The Omaha Design Center is THE swank new spot to hold events in town. It’s owned and operated by the people behind Omaha Fashion Week and they’ve crafted a flex space that hosts a diverse slate of events. Read my story about the Omaha Design Center and the entrepreneurs who make it happen in the Fall issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/).
Room with a view: Omaha Design Center
Creative space is new home for Omaha Fashion Week and more
©by Leo Adam Biga
Appearing in Fall 2016 issue of Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/)
If Nick and Brook Hudson appear calmer at Omaha Fashion Week (OFW) this fall, it’s because they’ve found a permanent home for this once gypsy event at their recently opened Omaha Design Center (ODC).
Upon founding Fashion Week in 2008, the Hudsons were its sole proprietors and producers until bringing in Greg and Molly Cutchall as partners. Now the two entrepreneurial couples have joined forces as owners of Omaha’s newest event facility. Located in the former TipTop Ballroom at 1502 Cuming Street, ODC opened in March with the Spring OFW show. Omaha native Kate Walz, an OFW veteran and star Parsons School of Design student, was the first designer to show there. The space has earned raves from the fashion community from clients who’ve held weddings, parties, receptions and charity events there.
“People are just amazed at how beautiful and open the space is,” Brook Hudson says. “It’s impressive.”
“We’ve gotten lots of good responses,” Greg Cutchall confirms.
Nick Hudson says Fashion Week regulars and newcomers “loved it,” adding, “Our attendance was up 15 percent. People really like the energy of the space.” Its size and flexibility allows OFW to do more shows, including a new Kids Rule Fashion Show.
A 31,000 square foot flex space that is Fashion Week’s own rather than leased and that seamlessly accommodates diverse, design-oriented events is what drew the partners to purchase and refurbish the facility.
Supply and demand meet vision
The deal made sense for Fashion Week and for the catering operations the Cutchalls have. The couples met when Greg’s catering division started doing food and beverage service for Fashion Week VIP tents. They saw a shared opportunity for a year-round event space. The Cutchalls purchased the building last December and financed the remodel work. The Hudsons became co-owners in a stock swap.
“Nick and Brook are the marketing force behind the business. They’re great at creating and branding events of all kinds. My wife and I and our office team are more the business and operations side,” Greg says.
The architectural firm Alley Poyner Macchietto, who offices next door at the TipTop Building, did the redesign. The firm’s Laura Alley, a business development and community relations administrator, first recommended the site to the Hudsons.
“When Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture moved into this building and this neighborhood, we saw the potential for what it could be and we began looking for others who loved design in all its various forms. First we filled our space, then the Co-Lab next door. Then we started thinking of the ballroom. Ryan Ellis with PJ Morgan Real Estate suggested Nick and Brook might be looking for space. They were exactly the kind of passionate, design-minded, creative people we hoped to connect with.
“The space had all the right parts to fit their needs, and our design team – led by Michael Alley and Katrina Stoffel – was able to help them envision how the space could look. We are beyond thrilled to have the Omaha Design Center as our neighbor. It serves as a catalyst for some of our city’s most creative and passionate minds.”
Eight weeks of demo and construction produced an as-new, ready-to-use event space “That’s kind of how it all came together. It was a big undertaking,” Greg says.
Makeover transforms facility
The facility’s once dull, generic banquet interior has been been remade as a chic, industrial warehouse-meets-party room. Extraneous walls and a drop ceiling were removed to open up the space, whose main ballroom has a high exposed ceiling. Polished concrete floors accent towering glass chandeliers suspended by chains from the metal beam-works. There’s also a smaller adjacent ballroom. An L-shaped granite-topped, mirror-backed bar is built into the lobby. A portion of the lobby serves as an art gallery. Another section supports pop-up vendor wares. Satellite bars can be easily set-up throughout the facility. Vintage furnishings round out the hybrid retro-contemporary feel.
Movable panels covered by sheer curtains can turn the space intimate or expansive. The panels are backlit with colored LED lights that can be programmed to create any mood or atmosphere – from casual to formal, from fun to romantic, from bridal or ball to rave.
“The lighting is immersive – it’s all around you,” Brook says. “It feels like you’re not just looking at the stage but you are a part of it. It’s really interesting.”
The remodel added state of the art lighting and sound systems. Backstage are ample amenities to support events and crowds from 200 to 2,000. There are dedicated bridal and grooms suites that double as green rooms or dressing rooms. two commercial kitchens, storage bays, a loading dock. Offices and meeting rooms are planned.
“We finally have everything we need in one spot,” Brook says, adding that OFW no longer has to bring in things like portable restrooms or to rent off-site storage units.
The whole works remedies issues the Hudsons contended with during OFW’s first eight years, when the event got staged at various indoor and outdoor sites, most recently under a football field-sized tent in the Capitol District downtown. Certain risks and limitations come with leasing spaces others control. And where the outdoors in Nebraska is concerned, weather plays a factor.
