Friday, April 26, 2013

Behind the scenes with Cynthia Rowley

I have been fascinated by designer Cynthia Rowley for years. I have all her "Swell" series of lifestyle books, and I loved it when she became the first big name designer to create a line of "Swell" related entertaining items for Target. I love her fun, whimsical style.

I was so excited to meet her in person when she was in Charlotte several weeks ago for Girls Night Out at Belk. She was there to officially launch her new CYNTHIA by Cynthia Rowley women's clothing line that's exclusive to Belk.

I had seen photos of some of the clothes in Belk's Look Book that I really liked. When I got there I realized I wanted everything. Her designs are so cute and bright - perfect for spring and summer - and the price is right for my budget.

She was running slightly behind schedule, so I contemplated disappearing into the dressing room to try on an arm load of her designs. But I decided I couldn't chance not waiting there to interview her since I was scheduled to be the first media person to talk with her. I think she would have forgiven me, but my media friends would not.

In the meantime, I talked with Abigail Lorick-Im, who's well known in NYC fashion circles. She traveled here to help Rowley at the event. Abigail really stood out in the crowd and looked so right in her boxy Cynthia Rowley Collection dress (Cynthia's higher-end line), tan shoes, minimal makeup and an effortless top knot.

When Cynthia did arrive, I loved her whole look. She had on skinny ankle-length pants with a print that was similar to one I had seen on a dress I loved in the CYNTHIA line. She paired them with a turquoise T-shirt, a black blazer and amazing ankle strap shoes with metallic studs. Her new pixie hair cut is perfect on her, and her personality is just as sharp and bright as I thought it would be.
Here's a close up of her shoes:

When I asked her about her collaboration years ago with Target - which was groundbreaking at the time - she said she figured it would either be the end of her career or become a paradigm for designers. We all know how that turned out.

It was exciting to hear her confirm everything I think about Belk. She lit up with excitement when talking about how wonderful the Belk team was to work with. She has especially enjoyed getting to know the amazing Arlene Goldstein, Belk's vice president of trend merchandising who's also a fashion blogger for the Huffington Post and has the respect of fashion insiders around the globe. "I love Arlene," Rowley said. "We are two peas in a pod."
Here's a picture of the two perfectly stylish peas:

Rowley put into perspective the golden reputation Belk has among American retailers. I think it was a huge deal that Belk landed her exclusive line, but Rowley thinks it's a huge deal that Belk wanted to work with her. "I love that it's a family business, it's so well run and to work with them is an honor." She said collaborating with a privately owned retailer is phenomenal and rare. It's incredible that Belk is headquartered here. We are so lucky.

One of the highlights of my interview with was when she shared her thoughts on entertaining in the spring in summer.
“I think casual is always better,” she said. “And I like it when people participate in some activity rather than just sit around." She also shared a recipe for her favorite party beverage.
“In the summer, it’s all about the cocktail. I mix simple syrup in a blender with watermelon and pour it into ice cube trays. I put two cubes in each guest’s glass, pour a shot of tequila over it and add a garnish of mint. Everything melts together in the most delicious way.”

The evening was also a chance for customers to meet some of the winners of Belk's first Southern Designer Showcase who have mini boutiques set up in the SouthPark mall store. You can also go online to and search for their offerings, which range from jewelry to handbags, clothing, children's apparel and shoes.

Everyone will have their own favorites, but my two personal ones both have North Carolina connections: clothing designer Jazsalyn McNeil of Raleigh, who's a student at N.C. State University, and Charlotte jewelry designer Kathleen Murphy of Murphy Jewelry.
The shorts from Jazsalyn's line and if this style works on you, I consider them a must-have because I'm wild for the pattern:

Although it's not available at Belk, I'm obsessed with this dress Jazsalyn designed and wore to the event:

Here's a picture of Kathleen Murphy being introduced during the event:

A few days later, I went back to Belk at SouthPark and did indeed try on everything in the CYNTHIA line and narrowed it down to several  items I had to have. One of them, a dress that's a bright orange with a psychedelic looking print on the front, is my absolute favorite.

My hilarious husband says it looks like a Grateful Dead concert at Clemson. I wore it when I was keynote speaker at a recent event at River Hills Country Club, and to the opera a few days later. At both places, I received loads of compliments including a stylish woman who stopped me at the opera to tell me how much she loved my dress. I stop people and say things like that all the time, so it was fun for me to have someone say that to me.
Here's a picture of me after I gave my speech in what I now call my Clemson rock concert dress:

I also bought a Murphy Jewelry necklace and matching earrings. I haven't worn them together as a set because I like to mix things up, but I also have received loads of compliments when I wear them.
Here's a photo of the jewelry, although these pictures don't quite capture their  beauty:

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