Desiree is a beautiful lady I met this year, and I admire her in so many ways. I love her sense of style, and of course our inspiring chats from time to time. Read more to find out why I am so intrigued by her. Meet Desiree Venn Frederic, Founder/Executive Director, Fashion Empowering Women Foundation.
Describe your personal style.
I find that quite difficult to answer, largely because I don’t subscribe to categories or genres. Style is innate and incredibly personal, I follow my instinct and wear what I like- it’s that simple.
Describing one’s personal style is like describing ones personality- we never judge ourselves quite honestly. So, I don’t try. However, I’m coining the word, “Swank”, which has been used to describe me since I was a toddler. Some call themselves fab or chic- I call myself “Swank”, it encompasses all that I am: “imposingly fashionable, elegant, grande, smartness in style or bearing. Desiree the woman is elegant and graceful so I am swank, therefore such is my style.
I’m a big supporter and promoter of fashion. The idea of fashion being ephemeral saddens me. I buy clothing knowing I’ll love it for a long time. Whether its new or from a bygone era. Style has value. Fashion does not which I why I detest being called a fashionista- the other girls can have that. I on the other hand am a stylista. I am not stylish because of the brands I wear instead; I (DVF as a person, a woman) am stylish. Fashion is my mode of communicating that on a daily basis.
Who inspires your style?
I admire women who consistently exemplify individual expression. I can tell when a woman is trying too hard- copying what she sees on the runways or on the blogosphere- it reeks like spoiled fish- so foul and tasteless. Authenticity is true style. And you see that even when she’s dressed down, in flats and perhaps jeans- it still renders style- that’s how you know- because it’s authentic- it isn’t limited to the designer piece but to the woman: her self-awareness and the irrefutable confidence she exudes. It’s the best thing a woman can wear.
Especially women with stories to tell (and doll, we all have a story). The world wonders, “Why”, “How does she do it” because they expect and some want you to be weak and destroyed, surrendered- but even in the face of adversity you’re put together and stand tall (literally in your wickedest heels). Keep them wondering. Those are the women who inspire me. On my worst days, I must look good- it makes the seemingly “bad” more tolerable.
Your signature look? ?
I tend to fall back to a great dress, preferably vintage, high-heels, and tons of jewelry- I adore being adorned, stacked to the heavens. If I had to wear one thing daily, I would be my signature Ruby Woo or Lady Danger red lips from MAC or Illamasqua’s Flare, my big curly hair and attitude to boot.
Peter Pilotto, Dominique Auxilly, Costello Ta, Alexander Wang, Gareth Pugh, Rick Ownes, Proenza Schouler, Studio D’maxsi, Nicholas Kirkwood, Caste of Vices, Delfina Delettrez, Victoire de Castellane, Patek Philippe, Natalia Brilli (jewelry/watches); Hermes, Chanel, Alaia, Cote Minou, Balmain, Gucci, Givenchy, Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent (for shoes) Chloe, Stella McCartney, Oleg Cassini, Alexander McQueen, Balmain, Peter Som, Marni, Oscar de la Renta, Derek Lam, Proenza Schouler, Prada, Giuseppe Zanotti, Alexander McQueen, Geren Ford.
Vintage, Thrift or Designer?
Vintage first. I consider myself a master mixologist- I detest head to toe designer looks- they’re contrite and easy, so expected. The last thing a woman wants to be is predictable. Wearing a $350 classic vintage dress from some bygone era with a $50 trendy accessories and $1000 designer shoes will always be better than the “Ikea syndrome” of head to toe designer label looks. Fashion has triggered some of my most memorable conversations with strangers in Woodley Park or on the Metro to dignitaries at Embassy dinners- its universal.
I added thrift because people confuse thrift and vintage- there is a BIG difference. Buying a $6 dress from Bebe’s 1999 collection is cool but it is FAR from a vintage piece- it’s old, mass produced garbage- that’s what it is. Vintage has history, a sentiment of a period when life was different from what it is now. I favor the 1940’s, 60’s, 70’s and a few elements from the 80’s. Invest in true vintage pieces by supporting retailers who know what they’re selling- Michela Wariebi of Thelma’s Vanity (www.etsy.com/shop/thelmasvanity) is one of my favorites. I’m a vintage addict. Conveniently, she’s my pusher!
