The continuous rain showers of a bleak Saturday New York morning, did not stop the crowd from filling up The National Jazz Museum in Harlem for HARRIETTE COLE’S `Dreamleapers Retreat’ recently. Moreover, the inclement weather didn’t damper the spirits of the A-list, elite members of New York’s fashion insiders to participate in six separate panel discussions at this historical event. At 10:30am, host/founder Harriette Cole took to the microphone to welcome guests and kicked off the productive day of enlightenment with the first panel discussion – `From Design to Retail’


Featured panelists: designers Jeffrey Grubb, Jerome LaMaar, Maya Gorgoni and Epperson, along with Fashion Educator and Retail Expert Gary Lamply, spoke of their journey into the fashion arena as well as challenges faced. They also answered a few questions from the audience. Jeffrey spoke on his rise from working with the early 70s fashion line called 2B, to present day success with a luxury resort line `Alchemi’, which is sold mainly at high-end Caribbean resorts like The Cove at Atlantis, Paradise Island in the Bahamas. “You have to know that you are a couturier, get that into your head…I launched with kaftans, there is a community in the world that cares about fashion as art. It’s an opportunity to sell internationally and on the internet. Jerome LaMaar was a teenage student working with Kimora Lee Simmons at Baby Phat during it’s heyday. On the topic of teamwork, Jerome emphasized on knowing your strong points and capitalizing on that aspect of your persona. Now, Jerome is at the helm of his own, self-funded destination boutique, in the Bronx.


Next on deck was `The Art of the Image’ where fashion photographers; George Chinsee, Marc Baptiste, Keith Major, Chi Modu and Itaysha Jordan shared valuable information on how they made money and a name for themselves in this competitive arena. WWDs premier fashion lensman George Chinsee spoke about working with the legendary photographer Irving Penn and shared the golden rule of lighting his subjects. Keith Major explained the difference of shooting darker models as opposed to white models. On the celebrity tip, he offered: “I always forget the people I’ve shot,” But he remembered shooting the incomparable Patti La Belle. “I had to shoot her soft and clean. She has to be shot in that kind of light, that was my approach….when you come from a low/middle class background you are forced to make things work.” Marc Baptiste talked about his historical cover shot of Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek for Essence Magazine, and shooting then new comer, Tyra Banks on the island of St. Croix. Paying attention to her utmost professionalism, although she was very sick, Marc noted that it was back then he knew she woud be a supermodel and a success in the industry. She was on set on time, and, would turn around to puke, then get immediately back into character, delivering the most amazing photos, recalled Marc. “Beyond the technical aspects, there has to be a relationship between the subject and the photographer. I capture the personality and the soul of the person,” stated Marc. “My job is to bring out of you a different image, the essence of your personality that’s what I draw out of you. Whether it’s a $10 job or a $20,000 job, I just don’t do a photo shoot, I create an atmosphere. I do research on my clients beforehand. I find out what kind of music they like and create a vibe on set. I think of all those things beforehand.”


Chi Modu, a Nigerian photographer, told his story of back in the day, he was offered to photograph rapper/actor Tupac Shakur for no money, but he could own the rights of the images. Today he owns those images and even compiled a coffee table book about the late Tupac. “For our community, we have the power to own our own stuff. When I came up, it was all about protecting your images, protect your negatives.” Itaysha Jordan, one of the few Black females in the game noted; “I think I am at the end of the whole old-school photographers era. I had to be digitally trained. It’s important to have someone to guide you in this business.”


Fashion legend Audrey Smaltz was the sole focus of the next panel. `From Fashion Fair to The Ground Crew-The Living Legend.’ Audrey elaborated on the start and the work of her fashion company; `The Ground Crew’ the backstage organization and production of shows for designers like: Donna Karan, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta to name a few. She also advised `Dreamleapers’ the importance of speech and presentation. “Learn to speak and learn how to tell your story. The power of pause,….you must take your time to pause and take a breath.”


`The Role of the Stylist’ was next up, with moderator Emil Wilbekin. Leading stylists dropped some precious gems on the enthuiastic audience. Angielette Smith went from being a PA(Production Assistant) on Fox-5 News, to a noted wardrobe stylist for television shows like Saturday Night Live and Conan O’Brien. She’s dressed comedian Tracy Morgan for some 17 years. “I used my base as an intern on NBC-TV and catapult myself into styling for TV and film. Now, I do `Blacklist’ and am going into a partnership with Tracy Morgan colaborating as Music Producer….you have to know that your dreams are out there waiting for you.” Ty Hunter, best known as Beyonce’s stylist said he worked for a company that made heart valves for three years, in his hometown of Austin, Texas, before moving to Houston. He worked as a salesman at Booyaka where he met Tina Knowles and they became friends. “I was selling her stuff for the girls (Destiny’s Child). I became the superstar of the mall, went to work for Guess, then to Bebe. I thought I’d arrive. Miss Tina told me `I’ll get you out of here one day.’ Within two weeks I started doing videos with Destiny’s Child.” Ty emphasized that building relationships with his celebrity clientele’ is key. “I am never star-struck, Trust is the main thing, knowing that I’ve got their back. We became a family and grew together. What you give out, is what you receive.” Ty emphasized that it’s the little things that count in terms of getting clothes fromm high-end showrooms. “You have to ackowledge everybody, from the interns to the big boss. You’ve got to appreciate everybody.”


