and audio speakers hang here and there, adding techno touches that contrast with the worn wood floors, the rough-hewn brick walls and the exposed pipes, vents and tubes in the open rafters overhead. It all makes for an Old World meets New World mystique done over in earth tones.

Hudson embraces Nomad’s flexibility as it constantly evolves, reinventing itself. In accommodating everything from birthdays/bachelorettes to release/launch parties to big sit-down dinners to more intimate, casual gatherings to social enterprise fairs and presenting everything from sculptures and paintings to live bands and theater shows to video projection, it’s  liable to look different every time you visit. Whatever the occasion, art, design, music and fashion are in vogue and celebrated.

Dressed-up or dressed-down, you’re in synch with Nomad’s positive, chic vibe.

“It’s this whole thing about being premium without being pretentious,” said Hudson. “Nomad is stylish, it’s trendy, it’s great quality. All our drinks are very carefully selected. But it’s still made affordable.”

In addition to staging five annual premiere events bearing the Nomad brand, the venue hosts another 90-100 events a year. Richards offers design ideas to organizations using the space and matches groups with artists and other creative types to help make doings more dynamic, more stand-alone, more happening.

 

 

 

 

Clearly, Nomad targets the Facebook generation but not exclusively. Indeed, Hudson and Richards say part of Nomad’s charm is the wide age range it attracts, from 20-somethings to middle-agers and beyond.

Nomad fits into the mosaic of the Old Market, where the heart of the creative community lives and works and where a diverse crowd mixes. Within a block of Nomad are The Kaneko, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, the Blue Barn Theatre and any number of galleries, artist studios, fine restaurants and posh shops. Nomad’s a port of call in the Market’s rich cultural scene.

“It’s such a great creative community. We want to help make our little contribution to that and keep building on all the great things going on,” said Hudson.

Besides being a destination for urban adventurers looking to do social networking or conducting business or celebrating a special occasion or just hanging out, Nomad’s a site for charitable fundraisers. Hudson and Richards want to do more of what he calls “positive interventions” with nonprofits like Siena/Francis House. Last year Nomad approached the shelter with the idea for Concrete Conscience, which placed cameras in the hands of dozens of homeless clients for them to document their lives. Professional photographers lent assistance. The resulting images were displayed and sold, with proceeds going to Siena/Francis.

New, on Wednesday nights, is Nomad University, which allows guests to learn crafts from experts, whether mixing cocktails or DJing or practically anything else. It’s a chance for instructors to market their skills and for students to try new things, all consistent with a philosophy Hudson and Richards ascribe to that characterizes the Nomad experience: Do what you love and do it with passion.

A Passion for Fashion: Omaha Fashion Week emerges as major cultural happening

September 21, 2010 3 comments

Karachi Fashion show

Image via Wikipedia

Omaha‘s emerging fashion scene just concluded its annual coming out party, Omaha Fashion Week.  This story was a preview that appeared in Metro Magazine (www.spiritofomaha.com).  Ironically, I’ve written extensively about Omaha Fashion Week without ever having attended it. I’ve interviewed most of the key players behind it, many of the designers featured in it, and I’ve viewed video excerpts from it, but I’ve never actually been there.  Not because I haven’t wanted to, but circumstances just haven’t afforded me the opportunity. Besides, I’ve never been invited by organizers, this despite helping build a brand for it through my work.  This year, I had expected to do some reporting on scene, but an assignment never materialized.  Maybe next year.  Everything I’ve learned about the event tells me that fashion is the next big thing to come out of the Omaha cultural stew pot that’s already nourished strong literary, theater, film, and music scenes.  To see more of my writing about Omaha fashion, check out my post titled, My Omaha Fashion Magazine Work.”  It features the articles I did for the new Omaha Fashion Magazine (www.omahafashionweek.com).

 

A Passion for Fashion: Omaha Fashion Week emerges as major cultural happening

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in Metro Magazine (www.spiritofomaha.com)

 

More than an event, the September 13-18 Omaha Fashion Week is a networking asset for the local design community. In only three years, OFW has become a cultural mainstay and hot ticket on the city’s burgeoning creative scene.

British transplant Nick Hudson‘s passion for Omaha’s entrepreneurial and creative class led him to co-found OFW and the Halo Institute, both of which grew out of his Nomad Lounge in the Old Market. As chic Nomad evolved into a performance art, exhibition, fashion forum and social networking site, Hudson realized the creative-entrepreneurial set needed support. He, along with Nomad marketing and events director Rachel Richards and photographer/designer Dale Heise, launched OFW to coalesce Omaha’s energetic but then unfocused fashion design culture.

