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By Marilyn Heywood Paige
Marketing has been a life-long passion. It started at 13, before I even knew what marketing was.
My passion for marketing began when I was 13 and produced a fashion show for a clothing retailer. It came about because I took classes at the John Robert Powers Modeling School in Philadelphia. Barely a teen, I was their youngest student, trekking into the city by myself on a train from the suburbs. Decades before “America’s Next Top Model” would teach millions of young women how to walk down a runway and pose in front of a camera for free, I was paying for classes to learn to those skills.
The school employed a drama teacher to instruct us on how to present ourselves with confidence and professionalism. In one session, when a classmate said there weren’t enough modeling opportunities in Philadelphia, the instructor suggested we make our own opportunities.
The runway classroom at John Robert Powers in Philadelphia.
Want to Be A Model? Make Your Opportunity
I remember thinking it was a remarkable idea. Me? Could I create a fashion show? My favorite clothing retailer, Deb Charming Shops, was a chain clothing retailer headquartered in Philadelphia. I frequented their local store at the Oxford Valley Mall in Bucks County, PA and I thought nothing would be more fun than producing a fashion show for them. (Mind you, my thoughts about it didn’t go any further than dressing myself and other models and sending all of us down a runway. I had no idea what I was getting into.)
But with my teacher’s words in my mind, I summoned my courage, walked into the store, and asked the store manager if I could create a fashion show for the store. To her credit, she listened to my pitch and agreed to let me do it. I was over the moon. (What a remarkable person she was to say yes to 13-year-old me.)
Then reality hit. I had to figure out where it would take place and how I would promote it. Getting the models and choosing the clothes was easy. The rest of the logistics were a puzzle.
Find A Venue
My mom suggested asking the owner of an upscale restaurant that was a stone’s throw from the mall to host the event. She said she would drive me to the restaurant, but that I had to go in and ask the owner myself. (You might sense a pattern here. My mother did not hover. She encouraged self-sufficiency.) I did, the owner said yes, and we chose a Saturday lunch hour in April for the show.
Promote the Show
Now that I had the place and date, I needed to get people to come to it. My dad’s girlfriend at the time (Mom and Dad were divorced.) sold ads for a newspaper in New Jersey. She offered to have the paper’s print department make up some posters for me. (Large, printed, cardboard posters in store windows were how you promoted events on the cheap back then.) My mom and I drove around town, asking store owners to display them. (Remind me to ask my mom if it irked her that the posters came from her ex-husband’s girlfriend.)
The Models Have No Shoes
Ten days before the highly anticipated event, I realized the models had no shoes but their own to wear with the outfits we’d chosen. Deb Charming Shops did not sell shoes. My models would be barefoot if I didn’t find a shoe retailer to agree to participate. In a bit of panic, I walked into Thom McAn three stores down from the Deb Shop and pleaded with the store manager to help me. God bless him, he said he would supply the shoes, but that they had to come back in saleable condition. We devised putting masking tape on the bottom of all the shoes so the soles wouldn’t get scuffed.
The Day of the Show
The models and all the clothes assembled in an empty banquet room of the restaurant. It wasn’t the chaos you see in every backstage film of the Paris shows. No, it was me, my 16-year-old sister, and four classmates from my modeling school. There were no lights, music, or runway. We performed “informal modeling” where each model walked around the dining room one by one. When one came back from her turn, the next one went out while she changed into her next outfit.
I was so caught up in all the details of the show (and making sure every shoe had masking tape on the bottom) that I forgot I was modeling, too. By the time I got dressed and out on the floor, I was flustered and nervous and didn’t enjoy it half as much as I thought I would.
Disappointment Leads To Life Lesson
The show was not a roaring success. There weren’t many people in the restaurant. The biggest table was my family. Far from feeling triumphant, I felt deflated and a bit embarrassed because I felt I hadn’t modeled well and was too stressed to enjoy it. The other models left as soon as they finished their walks because I didn’t think to ask them to stay and help me clean up. It left me and my family to assemble and return all the clothes and shoes. The day was a lot of hard work and ended up being a bit of a letdown.
Despite my immediate disappointment, it was a great experience. I accomplished so much more than just a modeling opportunity. I learned how to produce an event. It wasn't a great show, but I saw it through and achieved something remarkable.
Little did I know, producing events would become a big part of my career later in life when I would go on to produce over 600 author and community events for Barnes & Noble.
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