Nick says, “Everything possibly that could go wrong at those events would go wrong. The building helps make Fashion Week more stable.”
Before, Brook says, “when things came up, such as inclement weather or equipment failures, we were hostage to the site. Here, we know what to expect. It’s predictable. We know it’s going to be air conditioned and heated, it’s not going to get flooded. It’s a home.”
Participants finally have a venue to display their skills to full effect.
“There’s a lot of different people involved and it’s really important they have a good platform to showcase what they’re doing for their experience and their work,” Nick says. “It’s a very growing and building experience for designers and models, for hair and makeup people, for the photographers, musicians and artists. It is too for the people planning and producing the event. Brook has a whole program of young volunteers and interns who make it their career. This new space means they can have a better experience.”
Brook says, “It’s a place where they can come and be their best.”
“The reason Fashion Week became successful was the basic concept we’re giving a professional platform for all these different creative young people who wouldn’t normally have that opportunity for free,” Nick says. “Now we can do it even more professionally. That is a huge breakthrough for us. The reason we kept moving is we could never find a space quite right in terms of infrastructure. The ceilings were too low, the space backstage was too cramped,”
Brook says, “It took a lot of energy just to compensate for all that and to reinvent the wheel every season and now we know what the wheel is. Now we can focus on just continuing to improve the productions and the creativity and the entertainment value. It opens up so much more time and energy to focus on things we’ve never been able to do before because we were busy getting water and air conditioning.”
Fashion Week audiences can expect ever more theatrical shows to go along with full, well-outfitted guest services at OFW events.
Nick says not only do participants have a better experience, the audience does, too. That’s important to an event that’s been so embraced. “Lots of people have really supported this event over the years, they’ve helped it grow, in some cases they’ve helped support some of the creatives, and because the creatives can focus more on being creative the audience is going to benefit from that as well and have a great evening, so it’s a really big step up for our community.”
Staging events in this flex space affords unlimited possibilities.
“When we have Fashion Week we design it how we want it to look and in a lot of spaces that’s harder to do – you have to take it how it is.
Here, it’s very easy to adapt it individually to what you’re looking to create,” Nick says. “It’s very creative inspiring. You come in here and personalize it to your tastes. There’s lots of things you can do.”
Brook says, “It’s a blank canvas and a playground. It can be used for many different events, in many different ways. It imposes few restrictions. Every time you walk in we have totally different events with totally different setups. It’s always something different. It’s really great.”
The owners saw that a single venue that could provide the right fit for many kinds of events is in short supply in Omaha.
“There’s a void in the market for facilities that can accommodate mid-range sized events,” Greg Cutchall says.
“We realized if we needed something like this for Fashion Week there were all these other people who needed something like this for their nonprofit or their family or their business,” Nick says “We called it the Design Center to reflect the designing of individual events here but also because we encourage design. Besides Fashion Week we do design-oriented things here, which is exciting, and were trying to help the fashion eco system, which this is now a big part of. The fact that it’s in the heart of this North Downtown neighborhood that could be Omaha’s design district is even more exciting.”
Creatives abound in the area. As a creative hub and staging ground,
Omaha Design Center aligns well with creative community neighbors Co-Lab, Alley Poyner Macchietto, the Mastercraft, the Hot Shops Art Center, Slowdown, Film Streams and the coming Kiewit University.
The Center is also within walking distance of several hotels and a short drive from the airport and the Old Market. The site’s already seen a broad menu of events, including a Terence Crawford victory celebration, the Berkshire Hathaway MoneyBall, a fight card and a comedy troupe. It is hosting College World Series events, a Halloween bash and a New Year’s Eve party. Everyone from models to boxers to aerialists to fire dancers to musicians have performed there. Weddings will always be, as Cutchall says, “our bread and butter.”
“We thought there would be demand for something like this and there has been,” Brook Hudson says. “We started promoting it in December and I don’t think this space has been empty since April.”
Nick Hudson says, “We’re now facilitating events for these other communities here in town. It’s exciting having these different communities and organizations coming in and doing events here. It’s all about creating community and the community building you get through events. We’re big fans of diversity. It’s always been very important to us having a really diverse crowd of people doing different things and we’re getting that same thing here. Now we just want more people to be aware there is this new space available to come celebrate through events.”
Brook says, “Yeah, we want people to come make some memories.”
“Bookings are going stronger than we anticipated our first year,” Greg Cutchall notes. ‘We’ve been very pleased and we think it will continue to grow as more people learn about the facility and see what we have to offer.”
After all the moving around OFW did, Brook Hudson is just glad to have a place she and others can count on.
“It’s good to be home,” she says. “My team is excited about that as well. All of our interviews, meetings and programming happen here now. And we get to share this great space with other communities.”
Fall Omaha Fashion Week unfurls there August 22-27.
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 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. ”
(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/.
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 Omaah 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/)
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.
