L’il Girls Strut For Autism at the Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea Party October 22

Do you have a little princess at home? Would she like to have tea with Cinderella, Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Anna, Elsa, Ariel, and Moana? Would she like to become more confident, and learn how to handle herself on the runway, or while doing an interview? She can do all of this in a friendly, fun atmosphere while raising money for an important cause at the Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea Party this Sunday, October 22, in Manasquan, NJ.

You may recall last April I attended the Shop. Sell. Strut! Fashion Marketplace and Runway Show Benefiting Autism New Jersey. That was a memorable event where a wonderful crowd at the Lake Terrace in Lakewood shopped, watched several fashion shows, participated in silent auctions, and had an overall good time, all to benefit Autism New Jersey.

Shop. Sell. Strut! was founded by two amazing young women, Alyssa Lego and Amanda Witkowski. They are very socially-conscious people who have been using their time and talents to raise awareness and money. Their event in April was a tremendous success. I had so much fun being involved!

After their success with Shop. Sell. Strut! Season One, Alyssa and Amanda have turned their attention to a new cause, The Morgan Marie Michael Foundation.

“Our mission is to create awareness and encourage respect for children with special needs,” Alyssa told me. “We have developed programs such as the iCan iPad Gifting program and PURPOSE – Life after 21. Our Shop. Sell. Strut! event series serve as fundraisers to support the foundation and its clients.”

“A simple iPad can make the difference for an individual on the autism spectrum,” adds Amanda.

Sunday, October 22

Their next event, which will take place at the beautiful Atlantic Club in Manasquan, NJ, will be the Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea Party, on Sunday, October 22. Little girls ages 4-12 who attend will take part in a high tea with seven Disney-inspired princesses. They can get all dressed up in formal attire, and they’ll be involved with photo shoots, a personal animation video, as well as runway and interview coaching, plus a dance party. Guests will also be included in the Shop. Sell. Strut! 2018 calendar.

Tickets to this fun event are available now, and each ticket for your little one includes admission for a parent or guest. Tickets for additional guests are also available.

I’m so honored to have been invited to be a social media ambassador for the afternoon, so I’ll be there! Who doesn’t want to meet princesses? I hope the Morgan Marie Michael Foundation will raise a lot of money. I’ll be following their programs and continue to support!

Get more information at the Facebook event here.

L'il Girls Strut For Autism at the Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea Party October 22

L'il Girls Strut For Autism at the Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea Party October 22

A Cinderella Story by John JNL Leon

Sit down and listen to a story of a fashion blogger who went to the ball. Oh, goodness, there is a very special event taking place in New York City. It’s the Pinoy Weave Fashion Show and Gala, honoring three amazing designers from the Philippines. It’s a formal event! Whatever will I wear?!

I know! I’ll find an amazing designer to make me a beautiful gown. So I went off to a wonderful and magical land, called Philadelphia, to meet with John Leon. I had met John and seen his work at Atlantic City Fashion Week and love the flowing quality of his designs. I asked if he’d like to make me a gown, and a few Facebook messages later, we were invited to his studio to make our own magical ball gown.

I knew I had made the right choice when I saw the first sketch he came up with, just based on his initial ideas. It was beautiful!

It was time to take some measurements.

… and more measurements.

What color should the gown be? Would you like a train? How high are the shoes? Questions and decisions! I told John to run with it! Pick the colors, find an amazing fabric and be sure that the magic will last until midnight!

We left the studio filled with excitement. A few days later, John said he was ready for the first fitting. The gown was coming to life! We rushed back to Philly and …

… it was amazing!

Such a beautiful royal purple color, fit for a princess. It flows, it glides, it was everything I was hoping for.

More fittings. It has to be just right.

It’s almost ready.

It’s amazing what a skilled designer can do, transforming a roll of cloth into something so elegant and beautiful. With the final fittings complete, we left John to finish his work. When he was done, we picked up his wonderful creation. Then it was time to get ready!

Hair is done.

And makeup.

Nails, of course.

A quick preview while driving into the city. Then…

Ta-Dah! Don’t you love it? I truly feel like a princess.

I think one of the best things a designer can do is make the person they are styling feel special. That’s what fashion at its best can achieve. It takes more than just skill with a sewing machine, or an artistic touch, it’s understanding what makes someone feel a certain way.

After the fashion show, which was an amazing event I’ll cover in another blog, it was time to hit the town! Here I am at one of our favorite spots, at Supernova NYC (www.supernovany.com) above Times Square.

A few drinks and time to hit the streets, with some New York attitude!

I just love how the gown flows. When I first saw the fabric, it looked stiff, but amazingly it is really smooth and caught the breeze perfectly while walking through Manhattan.

