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Touched by Tokyo: Hairstylist to the Stars Tokyo Stylez

August 27, 2016 2 comments

Born William Jackson, this Omaha native is known to the world today as Tokyo Stylez. His “Touched by Tokyo” tagline follows this hair stylist to the stars wherever he goes. His ability to make clients look fabulous and feel glamorous for photo shoots and red carpet events, combined with his own singular, striking appearance, has him on the fast track to fame and fortune. Tokyo’s mother, Nebraska girls basketball legend Jessica Haynes-Jackson, is a friend of mine whose life story I am due to tell in a book. Beauty and hoops run in this family. So does a history of deaths by gun violence. This story doesn’t get into all that, but the book I’m doing with Jessica will. Despite hardship and tragedy, its a family of great resilience. Their collective and individual stories offer inspiration. Tokyo is their shining star and Mom and Co. couldn’t be any prouder. This is my profile of Tokyo in the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/)

 

Tokyo4

Touched by Tokyo

Hairstylist to the Stars Tokyo Stylez

August 26, 2016
©Photography by Alain Nana Kwango
Illustration by Kristen Hoffman
Appearing in the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/)

If you don’t consider Omaha a beauty-style launching pad, think again. Homegrown talents Jaime King and Gabrielle Union tear it up on screen, in photo spreads, and for the red carpet. Designer Kate Walz has a Paris collection to her credit. But no one’s trending hotter than hairstylist-to-the-stars William Jackson, aka Tokyo Stylez.

This lithe young man with striking African-American and Native American features is courted for his dope skills with tresses.

“Hair is the new accessory now,” he says.

It all began in Omaha doing his family’s hair. It morphed into an enterprising hustle that became his calling and career. Based in Washington D.C., he’s a bicoastal creative with a celebrity client list: Lil’ Kim, Toni Braxton, Fantasia, Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Gabrielle Union, and Kendall and Kylie Jenner.

“It’s all about building relationships and a trust that you can create their image—their look—and bring it to life for them,” he says.

Tokyo2He’s signed to make over a TV-publishing icon. He’s close to realizing a dream of doing hair for divas Beyonce, Madonna, and Cher. He appears on TLC’s Global Beauty Masters. He tours, giving tutorials. His “Touched by Tokyo” brand features a hair fragrance mist and custom wigs.

It’s all happening so fast. But he’s ready for it.

“Right now is my time, and I just have to capture it and take things to the next level,” he says in his sweet, soft voice.

He feels his versatile chops set him apart.

“I’m like a big creative ball wrapped in one. I have a little bit of everything. You want to take it to the street, I can take you there. If you want soft, chic, and classy, I can do that. If you want a little high fashion. I do that, too. I’m just out of this world. Anything you want, I’ll do. I plan to be the next Paul Mitchell,” he says without brag.

His dreams got fired at 9 when his mother, Jessica Haynes-Jackson, was incarcerated. Some bad choices led to being caught up in a drug ring. She got busted and served several months in prison. While confined, Tokyo and his siblings lived with their father. Before going in, she says, “I asked Tokyo to take care of sissy’s hair while mommy was away. He was delighted and gracefully accepted the challenge. I knew he could do at least one ponytail, and that was all I expected.”

Except he proved a prodigy, replicating what he saw his hairdresser grandma and his mom create—braids, twists, French rolls.

He says, “I picked it up really quick. That’s kind of where I got an idea I knew what I was doing.”

When his mother was released, he couldn’t wait to show her his handiwork.

Tokyo1“She had never seen it. She’d only heard my grandmother telling her, ‘He’s killing it.’ So to show her and to see the look on her face was a great feeling.”

“This was how we discovered his amazing talent that now the whole world enjoys,” Haynes-Jackson says.

By 15, he made a name for himself doing hair. Meanwhile, his mother earned two degrees, became a mental health counselor, and coached. She is his biggest fan and inspiration.

“She’s always supported me and loved everything I’ve done. She’s an awesome lady. She is very independent. She’s never really asked anyone for anything. She’s always found a way to make things happen. I definitely would say I’ve inherited my drive from her.”

“I think what I love most about Tokyo is his warm, gentle spirit,” his mom says. “He is the same person despite his celebrity status. I think what touched my heart the most is when he traveled with his ‘Glam Squad’ to give a teenage girl battling a rare cancer a surprise makeover for her prom. I am a very proud mom.”

Tokyo’s travels have gone international. Life in the fast lane means dropping everything to do high profile gigs with tight deadlines.

He got an early taste of being a coveted stylist in school.

“Everyone came to me to get their hair done—girls and boys. My mom’s friends and clients. Their daughters. I was in such high demand it was crazy. People would be passing me notes, ‘Hey, can you do my hair after school?’ It was always something. But I knew this was something I wanted to do.”

Tokyo3With “a very steady clientele, the money was coming in,” he says. An attempt at a dancing career led to taking Tokyo as his stage name.  Seeking a bigger market as a stylist, he moved to Atlanta where he rebranded as Tokyo Stylez and blew up on social media. Celeb clients followed. In D.C. he’s minutes from New York fashion central and a nonstop flight from L.A.’s entertainment capital.

