Friday, July 31, 2009

What If?

Last night while on my way home from the plantation, I read an article in The New York Times that caused me to reflect on my odyssey. How Do You Like Me Now? is the account of a very talented and somewhat accomplished black fashion designer (Eric Gaskins) who, after 22 years in the business, is forced to shut down his line. Last year he started writing a blog called The Emperor's Old Clothes and seems to be having more notoriety and success with that than with the quietly elegant frocks he has up until now been known for. The noticeably similar parallels in our lives are startling even if I have yet to reach the same level of success as Mr. Gaskins. After all, his dresses hung in many stores including the very posh Bergdorf Goodman here in New York City. I have yet to see my confections on the racks of those kinds of stores. And I am not sure if my online journal is as widely read as Mr. Gaskins's is either. Nonetheless, the newspaper item did give rise to a moment where I questioned the validity of my existence in fashion design. What if my success in the fashion design sector is only moderate like Mr. Gaskins? Am I prepared to humbly accept those terms and be grateful for just the opportunity to have chased my dreams? And will I be happy knowing that after so many years, if nothing else, at least I gave it the old college try? The jury is still out on that as I believe that no one pursues their goals as doggedly as I have just to get an honorable mention badge. But right now I've still got to believe that the apex of fashion success is still within my reach. Interestingly, I visited the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) this week where the work of Isabel Toledo is on display. Ms. Toledo is another astonishingly talented designer who seemed to be destined only to enjoy a moderate level of success. That is until first lady Michelle Obama chose Ms. Toledo as her designer of choice for her Inauguration day ensemble. Catapulted to the world stage by one event, Ms. Toledo's fashion star is now shining brightly. It just speaks to the possibilities and how important it is to perservere. Since anything is possible, the what if question persists.
Peace & Fashion!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A BlackFashionDude News Brief

One of my favorite lines from the movie Up Close & Personal, a love story between 2 network news journalists, is "If it bleeds it leads." Robert Redford's character is referring to the practice on the local news level of opening the program with the most horrific and gruesome, oftentimes fatal stories that cause us to shake our heads or gasp. Thankfully, I do not have those kind of details to share with you, so I am just going to report my story chronologically.

Late Monday afternoon, I received a call from Dorothea, the church's administrative assistant. She and I have forged quite a bond since I accepted the invitation to produce the church's fashion extravaganza. "I've got bad news," she conveyed in a hushed tone that instantly distressed me. "Okay, what's wrong," I responded almost not wanting to know. Apparently, the church fashion show has been postponed until 2010 due to calendar conflicts. This news is a blessing in disguise. I wondered how I was going to stage the most awe-inspiring fashion show Mount Moriah had ever witnessed and simultaneously launch the Wilbur collection over the next few months without compromising the integrity of either endeavor. And now I won't have to. But stay tuned, I am hoping to resuscitate the church's event possibly for Black History Month in February.

Last night, my business partners and I met with James C. He responded to our item for a sales rep that we posted on craigslist. After speaking with him last week over the phone, I immediately got a sense that James is straightforward and polished. He knows how to engage you - which was obvious when I realized that we clocked almost 45 minutes for our first phone chat. Initially I had reservations about his ability to get the line into stores as he is fairly new to the New York fashion scene. As a Brit, however, James sparkles with determination and an elegance that will bring a new level of panache to the line. As the three of us asked questions and listened intently, we learned that James, caught up in a whirlwind romance, followed his sweetheart, who happens to be American, to the States. The newlyweds tied the knot only four months ago. A romantic at heart, I found the story very Lifetime Television. We think he is especially charming and will be able to get my frocks into stores. We just have to iron out the details of the contract and then we can hit the ground running.

Tonight, I met with a furniture store that is hosting a cross-marketing event that will include visual artists as well as fashion designers. On Friday, September 25 invited guests will have the opportunity to enjoy cocktails, fine art, and a runway presentation featuring the work of some talented emerging designers. The organizers are still nailing down how many and whom, but if I am a part of it, I will definitely keep you posted.

