Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's Showtime...Guest Blog by Joy Bach

Crickets. Shanel let me in to the studio yesterday, but not a word was said. The silence means it’s go time. This is the intense Shanel I know, in the thick of the final stretch. She already met with Neroli for consult on hair and makeup for the show. The jeweler had just left. The clothing stylist was on her way. I snapped a few shots. Shanel made a specific request to Stephanie at Lela to hunt down critical elements for the gowns. Saw some pieces and understood what she meant, but will not reveal a thing. Surprises are in order.

While Shanel continued to sew, the setup for the Show was in progress. Lela Boutique had the city block off Broadway before 11a. Karl’s Rental rolled in, dropped off chairs and started setting up the tent. By dusk, everything was complete. Clearwing Productions arrived by 8a this morning to begin setting up the runway lights first. For liability issues, no one can be in the tent until the lights are hung and secure. Then up goes the runway and sound system. Hopefully done by 3p.

Skinny Girl Margaritas, Absolut Vodka and Folie a Deux wines are all at The Wicked Hop by now, the bar hosting tonight’s occasion. The 15-person team of volunteers are setting up the 300 chairs, filling in gift bags, setting up sponsor signs and making certain the ambience is complete by 4p.

The Lela team will head home, thereafter, to get ready, “no doubt trying everything on in our closets before settling on the perfect outfit for the night. Despite what everyone thinks, we don’t have our outfits planned in advance… in fact most times we are deciding as late as 5:30 that night! We have to be back by 6p!” Carrie chuckles.

In the meantime, the models will arrive for hair and makeup. Not all are familiar with the process, however. “Some of my models are from past shows, some are new. And I have a few young ‘uns.... I will say I’ve never had such good luck with my fittings,” Shanel says, almost surprised.

No rest for the head designer, Shanel will continue sewing and evaluating each piece right up until two hours before the show, where a few 500+ will be waiting to greet her. And their new purchases.

See you in a few hours, Sunshine.

* Come join Shanel next weekend, Sunday, October 3rd. Her trunk show, "Champagne with Shanel" will be held at Lela Boutique, 321 N. Broadway, Milwaukee.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lela Fashion Show. Three days to go...Guest Blog by Joy Bach

I’m slipping into food coma. Shanel and I just polished off a chicken chimichanga and enchilada soup in her studio. A nice break from the sewing and fittings for this weekend’s show. The last time I checked in, Shanel’s goal was to finish five dresses and start a new one. Did she finish them? “Nope. I have 35-40 started. None finished.” Three days to go. Huh.

I asked if everything was okay. “Aside from the near-miss disaster? I walked into my studio over the weekend with wet carpet tiles a foot away from the rack holding all the garments. A pipe from upstairs was leaking. Everything would have been soaked.”

I see the vase that holds the drippings of said pipe. The studio looks like it’s in the throes of creation. Some skirts. Some pieces I have no clue what part of the puzzle they fit. At this point in the process, Shanel evaluates and re-evaluates. She has several “half outfits” and 10 models to work with (six have already been fitted; one is scheduled for today and three tomorrow.)

“If I have a jacket, it might not have matched the skirt on a certain model, or it might have looked ridiculous. Then I have to figure out what to make quickly or decide not to put it in the show. I’m in the middle of figuring out what to pair, and who to put them on.”

Usually about now Shanel is touting a smoker’s cough -- though she doesn’t smoke. I would normally be bringing her food and Emergence-C packets. But her health is fine, which means she truly is in good shape regarding stress level. I have witnessed her little origami fingers under the gun and know how quickly she works.

A few years back, we decided on a dress – sleeveless fitted bodice with a flowing full-length princess skirt, low V and Chinese collar. Elegant and brilliant. We drove to Evanston to find fabric and landed on a gorgeous iridescent olive. She sat at my house, full access to the client, sewed straight through. Fifteen hours later, the dress was packed and off to Tokyo. Unbelievable.

Perusing the garments and taking note of certain shapes and darker colors, I was curious about the inspiration for this year’s theme. “It seems to reflect the struggle between structure and fluidity. Planned and organized versus free flowing.” Good answer.

Curious too about what happens if creative juices are not flowing, but the deadline still exists? “If I just start creating things, it will usually spark some idea. Or the fabric itself can be a starting point for inspiration. I might play or drape fabric around and see how it lays. Usually if there’s something I don’t like I can change it or reshape it.“

“I started a new piece today and will start another one tomorrow. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I feel pretty good about where I am right now. “ Cool. Shanel will meet with her stylist and jeweler at the end of the week. Will check in again on Friday.

