Monday, May 20, 2013

The Hot Couture Affair - by Norbert Williams

I participated in this event at the invite of my friend and colleague, designer, Lyn Bristol of LBM Designs - it was a good show - but I knew it had 'issues' in the lead up, planning and management. I was interested in taking part as soon as I heard that Vincent McDoom was going to be the Creative Director - a local who had left St. Lucia years ago and excelled in France working in fashion houses and on TV - as a celebrity guest, host, judge on Tyra Banks' Top Model shows and more - he is a character for sure, but he has truly excelled and I admire his success in a world I know is tough and super-highly competetive.

Caribbean Media: 2013 'Hot' Couture &emdash;
My necklace and earrings on LBM Designs at Hot Couture Fashion Show 2013

But my history as a designer - artisan goes way back with the St. Lucia Jazz Festival and it is largely a history of not being happy or satisfied with what's provided for local talent of all kinds, say so, particularly in my area - to the persons who are responsible - writing emails, going to meetings, meeting the consultants who reviewed the festival and came up with this year's new version the St. Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. Well, let's just say, we are not off to a great start from the standpoint of the artisans and designers....the Hot Couture show was good because those involved as desingers and models and the artistic director in particular, sought to put their best foot forward...but read here for a review - by an independent St. Lucian (not a designer) who wanted to bring some facts to light - please do comment.

I will also post comments from Facebook as soon as I have permission from the commenters to do so

Not in the cumulative history of modeling in St. Lucia has there ever been such drama, intrigue, mauvais langue, inflated egos, and downright bullshittery as has been witnessed surrounding the HOT COUTURE fashion/modeling aspect of St. Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival 2013. As I see it this sordid affair is more than just HOT COUTURE. It is more than Vincent Mc Doom or the St. Lucia Tourist Board (SLTB). It is more than the models or designers. It is more than Jazz. Under the microscope is how we conduct business in St. Lucia; how we treat our own people vis-a-vis how we treat foreigners, and what we accept or are forced to accept.

Sitting down here in my lopsided chair trying to decide where to begin is a task in itself. There are so many angles and perspectives it dulls the mind. So many people, so many interests, so many stories, all important in the final big picture. So rather than beginning in 2013 I will roll back the clock and kick off where I feel is a more appropriate commencement in this scheme of things. The year, 1991.

In 1991 the US indicts two Libyans in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; Warsaw Pact dissolved; Boris Yeltsin becomes first freely elected president of Russian Republic; Professor Anita Hill accuses Judge Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment; Soviet Union breaks up after President Gorbachev's resignation; St. Lucia has it's first ever Jazz Festival.

The St. Lucia Jazz Festival was created to boost the island's tourism industry during the time of year when hotel occupancy was at it's lowest as a result of the end of the winter season. After consultations with a foreign and local entities it was decided that a jazz festival would be an ideal marketing tool in attracting visitors to the island during this waning period. It was decided that big name international jazz artistes would be on the lineup in order to have maximum appeal. It must be noted that from the inception the St. Lucia Tourist Board (SLTB) was primarily concerned with the filling of airline seats and hotel rooms. At time there was minimal, if any, focus on local talent or participation. The bulk of funding evidently went to foreign artistes and production.

In my opinion this concept was flawed from it's very inception. The SLTB focused on foreign tourism as the only salvation for a waning tourism sector during that time of year. However local tourism seems to have been totally ignored and continues to be neglected as a source of significant revenue during this low season. I beg to suggest that traveling from Vieux Fort to Castries for whatever reason, whether it be Jazz or shopping, or cricket at Beausejour, these individuals are indeed tourists. If we are to suggest the introduction of sports, medical, or university (medical schools) as tourism, then our own traveling to support these services should therefore be considered as local tourism. In all sincerity they do spend money on transportation, housing, tickets, meals, and entertainment, in the same manner as foreign tourists. For example, a person traveling within New York state, from Albany to New York City is considered a tourist. There is no differentiation just because they are within the same state.

Over the years there has been an almost resistant inclusion of local artistes into the jazz festival. There have been brouhahas through the years with artistes complaining and boycotting the event with claims of unfair treatment, lack of appreciation for their skills, and minimal compensation for their performances.