He plans to have a business presence in Omaha.

“I definitely want something back at home where it came from. It would only be right to do so.”

Meanwhile, he changes perceptions of Omaha wherever he goes.

“People are like, ‘You have black people there?’ I get that every time.”

Visit touchedbytokyo.com for more information.

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Welcome to Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories @ leoadambiga.com


 

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Welcome to Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories @ leoadambiga.com, where–

I write stories about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions

Here are some cover story images associated with my blog posts. The stories represented by these images, like every post on the blog, are written by me. You can click on some of the covers to access the stories.

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Hope to see you here again @ leoadambiga.com

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AS YOU CAN SEE, DIVERSITY IS THE NAME OF MY GAME

 

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Alesia Lester: A Conversation in the Gossip Salon

March 9, 2016 4 comments

Alesia Lester is the epitome of dope style.  It’s in the way she dresses, makes herself up, moves, speaks, and handles herself.  The owner of Gossip Salon in North Omaha has a loyal clientele for her stylist chops and good counsel.  She enjoys a big following on social media for her real talk affirmations and observations. She is a woman transformed and hard earned life lessons are the subject of a forthcoming book she’s authored titled Life Behind the Chair.  Her blossoming into a “concrete rose” is sure to resonate wth many women and men for that matter. I trust that my Omaha Magazine profile of Alesia will make you want to know more of her story.

Alesia Lester: A Conversation in the Gossip Salon

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the March-April 2016 issue of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/)

 

Seeing the confidence Gossip Salon owner Alesia Lester, 35, projects, it’s hard to believe she once only felt whole behind the stylist chair.

This master of the weave, the bump, the blowout, the twist and the wrap developed her chops as a teen. The single mother possesses a gift for not only getting clients’ hair right but their head and heart right, too. Women open up, knowing what they say there, stays there.

Located in the former Leola’s Records & Tapes building at 5625 Ames Ave., Gossip is a five-chair, sleek urban hair and works haven. Lester, an Omaha Fashion Week stylist. is the presiding mistress of glam.

“Each year it’s gotten bigger and better, so I must be doing something right, honey,” the slender, suave Lester says over soul tracks.

She’s built a loyal clientele for the way she wields a comb and flat iron as well as doles out straight talk and tough love.

“She’ll tell you just how it is – good, bad or ugly,” client Bonita Stennis declares. “I’m way older than her but I appreciate the conversations we have because you can always be taught. She has wisdom, old-age wisdom.”

Another client, Makayla McMorris says, “She is definitely honest and keeps it one hundred percent real with anybody. She’s not guarded whatsoever and that’s a hard quality to find. People look up to her and want to be like her.”

“Just to be able to have those one-on-one personal conversations with people, that’s what I like,” Lester says. “I want to know they are OK, I just do, and they want know I’m OK. It makes me feel good.”

Young ladies in crisis ask her advice. They know Lester’s been there herself.

“My phone rings all the time. Sometimes in the middle of the night they want to talk to somebody. I get lots of in-boxes on Facebook. I take women that don’t feel good about themselves and make them feel great about themselves. I just try to meet them right where they are.”

 

 

 

Young men seek her counsel as well.

“I try to find different things and different ways to try to help them. It’s just how I’m built. I love people. It’s like a blessing and a curse. I do feel like it’s my purpose.”

She’s come to this point after much trial and transformation. She shares life lessons learned along the way.

“Her life is an open book,” Stennis says. “She has no secrets. She doesn’t portray to be nothing she isn’t. She tells you just how it is and how she would do it and how she wouldn’t do it.”

Lester’s knack for connecting finds her invited to speak before youth audiences. Extemporaneous riffs flow from her. Whether addressing students or clients, she’s alternately sassy and subdued, serious and funny as confidante, confessor, life coach, motivational cheerleader.

“I’m a therapist. I’m a sister to people who don’t have sisters, I’m a mother to those who don’t have mothers, I’m a friend to those that need a friend. I become all of these things.”

Now add author. Her new book Life Behind the Chair is part memoir and part self-help manual. It reads like a testimony about the power of making better choices, healing old wounds, practicing forgiveness, finding purpose and taking ownership. She writes from experience.

Abandoned by her drug addicted biological mother and raised by a sharp tongued-aunt, Lester acted out the hurt inside. At 15 she gave birth to her son DaJuan, whom she raised herself. She masked her chaos in promiscuity. Two unwanted pregnancies ended in abortion. Plagued by doubt, regret and feelings of inadequacy, she attempted suicide.

When told she was beautiful or sexy, she heard “tramp, nasty, dirty.”

Her saving grace was her fighting spirit and abiding faith. At every new low or challenge – such as a 2007 cervical cancer diagnosis –  she rallied. Radical self-improvement only came after hitting bottom.

“It’s like I always say – you have your own level of enough and I reached my level of enough. Nothing was making sense in my life. The only way on was up. I realized I had to let go of everything. If I didn’t, I would just continue to feel bad about myself and I didn’t want that.

