In a week’s time, I’ll be celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness month in full force. I like to think of this ‘September Issue’ as a little pre-game. I was ecstatic when, a few months ago, a local Arkansas magazine asked me to be on the cover of their Inviting Arkansas September issue as they called attention to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) ‘Gala for Life’ fundraiser this month where a portion of the net proceeds benefitted families with genetic risks for cancer. UAMS is where I underwent my double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery earlier this year, so I knew I would do just about anything to help them as they helped me. Eager to share my story to help promote the important work + research of the Cancer Institute, I happily obliged!
The goal of the shoot was to create a beautiful, unaffected, natural cover as it correlates with, of course, the Natural State. We wanted powerful imagery without being provocative, showing a hint of the ‘girls’ in a artistic way that commands attention. Since we were working with the chest, I can see how this could be a hard balance. A tasteful topless photo isn’t easy to come by y’all, but I👏think👏we👏nailed👏it.
No Photoshop was involved in creating these images.
Final choice on the real life cover below.
Photographer extraordinaire Nancy Nolan is who you want taking all your photos. She has this rare ability to bring to life the various people she captures. Kakki Jones did my hair and make-up for the shoot, and I wish she could fix me up daily (but ain’t nobody got a budget for that!). If you aren’t able to pick up a copy in Arkansas, read the full story here via InvitingArkansas.com.
With my face plastered all over central Arkansas by the first of the month, it was time to start thinking about a dress for the Gala fundraiser – black & white attire only, so the invitation stated. Each year at UAMS’s signature event, Gala for Life, attendees enjoy out-of-the-box festivities based on that year’s theme. This year was New York, New York and what’s a Big Apple party without Broadway acts, street dancers, Rockettes, a real-life Statue of Liberty and acrobats serving champagne upside-down? Event Director Catherine Tapp never ceases to amaze me. Grand opulence was in pure abundance as we celebrated doctors and scientists for their commitment and dedication to the institution.
Fashion Designer Linda Rowe Thomas, hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, was kind enough to lend me one of her stunning gowns for the evening, and it was serendipitous how everything came together. Remember when I took a breast cancer survivor with me to Charleston a few months ago? Her name is Lindsay, and she was treated at UAMS as well. She and her sister had double mastectomies just NINE days apart from each other. Talk about badass women. Lindsay introduced me to Linda about a month ago. We walked into her studio and there was this unfinished black gown hanging on a manikin. Linda said she needed a fit model to finish it, and if I liked it, she’d fit me in it for Gala. SCORE. Here is the final product.
I believe that Linda has such a powerful story, so I wanted to share a short interview with her below:
Tell me a bit about your childhood. I understand you experienced a house fire at a very young age. Do you remember anything about that? How has that tragedy impacted how you’ve gone through life?
I was 2 years old and have no recollection of the tragic event. I was fortunate to have a remarkable mother that always stressed that all things were possible in spite my accident. Can’t was never an option with her and she continuously drove me to be more than what was ever expected of me.
Did anyone in your family have ties to the fashion industry?
No, but my mother sewed on the side for nearly everyone in the surrounding communities. I loved sitting with her and watching her create things. I started sewing at five, using the scraps from her projects to make doll clothes with a hand needle and thread. The true beauty of this story lies in the fact that part of my recovery was doing hand therapy to regain the use of my right hand. As I got older I realized that my mom often tricked me into doing therapy by getting me to do things that I loved. Once she saw my interest in sewing, she used that to not only pass on her gift but to restore my ability to use my hands.
How did you come into the fashion design business and get your start?
My professional career began in corporate buying but I knew when I was five that I wanted to create beautiful clothes. It wasn’t until I was around 10 years old and saw Diana Ross portray a fashion designer in “Mahogany”, that I realized that my passion was an actually career.
What and who inspires you?
My mother was always my inspiration, because in spite of loosing my sister to the house fire and all the negative reports that she was given regarding my life’s outcome, her faith never wavered. She made sure that I knew that that I could conquer the world if I had faith and believed that I could. She passed in 2007 but her spirit guides me daily, pushing me to never give up, to never give in and most of all to never stop believing that I can. There’s no better role model than her.
Where does your style come from and how has it evolved over the years?
I’ve always been told that I had an old soul. I grew up loving Jackie O and the way she looked so regal even when riding a horse. I am a huge fame of the classic designers like Valentino, Chanel, and Oscar De La Renta. I’m a self taught designer. I think the more experience I’ve acquired over the years and the more I’ve grown as a designer, I’m more equipped to relay my love of classic pieces into my collection.
Do you have a favorite piece or collection you’ve designed?
Ha Ha! That’s almost like asking me to pick a favorite child! My favorite thing to create is gowns. There are several in my showroom that will end up in the vault because I’ll never be able to part from them.
Out of curiosity, do you ever wear your own pieces?
I rarely ever wear my own pieces. Not because I don’t want to, I spend so much time creating for others, I never have for myself, but I promised myself to change that and I’ve actually started on a couple of things just for moi!
What inspired you to create the beautiful black gown you lent me for UAMS’s Gala for Life?
The black chiffon gown is a part of the Fall 2017 collection. This collection was inspired by love of elegance and glamour. Another heavily beaded gown from this collection was chosen by actress Erica Ash to host the BET Awards Red Carpet.
What mantra do you live by?
Can’t is not an option!
Do you believe that being open about your story has influenced others?
I have received such heartwarming feedback from sharing my story. I certainly hope that my story inspires others and empowers you to look beyond your adversities and to become the best you that you can be, but the most important message that I pray always to deliver is to truly love the person that stares back at you from the mirror.
What advice do you share with others who might walk a similar path to you?
First learn to love and value yourself. Second, NEVER GIVE UP! You have to be so focused on believing that you can do all things, that none of the obstacles that you’ll face in life will stand a chance against you.
Many of you kept up with my story as I underwent a double mastectomy a few months ago and went under the knife yet again for reconstructive surgery. I documented everything on social media and on my blog, hopeful that it would help others who walked a similar path. My story is deeply tied to genetics, one that began when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. Watch our story unfold in the video below, produced by UAMS.
Please consider donating to my favorite institution, my home state’s only academic research center where scientists work tirelessly to advance cancer prevention.