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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.

Bright Lights: Teen designer Ciara Fortun mines Filipino heritage in Omaha Fashion Week collection

July 29, 2016 1 comment

Omaha Fashion Week has a decided youth focus in its efforts to nurture and build the local fashion ecosystem and one of the latest prodigies getting showcased and supported is 16-year-old Ciara Fortun. Here is my profile of Ciara appearing in the August 2016 issue of The Reader  (www.thereader.com).

 

Ciara Fortun

 

 

Bright Lights

Teen designer Ciara Fortun mines Filipino heritage in Omaha Fashion Week collection

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the August 2016 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

The private doodles Ciara Fortun used to make have evolved into working sketches for collections she now produces for Omaha Fashion Week shows.

After debuting at OFW with a formal women’s wear show last March, she’s unveiling a new collection of dresses inspired by her Filipino heritage in August.

The 16 year-old Elkhorn resident and junior at Concordia High School has been fascinated with style since early childhood. But it wasn’t until attending her first Fashion Week in 2015 she realized living in flyover country was no barrier to doing something in fashion.

She attended Omaha Fashion Camp and got inspired by industry professionals working as designers, models, creative directors, stylists and photographers. That led her to sketch out a collection. The designs variously drew on Audrey Hepburn, Old Hollywood and Art Deco. Fortun’s tastes run to refined and vintage in apparel and music. She often listens to classic jazz while working.

Regarding her personal sense of style, she said, “It evolves all the time. I may look completely different day to day. Today, I’m wearing overalls, but tomorrow I may be wearing heels and a pencil skirt. I’m kind of minimalistic with everything. I don’t like a bunch of patterns. It’s pretty clean, pretty simple,” she said from her second-story home workroom. The space is filled with sketches, magazine spreads, inspirational words, a tailors dummy draped by a tape measure, an electric sewing machine, clumps of fabric and a wardrobe rack filled with her handiwork.

 

Ciara Fortun

Photos by Heather and Jameson Hooton

Models by Develop Model Management

 

She waited until “the last day” to submit her designs and then only after her parents’ gentle prodding. Upon being selected to interview she faced a panel of five adults who critiqued her work and asked about aesthetics and aspirations. It was intimidating. She said she learned “you have to really know what your personal style is before you can make something because then you know what your foundation is with fashion.”

She waited two excruciating weeks before getting word she made the cut as an invited OFW designer. That’s when reality set in she next had to create a wearable, runway-ready collection in four months. The family project involved her parents and younger sister, but Ciara and her father Luis Fortun did most of it together. Though neither has formal training, they have genetics on their side. Ciara’s paternal grandmother is from the Philippines, where she sewed. An aunt was a master seamstress and a great-grandfather a master tailor. Ciara’s steeped in stories about her ancestral homeland.

Between calling on ancestral skills, watching YouTube how-to videos and “Project Runway” episodes and sounding out OFW staff, this father-daughter combo figured things out through “lot of trial and error,” Ciara said.

A GoFundMe campaign helped with buying materials.

She agonized getting every last detail right, but her dad reminded her, “They’re not looking for perfection, they’re looking for confidence.”

Ciara said the finished dresses ended up “a lot different than what we had on paper. We did a lot of tweaking.” “On the fly,” added Luis.

“I was unsure about a lot of stuff,” Ciara said, “but then we just went for. By rack check I was terrified. I was like, ‘What if they don’t like any of the stuff and the changes I made?’ But they were really good about that. They care more about what you feel was the right choice than what will sell. It turned out well,”

During the process, OFW consultants made suggestions and Luis said, “We took most of the suggestions but some we didn’t, and they were actually very complimentary about that, saying it shows Ciara”s OK standing by her own decisions. I  was very proud of Ciara.”

Dealing with adults has taught Ciara the importance “of being able to hold a conversation” and articulate her vision. “It’s caused me to step out of my comfort zone to share what my heart is,” she said. “It’s great to be pushed to share what you love. It all has a risk factor, but you just have to stick to what you know and love. It’s been a really good growing experience, especially in a supportive setting.”