2013 has seen the re-branding of St. Lucia Jazz to include the arts. As part of this endeavour it was decided to incorporate a fashion and modeling aspect to the festival. The SLTB realized they did not have the expertise to produce such a show and as a result contacted Vincent Mc Doom to advise on the production of such a show. Vincent accepted their request for assistance and came on board as the Artistic Director. This was confirmed in a telephone interview on Friday with SLTB Director Louis Lewis. As part of the agreement Vincent Mc Doom's airfare, hotel accommodations, transportation, and other perks would have been paid by the SLTB. Vincent Mc Doom offered to render his services free of charge as a St. Lucian giving back to his country.

I find it fitting at this time to include a link to the definition of the role and responsibilities of an artistic director:

On the announcement of Vincent Mc Doom's appointment Shamark Leon, Director of Silhouette Fashion House took to the airwaves to voice his discontentment.

Internet Movie Database for Vincent Mc Doom

On viewing this response from Shamark Leon I anticipated an immediate response or some form of action from the SLTB in order to mitigate any fallout or negative repercussions from the statements made. Lamentably there were none. This was also confirmed by the Director of the SLTB, Louis Lewis during my telephone interview on Friday. He said there were thirteen events to coordinate and as such they did not want to be distracted by these happenings. This only allowed the situation to spin further out of control. I wonder if we had another bus hijack during that time whether the SLTB's response would have been the same? Could it be that this episode only involved locals and therefore was no big deal?

Here is part of my telephone interview with Vincent Mc Doom on Thursday afternoon:

Me: How did you become involved with the HOT COUTURE aspect of St. Lucia Jazz and Arts 2013?
Vincent:  I was contacted by the SLTB to advise and coordinate the show in the capacity of artistic director.

Me: Was there a contract defining your role and responsibilities?
Vincent: No there was not. I accepted the offer and volunteered to do it for free as a way of giving something   back to St. Lucia.

Me: What really caused the problems which surfaced during the lead up to the show?
Vincent: I was disenchanted by the pittance which was offered to the models. It really upset me that these young people who we claimed to be helping were being offered such a pittance for their hard work. Imagine being offered $60-$75 to participate in a show of this magnitude. I would not have it happening under my guidance. It was exploitation in my books and I did not like it. The impression I got was as if they should feel honoured that they even got the opportunity to be a part of the show and should cherish that. Mae and I suggested that the SLTB pay the models $700 each for their participation. The SLTB said this was not in their budget and could not afford to pay that amount, and as a result we settled for each model to be paid $500.

Me: What happened with the stage?
Vincent: Well, as the artistic director it is my responsibility to oversee the whole production process. My vision of the theme and format of the presentation falls clearly within the framework of the artistic director. I was surprised and taken aback when I was presented on the day before the event with a stage that I had no input whatsoever.

Me: In light of what has happened would you be willing to return next year and participate in another production and would you be willing to work with the SLTB?
Vincent: Norbert, I am dedicated to helping models in St. Lucia. I have no problem in working with the SLTB or anyone else.

Kudos must be given to the St. Lucia Tourist Board though. Their accomplishment with Jazz in St. Lucia has been monumental in its success. Notwithstanding the myopic view with which Jazz was formulated they have worked relentlessly in sustaining it's international prominence. They have filled hotel rooms. They have provided employment in all the ancillary services during this period of otherwise low occupancy.
Here is part of my telephone interview with SLTB Director Louis Lewis on Friday morning:

Me: There has been much contention over the capacity in which Vincent Mc Doom was brought in by the SLTB to participate in HOT COUTURE. What was his official capacity?
Louis: We recognized that we did not have the expertise in the SLTB to handle the production of this show. As a result we reached out to Vincent Mc Doom in Paris and expressed our interest in having him assist. He accepted and volunteered to render his services for free. He was taken aboard as the Artistic Director. Vincent's role was to select and train the models as we wanted an entirely St Lucian cast, as well his artistic input in the production .

Me: What happened on the day before the show?
Louis: 26 hours before the show was due to open Vincent was at the Audi Showroom. He was not pleased with the runway which had been constructed by Adrian Augier. He had other ideas for what the runway should be and made requests for the change. Particularly that it be mirrored, among other changes. I informed him that at this late hour there was really not much which could have been done. There were heated words between us but that was that.

Me: Yesterday I conducted a telephone interview with Vincent Mc Doom. He said that despite all that had transpired he is still willing to work with the SLTB or anyone else next year in hosting another HOT COUTURE event. Would you be willing to work with him in the interest of St. Lucia.
Louis: Well, I can tell you that I have no problem with Vincent personally. I believe that he is sincere about his intentions to assist his country. However, that is my personal position. The decision of the SLTB is not left entirely up to me.

