Multi-talented Amanda Valentine

av1I was very drawn to talk to one of our favorite Project Runway stars Amanda Valentine, designer of her own fashion line, Valentine Valentine. Not only am I a great fan of her work, but a fan of HER as well and I am not the only one. Described as a “fan favorite’ by many, but also a woman making a name and huge impact in the fashion industry. For you Project Runway fans/super fans, you know the beautifully formative gifted designer.

I was genuinely excited and so curious to meet Amanda when she was asked to guest host for Omaha Fashion Week. She has done so much from Project Runway, her fashion brand Valentine Valentine to her earlier career as a designer and stylist for Maroon 5 . There are very few people at a young age who are lucky enough to know what they want to do and who they want to be. Confidence is learned through life experiences, but  also innate. Much like any characteristic or rather attribute, we have to use it, depend on it, own it.  It’s only when it is truly tested do we know if we have what it takes to overcome small to gigantic obstacles. We are lucky if we have a any idea what or who we want to be when we are Sophomores in college.  Am I the only one who changed my major  at least 3-4 times? It might be surprising to some, but Omaha, Nebraska hosts one of the biggest fashion weeks outside of NY fashion week, which gave me a few minutes to observe her personality and I can tell you she is truly down to earth and prolifically confident. She is definitely cut from a unique cloth (no pun intended). That has set her on a path of success,  rare journeys, and a recipe for success.  Amanda is boundless with her creativity and career, producing timeless fashion for all women.

I think the beautiful thing about this piece is the timing. Days before my deadline I had a terrible accident running out the door in a hurry, cutting my finger and ending up with stitches. My primary hand and fingers, the worse being my index. Do you know how much you use that finger? A lot. You don’t know how much until you can’t lift anything. Typing was a priority, but so was brushing my teeth. Neither of them I did well!  I chicken-pecked my way through this piece. So why is it a blessing? My right headed brain tends to paralyze me with a condition called “perfection.” So…if you’re correcting my typos, remember I haven’t washed my hair in two weeks. Thank you God for dry shampoo.

So here’s Amanda from Project Runway and Valentine Valentine!

Q:  Amanda! It is such a pleasure to talk to you! I have been keeping an eye on your marketing on FaceBook along with doing a little shopping on your line Valentine Valentine. Tell us what else you have you been up to professionally since Project Runway?

AV: I split my time between my clothing line and wardrobe styling It keeps me very very busy. I’m now shipping internationally, which is a thrill, and I’ve learned a ton of business lessons running and growing one. I keep my clients down to a few of my favorite rock bands so I can really focus on them. Twenty One Pilots, who I’ve been with for a couple of years now, have kept me extremely busy and traveling this last year!

Q:  You grew up in Nebraska, with four other siblings! Such a busy house and your background is so interesting. Your mom was a known as beauty queen/artist and your father a professor. The professional dichotomy of their professions had to make for an interesting, amazing well rounded day-to-day life.  You are an advantageous, flourishing  fashion designer, a well known Project Runway fan favorite and your brother,  James Valentine is lead guitarist for Maroon 5.  Can you give us some insight into what the Valentine house was like growing up? I have this picture in my mind, piano music by a fireplace, creating, making avant garde snowmen with lots of books! Can you share how your upbringing shaped you into the person you are today.

AV: I come from a pretty Type-A family. We are all super creatively driven, but we are all super studious and serious about what we do. I love that balance. My mom always painted while we grew up (and still does at age 70). There was always art being created in the background. My father traveled internationally for work and would always bring home pictures, back in the day when you had to develop prints! He also brought souvenirs such as  fiber art from Mexico, silks from China, knick knacks from all over Scandinavia. It was so thrilling to see what he would bring back next!

They really let us do whatever we wanted to do, but if we chose an interest they pushed us to be the best we could be at it. Study, learn everything we could-outside of school. My parents taught us that we should be learning and improving constantly.

Q:  And growing up in the Midwest? How does that play into the person you are?

