In 1958, American fashion was all about nipped waists and full skirts for women, while men were epitomized by Gregory Peck in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.
The 1950s were prosperous years with the economy healthy and the baby boom underway. While many women were devoting themselves to hearth and home in the burgeoning suburban landscape, others were entering the workplace or expanding on roles they had started during World War II.
In Denver in 1958, a group of women working in retail, education, journalism and design formed the Denver chapter of Fashion Group International. Gretchen Weber, fashion editor and illustrator for The Denver Post, got the original group together, just as Vogue editor Edna Woolman Chase had done a couple of decades earlier in starting FGI in New York.
Weber and her cohorts shared several characteristics with their New York counterparts: they held important jobs in fashion, they respected each other and believed that their industry needed “a forum, a stage or a force to express and enhance a widening awareness of the American fashion business and of women’s roles in that business,” according to the FGI website.
Sixty years later, the organization is international in scope with 5,000 male as well as female members representing people in fashion and related industries, such as interior design.
Education is a key FGI mission, both in keeping members informed of industry trends and developments both local and global, and in supporting the next generation of fashion professionals with fundraising efforts concentrated on providing scholarships. The Denver chapter awards scholarships to students at Colorado State University, Art Institute of Colorado and Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design.
Networking sessions, fashion shows featuring the work of rising stars, seminars on topics like sourcing and manufacturing are among the events FGI regularly schedules.
But the organization is more than a sum of its activities. To hear from its members, FGI is the connective tissue among the many and varied parts of the fashion world in Colorado.
“I joined because I had started my clothing business and was looking for an organization where I could meet like-minded people and grow my network in the fashion industry,” said Stephanie Ohnmacht, the group’s 2017 regional director and a member since 2008. She juggles a couple of jobs, owning Stephanie O Designs as well as being director of telemetry at a telecommunications company. “I believe I’m like most in the Denver fashion industry where we are very focused on our own businesses and don’t always have a reason to interact or work together. FGI provides a meeting place to have a community that understands what you are going through.”
The fashion world can be competitive, but an organization like FGI brings people together on common turf, said Cynthia Petrus, who’s been a local member for 20-plus years.
“I’ve always thought our organization has been the only neutral gathering place where competitors could meet in an informative way, said Petrus, who has worked in a variety of industry roles locally, including for Nordstrom, a button company, her own styling business, and in recent years, as an adjunct professor in the fashion department at the Art Institute of Colorado.
Before moving to Denver in the early 1990s, she was active as the regional director of FGI in Cleveland, and held the high-profile job of fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. With her husband’s transfer to Colorado, she had to give up those posts and figure out what to do next.
“It was my entree into the industry in this town; I worked it every which way,” she said of her membership in the organization. “I made efforts to go to meetings and introduce myself. FGI is a fantastic vehicle to meet people.”
Those business contacts turned into trusted friends and became her social network.
“I always tell my students to get involved, make a friend, find a colleague with shared experiences. Build those connections.”
Because members come from all facets of the fashion industry, FGI is a great place to get in touch with what is happening locally, and it has made an effort to reach out to students and attract young members, according to Petrus. “In my two decades, I’ve seen a huge change in membership and love the people I’ve been able to interact with that I would have never otherwise met.”
She cited Gabriel Medina among those members, and he agreed with Petrus on how people can benefit from FGI. “You only get out of something what you put into it,” said Medina, who owns Yocisco, a four-year-old men’s underwear and loungewear company that sells online and in stores nationally.
“FGI has provided me with a lot of great contacts, and it has allowed my company to be featured in most major fashion shows in Denver. I’ve been able to create brand awareness,” added Medina, who will be regional director of FGI Denver next year.
Another big plus for Medina was being able to use his FGI contacts to help his daughter find an internship. She is studying at the Art Institute of Colorado and plans to graduate next year after doing an internship with Nanette Lepore in New York City. FGI Denver member and designer Anne Fanganello, who headed technical designer and operations at Lepore’s company, made the introduction. “I didn’t know anybody in New York; this was all because of Anne, who had worked with my daughter on some shows here in Denver,” Medina said.
Another transplant to Denver, Nathalia Faribault, moved to Colorado in 2002 after selling a number of Great Clips franchises she owned in Minnesota. Like Petrus, she needed a new career path, and when attending a fashion show, sat next to a couple of FGI members who invited her to find out more about the organizations. “Bam! It was the beginning of a relationship with like-minded industry professionals which carries on to this day,” she said.
Along with starting a personal style consultation business, Faribault combined her love of fashion and golf by designing an accessory, the Birdie Belt. And she threw herself into the FGI organization, serving in a variety of board capacities, including co-chairing the group’s 60th anniversary activities, which will include an exhibit of memorabilia, and a reception at the Denver Art Museum when the work of fashion illustrator and FGI member Jim Howard is exhibited.
“The personal relationships with men and women of all ages and every level of experience have changed my life,” Faribault said. “They have made community contributions and continue to do so, quietly or boldly, recognized or not, because of their passion to continue the awareness of this amazing industry in Denver and the talent here. The FGI foundation laid 60 years ago by the wise and hard working women of Denver continues to build today.”
During the month of February, the Art Institute of Colorado, 1200 Lincoln St., will feature a FGI Denver retrospective including vintage clothing and photos.
The Denver Art Museum will present Drawn to Glamour: Fashion Illustrations by Jim Howard, showing the award-winning editorial work of fashion illustrator, Denver resident and FGI member Jim Howard from March 25 through July 22. On April 3, FGI will hold a cocktail reception with the artist, FGI members and guests.
Details and ticket information: denverartmuseum.org or 720-913-0130
For more information about FGI, membership, and the programs surrounding the 2018 FGI 60th Anniversary, contact Nathalia Faribault, firstname.lastname@example.org; visit fgidenver.org, or follow the Fashion Group International Denver Facebook page.
Suzanne S. Brown spent several decades as a fashion journalist in Dallas and Denver, where she worked at The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post. She is sorry to have never met Gretchen Weber, but was director of Fashion Group in Denver in 1998 and continues to be a proud member.
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