“Watching her grow through the whole process has been very encouraging – just taking responsibility for all the things,” said her father.

Getting the collection done in time came down to the wire. It meant pulling some all-nighters.

The Fortuns were pleasantly surprised by how accessible OFW staff were answering questions and providing assistance.

“You can go talk to them if you need help with something,” Ciara said. “The thing about Omaha Fashion Week is that everyone there is really supportive of the younger generation. They want to bring you through this and show you different steps of making a collection and a brand.”

She’s found big sisters and kindred spirits in designers Buf Reynolds and Sabrina Jones.

“They’re really inspiring. I see them as mentors and people I can look up to.”

As a father pressed into duty as a dressmaking production director, Luis Futon appreciates the help OFW provides.

“They do a really good job of framing out major milestones you have to reach in terms of salon, music, model call, rack check. They just don’t say, okay, we’ll see you in four months. They give you guidance. It’s very structured. They kind of walk you through the whole thing and give a lot of pointers and insight.”

Ciara’s fall collection featured highly structured, muted dresses using neoprene. Her work was well received by patrons and judges at the Omaha Design Center. Her models walked to “Forever Mine” by Andra Day and “New York New York” by DJ Cam Quartet.

By winning her night, she earned a $500 prize. In true entrepreneurial spirit she plowed it right back intto buying fabric. She’s discovered what all fashion designers here learn – you must look outside Nebraska for the best fabric and pay a premium for it.

Her new collection, for spring-summer, is lighter, brighter and more flowing with its colored satins. Besides the accent on color, another nod to her Filipino lineage is the incorporation of capiz shells.

She may study art in college to keep her creative options open.

“I’m still trying to figure out things.”

If she pursues a fashion career, it helps that OFW has her back.

“It’s a really good community we’ve found. If we lived in New York, it wouldn’t be that way. It’s really cool being part of this unique group that get me.”

Fortun, who creates under her Noelle Designs label, is among 27 designers showing during the August 22-27 Fashion Week. Her collection hits the runway August 23.

For schedule and tickets, visit omahafashionweek.com.

Yolanda Diaz success story with Little Miss Fashion nets her new recognition

May 5, 2016 1 comment

One of Omaha’s most successful fashion designers, Yolanda Diaz, has earned many accolades  for her Little Miss Fashion designs and for her entrepreneurial spirit. She was recently honored in Omaha and at the White House in Washington D.C. as Nebraska’s Small Business Person of the Year. Her story of perseverance and persistence is one we can all learn from. Her story also reminds me that the most commercially successful artists, in her case designer, are very entrepreneurial and must be in order to make a go of it. Through a lot of hard work she has mastered both the creative side of her work along with the business side. Most artists or creatives fail on the business side of things. She has been determined to not let that happen.

 

 

Yolanda Diaz

 

Yolanda Diaz success story with Little Miss Fashion nets her new recognition

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico

 

Yolanda Diaz dreamed of being a fashion designer growing up in Monterey, Mexico. Living in poverty far from any fashion capitals, it seemed an unrealistic aspiration to some. Not to her. She actually realized her dream in Mexico and then did so all over again in America. Her clothing manufacturing company in South Omaha, Little Miss Fashion, has become such a success that she’s been named Nebraska Small Business Person of the Year.

The recognition comes from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Diaz will accept her award at May 1-2 ceremonies in Washington D.C., where she will be joined by other state winners. The 2016 National Small Business Person of the Year will be announced then.

She is also being honored May 3 at the Nebraska Small Business Person of the Year Award Luncheon and Entrepreneurial Workshops at the Salvation Army Kroc Center at 2825 Y Street. The 8:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m. event is free and open to the public. Registration is required. Call 402-221-7200 to register.

This is not the first time Diaz has been singled out for her entrepreneurial achievements. Her story has captured the imagination of business organizations and media outlets since 2011. Still, this newest recognition was not something she expected..