AV: Whenever I meet another Midwesterner, I feel an instant connection. I’m serious! When I moved to the South 10 years ago, I learned that Southerners might be a little bit sweeter, New Yorkers might be a little tougher, but Midwesterners have a really great balance of both. We are a bunch of pioneers! I’m really proud to be a corn fed Nebraskan!

Q:  Is this where you thought you would be at 15, 19, even 20 years old?

AV: Absolutely! I feel really lucky that I figured out what I wanted to do at a really young age. There was never any question that I know that is a special thing. I accepted a long time ago that I was going to have a strange, but not always stable career path! I like to think back to being 15 years old and think about how I would feel about what I get to do for a living because it keeps me feeling consistently grateful and not overwhelmed or exhausted!

Q: There can be some challenging times with what you do I imagine? Who do you turn to during those times? On the flip side who do you respect enough for help?

AV: I feel like I am constantly being challenged. And..I consistently have doubts. Seriously. I call my husband the “5 min business consultant.” When I’m struggling with a decision (which I often do , as a CLASSIC Gemini,) I come to him for help. He doesn’t make the decision for me or tell me what to do, but he asks ME the right questions to guide me to make up my own mind. It’s genius. It’s exactly how Tim Gunn was, an impartial but caring investigator.

Q: Your husband and family have to be so proud of you. Take us back to before 2014 when you first decided to compete in the Mercedes Benz Season 11 Project Runway. After 10 seasons, what was the catalyst that made you finally take on that gigantic challenge?

AV: About 2 years BEFORE season 11 (somewhere around season 8 or 9 I believe, I was approached by the casting directors of the show. I auditioned then, made it through the finals and then got dumped. The same thing happened the next year, though they tell me it’s because they already had two girls with black hair and bangs. They called me a THIRD time, but it was the summer of my wedding and I was NOT missing my honeymoon to be on TV! The following year, my husband in passing said, “I think this is your year, you should give it a try..” Sure enough, I made it through and immediately freaked out. It was so terrifying that first time around.

Q: Leading up to when the season starts, I have to guess if every designer walks in with their “go to ideas’ to prepare for the shows competitions. Do you think that disables a competitor from growing? Did you have pre-show designs make it on to the show?

AV: I will say that the FIRST time I was on the show, season 11, I did not have a plan. I had so much anxiety about just being on camera, living with strangers, being away from my husband, and cell phone. Seriously no phone/internet for 6 weeks! I kind of forgot to have a plan. the SECOND time around, season 13, I came in prepared. I had a “collection” of sorts in my head (no books, sketches, etc. are allowed) that I pulled from for each challenge. No shame at all for being prepared!

Q: As the season evolves and the judges input starts impacting the designers point of reference, I can imagine it’s easy for some designers to feel like you’re losing your voice. Designers can either choose to learn from each week from the critiques given, hone in on their skills, or go completely out of their comfort zones for certain challenges. Their opinions, or criticisms could impact a designer in a lot of ways. How did their feedback impact your process week after week?

AV: This is exactly why I am forever grateful I got a second chance. Season 11 Amanda was the Amanda who got it wrong. Season 13 Amanda was the Amanda that had learned lessons. It’s incredibly creepy to speak in the 3rd person, sorry hahaha! I learned there is a huge rush that comes from doing what you do and staying in your vibe, but shaking the edges a little bit…taking a risk that you THINK will pay off, but could possibly crash and burn. I’m pretty tough hooked on that exciting process. Big risk, big reward right?

Q: What was the greatest blessing, or obstacle Project Runway has given  to you?

AV: I’ll be honest, I never in a million years thought I would be on a reality competition show or that people would recognize me at the mall. That was never in the realm of possibilities for my future! I thought I would hide behind a clothing label, or famous clients, and I was find with that! I am an extreme introvert (but really good at pretending I’m not!) The process was a little painful for me. In the end though being on TV, meeting people everywhere I go, and having to watch myself win and lose was a real gift. I have so much more confidence that I did 3 years ago. And it’s REAL confidence, not ego or vanity. I’ve been able to accept where I’m awesome and where I totally suck, and I am fine with it!

