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Project Dreams Meets Project Runway

By Lisa Burwell | photography by Jessie Shepard

Our dreams – they keep us hoping and expecting something greater or more desirable will come our way.  Placed in our hearts and minds as young children, they gradually give way to more realistic adult goals and aspirations. Many times, the embers of childhood dreams remain, only to be rekindled by an unexpected opportunity or emotion, sparking a renewed confidence to take a risk and fulfill a dream.

In my case, one of my dreams was to be a published writer. As a young girl, I entertained family and friends with countless stories and tales – all of which came from an active imagination that seemed to have an endless supply of unique ideas. Later, I directed my efforts toward more responsible and productive objectives during high school, college, and, ultimately, in reference to my marketing and public relations career.  Even then, I knew how easily the words came to me and I always seemed to have so many interesting things happening in my life that I kept telling myself, “Ooh, that would be great for my book” or “Won’t that be an interesting chapter?”  The dream of writing was never fueled or nurtured, and it faded to a barely glowing ember.  From time to time, the ember would become a flickering flame because of the writing that I do to earn my living. But my book never came – my stories would have to wait.

project runway new york city mercedes benz fashion week vie magazine christian siriano
Christian Siriano & Sweet P
My dream of, someday, having a chance to write experienced a rekindling during some recent trips that my husband, Jerry, and I took to Europe. Because we are both owners of a small business, it is sometimes difficult to turn off the constant demands of clients, and to escape from our busy and frenetic professional lives for any reasonable length of time so that we can travel. Despite this, it did not take us long to decide when opportunities presented themselves to travel to Ireland in 2004 and to Italy in 2005.

My parents own a small cottage on the west coast of Ireland, where they spend most summers. In late fall of 2004, they extended an invitation to us to visit. I had not been there since I was seventeen. We had an amazing time - three weeks full of rustic accommodations, unpredictable weather that the locals call “The Damp,” unconditional welcoming into neighborhood pubs to partake in what the locals call “The Drink,” and nightly walks along the coast of the fierce Atlantic Ocean. If there is one thing that the Irish do well, it is to tell tales – and believe me, they do that very well – and with a sparkle in their eyes that you are not likely to encounter anywhere but in Ireland. The trip was incredibly refreshing and inspiring.

Then, in the summer of 2005, we headed to Italy’s Tuscany region for a much-needed respite from our hectic lives. I quickly took notice of the fact that Italians have a passion for – well, everything – architecture, food, wine, love – just life in general. The people, sites, and sounds were a sensory overload. We traveled through ancient hilltop villages and endless fields of majestic sunflowers. Our villa was planted in the middle of Tuscany where we were able to stroll among ancient olive groves and grape orchards as far as the eye could see. These were all catalysts to refuel and reignite my dreams – I had time to think – I had time to dream.

Back home, in Northwest Florida, I started looking around at the amazing natural beauty I had taken for granted for so long. Again, I started to dream, but this time I was more focused and driven. I wondered, “Do other people realize what we have here? Are they aware of the amazing stories nestled in this sun-kissed corner of Florida?” I knew that there were remarkable stories all around me that were just waiting for the right person to unlock them.

It was then (3 a.m.) that I was given divine inspiration – I knew that the right person was me. And, the vehicle to do it would be a new regional magazine to celebrate the interesting people and beautiful places of our area. I was even given the name – I heard it clearly:  V. But, at first, I thought there was some kind of mistake. I thought to myself, “V? You can’t name a magazine V!” Then I saw it – VIE. “Ohhh!” I thought. “VIE. Now I get it. Vie, in French, means life. Thus, the magazine VIE: People + Places was born.

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Gerald and Lisa Burwell

project runway new york city mercedes benz fashion week vie magazine

project runway new york city mercedes benz fashion week vie magazine heidi klum
Heidi Klum
It all started to click in place – the resources to create a new magazine were already available to me. I have owned Grayton Beach-based Cornerstone Marketing & Advertising for the last 14 years. As a boutique marketing and public relations company, I have an exceptional staff of writers, graphic designers, web designers, and a sales and research team that functions as a creative think-tank. When I shared my vision for the magazine with the Cornerstone team, everyone was instantly excited with this new venue in which they would be able to express their creative talents. I was amazed by their enthusiasm, inspiration, and dedication. We were finally going to get to do it our way – and, if that didn’t work out, we could always fire ourselves.

