Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fashion Group International RD Conference

At the beginning of May, I traveled to New York City for Fashion Group International’s annual Regional Director’s Conference.  Each year, the group gathers its Directors and key board members to hear from dynamic speakers, discuss timely industry topics and to connect with other chapters to talk about challenges and opportunities facing our regions. 

This year, the theme “Survival of the Fittest….Navigating the New Economy,” was relevant for all of us.  Speakers and panelists included: Ruben and Isabel Toledo; Kate Greene, VP of Marketing, Givaudan; Lynne Ronon, HSN; Heather Kaminetsky, Director of Internet Marketing, Barney’s; Denise Seegal, FashInvest; Andrew Dent VP, Library and Materials Research, Material ConneXion, Inc.; Harry Slatkin, Slatkin & Company; Frances Cole Jones, author “How to Wow”; Sharon Graubard, SVP Trend Analysis, Stylesight; Milan Milasinovic, Dean of Graduate and Continuing Education at LIM.  To top that off, we had a delightful tour of the latest installation at Museum at FIT from Dr. Valerie Steele, and a dinner and Merit Awards presentation at the historic Cosmopolitan Club

What I enjoy most about this conference is meeting the most dynamic, creative, intelligent and inspiring women, who are all pursuing their dreams in the fashion industry.  Each has a unique personality and an interesting story of entrepreneurship and business success.  Following are just a small few of the women I had the pleasure of spending time with at the conference (in addition to my outstanding board members – Elizabeth Kincaid-White and Bethany Beckham who were with me at the conference and who I failed to capture any photos of??!)   


With my FGI Chicago friends, Monique Kielar and Susy Damon


 Love the girls from FGI Kansas City, Laura McGrew and Carman Stalkerry=4002ry=4003

L-R: Tarah Perini, Seattle; Anne Agoren, London; Susan Aleveshere, Seattle; Shelley Kidwell, St. Louis; Monique Kielar and Susy Damon, Chicago

These inspiring women, and all the talented people I meet in Detroit are the reason I love being a part of FGI.  I’m so proud to be leading the Detroit chapter and look forward to our group continuing to bring timely fashion information and business intelligence to Detroit’s rising talent.

If you haven’t looked in to membership with FGI yet, I encourage you to attend one of our upcoming networking events – its a great way to get to know us and see how we can help you grow your business or connect with other industry professionals (in Detroit and globally).

Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @fgidetroit.    

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Meeting Isabel and Ruben Toledo


“Clothes tell our history.  I wanted to be a part of the history of how we look.”

Isabel Toledo

at FGI Conference, NYC - on why she became a fashion designer

Last week I attended the Fashion Group International Director’s Conference in New York City, where I had the pleasure of meeting Ruben and Isabel Toledo (me with them above).  I have long admired their incredible work and creative force in the industry, but having met them I’ve gained an even deeper respect.  They greeted the audience with grace, humor and appreciation, treating all of us as friends. 

Ruben and Isabel are true visionaries with an innovative spirit that drives everything they do.  They have a deep love of art, their craft and “discovery” everyday.  

isabel(400)Isabel is a technical genius in fashion design, known for her industrial style, skilled construction and draping.  Her designs start with a feeling – expressing an emotion or responding to a fabric.  She loves shape and imagining what it will do on the body, which is evident in the non-traditional way she works with a form (sometimes she’ll turn it upside down). 

She describes her style as an odd twist on Victorian, with proper form and fitted shape.  If you bring something original and sincere to your design – the original ingredient is what people will take in.

I admire Isabel’s grounded approach to her business.  She is an artist that designs because of her love of clothing and the “Art of the Make.”  To that end, she focuses on what she is good at and presenting it in her way – staying out of the spotlight.  She purposely keeps her staff small – 25-30 people – where at times Ruben still answers the phone and their 85-year-old dad remains their best cutter.  Keeping the staff intimate also allows them to remain exclusive because they truly can’t produce a lot.  She wants to have time to create a legacy for the future in fashion – something that will stand the test of time and not marketed in a mass way.   

alg_goldA highlight of her career came not too long ago when Michelle Obama wore her design to the Inauguration.  The dress, a pale-yellow brocade shift and jacket, was made of Swiss wool lace and lined with a "secret layer” of pashmina tulle inside (a thoughtful touch for warmth on that frigid day).  When Isabel spotted Mrs. Obama on CNN wearing the dress, she was “floating.” Isabel says that she was so committed to that piece and wanted that optimism to come through in the garment.  She was thrilled that Mrs. Obama felt what she did when she created it and selected it for this momentous event.  She believed in it and wanted so much to be a part of that moment in history.  

Ruben’s art has delighted the fashion world with it’s whimsical perspective on the human figure.  He believes that a good fashion illustration will make clothes look even more wondrous than any model could ever convey.  For over 10 years, Ruben’s illustrations have been the face of Nordstrom  designer advertising campaigns.  I have been such an admirer of his work over the years that I’ve become a “collector.”  I’m sure I have most of his Nordstrom ads as well as other illustrations I’ve loved.  While Ruben and Isabel were speaking at our conference, I took the opportunity to tell him about my collection and admiration of his work.  I felt a little like a schoolgirl afterward, but I’m glad I did it.  His eyes lit up with genuine appreciation and he was very engaged in my little tale. 

Following are examples of Ruben’s Nordstrom ads, a portrait of his wife and a sketch of the First Family in Isabel’s designs that he was asked to create for a story. 



What struck me most about this dynamic couple is their adoration of one another.  Both born in Cuba, Isabel and Ruben met while attending high school in New Jersey, where Ruben describes meeting Isabel as "love at first sight."  They married soon afterward, and entered the New York fashion world almost immediately.  

2009-01-20-Toledo1The Toledo’s have an inspiring love story.  They are passionate about their life and each other – and its palpable. 

They genuinely adore each other, they laugh at and with each other and they inspire each other creatively.  When asked what designers they admired, Ruben immediately and enthusiastically pointed to Isabel and said “I admire this one.”

I'm convinced that if all couples were as connected as they are, we would have world peace.