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!

Conrad Booker Debut at Philadelphia Fashion Week 2017

I loved attending my first Philly Fashion Week in February. It was an amazing event that the producers did an incredible job at putting together. The show started off on a high-note by exciting the crowd, which included the legendary creator of New York Fashion Week, Fern Mallis, by opening up with the innovative and unique creations of designer Conrad Booker.

As you’ll see from the gallery below, Booker offers a fresh and challenging view of fashion, from what it should look like, how it should fit, and even what it’s made of. It was my first time seeing his designs, and I’ve since learned that he works in several different fields, including architecture and interior design. He also works as a muralist, and even his window displays have won awards.

His pieces are so big and bold on the runway, so I asked him about how be selects the materials that he uses.

“I started using alternative materials and methods based on affordability,” he told me. “Francesca Reveitti, the owner of Follicle Studios, approached me after seeing a show of mine about creating clothes for a hair competition she was entering. During our meeting, I pointed to a lamp I had made from skewers in regard to what might be an interesting material to use for a bodice. I soon started going to Loews to source materials for my projects. Now it is the first place I go when I start designing.”

I also asked him about how he constructs his unique styles.

“Many of the methods I use for construction are methods I’ve developed in working with many of the different materials. Over time, you develop techniques that you are familiar with and you adapt them based on which one best fits the situation. I desire to use ordinary materials and elevate them so they are perceived as couture. The end product is very refined, yet monumental.”

Philly Fashion Week featured so many incredible designers and a host of remarkable and memorable styles. It takes a truly special collection to make an impression on the audience, especially at the beginning of a three-hour show.

“Yes, my design style is very bold and fearless. I attribute it to two things, my training as an architect and living in a loft for many years. As an architect, I was trained at how to put a building together using different materials and how structure can affect the shape and style of a building. These principals I apply to my fashion designs.

“Many people ask me: was it difficult to go from being an architect to a designer. My response is ‘no.’ I truly believe that the “greatest piece of architecture is the human body”. After graduating from Temple University, I lived for many years in a loft at 13th and Callowhill Streets that had extremely high ceilings. Creating art for my walls, I discovered that I needed to make the pieces very large. As a result, I became accustomed to working this way. Plus, the women I imagine wearing my clothes and bags are powerful women who are strong and desire attention.”

Wearing any of Conrad Booker’s pieces would be a definite attention-grabber. He presented a lot of looks during this show and I only wanted to see more and more. I asked Conrad if he enjoyed his PFW experience and what was coming up for him.

“The response to my first Philly Fashion Week collection has been incredible and positive. I look forward to next February 2018 as I showcase my second collection, which is in development as we speak.”

I can’t wait to see it! Follow Conrad Booker on Instagram @conrad_booker and we’ll all be seeing a lot of his work in the months ahead.

My girl Samantha Grandy shines as one of the twins in this stunning presentation.

The highlight and finale of his collection. According to Conrad’s Instagram, this piece was his winning submission in the Costume Drama’s Plastic Category in Asheville, North Carolina. The dress is made with about 35,000 black plastic straws and topped with Plexiglass that’s been heated, cut and bent.

Watch Conrad Booker’s finale walk to close out his memorable collection.

Local Talent Connect June A&E Industry Mixer

On June 22, 2016, we attended our first networking evening hosted by a very cool group called Local Talent Connect (LTC). These free events are designed to bring together influential people in the Arts & Entertainment Industry, as well as related businesses and professions, to discover new career opportunities and grow social networks. We heard good things about LTC and its CEO Todd Wharton from friends, so decided to give it a shot kids nike air max. Not only was it a great evening held at Suite 36 (16 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018), we met lots of cool people and made valuable connections and new friends!

We had so much fun that night! It was definitely a worthwhile evening and we’ll be attending again. The next LTC mixer takes place on Wednesday, August 31. Connect with Todd Wharton on Facebook to score your invite and join the LTC and join the LTC A&E Industry Monthly Mixer Facebook Group for more information and to attend future events. Hope to see you there!