 

 

Nick Hudson

 

 

Similarly, Hudson and Creighton University College of Business officials formed Halo to connect entrepreneurs with targeted resources, strategies and counsel.

Halo and Nomad, located in adjoining early 20th century buildings, are each incubators for young, entrepreneurial talent.

Fashion Week links designers with stylists, make-up artists, models, photographers and boutiques, parties who previously lacked a formal hook-up. OFW and its week-long September event bring this fashion forward community together in a nurturing environment that serves as a springboard for collaboration and opportunity.

There has been such a need for these designers, stylists, makeup artists, models to have a forum and I think Omaha Fashion Week provides that stage, that platform, that opportunity. It’s really filled a void,” said operations director Caroline Moore.

OFW’s small, indoor runway shows culminate in the grand, outdoor finale held in the urban canyon right outside Nomad.

Things began rather humbly. Hudson admits it was a struggle to find enough designers and models in year one. “We didn’t really get the word out very well. We sort of scraped it together. We couldn’t really get many sponsors. I just sort of wrote a check for the whole thing. We begged and borrowed equipment to make it happen on a budget the best we could.” Makeshift or not, he said the final product “looked really impressive. It was one of those magical things when you tap into something and it’s better than what you ever imagined.”

Last year saw everything double, in terms of budget, designers, models, volunteers and attendees. The scale has increased again in year three, with 37 designers slated to show collections, hundreds of models signed up to sashay down catwalks and upwards of 6,000 to 7,000 viewers expected to turn out the entire week. The weeknight runway shows are expanded and the weekend runway finale is primed to be bigger and glitzier than ever.

”We have been blessed with an overwhelming amount of talent this year, said Richards, OFW event director. “From designers to models to sponsors to hairstylists to spectators, all of Omaha wants to be a part of this premiere event.”

“It’s definitely grown in scale, and the opportunities have been broadened for those who are participating,” said Moore. “There’s a lot of people excited about this momentum happening and wanting to get on board, even as volunteers, and that is just wonderful. We need all of those people on board to grow the event.” Moore said the breadth and depth of designer lines has increased: “There’s everything from extreme and unique couture-type pieces to marketable off-the-rack items.”

Richards broke fashion week down by the numbers: “Each night fashionistas and their friends can view between three to five designers Monday through Friday with a fundraiser for the Women’s Fund of Greater Omaha on Thursday. Local artists will be donating their time and talent to our Jane Doe project. Eight life size mannequins will be painted, sculpted, et cetera, and be on display throughout the entire week in Fifth Avenue-inspired windows designed by interior designer and vintage expert Melanie Gillis.”

 

 

Rachel Richards

 

 

Weeknight runway showsstart at 8pm. A cocktail reception precedes each show. Following the September 16th show, a DJ-hosted dance party is set for 10 p.m. at Nomad. Tickets are $5 at the door.

All of it is prelude to the September 18th bash.

The runway finalewill be taking place between 9th and 11th and Jones Street on Saturday night,” said Richards. “The runway will grow from 130 to 260 feet with 75 VIP tables surrounding the catwalk. Over 150 models will walk the 260-foot runway as an expected audience of 5,000-plus watch the 15 designers’ designs pass before them.”

VIP ticket holdersare invited to an exclusive pre-party inside Nomad from 6 to 7:45 p.m. The big show kicks off outdoors at 8. A VIP ticket also nets red carpet access, front row seating, valet parking and a swag bag. VIP tickets start at $100. Reserved tickets are $40 and general admission $20. “We wanted to make it even more VIP and glam for these guests,” said Richards.

Moore said a local vendor area will be new this year. Organizing it all is a year-long process. But OFW is about more than a single week. It’s an ongoing initiative to support and highlight the design scene.

What I see happening is Omaha Fashion Week becoming a voice and an expert in the Omaha community for fashion and a facilitator for fashion design and creative conversation in Omaha,” said Moore. “It’s also a way for designers to have a very low risk, high return opportunity to showcase their collections. Most fashion weeks charge designers to participate, but this is an open, no-cost opportunity.”

In line with its missionas what Moore calls “a relevant, go-to source for fashion information,” OFW has a year-round presence via: the social media it’s plugged into; a new publication on the local fashion scene; and a series of breakout events.

There’s a lot of social media buzz, certainly,” said Moore. “People follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We get e-mails. Lately, people moving to Omaha have been contacting us saying they want to get involved.”

