The story of my first dress collection...

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In the past two seasons my dream of creating a dress line has gone from notebooks full of sketches to a full release. It was an incredible experience and so I am taking the time to write out my story for nostalgic purposes, mostly as a personal diary to read later in life. I hope you enjoy my little story. 2How It All Began// Nearly two years ago I was taking a road trip with Mr. Larson and I told him for the first time that I really wanted to design clothes. We had a long conversation about if I should put my career on hold to make time for a fashion program. I felt much too attached to what I was growing with Red Velvet to seriously consider taking that much time away. I decided to continue my path with Red Velvet (which, at the time, was primarily an art and accessories shop) and maybe work in some fashion pieces over time. I tried out a few collaborations, I got some sewing lessons and over the next year the conversation about doing a fashion line became more and more urgent. There were notebooks full of dress sketches all over my home and studio. I guess that designing dresses became my hobby. I was thinking about them day and night! 

3Vintage Dresses and A New Vision// Soon after that I decided to move my local store (my last location was teeny tiny) and I started collecting vintage dresses for a curated selection of mid-century vintage. It was fun and inspiring. I knew that in the long term I wanted to have my own small in-house collection to sell at my local shop. I knew it was a future goal, but the more time passed the more I noticed my other goals paling in comparison. I started to realize that creating a line was my 'big dream' and not just another fun project associated with owning a boutique. I did a lot of rebranding for Red Velvet and re-focused the look and feel around the type of boutique where I could see my fashion line expanding over the years. 

At this point my bedroom floors were lined with torn out sketches and I was starting to work on sourcing and trying to figure out how someone on my budget could actually produce a clothing line. It was a little bit scary, but only because I was already so attached to the concept. I knew I'd be heartbroken if the whole thing fell through. I didn't have a clear timeline in my head, it was always just A.S.A.P. 

4Mallory// Around the time of our second local store opening Mallory contacted us about interning to help me produce my dress line. She was a blog reader and had seen me mention my dream collection a few times. We've received many intern applications over the years, but for whatever reason the timing was perfect and I told Emma to tell her "Yes, Please!". We started making plans long distance (she goes to school in Cincinnati). I sent her tons of sketches and we chatted back and forth for a few months before she arrived in Springfield. 

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10 Weeks To Create A Collection// I naively thought that ordering fabric would be similar to ordering cute shoes... you buy it online and a few days later in arrives at your doorstep. We were able to buy some fabric locally, but for the most part we shopped online. It was an incredibly huge job. For the first few weeks of Mallory's internship we were constantly getting notices that our fabric orders had been cancelled or that the quantities listed online weren't correct. We ordered and re-ordered for the first month, filling holes and finding one particularly illusive pattered fabric wherever we could get it. Pretty soon the patterns were made and the plain cotton test dresses were done and Mallory was stitching up real samples for the models to wear in our video lookbook.

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These are the fabric tags that we had made for the Red Velvet collection. 

8Here's Sarah trying on a mock up version of what eventually became the Pen Pal Dress. 
9These are a few of the first dresses that were made for our models, Morgan and Sarah, to wear in the video and photo shoot.
 
10Lookbook Video// Our videographer, Brandon Goodwin, and I spent a ridiculously long time conceptualizing the lookbook video. We tossed around tons of ideas like a party theme, a bowling alley shoot and a shoot more centered around our local shop. We decided to go 1960s inspired with the look of a TV Commercial from that decade. I really wanted the split screens and he really wanted the colored back drops. Needless to say, it was a very good match and I can't wait to work with him again in the future! Here are some photos from the night of the shoot.... 

 

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11The night of the shoot was so much fun! We spent about four hours shooting footage for our one minute video. I had a table full of styling pieces, a huge line of platform shoes and a fresh rack of our brand new dresses to work with for styling. It was magical! Our proudest moment was when Sarah and I built Morgan a beautiful beehive using a bath loofah (hidden on the inside). It felt like we were all working really well together and even without seeing the finished product, I already knew we had captured the look we were going for. So much fun!
 