Here’s a look at Suite 36.

image

Red Carpet Hostess and Fashion Coordinator Kelly Phoenix added glamour to the evening.

image

LTC CEO Todd Wharton welcomes all of the attendees and gives an overview of the mission of LTC.

image

The red carpet was fabulous!

image

I was thrilled to meet celebrity chef Tacha Henry of ICanCook2. Did you see her on Food Network’s “Chopped”? Hi, Tacha!

image

image

On the red carpet with celebrity chef Tacha Henry and LTC CEO Todd Wharton.

image

image

image

Atlantic City Fashion Week Presents Designer Ellen Durken

The opening designer at the Atlantic City Fashion Week #ACFW runway show on February 27 at The Claridge Hotel was a remarkable way to open the show. The show featured many amazing uses of fabric, but designer Ellen Durken is actually a blacksmith who uses her forge to create amazing designs fashioned from metal.

Ellen’s work is wonderful both for its creativity and how striking it makes the models look on the runway.  It was amazing to see how creative her designs are, and how they stretch the definitions of fashion and style.  See more of her bad-ass approach to high fashion at her website www.ellendurkan.com. She also sells cool prints of her work and custom metal jewelry.

What a striking way to kick-off the show. This design set the creative tone for a wonderful evening.

Atlantic City Fashion Week Presents Designer Samina Mughal

I loved attending Atlantic City Fashion Week at The Claridge Hotel on February 27.  The founders and executive producers of #ACFW, Lamont and Jeana Bowling, put on amazing shows and always great take care of me!  (On a side note, I am really excited for their new project, SOHO Fashion Week, which makes its debut in May!)

One of the highlights for me was the show from #designer Samina Mughal. Samina’s work has been internationally recognized for her glamorous collection of clothing and accessories. As you know, I love things that sparkle and have lots of glam, and her work brought shine and glitter to the runway.

Check out lots of great photos below from her latest collection and find out more on her website saminamughal.com and follow her on Facebook.

Also, don’t miss her upcoming show as part of New York Fashion Week:

SMGLOBAL CATWALK – NY FASHION WEEK (Season 2)
Saturday, September 10th 2016 at 7pm
More info at:
https://www.facebook.com/events/241178969557228/

image

One of my favorite models, the wonderful Sophia Leap, was one of the signature models and, as always, killed it on the runway.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Hi, Samina, thank you for connecting with me after the show. I look forwarding to seeing your work again soon!

image

Art Hearts Fashion Presents Designer Lainy Gold

On February 16, 2016, Art Hearts Fashion #ArtHeartsFashion presented a fantastic FW16 Women’s Runway show as part of New York Fashion Week #NYFW at the amazing Angel Orensanz Foundation Event Space in New York City. In the beautiful setting of a stunning converted church, the runway hosted collections by Merline Labissiere, Lainy Gold and Stello Official. Congrats to everyone involved and the Art Heart Fashion team for putting on such a memorable event!

I was thrilled to receive a last-minute invite from my good friend Jill Leap, whose superstar daughter, Sophia, was modeling for Lainy Gold. What a night of fun surprises, highlighted by Lainy’s collection. Lainy Gold may be best known for her fun and colorful swimwear, but this collection focused on fantasy and medieval-inspired designs for eveningwear or making a grand entrance at your next party. There were innovative uses of color and fabrics that brought storybooks into a modern setting.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the show. Follow Lainy Gold Designs on Instagram (instagram.com/lainygolddesigns) and on her website www.lainygolddesigns.com.

Model: Sarah Ferguson

Model: Sophia Leap

Lainy Gold closes the show with her signature pieces. Models: Sophia Leap and Sarah Ferguson.

Miss Emily at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club

I had a great time last night at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club in Asbury Park as part of Light of Day weekend.  The headliners were the amazing cast of Neil Berg’s 100 Years of Broadway, but I was also really excited to meet Miss Emily (www.themissemily.com) from Ontario, Canada, who was the opener for the evening.  She performed a great set on piano and guitar and I hope everyone checks her out!

Here is a short video I shot from her beautiful rendition of “Over The Rainbow”.

Here’s the video from her original track, “The Sellout”.

Connect with her on Facebook (/themissemilymusic), Instagram (@themissemily) and Twitter (@themissemily).

IMG_2930

She’s doing a few more shows this weekend, so catch a live show if you can, and hopefully she’ll come back to the New Jersey area soon!