Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Michelle, ma belle. . .

Like myself, many people around the globe are excited about the new era in American politics ushered in by our country's first black president, Barack Obama. There is a renewed spirit of optimism and hope coursing through the veins of citizens of the world despite the numbers of victims the economic crisis has claimed. Millions are hoping that President Obama can put a stop to the economy's bloodletting. But fashion insiders are looking to Michelle Obama to reinvigorate the fashion industry. No, we don't expect the first lady to create a fashion stimulus package. But it is hoped that her choices will motivate women to shop. And everyone has weighed in on Mrs. Obama's fashion choices. And now it is my turn. Not surprisingly, I think she should add a little SK Wilbur to her closet. After the pomp and circumstance of the inauguration, two angels whispered in my ear and suggested that I send a little somethin' somethin' to the first lady. Surprisingly, I had never even considered it. But then I thought, "Why not?" So I pulled some fabric swatches from my favorite store Mood (anyone who has watched Project Runway knows about this fabric emporium), and began to really study her style. In two weeks, I had sketched about 5 or 6 looks for our first lady. I wrote a letter to include with the illustrations and asked my friend in public relations to edit it accordingly. I mounted each design and arranged the swatches to make it all pop and unearthed a clear plastic case at The Container Store so that the presentation looked exceptional. And I made a duplicate package to send to Ikram Goldman, the woman who owns a store in Chicago who has acted as her fashion advisor. According to my tracking numbers, UPS promptly delivered one package to Desiree Rogers, The White House social secretary, and one package to Ikram. But I have not heard anything. Bombarded with identical requests and busy with first lady obligations, I am not surprised. But it sure would be nice to answer the phone and hear Michelle's voice on the other end.

Peace & Fashion!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fashionably Ever After. . .

I know you have watched those chase scenes in the movies or on your favorite television program when the good guy is on foot and in hot pursuit of the villain. And the offender is doing his damnedest to escape by throwing obstacles into the hero's path. That is what last week felt like for me. Right now all I want is to create 7 distinctive, well-made, stylish denim cocktail dresses to see if fashionable women will support my vision and buy them. I don't think I am asking for much. I just want a chance to see if I can accomplish what has eluded me for 11 years. But I declare that there is someone or something every step of the way to thwart my plans. I relied on someone to take one of my illustrations and sew it into existence. We've worked together on other projects over the last few years, and had, for the most part, a wonderful working relationship. But this time I was left in the lurch when a deadline could not be met. And then I was given major attitude when I took umbrage. But just like the hero in the movies, I continue my chase and prevail. Thankfully, I've activated my plan B. So although I had to take a moment to regroup, I am moving forward. And this week is going to be filled with progress. Because the good guy always wins.
Peace & Fashion!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Do You Believe?

When I picked up my mail today there was a special insert included with my edition of WWD. For those of you who don't know, WWD or Women's Wear Daily is a trade newspaper published Monday through Friday (mostly) that serves as the fashion professional's go-to resource to find out the latest & get the industry 411 on everything from runway show spectacles to company financials to trade shows to which industry titan is flexing its muscles. It is like a cross between The Wall Street Journal and People magazine for the fashion set. That aside, the insert is titled WWD Collections and it is brimming with an encapsulated montage of color photos and stories even more colorful from the New York, London, Paris, and Milan fashion weeks. The reader is treated to a concise overview of the runway trends, the editors top 10 favorite presentations, and profiles of fashion's most rich & powerful. Yours truly has been fortunate enough to have been featured in this publication twice! This time out the magazine profiled Ralph Lauren. Great! Ralph Lauren is my hero. Business wise he is at the top of the heap. His message is always clear, not convoluted. And his clothing is always well made and wearable. If I were to model myself after anyone , it would be Mr. Lauren. In the article he says, "Be as good as you can be and give it your all to project what you believe in. . ." These are certainly words to live by. At SK Wilbur/Sorta Kinda Enterprises, we are committed to doing our best. I am creating tops that are fun, happy, affordable, and easy to care for. And because I believe color can incite joy, each piece is infused with a myriad of colors. We are also in the process of creating accessories, like our "tee" bags, that are functional and fun applying some of the same vibrant colors from our tops. For us, it is about taking something that we might see everyday and tweaking it so that it is fresh and new. My team (Serosh & Ashanti) and I are working diligently to acquire the financing to bring our line of happy tops and bags to the consumer as soon as possible. Sometimes we feel as if we are chasing our tail, but we continue to give it our all because this is a project we believe in.