Designer Eliana Smith is a fresh new face in Omaha, by way of Salt Lake City, Utah and Argentina, who will show her fall collection during the September 16th runway show. She’s impressed with the support OFW provides.

“What an amazing programthis is that a designer can get so much help,” Smith said. “That is so rare. It’s like having a best friend holding your hand and helping you out. It really gives opportunity to new and upcoming talent, so what a great place to start out as a designer. They’re there for you, helping every step of the way. If you need photographers or models, they’re like, ‘We’re on it.’ What a treasure it is to have that.”

Native Omahan Emma Erickson is coming back to show her line for the runway finale. The Academy of Art University in San Francisco graduate will present her work mere days after showing her school’s textile collaboration at New York Fashion Week. Until now, Erickson said, Omaha hasn’t had much of a fashion scene, but OFW “is a really big opportunity for young designers who need some nourishment or feedback. It’s a huge thing, and it’s free.”

New this year are workshops leading up to Fashion Week. Presenters include experienced designers and entrepreneurs sharing tips with emerging designers on how to develop and market their brand and grow their business. Another new segue to Fashion Week is Vogue’s September 10 Fashions Night Out, a celebration of local-national design trends at select boutiques. The night culminates at Nomad with the unveiling of Metro Magazine’s Faces Model competition winner and the new SpiritofOmaha.com website.

The winner of OFW’s new Idol with Style competition will perform at intermission of the runway finale. Moore anticipates there will ultimately be an annual spring and fall fashion week. OFW held its first spring (preview) in March.

As a new vehicle to promote local fashion, OFW debuted Omaha Fashion Magazine over the summer. The free publication is distributed to metro salons, boutiques, specialty stores. The next issue is due out in March.

It’s all added momentum for what Hudson calls “the biggest Midwest fashion event by a sizable margin. The community should be proud of that. We’re really committed to keep growing Fashion Week, keep making it more professional, keep making it a better event.”

My Omaha Fashion Magazine Work: Omaha Fashion Week may be showcase for the next big thing out of Omaha

September 4, 2010 5 comments

Last minute posing!

Image by Mary P. from Pretty Good Things via Flickr

Anyone who knows me would raise their eyebrow or get a good laugh knowing that I wrote most of the articles for the inaugural issue of Omaha Fashion Magazine.  That’s because I am so much like the Anne Hathaway character at the start of The Devil Wears Prada, which is to say I don’t think a lot about fashion and the way I dress and carry myself reflects that.  After getting the fashion assignment for the new magazine I didn’t undergo anything like the transformation Hathaway’s character did, but I did gain a new appreciation for fashion as an aesthetic medium and as a pervasive industry.  I am glad I got the assignment, as I interviewed a number of designers with real passion and talent, and even if I never write about fashion again, although I would very much like to, I will forever be more attuned to what is behind the garment that drapes the model strutting down the runway.  As I found, designers are just like all the other artists and creatives I’ve interviewed and profiled, which is to say they are wonderfully afflicted with a magnificent obsession to create and to turn their visions into reality.

The magazine (www.omahafashionweek.com/magazine) is published by Omaha Fashion Week, the big player on the local fashion scene with its September 13-17 week of shows and events.  I am presenting the stories as I submitted them, which is a bit different than the way they appeared in the print and online magazine.

 

My Omaha Fashion Magazine Work:

Omaha Fashion Week may be showcase for the next big thing out of Omaha

©by Leo Adam Biga

A version of the following was published in the  inaugural issue of Omaha Fashion Magazine (www.omahafashionweek.com/magazine)

 

Staking Out a Scene

Not so long ago the idea Omaha could ever be synonymous with high fashion strained credulity. But like lots of things once considered outside the domain of this Midwestern burg, say a relevant music scene for instance, Omaha continues defying expectations by making a splash in the American cultural stream.

Just as Saddle Creek Records framed the indigenous indie music scene as a much heralded, widely traveled brand of original artists sharing Omaha as their home base, other creative stirrings here are making waves. Whether in film, photography, animation, theatre, music, literature, painting, sculpture, graphic design or software applications, Omaha is producing a veritable flood of creative activity. So much so, this fly-over city long in search of a marketable image is gaining a reputation as a well-spring of imaginative start-ups and endeavors that intersect art and business.

Wherever you look there is a dynamic creative class of individuals, institutions, organizations, businesses and venues pushing the envelope. As more opportunities arise in this social networking age, creatives and entrepreneurs are carving out distinct niches for themselves. These include a diverse community of fashion forward designers whose couture and ready-to-wear work is finding an appreciative audience.

