The other night as I watched another installment of "Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes", wherein Ms. Winfrey would finally confront former show regular and inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant, I had my very own "aha moment." With tensions mounting between Ms. Winfrey and the segment producers regarding the upcoming taping, in the middle of all of the unfolding drama, Oprah turned inquisitively to one of her young assistants and asked "Is that top Lanvin?" Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. For the first time, it hit me like a ton of bricks -- fashion was truly losing one of its biggest allies, champions and dream makers -- Oprah Winfrey.
Besides losing a woman that can apparently detect a Lanvin knock-off a mile away, the fashion industry is losing a daily on-air luxury apparel marketer. Oprah can be seen daily on her show donning American design icons such as Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera. She also has a history of inviting emerging designers like Rachel Roy or even a once-unheard of designer by the name of Tory Burch. I can assure there isn't a single designer worth their salt that hasn't dreamed of the day when they would receive "the call" to appear on the "Oprah Winfrey Show."
Personally, as I am not an actor or singer, I've never spent any time in the mirror practicing my Oscar or Grammy acceptance speech. But as a fashion designer, I'm a little embarrassed to admit I have spent countless hours perched in front of the mirror pretending to have been invited to sit on Oprah's pale yellow sectional. I'm not talking just plain and simple one-on-one interview rehearsals, I'm talking Emmy Award-winning performances. Now, before anyone believes I had gone over the deep end, I must advise I had good reason and encouragement to think my dream of receiving "the call" might actually be coming true.
After the debut of my One Dress Project, I remember numerous journalists, editors and industry friends telling me that I should surely be expecting "the call." In all honesty, just the mere suggestion of receiving the call from one of Oprah's producers sent my impromptu rehearsals into overdrive. During my imaginary interview sessions, I rehearsed revealing to Oprah (the role of Ms. Winfrey played by either of my toy poodles) my entire life story of growing up with parents who both worked as social workers and entrepreneurs. I would divulge to her my juvenile vows of never wanting to follow in my parents seemingly less glamorous footsteps. I shared with the Big O how my father instilled in me a strong sense of community and entrepreneurial spirit while also painting a vivid memory of my father buying a chain of dry cleaners. My father would force me to work in the one located in the worst neighborhood, hoping I would realize that life wasn't all fairy tales and glossy magazines.
To lighten the mood, I would regale Oprah with stories of my mother taking me on stealth fabric shopping excursions at the Five and Dime every Saturday morning while the two of us bonded over notions, bobbles and trims. Suddenly I would be reduced to tears as I revealed how my life had finally come "full circle." My mother and dearly departed father would both be so proud to know my life now includes an extraordinarily exciting fashion career, balanced by a mission of advocacy on behalf of underserved women and children around the world. The long-awaited Oprah appearance would of course conclude with a runway presentation modeled by women flown in from around the world. The catwalk would be filled with my colorful frocks worn by women that have accomplished great things and overcome extraordinary obstacles. I would stand in front of the studio audience taking my final bow, and mouthing "Thank you Oprah. Thank you." Then suddenly there would be the dreaded tug at my pant leg, jolting me back into the reality of my fabulous impending duties of picking up poodle pooh.
As we find ourselves in the final countdown of the Oprah show, my own experience got me to thinking... "If I felt this way, how many other fashion designers, writers, inventors or entrepreneurs were experiencing the same anxiety and sense of loss? How many others felt we were losing our dream, our big break, our fairy godmother =- our Oprah? How many others had been waiting for the call?"
I can still remember the first time I saw Tory Burch on the "Oprah Winfrey Show." I thought to myself, "Tory received the call." It was April 2005, and almost everyone in New York City was quite familiar with the double "T" logo, but most of us had never been properly or officially introduced to the Tory Burch brand. However, on that spring afternoon it felt like the entire world watched as Oprah turned Tory Burch into a household name and global brand. And like clockwork, within 30 minutes of the show airing I received "the call."
Oh God no, not that call, but the other call -- the periodic call from my mother wherein she would ask "the questions" -- "Did you see Oprah? (pregnant pause) Sweetheart, when are you going to be on Oprah?" Laugh if you must, but growing up in my family you have accomplished absolutely nothing unless you've been written about in the New York Times or interviewed by Oprah. In my earlier and crazier years, I spent more time being written about on Page Six than in the Times but luckily I'm proud to say I've taken care of the New York Times bit perhaps three or four times over. However, the elusive Oprah interview has left both my mother and I feeling a bit incomplete. But don't cry for me Argentina, I have bigger and better plans on the horizon.
Recently, I made a few proactive telephone calls of my OWN (pun thoroughly intended), and it looks like my Oprah dreams and goals have not been totally dashed. In fact, they have expanded, matured and are in the process of being realized.
So I guess the moral of the story or "the "aha moment" is this: Perhaps we should be spending less time in front of the mirror rehearsing and waiting for our big break, and more time finding the courage and humility to take our destiny into our OWN hands.
P.S.: Please share with me some of your "Oprah" stories -- so I don't feel so crazy...
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