“Honestly, it surprised me,” she says. “However, I feel very happy. Even though my business has not grown as fast as I would like, it has grown in ways I didn’t expect. I have been working hard for years and I think the award is recognition not just for me but for all the people who work hard like I do in the community. There are a lot of people around me working hard and there are institutions and organizations helping me.

“It is an honor for me to have the opportunity to get this recognition.”

Aretha Boex, lead center director for the Nebraska Business Development Center, nominated Diaz for all that she’s done to find success. “She is hard working to the core. Her tenacity and her drive is very contagious. When you work with someone like her you buy into their passion and their idea,.” Boex says. Boex’s admiration grew when she discovered Diaz has mentored women at the Latina Resource Center and trained correctional facility inmates to sew. “She cares and she’s really out there to make a difference.”

Diaz’s children’s collections are sold online through Zulily and Etsy and in select boutiques. The business has seen ups and downs and she’s learned many hard lessons, but through business workshops and loans she’s grown her operation to where she now employs nine people. Her husband and son also assist.

She says news of the award is encouraging her local network of English-as-second-language entrepreneurs.

“They say, ‘Well, one day I will be in the same place as you,’ and I say, ‘You can do it, you will. If you work hard you will get the recognition one day.’”

Boex says there’s plenty in Diaz’s story to inspire others. “She’s a woman who built her business from the ground up. She moved here from Mexico to pursue the American Dream. There’s a lot to take away from her experience and how hard work really pays off. She had the resilience and the courage to build this from scratch. She’s a great success story. We love working with her.”

Diaz’s road to success began in Mexico, where she learned to stitch on an antique sewing machine.

“I really loved doing it, I fell in love with fashion because it gives me everything I want. ”

 

Yolanda Diaz works on a skirt in her Little Miss Fashion shop in Omaha. (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News; all photos by Mike Tobias, NET News, unless otherwise noted))

Marta Chavez (front) and Dolores Diarcos (back) working at Little Miss Fashion

 


Diaz holds her best-selling Little Miss Fashion design.

 


Diaz hopes to move Little Miss Fashion production into a location nine times larger in the near future.

 

Little_Miss_Fasion.jpg

(Diaz, owner of Little Miss Fashion LLC, Janell Anderson Ehrke, GROW Nebraska CEO, Laurie Magnus Warner, Central Plains Foundation Board Member)

 

 

From an early age she began making her own school apparel from old clothes and fabric scraps. Her ever-changing personal wardrobe drew much attention. Her dreams were encouraged when her talent was identified by a mentor who became her first client and referred other clients to her. Diaz even landed a contract to create school uniforms.

She steeped herself in her craft and built a successful business, learning from seamstresses and studying at design schools. Her business thrived but her then-husband didn’t support her pursuits. That proved frustrating to Diaz. who self-describes as “very independent.” After she and her family came to the States in 1996, her first marriage ended. She remarried and worked regular jobs searching for her niche here. She made pet tents before making children’s clothes. She started her company in 2003 under a different name, at first targeting the Latino market before expanding to the Anglo market. Along the way, she’s participated in the micro loan program Grameen America and taken classes at the Juan Diego Center, the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) and Gallup University.

“She built her business while she had a night job, fulfilling all the orders herself, cutting and assembling by hand, which meant long hours, in addition to having a family. So she really believed in this,” says Boex.

A regular designer at Omaha Fashion Week, Diaz showed a collection that sparked interest from Zulily. The onset of online sales orders forced her to outsource production to Mexico, where family members pitched-in. Now everything’s done in-house in Omaha. An SBA microloan from the Omaha Small Business Network provided working capital to grow her business enough to meet large orders. Little Miss Fashion now averages $10,000 sales a month from online orders. Last May Diaz received a second SBA microloan through Nebraska Enterprise Fund. The loans allowed her to buy additional commercial sewing machines, purchase materials and hire more workers. She gets ongoing management consulting and export support from NBDC. Diaz recently sealed a deal to sale her clothing lines through the German e-commerce company Windelbar.de.

Every step of her journey, from improving her English to learning how to write a business plan to doing budgets to managing employees, has helped her succeed.