~ GAIL DEBOER
~ NICK HUDSON
~ GAIL DEBOER
Fashion writing keeps coming back into my wheelhouse. What’s interesting about this is that I never suspected fashion writing could even be in my wheelhouse given my less than fashionable wardrobe and my own disregard for elements of style in the way I dress. Don’t get me wrong, I like to look nice as much as the next person, but I’ve never spent much time or effort considering or cultivating a personal look or style for myself and I don’t pay much attention to buying fashionable brands. But in the last half dozen years I’ve found myself writing a fair amount about fashion. Part of that is a function of the fact that I am a cultural writer and fashion is a part of the cultura fabric, so to speak, of any metropolitan area. And so just as I write about film, television, theater, literature and many other aspects and streams of Omaha’s cultural life, I have found myself writing about fashion. Still, I likely wouldn’t have begun covering the fashion scene were it not for falling in with some of the very people who have nurtured the fashion scene here. That association led me to write about Omaha Fashion Week just as it was taking off and before I knew it I was penning stories about Omaha fashion, past and present, for Omaha Fashion Magazine and other publications. You’ll find those stories on this blog. The following story for Metro Magazine profiles four designers who are a part of that emerging scene. Has any of this work about fashion made me more fashion conscious in the way I dress? Not really. But I do have an enhanced appreciation for what individuals do in the fashion world, whether designers or models or hair and makeup artists.
Omaha’s Emerging Fashion Culture
Though far from a fashion center, Omaha’s always been home to people involved in the design, merchandising and consumption of fashion. While still not a couture capital, the city’s seen the emergence of a fashion culture giving local designers more opportunities to get their work seen and fashionistas new talents to support.
Helping lead this revolution is Omaha Fashion Week and the professional platform it provides independent fashion designers to showcase their work. The companion Fashion Institute Midwest nurtures aspiring designers and supports the region’s fashion ecosystem through training, resources and business incubation.
OFW designers are a diverse lot but all embody a passion for fashion and creativity that is part of their DNA. The four designers profiled here create highly distinct collections that are personal expressions of themselves. Each has been immersed in fashion for as long as they can remember, Each has been embraced by the local fashion community. They are part of a burgeoning creative class scene and design-style conscious movement that’s changing the perception of Omaha from fashion desert to oasis and from nondescript Midwest town to exciting hub for sophisticated fun.
They will be among the featured designers during the March 4-9 OFW event at the Omar Building, 4823 Nicholas Street.
Meet the designers:
Kate Walz at work
Seventeen-year-old Millard North High School junior Kate Walz has already shown her chic designs in her hometown, in Kansas City and in New York City.
She did her first OFW show at 13 and has now presented eight collections there. She made it to the Big Apple when she debuted her fall collection in an offsite New York Fashion Week show. She’s also Spokes Designer for Fashion Camp NYC, a day camp for teens wanting fashion careers.
All in all, she’s just the kind of promising young talent Omaha style-conscious, fashion-forward patrons hope to put over the top.
Walz doesn’t get caught up in her fast rise or bright future because she’s doing what comes naturally to her.
“My mom says I’ve been drawing dresses since I could hold a crayon. I first started sewing and draping at 8 in 4-H. I participated in the fashion and sewing competitions and found success, winning the title Grand Champion against all the high school kids. When I was 12 I started making my own patterns and selling my garments at Bellwether Boutique in downtown Omaha.”
She describes as her “biggest mentor” Bellwether’s late owner, Jessica Latham.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am in my fashion career if she hadn’t let me start selling my designs in Bellwether. I value the advice she has given me the most.”
Walz says she appreciates OFW showing her “what it’s like to be in a professional environment,” adding, “They’ve given me exposure and experience I haven’t found anywhere else.” Fashion Institute Midwest workshops, she says, have taught her pattern grading and pitching her brand. The Institute sponsored her New York Fashion Week trip.
She absorbs all she can from more experienced designers.
“My biggest inspirations are some of Omaha’s local designers: Buf Reynolds, Dan Richters, Jane Round, Megan Hunt, Audi Helkuik. They all have given me such great advice. It’s an honor to get to work alongside some of them.
“Really all local designers have been great mentors to me. The OFW team has also been a big help in directing me in the right path for both my design work and business decisions.”
Walz says she’s “tried all different kinds of looks” for her women’s wear line while “searching for my signature voice,” adding, “What I try to achieve as a designer is a balance between being conceptual, conventional and cohesive. Reoccurring characteristics in my clothing are femininity, attention to detail and a vintage vibe.”
She embraces Omaha’s growing fashion scene.
“The exposure has opened so many doors for us local designers.”
At a tender age she had to prove herself to doubters, though she finds widespread acceptance today.
“One of my biggest challenges has been people not taking me seriously because I am so young, although it’s not much of a problem anymore.”
Walz counts her greatest triumph being selected Spokes Designer for Fashion Camp NYC.