This Brooklyn girl had to take a photo in front of Junior’s!

Finally, we reached the heart of Times Square! There is such energy here, a million people all around me.

But, it’s almost midnight! The carriage will turn back into a pumpkin soon. Will the magic last?

Quick, off to bed!

But, this gown is so amazing, and so comfortable, that I never want to take it off.

Thank you for sharing my fairy tale with me, and thank you so much to John Leon of John JNL Leon Fashion Designs for his special vision and incredible talent, making my Cinderella dreams come true. With John Leon, it’s not just a gown, it’s a fairy tale.

Remember that black and white sketch that started it all? Here’s the finished color drawing that John prepared, and I’m honored to share it with you here.

Want your own fairy tale? Follow John JNL Leon on Facebook at www.facebook.com/johnJNLleon/ and Instagram @johnjnlleon.

I’m excited to announce that John Leon will also be showing his Spring/Summer 2018 Bridal Showcase at Philly Fashion Week on Saturday, September 23! More information and tickets are available at www.phillyfashionweek.org.

Maarkah To Showcase African and the Middle Eastern Designers at New York Fashion Week

Branding is an essential concept in the fashion world. The brand expressed by a designer and their work is what draws people in, getting them to wear those clothes as an expression of their own personal style.

On September 11, 2017, Runway Prestige presents the debut of Maarkah fashion showcase, which will attempt to raise the profile of talented designers, primarily from Africa and the Middle East, who are largely underrepresented in the fashion world in general, and at New York Fashion Week in particular.

The Westchester-based marketing agency will bring its event production and fashion promotion experience to create a high-end event with a unique focus that should become an important part of the NYFW experience.

We spoke with the owner of Runway Prestige and producer of Maarkah, Rabab Abdalla, about September’s show and started out by asking about why she choose to focus on designers from Africa and the Middle East.

“I decided to focus on designers from the Middle East and Africa because I feel there is an underrepresentation of designers from those regions.” she told me. “If you think about it, how many shows have you been to that had one, or more than one, designer from those regions? Most fashion shows have designers from the western world. Official NYFW shows are no different. You may see one or two designers there and most accolades post-show are not given to them.

“Maarkah, meaning “brand” in Arabic, will represent the underrepresented, focusing on providing a platform for remarkable aspiring Middle Eastern and African designers providing comprehensive support and opportunity. It is for designers to feel welcomed and equally talented as mainstream designers in the western world during New York Fashion Week.”

What people may not realize is that these designers are already being worn by celebrities and are very recognizable, even if their designers aren’t household names yet.

“Many designer are definitely dressing Hollywood A-Listers and are taking over on the red carpet,” Rabab explained to me.

Who are some of the designers who celebrities are wearing?

“Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, Adriana Lima, Taraji P. Henson, and Ellie Kemper, to name a few, all wear Reem Acra, a designer from Lebanon.

“Jennifer Lopez is a big fan of Lebanese designer Ellis Saab, whose clothes are also worn by Meryl Streep, and Janelle Monae. Jennifer Lopez is also big on another Lebanese designer, Zuhair Murad, who’s also popular with Tracee Ellis Ross.

“Director Ava DuVernay paid tribute to Saudi designer Mohammed Ashi at the 2017 Academy Awards. Winnie Harlow has worn Nicolas Jebran, who’s from Lebanon, and Giuliana Rancic wears Rani Zakhem, a Lebanese designer who was raised in Kenya.

“At the 2017 Golden Globe Awards in January, so many celebrities wore Arab designer gowns such as: Tracee Ellis Ross, Lily Collins, Sofia Vergara, Olivia Culpo, Elsa Pataky, Jessica Biel, Felicity Huffman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Emily Ratajkowski, Kristen Wiig, Giuliana Rancic, Raya Abirached, and Trace Lysette.”

Wow! What it is about the work of these designers that you feel has made them so popular among the A-List crowd?

“I think most Arab designers are very luxurious,” said Rabab, “meaning they don’t skim on the type of fabrics or embellishments used. A lot of them use luxury fabrics and stones like Swarovski. I think the same of African designers.

“African print is a big hit among the stars. Rihanna, Solange Knowles, Lydia Hearst, Dawn Richard and Lydia Hearts have all worn looks from Nigerian designer Deola Sagoe. Gwen Stefani is known to make bold statements in African prints at events worldwide. Angela Simmons and Thandie Newton wear Jewel By Lisa. First lady Michelle Obama has worn African print, as have Kanye West, Kim Kardarshian, Amber Rose and Angela Simmons.”