“I like challenges. I never say never,” she said. “A lot of work, but a lot of fun. I still learn something new every day.”

True to her entrepreneurial spirit, Diaz envisions growing into more markets, a larger production facility and her own retail shop. But for now, she’s content knowing she’s “doing what I’ve wanted to all my life – I’m following my passion.”

Follow Little Miss Fashion on Facebook or visit http://littlemissfashionusa.com/.

 

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

 

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.”

Hair stylist-makeup artist Omar Rodriguez views himself as artisan

May 13, 2015 1 comment

Art isn’t confined to canvas, paper, metal, glass, wood, and so on, but can make its medium the human body. Thus, it’s no stretch when hair stylist-makeup artist Omar Rodriguez of Omaha, by way of Puerto Rico, refers to his work in terms usually reserved for fine artists.  Rodriguez doesn’t claim to be a fine artist, but he does think of himself as an artist whose creative work is transformational the way all artistic expression is at some level or another.  Read my Omaha Magazine ((http://omahamagazine.com/) profile of him here.

OmarRodriguez

Hair stylist-makeup artist Omar Rodriguez views himself as artisan

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the May/June issue of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/)

In 2007 hair stylist and makeup artist Omar Rodriguez left his native Puerto Rico for love. He moved to Omaha to be with his then-partner, a hairdresser from here he met in his island nation.

Back home, Rodriguez cultivated a background in theater, dance, music, beauty-fashion. As a singer he toured with the boy band Concepto Juvenil doing his bandmates’ hair on the side. This son of a butcher father and secretary mother was a fast-rising talent who then worked for leading salons Avante and Wanda Montes. His celebrity clients included Benicio Del Toro, Paulina Rubio, Jon Secada and Ricky Martin. He was the stylist for Secada’s “Amanecer” album cover and Martin’s “Black and White Tour” CD cover.

He worked various fashion shows and taught at a beauty academy run by a former Miss Universe Puerto Rico – Desiree Lowry Rodriguez (no relation). He was a Sebastian Beauty representative and trainer.

Once over the “culture shock” of Omaha, he built a loyal following as a star Fringes Old Market salon stylist. He collaborated with top Omaha Fashion Week (OFW) designers Dan Richters and Buf Reynolds. But when the romantic relationship he was in ended he returned home with a broken heart. Three years ago he came back at the urging of Fringes owner Carol Cole.

“Carol is a very inspirational and passionate person,” he says. “I don’t know if I would have come here if she hadn’t called to bring me back.”

Rodriguez trained Fringes staff for the 2012 Battle of the Strands in Las Vegas. The Omaha team he competed on won People’s Choice and Best Makeup awards.

He’s since resumed work with OFW. He reps a major makeup brush brand and consults a reality TV show. He works with many Omaha photographers. A champion of Omaha’s creative culture, he says, “I’m impressed by how much talent we have here. I really love that part of Omaha.” He nurtures talent via OStyles Omaha, “a community of artistic professionals” he created “to do collaboration and innovation and to inspire the cultural scene. We are dreamers, we are believers, we have the drive and passion to produce the extraordinary.”

When friends and colleagues outside Neb. ask why he’s in the Midwest and not in some fashion capital, he says his response is always the same. “I could go to New York or Calif. and I could do great but do I want to swim with the sharks? I want to motivate and create something here in Omaha. I want to position Omaha as a real leader in fashion.”

The styling he did for Clark Creative Group’s 2014-2015 Opera Omaha season promotion attracted national attention, especially the Surrealist hair piece he fashioned to depict A Flowering Tree.

“It was an amazing photo shoot,” he says. “I love how you can achieve what you visualize. I like to innovate. I do pretty, I do commercial, I do avant-garde. I’m very crafty in all the aspects. When I design hair I consider myself an artisan because I’m working with my hands. It’s an art, it’s a craft. I mold. I bring color, I give contrast, I add texture. I create a figure and I finish that figure with paint – the makeup.”