“Forgiveness is important. There’s so many people in the book I had to forgive, including myself. It’s the only way you’re able to live.”

The book’s epilogue and subtitle Journey of a Concrete Rose, offer an apt analogy.

“Someone I refer to in the book as My Friday Client, said, ‘You remind me of a concrete rose – this beautiful thing that’s busted through all these different layers, problems, issues. Baby, you’ve done it, and now you’ve blossomed.’ It was a perfect way to describe me. So damn dope.”

The back cover depicts a red rose blooming from the colorless street.

The book celebrates her inside finally matching her outside. Beautiful.

After many failed short-term flings, she’s in a committed, supportive relationship today.

Doing the project was a catharsis.

“I have all these people that pour into me but at the end of the day I don’t have anybody I can pour into. That’s why I started writing.”

She feels called to share her inspiring journey with others.

“I think everything I’ve ever been through was to help someone else.”

Some suggest what she does is a ministry. She says she can’t claim that because “I swear like a sailor.”

Her mentor, Omaha native Paul Bryant, liked her colorful Facebook posts and encouraged her to craft her real life stories in a book.

Bonita Stennis speaks for the Gossip gang in saying she can’t wait for Lester’s life-affirming tale in print because “she can really touch your soul and it’s coming truly from her heart.”

Follow Lester on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alesia.lester.

 

 

 

 

One of Alesia’s Facebook posts:

I absolutely did not…

Ask to be born.
Expect my biological MOTHER to leave.
Ask to be dark.
Expect low self-esteem.
Plan a pregnancy at 15.
Plan to do it alone.
Mean to disappoint my MOMMA. (My world)
Want to admit I didn’t graduate.
Intentionally seek the wrong men.
Know I’d lose everything.
Know God would give it all back to me!!
Know I’d beat cervical cancer.
Expect to be a top stylist.
Expect to open my own salon.
Know I’d be in a position to give jobs in my community.
Realize I’d make people smile the way I do.
Expect my son to graduate.
Know I’d be the dopest mom.
Have any idea I’d write a book.
Take my clientele for granted.
Know I’d meet the best man 💋
Ever feel sorry for myself.
Know that life could be this peaceful…👌🏾

I absolutely did not know that all of those things would shape me into the person going down your timeline right now…

See how my life started off low, and God took me to new heights? Had I not gone through those things, I’d never have a story to tell you all…‪#‎LifeBehindTheChair‬#ComingSoon

 

The Designers: Omaha’s Emerging Fashion Culture

February 2, 2014 2 comments

Fashion writing keeps coming back into my wheelhouse.  What’s interesting about this is that I never suspected fashion writing could even be in my wheelhouse given my less than fashionable wardrobe and my own disregard for elements of style in the way I dress.  Don’t get me wrong, I like to look nice as much as the next person, but I’ve never spent much time or effort considering or cultivating a personal look or style for myself and I don’t pay much attention to buying fashionable brands.  But in the last half dozen years I’ve found myself writing a fair amount about fashion.  Part of that is a function of the fact that I am a cultural writer and fashion is a part of the cultura fabric, so to speak, of any metropolitan area.  And so just as I write about film, television, theater, literature and many other aspects and streams of Omaha’s cultural life, I have found myself writing about fashion.  Still, I likely wouldn’t have begun covering the fashion scene were it not for falling in with some of the very people who have nurtured the fashion scene here.  That association led me to write about Omaha Fashion Week just as it was taking off and before I knew it I was penning stories about Omaha fashion, past and present, for Omaha Fashion Magazine and other publications.  You’ll find those stories on this blog.  The following story for Metro Magazine profiles four designers who are a part of that emerging scene.  Has any of this work about fashion made me more fashion conscious in the way I dress?  Not really.  But I do have an enhanced appreciation for what individuals do in the fashion world, whether designers or models or hair and makeup artists.

 

 

metroMAGAZINE

the designers

Omaha’s Emerging Fashion Culture

BY LEO ADAM BIGA
Now appearing in Metro Magazine

Though far from a fashion center, Omaha’s always been home to people involved in the design, merchandising and consumption of fashion. While still not a couture capital, the city’s seen the emergence of a fashion culture giving local designers more opportunities to get their work seen and fashionistas new talents to support. 

Helping lead this revolution is Omaha Fashion Week and the professional platform it provides independent fashion designers to showcase their work. The companion Fashion Institute Midwest nurtures aspiring designers and supports the region’s fashion ecosystem through training, resources and business incubation.

OFW designers are a diverse lot but all embody a passion for fashion and creativity that is part of their DNA. The four designers profiled here create highly distinct collections that are personal expressions of themselves. Each has been immersed in fashion for as long as they can remember, Each has been embraced by the local fashion community. They are part of a burgeoning creative class scene and design-style conscious movement that’s changing the perception of Omaha from fashion desert to oasis and from nondescript Midwest town to exciting hub for sophisticated fun.

They will be among the featured designers during the March 4-9 OFW event at the Omar Building, 4823 Nicholas Street.

 

Meet the designers:

 

Kate Walz at work

 

 

Kate Walz
Seventeen-year-old Millard North High School junior Kate Walz has already shown her chic designs in her hometown, in Kansas City and in New York City.

