31 August - Shanel Regier, Lela and Sewing for Goodwill

With Lela's Sixth Annual Fashion Show coming up next weekend, I knew there might be an elevated level of uber stress for my dear friend Shanel Regier. She will be the headlining fashion designer.

Lela, a boutique located in the Third Ward of Milwaukee, carries an eclectic line of clothing -- vintage to cutting edge, casual to elegant, consignment to high end of carefully selected nationally known designers. I enjoy the shopping experience not only because I find a nice mix of classics to what's new, but because of the customer service. When I shop, I typically do not linger. I am motivated by purpose and visualize what I am looking for -- whether or not it exists is a different story. Lela helps me in that process with unique finds and exposes me to pieces I may have glossed over in considering it for myself. The success Lela enjoys is evidenced in its current project - doubling the store size to accommodate the new couture lounge and showroom, featuring Shanel's designs.

One of their signature items is the corset. Designer? Shanel Regier. I have yet to get my hands on one. I have quite a few of her pieces that have seen Chicago, Tokyo and Paris. And while at these cities, my husband and I noticed Shanel's look - classic with an edge of flair - also had a presence in these villes d'haute coutures. When I wear her varying designs, strangers sheepishly stop me and ask where I found my garment. The disappointment and, conversely, the glory are they are truly one of a kind. Just can't pick one up at Barney's.

A Nebraska native, Shanel moved to Milwaukee to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD). She studied sculpture and fell in love with how fabrics fit, molded and moved with the human form. Since her first fashion show at Mantra Lounge in 2003, her brand has grown to enjoy national clientele, was showcased as GenArt Chicago's "Fresh Faces in Fashion" favorite and was featured on the front page of The Chicago Tribune. The privilege was mine when Shanel asked me to plan her 2006 show "Parisian Roots: A Performance in Couture." Our friendship has grown ever since.

Now in the throes of conceptualizing her newest collection, sketching designs, collecting her models, scheduling the fittings, meetings with Stephanie and Carrie from Lela, I have come to help her in any capacity - surge, seam rip, pick up coffee, etc. She typically shows 20-30 pieces. Though I have planned, marketed and was backstage producer in past shows, I had never actually helped on the production side. And no worries, I have sewn in the past...a double breasted cropped Janet Jackson-esque jacket with matching baggy pants (pretty funny now, but I swear it was hot at the time); not to mention my husband's Halloween costume, a Chinese collared fitted floor length coat as Neo from "The Matrix".

But walking away from watching her work, I was inspired to sew something as well. But not for me. My husband told me of one of Goodwill's professional services -- the Recovery Program. Its mission is to empower the unemployed to get back on their feet and find work. My mission, therefore, is to sew and donate a piece to this wonderful cause.

I went to JoAnn Fabrics to find a suitable design, selected a pattern and chose the fabric. Trying to decipher yardage among the different sizes and variations of the pattern proved to be a bit tenuous, but nevertheless got me started. I cut the patterns and pinned them to the fabric, following the instructions. This is still in progress and I will post the final product soon. Boy, I am hoping Goodwill matches the karma and intentions of this garment with a kind and forgiving soul! Hope this uplifts the spirit of a hardworking and hopeful woman.

As for the outcome of Shanel's pieces, I shall have to wait. But nevertheless, come meet me at her Trunk Show the following weekend. Let's check out the new Couture Lounge and sip champagne over a corset or two.

For more information on Goodwill and its programs, please visit: http://recovery.goodwill.org/

For more information on Shanel Regier, please visit http://www.shanelregier.com/.

For more information on Lela, please visit http://www.lelaboutique.com/.