“They flew me to New York for 10 days to mentor fellow fashion campers from all over the world. I also had the privilege of meeting people at the top of the industry.”
After high school she has her sights set on attending Parsons The New School for Design.
“It is my dream to one day open up my own boutique in New York and eventually have my clothing carried in high-end department stores.”
Follow her at http://www.katewalz.com.
Aubrey Sookram walking the runway with child models wearing her designs, ©James Burnett, Omaha World-Herald
Hartington, Neb. native Aubrey Sookram has created a boutique children’s brand, Markoos Modern Design, that’s carried on the popular shopping site for moms, Zulily.com.
Her passion for fashion began as a girl.
“I wore a uniform to school on a daily basis all the way through high school,” she says “I definitely took casual days and dress-up days as an opportunity to express myself.”
Her creativity comes out in multiple ways.
“It actually took me a bit to decide what medium I was going to focus on. I adore interior design. I also like power tools. I will try creating anything at least once.”
She’s been intentional about making fashion a career.
“I have a degree in marketing with minors in merchandising and fashion design from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I taught myself to sew.”
Ideas for her children’s wear designs come from various sources for this wife and mother of three.
“I love vintage Dior and the simplicity of modern designers like Ralph Lauren, Halston and Kate Spade. I like clean design. A lot of my designs are a hybrid of retro and modern styles. I find inspiration in everything from architecture, fine arts, designers old and new and pop culture. Right now I am finding a lot of inspiration from music and movies from my youth.
“My new fall collection is based on a movie from the ’90s. Stay tuned.”
Her penchant for eclectic combos helps her work stand out.
“I love to mix patterns, colors and textures. Many designs start with fairly classic silhouettes but seem to morph into something more modern. I adore bold color.”
This entrepreneur appreciates the support she and other designers find through OFW.
“Omaha Fashion Week has been an incredible confidence booster and resource. I have gotten the chance to work closely with other children’s designers, such as Hollie Hanash and Yolanda Diaz. All the designers are supportive of one another. They’re a source of endless wisdom and practical knowledge.”
She says a fashion designer from here can be a success nationally but many hurdles must be cleared.
“The logistical issues are daunting. There is a limited number of fabric stores in the metro, so one can expect to travel to larger cities for fabric sourcing and production. As my business has grown, this problem has as well.”
Then there’s the time and money it takes to market your work.
“You can design the most amazing line but if no one knows about it you may as well pack it up and head home. Finding the right marketing streams is so very important and when you are starting out you need to do it as frugally as possible.”
Undaunted, Sookram says she’s moving into production. “I am working to get into boutiques and stores throughout the country and will be continuing my relationship with Zulily.com. I am always keeping my eyes open for new opportunities.”
Shop Sookram at http://www.etsy.com/shop/MarKoosModernDesign.
Fella and model walk the runway, ©Matt Miller, Omaha World-Herald
Fella, aka Wayne Vaughn
No matter where Fella, aka Wayne Vaughn, lived growing up in an Air Force family he indulged his love for clothes. His immersion in things couture went to a whole new level when at 14 he got the opportunity to work and hang out backstage at an Ebony Fashion Show.
“Being that close to those beautiful garments I knew then I wanted to design clothing,” says Vaughn, who has a Fella line of men’s and women’s clothing, costumes and wedding dresses. He paints, dyes and weaves some of his own fabrics..
In his late teens he lived in the United Kingdom, where he graduated from Lakenheath High School in Lakenheath, England. After his father was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb., Vaughn studied his craft at UNO and UNL, steeping himself in textiles, clothing, design, art, art history and costume design.
In 20-plus years as a designer he’s developed a look that emphasizes color, assorted patterns and interesting textures. He counts as influences Ralph Rucci, Christian Dior and Alexander McQueen. His extensive travels offer further inspiration.
His own work increasingly expresses thematic concerns and narratives. He says he imagines storylines about the women who wear his clothes and why they need his designs, His last collection’s colors were red and black and took their cue from a 19th century woman he concocted. He says of his muse: “She just got some new fabric from India and gave it to her dressmaker for a new wardrobe. The woman just had a new beginning and she needed clothing to party in.”
Vaughn’s new fall-winter collection is winter white gold with pops of color and incorporates Eskimo and Russian influences.
He’s now collaborating with two Omaha area designers, hatmaker Margie Trembley and crocheter Susan Ludlow, on his new collection.
Vaughn gets his work seen at private viewings and trunk shows. Maude Boutique in mid-town Omaha carries his clothes. He says OFW gives him yet another “great platform to showcase my vision of fashion.” The exposure from OFW events, he says, helps him “gain more of a customer base.” He says his last collection sold especially well and netted him a new batch of clients.
For anyone trying to make it as a fashion designer in Omaha, he says, the key is “getting your name out and letting people know that a custom-made garment may not be as expensive as they think.” He says designers like himself can help in creating “a tone for your life.”