She did her first OFW show at 13 and has now presented eight collections there. She made it to the Big Apple when she debuted her fall collection in an offsite New York Fashion Week show. She’s also Spokes Designer for Fashion Camp NYC, a day camp for teens wanting fashion careers.

All in all, she’s just the kind of promising young talent Omaha style-conscious, fashion-forward patrons hope to put over the top.

Walz doesn’t get caught up in her fast rise or bright future because she’s doing what comes naturally to her.

“My mom says I’ve been drawing dresses since I could hold a crayon. I first started sewing and draping at 8 in 4-H. I participated in the fashion and sewing competitions and found success, winning the title Grand Champion against all the high school kids. When I was 12 I started making my own patterns and selling my garments at Bellwether Boutique in downtown Omaha.”

She describes as her “biggest mentor” Bellwether’s late owner, Jessica Latham.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am in my fashion career if she hadn’t let me start selling my designs in Bellwether. I value the advice she has given me the most.”

Walz says she appreciates OFW showing her “what it’s like to be in a professional environment,” adding, “They’ve given me exposure and experience I haven’t found anywhere else.” Fashion Institute Midwest workshops, she says, have taught her pattern grading and pitching her brand. The Institute sponsored her New York Fashion Week trip.

She absorbs all she can from more experienced designers.

“My biggest inspirations are some of Omaha’s local designers: Buf Reynolds, Dan Richters, Jane Round, Megan Hunt, Audi Helkuik. They all have given me such great advice. It’s an honor to get to work alongside some of them.

“Really all local designers have been great mentors to me. The OFW team has also been a big help in directing me in the right path for both my design work and business decisions.”

Walz says she’s “tried all different kinds of looks” for her women’s wear line while “searching for my signature voice,” adding, “What I try to achieve as a designer is a balance between being conceptual, conventional and cohesive. Reoccurring characteristics in my clothing are femininity, attention to detail and a vintage vibe.”

She embraces Omaha’s growing fashion scene.

“The exposure has opened so many doors for us local designers.”

At a tender age she had to prove herself to doubters, though she finds widespread acceptance today.

“One of my biggest challenges has been people not taking me seriously because I am so young, although it’s not much of a problem anymore.”

Walz counts her greatest triumph being selected Spokes Designer for Fashion Camp NYC.

“They flew me to New York for 10 days to mentor fellow fashion campers from all over the world. I also had the privilege of meeting people at the top of the industry.”

After high school she has her sights set on attending Parsons The New School for Design.

“It is my dream to one day open up my own boutique in New York and eventually have my clothing carried in high-end department stores.”

Follow her at http://www.katewalz.com.

Aubrey Sookram

Hartington, Neb. native Aubrey Sookram has created a boutique children’s brand, Markoos Modern Design, that’s carried on the popular shopping site for moms, Zulily.com.

Her passion for fashion began as a girl.

“I wore a uniform to school on a daily basis all the way through high school,” she says “I definitely took casual days and dress-up days as an opportunity to express myself.”

Her creativity comes out in multiple ways.

“It actually took me a bit to decide what medium I was going to focus on. I adore interior design. I also like power tools. I will try creating anything at least once.”

She’s been intentional about making fashion a career.

“I have a degree in marketing with minors in merchandising and fashion design from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I taught myself to sew.”

Ideas for her children’s wear designs come from various sources for this wife and mother of three.

“I love vintage Dior and the simplicity of modern designers like Ralph Lauren, Halston and Kate Spade. I like clean design. A lot of my designs are a hybrid of retro and modern styles. I find inspiration in everything from architecture, fine arts, designers old and new and pop culture. Right now I am finding a lot of inspiration from music and movies from my youth.

“My new fall collection is based on a movie from the ’90s. Stay tuned.”

Her penchant for eclectic combos helps her work stand out.

“I love to mix patterns, colors and textures.  Many designs start with fairly classic silhouettes but seem to morph into something more modern. I adore bold color.”

This entrepreneur appreciates the support she and other designers find through OFW.

“Omaha Fashion Week has been an incredible confidence booster and resource. I have gotten the chance to work closely with other children’s designers, such as Hollie Hanash and Yolanda Diaz. All the designers are supportive of one another. They’re a source of endless wisdom and practical knowledge.”

She says a fashion designer from here can be a success nationally but many hurdles must be cleared.

“The logistical issues are daunting. There is a limited number of fabric stores in the metro, so one can expect to travel to larger cities for fabric sourcing and production. As my business has grown, this problem has as well.”

Then there’s the time and money it takes to market your work.

“You can design the most amazing line but if no one knows about it you may as well pack it up and head home. Finding the right marketing streams is so very important and when you are starting out you need to do it as frugally as possible.”

Undaunted, Sookram says she’s moving into production. “I am working to get into boutiques and stores throughout the country and will be continuing my relationship with Zulily.com. I am always keeping my eyes open for new opportunities.”

Shop Sookram at http://www.etsy.com/shop/MarKoosModernDesign.

