Some of fashion and beauty’s brightest trendsetters travel the world to work with celebrities, put their own stamp on style and produce star-studded events. And when they come home, you’ll find them right here in our own back yard.
Milwaukeeans aren’t particularly trendy, according to Tina Poppy, worldwide fashion blogger and owner of Violetvillevintage.com, a vintage clothing Web site. And that’s a good thing.
“To me, one of the most amazing things about Milwaukee is there’s this amazing sense of personal style, where people will go to thrift stores and find this bizarre piece of clothing and make it their own,” she says. “In other cities, you can definitely tell what the trends are. In Milwaukee, people are more interested in doing their own thing.”
Poppy’s fascination with personal style was evident even in high school, when she haunted thrift stores to create a wardrobe to express her own creative spirit.
After graduation, Poppy left her home in Milwaukee for Los Angeles, and moved around a bit before deciding that this city is where she really wants to be.
Today, she shops the world to find elegant, vintage fashions and accessories for Violetville. She loves to find a ’50s designer coat at an estate sale somewhere in Scandanavia, and give it new life by selling it to a customer in Mongolia, she says.
“Mad Men,” the hit AMC television series about the style-driven New York advertising world of the 1960s, has been the latest phenomenon to make fashionistas flock to Poppy’s retro collection.
“The fabric and quality of construction (of the era) is insurmountable,” Poppy says. “Dresses were meant to fit the human body. Nowadays, you see things that are meant to fit on a hanger.”
The hourglass dresses of the midcentury, however, were designed to tastefully show off curves and encourage women to posture themselves with confidence, she notes.
Poppy is the somewhat reluctant model for the clothing on her site. Visitors can see how the clothing fits an actual person vs. the mannequins that originally featured the fashions.
Occasionally, Poppy welcomes friends into her home — furnished with quirky estate sale furniture and conversation-piece accents -— and pulls out racks of clothing to play with.
“I love to style people in coats, dresses and things to wear to work,” she says.
Although vintage is Poppy’s signature style, she is also interested in unique, handcrafted modern pieces. She recently returned from a trip to Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Iceland to look for contemporary items created by independent designers. Whether a customer prefers vintage, contemporary or a combination of the two, the point is to make getting dressed her own unique art form.
Poppy lives by that credo, even when indulging in her latest obsession, biking.
“The other day I was in this ridiculous snowsuit from the ’70s and biking through the snow,” she says. “And I heard three people say ‘That’s awesome.’ If I can make people smile and think about how their day is going and what they can do to make their lives better, then mission accomplished.”
Scott Yance: Keeping
Growing up in Kenosha, a young Scott Yance and his buddies used to hang out at the neighborhood barber shop, asking cigar-smoking patrons for change for the soda machine.
“But the real motive,” Yance laughs, “was to try to sneak a look at the ‘Playboys.’”
The barber recognized an enterprising young man when he saw one, and soon Yance was working at the shop, washing and styling toupees as the barber trimmed the customer’s remaining hair.
These days, Yance is a fixture at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, a partner at Erik of Norway Salon Spa and a hair stylist for some of the world’s most talked-about celebrities. He’s also a single dad who still lives in Kenosha, raising his two boys, Aden and Seth.
That’s a formula for some culture shock. In October, for example, Yance was in New York for a pivotal moment in his career — “doing crazy hair” at a performance art installation hosted by the Museum of Modern Art. Some of the biggest names in fashion were among the crowd, including Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg, and Yance admits to being star-struck.
“Jon Stewart (of “The Daily Show”) was there, and I’m getting into a cab and he says, ‘See you later, man.’ I mean, Jon Stewart!” Yance recalls. “And three hours later I was back in Kenosha, trick-or-treating with my kids and walking the dog.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at the transition,” he says. “It keeps you really grounded and realistic and keeps me really appreciative of these opportunities.”
Yance, who trained at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Los Angeles, first took his talent to New York’s Bryant Park about eight years ago, at the invitation of a prominent hair colorist. Yance told his friend he’d get his coffee, sweep floors and hold hairpins just for the chance to be backstage at Fashion Week.