He enjoys the notoriety his work brings but he says, “I prefer being a king without a crown.” Besides, he says, “I’m always going to be a student for life. I push myself and what I learn I give it back.”

 

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.”

Nancy Bounds, Timeless Arbiter of Fashion Beauty, Glamour, Poise

February 4, 2012 8 comments

Imagine my surprise when I searched for images of the late Nancy Bounds, the subject of this story, and could not find a single one.  My surprise stems from the fact that Bounds was a much photographed stylish woman whose entire career was built on image enhancement work with aspiring models and actors.  She was a personality and celebrity whose all about town comings and goings were grist for the Omaha society mill pages.  She frequently appeared on television, too.  So, instead of pictures of Nancy I bring you pictures of one of the talents who came out of her modeling school, indeed the most famous graduate of all –model-actress Jaime King, an Omaha native like me.  My search for Nancy Bounds images continues and I expect before long to have her lovely, smiling face and well-outfitted figure gracing this post.  For now though, Jaime King is not a bad compromise.  If you’re into all things fashion and style, you’ll find other articles of interest on this blog.

NOTE: Special thanks to fashion photographer Michael Dar, who got his start under Nancy Bounds in Omaha, for his photo of her.

 

 

 

 

photo
Nancy Bounds, ©photo by Michael Dar

 

Nancy Bounds, Timeless Arbiter of Fashion Beauty, Glamour, Poise

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the New Horizons

 

For 40 years, Nancy Bounds was Omaha’s saucy arbiter and symbol for good looks and social graces. The owner of a string of modeling/finishing schools bearing her name, she applied her tastemaker’s role as television host, magazine columnist, pageant director and self-improvement guru. This former model, singer, dancer and actress best embodied her own beauty ethos. Whatever the gala, she was always the stylish, well-turned-out fashion plate looking like she was poured into her haute-couture designer clothes, which her closets overbrimmed with.

Bounds shared her story with the New Horizons a few years before her passing. Her repuation preceded her and she proved to be everything and then some that was said about here.

An expert in the rules of attraction and feminine wiles, Bounds is just what you’d expect from a Southern-born and reared beauty queen. She exudes a soulful, sassy, sweet, sad quality that almost makes you think that at any moment she’ll utter Blanche du Bois’s famous line from A Streetcar Named Desire. You know the one: “I’ve always depended upon the kindness of strangers.”

A coquettish charmer with milky skin and sun-dappled hair, Bounds greets visitors to her resplendent Dundee home in the warm honey glow of her broad smile, sparkling eyes and sultry voice. Wearing an antique blue silk ensemble and a pair of high-heeled silver sandals, she’s still every inch the fashion maven and beauty diva who’s made men weak-kneed at the sight of her since her ingenue days.

It took all of her cheeky guile to get where she is today, which is a long way from her rural Arkansas roots. It may surprise some that this sophisticated lady, who’s the epitome of chic, owns a background closer to Dogpatch than Fifth Avenue.

Growing up the youngest and brightest of six children, the former Nancy Southard was born, on an undisclosed date, in the Ozarks, where her gentrified father owned land, saw mills and other interests. Despite such backwoods environs, she comes from good stock. She said her mother’s family, the Tayloes, are descendants of George Washington and her father’s family is related to the Astors of old New York high society. Still, there wasn’t much in the way of culture where she lived.

And her precocious bordering-on incorrigible personality didn’t sit well in her “very strict Christian” home that her father ruled with an iron fist. “I was an obstinate, self-confident tigress. I don’t know how anyone stood me,” she said.

Her rearing came in a series of small towns — Rodney, Norfolk, Mountain Home — she felt confined in and pined to escape. The rote learning of a small school was torture for a girl bursting with starry-eyed dreams and ideas inspired by the books and magazines she devoured. In class, which she found “boring,” she’d either fall asleep or break out in hives or draw the ire of a teacher, and be sent to the principal’s office, where she played duplicate bridge and chess with the headmaster. As a young schoolgirl she exhibited an extrovert’s expressiveness and a knack for makeup and performing, but had no real outlet for her gifts.