Me: Is there anything more you would like to say on behalf of the SLTB?
Louis: All I can tell you at this time is that a press conference has been scheduled for Wednesday, 22nd. May, 2013 at 10 AM.

So, can cooler heads prevail in the interest of our own progress and betterment? Can we put aside our overinflated egos and work together? Squabbles such as this occur all the time in the entertainment and modelling industry. St. Lucia's experience of this is minor in the big scheme of things. The question remains as to whether the persons involved are mature enough to let go of their bruised egos. The silence from the SLTB has been deafening. 

In the midst of this uproar certain individual actions have come to light. Utterances in private and among friends are just as important or consequential as those made in the public domain. Private comments are even more revealing as they expose inner feelings and attitudes which would otherwise not be exposed in public. It has been brought to my attention that a senior member of the SLTB changed their BB status message on Wednesday to the following, "I'm so over HOT COUTURE!! MOVE ON people!!!!"

Seriously!?? Am I now to assume that this person has any interest in dealing with the issues at hand pertaining to this matter? Is this individual truly concerned about the interests of ALL St. Lucians affected? Should we expect any serious consideration of the issues and complaints surrounding HOT COUTURE by this individual? If anything, this BB status suggests a dismissive tone. One of contempt and disdain. The next question to ask is whether this attitude is pervasive within the SLTB?

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, a well-known quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, and refers to the benefits of openness and transparency. Many of the personal messages and comments I have received overwhelmingly suggest that a large number of St. Lucians believe that the SLTB is an entity unto itself and does not have to answer to anyone. Many people remain silent even though they agree with the grievances expressed. There seems to be a subtle apprehension that individuals who speak out will be targeted and discriminated against. Where is this fear coming? Is this a figment of their imagination or has there been evidence of such retribution. Even in my lead up postings during this past week I have had persons who have forcefully suggested that I "drop" the story. That "this thing needs to be put to rest." I wonder how we can progress and learn from past mistakes if we avoid critically discussing issues such as this. Whether we like it or not this dirty laundry can be cleaned up.

If the U.S. can be allies with Japan after 2402 Americans were killed at Pearl Harbor by these same Japanese; if Japan can turn around and also be allies with the U.S. after atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing approx. 244,000 people; if the current tourism minister Lorne Theophilus can jump ship from the UWP and become a candidate and minister in the SLP; if George Odlum could team up with John Compton on the William Peter Boulevard in what was described as an "Unholy Alliance"; if Vaughn Lewis can jump from the UWP to SLP and be received with open arms; surely Vincent Mc Doom and the SLTB can work hand in hand again in the interest of St. Lucia. Anyone suggesting otherwise is naive and and unrealistic.

Lets be clear. Vincent Mc Doom is damn good at what he does! His accomplishment speaks for itself. A poor St. Lucian boy who made his way out of St. Lucia with little fanfare. Someone who has seen exploitation in the modeling and fashion industry firsthand, Vincent's success was no mistake or stroke of luck. To achieve his level of celebrity and prominence in an industry of sharks and barracudas says much about the individual. He is not a perfect man. Neither is he the most politically correct nor diplomatic in how he presents his arguments. However we need to sometimes distance ourselves from the emotional aspects of a person's argument and focus on the content which is valid. In criticizing Vincent's complaints too many people have zeroed in on his personality rather than address the real issues at hand. There seems to be a concerted effort to completely ignore the message and shoot the messenger. Regardless of how anyone feels about the issues which Vincent Mc Doom has now brought to the fore, these same complaints have been exposed over the years by many individuals associated with Jazz and other aspects of St. Lucian life. Unfortunately none of them have had the independence and testicular fortitude to expose it without feeling intimidated or threatened.

Should we be convinced that the complaints from so many models, designers, and others are all a figment of their imaginations concocted by Vincent Mc Doom as part of some outlandish scheme to discredit the St Lucia Tourist Board? Regardless of how we may feel about Vincent we cannot be misled into believing that this is simply an over reaction on his part by dubbing him a drama queen. This is an overly simplistic explaining away of a situation which requires serious consideration and evaluation.

May the good Lord bless our island,
Guard her sons from woe and harm!
May our people live united,
Strong in soul and strong in arm!
Justice, Truth and Charity,
Our ideal forever be!

St. Lucia nice, more than twice!©

Peace and Love