The goal of Maarkah, which will be presented at Studio 450 (450 W 31st St, New York, NY 10001), is to bring attention to these talented artists in New York City and shine a spotlight on their work, to give them the exposure they deserve to a wider audience.

I’m looking forward to attending Maarkah in September and hope that by bringing attention to this show, it’ll help in its mission. I asked Rabab if she had any final thoughts she wanted people to remember.

“’They,’ the designers, are the Maarkah, the brand, that needs recognition. Runway Prestige, LLC is a production company that is providing the platform for Maarkah designers to be seen and become marketable in the United States. Maarkah New York Fashion Week is not exclusive but inclusive.

“We will welcome designers from across the globe who wish to showcase on this platform. This is the way of Middle Eastern and African culture, you welcome anyone and everyone. Through Maarkah we aim to share the region’s beauty of art, design, culture, food and tourism promotion.”

For more information about participating in or attending Maarkah in New York City on September 11, 2017, please visit www.runwayprestige.com/index.php/maarkah1.

John Ablaza: His Story, His Passion, His Future

Le Petite Couture at the Philippine Consulate General In New York City
I was honored to be invited to the Philippine Consulate General in New York City to see the installation of John C. Ablaza’s Le Petit Couture collection as part of the Philippine Independence celebrations. We are here surrounded by his work, with our host for the evening, the Consul General Tess Dizon de Vega. The beautiful hall where the event was held is filled with amazing artwork, priceless national treasures of the Philippines from some of that country’s greatest artists. I loved seeing John’s art included as part of their cultural treasures. It is the first stop on the international tour for this important collection.

There have been long journeys for designer John Ablaza. Growing up in the Philippines, he found two of the great joys of his life – horticulture and fashion – at the hands of grandmother. In their family garden, he is inspired by the the sweet fragrance of the sampaguita (Jasminum sambac), the national flower of the Philippines, that he learns to sew together with her. The love of the natural beauty he sees around him, and the skill to turn it into something magical, have been creative gifts throughout his life.

Fast forward many years. John is standing in a different garden thousands of miles away: at the beautiful estate of the Amar family in Stony Point, NY. He is surrounded by family, friends and supporters, celebrating a 30-year career in fashion. The breathtaking runway show they’ve just witnessed, featuring models framed by fountains and fire, showcases a designer at the height of his creative energy. The polished stones that border the reflective pool graced by high-couture gowns and other creations that have traveled the world. It’s every bit the fashion spectacle any celebrity fashion designer would relish, soaking in the adoration of an appreciative crowd. But John Ablaza isn’t an ordinary fashion designer.

John Ablaza: 30 Years Behind The Seams
“John Ablaza: 30 Years Behind The Seams” was held at the Amar Estate in Stony Point, NY.

His Story

It’s a couple of weeks after the “John Ablaza: 30 Years Behind The Seams” celebration. I’m sitting with John in a quieter setting, at the home of Ronnie and Mayette de Dios, where he’s staying while here in the United States. I’ve learned that John is someone who puts everything he has into the things he really cares about. When he’s working, he doesn’t even think about eating. The passion to create takes over his entire being.

“It’s about seeing the world differently,” he tells me. “Everything I do has a meaning behind it. It speaks to me, and to the people who wear my clothes.”

From a very early age growing up in the Philippines, he loves nature and its beauty. He goes to school and studies horticulture, garden cultivation and management, hoping to build a career for himself. His talents earn him the attention of Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, who hires him to manage her legendary gardens. It is his first break and he takes advantage of the opportunity to set out into the world. Marcos is one of the many women who helped shape his life and he still has a great affection for her.

From Flowers To Fashion

Eventually, his work in horticultural design leads him to move to Taipei. He works for several years at a major hotel handling their floral arrangements. The hotel hosts frequent international fashion events, and John meets the designers who hold shows there. He looks at the clothes, examines how they are made, marvels at the craftsmanship and elegance.

“I began my career in fashion as a wardrobe assistant at those fashion shows. I would hang around and help out where I could, just to learn. I would ask the designers if they thought I could become a designer myself. They said that if it was something I really loved to do, I could do it.  They offered to help me and teach me about fashion. I went back home and started travelling to fashion shows around the world, learning about the industry.”

John Ablaza with the Mangyan Tribe
John Ablaza works extensively with the local Mangyan tribe, indigenous groups found on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines, creating economic opportunities they would never have otherwise.

A Passion For Charity

At the finale of John’s Stony Point show, he speaks to the audience and explains that he will not do any events that do not benefit charity. When speaking with him about the causes he cares about, he lights up. Clearly, his passion for helping others runs deep.

“From the very beginning of my fashion career, I wanted my work to support others. I’m not in this for the money, or fame, or anything to do with the fashion industry. If it was just about all of that, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would have walked away. It is what’s in my heart that matters.”