If not for her astute godmother, Maude Washington Arthur, Bounds may not have broken away from the shackles of that constraining life. A kind of down home grand dowager duchess holding court in a cabin atop a mountain, Maude was an educated, well-traveled woman who saw the potential in Nancy and held out the possibility she could live out her dreams. Nancy lived for a time with Maude, who became her personal finishing school mistress.

“She somehow picked on me and wanted me to have the sophistication she thought I was lacking at school,” Bounds said. “She helped me to choose the good books to read. That lady — she knew I was going to be something in the world. She believed in me. She was my mentor.”

Making a mark is what Bounds wanted more than anything.“I didn’t have so much a dream. I just knew I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to be well-known. I wanted to be a star. It never crossed my mind I was going to fail,” she said. “I had more guts than good sense, in some cases, but for some reason there’s always been a little star following me around all of my life, and it’s always sort of taken care of me.” Consumed by a sense of “ambition, wanderlust and loneliness…a lot of loneliness,” Bounds just wanted to be free and Maude encouraged her to try her wings. “She kept saying, ‘You can do it.’ And I knew I could do it.”

 

 

 Jaime King - Critics' Choice Awards 2013 Red Carpet

Jaime King at a premiere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So convinced was Bounds that her future lay in the wider world that the first book she bought was “a book on manners,” she said. “I wanted to be able to move in whatever kind of society I was ever going to be in.” Her intuition served her well, too, as she’s lived a storybook life that’s found her mixing with everyone from world famous designers, models and entertainers to politicians to royalty.

Emboldened by Maude and by a grandfather who also recognized her destiny, Nancy one day just packed up and left. She was only 14, but her exasperated parents let her go, knowing she had to try. “That’s how much I wanted to get out of Arkansas and to get out where it was happening in the world,” she said. Her destination? Springfield, Mo. It was as close to cosmopolitan as she could get. Why Springfield? “I had enough money to get there –$35. I got on a bus. It stopped every 20 minutes and I’ve never ridden a bus since. That was not going to be my style,” said Bounds, who nowadays tools around in a chauffeur-driven limo.

Without knowing a soul in Springfield, she put on a brave face and made herself up to look older than she was, quickly landing jobs as a waitress and cosmetics clerk. Then, she really showed her brass when she auditioned for a singing slot on a local radio station. She got the gig and sang a few times a week on live broadcasts.

Then she met a man who looked good in an Air Force uniform. She was 15. They got hitched. Before she knew it, he was off flying Goonie Birds in the Berlin Airlift. “I didn’t see him for a year,” she said, “and by then I’d forgotten what he looked like.” While he was away, she found she was pregnant. She moved back home, where she’d kept the news of her marriage a secret from her father, who’d warned her to stay away from those “hound dogs.” After “having it out,” she went to Wichita, where family lived nearby.

On her own again, Bounds made do. A couple of sailors, Ronnie and Jean, befriended her in the weeks leading up to her giving birth. “They both fell in love with me, but they were always like brothers to me. Better than brothers,” she said. They were with her when the labor pains began and flagged down a taxi to take her to a military hospital. She was still so young and naive she thought doctors “cut you open to get out your child.” To show her undying appreciation to her friends, she named her daughter Ronnie Jean after them.

When her long-absent husband returned from overseas, she greeted him with, “I’ll take you to meet your daughter.” The couple’s ill-advised union fell apart when he took her to live with his family in Minnesota. After three months, she said, “I had to get out of there. So, I got up and packed at three o’clock in the morning and snuck out with about equal amount the money I had when I left home.”

She fled to the Ozarks. He found his child-bride, but she would not have him back. She filed for divorce and went to Minnesota to get it. “I didn’t want anything except the right to my daughter for the rest of my life and that he was never to come near me or her.” To her dismay, she learned the state only granted divorces then on the grounds of adultery. “Well, I wasn’t about to do that,” she said. “So, we picked one of his good friends and he and I sat up all night long and played gin rummy. We came down the next day and he went to court and swore he spent the night with me. Totally staged. But I got my daughter back, which is all I wanted.”

