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Nomad Lounge, An Oasis for Creative Class Nomads

June 21, 2011 6 comments

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

 

 

 

 

Nomad Lounge, An Oasis for Creative Class Nomads

©by Leo Adam Biga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Nick Hudson

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 21, 2010 3 comments

Karachi Fashion show

Image via Wikipedia

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

 

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

©by Leo Adam Biga

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

 

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

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

 

 

Nick Hudson

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Rachel Richards

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 4, 2010 5 comments

Last minute posing!

Image by Mary P. from Pretty Good Things via Flickr

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

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

 

My Omaha Fashion Magazine Work:

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

©by Leo Adam Biga

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

 

Staking Out a Scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go

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

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

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

 

 

Rachel Richards

 

 

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

What are the upper limits for an Omaha fashion designer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Nick Hudson

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

With the Help of Some Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Thomas Sena

 

 

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

Taking Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Top of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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