Looking ahead, his goal is to be in more boutiques and to have his own string of Fella shops.
Sample his work at fellavaughn.com.
Jeffrey Owen Hanson and designer Caone Westergard at OFW
Jeffrey Owen Hanson
At 20 Jeffrey Owen Hanson of Overland Park, Kansas has achieved recognition few people realize in a lifetime. He was 13 when his original abstract paintings got so popular he began donating them to charitable auctions, where to date his work’s raised more than one million dollars for various causes. He then branched off into hand-painting dresses designed by Caine Westergard. Their collaborations adorned the OFW runway, thus linking him to the burgeoning fashion scene here.
Hanson’s success is remarkable given that he accidentally stumbled upon his gift and that he deals with a serious visual impairment. He has a genetic condition, neurofibromatosis, that resulted in an optic nerve tumor. The tumor that he nicknamed CLOD left him with severe vision loss. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation. None of it interfered with Hanson becoming in-demand philanthropic artist.
A real clothes horse, he refers bold colors in his own wardrobe and in the hand-painted gowns he creates for his Jeff Hanson Collection.
The self-taught artist sees the world in vivid colors despite a limited field of vision he describes as “seeing through Swiss cheese.” Yet he’s grateful for his condiiton because it’s led him to use color and texture in ways that make his vibrant, tactile art singularly his own.
As a child, he says, “I painted on rocks and I did dot art and that type of thing.” His mother says ,”He did the kinds of crafts and arts things kids always do but really is art wasn’t anything special,”
At her suggestion he began painting notecards for something he and his friends could do when he had visitors over while recovering from treatments. His creations immediately stood out. He sold his early watercolors on notecards from a lemonade stand outside his house. He gravitated to making acrylics on canvas sold in galleries and auctions. Commissions for his work now flood in every week.
Much of his approach seems intuitive though his impressionistic landscapes are often inspired by places he’s visited.
High contrast colors characterize his work. “I just think I have a good eye for color,” he says. And a feel for texture. “Almost all of my paintings have really thick modeling paste spread all over to give texture,” he says.
He often incorporates materials into his work, even making woven canvases, to add layers of depth and form. Always though his work exudes the most iridescent tones. “The colors I like to use are bright colors, like lime green, pink, purple. Bright happy colors.” The buoyant colors are a direct reflection of his joyful personality.
For his work as a fashion artist he now collaborates with a seamstress on dress designs that complement his art. Once a gown is designed, the drape of the fabric is analyzed and then hand-painted and signed.
OFW shows have given him a new market for his hand-painted gowns and commissioned paintings.
His story, now told in a book, has found him hailed a People magazine “Hero Among Us” and featured on CNN’s “Impact Your World.” Huffington Post readers voted him “Top Kid Making a Difference.” Prudential gave him its national Spirit of Community award.
Check out his work at http://www.JeffreyOwenHanson.com
For OFW show details and tickets, visit omahafashionweek.com.
The words Omaha and fashion may seem incongruous, certainly not synonomous, and no one, including this writer, would argue the fact that as a Midwest city far removed from the fashion centers of America this place is in a perpetual state of catching up with and therefore always behind trends in clothing and accessories and other aspects of style. Of course there’s always been a fashion scene and community of its own here, just as there is in any city of a certain size, and no matter how small or insignificant that fashion conscious segment may be by national industry standards it has still produced its share of highlights and notables, even if on a scaled down size. There was a time when high fashion in Omaha was catered to by a whole range of stores, shows, and figures. Then owing to several factors high fashion activity here faded away. Recently though there’s been a resurgence of interest and activity, much of it coalescing around the wildy popular Omaha Fashion Week, and the fact that this article is for an upcoming issue of Omaha Fashion Magazine is an indicator of just how far things have come around. Omaha never had a fashion week or fashion magazine before. And the same people who’ve made those things happen, Nick and Brook Hudson, now have the Omaha Fashion Institute in the works. In their own way this power couple has done for fashion in Omaha what individuals and institutions like Elaine Jabenis, Nancy Bounds, J.L. Brandeis & Sons Department Store, and the Clarkson Fashion Show did in an earlier era. There’s more to come in future issues on the fashion institute. In the meantime, think of this story as a guide to what Omaha’s Fashion Past looked like and check out my other fashion stories on the blog: a profile of fashion illustrator Mary Mitchell, who has a new book and exhibition out featuring her work; a look at Omaha Fashion Week; and profiles of past and present style mavens – Nancy Bounds and Nick and Brook Hudson.
Elaine Jabenis, center, hosting telecast of Omaha Community Playhouse opening
Omaha Fashion Past
©by Leo Adam Biga
Soon to appear in Omaha Fashion Magazine
Just as fashion is of the times, so is the infrastructure supporting it, which is why the Omaha fashion scene once looked quite different.
It used to be fashionistas frequented multi-story fine department or apparel stores. Attentive customer service ruled the day. The same way boutiques do, box stores employed a fashion arbiter to select the latest seasonal looks in men’s and women’s clothing and accessories from the major American and European fashion centers.