Omaha Freelance writer Lindsey Baker, who covers the fashion beat, said, “the fashion scene has developed right alongside” the city’s other cultural scenes. “I think people’s openness to all of the other things has made an openness to fashion appear. People are receptive.”

“The fashion scene in Omaha today compared to five years ago is definitely more sophisticated. Omaha has its own community of fashionistas, and they aren’t just over-styled, super trendy and accessorized to death. They are knowledgeable and savvy about what is happening right now in the fashion industry,” said Agency 89 booking director Christie Kruger, whose agency provides models for fashion shows and shoots.

The nexus of art and business in Omaha fashion is Omaha Fashion Week, a fall showcase that has become a platform and network for local designers in less than three years. OFW, patterned after those more famous events in larger cites, is evolving to connect designers with patrons, boutique owners and buyers.

It’s a production of Nomad Lounge, which utilizes an urban valley Old Market setting as the meta style site for a runway finale. The evening gala is aglow with lights and alive with energy as killer fashions walk down the 140-foot runway on tricked-out models to pulsating music, oohs and ahhs and popping flashbulbs. Thousands attend this culmination of a week-long focus on fashion, a must-see on Omaha’s ever-expanding cultural to-do list.

 

 

 

 

“It’s something that’s on people’s calendar and we are very surprised it only took three years to do that,” said event director Rachel Richards.

“Our event has really got this huge following,” said Nomad owner Nick Hudson, who along with Richards and designer Dale Heise of Omaha co-founded OFW.  “We are the biggest Midwest fashion event by a sizable margin, which is an amazing achievement. The community should be proud of that because they’re the ones who’ve done it, they’re the ones who’ve attended.”

Hudson said “it’s passion that’s driving this.” That’s true for the designers who make fashion, the models who bring it to life, the stylists and makeup artists who complete the look, the photographers who shoot it, the journalists who cover it and himself.

Tee’z Salon owner Thomas Sena, who directs the Week’s runway finale, said social media sites Facebook, YouTube and MySpace are “very important parts of marketing this and keeping the buzz alive.” With designers, stylists, models and photographers “posting photos and videos all year long,” he said, “the show doesn’t go away.””We’re starting to get noticed,” said Hudson. “The Convention and Visitors Bureau is hearing how wonderful it is. They’re bound to be interested in it because it’s helping put Omaha on the map. The Mayors apparently got it on his radar that it’s a really positive, good event. We’re getting nothing but really good vibes about it.”

What OFW has done is to identify and coalesce a formerly fragmented design landscape into something nearer a cohesive community.

As Omaha fashion photographer Chris Machian puts it, “There was a scene before, but it wasn’t organized. Fashion Week helped organize it a bit by sort of giving it a calendar and a cycle.”

Along the way, a deeper talent pool than anyone imagined has been revealed. This comes on the heels of a once subterranean fashion scene moving above ground, into the light of day.

“At some point there becomes kind of a critical mass with the underground movement where there’s an eventual spilling over into mainstream, and I think we’re right in the middle of that happening now,” said Sena. “And I think it really culminated in Nick Hudson recognizing the raw talent in the design scene. He started putting all these pieces together and recognized it was ready for kind of prime time. I really have to give Nick credit for recognizing that it was valid and it was doable.”

All Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go

Creating fashion is one thing. Having some place to display it and appreciate it is another. As more and more Omaha designers emerge, the need for sufficient area outlets to get these artists’ work noticed, talked about, bought and sold. whether in stores or at shows, becomes paramount.

Omaha Fashion Week is a catalyst for local fashion finding homes.

“Omaha Fashion Week has noticed the growth and interest and created a larger and growing platform for the undiscovered talents in Omaha,” said Bellwether Boutique owner Jesse Latham, whose Old Market shop carries work by locals.

 

 

Rachel Richards

 

 

The work of many Omaha designers is turning heads and finding buyers. There’s enough now that Latham can afford to be selective. Not everything she sees she likes. “Yes, there are a lot of designers,” she said, “but I see lines or pieces that are totally uninspired and missing the meaning or idea that this IS an art form, not some shifty way to get attention.” Latham said those designers whose work she does embrace “do well” in sales. “They did better when I first opened five years ago but the economic climate wasn’t quite as dire. My customers love to support them and I love to tell newcomers about each designer as if they were my kids.”

What are the upper limits for an Omaha fashion designer?

