By Shayna Miller, Special to   Published Sep 23, 2008 at 8:21 AM

For some people talking fashion is like a foreign language: bangle, clutch, capelet, couture, ready-to-wear-are you lost yet? For those who want an education in all things fashionable or for those who are already well versed in Christian Laboutin and the latest "Rachel Zoe Project" episode, Milwaukee Fashion Week offers a foray into the stiletto-clad world of fashion.

Hillary Fry, owner of Solessence, a natural / organic spa products company, is the event producer of Milwaukee Fashion Week and she spoke with us about this exciting, first-time event running from Oct. 3-6 at various venues throughout Milwaukee.

The week will be capped off at the Milwaukee Art Museum on Monday, Oct. 6 with a runway "couture experience" by fashion designer Gilles Montezin of ready-to-wear and couture looks, plus a tribute to Yves St. Laurent. The company you own is Solessence. What is Solessence?

Hillary Fry: Solessence is a premiere lifestyle brand and manufacturer of natural and organic spa products and is the producer of Milwaukee Fashion Week. Based in Wisconsin, Solessence has been requested at events such as People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful," the Billboard Awards, Emmy Awards, SAG Awards and on TV Guide Network's "The Fashion Team."

Solessence is sold worldwide and through prestige spa channels such as The Pfister Well Spa, and chains like Whole Food Market and Beauty Brands. The company focuses on users "experiencing the power of pampering" through premier product, fun in philanthropy, and promoting artistic opportunities within their headquarter state of Wisconsin.

OMC: How long had Milwaukee Fashion Week been in the works? Where did you get the idea?

Fry: MFW came out of a longtime desire to create business and learning opportunities for the large creative community we have in Wisconsin, while incorporating the fun everyone loves to have when going out.

It became increasingly frustrating for me to hear people say that nothing exciting ever happens in Milwaukee, and that it isn't possible to make a livelihood as a makeup artist / designer, etc. I think that that mantra is a little dated, because if you look around you can see this is not entirely true. However, perception is a reality, and there is a bit of truth in that creative opportunities are much more concentrated on the coasts, and don't reach up here to Milwaukee.

I thought it would be wonderful to have a celebrity-infused event that would showcase this beautiful city. The idea was to bring in heavyweights that would act as mentors in a way-sharing their stories, talents and techniques, while supporting a showcase of primarily designer talent. The goal is to bring people in from all walks of life to take the word back out, whether they erase outdated ideas of the city, or realize Milwaukee is a great location for a convention, or discover new artists and lines to help launch. If you look at thriving cities, the key is that they are not insular. It is important to open up, support and constantly feed the entertainment, educational and lifestyle needs of residents and potential visitors.

OMC: What is your vision for MFW? Does it have a theme?

Fry: This year I'd just love to see everyone come out and have a great time. We are a city of festivals, and this is a "fashion for the people" kind of event. It is four days of fun, beauty, fashion and a little fantasy. For the fashionista and beauty addict, it will be an amazing industry-type event. In general it will be a great party.

I really wanted to showcase all of what a fashion show is about. Not just clothing; but talent in makeup, hair, what a model does, what a stylist does. If you want to be an accountant, you have a pretty clear-cut path to that end goal. If you are creative, you can wander for years without direction. Hopefully by exposing people to the many, many roles involved, some will see a creative career is a viable option.

Each day is grouped by collections that play off of each other. Friday night talent is an edgy, hip, yet accessible look.

Saturday covers the realm of dresses, from day to evening, and possibly wedding (looks). Sunday is Ford Models day, where there is an open call for ages five and above. All sizes. All heights. In response we also have a show featuring great talent that design for all types, including a special collection maternity debut of FIERCE by Christian Siriano for Moody Mamas.

Monday is an Industry Icons day with a special 35-piece couture collection by Gilles Montezin. He will feature his ready-to-wear couture, movie pieces and then a tribute to Yves St. Laurent.

What is wonderful about this event is that you will be able to meet the designers and make a connection with them, see their work up close, and purchase (the fashion) on-site or order custom designs.

OMC: What exciting events are at Milwaukee Fashion Week?

Fry: Saturday features several workshops in fashion styling, fashion photography and fashion design. Some of the speakers and credentials include Jean Vouté Pratt, (who is on) "Access Hollywood" and recently mentioned in The New York Times. She has a simple but clear way of deconstructing style that will not intimidate. She will cover two different styles per day. Great for those looking to expand or understand a certain look, and she will show people what it is it's like to be a fashion stylist. There might be more opportunities with the film industry opening up here.

In fashion design, Elise Rosemarin, co-collaborator with Christian Siriano (of "Project Runway" fame) will discuss what it's like to launch a collection and the Los Angeles fashion community, what going into production is like and what it's like working with Christian Siriano.

On Monday there is a rare opportunity to workshop with Billy B and Syd Curry. A two-part, two-hour session will cover their stories, how the business works and how to achieve the makeup and hair looks that will be shown during the Gilles Montezin show. Billy is famous for luminous, natural sheen and texture-one of the hardest looks to create. He will show the novice and makeup artists how to achieve this look. Billy normally gets $5,000 per face, and $150-$300 per person in workshop. Syd Curry does not even offer instruction. This is rare!