His heart is with the people of the Philippines. Look at a John Ablaza creation, and you’re seeing a virtual economic stimulus policy for tribespeople in his home country. As we examine one of his gowns, he explains.

“I look for sustainable materials that we can use. The gowns and bow ties that you’re looking at are made with seeds, bark reeds and coco beads, all of which grow around the Philippines. My clothes support the people who grow and harvest them. Other people will polish, carve or otherwise prepare the materials. I show people how to create the products. I am very hands-on with everything I do, and get very involved with every step of the process.”

He works extensively with the local Mangyan tribe, indigenous groups found on the island of Mindoro, creating economic opportunities they would never have otherwise.

“I’ve had so many struggles. There were times when I had no money, and had to figure out how to keep going.

“Four years ago, my home burned down and I lost so many material things. But, I did not question why that would happen to me. I only knew that there were others with a greater needed and I had to figure out ways to carry on.”

I almost start crying when I think about that contrast. People on a tribal island, on the other side of world, cutting up coconut shells or peeling bark off trees, being able to feed their families through their labor. Then, those simple gifts of nature being used to create beautiful high-couture gowns that would be comfortably worn by the richest, most famous women in the world, on any red carpet or gala ball. The beauty on both ends of that equation is equally astonishing.

John Ablaza Le Petite Couture
The John Ablaza Le Petite Couture Collection. Installation at the Philippine Consulate General New York as part of Philippine Independence Celebrations, June 2017.

Le Petite Couture

“This has been a dream of mine for many years,” John says as he gently touches the small mannequin, which is about two-feet tall. “I feel it is the next step in my career.”

VIP guests arriving for the Stony Point celebration were greeted at the entrance foyer of the estate, and then escorted around back for cocktails. What they may have not realized is that they were being welcomed by one of the most important parts of the evening, the debut of John Ablaza’s Le Petite Couture collection.

Surrounding the foyer, on little pedestals, were nine miniature gowns. These are not mere doll dresses, or small reproductions, but exquisite gowns made with all of the care, detail and craftsmanship as their full-sized counterparts.

“I made 30 of these miniatures in about 100 days, almost all of the work done by hand. Each one of them is named for a woman who has made a difference in my life. They are all one-of-a-kind and will not be reproduced.

“I have received offers to display these pieces around the world. I hope to showcase them with my pride for Philippine culture and fashion.”

“John Ablaza 30 Years Behind the Seams” wasn’t just a distinguished designer looking back on his long career, seeking a retrospective or nostalgia. It was the beginning of a new chapter, a way to show where he is going by reflecting on where he’s been.

Creating Legacy

Last year, John was offered an opportunity by the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe to conduct a mentorship program for aspiring fashion designers. He calls it one of the most rewarding experiencing of his life.

“When I started working with them, they seemed so hopeless. They would sit with their heads down. I told them I understood their situation, the challenges they faced living in that country. But, they are so talented, so creative. In the time I spent with them, they were so receptive to what I had to say to them. It gave them hope that they could achieve their dreams.

“I want to replicate that around the world. I want to mentor designers who may not have the same opportunities that I have. I want them to learn from what I have done, understand my creative process, and be able to achieve great things.”

His dream now is to inspire aspiring designers around the world, especially from areas that may not typically offer the right opportunities, to follow what is in their hearts. He doesn’t just want to inspire people to be creative in their designs, but learn from his example to work in sustainable materials, to create jobs and economic opportunities, and to promote cultural awareness.

“I hope to find places around the world where I can begin mentorship programs. Find people who can learn from my example, and then be an example for others. It is what I want to spend the next few years focusing on. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities, to continue to tell my story and inspire so many more people.”

John Ablaza Le Petite Couture
John and I at the end of our interview, showing off pieces from Le Petite Couture.

And The Story Continues …

I felt so grateful after spending a few hours with John for this interview. Being around John is an experience in being grateful, appreciating others. I asked if he had any final thoughts about the “John Ablaza: 30 Years Behind The Seams” celebration that first brought us together and, of course, he immediately thought about everyone except himself.

“Oh, please be sure to include how grateful I am to Raj and Manju Amar for being our hosts for the evening. Without them, it could not have happened. They have given me a wonderful gift. Please also mention how much I loved the speech that Mithi Aquino-Thomas gave to begin the show. I read it afterwards and it brought tears to my eyes. So many people worked so hard to make this a special celebration. There were too many who really helped and their names are etched in my heart and mind.”

But, what about himself? What did he take away from the show?

