Whenever I am invited to Kentucky, I make my best efforts to get there. I have always said that if I didn’t live in NYC, I would gladly live in KY, it reminds me of where I grew up in Pennsylvania.
So, when Rodes asked me if I would make a trip in March for a runway fashion show they were producing to honor Louisville’s fashion icon, Sug Schusterman, I jumped on it. The features of the show were to be my Spring 2017 Collection, perfectly matched with designer Lourdes Chavez’s gorgeous clothes and Nick Joseph’s wonderful hair and make-up.
I arrived at Rodes on March 9th the morning of the fashion show to find owner Susan Vogt, and store manager, Annette Grisanti hard at work matching up clothes and hats for the event.
So skilled are this duo in styling that I was freed up to do an interview with long-time friend and colleague Kirby Adams, Fashion Editor of Courier Journal of Louisville. Kirby has been covering my work for years starting when she was a correspondent for WHAS11. She has talked fashion with me, written about me, emceed and co-emceed with me, and has worn my hats for years. She has watched my designs for Derby evolve and grow as well as my team’s skills. This time, we spoke about what trends I was seeing from the NYC fashion district where I am based, as well as what I am hearing from the stores that I sell to. We rounded up the discussion with what I am seeing regarding styles for this year’s 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. (I love saying the year – there is much history in this event and American horse racing in general, and it is humbling to think of that many years.) We spoke at length about the process of how my staff and I create the hats, and how we go about designing something specifically for someone. We talked about my desire for people who know they are going to Derby to start early, which rarely happens.
Then we spoke about my own trends in my design direction as an artist. I introduced her to our Botanical Collection that we had just finished and that I had hand-carried down to Rodes on the plane. She was dazzled as was everyone who has seen them so far. We are known for our distinctive silk hand-cut-and-sewn flowers like the silk hand-made rolled red roses I have been doing for the Derby for years, but with this collection we started hand painting details on the silk to make them look more realistic and come alive.
It is time consuming but great fun for my staff and a unique look for my customers. The Botanical Collection has certainly caught Susan and Annette’s attention, as well as couple of the Botanical Gardens. I knew these pieces would be a hit at the fashion show that evening! After finishing up with customers at Rodes, Lourdes and I headed over to the wonderful Derby Museum at Churchill for the fashion show.
It is always a thrill to see my work modeled and particularly thrilling when matched perfectly with appropriate clothing. The designs of Lourdes Chavez compliment my work exceptionally well, and I have been receiving more and more photos of her dresses to design hats for.
This is one of the reasons Rodes scheduled our Trunk Shows at the same time. The fashion show was a success and a great sneak peek at what this year’s Derby fashions will look like.
The next two days were trunk show days at Rodes where I get to meet and greet new and returning Oaks and Derby customers. I love helping them find the perfect hat or fascinator for their personal look. Most of the pieces that I ship to Rodes are one of a kind, or pieces changed from the original designs to compliment the Rodes Derby look and current collections.
I love working with a store like Rodes who allow me the creative freedom to send what I think works. It was also wonderful to outfit customers with another designer. Collaboration is a learned skill and so valuable. I credit my theatre background for this. I credit Rodes for their one-stop shopping experience. I would say that 75% of the hat sales for this pre-derby Trunk Show were custom designs and 25% from available inventory.
The custom orders written during this trip will be fulfilled back in NY and sent back to Rodes well ahead of the Derby. This process of traveling to Rodes for Trunk Shows and meeting Derby customers continues for eleven more visits right up until the day before the Derby. The week before the Derby I am always at Rodes setup in a customized space to personally meet customers, do alterations and even some last-minute custom designs. More about this in an upcoming blog.
Another thing I like about Rodes is that they have both men’s and women’s departments. We get to feature our Blake Collection here and I love their men’s selections and the staff that sells it.
Just like the women’s side, these professionals are top notch in their field and can set a customer up with a great style and look. No wonder so many Derby goers make Rodes their first stop!
To Sug Schusterman: I think you would be very proud of the fashion show at the Kentucky Derby Museum. I am sorry that I never met you. You must have been quite a Louisville lady and certainly loved by many! How exciting that Breeders’ Cup is coming to Churchill in 2018. More fashion!