Couture in your closet: Gilles Montezin has also donated a $7,000 gown for auction to benefit the Thembalethu Children's Home. The winning bidder will meet Gilles, have the dress fitted and Gilles will alter the gown back in his New York studio. It's a couture lover's dream! The dress will go on display at Boutique B'lou at Pfister Hotel the week prior to the event. Gilles will also be speaking to students at Mount Mary College on Monday, Oct. 6.

On Monday we will have a special piano recital by concert pianist Andrew Axelrod. Andrew has ties to UW-Madison from years ago!

OMC: Who do you expect to attend MFW events?

Fry: Locals interested in fun, unique events. Maybe a girls' night out. Corporate thank yous. Stylists, makeup artists, designers, enthusiasts. We also have buyers and media coming in from around the country.

OMC: What are the logistical challenges of putting together an event this large?

Fry: Quality talent was the first concern. Schedules were most, dynamic, shall we say! We started with Oct. 6 for this event because that was the day we finally locked down the headliners and the venue was available. So then we moved back from there. In the end, it's all about the teamwork.

I had a vision of how the picture should look, from an overall view right down to the fine details. Then it became about plugging the right people in to execute those details and move back to manage the overall project. The right people have fallen into place; that is no small feat.

Of course, you never get everything you want, but for a first year event I am incredibly thankful and excited.

OMC: Explain how you found the various talents you did to give keynotes, workshops? What were you looking for in the people you brought in?

Fry: Ideally, they would be relevant to beauty and fashion today. It was important to bring in talent that wouldn't add fuel to the stereotype "the Midwest gets trends two-to-five years after the coasts." That just isn't happening. And, it was preferred they have compelling stories to share to inspire people.

They say start with what you know, and I had just started working on a project through Solessence with Billy B. He is so genuine, and talented and interesting! I then began contacting other people I had met through Solessence. I knew social media was critical for building brands, but for the most part that and PR are not widely discussed among smaller or indie brands in Wisconsin.

Billy B, Syd Curry and Gilles Montezin are all tied to the "Sex and the City" empire with uber-stylist Patricia Field. Billy B and Syd have both done press junkets with the stars of SATC and worked with Pat (Field) many, many times over the years. They just came back from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York where they did Pat's runway show. Gilles of course has designs in the SATC movie and the upcoming "Confessions of a Shopaholic."

I approached (blogger) Shannon Nelson, who had reviewed my products at one point, and had a story I found very compelling. She was a person I thought many could relate to or be inspired by. Same with Lianne Farbes. TV Guide had called and had our product on two episodes last year, so I reached out there.

That's how Lawrence Zarian, host of "The Fashion Team" and stylist on "Live with Regis & Kelly," came on board.

OMC: How are you incorporating the local element to MFW since you're bringing in national talents?

Fry: The main goal of this event is to help launch and grow talent into more of a national spotlight. What better way to do this than to have national / international talent involved?
We had 35 designers try out for MFW from all over, including Argentina by way of Arizona. We are featuring around 15 total, which is huge for a first year. The bulk of those are Wisconsin designers.

This show is different in that we feature the designers rather than collections from retailers, but absolutely, retailers were invited to participate. They are catalysts driving change and need to be represented. It is also important for them to see a lot of local, underground talent! Barb Berg from Boutique B'lou jumped in immediately, and has been a big support and force. She has an incredible love for fashion and what Milwaukee could offer. We'll also have several important local speakers.

Ford Models is also a big sponsor, utilizing both their Milwaukee and Chicago offices to supplement the show. Outreach from this event has led to signing many of the new models that responded to open calls. You'll see a number on the runway. (I) love hearing stories like this-this is what it is all about.

Vici Capelli is on board as the official beauty sponsor for hair. With 70,000 clients and multiple schools and locations, they are a huge player in the Milwaukee / Madison market. They are committing 25 master stylists to create the looks expressed by the designers for the runway for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and working with Billy B and Syd Curry on Monday.

OMC: How did you choose the up and coming designers you are featuring?

Fry: Clear talent and the ability to deliver. We want to create a vicious cycle of commerce-designers show, boutiques buy. Consumers seek out designers at boutiques to replenish if they didn't buy at show. The boutiques reorder. This is a good, healthy cycle. Each group has something really amazing to offer. I know two lines that buyers have already confirmed that they will be picking up, and I am sure others will find a successful market here. Whether someone is looking for ready-to-wear or wants a custom design, these are people they can look to with confidence.

OMC: Where is your favorite place to shop locally in Milwaukee? Do you have a favorite designer?

Fry: Well, nothing beats a custom piece, but I am not above big box (stores) either. I think a classic look with just a bit of edge is best for me, but I love almost all styles. My favorite designer's shows are Victor & Rolf, because they always do something a little crazy. I love the innovation of Target's Go International line and "massclusivity" using designers. It is really right now.

OMC: What is your vision for MFW in the future? Will you hold it once a year, twice a year?

Fry: I would love to see MFW continue to evolve as the premiere time for anyone interested in these industries to gather and make connections / gain inspiration in their field and, be a series of events people can have a good time at. Four days are a big number of days to offer as is, but we wanted to showcase as many designers as possible. We'll see how things go and enjoy this event before tackling the next.