“I was at a crossroads in my life, about what my place is in the fashion world. Part of me wondered what I should do next. Creating Le Petite Couture and seeing the excitement around it has given me a new motivation. I want that to travel the world, maybe showcase at the Smithsonian or The Met, and bring lots of attention to the Philippines.

“I am excited at the idea of mentorship. It is something that can be my legacy. I hope that you will help continue to tell my story.”

It is clear that John Ablaza is about to start another long journey, and I cannot wait to see where it takes him.

John Ablaza’s Le Petite Couture Collection

There is so much to tell about the once-in-a-lifetime John Ablaza 30 Years Behind The Seams celebration we attended in Stony Point, New York this past weekend. One small, yet special surprise that some people may have missed was this exquisite and breathtaking collection of miniature couture John Ablaza gowns that welcomed visitors into the entrance foyer of Mr. and Mrs. Amar’s spectacular estate where the event was hosted.

Each of these special gowns measures about 12 or 18 inches and is made with the same skill and loving attention as John puts into his spectacular full-sized pieces. The photos don’t do justice to how delicate and beautiful these works of art are in-person, but I am happy to share them with you here. They were just the first of a night filled with surprises, memories and beauty. Thank you, John, for creating these and sharing them with us. Here is his Le Petite Couture.

This last photo shows the sizing of the mini gown next to a full-sized version.

Avadora Mimouni and Sofia Davis at Bronx Fashion Week

I loved my first visit to Bronx Fashion Week! From the cool, underground vibe at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, to the beautiful poetry of host Caridad de la Luz, to the great Blox TV videos, the entire event was a cultural happening and a love letter to the borough known as the Boogie Down. Everyone involved should be incredibly proud of what they’ve put together.

The first part of BxFW – Couture Cuisine & More – was held on Saturday, May 6 and featured five designers showcasing a stellar range of styles and fashions. My favorite was the joint show put on by the Avadora Mimouni Collection, featuring one-of-a-kind, eco-friendly accessories, and Sofia Davis’ Bling Darling Couture Sunglasses. As an added plus, the collection was styled by The Boss Lady Wendy Issac, who also walked in the show. Who wouldn’t love these wonderful people all on one runway, just dripping with fabulous bling?

Model Chrissy Jackson kicked off the show with super glam tasseled bling sunglasses. Work it!

Model Gioffre Vincenzo.

Model Svetlana Kramar.

The Boss Lady Wendy Isaac shows that she can do it all!

First Look: Bronx Fashion Week “Couture Cuisine & More” and “Mommy & Me”

I love how fashion has given me opportunities to meet new people and explore new places. I’m super excited looking forward to my first visit to the Bronx in May when we attend two Bronx Fashion Week events on May 6th and 13th.

On Saturday, May 6, BXFW presents Couture Cuisine & More at Bronx Museum of the Arts (1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY 10457), followed up the next Saturday by Mommy & Me at Bay Plaza New Mall.

I’m a Mets fan, so I know the Bronx as the home of that other baseball team. I wanted to know more about what makes Bronx fashion worth watching, so I spoke with the founder of Bronx Fashion Week, Flora Montes, and asked what excites her about fashion in her favorite borough.

“Exciting things are always happening in the Bronx,” Flora told me. “However, if I had to name one it would be the “fashion revolution” that is evolving in the borough. Many fashion retail stores are opening up. In addition, many new and up-and-coming designers are returning to showcase their fashion lines.

“I am proud of the fact that Bronx Fashion Week has re-awakened the fashion industry. There is nothing more rewarding than to have models who have never walked the runway trained under Bronx Fashion workshops accomplish many great things under our Creative Director, Andres Chulisi. I am inspired daily by young designers who reach out to showcase their designs. Many who otherwise would not be able to [are] now are able to showcase in their hometown of the Bronx.”

That sounds wonderful. I have my tickets to attend the two BXFW events in May 2017. What can I look forward to?

“On May 6, 2017, at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Couture Cuisine & More is a fashion networking event announcing the Exclusive Partnership of Affinity Health Plan with Bronx Fashion Week. We are showcasing some amazing fashion designers, in addition to raising money through a silent auction to benefit the American Cancer Society.

“Partnering with Affinity Health, a community-based health plan, Affinity Health Plan is focused on supporting efforts towards having a healthy, mind, body & spirit. Affinity has built one of the area’s largest physician networks, which includes 30,000 providers and more than 85 of the top hospitals in the Greater New York Region. Affinity offers a variety of programs under Medicare, Medicaid, Child Health Plus, Essential Plan and Qualified Health Plans on the New York State of Health Marketplace for members in New York City boroughs and Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties. Affinity is dedicated to continuously supporting its community partners and we are pleased to announce our partnership in an event that combines our love of health, fashion, food and networking.”