Fella, aka Wayne Vaughn

No matter where Fella, aka Wayne Vaughn, lived growing up in an Air Force family he indulged his love for clothes. His immersion in things couture went to a whole new level when at 14 he got the opportunity to work and hang out backstage at an Ebony Fashion Show.

“Being that close to those beautiful garments I knew then I wanted to design clothing,” says Vaughn, who has a Fella line of men’s and women’s clothing, costumes and wedding dresses. He paints, dyes and weaves some of his own fabrics..

In his late teens he lived in the United Kingdom, where he graduated from Lakenheath High School in Lakenheath, England. After his father was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb., Vaughn studied his craft at UNO and UNL, steeping himself in textiles, clothing, design, art, art history and costume design.

In 20-plus years as a designer he’s developed a look that emphasizes color, assorted patterns and interesting textures. He counts as influences Ralph Rucci, Christian Dior and Alexander McQueen. His extensive travels offer further inspiration.

His own work increasingly expresses thematic concerns and narratives. He says he imagines storylines about the women who wear his clothes and why they need his designs, His last collection’s colors were red and black and took their cue from a 19th century woman he concocted. He says of his muse: “She just got some new fabric from India and gave it to her dressmaker for a new wardrobe. The woman just had a new beginning and she needed clothing to party in.”

Vaughn’s new fall-winter collection is winter white gold with pops of color and incorporates Eskimo and Russian influences.

He’s now collaborating with two Omaha area designers, hatmaker Margie Trembley and crocheter Susan Ludlow, on his new collection.

Vaughn gets his work seen at private viewings and trunk shows. Maude Boutique in mid-town Omaha carries his clothes. He says OFW gives him yet another “great platform to showcase my vision of fashion.” The exposure from OFW events, he says, helps him “gain more of a customer base.” He says his last collection sold especially well and netted him a new batch of clients.

For anyone trying to make it as a fashion designer in Omaha, he says, the key is “getting your name out and letting people know that a custom-made garment may not be as expensive as they think.” He says designers like himself can help in creating “a tone for your life.”

Looking ahead, his goal is to be in more boutiques and to have his own string of Fella shops.

Sample his work at fellavaughn.com.

 

 

Jeffrey Owen Hanson and designer Caone Westergard at OFW

 

Jeffrey Owen Hanson

At 20 Jeffrey Owen Hanson of Overland Park, Kansas has achieved recognition few people realize in a lifetime. He was 13 when his original abstract paintings got so popular he began donating them to charitable auctions, where to date his work’s raised more than one million dollars for various causes. He then branched off into hand-painting dresses designed by Caine Westergard. Their collaborations adorned the OFW runway, thus linking him to the burgeoning fashion scene here.

Hanson’s success is remarkable given that he accidentally stumbled upon his gift and that he deals with a serious visual impairment. He has a genetic condition, neurofibromatosis, that resulted in an optic nerve tumor. The tumor that he nicknamed CLOD left him with severe vision loss. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation. None of it interfered with Hanson becoming in-demand philanthropic artist.

A real clothes horse, he refers bold colors in his own wardrobe and in the hand-painted gowns he creates for his Jeff Hanson Collection.

The self-taught artist sees the world in vivid colors despite a limited field of vision he describes as “seeing through Swiss cheese.” Yet he’s grateful for his condiiton because it’s led him to use color and texture in ways that make his vibrant, tactile art singularly his own.

As a child, he says, “I painted on rocks and I did dot art and that type of thing.” His mother says ,”He did the kinds of crafts and arts things kids always do but really is art wasn’t anything special,”

At her suggestion he began painting notecards for something he and his friends could do when he had visitors over while recovering from treatments. His creations immediately stood out. He sold his early watercolors on notecards from a lemonade stand outside his house. He gravitated to making acrylics on canvas sold in galleries and auctions. Commissions for his work now flood in every week.

Much of his approach seems intuitive though his impressionistic landscapes are often inspired by places he’s visited.

High contrast colors characterize his work. “I just think I have a good eye for color,” he says. And a feel for texture. “Almost all of my paintings have really thick modeling paste spread all over to give texture,” he says.

He often incorporates materials into his work, even making woven canvases, to add layers of depth and form. Always though his work exudes the most iridescent tones. “The colors I like to use are bright colors, like lime green, pink, purple. Bright happy colors.” The buoyant colors are a direct reflection of his joyful personality.

For his work as a fashion artist he now collaborates with a seamstress on dress designs that complement his art. Once a gown is designed, the drape of the fabric is analyzed and then hand-painted and signed.

OFW shows have given him a new market for his hand-painted gowns and commissioned paintings.

His story, now told in a book, has found him hailed a People magazine “Hero Among Us” and featured on CNN’s “Impact Your World.” Huffington Post readers voted him “Top Kid Making a Difference.” Prudential gave him its national Spirit of Community award.

Check out his work at http://www.JeffreyOwenHanson.com

For OFW show details and tickets, visit omahafashionweek.com.