At least one, Thakoon, has gone national, although he felt compelled to leave Omaha for New York to do that. The hope is that someday someone will go big here and stay here with a locally designed line that’s sold coast-to-coast, even worldwide.

Conor Oberst did it in music. Jun Kaneko in art. Alexander Payne in film. Richard Dooling in literature.

“I don’t see why the same thing couldn’t happen with the design scene. I can see these young designers being picked up. The quirky idea of this coming from Omaha will just give it added buzz. It’s a good story,” said Tee’z Salon’s Thomas Sena. “I think it’s going to take just one successful Omaha designer to get out there in front and be picked up on a national commercial basis — someone who really gets out and kills it.”

Some have caused ripples. Mary Anne Vaccaro makes much-in-demand evening wear gowns. Sabrina Jones has her own lines of bridal and evening wear. Alexia Thiele’s Autopilot Art label reaches a wide audience of 20-somethings. Megan Hunt, aka Princess Lasertron, has nationwide clients for her bridal accessories. She and Joi Mahon of Dress Forms Design are launching a line of bridal and party dresses.

Meanwhile, several high fashion shops have opened in recent years, such as Alice Kim’s Trocadero.

“She’s (Kim) successfully introduced people to things. Some of the places that have opened up downtown have been a really good indicator that people in Omaha are interested in having a more metropolitan attitude towards fashion,” said Omaha fashion writer Lindsey Baker.

Additionally, shops like the Bellwether and Retro Rocket feature local fashion.

“Jesse Latham is a huge proponent of the local designers,” said Omaha designer and fashion photographer Dale Heise.

Even national chains like Urban Outfitter and American Apparel have added a hip  new aesthetic. Then there’s the out-of-the-closet factor of television reality shows like Project Runway bringing high fashion into people’s living rooms every day. “That show has done great things for fashion as a whole and Omaha has caught wind of that,” said Latham.

As Omaha designer Buf Reynolds sees it, the more exposure designers like herself have to a big fashion stage, the more realistic a career seems. “Everybody’s starting to understand that it’s something that’s real and it’s attainable at this point.”

Taken together, there’s a synergy around Omaha fashion as never before.

 

 

Nick Hudson

 

 

I’ve been asked by the Chamber of Commerce what are the implications of fashion here,” said Nomad owner Nick Hudson. “It’s quite a hard question to answer. In terms of being on a big scale those things take time but certainly there’s the beginnings there of real potential. So what we’re doing is spending some time listening to the people involved about what can we do to help keep improving and nurture that. That’s why we put on an end of March show this year — to keep it a little bit alive, to keep the designers connected with people. It’s a smaller, more personal show where they can actually connect one-on-one with people who are interested in buying the garments.

“The other initiative is this magazine, which is going to live in hair salons and boutique stores and help in bringing this fashion community together.”

 

 

 

 

No one is pretending Omaha has anything like a sustainable fashion industry. Yet.

But those immersed in the nascent scene see the potential for a breakout phenomenon akin to what happened with indie music here.

“Omaha’s Saddle Creek indie music scene seemingly came out of nowhere,” said  Heise. “All these musicians were just doing what they love in their basement and doing occasional shows. It basically took them taking their acts to New York and somebody seeing them, saying, ‘Oh, this is amazing.’ I think the same thing will happen with fashion in Omaha.”

If it does, Fashion Week will almost certainly be involved as a facilitator.

With the Help of Some Perspective

It’s not that there was no fashion scene before Omaha Fashion Week debuted in 2008 to surprisingly big crowds. Prior to OFW the scene amounted to local celebrity shows for charity with off-the-rack, mass-produced garments, or funky guerrilla alley or warehouse shows of original but extreme, avant-garde designs with limited appeal.

Omaha designer Buf Reynolds said, “About six-seven-eight years ago a fashion scene hardly existed. There were a few fashion shows here and there but they were not a whole lot to speak of. It’s come so far so fast. I’m pretty happy to be a part of it.”

“The success of Fashion Week is stimulating a lot of other fashion shows,” said Thomas Sena of Tee’z Salon.

Not that there weren’t interesting shows in the past. A legendary one organized by designer Dan Richters at the Medusa Project presaged the compelling original designer fashions that have since come to the fore.

“Dan is in some ways the grandfather of the modern (Omaha) fashion scene,” according to Omaha designer Dale Heise. “He put on this show of all local designers and all these people came out just to see fashion. It was very underground.”