“Our next showcase following the May 6th event is ‘’Mommy & Me’’ on May 13. It is a celebration of fashion and the beauty of motherhood and all that it entails in being a woman, whether you are a working mom in the office or a stay-at-home mom running a household of six children. Mommy & Me will highlight the beauty in every woman across the world.”

Bronx Fashion Week will be hosted by Caridad De La Luz, known as LaBruja, who’s considered one of America’s leading spoken word poets and recently appeared on Broadway in “I Like It Like That”.

Featured designers showcasing at BXFW will include Baqash Wilson, Bronx-born international fashion designer and co-editor of Rare Fashion Magazine; fashion designer & cover model – and my amazing friend! – Avadora Mimouni, the absolutely fabulous Queen of Fashion Sofia Davis, Editor-in-Chief of Fashion Avenue News, Michi Walden, Kevin Carlyle SmithStefania David, Klosetique Designs, Bharati Kemraj, and seven-year-old accessory designer Miracle. Bay Plaza Mall retail stores such as GAP, Old Navy, Monsoon and more will also be represented.

I’m sure that both of these Saturday events will be fun, fabulous and fashionable! Get your tickets now at:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bronx-fashion-week-48-hour-ticket-sale-save-20-on-general-admission-tickets-30989751180

and I’ll see you in the Bronx!

First Look: Shop. Sell. Strut! Benefiting Autism New Jersey

One of the misconceptions about fashion is that it’s shallow. People who aren’t in the fashion world often see it as over-priced clothes, worn by too-perfect models. At its best, though, the fashion world can help people be more confident, feel better about themselves and use their talents to raise awareness and be a force for good.

On Saturday, April 29, I will be attending the Shop. Sell. Strut! event in Lakewood, NJ. This special event is notable not just for the exciting concept, but for the impressive young women who created it and the incredibly important mission it is focusing on.

Shop. Sell. Strut! is going to be a high-profile event, combining a fashion marketplace – featuring racks of pageant & prom gowns – with an exciting runway show. The afternoon will benefit Autism New Jersey, the largest statewide network of parents and dedicated to improving lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

Alyssa Lego, Founder of Shop. Sell. Strut!

The founders of Shop. Sell. Strut! are Alyssa Lego and Amanda Witkowski. Alyssa began her charitable work when she founded My Name Is, which is dedicated to removing labels and negative stereotypes for children with special needs. I had an opportunity to interview Alyssa and Amanda about the upcoming show, and started by asking Alyssa why she felt compelled to create My Name Is.

“I believe there are three main reasons that make it challenging to remove negative labeling. The first is the fear of the unknown. Children with special needs may act differently. And when that behavior is not as predictable as a typically developing young person, there may be an immediate fear (fear of being uncomfortable, fear of danger) which then controls perception and leads to judgement. It’s easier to just say, “He’s weird,” and walk away to a more comfortable place as opposed face the fear and work through it.

“Another reason for the challenge is the lack of integrated programs. Sadly, children with special needs and their families live a very isolated life. There does not exist sufficient opportunities for the two worlds, differently-abled and typically-abled, to co-mingle. There’s value and reward in having a typically-abled child to work/play closely with the differently-abled. But education on the value and on the disability as a whole is lacking, leaving programs sparse.

“The third challenge that I see is how fast we move as a society. The pace with almost everything is get it done yesterday. We move fast, and we’re very competitive. The community with special needs requires patience, tolerance, understanding – all things that are typically slower paced. The two rhythms just do not jive.”

I am so impressed by Alyssa’s maturity and understanding of these issues. Her family has a deep personal connection, since her younger brother Michael has special needs himself. I asked her what are some of the biggest misconceptions children like Michael face.

“I can name two profound misconceptions that may be helpful to people reading this blog. Sometimes children with special needs have a behavior that seems peculiar or socially unacceptable. But the behavior may actually be something else. That child may be trying to seek or avoid sensory which ultimately regulates them in society. They could be coping with an uncomfortable social situation, or they could be communicating in their own way. Therefore, a behavior does not mean that the child is being difficult. It could mean they may need sensory input or for their peer or caregiver to take the time to understand and resolve the situation.

“The other misconception that comes to mind is an individual with special needs does not understand. My younger brother is a good example. He is non verbal. But he is very smart, very aware, very keen and understands most things. We try very hard to never talk about him when in front of him. We address my brother like we do with anyone else. And I would encourage people to do the same. Just because a child with special needs does not respond or express him/herself as you and I do, does not mean he/she does not understand. They understand much more than you know. And remember, they have feelings just like you and I.”

How has she worked to help kids deals with those misconceptions?

