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Touched by Tokyo: Hairstylist to the Stars Tokyo Stylez

August 27, 2016 Leave a comment

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

 

Tokyo4

Touched by Tokyo

Hairstylist to the Stars Tokyo Stylez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He feels his versatile chops set him apart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He plans to have a business presence in Omaha.

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

Meanwhile, he changes perceptions of Omaha wherever he goes.

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

Visit touchedbytokyo.com for more information.

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


 

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

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

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

I invite you to visit the site, take a little or a lot of time, explore and enjoy the ride. Be sure to bookmark favorites and share links with family and friends.

I invite you to join thousands of others in following the blog. You can get email or Facebook updates whenever I post.

The blog by the way feeds into my Facebook page, My Inside Stories, as well as into my Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Tumblr, AboutMe and Amazon pages.

Hope to see you here again @ leoadambiga.com

The site for My Inside Stories about people’s passions & magnificent obsessions

A compendium of Arts, Entertainment, Culture, Lifestyle, Sports, Style, Fashion, History, Society, Issues, Personalities, Creatives, Entrepreneurs and More

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

 

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New Horizons Newspaper's photo.
New Horizons Newspaper's photo.

 New Horizons Newspaper's photo.

New Horizons Newspaper's photo.
New Horizons Newspaper's photo.

Alesia Lester: A Conversation in the Gossip Salon


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

 

 

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Alesia Lester: A Conversation in the Gossip Salon

©by Leo Adam Biga

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Young men seek her counsel as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing the project was a catharsis.

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

She feels called to share her inspiring journey with others.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

One of Alesia’s Facebook posts:

I absolutely did not…

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

February 4, 2012 7 comments

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Nancy Bounds, ©photo by Michael Dar

 

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

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the New Horizons

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 Jaime King - Critics' Choice Awards 2013 Red Carpet

Jaime King at a premiere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 January Jones at a premiere

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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