Thursday, May 26, 2011

The End of an Era

This week Oprah Winfrey aired the final episode of her wildly successful talk show.  For me (and many others), she was an integral part of my growth as an individual.  Watching her show inspired me to dream of a bigger life for myself.  I reasoned that if someone from her background could achieve her kind of success, then certainly, by following my heart, I could too.  My expectation has never been to become a billionaire, but to be enriched by living a life free from regret.   In fact, I believe her net worth was a by-product of just living her life authentically.

One of the measurements I had for my success as a fashion designer was to be a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show.  Alas, that is not going to happen now.  Yet, I feel like my fashion success is inevitable.  I have no regrets.  And I am just going to have to find some other standards to measure my victories.  I am sure Oprah will.

Peace & Fashion!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Steffany Allen - STYLIST
Just like last season, I am designing handbags to accessorize some of the looks in the forthcoming collection.  My Aunt Patty, in town as my mother's caregiver since her surgery, has saved me a lot of anxiety and frustration by sewing up the first 2 styles.  Thank God!  She is really amazingly talented on the sewing machine.  And the bags are HOT!

While I was collaborating with stylist extraordinaire Steffany Allen last year on The Superwoman collection, we became close and I now count her as one of my friends.  These first handbags are inspired by her, so in her honor I've named this particular style The Steffany.

It is too soon for the big reveal, so I hope you'll stay tuned as all the details come together.  That way you can see the complete look - clothing, shoes, jewelry, hair, make up, AND handbags.

Peace & Fashion!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Do You Know Where You're Going To?

Diana Ross in Mahogany
I have always loved a good fashion show from the time I was a little boy.  My eyes would glaze over when I spotted a runway.  And it didn't matter where it was taking place - the church basement, on television, at the local mall, or the community center at the apartment complex the next town over- I was always front and center.  I really couldn't wait to see those glamour goddesses strut down the catwalk.

When Mahogany came out in theaters, my mother thought I was too young for some of the adult situations in the PG-rated movie.  But my mother had the paperback book version of the movie and I would dissect the photos of Diana Ross on the back cover.  In each photo, the music legend was decked out in an elaborate look, donning a different wig, her face painted like a work of art.  My mind drifted off to a world where my daily grind would be as fabulous.  I didn't know what kind of job it would be, but I was sure that it involved a runway and pretty ladies.  Although that was so many moons ago, the idea of a fashion show still energizes me.

An Original Geoffrey Beene Dress
I remember the first time I attended a show during NY Fashion Week.  It was prior to the tents in Bryant Park and Lincoln Center.  Magazine editors & fashion journalists would taxi around the city scrambling to see each designer's show.  I could barely sleep a wink the night before as I was so overcome with excitement.  I had met Peter Mulvey at the plantation.  He was the design assistant to Geoffrey Beene and he promised to get me into the show.  It was sheer madness outside of the show space as people waved invitations begging for admission from the stern doorkeepers and unfazed ticket collectors .  It wasn't until the last minute that I actually gained entry myself.  The lights went down and I stood mesmerized in the back of the ballroom at the Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue as I watched the impossibly tall and stunningly gorgeous models float down the catwalk.  It was a moment that crystallized my passion.  I still harbored doubts about being a fashion professional, but the pull of all that glamour and magic was too strong to withstand.

Although I still love a fashion show, I have learned that it is not the most important part of the fashion equation.  There is the business of fashion that supports the need to do a show.  I'm still working on that part.  But all the magic and flashbulbs and fabulosity of the shows during NY Fashion Week still cause my heart to skip a beat.

Peace & Fashion!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fashion & Fiction

Last week I met with my new seamstress (another one!) who is constructing the designs for my sister, Ashanti, to wear for Full-Figured Fashion Week beginning June 16.  I am not at liberty to reveal any details just yet, but, in true Wilbur fashion, the looks are classic, with bold touches.  Angela (that's my new seamstress' name) seems to be a lovely woman who hails from the island of Jamaica and she seems to be all about business. Time will tell if she can REALLY bring the heat, but I'm placing all my bets on her.

Deborah Gregory surrounded by the actresses
who played "The Cheetah Girls"
On Thursday past, I found myself crossing the threshold of Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem. Invited by Deborah Gregory,  a longtime colleague and creator of The Cheetah Girls book series, I was there for a reading by the new and dynamic novelist, Darlyne Baugh.  I noticed the air was filled with the scent of celebration as Darlyn greeted me like we were old friends.  And then Deborah, a flurry of coral knit, caramel curls, and bedazzled butterflies, fluttered into the bookstore greeting everyone in her path with the kind of salutations only Wendy Williams or someone very close to the gay community would know about.  After crackers and cheese and champagne and cupcakes, the rapt audience settled in to hear the writers read juicy excerpts from their books.

Darlyne's first book, Black Girl @ The Gay Channel, is a very fictionalized account of her own stint working for Logo TV.  So far,  it is a breezy, smart, and funny  read detailing the drama-filled ups and downs of corporate culture at a cable network.  Black Girl. . . is proving to be quite the page turner, in fact.

Author Darlyne Baugh

After the reading, I purchased the book and had Darlyne write something fabulously intimate on the inside cover.  Seeing this as an opportunity to network, I then made my way around the room introducing myself to people whom I admired but had never met.  There in the audience were Lisa Cortes, the Executive Producer of the Oscar-winning film "Precious" and Lisa Villarosa, the author, journalist, public speaker, and professor who wrote an article for Essence magazine many years ago that has stayed with me since.