“Slowly but surely there was kind of an alternative underground movement of originals that grew just like there was in music. Some of these underground parties started doing little showings of original clothing,” noted Sena, whose salon has sponsored its own annual runway show.

By and large though, said Heise, presentations of original local designs were mere interludes or diversions between band sets at live music clubs. Fashion was minimized as side show, add-on, after-thought, frill. It was not main attraction.

Heise, Reynolds and designer Julia Drazic wanted to change that by making fashion, what’s more local fashion, the spotlight, not the music or models or drinks. They began energizing the scene with shows at the Omaha Magic Theatre.

Then Heise met Nomad’s Nick Hudson, a transplanted Brit with a rich background in the fashion and beauty industries and a passion for entrepreneurism. Hudson was already impressed by Omaha’s arts community. Nomad began hosting shows and Hudson said when he saw the work of Heise and other local designers “it really caught my attention. I wasn’t really expecting to find fashion designers of any real note in Omaha.” But he did.

Hudson, Heise and Rachel Richards, who is Nomad’s general manager and marketing/events director, envisioned something grander and more glamourous than these small alternative shows with a handful of designers and 200-300 spectators.

“When I started conjuring the idea of Fashion Week I wanted it to be a larger outdoor show,” said Heise. “I wanted it to be accessible to the public, I wanted it to be seen from far off, I wanted it to be a spectacle.

“What we did at the Magic Theatre was very cool and artistic but anyone from Chicago or New York would have thought, Oh, that’s cute. I wanted something that said we’re really serious about this, we’re not trying to be cute.”

Photographer Chris Machian, who is part of Minor White Studios, finds the spectacle a blast to shoot.

“What I enjoy is seeing a mix of color and light coming down that runway,” he said. “The event uses dramatic stage lighting, and you can do a lot of different things with that. I rarely ever use a flash. I’ll play with it, I’ll go with a slower shutter at first, and then as the show goes along I’ll go in different artistic modes and do all silhouette or all panning shots. Then real detail shots on eyes and shoes and things like that. Crowd reactions. I don’t go in with all those things planned either. Then I’ll go backstage and have the models and designers coming out.”

He said the intimate access afforded by OFW is rare. “New York Fashion Week is all shot from the same spot because they cordon photographers off. There I wouldn’t have the access I have here. Here, they let me do my job, and it’s wonderful,” said Machian. If he wants to, he said, he can spend an all-nighter with a designer crashing to complete a line, just as he’s done with Dale Heise. He can also interpret that same designer’s creative process — from sketch to sewing to fitting to runway walk — as akin to the stages of a butterfly’s life.

Freelance writer Lindsey Baker said aside from minor quibbles she has with aspects of the event, Fashion Week has proven itself a bona fide happening that is building as opposed to plateauing.

“Obviously there’s something going on,” she said.

The 2,000 or so who turned out the first year doubled in 2009. “After last year. we realized it wasn’t a fluke,” said Hudson, who expects 6,000 to attend this year. The artists involved include hundreds of models, stylists, make-up artists. All volunteers.

“I think we were all just a little bitt shocked at quite how good it was and how’d we’d created this possibility,” said Hudson. “We begged and borrowed bits of equipment to make it happen on a budget the best we could, but it looked really impressive.”

Devoting an entire week exclusively to local design broke new ground here.

 

 

Thomas Sena

 

 

“Going with all original local designers was something completely new to Omaha, On that kind of a scale that had never been done before,” said Sena.

Taking Off

No one anticipated an Omaha fashion week would reel in so many participants. Twelve designers were part of Fashion Week I. Twice as many made lines for Fashion Week II. Heading into Year Three dozens are vying for the coveted main runway slots. As local designer Dale Heise put it, “designers are coming out of the woodwork.” Clearly, organizers tapped into a creative community that never had a dedicated showcase like this until now.

Buf Reynolds, owner of Retro Rocket, has been part of the scene for a decade. She’s stunned by how much growth there is in the number and quality of designers.

“Six years ago we couldn’t find 10 designers to do a show, where now there’s over 30 designers trying to get into a show. It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “The amount of talent out there is astounding. It’s really overwhelming to see all these people. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, is my stuff good enough?’ You have to wonder. And it’s great because it challenges you and pushes you forward. It’s really fun.”

“In total, Omaha has at least 50 designers, all at different stages, of course, but talented people doing original, creative things,” Heise said. “You’ve got such a spectrum of designers and diverse designs — from electric clash punk to formal bridal gowns to evening wear that looks like Armani to razor cut tuxedos with incredible lines.