“Appreciation starts with two things. Understanding yourself and how you are different and understanding that being different is OK. In my Kindergarten Tour, “Friends Who Are Different,” one of the first questions I ask young students is “Name three ways you are different.” Then we talk about why those differences are special and how it’s OK. We’re so busy trying to be the same that we forget to celebrate the difference. When we touch on the delicate subject of being ridiculed about being different and ask the tough question, “If being different is special and important, then why would you make fun of it?” and “How does it feel to be poked fun of?,” there’s a new understanding. Once this realization comes to light, it becomes easier to take the concept and apply to more profound differences such as disabilities.”

With so many important issues to address and having already created a successful program, why is Shop. Sell. Strut! the next step in your mission?

“If you know my Mom, I’ve been raised with “Go Big or Go Bigger!” It was the right time for me to take my non-profit work into a fundraising direction so that I could have more impact. But I wanted to be successful in a big way. Both my parents are very creative and I am fortunate to have inherited that gene. As most conversations start in my house, it was a thought after dinner when we relax and unwind as a family. My mom was suggesting we needed a better avenue to resell my pageant wardrobe. I mentioned a fashion show. The three S words were like a light bulb and the next thing I knew I was in logo maker creating the current Shop. Sell. Strut! logo. So my “why” is the desire to do more coupled with a great idea at the right time – I just seized the moment. I want to make a difference. I want to inspire change. I can’t do that unless I take action, leverage what I know and love, and keep going bigger.”

Amanda Witkowski and Alyssa Lego, Creators of Shop. Sell. Strut!

Amanda, how did you become involved?

“I’ve known Alyssa and her mother Dawn for a few years through pageantry. Last spring I went to a fashion event to support Alyssa, and she and her mom helped select my wardrobe for a pageant I was going in to. During the summer we were talking about pageants, appearances, clothes, and gowns and Alyssa started on the idea of selling what we had to get new things. It started out as more of a resale event. We have both tried pageant resale sites and that has worked a little. But we like to try things on, walk in them, and really consider the fit. Somehow we got to the idea that if a group of girls got together it might be more exciting, some swapping, some selling, etc. We toyed a little with the idea of putting our own things on the runway, but our ideas started to grow and evolve. The idea went through a few permutations, but always had some form of community service attached to it because that is what we do best. Each of us has done and continues to do other work in support to the autistic community. That was always the assumed community we would support. I don’t think we ever considered any alternatives.”

And the fashion show?

“I mentioned pageantry,” Amanda continued, “but another interest and big part of my life is figure skating. I had an idea a number of years ago about doing a fashion show but changed that to a skate-thon, because that was more in my comfort zone to organize, plan and host. I did two events, Autism Skates 2014 and Autism Skates 2016. But always thought that a fashion show at some point would be fun. Once Alyssa raised it again, I knew it was time to move forward. Together we’ve been able to do the project I had always dreamed of just bigger and better than I had ever imagined.”

Ok, I’m excited! What can we expect?

Amanda: “Participants can expect vendors, boutiques, an amazing gift auction, a live pearl party, photoshoots, step and repeats, our original idea of a resale shop, and then a couture runway show! We are stating it much like one would find at a New York Fashion Week Event with lighting, and a great DJ!”

Alyssa: “I can hardly believe how Shop. Sell. Strut! has evolved and grown in such a short time. I’m grateful to my mom, Dawn Lego, my partner, Amanda Witkowski and her mom, Maria Witkowski, and our event committee and media director. It seems that every day a new idea pops up. Fortunately we are very forward thinking and open minded. Being that this is our inaugural year, we trying it all. I’m so pleased that we’ve executed on most all of our wish list items.

Shop. Sell. Strut! is offering a vendor market place, couture fashion show, auction gift raffle, awards program, pearl party. press conference, runway pit, swag, mini photo shoots, sessions with Matt Boyd Photography, theme song, growing tree, 50/50 raffle, birthday board… I hope I did not leave anything out.

“I’m looking forward to the press conference for obvious reasons – it will help spread our message and mission to a wider audience through media channels. But I am especially looking forward to the runway show where we are showcasing an autism-inspired, custom-made gown designed, created and donated by Talisha White. Talisha made the gown in three different sizes and we selected models in our castings. We plan to play a inspirational song as the models hit the runway. I’m sure it will be a touching and emotional moment.”

Thank you Alyssa and Amanda for giving us so much information about Shop. Sell. Strut! and educating us on the special mission that you are so dedicated to. I cannot wait to attend and hope that lots of people who read this will purchase tickets and be involved!

Here are the details one more time. I hope to see many of you there!

Click here to purchase your tickets!

