Meet my friend, Debbie Jagel. Debbie is perhaps one of the most kind hearted women I know, and one of this year's SAIC theWALK co-chairs. Last week I spent the day at her boutique, Ootra, to chat fashion, SAIC (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), and big dreams. This was the most time that Debbie and I have spent together and it wa so rewarding! During my visit Debbie had a client walk through her shop doors and into what traspired into a 2+ hour styling session. This was an unplanned appointment, and Debbie was in the zone! I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to snap some shots of her in her element, and while I didn't plan on spending a full day in her shop, I'm glad I did. Later we, along with some friends and clients sat down on her big velvet couch and chatted like family...
What inspired you to enter the fashion industry? Where there any key events or experiences that inspired you to pursue fashion as a career?
Life inspired me to enter the fashion industry! My father and mother were very passionate about dressing and styling yourself for the day. No matter what the day offered, we were dressed…
I began walking the runway and doing trunk shows early on and loved every single minute being immersed in such beautiful designs.
The moment that took my breath away?... I was in 7th grade and my parents took me to Bal Harbour Shopping and I discovered Neiman Marcus! At that point in my life, we had two department stores in Cleveland and that was it for shopping. We took the escalator upstairs and there in front of me was the junior department filled with fashion no one else would have back home! I immersed into that department and never looked back.
You and co-chair Margaret MacLean have a long history working together, how did the two of you meet?
Margaret and I have been on the fashion committee together since the beginning of its formation. We'd never worked together prior to this event, but we always had respect for each other. Margaret asked me to be her co-chair in the fall, I was honored to work along side of her, we complemented each others personalities and driving passion for the event! Margaret was able to attract donations and I was able to attract the social media for the event as well as help her with the ins and outs of the fashion industry. We really held each other up throughout the year during all the planning...
Having been so deeply immersed in the production of the WALK, how would you describe the show?
The runway of our SAIC students consists of pushing the edge in fashion, and thats the excitement for me! SAIC pushes you to the outer limits of your passion and abilities to have you find your personal voice as an artist. Until you’ve been beyond the horizon, you are just working, but once pushed through your personal barriers you find your inner marks, voice, and wow...
I personally view the show as a compilation of the journey of each of the students and their ability to imagine, create, and stitch their visions into a cohesive collection. The hardest part for any art student at SAIC is to afford the materials they are working with at any given time– our eyes and visions are always way past the budgeting allowed for ourselves.
If you could wear any SAIC Fashion design right now, what would it be?
I did purchase a brady drose design, which was an orange sweatshirt crop top with netting on the side. It had an elegance to it, which I loved, because it was opposite than what the material shouts and it's not the typical crop top.
Aside from being co-chair of theWALK, what is one of the most memorable experiences you've had in your career thus far?
Memorable moments...walking a Bill Blass show, and having him choose me to walk the finale with him, arm in arm...that will always be one of my high moments in fashion, a man filled with such passion and heart!
Another moment was interviewing to open my first Ootra boutique in 900 North Shops and being accepted into their family! I was so honored to open Ootra there. 900 was always a destination for my family and shopping my whole life…opening there was the “right” place for me.
I was asked to host the show SoYouWannaBeaDesigner. This held great opportunity for me to reach other designers' hearts and tap into their passion to help them grow into the industry.
When we decided we could open an ootra in Chappaqua, far away from my reach and yet know it was the right thing to do. My daughter courtenay stepped up and said she wanted to run it– that will always be a day for me… I was so honored and so proud…ever so memorable.
After years in the industry, you must have an impeccable closet! What are the peices you can't live without?
I do have an incredible closet– it is filled with wonderful designers, but best of all, many great stories of where the styles took me. I look at my closet as a canvas I am continually working on, and each individual piece creates the whole.
There is never just one piece I cannot live without, because each piece has a role within the big picture and a desired mood or temperament I will reach for when needed.
You have had immense success in the industry thus far, in which ways would you like to see your career continue to grow?
I have worked very hard and yet it seems not at all, because this is my passion. I quantify my success daily through the hearts that I touch the lives that we change, the women we make smile and the difference we make one person at a time. Whether clients or team members, I am shaping, I am always assessing observing and thinking.
I would love Ootra to grow a larger voice, I would love to start our book, be on TV and do small segments, small reminders of street style savvy...
SAIC's theWalk is one of the primary ways the institute raises funds for student scholarships, what are some ways we can get involved following the event?
The WALK is our big fundraiser, but at any time you can donate to the school to help the students either through time or finances… or items! Just reach out to me and I can direct you…
How would you describe the personal style and mission of your boutique, Ootra?
When you walk through the doors of Ootra you will be overwhelmed on many levels…we are a space that embraces you both with an immediate greeting and so much merchandise! From table napkins to chain link tops, we have it all within reach for our team to street style you up!
Whatever your whim, we can work it and erase any self doubt or sadness to slowly bring your smile back. Here at Ootra, we work completely from our hearts with true compassion for altering your day. We Ootra girls take dressing to a level of embracing yourself and your closet once again.
One of our clients texted me today after yesterdays styling appointment, “Thank you thank you thank you. Im opening all my packages now and its like christmas. I’m so pleased and LOVE all my new stuff. Im having a blast deciding what to wear today. Thanks for helping me feel like a princess, rebuild my confidence and the best thing we did it under budget! Peace out!”
There are so many out there passionate about the fashion industry, but unsure of where to begin. What advice would you give someone who wants to open their own boutique one day?
My message is always simple: "Anyone can wear clothing, but lets make you more interesting, more unique, create your personal spin on your style. Spend the extra “3 minutes” when dressing, become intriguing, because it does matter, and the message you are giving through your style is being observed by all, whether or not you want to know that."
As my dad always said, "Dress for the day” and always start at the coffee shop, because you never know who you might meet, or who you might help.
If anyone says they want to be in fashion, I say quit talking about it and get to work. Work at a department store, work in a small boutique, work for a designer, see all sides of the business…do it all. Also, enroll in a lot of psychology classes, begin a journal and a visual journal to gain a better understanding of what your eye keeps going towards. After a year, you'll look back and see patters within your choices... color... architecture…styles, etc.
Talk to everyone..network...gather cards. Learn etiquette, gain confidence, be unafraid to ask questions.
In the end it is up to you, you can keep saying you want to be in fashion, or you can get out of the corner and out of your head and walk through the door.
Be strong and ready to work 7 days a week 24 hours a day. Be tireless, stand straight, smile, engage, be kind, compassionate, and know what they aren’t saying.
To see Part 1 of our SAIC theWALK feature, click here.