This is crunch time and execution mode for Lela Boutique as well. I was wondering how Carrie and Stephanie were faring and what has been accomplished in the final two weeks.

Carrie explained, “Luckily, our partnership is one of trust and division of duties… Stephanie has given me the opportunity to run with the show details while she keeps her eye on the store and its needs. So far, so good! Last week I confirmed details with the stylists, music for the DJ, gift bag participants, mailing out the VIP and sponsor tickets and meeting with our sponsor Arts Institute.”

Lela also holds a volunteer appreciation party in advance, knowing the hard work entailed the day of and after the event. “The Arts Institute really stepped up to the plate on Monday. I mentioned that we were still looking for dressers to help the models backstage. They made a few calls and 24 hours later, I had 10 students at the volunteer party!”

Other things things checked off the list:

  • Neroli Salon is working with both Lorena Sarbu and Shanel to create runway looks.
  • Lorena Sarbu and Shanel are conducting model fittings.
  • The jewelry for Shanel’s looks is being created by our resident jeweler, Staci Schemm.
  • Creating the seating chart.
  • Confirming signage and tent layout.
  • Collecting gift bag items.
  • has been running the ad, posters are up.
  • Production notes for Judi and Bjorn will be mapped out for working front- and back-of-house.

Now, I have worked back-of-the-house production before as well. As scheduled and as organized to the detail we may try to be -- with models there as early as possible, dressers and accessories accounted for and categorized, there is still the unknown factor: Shanel. Never really know exactly what time she will arrive with the pieces, or what is left that needs to be done after she walks through the door. Shanel needs as much time as possible because details of her vision can still change a few hours before. Knowing her for this many years, though, the girl delivers. She hits it. Out of the ballpark.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

7th Annual Lela Fashion Show, Lela's Perspective...Guest Blog by Joy Bach

Since Lela Boutique is producing the annual runway show, I also caught up with Carrie Arrouet, Lela co-owner, at Alterra. Busy and productive, she was pecking away at her computer as I approached her with a yummy vegetable Strata I could not wait to dive into. Personable and always upbeat, Carrie gave me a rundown of what has been done so far for the Show. “We start planning six weeks out. But going into our seventh year, everything is mainly a revisit…. The main things, production, lighting, sound and tent are secured in Week One. It’s like planning a wedding.”

Their presenting sponsor was quite a coup as well. “This year, we were contacted by John from Zeppos, a public relations firm. Their client, the Art Institute of Wisconsin, was interested in partnering with us for this event. We met with them in June and confirmed participation in July.” The brand new AIW has a fashion design program, which will offer scholarships to its students. “So they’ll kick off their ‘Passion for Fashion’ scholarship the night of the event. I think it worked out great!”

In the second week of planning, Carrie had already confirmed the photographers. “I also gave our graphic designer Gina Johnson all the elements for our invite, flyers and posters. Flyers hopefully come in today, so I can get the posters out to our partners and other businesses. And last week, I had my production team confirmed! They’ll be awesome. Bjorn, Hamid and Judy will have headsets and work the front and back of the house. I also found our DJ, Darren Cole.”

And here we are at the end of Week 4...only two weeks to go. Everything falling into place led me to ask what, if any, challenges presented themselves over the years. Carrie chuckled and remembered minor details like presenting all corsets at Year One’s show. “I still remember Stephanie’s (Lela co-owner) poor mom in the back tying and untying all these models in and out of corsets in between runs!” Or, getting calls the morning after the show. “Stakes were left behind from the tent. So the next morning, all the produce trucks pulled up across the street and had flat tires. That was nice.” To me, so far it seems everything is accounted for and all seems pretty well buttoned up.

Looking at the final goal and grateful for all the partners involved, Carrie keeps things in perspective. “We really want to put on a cool event for Milwaukee to enjoy. It’s an event for an event’s sake. We want it to be accessible to everyone -- it’s why I feel so passionate about maintaining the $25 ticket price. This is our way of thanking our customers and everyone for their support.”

Carrie’s excitement in recounting the last few weeks and what is yet to do, is a part of her everyday disposition. It is also part of the mystery why I consistently part the Lela store with a new coveted piece. Her enthusiasm and Lela’s customer service have kept them successful for these past seven years. Carrie and Stephanie have the eye to suggest gorgeous pieces I never would have considered for myself, and do so without pressure. So, after heading over to the boutique, I was briefly and warmly introduced to my new purchase for the day -- a nice little comfy black Lara Miller piece. Pleased to meet you. I’m wearing you on my next trip.