Q: I had to add this question, because I was so surprised at how Project Runway Junior inspired me. Did you realize how inspiring you were walking into that room where those kids were? Talk about a reception! The best I can describe it was a Rockstar Idol. I soaked a pillow through that season, I mean the camaraderie and bravery!

AV: THOSE KIDS! They were thoughtful and kind to each other- in addition to being some of the most sharply talented designers I have ever met. I mean, WOW.

Q: You are a genius at making colors, patterns and textiles just work and blend, it’s magic! It takes a true artist to look beyond what we see in the everyday world and translate that into a garment. With that said,  there are way too many designers that can’t or won’t take those risks. Your fabrics are such high quality. They fit the body so well.  If you had a magic wand, what would the red carpets or the streets across the US look like?

AV: I wouldn’t change a thing! I’m thrilled we aren’t all dressing the same! I don’t like to tell people what’s in our what’s out.

Q:  I can imagine that designing clothing for VALENTINE VALENTINE  has a unique process, even a story behind it. How are you inspired to create these pieces for your clients?

AV: I obsessively collect images.  After I saw “Dior and I,” I was THRILLED because I thought “He does it like I do!”  I essentially file away things that I respond to. I’m already doing that for Spring 2017. When it’s time to design the collection I spread them all out and look for themes.  I also like to react against myself a bit from season to season.  If spring was flowy then I want fall to be a little more fitted.  If fall was dark, spring might be a little lighter… I am consistently influenced by different parts of the world or time periods and essentially challenge myself to transpose those shapes/colors/silhouettes on modern garments.  And then after funneling all those things down I think, “What do I want to wear next spring (or fall)?”  I think about what item my closet is missing, what I’m not seeing when shopping for my styling clients.  It’s a process that I’m constantly engaged in – and one season is thought about for months before it becomes actual clothing.

Q: I am sure how the fabric feels, how it will move and how it will enhance a body type is a part of the process. I have never felt softer versatile clothing. Who or what does your brand speak to?

AV: My brand is all about opposites.  I’m a Gemini (I say that a lot to explain myself) and I love how disparate ideas, shapes, colors can live together.  And conceptually, I love the dichotomy of bold and effortless. Something I always want my clothing to simultaneously encompass.

Q: Will you ever share what your trademark design means?

AV: The Evil Eye/Pyramid?  I get asked that ALL the time because it’s pretty classic Masonic/Illuminati imagery.  The truth is my brain likes those shapes.  I think it’s pretty.  Ha!  I’m pretty dazzled by mystical imagery – I’m just attracted to it.  I think playing with that in a pop culture way is interesting.  I like lending a mysterious-ness to something as simple as a t-shirt.

Q: I am sure your creations for Valentine Valentine are dear and near to your heart. What kind of challenges have you faced in this industry? What has and is the biggest obstacles throughout your career thus far?

AV:  Well, having a fashion brand outside of New York is difficult.  And many fashion purists would say stupid and impossible (hahahaha,) but I made a decision to have a certain kind of lifestyle so I have to accept the consequences.  Same thing goes for other decisions I’ve made. I don’t have investors, so while it means I’m in control it also means money is tight.  It’s a always a trade off.  Same thing goes for being on Project Runway.  The classic fashion community kind of turns their nose up at the show, but getting in front of those many people was priceless for me.  Obstacles always have hidden positives!

Q: You are designing right now in a momentous and groundbreaking time in the world of fashion when it comes to women and body image. Standards of beauty are changing on the runway, TV, and print. Look at Sports Illustrated’s cover of Ashley Graham. You are a part of this era designing for women that usually wouldn’t be included in a runway show or on a cover of Vogue. It has certainly touched nerves in the fashion world, however brought a whole new sense of empowerment to women across the globe. What are your thoughts and feelings about how the eyes of fashion are being turned towards this movement?