Living back in Wichita with her baby girl, Bounds screwed up her courage and reinvented herself again. “I learned a group was looking for a singer. I auditioned, but I didn’t like the group. It gave me an idea, though. Why don’t I get my own group? Of course I had no money, but I had the audacity to start doing interviews.” Soon, she assembled a pianist, bass player, drummer and saxophonist. She fronted with her vocals. After some Wichita area gigs, her group moved west, landing jobs in Colorado. When band members began bowing to pressures from home, she disbanded the group and went solo. “I had to support my daughter,” she said.

She headlined at a nightclub in Denver and a hotel in Estes Park. What her voice lacked, her sex appeal made up for. “I sang love songs and lots of blues. I had a soulful, smoky sound. There’s something about a saxophone that could really turn my voice on. But I was never a fabulous singer. I was a much better performer than I was a singer. I could sell a song. And I had a great bod,” she said.

Her hunger next took her to Chicago, where she variously modeled, sang and danced for a living. She also acted in TV spots. Her growing interest in acting led her to join a repertory summer stock company in Boston, where she appeared in several plays over three seasons. Theater, for her, fed a desire to improve her mind and broaden her knowledge. “I wanted to improve my ability to articulate my feelings,” she said. “I learned a lot about the language by doing different parts.”

Back in Chicago, the ever-enterprising Bounds continued her education by hiring a Northwestern University professor as her private tutor. “He was a wonderful guy who wanted to teach me what I wanted to know — everything. He was interested in my life and in my mind and I was incredibly interested in all that he knew. I always called him Webster.” With the prof’s help, she lost her Southern accent and further refined herself. He was her Dr. Higgins and she his Eliza Doolittle.

She eventually found romance with a man, Carmen, who became her husband and dance partner. She, her new hubby and her daughter moved to Kansas after her little girl was diagnosed with asthma and doctors advised the child live in a dry climate. Nancy and Carmen were performing as a dance team in Wichita when an agent saw them and recommended her to band leader Xavier Cugat. The Latin maestro signed her up and she happily performed with his band in the Dallas area. “Oh, play me some Latin music and watch this body and hear this voice work it. I’ve always loved Latin music,” she said. Cuggie or Papa, as he was called, became her newest Svengali. “Oh, he was such a puppy dog…the sweetest guy.” She recalls him painting surrealistic images in his spare time as she “sat at his feet and watched him” work. “His courage with color was amazing. He said I was a muse for him because I was so enthusiastic about his art. He said, ‘When I see you, I see golden…yellows…rainbows.’ He painted my personality. I adored him.”

 

 

 

 

 

 January Jones at a premiere

 

 

 

Meanwhile, her marriage to the dancer fizzled. Her life turned again when she bought some Fred Astaire Dance studios in Kansas and fell in love with and married an Air Force colonel, Robert S. Bounds, who gave her her professional name. She wound up in Omaha when he was transferred to Offutt. At first, Nancy thought she “would be happy playing golf, playing bridge and just being an officer’s wife. Well, that lasted about three months.” Restless, she looked into working for a local modeling school. Instead, she ended up running it. When the owners of another school noticed her business savvy and offered her a 50 percent piece of their place, she held firm for a controlling share. She soon made over the business as her own, moving it into the suave penthouse quarters of the old Fontenelle Hotel.

Marriage number three ended when the colonel got reassigned and she balked at moving. Besides, she said, he’d run her burgeoning modeling business into the ground after she sold it to him. “It’s then I decided it was I who had the brains,” she said, “when he had me believing all the time it was him.”

Every time she’s started over, Bounds has gritted her teeth and feigned her famous moxie, but it was all a facade. “I felt frightened, but I never let anyone know it. I was scared to death about half the time, but I kept saying, I can do this.”