That's it for now. This is BlackFashionDude signing off.

Peace & Fashion!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Juggling Act

Last night I had a meeting with the pastor of my church. No, I was not having a spiritual crisis. Several months ago, I had been asked by one of the members, who is affectionately referred to as Mama Brown, to assist her with a fashion show for the church. In the black community, church fashion shows are a common way to raise money for the ministry. And they are usually, how can I put this delicately, very CHEESY. In fact, when I became a member of Mount Moriah almost 3 years ago, I declared to my mother that under no uncertain terms would I ever be involved with a fashion show at the church. What if it had been discovered by the fashion elite that I was entangled in a church fashion show? This kind of felony would appear on my record for the rest of my life! Yet, last night there I was face-to-face with my pastor, Mama Brown, and one of the other members of the clergy to nail down details for our November 21 fashion extravaganza. I just find it funny how the universe will set you on a path that you've already decided is not right for you. And you've just got to surrender and learn the lesson that comes with it. But now I am wondering how I am going to find the energy and time and emotional fortitude to take on another project.

Ashanti, Serosh, and I (The 3 Musketeers of Fashion) have been brainstorming on how we are going to move into the next phase of our plan with hiring an independent sales rep and finding a space to have appointments with buyers. Ashanti suggested our old reliable, craigslist, as a possible resource for locating a sales rep. Since nothing beats a failure but a try, we went for it. And I still find it amazing how some people will apply for a job without dotting their Is or crossing their Ts. Our posting reads:

Looking for independent fashion sales representative to sell a line of cocktail dresses. This position is commission only. Must have strong relationships with specialty stores. If you're interested, please contact Wilbur at 917.520.4615

This was one of the responses that was emailed to us:

Have 25 years in evenwear dresses, us too own( after dark). if you are looking for a pro please feel free to cll me.Will not work commission Only.

That's just all wrong! So we keep pressing forward. Serosh has reached out to some of his associates who have been in sales and I've tried reaching out to mine. And we even got a bite from someone who sounds interesting. But we have not met with any candidates just yet. But time marches on and we need to have someone in place for market week next month when all the buyers descend on New York to look at what's new and has value for their stores. So as I field responses to our posting and begin work on my first stab at the world of church fashion shows and strive to remain positive about the possibilities of this inaugural collection, I realize that in this juggling act I've got to keep all my plates in the air. I cannot let one drop and shatter to pieces.

Peace & Fashion!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Name Is Victory

On Monday I got a call from Abe who has his own showroom on 35th street in the garment district. I had spoken with him briefly on Thursday. He told me he would call once he got a chance to review our online look book. During our phone conversation yesterday afternoon, he told me my dresses were lovely. But he also ran down a laundry list of issues he had with the collection which included everything from its fabrication (cotton) to the small number of looks in the line (7). But in the end, his biggest problem was with its price point. He thought that they were worth the asking price with all the handwork and finishes, but he felt that stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus would definitely have some resistance to the prices. He suggested that my associates and I try to sell the line to the stores ourselves because after a showroom gets its fee and commission, we will have very little cash-on-hand to show for all our efforts. He recommended that we contact the buying offices at a couple of local posh department stores and the buyers at high end specialty stores and schedule appointments for them to see the line. It makes perfect sense! But since we gave up our Manhattan showroom space on 8th avenue a few years ago, we really have nowhere to meet with these buyers. And I am sorry, but Starbucks is out of the question! And since none of us involved in this business venture have connections with buyers, it may prove a little difficult to get them to respond to our requests for a meeting. But I believe in making a way out of no way. Defeat has got to be staring me in the face and kicking me in my butt before I will give up. So what if we hire a seasoned sales professional who has the contacts? Maybe they'll give us a whirl on a commission-only basis? I mean, it's worth a try. Isn't it? And maybe, if we put our heads together, we can come up with a couple of people we know who are city dwellers with lovely living quarters who would not mind letting us use their homes to conduct these meetings. After all, a wonderfully talented new designer named Prabal Gurung did it and he has opened a few accounts with some reputable stores. Why can't I? I am a fashion industry survivor hell bent on making a success out of Sorta Kinda Enterprises. And if it means climbing through the window to accomplishment instead of walking through the door, then I better find a ladder. After all, my name is Victory.
Peace & Fashion!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Different Kind of Designer