18Rachel & Emma supporting me and hanging out at the video shoot! 

 

Red Velvet Lookbook // Spring 2011 from elsie flannigan on Vimeo.

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In the meantime, Mallory was sewing up a storm! She really put in a lot of hours. Doren and I helped with small tasks, but she really deserves the credit for the production of absolutely the entire line... over 100 dresses. She had a new pattern for every single size, collars, buttons, zippers and so much more to think about. It was a crazy list, to say the least. Mallory had an incredible attitude. We are so proud of the hard work she did and have grown to consider her a part of our team. She's wonderful and took a lot of pride in her work for Red Velvet. 

I designed one patterned fabric that became the Kite Day Dress. I've always wanted to design textiles, so it was a really exciting experiment. 

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Photoshoots// For the last few weeks before the launch I was focused on taking and editing hundreds of photographs. We did product shots and also three ways to wear it for all the dresses. Ideally, I would have loved to outsource the photography but since it was my first collection and we were on a budget we decided that a D.I.Y. approach was best. I absolutely love styling our models in shoots, here are few of my favorite photographs... 

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  I'm really proud of how the finished pieces turned out. Most of the pieces are very versatile so we styled three ways. Here is a quick archive of the blog posts I did leading up to the launch...

The Pen Pal DressThe Wedding Cake Dress & Three Ways to Wear It, The Firecracker Dress, The Piano Lesson Dress & Three Ways to Wear It, The Kite Day Dress & Three Ways to Wear It, The Vanilla Lace Dress & Three Ways to Wear It, The Lemon Pie Dress & Three Ways to Wear It, The Record Store Jumper & Three Ways to Wear It, The Golden Afternoon Dress & Three Ways to Wear It.

The Dress Line Launch// The night of the release was exciting. I was super nervous all day leading up to it!  I had high hopes based on the comments and e-mails that were coming in, but I really had no idea if the dresses would do well. 

I already had a back up plan in place. If the dress line was a flop we would refocus on one-off piece for the web shop and stock the store with more bulk from the line. Dresses sell very well at our local store because we have dressing rooms and a pretty large inventory to choose from. I knew that if the line wasn't successful that we could still make it work in the long term, but it might be a little discouraging. Some dreams take a long time to realize, so I was hoping for the best but mentally prepared for the worst. 

The night of the launch turned out the be one of the most encouraging and validating nights ever in my career! We stocked ALL the dresses in the online store (leaving literally less than 10 for the local shop, just in case sales were good). The first style sold out within five minutes. Within 30 minutes more than half our stock was gone and over the next two weeks every last dress in the online store sold out! 

29 Our faces during the first 30 minutes of the launch. We were glued to the computer watching dresses fly off the virtual 'shelves'.

There is no way really describe the feeling. It was surreal. It was the most immediately successful thing I've ever done in business and I took it as a thumbs up to start planning for an even larger fall collection! The success of the launch was an affirmation to me that we are moving in the right direction as a brand. I honestly feel that we are at a new beginning and that we have a long and challenging road ahead of us in fashion. I couldn't be more thankful or happy. And of course, we took the time to go out as a team and celebrate the amazing launch. Everyone worked so hard and since our entire team (including models) still totals less than ten people, we all rely on each other to make something like this happen. 

From the bottom of my heart, Thank you to every blog reader who commented or purchased a dress from our first collection. Your encouragement was deeply felt. I'm so touched by the response to our line and you are a source of inspiration for the next collection, which is already in the works. I'll never forget our humble beginnings. This past season has truly been one of the happiest times in my life. Thank you.    

We packed special goodies in every box and I'm pretty sure we didn't stop smiling all week! Since then, photos have been rolling in of cute girls all over the world wearing Red Velvet dresses via facebook and twitter. We love it!    

30Stacy Dupree wearing Red Velvet in a feature, photographed in her own home. cool! 

31Thanks so much for reading the story of my first dress collection! It was a thrilling experience and I truly hope that it inspires someone out there who has a dream in their heart.♥ Elsie 

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