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The Twinkle of a Star

I just simultaneously experienced deja vu and a glimpse of the future.

Rewind to 1978
I was a young fashion editor at Town & County Magazine when I was asked to have lunch with Perry Ellis who had just opened his fashion house Perry Ellis International. He grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia, and had a winsome combination of southern charm and boyish American good looks, which then meant tall, blond hair, blue eyes, and a trim fit body. He was also keenly intelligent. He had worked in various aspects of retail before moving to New York City where his employer, The Vera Corporation asked him to design a collection of women’s sportswear. The rest is history.

Fast forward to November 6, 2009
My career has evolved from reporting on fashion to writing books about style, simplicity and women in transition. I have also started to divide my closets between a village outside of NYC and one in the Rockies. My Manolo Blahniks and black designer frocks largely remain in New York while hiking boots and fleece dominate my closet out west in a town known for its outdoor lifestyle. When people ask you here what you do, they are not inquiring about your work, but what sports you engage in—skate-ski or down-hill, hunt, fish, bike or hike.

Which is why I was intrigued when a headline in the town’s paper read “Local ‘fashionista’ delivers the denim”. At first I thought it was referring to some of the high-profile women who have homes here—Rita Wilson, Demi Moore, Maria Shriver. But the article appeared with a photograph of John Crotty, a Wood River High School student, who was producing a fashion show for his senior year project.

So the night of the show, a friend and I went to the Sun Valley Lodge for the event. The cost of admission was $10 or $5 and a can of food, a donation to the local hunger coalition.

Since Averill Harriman created this winter destination in 1936, the Lodge has attracted celebrities, sports people and dignitaries that enjoy engaging in the natural beauty of the area. Its walls are lined with black-and-white photographs of Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Ernest Hemingway (who lived there), Marilyn Monroe, Kennedys including Ted and Jackie, Janet Leigh and her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, Clint Eastwood and the Governator, among others.

The fashion show was held in the Inn part of the resort that accommodates the many conferences held there year round. (It’s where Paul Allen hosts his famed annual media summit meeting). The room had moveable walls to expand the space as needed.

When we arrived it was standing room only—high school students, supportive parents and others like me who were there out of interest. Part of the success of an event is to pack a lot of people into a space for heightened energy, rather than have the same number of people languish in a spacious room—not a good people mixer. The excitement that night was palpable and the moveable walls were removed to accommodate the overflow.

A video camera was positioned on a modest runway that was backed by a screen displaying the theme of the show “The Denim Issue”, and providing privacy for the models quick changes of jeans.

John opened the show by thanking the five local retail participants, the models, and everyone else who helped him realize his vision. He had the charm, poise and boyish good looks of a young Perry Ellis.

Then the music cranked up (mashups by DJ Scotty Pinfield played on an iPod) and John’s debut began. He had outfitted his attractive girlfriends in identical white wife beater undershirts and jeans that varied in cut, color and detail. Their hair was precisely stylized with dramatic extensions, and their make-up was smoky—a little cabaret in the Rockies. John was directing—he understood how important it was to romanticize the merchandise. His young models worked the runway with coolness, projecting his message.

Thirty minutes later there was applause, air-kisses and lots of hugs. The girls were great, the jeans were attractive, which made me reconsider those I was wearing, the event raised $1,018 and over 250 cans of food for the local hunger coalition. And it was fun!

I was impressed by John’s ability to realize his vision and pull it off. I thought of the many designers who had hailed far from the shadow of Seventh Avenue and had the guts and perseverance to follow their passion, and ultimately change the course of fashion in America:
Bill Blass was from Ft. Wayne Indiana, Halston (born Roy Halston Frowick) from Des Moines, Iowa, Oscar de la Renta, Santo Domingo, Tommy Hilfiger, Elmira, New York.
Isaac Mizrahi got his education at a Yeshiva where the color and design of your kippah and Tallit is about as expressive a fashion statement one can make.

I also appreciated how lucky I was to have witnessed so many talents like Joe Abboud, Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Donna Karan and Paul Smith emerge, and how I had the privilege to share their gifts, sparkle and intelligence with the readers of the magazines I worked for.

Finding a passion to pursue in life is lost on many. It’s thrilling to see it in a seventeen-year-old who has the drive and the opportunity to make his mark. And I was impressed by the support and enthusiasm his school and the town had for him to pursue his dreams.

Malcolm Gladwell reveals in his bestselling book Outliers, that many components of success are not obvious to the way we have traditionally assumed. John possesses many of these ingredients: clearly the drive and talent, the support of family and community, hands-on retail experience in a small town that attracts a glamorous international crowd, and a passion for an industry that is in flux. He also has the opportunity to pursue his field of interest. His timing is perfect.

Like Perry Ellis, John is planning to get a degree in merchandising. This summer he will start his studies at the Miami International University of Art & Design, where, coincidentally, the firm that now owns the Perry Ellis label is headquartered.

So yes, I felt a bit of deja vu being in that room filled with the tension and excitement of anticipation, and all the post-show relief. I thought about what my daughters must be feeling now at the beginning of the next part of their lives, and how I felt when I was their ages and finding my way.

And later walking to my car under a clear, crisp evening sky, I also thought how John’s stars, and those of my daughters, may be aligned to one-day shine on all of us. I certainly felt the glow that night.
Me as a young fashion editor covering the collections on Seventh Avenue in the late 1970s
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