Model-turned-actress Jaime King comes home for screening of film she wrote and directed, “Latch Key,” atOmaha Film Festival

March 1, 2012 2 comments

When Jaime King made the move from modeling to acting I tried getting an interview with her in early-mid 2000s but I never got a response from her handlers.  I guess I always figured I would catch up with one way or the other, and as fate would have it she’s coming to me in the sense that she’s coming back to our shared hometown of Omaha with a film she wrote and directed, Latch Key, which means she’s predisposed to promoting it.  Thus, I finally got my interview with her.  It was worth the wait.  She has a great story and it turns out she’s very serious about the writing-directing track she’s on.  It also turns out she gets back to Omaha, where all her family lives, with great frequency, which means she’s been closer than I thought all these years.  I should note by the way that the Omaha Film Festival is an ever-growing event that increasingly lands major industry figures.  In addition to King’s appearance, the fest is rightfully touting appearances by screenwriter Hawk Ostby (Children of Men, Iron Man), actress Famke Janssen, who’s apeparing with her directorial debut Bringing Up Bobby, and actor Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill).  This blog is full of my stories on film.  Look for my Q&A with Ostby in an upcoming post.

Jaime King
Model-turned-actress Jaime King comes home for screening of  film she wrote and directed, “Latch Key,” at Omaha Film Festival

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon to be published in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

In the 1990s Omaha native Jaime King‘s fresh face and lithe body graced the runway fantastic for the likes of Gucci and Alexander McQueen in New York and around the globe. She did provocative shoots for Vogue, Mademoiselle, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and other trendy mags. She appeared in music videos. She was a Revlon girl in the same media campaign as Halle Berry and Eva Mendes.

Heady stuff for a girl in her mid-teens who left Westside High School to pursue The Dream. She actually began modeling at Nancy Bounds Studios here. A New York agent discovered her at a fashion graduation show.

But when King comes for the Omaha Film Festival this weekend she’s arriving not as a model or actress – the career she’s known for today – but as a filmmaker. She’s appearing with a “deeply personal” dramatic short she wrote and directed titled Latch Key. She shot the movie in and around Omaha last winter, using local youth actors alongside industry veterans, including her husband, director Kyle Newman (Fanboys, The Crazies), who’s also one of the film’s producers.

Latch Key shows as part of a short film block on March 9 that starts at 6:15 p.m.

This writer-director thing is no passing fancy. The directing bug bit her in her teens and she angled for years to make her own films, debuting with the short The Break-In (2011). She now has several film projects in development, including a feature she co-wrote, Polar Seasons, that her good friend Selma Blair (who appears in Break-In) may co-star in. King’s interest in writing – she pens a style column for the Huffington Post – goes even further back, to her childhood in Omaha.

“Before I went to Westside it wasn’t that easy for me. I felt like I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t like a jock or a cheerleader or your typical type of kid in that way. I went through a lot of bullying in school. So I wrote a lot and that really helped me to get my feelings and emotions out. All I did was read and write, that was all I really cared about. I so immersed myself in all of these creative things.

“Writing for me has always been the most freeing part of my life.”

At 14 she turned to the pen when her boyfriend at the time died. That experience informs Latch Key, whose young protagonist, Emma, deals with a sudden loss.

“It comes from me having this experience of being young and losing someone very suddenly, and waking up not understanding how the world can continue when your whole world feels like its been shattered.”

 
Jaime King as Goldie in Sin City 

 

 

Having to grow up fast the way she did informs another script she’s looking to develop, Life Guard.

“I write a lot about coming-of-age and what it’s like to grow up very quickly and how to handle that type of thing. I guess I’m inspired by what we have to go through to become adults or to make our way in this world, but I guess all good stories are about figuring out who you really are.”

Once considered an infant terrible and party girl, she’s many years sober after battling a substance abuse problem. She long ago made the successful transition from modeling to screen acting (Happy Campers, Blow, Pearl Harbor, Slackers, Two for the Money, Sin City). She has major roles in a pair of films due for a 2012 release: Pardon and Mother’s Day. She also stars in the CW comedy Hart of Dixie.

Does she harbor regrets about having gotten swept up in the high-pressure model subculture, with its ultra-thin obsession, stealing away as it did part of her youth?

“Not at all. I feel very blessed, I feel everything that’s happened in my life has been perfectly on track for me, through the ups and the downs, through everything, and I feel so incredibly lucky that I was discovered and that my parents stuck with me and made a difficult decision to let their young daughter go off into a big world.

“Through modeling I got to travel all over the world and I got to meet some of the most amazing people, and I was smart, I saved my money and I knew I wanted to go into filmmaking.”

Besides, being a model was her idea from the start. Always interested in fashion, style, photography and film, she set out to get noticed, make it to New York and use this platform as a springboard to a film career.

“I wanted to live a very creative life and not necessarily taking the traditional route of going straight through high school and onto college. I just didn’t feel that was right for me. I needed to be doing something creative. It may seem odd for someone that age but I just knew that was my direction.

“As an adult now looking back I feel a lot compassion and gratitude towards my parents for letting me foliow my dreams.”

Poster for Jaime King’s film, Latch Key 

 

 

King’s made it all happen, too, though walking away from lucrative modeling gigs didn’t set well with her entourage.