I am okay with flying under the fashion radar. I am not a scenester. I just want women to buy my clothes, look pretty, and talk about how fabulous my dresses make them feel. Every once in a while I like to attend a swanky party, but mostly I kinda like hanging with my friends and family. In a fashion crowd, I surprisingly do not blend in. The sound of crickets chirping resonates in my head once the hush of quiet has settled over a conversation with a fellow fashion professional. Beyond hemlines and silhouettes there is little else to chatter about and I have not mastered the art of small talk. Perhaps unusually, my social circle has never really included fashionistas who share a similar career path. My new friend and colleague, Alaina Z., who created 2 of the patterns and sewed the corresponding looks for my spring collection tells me that I am a different kind of designer. Stripped of all melodramatic fierceness often associated with fashion elite and wannabes alike, she says I come off as just a regular guy. I took that as a compliment because having perspective is a good quality to possess.

This week I've been contacting showrooms around New York with the hopes of securing one that will get the line onto store racks. And this step is extremely crucial. Because let's face it, the possibility of my dresses being bought is drastically reduced if they're not sold anywhere. So I put on my best warm and pleasant radio voice as I inquired over the phone. Unfortunately, I have often been met with cold and distant proprietors indicative of the industry that has yet to embrace me. Economic crisis or not, when talking to most fashion people I usually come up feeling hollow. And I've been found out by friends like Stephen E. that I am a little sensitive. Surprise! So as I make each call, it becomes more and more excruciating. But I have accepted that this step is just a necessary evil to get to my ultimate goal.

Peace & Fashion!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

That's What's Up!

On Monday I visited an associate of mine, Sandy C. She is a personal shopper in the At Your Service department at the Bloomingdale's 59th street store. Personal shoppers have become increasingly more influential because of their one-on-one association with the client. Consequently, they are able to advise buyers on which pieces the consumer is craving for the coming season. Several weeks ago when I was having buttons and snaps added to a couple of pieces, I had a serendipitous encounter with Sandy C. who thought the dresses looked quite saleable. She'd even said that she wanted to see the final outcome. I was encouraged by her interest in my inaugural collection. So I made a mental note to contact her once the look book photos had been enhanced. (Besides being an awesome photographer, my sister-in-law is a whiz with photoshop.) On Monday, at Sandy's request, I carried 4 of the strongest looks in the stretch white cotton fabrication into Manhattan where I presented them in her elegantly appointed jewel box sized office on the fourth floor. I held my breath as she rattled off words like inventive, fresh, and well executed to describe my creations which were hanging before her on the polished silver rack. She assured me that she would sing my praises when passing my info along to the department buyer, who happens to be a newbie to the designer floor like me. She also strongly recommended that I quickly find a showroom who will get the dresses on store racks for next spring. I am diligently working on it, Sandy. But as a retail veteran, it was her reverence that made me believe that this time out the gate I may just be a winner. Now that's what's up!

Peace & Fashion!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Next Stop: LONDON