AV: I love it.  It’s incredible!  I want to see every kind of woman represented.  But let’s remember, all women are “real women,” even traditional models.  I can’t wait for the day we stop saying “real bodies” or “real women” and accept our differences.

Q: If you could have designed during any time period in history, what era do you think you would have liked to have been a part of?

AV: I would design a gown and headdress for Cleopatra.

Q:  When you design for a private client, how much of your guidance goes into that dynamic? Where do you draw the line?

AV: The truth is I don’t really like to pass judgement on what other people wear.  I like to say that I’ll only tell you what you should be wearing if you are paying me to do it.  What I love best about fashion is that it really is “anything goes” and everything is so individual.    So I never want to contribute to the judgement of especially women.  We’ve gotten enough of that- we’ve been judged based on our looks for all time and it’s just not a game I want to play!

Q: Who would be your dream client, and why?

AV: I’m obsessed with dressing ALL women!  I’ve sold the same dress to a 20 year old and to a 70 year old which is my ultimate goal!!

Q:  Who or what keeps you grounded?

AV: You know what, it’s pretty easy to stay grounded as an artist.  Ha!  It’s a tough life.  My paychecks don’t come every 2 weeks.  I’ve funded my business without investors and that means that all my expendable income is dumped back into the business to help it grow.  It means I retain full control and ownership, but it makes for a tight lifestyle.  So I would say the hard work keeps me grounded!

Q:  Can you describe to me a “light bulb” moment(s) that was (were) positive in your career?

AV:  I was struggling with really nailing down my brand identity, my “girl” a few years ago.  Finally my husband just looked at me and said, “Well, would YOU wear it?”.  Now that’s the question I ask about every single garment I make.

Q: What is a message you would give to someone who really wants to be doing something that requires them to take a risk and just go for it.

AV: You’ll always regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you do.

Q:  For kids today (even my own) face so many obstacles and open criticism from their peers. I am less naive now as they get older because I really thought the common and ignorant stereotypes had diminished in this changing world.  You got a chance to be around those truly inspiring kids on Project Runway Junior and wow is all I can say. They are refreshing, inspiring, and motivating. I value and envy their confidence. I truly imagine schools filled with that kind of all encompassing hope and morality towards others. Bravo to them and their parents. What would you tell kids today that you wish you or someone would have told you when you were setting your goals, or facing any stereotype?

AV: No one else on the planet is born with your brain and the strange magical things that your brain can create.  Comparing yourself to others or allowing yourself to be judged by others is pointless.

Q:  Finally! What is your definition of success, and do you think you have reached that level?

AV: My definition is of success is a moving target. Sometimes it’s sales, sometimes it’s finishing a certain collection. As long as I can make a living doing exactly what I want to do I’m pretty satisfied.  There are just a lot of cherries on top I would like to add…

We can’t wait to see what those cherries are! Thank you Amanda. Please check out Amanda Valentine.com for more information on her clothing line. Follow her on Twitter @avvalentine or follow her Facebook for looks and info!