“Then there’s Buf Reynolds with her modern twists on 1920s, 1930s-inspired dresses. Simple elegance. Very flowing. They’re not the most radical but they’re very interesting, and there’s a sold consistency from Buf. She’s a powerhouse who does several shows a year and designs several pieces for every show.”

Heise’s own work features monochrome panel dress designs that  expose skin in a sultry peek-a-boo style.

In an e-mail Bellwether Botique’s Jessie Latham shared her take on other leading Omaha designers:

“Shannon Hopp will bring her work down, and call it ‘dumb,’ while I’m thinking she should make one in every color. She edits her pieces perfectly to make the beauties from the past look modern. Dan Richters is the example I would put in front of people when I tell them fashion is also art.  Alexia Thiele is the queen of reconstruction. She makes unique, adorable pieces for the entire family.

“Jennie Mason is sweet as a GAP model only to throw you off with electric colors, spiked shoulders, computer carcasses, pink tutus and robots. She is the only designer who nailed the market on men’s wear. Amazing tailoring. Every time Jane Round brings me something new it blows my mind. She’s constantly growing as a designer, as much and often more than the ‘scene’ is.”

Before OFW, Heise said, few designers knew each other. “It’s been this magnet for, Oh, there’s somebody else doing it here, too — I’m not as crazy as I thought.”

“It’s also cultivating new talent,” said Tee’z Salon owner Thomas Sena, who echoed others in admiring the work of two teenage designers featured at last year’s Fashion Week. One was Jane Round and the other, Claire Landolt, who drew much attention with her playful paper dresses fashioned from newsprint and duct tape.

Before she got plugged into the scene courtesy the Bellwether’s Latham, Landolt said she had “no idea” there were local designers beside herself.

“I think it’s very important to make connection with the other designers,” said Landolt, an Omaha Roncalli junior who accessorizes her drab school uniform with high heels and sprays of fabric and color. “We’re not competitive with each other but it kind of makes us work harder. I know I want to be more creative and think of new ideas, so I’m not too similar to someone else. We all have our own distinct looks, but I think we kind of overlap in some areas — a lot us like the vintage-inspired clothing.”

In Latham, Landolt’s found a mentor who carries her Itchy line at Bellwether. “We’re really good friends. She just kind of nurtures me and supports me,” said Landolt. The teen was a spectator at the first Fashion Week and thanks to Latham got an insider’s look at the goings-on. “She took me backstage, just holding my hand and dragging me everywhere, so I got behind the scenes. It was crazy back stage.”

 

 

 

The environment whet the young designer’s appetite to be part of the next show. She was and she impressed many with ger creative talent. Thanks to Latham and the experience of Fashion Week the sweet, shy Landolt now counts several designers as friends. It’s just one less degree of separation for what otherwise can be an isolated art form. That feeling of being part of a design community has benefits. “It’s really great because you can actually sit down and talk with somebody who has a sympathetic ear and understands all the little daily things we have to go through,” Reynolds said.

Aside from a few exceptions, being an Omaha fashion designer means working solo rather than with a team of assistants. It means doing everything by hand one’s self. It means working a day job to support this passion and then pulling all-nighters to get lines ready for showing. Most designers have little time to actually market their brand.

Heise said, “Now we’ve kind of started this support group for fashion addicts in order to get us all moving in the right direction and thinking about it as a serious thing in terms of — how do you market yourself, how do you show your designs, how do you get in front of clients, how do you sell things?”

Nomad’s Nick Hudson confirmed that OFW is trying to provide more structure for designers. “We’re helping them with just simple things like business cards and Web sites — trying to help designers with some of the business basics.”

Top of the World

According to Omaha fashion professionals and observers taking the scene to the next level requires putting in place a support system that operates year-round, not just around Fashion Week. Said Nomad owner Nick Hudson, “One of the things the designers asked us to help them with is getting in more stores. I’d love there to be a store that stocked all the designers all the time, so that’s something we’re working on, trying to encourage more stores to stock the clothes.”

A more economically sustainable scene is the goal and that means finding ways to link more designers with buyers or investors. Designer and shop owner Buf Reynolds said Omaha lacks an infrastructure for designers. “You don’t have somebody who can take a one-of-a-kind garment and turn it into a pattern, then send it to somebody who can do a small scale production of it. If that happened in Omaha I think that would change everything pretty drastically.”

Lindsey Baker sees a need for Fashion Week to facilitate more interaction between designers and those interested in fashion, whether consumers, store buyers, or journalists like herself.