As we walked through the back office, I found Stephanie working at the computer. Always great to see her, we hugged and immediately launched into recounting some pretty hilarious memories of our own. Some details of which finally became clarified in our exchanging of the tales. Two years later. In the back office.

We touched base about the show and where things currently stood. “Shanel works at her own pace. She might keep us in the dark a bit a few weeks out, but I don’t worry. Year after year, she delivers something just jaw-dropping. Just incredible. I don’t know how she does it.”

Well-said, Steph.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

7th Annual Lela Fashion Show...Guest Blog by Joy Bach

While Shanel is busy working on her seventh show with Lela Boutique, I will try to update you on her process, progress and my observations leading up to the big event, Saturday, September 25th. For those who have never been, look for the beautifully lit, decorated, tent on Broadway. Complete with red carpet, lounge and beauty bar. 7p start; 8:30 Runway.

My dear friend Shanel Regier asked if I might be interested in guest blogging on the process of pulling together this particular show, Lela’s 7th Annual Runway Show. Each year, Shanel is the headliner and closes the show with incredible creations. I say this not because she is my friend, but truly from an objective perspective.

I have had the pleasure of working on several of her shows in the past. After which, I purchased a pacemaker. Event planning, promoting, watching the process unfold is pure fun for me. I have worked the front of the house and back of the house at different shows in order to understand how all the working parts come together. And I will say, it gets a little intense. But being invited to witnessing Shanel’s process -- from the actual concepts, to creation, to prepping for the final show -- is a new angle for me. I am simply a reporter in this case, so I get to kick back and learn.

Stress is a funny thing. Everyone encounters it to many different degrees all throughout life. And everyone handles it differently. A girlfriend used to remind me, “Stress is simply your reaction to a situation. So just control your reaction.” People say I’m too nonchalant. Funny, I am quite certain my personal trepidation and internal shouting manifests in the antithesis of a calm demeanor. But for me, it’s when I gain clarity in what needs to be done.

Lo and behold, it seems to visit Shanel the same way… Fifteen days out from the show, I popped in her studio to see how things were moving along. She greets me with her mischievous grin, sits back down and starts to hand sew something that looks to be a black skirt. The studio is surprisingly clean. I don’t see the dresses in the main room, but I also don’t ask. That’s her business.

“Are you stressed out?” I ask.

“Um…(honestly pondering)…yes.” She replies calmly.

“Are you where you are supposed to be on the timeline?” No pressure.

“Every year, I don’t know if I am behind or ahead. I do know I will show up two hours before the show. I also know that Pepto Bismol gives you a brown tongue. That’s a fashion fact.”

Sense of humor. A must in life. Let’s just say I understand hers, and follow its twists and turns. I happen to think she is hysterical. While I’m talking, I see her purposely peek her bare toes out from the garment she is sewing. Yes, stress is a funny thing. I am pretty sure others would be flipping out right about now. She attributes her calm to listening to “The Promise” from the 80s band “When in Rome.” She also reports to me she has 30 garments started. Two are done, and she wants to conceptualize six more. “I will be making new things up until the day of. The ‘uggos’ will be weeded out.”

In the midst of pulling together a lofty goal of 36 pieces, some of which may or may not make the final cut, is the added challenge of other custom work projects. Every piece Shanel creates is sewn to fit a specific body and one-of-a-kind in design. Just thinking of this feat puts a pit in my own stomach.

Shanel developed her style when she was a senior at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD). “I was reading a lot about the Victorian period. I was intrigued by corsets and ruffles, which was represented in my first collection. But I took it more seriously in 2003 -- my first show for Lela.”

Lela's and Shanel’s relationship began during her second fashion show. "Lela had just opened up, so Carrie and Stephanie came to the show. They were looking for indie designers and asked if they could carry my work. I said ‘no.’ I was still embarrassed of my work! After some convincing, I started creating my tie skirts.” [Skirts literally made of men’s neckties.] The rest was history.

Through headlining Lela’s fall show every year, Shanel has garnered a well-rounded clientele – from juniors in prom dresses, brides and bridal parties, partygoers in cocktail and dramatic dresses to the everyday woman dressed in blouses and corsets. Seems to me, a formidable partnership and mutually beneficial relationship was formed.

Her goal for the week? Finish five pieces and start one new one. Good luck, Sunshine.

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