When Courtney Zurcher learned to knit a few years ago, she quickly went from making simple scarves for her friends to creating her own accessories line.
Her vintage-inspired headbands, fascinators, bridal headpieces and knitted bow barrettes, sold under the name Inez Gill since 2010, are available on Etsy and Zurcher's website, inezgill.com, as well as in seven boutiques around Omaha. Her wedding line, featuring oversized, floral headpieces often made from vintage materials, has received local and national attention, and brides from across the country have worn Zurcher's designs down the aisle.
As Inez Gill began to take off, 24-year-old Zurcher looked for a way to get involved in Omaha Fashion Week. But until this year, there wasn't a place for designers like her — those who specialize in the details that polish and complete a look as opposed to head-to-toe fashions.
Wednesday night, Zurcher and seven other accessories designers will finally get their chance to shine.
Omaha Fashion Week, today through Saturday, will for the first time include an accessories, hair and makeup show, said producer Brook Hudson.
“We felt like they deserved a night where they could really showcase their artistry and their vision,” Hudson said.
This new element of Omaha Fashion Week will match hairstylists, makeup artists and accessories designers in a drawing during Tuesday night's show. The teams will have 24 hours to create an accessories collection and hair and makeup look, and they'll unveil their creations on the runway Wednesday night. A panel of judges will select a winning team, which will receive $1,000 cash, as well as other prizes.
Justine Reilly, a stylist at T'eez Salon, 15805 West Maple Road, has worked behind the scenes at Omaha Fashion Week for years, doing both hair and makeup.
Reilly said she enjoyed the challenge of working with designers to complete their looks. But ultimately, it's the fashion designer who dictates what a model's hair or makeup should look like on the runway.
“We sometimes didn't get to be as creative as we wanted to be,” she said. “It's an art form. We pay a lot of attention to awards shows like (the Oscars). And there's always so much awesome editorial work.”
Wednesday night's show will allow stylists and makeup artists to be as creative and artistic as they want.
Reilly, though, is in a unique place. She's also one of the accessories designers participating in the show. Reilly makes dramatic, often sculptural jewelry and hair accessories from metal, beads, fabric, resin and other media. Her line is called Fin.
As she's designed her collection, she's thought about complementary hair and makeup ideas, too. She hopes to help with hair and makeup, either for her salon, or for whichever salon she is paired with.
“I've been trying to really keep an open mind,” she said. “The point of this is to have the hair and makeup people have their freedom.”
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The addition of the hair, makeup and accessories show lengthened this February's fashion week by a day, bringing this year's spring show to five days. Tonight's show features 80 cancer survivors modeling looks from Omaha boutiques. The show, in part a fundraiser for Inner Beauty, a specialty salon at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center, is the largest it's ever been, Hudson said.
The looks featured Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights will feature a mix of new and veteran Omaha Fashion Week designers. Among them:
» Chad Carr, who relaunched the popular 1980s swimwear brand Leggoons during Omaha Fashion Week last August. Carr will show five looks for women and six for men this spring (and the women's shorts will be a bit longer this time around, a decision spurred by feedback Carr received after the August shows).
» Jeff Hanson, a visually impaired artist from Overland Park, Kan., who also made his OFW debut in August with a small collection of hand-painted dresses. On Saturday, Hanson will show a full collection of hand-painted evening wear.
» Rachel Butler, a 2011 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's textile and apparel design program, who will make her OFW debut on Friday. Her ready-to-wear collection is inspired by motorcycles.
» Hannah Olson, a Millard West senior who will also make her debut during Friday's ready-to-wear show.
» Kate Walz, a Millard North sophomore and OFW veteran who showed 30 looks at an off-site show during New York's Fashion Week earlier this month. On Saturday, Kate will present her newest collection, which features 12 of the looks she showed in New York.
Additionally, Amanda Valentine, a Lincoln native competing on this season of the fashion design reality show “Project Runway,” will attend the show as a special guest, Hudson said. Valentine will show a small collection on Friday night.
After Omaha Fashion Week, online retailer Esoteric Velvet will feature the work of five of the best designers on its website, said Meghann Schense, Esoteric Velvet's founder.
Schense, a fashion stylist and writer who is on the Omaha Fashion Week selection committee, said she and her business partner, Sarah Stormberg, got the idea to sell designers' work online after hearing that a collection of dip-dyed satin gowns trimmed in back vinyl from last fall's show were languishing in the trunk of the designer's car. Those gowns, by designer Buf Reynolds, are currently for sale on the Esoteric Velvet website — just in time for prom and wedding season.
“We're so excited to get her stuff out there, because it's awesome, and it needs to be seen,” Schense said.
Designers put so much effort into the design and construction of their garments that they're often too exhausted to market and sell their designs once Omaha Fashion Week is over, Schense said. And many designers aren't sure how to price their garments or how to go about selling them.
“What we're finding is that a lot of them are undervaluing themselves,” she said.
The pieces on Esoteric Velvet won't be cheap — Schense estimated that pieces at the low end of the spectrum would be around $100. Reynolds' dresses currently on the site run from $350 to $500.
Schense said she hopes that making the garments available for purchase on Esoteric Velvet helps designers get back at least some the cost they put into creating their collections — and helps get designers' names out there, too.
Getting recognition for the Inez Gill name is the most exciting part of Omaha Fashion Week for Zurcher.
Her bridal line was featured on the fashion and entertainment website Daily Candy earlier this year. Zurcher received many orders as a result — mostly from out-of-state brides. She hopes that showcasing her designs at this year's show will draw local business, too.
“I never really realized you could make a business out of it until looking around and seeing what other people were making,” she said.
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