“And I literally did that for about two to three years,” Yance says. “Fashion Week is a whole weird thing that’s hard to comprehend. It’s totally chaotic, a bunch of artists trying to put things together.”
Yance “graduated” to become a co-lead stylist for runway shows, working for design houses like Elie Tahari, Betsey Johnson, Ports 1961, Vivienne Tam, Rodarte and “Project Runway” winners Christian Siriano and Leanne Marshall.
As any fan of “Project Runway” knows, working with some designers can be a bit of a challenge. Each has a vision for the look to be achieved, and Yance is charged with interpreting instructions like: “I want her to be a bride, someone who just got married, and driving down Pacific Coast Highway and now she’s cheating on her husband.”
In September, he booked his first Fashion Week show as a lead stylist, supervising 35 hair stylists for couture designer Linda Rowe Thomas, and he’ll be returning to Lincoln Center for Fashion Week this month for another round of glitz and glam.
While working at shows, Yance often has the opportunity to style the hair of celebrities in the vicinity. They’ve included Sarah Jessica Parker, Elizabeth Jagger, David Arquette and Alex McCord of “The Real Housewives of New York City.”
It’s not likely that Yance will get carried away with his jet-setting lifestyle. Back in Kenosha, talking with fellow soccer dads, he often gets this question: “So, you’re a barber, huh?”
Florida Perry Smith: The Main Event
Florida Perry Smith of River Hills was once told by a friend that she was “born to produce,” and she’s been proving it now for 25 years. She’s produced countless fashion shows and special events, interviewed red carpet celebrities for Lifetime TV and may now be on the verge of producing her own television show.
Smith worked her way through college, where she was on track for medical school, by modeling professionally and producing fashion shows for a Milwaukee modeling agency. After earning a degree in zoology, she realized “I wasn’t listening to my spirit. I looked around me and found a gem, and that gem was my mother.”
Smith’s mother was a home economics teacher, and she taught her daughter everything she knew about sewing, textiles, cooking and fashion design. Most importantly, though, she taught Smith how to follow her dreams.
In 1985, Smith partnered with Linda Zanoni (now Linda Gomoll) to form Premier Fashion Network and began a long-term working relationship with Melvin Simon Property Developers, producing fashion shows for Simon’s 33 shopping centers throughout the country. One successful event led to another, until she had hundreds under her fashion-forward belt.
“Many of the best shows for me were the grand opening of the Mall of America, the Pentagon Center, the grand re-opening of the St. Louis Center and Caesar’s Palace,” she recalls. She also had the opportunity to tour the country producing fashion shows for Mademoiselle magazine.
“I dream, I believe and I do,” Smith says, and she always knows how to please an audience.
Smith formed Premier Events as a subsidiary of Premier Fashion Network to book celebrities to draw customers to shopping malls and to add star power to corporate events. Some of her most memorable experiences, she says, were producing the Harley-Davidson 95th Anniversary Celebration and Jockey International’s 105th Anniversary, where her Cirque du Soleil theme required high-wire acts to entertain the crowd.
Some of her favorite celebrities, many of whom have become personal friends, are Patti LaBelle, Cicely Tyson, Robin Roberts, Heidi Klum, Kelly Ripa and Kim Kardashian — “All wonderful, wonderful, people,” she says.
Smith brought all of her experience to bear for her work on Lifetime TV for the past six seasons of “Health Corner.” She’s served as creative director, producer, fashion and food stylist, and co-hosted the show’s “That Certain Something” segment with Joan Lunden.
“Every year I was on the red carpet for the Heart Truth Event, the campaign for women against heart disease,” Smith says. “I had the opportunity to interview some of the very best — Felicia Rashad, Diedre Hall, Linda Dano and Mary J. Blige. It was extremely exciting, just great people coming out for this great cause.”
At the moment, Smith is developing pilot projects with several television executives and is working to advance First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign here in Milwaukee.
“With my Mom passing last year, her spirit lives in me,” Smith says. “I have such a desire to please my clients 100 percent of the time. With that goal in mind, I put on a show. It’s a passion for story telling. Give me a product, I show it and I sell it.”