“When I told them I was quitting modeling at the height of my career people weren’t happy about that because they were making a lot of money off of me, but I was lucky to have some people who were supportive.”

She still does fashion spreads.

Of the high profile film roles she landed right out of the gate, she says, “It was just one thing after another and I think it happened because I never doubted myself, I went into it thinking that’s what I was meant to do.”

Acting’s worked out better for her than it has for many former top models. And as much as she finds that career satisfying she needs more to feed her creativity.

“I don’t feel completely whole just doing that. I feel whole when I’m writing and directing and acting, when I’m creating material and stories that I feel should be told and will move and entertain people,” she says. “As a creative person you just want to create.”

She could have made Latch Key anywhere but she felt pulled to do it in her hometown, where her entire family still lives and where she gets back to visit a few times a year.

“I have a really romantic view of where I was born and raised,” she says. “I have these very distinctive memories of every single season in Omaha and what it felt like to grow up there and to have a space of your own where you could run along the train tracks and be out in a park or farm by yourself or yet be in the Old Market and go find a great record or comic book or see a great show or concert.

“So much of my creativity started there, and I feel like there’s a great creative community there. I just really want to honor that.”

Jaime King in Hart of Dixie 

 

 

Her sister, Sandi King Larson, put up Jaime, her husband and two fellow producers and let her home stand-in as Emma’s dwelling.

King says she received excellent cooperation from Young Filmmakers In Nebraska in filling out the crew and from Ralston Public Schools officials in letting her use Ralston High School as a location. King had an inside woman there in her sister, who works at the school. The head of Ralston’s drama department, Todd Uhrmacher, helped King cast via Skype auditions-interviews. Alexis Jegeris, who plays Emma, is among several Ralston students in the film.

King says she was impressed by how her young cast “were really willing to go there for a film that’s very honest and raw and real,” adding, “I cant’ wait to come back for the film festival to show the kids what a beautiful job they did.”

Alice’s wonderland: Former InStyle accessories editor Alice Kim brings NYC style sense to Omaha’s Trocadero


Alice Kim’s story reads like a pitch line for a new reality television series. Growing up back east she began cultivating an intense interest in Omaha of all places, and her fascination grew more acute with each encounter she would have with someone from this Midwest city. She never visited here, mind you, she just read about it and kept running into Omahans, and every encounter and exposure reinforced in her mind this idealized version of Omaha as the embodiment of the All-American city. The thing is, her magnificent obsession didn’t wane after she carved out a career in New York City’s fashion and style industry, primarily as an editor with InStyle magazine. In fact, she kept cultivating this fixation and then one day she left her life and career in the Big Apple behind in order to transform her life in the middle of the country, far from the tastemaking and trendsetting scene of New York. The following story and sidebar for The Reader (www.thereader.com) describe how Kim has transferred her fashionista sensibilities to my hometown of Omaha and reinvented herself at the same time as a first-time mom and soon to be bride. Her fairytale life change is the subject of her delightful blog, Postcards from Omaha, and of a book she hopes to complete by year’s end.

There’s a nice symmetry to her story as well:  Now that this accessories maven is well ensconced in Omaha with her lifestyle boutique, Trocadero, she’s helping prepare young Nebraska women with designs on having career sin fashion and style in New York City realize their dreams.

 

 

 

 

Alice’s wonderland:

Former InStyle accessories editor Alice Kim brings NYC style sense to Omaha’s Trocadero

©by Leo Adam Biga

As appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Alice Kim’s story of leaving New York City for Omaha has gotten much play.

In 2007, the then-InStyle magazine accessories editor acted on her admittedly “weird,” long-held preoccupation with Omaha by moving here and opening the Old Market lifestyles boutique, Trocadero.

“My store is in some ways InStyle come to life,” she says.

Her experience recommending the best of this or that gives Trocadero customers the benefit of her branded, expert, insider’s advice.

“I have that kind of finger on the pulse of what people want.”

Still, her store has struggled amid the recession and conservative Midwest buying habits that don’t mesh with her somewhat frivolous merchandise.

Cognoscenti, however, regard this Big Apple sophisticate as a style maven and tastemaker. Her exclusive, discriminating suggestions for just the right hand bag, pair of shoes or home decor item is heeded.

She cops to not being a salesperson but says, “I can always convince somebody that this is a great something or other.” Her spin, she says, goes something like: “’It’s a total New York brand, it’s not sold everywhere, it’s at a great price point.’ And all of a sudden there’s a story and they’re like, Really? And they buy it.

“It’s like sharing industry secrets,” she says. “I feel I have a unique angle, which is really telling people about the stuff that we as editors love.”

Everything she sells or endorses, she says, “I stand by.”

 

 

 

 

If her style sensibility were a tag line she says it would be “practically perfect,” adding, “It’s always going to be practical and it’s going to close to darn perfect.”

She has the professional chops and personal élan to articulate her discerning aesthetic without sounding smug, whether selecting things to sell in her shop or for her own wardrobe or excising the dull dross from a client’s closet.