“I’d love for there to be a greater opportunity to mingle with the designers and say, ‘I really love that dress — how can I get it?’ I think it would be great if afterwards there were a couple additional days where the designers would be available in the location selling their work. I think that sort of thing would help.,” said Baker.

“I really like to see the work up close and to touch it if I can, to provide a better reference, because sometimes when a model is walking by you don’t necessarily see all of the excellent tailoring details. That sort of thing is lost up on the runway. ”

It’s why OFW held its first annual Spring Premier runway event at Nomad on March 31. The private showing of designs by up-and-coming artists is the intimate antithesis of the giant fall runway finale and part of Hudson’s strategy to better connect designers with the fashionista public.

If the fledgling Omaha fashion scene is to become an industry those kinds of relationships need a framework that encompasses all the players.

Designer Dale Heise said, “Part of the ball is now in Omaha’a hands in moving it to something where people are seeking out local designs and finding designers they become fans of and buying local. It’s a rough industry anywhere but in Omaha there’s no support network. We’ve got a design scene that’s far outpacing the market for it in Omaha right now.”

“It takes energy and it takes leadership at lots of different levels,” said Hudson.

Everyone agrees there is a bottom line practicality that needs addressing. “Money is energy and money will support the industry and support the people and make a difference here. It’s important for the community to support these artists and entrepreneurs in this way,” said Hudson, who acknowledges the need to expand beyond grassroots support to formal business models.

The nonprofit Halo Institute he co-founded with Creighton University nurtures entrepreneurial companies. Halo may be an incubator for future designers.

“Nomad is all about artists, Halo is all about entrepreneurs, and Omaha Fashion Week is where those two things come together,” said Hudson. “All artistry is a little bit of entrepreneurship. It just has a different mind set. But fashion in particular is very much a combination of art and entrepreneurship. Angel investing is perfectly possible with some designers in a few years. I think that’s the direction we’re going.

“It’d be great having a big line coming out of Omaha, and I’ve actually got a plan for that using a number of different designers. But I think it’s all about timing and it’s no good I’ve learned to launch things before they’re ready.”

Hudson senses Omaha fashion is near “a tipping point. I think it’s just strange enough and enough rumblings are going on that people are connecting the dots and realizing this great collection of activity going on here is pretty special.” He said fashion writers from national publications are taking notice and may cover this year’s Fashion Week.

Some designers, like Heise and Reynolds, are adamant the scene remain edgy in the face of growing pressures to have more mass appeal.

 

 

 

 

“It’s very fragile at this point and one wrong move could spoil it for a lot of people,” said Reynolds. “We have to keep doing things that are very independent and very creative. We have to keep pushing the bar, raising it, and not losing the really independent spirit that the fashion scene has right now.”

Tee’z Salon owner Thomas Sena said, “You could end up going too commercial too fast and just watering it down and losing what you had in the beginning. That could be a danger.”

Whatever direction it takes, the consensus is the artists should come first.

“It starts with support for the designers,” said Bellwether Botique owner Jessie Latham. “I see them put their entire lives into their work but they can’t sustain themselves on it. They give their all to a show and then that’s it, they pack up their garments and go home. It’s kind of a ‘way of life’ or political issue. If people could take their money out of the big box stores and put it back into the local economy, it would help all forms of art in Omaha thrive, not just fashion.”

Megan Hunt is bullish enough about fashion’s potential here she’s staking out a debut line of dresses she hopes to premier at Fashion Week. She believes Omaha’s entrepreneurial community will invest in fashion as a growth market.  “I think we have the perfect storm here of community support and a culture of risk taking,” she said.

Hunt’s further demonstrated her commitment by moving her studio and office into the Mastercraft building, where creatives are taking up shop. She feels she’s onto the next big thing in NoDo, where Mastercraft, The Hot Shops, Slowdown, Film Streams, the new ballpark, the Qwest Center and the riverfront are shaping Omaha’s new image.

“We’re really lucky — I think we’re having our Roaring ’20s here in the 2000s.”

“All that is going on and happening is why I think Omaha is a really exciting place to be,” said Hudson. Fashion is just the latest expression of the city’s creative capital.

When Hudson goes to L.A., as he did during Oscar week to pitch celebrities his Excelsior Beauty line with the help of celebrities, he still gets skeptical looks when he mentions Omaha and fashion in the same breath. The difference now, he said, is that people know Omaha as a place where good art is coming from.

“Now we can say it with a wry smile,” he said.

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