The area’s penultimate arbiter was Elaine Jabenis, “Omaha’s First Lady of Fashion.” The radio-television personality and theater actress was fashion director for the pinnacle of department stores – J.L. Brandeis & Sons. She later served the same role for the Crossroads and OakView malls. Twice a year she visited New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Milan to view top designer collections.
“There was a whole way of educating the customer about what the trend was and why, and Elaine was in the forefront of that,” says designer Mary Anne Vaccaro. “She was always checking on what was in fashion.”
“We never let our customers down. People understood what we stood for and what was important,” says Jabenis, who found a happy medium between West Coast daring and East Coast sophistication to fit the Omaha market.
Always an innovator, she integrated theatrical elements into her runway shows.
“I felt all the shows I had seen were very boring. Models just walked down and somebody talked forever. It was kind of nothing. I thought there must be a better way to do this. I wanted music, dance, interesting staging. I decided to break it up into scenes and do a color story, a trend story, transition from day to night and night to day. Brandeis really loved that and the audiences loved it too.”
She went over-the-top with sets, actors, singers, musicians, celebrity guests.
“That kind of show could never be done today. You could never afford it,” she says.
As corporate fashion merchandiser she implemented themes throughout the entire Brandeis chain, extending to window displays. Models strolled through the stores. In-store fashion illustrators and copywriters carried the themes into print ads, articulating the look and feel of garments in a few strokes and well-chosen words.
Always attuned to trends, Jabenis was a pioneer in focusing on plus-sized women. “I was really a maverick,” she says. Mademoiselle and Seventeen magazines recognized Jabenis, who’s authored fashion merchandising books.
“Elaine is the crowning diva queen of all fashion ever in Omaha,” says Scott.
Other fashion forward figures made their own marks. The late modeling agency maven Nancy Bounds put on a smashing graduation show that launched international modeling careers, including Jaime King‘s.
“Nancy Bounds had a huge impact for not only opening up doors for young models but also creating a great sense of style in Omaha,” says retail consultant Wendy Chapman.
Fashion Culture, Then and Now
Upscale retailers abounded (Nebraska Clothing Co., Topps, Zoob’s, The Avenue). Stores, large and small, strutted their wares at the Clarkson Fashion Show – “THE huge fashion happening here,” says Scott. Trunk shows featured major designer lines and sometimes the designers themselves. Vaccaro met Oscar de La Renta at Brandeis. Scott recalls Michael Kors, Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene and Halston all coming here.
Local designers like Vaccaro turned heads too with their custom couture works.
Though the Ak-Sar-Ben Coronation and Ball is not a fashion show per se, socialites used it as a stage to out-dazzle each other in their designer gowns.
“Everybody would wait to see who was going to wear what by these famous designers,” says Scott. “Everybody held their breath for Rosemary Daly to come from Paris. As she swept in she would have on Yves Saint Laurent and the crowd would ooh and ahh.”
The fabulous traveling Ebony Fashion Fair often stopped here, giving locals a chance to ogle the latest European and American lines.
When the Clarkson show ended after 1999, the era of big Omaha shows, with the exception of bridal wear events, ended too.
“The audiences became less and less. Fashion sort of became passe,” says Scott. “It wasn’t as prominent in people’s lives because then things were coming off the racks and fashion wasn’t just a one-of-a-kind thing for a woman. Anybody could go buy it.“
Chapman says where the emphasis was on building wardrobes of enduring high style, “I think today some of that is lost because things are more geared to disposable fashion. It’s all about getting the look and if the customer knows she’s only going to wear it four times, she doesn’t care if it’s going to fall apart.”
Many exclusive department stores, Brandeis included, disappeared. No longer, Jabenis says, did someone tailor selections to the Omaha market. The big chains, she says, “don’t buy on a personal level” but rather via “a central buying office.” The intimate connection between store and customer faded. “The human touch is gone, service is gone. It’s not at all the kind of thing it used to be, consequently the department store is losing its foothold and the specialty shop is doing much better.” Nouvelle Eve, Tilly’s and Trocadero are among Omaha’s high-end boutiques today.
Chapman says department stores “need to continue to reinvent themselves to be relevant with customers.”
Malls and national chains (Ann Taylor) featuring ready-to-wear designer brands became the new norm. The changing times made it tough on specialty shops too.
“People started going to Target and buying online what they bought in designer stores,” says Vaccaro. “In the fashion business if you go sour or you cannot sell one seasons’s collection, you’re in trouble. That’s the way it is. To outlast all the challenges coming at you you’ve got to have the strength of God practically.”
Changing Times, New Directions
“This industry has just changed so dramatically, I wouldn’t say either better or worse but just that fashion is moving much faster,”says Chapman. “Things are instantly knocked off and on the streets.”