When I booked our return flight from Nice for July 4th, I saw that Orbitz offered one with an 8 hour layover in London. The wheels in my head started turning because this provided me with the perfect excuse to hang out with my friend Richard. We had not seen each other in almost 3 years. And I hadn't visited London in about 15 years. And since Lloyd had never been, it was settled. London happens to be one of my favorite cities in the world. It is a lot like NYC - only the natives have better accents. So Richard met us at Heathrow. And I was thrilled to see his dimpled, smiling face greeting us as we came through customs and after changing dollars into pounds. By the way, the exchange rate stinks. Richard is an architect by profession. And he has a wonderfully unique way of looking at things and expressing himself. And since he has the gift of gab, I end up listening to him for hours. So I was really excited to see London through his eyes. And he did not disappoint. As we trekked through part of the city riding one of those red double decker buses, he pointed out new and old parts of the city scenery. Then he walked us across the city through the West End theatre district, crossing the Thames on the Golden Jubilee Bridge to the National Theatre complex which reminded me a lot of Lincoln Center. From there we walked to the Tate Modern which is such a large and cavernous complex filled with contemporary art. Richard delighted in its layout and I marveled at the view from the restaurant on the top floor. Afterwards, we walked across the Millennium Bridge (a modern wonder) where we got caught up in a different kind of Independence Day - Gay Pride. But we needed to get a bite to eat before moving onto the festivities, so we sat down at a charming little burger joint on one of the side streets. GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) is a local chain of restaurants quite a few steps above McDonalds and much more civilized. From there we weaved through the throngs of people celebrating their independence and engaged in people watching along the way. There is a lot more that we all have in common, no matter what language we speak or what accents we speak with. And it was such a great moment to celebrate our likenesses as well as our differences.
Our time was winding down as we searched for one of those red double decker buses to shepherd us back to the airport tram. But because of the festivities, the buses were no longer running. So we descended the stairs to catch the tube (the equivalent of our subway here in NY). As we said our good-byes with hugs and kisses, my mind focused on our next stop - Home.
Peace & Fashion!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I'm Baaack!

Okay, it's back to life - back to reality. But not before I share some details of my amazing visit to the French Riviera. Our gracious hosts, Peter and Michel, met us at the airport in Nice. And how "nice" it was. Especially because we missed our connecting flight in Brussels as a result of inclement weather here in New York. Sitting on the runway at JFK for 2 1/2 hours was no picnic and neither was not having our luggage meet us when we arrived in the south of France. But what could we do? After filing our claim at the airport, the gentlemen whisked us away to their home on the beach in St. Tropez. Swept away by the vistas of the lovely Mediterranean and the countryside, and with the colorful blooms of the gardens greeting us just below their terrace, I was ready to start my vacation. Our first stop later that evening was St. Tropez proper (the guys live in the village of Gassin), where we sipped cocktails at Le Quai Joseph while watching passersby stroll along the harbor loaded with yachts of all sizes, yet all fabulous. Afterwards, we were escorted to the bustling and unpretentious Chez Les Garcons where we dined al fresco under the stars watching natives and tourists on parade. Peter remarked that the village is so small which became quite apparent as he and Michel greeted so many with the double kiss and a heartfelt Bonjour. Fitting right in, I started kissing everybody, too!
I cannot tell you everything about my adventures because I am afraid it will begin to bore you. But I will say that we made stops in Cannes where the international film festival takes place each year. I learned that Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills is actually modeled after this blissfully chic region. So you know it oozes fabulosity! We also visited Monte Carlo/Monaco where the town was readying for the Tour de France. We paid a visit to the royal palace which stands high on a hill and we took pictures with the guard in the background. Lunch along the coast was awesome and picturesque. And we also stayed in Nice for a few days where, thanks to the guys, we could blend in like the locals. At least I felt like I was blending in. It struck me funny when I visited the Lanvin boutique in Monte Carlo and was greeted at the door by perfectly spoken English, "Good Afternoon, gentlemen. How are you doing today?" When I commented aloud to Peter about how strange I thought it was, the reply by the really lovely saleswoman was, "Did you want me to greet you as ladies instead of gentlemen?" I could tell we were going to be fast friends! "You greeted me in English, instead of French," I explained. She quickly recovered by saying that I had obvious American style. After she learned that I was a designer, she packed up lookbooks of the runway photos for women's spring & resort as well as men's spring and autumn. Leaving with the heavy powder blue shopping bag loaded with stunning fashion images was a moment that left me swooning. And it was indicative of my entire experience on the French Riviera. I loved it.

Peace & Fashion!