Fave Item in your closet and why:
I’ve had opportunities to acquire an impressive wardrobe but any piece that was handed down from my grandmother, Matilda Williams, is hands down my favorite. She was such a grande influence in my life (she raised me for the first 8 years of my life) and was a source of great strength. I learned what it meant to be a woman from her: that it’s far beyond your feminine wiles and sensibilities but that our responsibility on this earth is to create, nurture and protect life. She’s the reason I choose to be a woman of value and not just another girl. She passed away last February and as her only granddaughter – I received several pieces of hers- mostly jewelry. But I found in her drawer, a silk nightshirt with a large floral print that she wore to sleep- I wear it and have the greatest dreams in that shirt.
What’s one thing you never leave your house without?
A camera. I love taking and being captured in pictures. It stems from my days of modeling, there’s nothing better that capturing a moment in time in jpeg. I take hundreds of pictures everyday- some find their way to my blog- others are reserved in my inspiration galleries saved on my MacBook- most are deleted- captured just for a moment, fleeting like life itself.
You work as a stylist and personal shopper, tell me more about it, what is your favorite type of client?
While working as a buyer for a luxury department store, I started an image consulting firm, NARCISSISM: the style & image network which has since transformed into The becomingME Style & Image Development Series within FEW. We provide personal and shopping services, review client’s current wardrobe to suggest what should be kept aside and determine what needs to be purchased. I also help coordinate outfits from their existing wardrobe and utilize new clothing items to project a new found and fine-tuned image. We also provide styling for artists, photo shoots and video shoots.
My favorite client by far one who has an open mind and is not defined by labels.
Please share some of your favorite style tips.
Tailoring is of utmost importance. Clothing should appear bespoke, even if they aren’t. A good seamstress is the most valuable person on your personal style team.
What’s a perfect first date outfit?
This quote by Edith Head says it all: “A woman’s dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.” Women should dress like women, and the best way to achieve that is to wear a dress- its something that intrigues men. Partly because they cannot wear them and they always wonder what’s underneath. It’s nice to keep them guessing- women today fail to leave something to the imagination- they put it ALL out there. It’s sad- despite what some men say, they want women who know how to be a woman- and not the stereotypical ideal of the empty minded, big booty tramp but a woman of substance, beautiful and passionate- that’s the best kind of woman.
What’s a regular day in the life of Desiree Venn Frederic?
I run a non-profit foundation and also work in the creative industries so no two days are alike. A large amount of my time is spent meeting and networking with fashion, beauty and lifestyle executives. My work is to engage their support via sponsorships that align with similar missions. Fashion Empowering Women provides an avenue for them to support Social Good while directly benefitting their target markets: women; so it’s a win win. I’m grateful to work with an amazing team of men and women who comprise FEW’s Board of Directors, Advisory Board, staff and interns- so regular communication is critical, meetings, conference calls, texts, Facebook and Twitter make it all possible at any hour of the day. They commit so much of their time and talent so I must always have to be available to them. Some days, I work one on one with image consulting clients shopping and developing image. I also provide creative direction to various brands and businesses. To be frank, none of this feels like work because it’s a vision coming to fruition after many hurdles. It’s my passion- the impact we make and the potential for more- motivates me.
Favorite place in the area?
My home. I find the greatest inspiration there- I decorated it myself and it reflects so much of who I am and what I love. There’s nothing like being surrounded by love and beauty as you define it.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about life. The injustices of this world always ignite a fire in me because I know what pain feels like. The problems are many but women’s issues and immigrant matters are of utmost importance to me because they are first human rights issues. It’s crazy to think that the majority of women in this world live and raise children in poverty; we are under-educated, dying at insane rates during childbirth or from preventable diseases such as AIDS. Our world has to do better. We have to do better. I’m committed to being a part of that change. I owe it to myself, to you and all women but most importantly, I owe it to my future daughter AND son.
So I know you were a model, why did you retire?