Peace & Fashion!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Let's Talk About Sex

When Sex and the City premiered on HBO June 6, 1998, I was eager to see what it was all about. An avid fan, I would watch religiously every Sunday. The show tapped into the cultural zeitgeist and became a phenomenon. When I spoke with Jeff Bewkes, then HBO head and person responsible for green-lighting the series, in retrospect he knew Sex and the City was a hit but could not have predicted its groundswell of support from HBO subscribers and the general public. So it made perfect sense for me to ride the show's proverbial coattails when I staged my "guerrilla" runway show. On the sidewalk outside of the Bryant Park tents one steamy September afternoon in 2000 during New York Fashion Week, my models strutted behind face masks of the characters from the series. I actually borrowed the idea to take my show to the streets from a designer named Lola Faturoti. She had garnered recognition just seven months earlier outside of Ralph Lauren's show. And since it had worked wonders for her, I figured it might do the same for me. But I could not do it alone. I had to assemble a team. I hired Ron Goldstein who has a company aptly named FreeMedia. He had done a lot in the political arena but wanted to apply his expertise to other industries as well. He convinced me that I needed a hook. Otherwise, I would be like any other young designer trying to get face time with the press. Jointly, we settled on the idea to extrapolate elements from Sex and the City. My sister, Ashanti, had been very supportive and she said she would be there for me again. She was in charge of the boom box which played a continuous loop of the music used to promote the new season. And there were people for hair and makeup as well. As soon as my models descended from their perches inside the SUV which had carried us from my office in the garment district to the park, they were bombarded by reporters and photographers and onlookers. Questions about who was responsible were hurled immediately and fervently. But when an employee of HBO who was present for the circus of which I was the ringleader threatened me with a lawsuit it really was too little too late. I'd already had the best Sex ever!

Peace & Fashion!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Full Circle Moment

Several years ago, about 8 or 9, I learned about a program called Principal For A Day. An initiative created by a non-profit organization named PENCIL, Principal For A Day matches New York business leaders with the principals of area high schools to experience first-hand the accomplishments of and challenges facing the city's public schools. The goal of the event is for participants to translate their one-day experiences into long-term relationships that enhance the learning environments at their schools and support student achievement. It was important for me to give back and I thought that sharing some of what I learned could benefit many other kids who were interested in pursuing careers in fashion. So I signed on. I was placed at William H. Maxwell Vocational High School in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn where I met a student named Vaughn. He was considered the star designer of the class garnering the accolades of his classmates and praise of his teachers. However, Vaughn had become a father at the early age of 16 causing some of the school administration to wonder if he would be reduced to nothing more than just another sad statistic. But he was eager to learn and sought out my guidance. So I took Vaughn under my wing. And armed with determination and talent, he has flourished. Vaughn has shown his collection during Harlem Week, a month long festival celebrating Harlem, New York. He was accepted into and has graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.). His work has been featured in local newspapers. And he has completed and won entrepreneurial competitions sponsored by former NBA star Allan Houston and music & fashion mogul Russell Simmons. And he says it began with me. This past Monday, Vaughn took a trip back to his alma mater, William H. Maxwell, and he asked me to join him. His inspiring message to the class was making your passion your career. It was a little like deja vu. But it really was a full circle moment.
Peace & Fashion!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

If The Shoe Fits. . .