“Today, fashion is about celebrity and it’s quick and it’s highly competitive,” says Vaccaro. “There’s not a few big name designers, there’s one celebrity designer and stylist after another.”
Vaccaro has changed with the times. She still has a design studio, but she’s mainly an image consultant these days. She says, “If you’re not willing to change then you are not a person of fashion anymore. You have to be what it is.”
Scott pines for what once was. “I miss it in the fact it was such a fantasy era,” he says.
To the delight of Scott and Co. fashion matters again in Omaha, where magazines, events and organizations support the emerging local design community.
“It’s an exciting look back and an exciting look forward with the evolution Omaha’s gone through and what’s happening now with Omaha Fashion Week,” says Chapman.
- Timeless Fashion Illustrator Mary Mitchell: Her Work Illustrating Three Decades of Style Now the Subject of a New Book and Exhibition (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Fashion Week Front Row Roll Call (stylecaster.com)
Nick Hudson is one of several Omaha transplants who have come here from other places in recent years and energized the creative-cultural scene. One of his many ventures in Omaha is Nomad Lounge, which caters to the creative class through a forward-thinking aesthetic and entrepreneurial bent and schedule of events. This Metro Magazine (www.spiritofomaha.com) piece gives a flavor for Hudson and why Nomad is an apt name for him and his endeavor. Three spin-off ventures from Nomad that Hudson has a major hand in are Omaha Fashion Week, Omaha Fashion Magazine, and the Halo Institute. You can find some of my Omaha Fashion Week and Omaha Fashion Magazine writing on this blog. And look for more stories by me about Nick Hudson and his wife and fellow entrepreneur Brook Hudson.
Nomad Lounge, An Oasis for Creative Class Nomads
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally published in Metro Magazine (www.spiritofomaha.com)
Another side of Omaha’s new cosmopolitan face can be found at Nomad Lounge, 1013 Jones St. in the historic Ford Warehouse Building. The chic, high-concept, community-oriented salon captures the creative class trade. Tucked under the Old Market’s 10th St. bridge, Nomad enjoys being a word-of-mouth hideaway in a shout-out culture. No overt signs tout it. The name’s stenciled in small letters in the windows and subtly integrated into the building’s stone and brick face.
The glow from decorative red lights at night are about the only tip-off for the lively goings-on inside. That, and the sounds of pulsating music, clanking glasses and buzzing voices leaking outdoors and the stream of people filing in and out.
Otherwise, you must be in-the-know about this proper gathering spot for sophisticated, well-traveled folks whose interests run to the eclectic. It’s all an expression of majority owner Nick Hudson, a trendy international entrepreneur and world citizen who divides his time between Omaha and France for his primary business, Excelsior Beauty. Nomad is, in fact, Hudson’s nickname and way of life. The Cambridge-educated native Brit landed in Omaha in 2005 in pursuit of a woman. While that whirlwind romance faded he fell in love with the town and stayed on. He’s impressed by what he’s found here.
“I’m blown away by what an amazingly creative, enterprising, interesting community Omaha is,” he said. He opened Excelsior here that same year — also maintaining a Paris office — and then launched his night spot in late 2006.
If you wonder why a beauty-fashion industry maven who’s been everywhere and seen everything would do start-up enterprises in middle America when he could base them in some exotic capital, you must understand that for Hudson the world is flat. Looking for an intersection where like-minded nomads from every direction can engage each other he opted for Omaha’s “great feeling, great energy.”
“We’re all nomadic, were all on this journey,” he said, “but there are times when nomads come together, bringing in different experiences to one central place and sharing ideas in that community. And that’s exactly what it is here. Nomad’s actually about a lifestyle brand and Nomad Lounge is just the event space and play space where that brand comes to life for the experimental things we do.”
He along with partners Charles Hull and Clint! Runge of Archrival, a hot Lincoln, Neb. branding-marketing firm, and Tom Allisma, a noted local architect who’s designed some of Omaha’s cutting-edge bars-eateries, view Nomad as a physical extension of today’s plugged-in, online social networking sites. Their laidback venture for the creative-interactive set is part bar, part art gallery, part live performance space, part small business incubator, part collaborative for facilitating meeting-brainstorming-partnering.
“That whole connecting people, networking piece is really exciting to us because it’s not just being an empty space for events, we’re actually playing an active role in helping the creative community continue to grow,” said Hudson.
Social entrepreneurship is a major focus. Nomad helps link individuals, groups and businesses together. “It’s a very interesting trend that’s going to be a big buzz word,” Hudson said. “Nomad is a social enterprise. It’s all about investing in and increasing the social capital of the community, creating networks, fostering creativity. My biggest source of passion is helping people achieve their potential.”
“He’s definitely done that for me,” said Nomad general manager-events planner Rachel Richards. “He’s seen my passion in event planning and he’s opened doors I never thought I’d get through.”