I modeled for 12 years and walked New York fashion Week to Paris to Johannesburg. I loved every moment of it but I started at such a young age and solely for two reasons. Modeling afforded me the opportunity to earn and save money at a very early age. I mean, what 15-year could come home with 6 figure checks. Modeling also gave me a real education on the business of fashion. There’s nothing like being inside the industry that so many outsiders want a piece of. I learned that fashion isn’t limited to the large brands, fashion is YOU. It’s how you identify and express yourself. My expressions will undoubtedly be different from yours but that’s the beauty. I cannot stand people who identify with fashion solely as a means topopularity and attention- they’re everywhere, thirsty little things. It’s saddening, desperate. Fashion must be an expression of who you are- that’s when you can call it style. Many are fashionable because anyone can max out credit cards buying designer pieces but only a few are stylish- already knowing self and being able to express that through clothing.
Also being slightly tall, I have a challenge finding long enough clothing that I can wear with heels…any help?
I’m tall, standing at 5’10” without heels, so I can relate. Fortunately for me, I rarely wear pants. I like the idea of slacks from time to time and have found several designers who are generous in length, Aqua is one and Gucci is another. But there’s nothing like a dress on a woman, why bother with pants when you can look like a woman wearing the only thing designed uniquely for women. I pick my battles in life and finding the right inseam length is not one of them. Forego the hassle, wear a damn dress- your gorge legs will thank you.
What do you think about the fashion industry in the DMV area?
Fashion in the Washington Metropolitan area is alive and thriving. This new class of creative is the reason I still call DC home- it’s energetic and aggressive; I adore it! So many want to be involved in the industry- my only advice is that up and coming designers, stylists, photographers, etc… pace themselves. Educate themselves on the business of fashion and take the time to truly learn who they are- that comes through in your collection, your work. You are your brand and it all has to make sense to the consumer. Additionally, I would like to see more educational opportunities- that’s why I value the Greater Washington Fashion Chamber of Commerce- the support they provide to creative entrepreneurs is invaluable. USE THEM!!! Get a mentor. Intern. Learn. Don’t just jump out there without a stitch of knowledge and call yourself a designer.
Tell us more about Fashion Empowering Women Foundation.
Fashion Empowering Women® (FEW) is a non-profit foundation that mobilizes the creative industries of fashion, music, literature and film by creating opportunities for it’s members to support the missions of social service organizations that empower girls and women. FEW is a innovative foundation founded by creatives with the dual mission of mobilizing artists to use their art to challenge societal norms while engaging individuals in building a legacy of philanthropy all to support small but effective girls and women’s organizations locally and internationally.
Where do you see Fashion Empowering Women Foundation going to in the next few years?
FEW is positioned to be an international foundation serving creatives and women’s non-profit organizations worldwide. Our innovation model has garnered great interest from fashion, beauty, music and lifestyle brands who value their consumers- women. Within 5 years, FEW will operate in New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Seattle then expand overseas to include: Freetown, Monrovia, Abuja, Brasilia, London, Paris, Addis Ababa, Madrid, New Delhi, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Johannesburg and Sydney.
If we wanted to get involved or to find out about FEW, how do we do so?
FEW is an all volunteer operation, starting with me, we ensure that our funds go directly to the organizations we are committed to supporting. We need professional support in Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media, Fundraising, Event Planning, E-commerce management, interns and volunteers. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-681-4339.
What makes Desiree Venn Frederic Fabulous?
Haha, remember, I’m not fabulous doll, I’m swank! What makes me swank is my commitment to a better world. I believe that I can be a part of creating the world as it should be. And I believe that every individual has the same ability. My purpose is to make them aware of their power.
Without the eccentric style, I am still an incredible young woman. I learned that when the things that I once used to identify myself were taken from me (my family, my education, my career, my belongings, my status- I was left in this body- with this mind. I lost ego and found ME- a resilient, optimistic, innovative change agent. But most importantly, a child of God. And if I may say so, God created a pretty amazing young woman- I’m swank not because of what I wear or what I own but because of WHO I am and who I strive to become.
To learn even more about Desiree Venn Frederic, follow her on http://www.twitter.com/xoDVF for Chronicles of a Fashionable Philanthropist. Join FEW’s Look Good. Do Good. Movement by visiting their website, www.fewonline.org, Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/fewonline and Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/fashionempoweringwomenfoundation. Her personal blog is www.exploitingnarcissism.com