Do it, she has. A breakthrough for Bounds occurred in the 1970s. Tired of her models being snatched up and under-used, she made elite agents, such as Ricardo Guy in Milan, take note of Omaha as a rich talent pool and launching pad for serious careers in modeling, films and television. As soon as agents learned her models got magazine covers and film-TV roles, her annual graduation show at the Orpheum Theater drew talent scouts from New York, L.A., Milan, Paris and Tokyo. Several of her graduates have gone on to major careers, most notably model-actress Jaime King.

She feels Nebraska’s gold mine of talent springs from something in the water or gene pool here that creates “The Look” everyone’s after. Then, too, she adds, “I think I was blessed with good eyes. I start watching them when they’re 9 or 10.” She said the model standard hasn’t changed much in 35 years. “It’s just gorgeous, gorgeous and more gorgeous. It’s the beauty of the face and the personality. The naturalness.” She said one difference is more women of color are now top models.

As her Nancy Bounds International Modeling Agency and Nancy Bounds Studios thrived, she opened schools in other cities. Helping her grow the company was her fourth husband and business partner, Mark Sconce. “He just believed in me 100 percent,” she said.

Eager to improve the image of the modeling school field, which is plagued with disreputable operators, she formed the International Talent and Model School Association. It was an attempt to create industry-wide standards and practices and, via ITMSA conventions, provide showcases where models from many schools could strut their stuff before top agents. After a rough start, when she “chewed out” school directors, the association proved a success. Then, she said, it all fell apart and the “rip-off” artists took over. It’s a long-standing problem, even in Omaha.

“People enroll and pay some thousands of dollars, and they’re taken to these conventions and they’re lucky to get five seconds on the runway,” she said. “There isn’t regulation. Before I got here, you didn’t even need a license. There’ve been 17 schools open and close here since I’ve been in business.”

She got an improbable ally in her efforts to clean-up the industry when state Sen. Ernie Chambers came to her bristling over modeling schools reneging on promises made to constituents of his. When he asked Bounds — What can we do about this?  she said, “We can write some laws.” They collaborated on a bill the legislature passed that requires operators be licensed. “She was extremely helpful and professional in guiding me through what was very strange territory for me,” he said.

Bounds is the first to admit that while models are the “X-factor,” most of her clients neither expect nor seek a modeling/acting career. Instead, she said, they come in search of personal image development.

“It’s the most exciting thing I do,” she said. “The real purpose for me beginning this school is that I had seen so many young people that didn’t stand a chance in this world of being successful because they were insecure. You gotta love yourself. And in my opinion the only way you can get self-esteem is to be proud of what you do. It’s a total growth process. We start with the facade and then we go deeper and find out who this person really is. We try to give them the best of who they are and, more importantly, we give them things to go out and accomplish.”

She said the training is really about life skills. “We teach kids how to communicate. We teach them manners. We teach them how to order food and what clothes to wear to an interview. We talk about romance and relationships. We have them sing and dance and do anything to pull out their personalities and to get them out of their boxes.” Nothing excites her more than seeing kids blossom before her eyes. “It just turns me on,” said Bounds, who regards herself a teacher.

She’s honed the image of everyone from aspiring models to corporate execs to politicos. Modeling career or not, grads come away with “great confidence.”

These days, Bounds oversees a modeling empire she’s franchised out, but still very much “involved in.” She has franchises in Omaha, Norfolk and Kansas City and is now looking to franchise Japan. “I train the teachers and the franchisees, because then I know things are going to be done right under my name,” she said. Her decision to franchise came in the wake of a dark period a few years ago when her 29-year marriage to Mark Sconce ended. She took a bad fall at home and suffered pain and depression. “I didn’t want to work every day. I became reclusive.”

Single for the first time in awhile, she’s not ruling out marriage. “I’m not finished with romance. Romance makes the world go round. Someday I’ll run into somebody I care about. I could never become somebody’s mistress. That’s not the way I do things.” As for the men in her life — “There’s been so many men in this world that have taken care of me, and I married most of ‘em,” she said with a laugh. “But I’ve never had one penny of alimony. Never wanted it.”

All in all, she said, “It’s been a fun ride, and I’m not finished yet.”

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.”

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.”

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