“I feel very confident in my skills,” she says over sushi at Hiro 88 West. “I’ve always known how to style.  I think a lot of it is innate. It’s just having the eye. It’s like being a good editor. But, of course, I’ve been trained. When I arrived in New York, from Pittsburgh, in 1992, I certainly was not a fashion diva then and I certainly didn’t look the part. I was doughty.”

She’s a long way from doughty today, though she felt that way while pregnant last year with her first child. Since the birth of her daughter Annabel she’s pined to retire her formless maternity clothes and return to some chic wear, such as the classic black dress she wore at lunch, accented by pearls.

“I don’t want to look messy anymore,” she says.

Kim is marrying Annabel’s father, entrepreneur Adrian Blake, this summer. She’s also step-mom to his two children as the two households recently merged.

Even before her pregnancy, Kim says she’d gotten lazy about her look and gained weight thanks to Omaha’s more sedentary lifestyle. Actually, she says her casual phase began near the burned-out close of her frenetic New York career.

“There were times when towards the end of my working days I just didn’t care anymore. I was just so busy. I’d wear flip flops because I was hoofing it all the time, walking from the garment district back to the office with bags of accessories. I wasn’t going to teeter in high heels.

“I was on the New York fashionista diet [champagne and finger food[. I was definitely much thinner when I lived in New York.”

 

 

 

Then there were those times, she says, “when I wanted to get dressed up, so then I’d wear a beautiful jacket with a dress and heels. It really depended on my day. If I knew I was going to be in the office all day then I would wear something nicer because I wouldn’t have to be schlepping around town for shoots and samples.

“When I first started the store [Trocadero],” she says, “I wanted to look nice — to be representative of fashion in New York in Omaha. I probably worked harder (at it) and then gradually just became more casual.”

For a year she bought her clothes at Target as a concession to mommy practicalities. Besides, she says, good style “doesn’t have to be super expensive.” Balancing being a new mom and fashionista at 41 means remaking herself, so she’s back to shopping at Von Maur to outfit herself more appropriately.

“I’m in my 40s — I really can’t keep dressing like a teenager. It’s just having to embrace that I’m an adult. I feel better now because I have grown-up clothes. I can look equally fine walking to the kids’ school or coming to lunch here or going to the supermarket.

“My thing is cardigans.”

Her lifetime hunt for the perfect black leather motorcycle jacket continues.

Making one’s self or home polished, she says, is all about investing in a few high quality things and making them pop with the right accessories.

“I think my house reflects my store, which is always about the accessories, the details, the accent pieces. Like I have this plain, white, Danish-modern couch. What makes it interesting is the hand-painted, embroidered pillows on it.”

When it comes to clothes, she says as clichéd as it sounds, “you start with a little black dress and the way you accessorize it is what gives it its style.”

It’s about transformation. Like opting to live out her version of the American Dream in Omaha. After a whirlwind start, she began doubting her life makeover, but now that she’s found her man and become a mother, she says, “I feel content.”

Her magnificent obsession is the subject of her blog,” Postcards from Omaha,” and a book she hopes to finish soon.

Trocadero is located at 1208 1/2 Howard St. in the Old Market. For more information call 402.934.8389 or visit shoptrocadero.com.

 

Living the NYC Fashion Dream 

©by Leo Adam Biga

As appears in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

With all the fabulous things Alice Kim ‘s done in New York City and now her entrepreneurial foray in Omaha, she says what she’s proudest of is helping people.

At InStyle she says she found great satisfaction “helping small designers get nationwide recognition.”

The fashion business is all about networking, and Kim worked hard cultivating and nurturing relationships with designers, photographers and publicists.

At Trocadero she’s parlayed old contacts and made new ones. She’s also availed herself as a go-to resource for young people with designs on their own NYC fashion careers. Several area women who came to her with their aspirations ended up as Trocadero interns. Each is now pursuing life in the Big Apple.

They credit “Alice’s Fashion Finishing School” with preparing them.

“It was a great experience to learn from someone that had actually been in the industry and really knew what it was about. She’s been a great mentor and a kind of guardian angel,” says Hannah Rood, an account executive with LaForce-Stevens. “We learned so much about things like sense of urgency and attention to detail that have carried over into what I’m doing now.”

“Alice’s influence continues to impact my life,” says Kathleen Flood, an associate editor and blogger with The Creators Project. “When I was working for her, she was not only a boss and mentor, but a friend, and even an older sister figure at times.

“Now that I have my own interns, I’m starting to teach them little tricks she taught me.”

“She definitely expanded my vision of success … and has truly guided me to where I am today,” says Ellie Ashford, a freelance public relations assistant at Polo Ralph Lauren.

They all refer to doors Kim helped open for them. The Omaha transplants say they’re keeping a pact to stay connected.

As for Trocadero as a launching pad, Kim says, “I feel like I’ve created a special space that people really consider to be a home away from home. I offer myself as much I can.” Before she’ll recommend an intern to a New York contact, she says, “you have to prove to me you’re ready for the big time.”

Kim enjoys following her former interns’ progress. “They’re all leading their own lives and having their own adventures. They’re doing it — they’re doing what I did 20 years ago. They’re living the dream.”

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