On December 6, 2007, we embarked on a creative outing to the Barnes & Noble that is in Destin, Florida for an afternoon of coffee and perusing several hundred magazines. We discussed our likes and dislikes, bouncing ideas off each other. The excitement was building as our dream began taking shape. It was a little intimidating to see so many magazines on display, but, at the same time, it was also encouraging. Each magazine spoke to different people about different things, yet not one possessed our single vision – to reveal the people and places of Northwest Florida. Surely, we were onto something. And so, the dream continued.

I would soon find that making my dream a reality would be a team effort that not only fulfilled a desire in my heart, but would also rekindle the dreams of others who worked on this project with me. Reaching one’s own dreams is huge, but it is even more meaningful when you meet yours while helping others to achieve theirs.

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Victoria Beckham
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Bianca Golden
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Nina Garcia

For the past few years, my favorite TV show has been Bravo’s Project Runway.  I admire this reality show for its class and dignity, qualities not commonly found in the reality TV genre – and I have a love for both fashion and the creative process. These contestants are truly talented and they exhibit a tremendous dedication in terms of attempting to realize their dreams of being great fashion designers. Each of their designs is the realization of a vision, and I think that is why I have such admiration for these designers. I soon learned that many of my friends and colleagues in our area share my love of the show. 

A few years ago, I met Hannah Brewer, a receptionist at Salon Twist in Grayton Beach, Florida. We became professional colleagues while working on the 2007 Change the World Fundraiser for Gina Shiflett and Kerry Roy, the salon owners. Subsequently, I learned that Hannah designs clothes as a hobby and that, a few years prior to when I met her, she had dreamed of trying out for Project Runway. However, like so many others, life got in the way, and she had to shelve her dream. In early January (of this year), I asked her whether she would design a dress for me – sort of like my own little project runway here, on 30A. The dress is fantastic, and I have worn it on many occasions. Since then, she has been able to get her dream back on track; she is now living in New York City, working at a fashion house. At least for now, one of Hannah’s dreams has become a reality.

When it came time decide what stories to showcase in our premier issue of VIE, it was obvious that one of the stories would have to incorporate Project Runway. Hannah had just completed my dress and my favorite reality show was then in the middle of filming their fifth season. The show’s big season finale was scheduled to take place during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City’s Bryant Park on February 9 – I just had to be there. But how?

The story of Project Runway and Bryant Park was a cornerstone to the first issue of VIE. The event was only five weeks away, and quickly approaching. We had so many other things to do in preparation for launching the magazine’s inaugural issue by mid to late April. The logo, the media and sales kit, and the magazine prototype all had to be designed. We had to blueprint a well thought-out magazine distribution plan and there were a slew of legal issues, including trademarks that had to be handled. Did I mention that we had to sell ads, too? On top of that, we had very demanding Cornerstone clients who needed attention, as well as preparing our entries for the upcoming annual ADDY awards. In my typical fashion, I said to myself, “Who cares? I can do it. I am going to Bryant Park!”

To get there, the first order of business was to build our press posse. Besides myself and Jerry, I needed the Cornerstone design team (for inspiration on the magazine and web site layout) and a good photographer. Cornerstone’s Art Director, Eric Shepard, mentioned that his wife, Jessie, was a photographer. After reviewing her web site (www.jessicashepard.com), I realized that she had a good eye. She did not have a bulging portfolio or professional credits to her name, but she did have a vision, a dream, and lots of talent: my kind of person. I asked her whether she would join our entourage to New York to cover Project Runway. She almost could not believe the invitation, as it had been a dream of hers to photograph high-fashion since she was seven. Of course, she accepted.

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Laura Bennett & Jay McCarroll
project runway new york city mercedes benz fashion week vie magazine
Photographer Jessie Shepard
The next and final preparation for the trip was to obtain our press passes. We called the company that managed the press invitations for the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. “What publication do you represent?” a voice said on the other end of the phone. Most people would have had an apple in their throat at this point, but not me. “VIE: People + Places,” I said with the confidence and authority of an owner and publisher of a well-seasoned magazine (I had already convinced myself that VIE was just that). The other voice said, “Just send us a sample of your publication and link to your web site, and we will get back to you.” Fortunately, we had just finished the initial layout of our prototype that day, so, off it went with a link to the Cornerstone web site. Two weeks later, either through luck, a case of mistaken identity, or just the power of dreams, our credentials were approved, and we were granted access to Bryant Park.