Shop. Sell. Strut!
April 29, 2017, 11am-4pm
Lake Terrace
1690 Oak Street
Lakewood, NJ

First Look: John Ablaza 30 Years Behind the Seams NY 2017

Seasonal weather is finally showing up. Today was an almost spring-like 63 degrees, so it’s time to start looking forward to all of the wonderful fashion events that fill the warmer months. One of the events I’m most looking forward to is “John Ablaza 30 Years Behind the Seams NY 2017” in Stony Point, NY on May 20, 2017.

I’m excited to see John’s designs in person for the first time. He had a very successful Couture & Culture NYC 2016 show in December, and he’s hosting this special event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his work.

His stunning collections have been shown around the world, from Hong Kong to Bahrain. What may be most notable about this international designer is his long-standing dedication to “eco-fashion,” and his amazing garments are often fabricated using sustainable, local materials, like seeds, bark reeds and coconut shells. A native of the Philippines, John has worked with the local Mangyan Tribe to use native sustainable materials, which has not only enhanced what he is able to do with his designs, but also given the members of the tribe the opportunity to build better futures for their families.

Miss Philippines USA 2014 Hannah Angelica Ilao Marte in a Red Serpentine with bodice embellished with coco beads, wood & glass beads by John Ablaza – International Fashion Designer. With a long red Illusion tulle veil over an African head piece called “ghele” flown all the way from Zimbabwe. Opening piece for John C. Ablaza Couture & Culture in New York 2016. Photography: Jhenny Evans Morales / MUA: Make-up and Hair Classes by Nina Mua.

The gala event on May 20 will continue Ablaza’s long commitment to social and charitable causes. Beneficiaries from the show will include the Toto Love Orphanage, Kenya and Make-A-Wish Foundation. This socially-conscious fashion icon has also been an active supporter of local designers from around the world, most notably artisans in the Philippines and Zimbawbe, where he spent time conducting workshops and mentoring some of the talented designers he met there.

The evening will feature his masterful eco-couture gowns and bow-tie design creations. It will be amazing to see how he presents the story of his career and experience how such an accomplished designer still at the height of his creative energy tells the story of his journey so far. I’m told that the show will include both legacy work, as well as an all-new collection, and feature his John Ablaza Couture Pour Homme Collection.

John Ablaza Couture Pour Homme Collection
International Models: Drew Hanley and Angela Wong
Photography: Darren Lee
MUA: Jodian Forrester

“John Ablaza 30 Years Behind the Seams NY 2017” is being held at the spectacular Amar Estate (8 Sgt Schwarz Court, Stony Point, NY) and is expected to draw an exclusive crowd. I am thrilled that we’re attending to be part of his vision to bring fashion and culture together.

Tickets are available if you would like to be part of what will be an amazing and memorable event:
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/john-ablaza-30-years-behind-the-seams-ny-2017-tickets-32451238528

Purchase yours today and I hope to see you there!

I Got My Sofia Davis Bling Darling Sunglasses!

I had such a great time this afternoon at Catherine Schuller’s Runway The Real Way Fashion Brunch Mad Hatter Tea Party at Super Nova Novotel in Times Square. I’ll be posting more about the event, but I had to do a quick blog about a great surprise I had.

So I’m watching one of the great runway shows and I see the models wearing these amazing blinged-out sunglasses. Hmmm… I think to myself, those look like the sunglasses Sofia Davis wears. Sure enough, when the show is over, Catherine brings out Sofia to talk about her glasses that were featured in the show.

If you spend time around the New York/New Jersey fashion scene, you know the legendary Sofia Davis, Editor-in-Chief of Fashion Avenue News, a luxury brand best known for its namesake magazine. The fabulous Ms. Davis is often found sitting front row center at many of the best fashion events in the area and is known as a major taste maker on the scene. Her trademark bling sunglasses are as fabulous and distinctive as she is.

And now she’s selling her own collection! After seeing them on the runway I spoke with her after the show and was able to buy one of her sunglasses on the spot! Here’s an amazing photo of me with Sofia and supermodel Avadora Mimouni. Is this photo fabulous?! Yaaaaasssssssss!

Sofia said, “I’m so excited to be showing my Bling Darling Couture Sunglass collection at Catherine’s event. People have really taken to the Bling and I’m honored to be invited to participate in so many shows, with fabulous couture designers such as Conrad Booker.”

Yes, Conrad is one of my favorites as well!

Want your own Bling Darling Couture Sunglasses by Sofia Davis? Watch for them on the runway this spring and summer, and you can buy them online now at www.etsy.com/shop/BlingDarling!

Catherine Schuller’s Fashion Brunches are becoming amazing showcases to discover talented new designers, so check them out monthly and join us!