I have not designed a collection of tailored clothes for a minute now, but it is almost like riding a bike. I really enjoy the creative process and mapping out the details of each look. But I become anxious sometimes when I think about the cost of putting a collection together. How will I be able to afford this latest endeavor? But I just push on through because I know I am just following my destiny. My friend Sheila Rule says that I am "walking my prayer". Buying the fabrics and trims and then taking it all to the seamstress who will bring my illustrations to life is probably the first step after sketching. But I must also employ a fit model. This will allow us to refine the pattern of each piece so that we know my dresses are actually wearable on a live person. The task of finding someone who fits the bill wears me out. Of course, I could go to an agency, but I am trying to keep my costs down. So I let my fingers do the walking to - the new yellow pages - where I place an ad for a fit model. This Friday past my posting went up live and read like this:
Immediate hire for a fit model for the launch of a new line of cocktail dresses. Please be professional and punctual. You must have the following measurements - Bust - 34", Waist - 26", Hips - 37". Please be 5'9" or taller.
I got several responses from a gaggle of models and model wannabes. All of the women were lovely, but some didn't quite have the measurement requirements and others didn't quite have the height. But I was able to set up 5 appointments for the following Saturday afternoon at my local Starbucks. At 2:30 p.m. a call comes in from one of the candidates, "Hi Wilbur. I am here." To which I replied, "So am I. Please come on upstairs." Up the stairs comes the very statuesque goddess Valencia. She hails from Virginia and oozes Southern charm and grace. We talk like old friends. I am almost certain that the job is hers. But I must see all the ladies first. Fair is fair. Although I have scheduled each candidate 30 minutes apart, no one else has shown up. My watch is fast approaching 4:00 and I am about to hit it when another candidate calls. "Wilbur, I am only a few blocks away. Please wait for me." I am fine with that. The lovely and buxom Daniela and I are talking less than 10 minutes later. She, too, is very personable, but I think her bust measurement may be a little too large. We end our meet and greet and I tell her that even if she is not chosen to work with me on this project, there are certain to be other projects in the future. I am convinced that I have found my Cinderella. And her name is Valencia. After all, she is wearing the shoe so it must fit.

Peace & Fashion!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Step by Step

Today I was talking to one of my best friends, Marcia. I love her because since I have invited myself into her life she has supported me and encouraged my career endeavors. Following my "odyssey" on, she complimented my writing style saying that it was informative and entertaining. But she thinks that I need to share more of my vision for Sorta Kinda Enterprises. I greeted her suggestion with a sense of weariness. Now I admit that that there is power in words and we have the potential to speak things into existence. But the universe's plan for my journey is very different from how I envisioned it. Early on I put everybody and their mother on notice with my plans for fashionworld domination and 11 years later I still have not reached my pinnacle. Instead of a chorus of "Congratulations, You go, BOY!", I have been met with doubtful gazes and a steady stream of "What happened?" After the thousandth "What happened?", I started to rethink how much of my plans I should share with the general public. Because, let's face it, how many times should I have to be reminded that right now I am still an almost, not quite there yet? But Marcia is right. Not only do I have to walk the walk, I also have to talk the talk. Speak success, work at it, and it will surely come. And I've got to be patient with myself and ask others to be patient with me, too. Rome nor a fashion empire was built in a day. When I did my first runway show back in 1998, I chose a song by Whitney Houston called "Step by Step". Little did I know then how relevant this piece of music would become and the imprint it would have on my life in fashion. Whenever I hit a wall, I will pull this cd out and play it. Loud. The part I like the most goes like this:
And this old road is rough and ruined
So many dangers along the way
So many burdens might fall upon me
So many troubles that I have to face
Oh, but I won't let my spirit fail me
Oh, I won't let my spirit go
Until I get to my destination
I'm gonna take it slowly cuz I'm making it mine
Since I speak of inclusion, I will REALLY keep you apprised of what is going on in my world. And I hope you are there when I reach my mountaintop. But for now I've got to take it step by step.

Peace & Fashion!