So, on Wednesday, February 6, with our vision intact, we boarded a plane to New York’s LaGuardia Airport en route to making another dream a reality. It was our first visit to New York City as a team. As I waited for our plane to take off, I wondered how we had gotten to this point and whether would we be able to fit in with the “the big boys” who would also be covering the big event. Vogue, Elle, Glamour, and InStyle would suddenly be our contemporaries at Bryant Park. I asked myself, “How did this happen?” The answer came from a quiet voice deep inside: “The power of dreams.”

The next morning, Thursday, we headed out into the cold and bustling Big Apple. We picked up our press passes at Bryant Park, entered the showroom, and began to take it all in. The excitement and anticipation was evident in all of us, but we tried to play it cool. We did not want to stick out as tourists or, worse yet, novice magazine reporters. Jerry and I were thrilled that the team was inspired by the trip, and it was great to see their creative juices flowing. project runway new york city mercedes benz fashion week vie magazine

Jessie immediately started capturing and cataloguing the event with grace, elegance, and ease. She had a knack for finding the celebrities when they entered the room and she instantly began to shoot amazing photos. As I watched her move through the showroom, I saw a striking, tall, and graceful woman dressed all in black (looking very much the part in NYC) taking photos with flawless execution. Jessie had transformed right before my eyes as she stepped into this moment in her career, and I was thrilled to see her dreams of becoming a fashion photographer coming to life.

Friday marked the end of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Bryant Park, and we headed out for our final mission. Jessie’s role morphed from fashion photographer at the Jayson Brunsdon fashion show the previous night to paparazzo this day. Without a definitive plan of attack, we somehow had the precision of an FBI SWAT team. Sheer luck, naivety, or, again, the power of dreams, found us at the right place at the right time as we exited the main tent. Eric had the Southside watch, Jessie was at the back door, and Jerry was covering the gaps in between. (I was “sans” camera as I only like to look at pictures - not take them.)

project runway new york city mercedes benz fashion week vie magazine

We were awaiting the appearance of Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, Victoria Beckham, and the Project Runway contestants after filming wrapped. Eventually, they appeared – unannounced and from different exits. Eric was able to photograph Heidi and Tim, who graciously spoke to Eric as he shook hands. I thought that was a class act, considering the number of swarming photographers that day. And Jerry captured some of the contestants, including Sweet Pea, who returned his “congratulations” with a heart-felt “Thank you.”

Seeing Victoria Beckham exit from a back door with bodyguards at her side and a sea of paparazzi, with Jessie in the middle of the mix, was a highlight for me. I think Jessie got better shots than most of the paparazzi, who were all very friendly to her, talking about cameras and lens action as if this was an everyday ritual for her. I was thrilled to see Nina Garcia, editor of Elle magazine and Project Runway judge, and one of my favorite finalists from Season Two, Daniel Vosovic.

The trip to New York was incredible – we experienced new horizons and had fun doing it. We also made the trip because we were taking this magazine very seriously. I would be remiss in not singing the praises of the team that has made this magazine a possibility: Bob Brown’s amazing web design, talent, dedication and long hours; Eric Shepard who, through this project and under Bob’s tutelage, has designed one of the best looking magazines that I have ever seen; Lisa Comeau’s enormous can-do attitude about everything – literally; Lisa Ferrick’s gift of optimism and enthusiasm; Kelli Deary’s refreshing poise and virtue; Justin Starnes’s resourceful research ability; and, last but not least, my husband, Jerry, for sharing in my passion and having the faith to do yet one more crazy thing.

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Lindsey Price
project runway new york city mercedes benz fashion week vie magazine project runway new york city mercedes benz fashion week vie magazine I am incredibly thankful for all of the overwhelming support that we have received throughout the process of bringing this publication into existence: the contributing writers, advertisers, and genuine well-wishers. This magazine would not be a possibility without you. It was such a joy to see excitement in the eyes of those with whom I shared the vision.

I hope that VIE: People + Places will inspire, ignite, and begin to arouse those forgotten dreams that we all have. Start with the essence of your desires and, by taking a risk, watch them grow! Never underestimate the power of dreams!

— V —

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