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Chasing down Captain Lee

NUP_167074_1488.JPG I am unashamed to say, I have spent a lot of free time watching hours of Bravo. I energetically love to discuss one particular show which is Below Deck on BravoIt has given me a new hour of TV bliss in my life as it lures you in for hours on end. Repeats not excluded. If you haven’t seen this show, where have you been? Let me tell you why you should not miss out any longer. Bravo has a magic wand that produces programs for every demographic but they touched pure gold when they gave us this treasure.
Who doesn’t want to step into a world of unapologetic millionaires vacationing on super yachts going to the most beautiful places on earth, all the while being waited on by a crew, who works day and night to make their dreams come true? A crew I might add, we have all have gotten to know, laugh with, and some even despise. They are the “dream-makers,” the unsung heroes of the sea, and all along we thought this job was glamorous! Not all of the time my friends.
It makes our version of perfect vacations look like heat stroked trips to a flea market. So yeah, let me step into that world for a minute, please? They work hard and play just as hard and it is all magically messy and glamorous. How? You will have to watch Season 4, which has yet to be announced.
Did you think Bravo would produce a show, without drama filled great TV?
Huge yachts, check. A crew filled with drama, check. Passion, check. So who is the glue that holds this show together? That is the magical part of this show. It’s the man that has taken our hearts with his quick whit, stern rules, and a passion that rises above all the rest. The man that keeps these yachties on their best games and a clear fan favorite, the one and only Captain Lee. His audience can not get enough of him, and I can’t either. I was able to catch up with him for a little Q&A.
First let me fill you in if you haven’t read his blogs on Bravotv.com.
The Captain has mentioned seeing his first yacht while working as a restaurateur, yes the Captain is a major foodie. He explained in detail the minute he saw his first yacht. He was  enamored and it was clear it was time to take a giant leap of faith to chase a dream. Fast forward to now being a  Captain of multi-million dollar super yachts and here we are. How does someone dream so big and land where he is today?
Q: Did you ever think your profession would be the focus of a top-rated-show for a hit network like Bravo?
CL: “Not in a million years did I think that my being a professional yacht Captain would lead to anything like this. If someone had said this is where and what I would be doing five years ago, I would have thought they were smoking something they weren’t sharing. But I am very grateful that it happened and I am really enjoying it very much.”
Q:  You have mentioned in your Bravo Blog falling in love with your first yacht while in Turks and Caicos. Some could say it’s romantic, others fate. I sometimes wonder if it is that love affair of being in control of a beautiful yet unpredictable lifestyle was the appeal that led you to chase that dream.
CL: “Oh I think Yachting and the lifestyle is very seductive, and aloof. So that may play into it as well.”
Q: Growing  up in Michigan, can you attribute your success to your Midwestern Values? What do you take from your upbringing into who you became?
CL: “I think to a great degree I can. When I was growing up, if you wanted something you found a way to earn the money first and then go buy it. You cut grass, shoveled snow and earned the funds to go out and get what you wanted. You got creative in order to get it done. If you walked by someone’s yard and you saw them raking their leaves or cutting their grass, you would offer your services for a small fee. You wouldn’t dream of asking your parents to just go buy it for you unless your Birthday or Christmas was close.”
Q: With your hands on approach and your drive to be the best at what you do, is it hard for you to delegate? Remembering one instance we were screaming at our TV’s with relief when we saw you catch  the not so pleasant conversation between Kate and Leon! How much do you support your crew working it out before you intervene?
CL: “I always try to get the crew to work out their differences themselves if they can. It will usually boil down to communication most of the time. But when it escalates and starts affecting the performance of the entire crew, I may have to step in and do something. It doesn’t take much to upset the delicate balance of the crew as you may have noticed. As far as delegating, it’s sometimes difficult to let someone figure it out on their own. There may be time constraints that come into play, but if time allows, its sometimes best to let the crew learn on their own if possible, because they remember the lesson more if they got to a successful conclusion on their own.”
Q:  There is no room for mistakes on a yacht that size. So what are the top qualities in an employee that you look for?
CL: “I feel that attitude and integrity are the qualities I look for first and above all. Everything else can be taught.”
Q: We know there have been life threatening-mistakes that were made. Unfortunately  they were caught on TV.  Have there been any other we have not seen?
CL: “I have been fortunate that there have not been that many in my career. You always must remain vigilant as most people that make their living at sea will tell you. Mother Nature can be very ruthless and unforgiving when she so desires.”