It’s always a joy to be around and listen to stylist/author Susan Moses. She’s dressed a multitude of celebrities like; Kathy Bates, Queen Latifah, Brandy and Jill Scott. Susan announced that she had just got a new partnership with Lane Bryant Style Studios. Prior to becoming a leading fashion stylist and author (her first book `The Art of Dressing Curves’ on Harper/Collins), Susan said she worked in every aspect of fashion. “I did window display, merchandising, sales, worked as a curvy model and a fashion editor at Shade Magazine, all before working with singer Brandy for seven years. A lot of women I dress come with an understanding of who they are, and, how they want to look. I know how to listen, dressing someone is very important and you must have the clients trust, that’s how the long relationships are built,” explained Susan. Angielette reiterated; “Trust and confidence are the two main things that will hold your relationships together. Timing is also important, you have to understand that these celebrities are under a lot of scrutiny.” Ty-Ron Mayes, former stylist on Americas Next Top Model, who’s worked with the show’s creator Tyra Banks noted; “We don’t kiss and tell. You are stripping down clients, it’s a very intimate thing. We hold a lot of secrets and try to present the best options for our clients.”


`The Rhelm of the Editor-in-Chief’ was the theme for the editor’s panel with Editors-in-Chief in the drivers seats. Elaine Welteroth, Editor-in-Chief of Teen Vogue, Vanessa De Luca, Editor-in-Chief of Essence Magazine, Claire Sulmers, Editor-in-Chief of The Fashion Bomb and David Kaufman, Editor-in-Chief of Alexa, the luxury lifestyle suppliment of the New York Post were under the spotlight. David was hired by The New York Post, which was founded by Alexander Hamilton. “That’s where the name Alexa came from,” revealed David. “We at the Post are a little more fiesty. We shoot on Friday and close on Monday, with a core of 20 free lancers. We don’t have the luxury of getting things wrong.” Vanessa added that Essence has a core of 35 staff members in Beauty & Fashion, plus, a contribution network, all specializing in different beats. “It’s difficult to break into, so we have to tap into people who can deliver. I’m always interesting in different voices.” Claire Sulmers added that The Fashion Bomb blog operates with 10 people as independant contractors.


Both Claire and Vanessa are Harvard graduates, Claire said she started her blog as a hobby. “I coudn’t find a job in fashion, I said if I could not get a seat at the table, I’ll have to set my own.” Claire took her experience working for Paris Vogue and as an intern and freelancer at Italian Vogue to start her own blog. “Our biggest barrier is access, what set me apart is that I was properly trained in journalism. Now, I’m a Brand Ambassador for Ciroc Vodka, Fiji Water, Colgate, Toyota, Palm Breeze and Dark & Lovely.” Elaine rose from being the first Black Beauty Director at Teen Vogue to being promoted as Editor-in-Chief. “I am responsible for the brand of Teen Vogue, and, carving out lanes that we haven’t been down before. Since I’ve been there we increased our readership from 2 million to 12 million. Our Digital Director is 26 years-old, he used to be my Beauty Assistant. Now, we are going beyond fashion and beauty to culture and political issues. It’s all about inspiring and making dreams come true,” expressed Elaine.


The final panel of the day gave an inside view of the modeling industry -`The Magic of the Model,’ featuring the famous supermodel of the 70s and 80s Pat Cleveland, popular Sports Illustrated model Demaris Lewis and the dapper young President of NEXT Models, Kyle Hagler. First, Pat Cleveland traced her journey starting at 15 years-old with the Ebony Fashion Fair, a renowned touring fashion show, that raised funds for the United Negro College Fund, spearheaded by Ebony Madazine’s co-founder Mrs. Eunice Johnsom. Pat later parlayed her successful career to walking for the top couturiers of Paris, Milan, New York and London. She even showed off some of her runway antics that transpired at the famous Battle of Versailles in 1973, in Paris. Pat is also the author of a fascinating look at her life titled `Walking with the Muses.’ “I traveled across the country on a Greyhound bus, I was 15 years old and I survived.” said Pat. Demaris recalled that she rejected offers to model since she was 13. “I wanted to finish school and come in at my own pace. I did not want to compromise my soul. I was raised by people who believed that quality had no limit, It was all about quantity.” She thanked Pat for paving the way for girls like her, revealing that her parents came from the island of St Kitts and they lived in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Her first modeling jobs were with major brands like YSL, L’Oreal, Clarins and MAC, doing campaigns. “My first time with Sports Illustrated was in 2009, we shot in Turks & Caicos Islands, it was the most beautiful experience.” Demaris expressed anxiety when Sports Illustrated, head honcho Diane Smith did not say anything to her on set. “I did not know how I was doing, come to find out she booked for the next two years. It was truly life changing for me, working with Sports Illustrated for three years in a row. The second shoot was in Palm Springs and the last year was in Singapore.” Demaris has since flourished in her career with work for significant brands like; Cosmopolitan, French Marie Claire, Self, GQ and Essence. She’s worked as a host and toured as a dancer with Prince, appearing on `Prince Behind the Symbol’ music special.


Kyle Hagler spent some 17 years a s a booker, then Senior Manager at IMG shaping the careers of several top modles including, Alek Wek, Liya Kebede, Joan Smalls and Naomi Campbell. In a major career move, Kyle was named President of NEXT New York, a division of NEXT Model Management. He told the audience: “My job is identifying models and helping build their careers. What I do ultimately is looking for one who makes sense in the fashion conversation…..they have to be interesting, dynamic, captivating and beautiful, Ultimately, I help identify them.” stated Kyle. “Our business is filled with people who are really ambitious. I have to make sure that they are inspired enough to make a difference in the world. I understand I’ve been fortunate enough to be entitled in the modeling industry, it’s not for me to knock you down. Fashion is a business filled with possibilities. We all come into this business and matter, when we were not supposed to matter.”


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