Besides the obvious benefits of the evening, I was also inspired by the fact that another writer had taken pen to paper and created characters and a story that captures the mind of its reader.  And I hope I am able to do that through my forthcoming book, too.  Stay Tuned!

Peace & Fashion! 

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's A Wonderful Life

Sometimes I feel like I am writing more about my disappointments instead of my triumphs. My frustration with some of my setbacks is palpable, to be sure. Yet, I wake up each morning blessed that I have another opportunity to move toward my goals.

A few days ago, Plus-Sized Supermodel, Mia Amber Davis, died suddenly as the result of a blood clot after undergoing minor knee surgery. She was only 36 years old. I met her a couple of years ago when she was the moderator for Queens Fashion Week. I was still designing dresses for the 0-12 sized woman. She met me backstage before the show to learn a little about me, so that she could polish up her introduction. After she had asked all the pertinent questions and looked over my rack of samples, she looked me in the eye and queried, “What about us plus size girls? Where are the dresses for us?” Although I had always planned on designing a line for the fuller woman, I’d put it off because I thought that my road to success began with straight sizes and I was still struggling to make a name for myself. I answered her, “I’ve gotta crawl before I can walk, but I promise it’s coming.” She gave me a look like she only half believed me and nodded her head saying, “Okay,” before she moved on to learn about the other designers in the show. A year later when I presented my inaugural collection for the curvy woman, I invited her to attend. We hugged and kissed before I told her, “See, I did it.” She smiled approvingly and told me that she thought I had done a great job.

Mia was a trailblazing force in the curvy community and by example she demonstrated that beauty and poise come in a variety of sizes. She kicked down doors and excelled as an actress starring in the film Road Trip, TV producer, and the creative editor-at-large for the premier online publication Plus Model Magazine. An inspiration to me and countless others, Mia’s life exemplified what it means to live your life to the fullest. She was happily married and she was loved by her family and by an industry that idolized her for her beauty, but embraced her for her kindness. Hers truly was a wonderful life.

Peace & Fashion!

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Work In Progress

Most of you who have vicariously accompanied me on my fashion odyssey already know that I've been feverishly writing my memoir.  Although I am only one quarter through it, I am really trying to complete it by summer's end.  I've got plenty more writing to do.  But I thought I'd share an excerpt with you as a sort of a sneak peek.  Please post a comment and let me know what you think.  Remember, this is my life and it reads a lot different than the blog.

Peace & Fashion!

Aunt Patty & Me celebrating our birthdays
 with my Grandma

A few days before I attended my senior prom, I lost my grandmother to cancer.  My senior prom and my grandmother’s passing are two milestones blended together in some kind of fuzzy mix of ebullient joy and profound sadness.  I came to know death intimately, its embrace impossible to escape.  And its thoughtlessness left me adrift searching for anything that might steady me.  The smother of cancer is inescapable and all-consuming.  Sorrow metastasized like the disease.  I watched powerless day after day as my grandmother’s condition worsened.  The ugly and bleak memory of her suffering has lingered over the rest of my days.  Grandma had always been one of my staunchest supporters indulging me the way a grandparent does.  Ours was a special bond and she would take me out to fancy dinners and Broadway shows.  Her zeal for life was legendary as she was the epicenter of every party and at each birthday celebration, including hers, she would loudly declare, “Happy Birthday To Me!”  Elegant yet pragmatic, I adored and worshipped her fortitude and glamour.  Grandma was beyond reproach earning her the moniker Right Rolene.  She was an avid and worldly traveler who would send me postcards from each of her destinations.  Now so many years later, I look over the yellowing cards inspecting her familiar handwriting and I am transported back in time.  I couldn’t wait for her return from vacation when my mother would pack us into the beige Nova for the ten minute ride to her house where we greeted her enthusiastically and listened intently as she regaled us with stories of African camel rides and Spanish bullfights and Mexican pyramids.  Maybe two weeks after her funeral, on a sunny afternoon, immediately following the pomp and circumstance of my high school graduation ceremony, I was presented with an envelope inscribed “Love, Grandma” filled with several one hundred dollar bills.  I bawled and shook and sobbed loudly as the procession of tears streamed down my face. Unstoppable and unrelenting, I cried for all the things about her that I would miss and I cried for our future that was cut too short.  Now without Grandma’s strong physical presence, I contemplated how my life would turn out.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Fashion Genius

On this past Tuesday afternoon I eased up Fifth Avenue to see the exciting new exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art called Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.  If you love fashion, the way I do, this retrospective is a must-see event.

Following the sudden suicide death of the fashion wunderkind last year, the designer's friends, as well as the entire fashion world, mourned his loss.  His talent was truly beyond measure.  Alexander McQueen's artistry and technique is woven throughout the exhibit evident in each of the ensembles on display.

While I was making my way through the maze-like corridors, I bumped into an industry friend who is a personal shopper at the Bloomingdale's flagship on 59th street.  We both agreed that Alexander McQueen had a boundless imagination.  But he also had access to a seemingly unlimited cash resource to indulge his magnificent imagination.  I couldn't help but feel pangs of envy as I thought about the arduous task that lies ahead as I prepare to frantically search high and low for financing to produce samples for my Spring 2012 collection, "Out Of The Dark".  But I also felt extreme gratitude for the gifts that Alexander McQueen left us.  His work inspires me to be a more creative designer.

Peace & Fashion!