The Omaha native was first hired by Hudson to coordinate Nomad’s special events through her Rachel Richards Events business. She’s since come on board as a key staffer. With Hudson’s encouragement she organized Nomad’s inaugural Omaha Fashion Week last winter, a full-blown, first-class model runway show featuring works by dozens of local designers. “That was always a dream of mine,” she said.
Under the Nomad Collective banner, Hudson said, “the number of social entrepreneurs and small enterprises and venture capitalist things that are coming from this space from the networking here is just phenomenal. Increasingly that’s going beyond this space into start-up businesses and all sorts of things.” Nomad, he said, acts as “a greenhouse for ideas and businesses to expand and grow.”
Nomad encourages interplay. Massive cottonwood posts segment the gridded space into 15 semi-private cabanas whose leather chairs and sofas and built-in wood benches seat 8 to 20 guests. Velvet curtains drape the cabanas. It’s all conducive to relaxation and conversation. Two tiny galleries display works by local artists.
There’s a small stage and dance floor. The muted, well-stocked bar features international drink menus. Video screens and audio speakers hang here and there, adding techno touches that contrast with the worn wood floors, the rough-hewn brick walls and the exposed pipes, vents and tubes in the open rafters overhead. It all makes for an Old World meets New World mystique done over in earth tones.
Hudson embraces Nomad’s flexibility as it constantly evolves, reinventing itself. In accommodating everything from birthdays/bachelorettes to release/launch parties to big sit-down dinners to more intimate, casual gatherings to social enterprise fairs and presenting everything from sculptures and paintings to live bands and theater shows to video projection, it’s liable to look different every time you visit. Whatever the occasion, art, design, music and fashion are in vogue and celebrated.
Dressed-up or dressed-down, you’re in synch with Nomad’s positive, chic vibe.
“It’s this whole thing about being premium without being pretentious,” said Hudson. “Nomad is stylish, it’s trendy, it’s great quality. All our drinks are very carefully selected. But it’s still made affordable.”
In addition to staging five annual premiere events bearing the Nomad brand, the venue hosts another 90-100 events a year. Richards offers design ideas to organizations using the space and matches groups with artists and other creative types to help make doings more dynamic, more stand-alone, more happening.
Clearly, Nomad targets the Facebook generation but not exclusively. Indeed, Hudson and Richards say part of Nomad’s charm is the wide age range it attracts, from 20-somethings to middle-agers and beyond.
Nomad fits into the mosaic of the Old Market, where the heart of the creative community lives and works and where a diverse crowd mixes. Within a block of Nomad are The Kaneko, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, the Blue Barn Theatre and any number of galleries, artist studios, fine restaurants and posh shops. Nomad’s a port of call in the Market’s rich cultural scene.
“It’s such a great creative community. We want to help make our little contribution to that and keep building on all the great things going on,” said Hudson.
Besides being a destination for urban adventurers looking to do social networking or conducting business or celebrating a special occasion or just hanging out, Nomad’s a site for charitable fundraisers. Hudson and Richards want to do more of what he calls “positive interventions” with nonprofits like Siena/Francis House. Last year Nomad approached the shelter with the idea for Concrete Conscience, which placed cameras in the hands of dozens of homeless clients for them to document their lives. Professional photographers lent assistance. The resulting images were displayed and sold, with proceeds going to Siena/Francis.
New, on Wednesday nights, is Nomad University, which allows guests to learn crafts from experts, whether mixing cocktails or DJing or practically anything else. It’s a chance for instructors to market their skills and for students to try new things, all consistent with a philosophy Hudson and Richards ascribe to that characterizes the Nomad experience: Do what you love and do it with passion.
- A Change is Gonna Come, the GBT Academy in Omaha Undergoes Revival in the Wake of Fire (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
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- Where Hope Lives, Hope Center for Kids in North Omaha (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Social Media Fashion PR: Geek Chic – Fashion Nomad App For Travelling Fashionistas (piercemattiepublicrelations.com)
- Alice’s Wonderland, Former InStyle Accessories Editor Alice Kim Brings NYC Style Sense to Omaha’s Trocadero (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Native Omaha Days: A Black is Beautiful Celebration, Now, and All the Days Gone By (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Back in the Day, Native Omaha Days is Reunion, Homecoming, Heritage Celebration and Party All in One (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Separated Siblings from Puerto Rico Reunited in Omaha (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
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 a 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.
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.”
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.”
- Watching the Catwalk, and Clicking ‘Add to Cart’ (nytimes.com)
- Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: The Democratization of the Runway (huffingtonpost.com)
- Vivienne Westwood Red Label Spring 2011 – Runway Review (stylelist.com)
- It Runway: Alexandre Herchcovitch Spring 2011. (myitthings.com)
- Omaha Fashion Show: VIP Spring Runway Show (thebrunetteone.com)
- Boston Fashion Week (houseofbyson.wordpress.com)
- How Social Media is Changing the Face of Toronto’s Fashion Week (fashionjrn.wordpress.com)