Q: Unfortunately you don’t have many amenities in the middle of the sea. You have to be overly prepared as we have seen on Below Deck. What is the most outrageous request you have gotten from a charter guest or group?
CL:  “I think the most out of the box request was from an owner who wanted Egg Plant Parm for lunch and we had none on board and we were having trouble sourcing it. He was prepared to have his pilots go purchase some and fly it in to meet us at the dock when we arrived. They were flying a G-4 at the time. Probably a 30-million dollar aircraft at the time being put into service for that Eggplant Parm for lunch. That was a bit over the top I thought.”
Q: Who would be your dream charter guest? Why?
CL: “I would have loved to had John Wayne on board for a trip. He was just a no nonsense type guy, who wasn’t always PC, but you knew where you stood with him and where he stood as well.”
Q: On a more personal note, you have been happily married to your wife, Mary Anne for many years. It sounds like she has made a lot of sacrifices and you don’t shy away from giving her a lot of credit. What has been your secret to making your marriage so strong? Does she get to travel with you a lot?
CL: “I think the thing about Mary Anne and I is the fact that we are each others best friend. We care more about making the other person happy before ourselves. If she has everything she needs and that I can give her, that makes me happy. I don’t need anything else. We do for each other first before we do for ourselves and its been working well for us. On occasion she will travel with me, but when we are filming, it’s so busy that she would rather stay at home with our pups and then when I get done, she and I will take some time together for us.”
Q: There is no question your work can be grueling and comes with enormous pressures and responsibilities. What helps you to keep your life balanced?
CL: “My wife does. She keeps me grounded and just knowing she’s always there for me and that helps me a lot and gets me through the tough times.”
Q: You are a man with a strong value system and work ethic. What is the message you would have liked to pass on to other young men and women with a dream or even who want to be in your position someday?
CL: “Don’t ever lose your integrity. You never can get it back once it’s gone. You either have it or you don’t. That’s not to say if you make mistakes that your integrity is gone, it’s how you recover and learn from those mistakes that determine whether or not your integrity still remains intact.”
Q. Do you see your life slowing down and someday retiring?
CL: “I really don’t know. I don’t really think about retiring as I really love what I do. I may slow down and take more time for Mary Anne and I, but not sure if full retirement is in the cards for me. Don’t think I’m wired that way.”
Q. Finally a lot of your fans share a passion for oceanic conservation. What could we be doing better to keep our oceans here for generations to come?
CL: “Stop taking what we have for granted. Plastic water bottles are a pet peeve of mine. Use reusable bottles and filter your water. Yacht owners have more than enough money to install a filtration system on board to handle all their needs for potable water. All that plastic that ends up in the ocean can be reduced drastically if we put a little more effort into it. Recycle everything you can, almost everything we use today we can use again and again if we would just take a little more of our time to get into the recycle habit and make it a way of life so that the oceans we have now are around for generations to come and beyond that.”
I am left more intrigued than I was before. I want to be called to his office overlooking that vast ocean. I want to learn from him. I want my kids to learn from him. I assume we all do, and he gives us that.He doesn’t have to say a lot to spread that message. That is the fascinating thing about the Captain. He is a man with a solid value system, down to earth, and living his dream. I can’t explain why he puts up with some of the shenanigans the crew brings to the table, except it’s a unique “club,” so to speak. It is for better or worse to an extent. If you don’t have it, you just don’t. You have to bring your A-game especially with Captain Lee. He doesn’t apologize when you are not bringing it. We just wait to where the line is drawn, because I believe he wants everyone to succeed and have the best charters each time.
He has yachting running in his blood and he expects the respect yachting deserves. Its not a mystery to why his crew has unwavering respect and loyalty. He has clear expectations but he inspires everyone to dream bigger. Some might think he can be “hard on people.” If you don’t want to be there, it’s cut and dry, take that plane ticket and don’t look back! He takes his job very seriously, and the passion he has on the job, is clear.
The other side to him is that he is a grateful and humble for all he has been blessed with, a loving partner, a thriving career, and he absolutely loves what he does. I don’t think the Captain would mind me saying that he is grateful for the gifts he has been given and his fans, you, me, us are truly a part of that.

 

~A Special Thank you to Ryan McCormick NBC Universal, and it goes without saying to Captain Lee for beginning this journey of interviews for me. I could not start out this series without him. I have a clear vision of writing about hope, inspiration, and changing the way we and our youth think of obstacles. My deepest thanks for helping us to dream big,  season after season.

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