When the future first daughter of the country contacts you three weeks before the Presidential Inauguration and asks you to design an inaugural collection for her children, there's little time to do anything except get to work.
Join me for a personal view of how Petit Peony founding owner and designer Kate Bowen took on this exact challenge when she opened her e-mail on the drive home from a family ski vacation. Three weeks later she watched her designs moving across her television screen with Arabella wearing a navy Blue wool coat and velvet dress to the historic wreath laying ceremony and all three children sporting Petit Peony designs to the National Prayer Service on Saturday. It was a dream come true for Kate to see her designs land in the press alongside world-renowned designer Oscar de la Renta.
Kim: Can you put into one word how you felt when you were asked to design a collection for the inaugural events?
Kate: SHOCKED. But then immediate excitement with the thought that my designs could possibly be on the world’s stage in just a few weeks!
Kim: How did Ivanka discover Petit Peony?
Kate: Ivanka was introduced to Petit Peony last spring. She became a customer and featured Petit Peony on her #womenwhowork campaign last fall. I sent Arabella a few custom designs for fall with a patriotic flair for the campaign.
Kim: With a controversial political climate, did you hesitate at all to accept Ivanka’s offer?
Kate: No, I’m not a political person. Ivanka Trump is so much more than our first daughter. She is a fashion mogul herself, a mother of three, a female entrepreneur and someone who is dedicated to elevating other female entrepreneurs through the Ivanka Trump #womenwhowork campaign. She proved her commitment to this mission by asking me, a designer without formal design training, to create designs I had never created before such as wools coats, formal dresses, blouses and jon jons for a momentous event in our country’s history that world famous designers take part in.
Kim: What were the steps you took as a designer to create a unique collection from scratch in only three weeks?
Kate: Ivanka sent me inspirational photos and colors she was interested in. I then quickly got to work sketching, and went for a run. Running is where I find inspiration and clarity during design sessions. I love traditional tailored looks and relied upon what I would dress my own three children in. Within three hours I had the collection drafted and sent over to Ivanka for her review. She was vacationing in Hawaii and responded very quickly. When I received her response, my stomach dropped. She loved everything. She even used capital letters LOVE on certain pieces in the collection. Being in fashion herself, she did have a few suggestions. I tweaked the specs slightly and immediately got to work. I was so fortunate to find a company in Massachusetts that has a high end sample room. Kathryn (founder and owner) of Good Clothing Company cleared her schedule and committed to producing this collection in just ONE week since we needed time for fittings. I skyped with the children to get their exact measurements, and then worked with my design firm who also dropped everything to create tech paks and specs in ONE day. I sourced fabric from NYC over the phone for the wool, used one of my tried and true US suppliers for the velvet, and Kathryn helped me source the silk for the lining.
I visited NY three times coupling the trips with other business. The navy blue wool coat and velvet dress fit Arabella perfectly. We had zero alterations for the first fitting. I had a couple of suggestions, but I was told that everything was beautiful and they were so incredibly gracious. After that fitting I was asked to design a SECOND set of clothing for another inaugural event. I was ecstatic! That is where the ivory wool coat and dress Arabella wore to the National Prayer service came into play, along with the boys wool coats and rompers. Being in sales I’ve taught myself to never celebrate until the deal is done. When my friend Becky sent me a photo from the daily mail of Arabella wearing the Navy Blue ensemble on her way to the wreath ceremony, I immediately had an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I also realized I hadn’t really taken a breath in three weeks!
Kim: What is different about creating a collection for a specific customer versus designing a collection for your overall audience?
Kate: The main difference was I had a color scheme to work within. I do believe Ivanka presented me with this opportunity because she feels a connection to my brand and confident in our designs. She loves traditional, tailored looks as much as I do.
Kim: Can you share a moment during your design of the inaugural collection that panicked you at the moment but at which you can now look back and laugh?
Kate: YES! This moment I will never forget. I received a phone call the evening before the family was leaving for Washington; a button popped off Arabella’s ivory coat while Ivanka was trying it on her! I nearly dropped dead. Everyone remained calm and asked me to send backup buttons. The Good Clothing Company whipped up a sewing kit, and off to Washington it went. Due to increased security, the family never received the package. I was incredibly disappointed. I was visiting my Dad in Florida at the time and realized the button fiasco could mean the end of the coat. I didn’t realize Arabella would wear the ivory coat until I saw the live news coverage! I was swimming with my kids and heard from my mom via text; we were shocked and questioned if Arabella was even wearing the Petit Peony coat! We replayed Arabella walking down the church aisle countless times and determined YES that is THE coat! All I could think was- wow this really happened- the first grandchildren wore Petit Peony to two out of three inaugural events. I later found out that the button was super glued on the coat for Arabella. I will be forever grateful.
Kim: In what way has Ivanka's willingness to give such a huge opportunity to a small business elevated you and the Petit Peony brand?
Kate: After speaking with Ivanka the Monday after the Inauguration and hearing her genuine words of gratitude and encouragement for me and for the brand, I was inspired to do more and to give more. Ivanka elevated me, she elevated me as a designer, a business owner, and elevated my ability to perform under pressure. My gratitude for this opportunity pushed me to want to continue doing as much as possible for others, particularly other women.
Soon after the Inauguration, Petit Peony brought on a philanthropic director, and we created our Global Giving philanthropic mission. Since the fall, we have had a mission trip planned to Honduras to elevate and support women and their children living in extreme poverty by providing, clothing, blankets, food and building homes. We continue to work with a local Boston charity Room to Grow, providing low income new moms with clothing for their babies.
Elevate is dedicated to supporting our amazing customers by telling their stories. I’m so inspired when I reach out to a customer after an order and organically we exchange stories on how we are raising our children while striving for balance every day and trying not to lose ourselves in the process.
Finally, as Petit Peony continues to expand, I have brought on an extraordinary team of women to support, celebrate and grow the world of Petit Peony!
Although she may not even realize it herself, Kate is also touching the lives of women in her community in an impactful way. As she has expanded from a one-woman show to a team of five women, she has done for us just what Ivanka did for her. Kate has connected in some way with each of the women she has brought on to the team. She never asked for resumes or sat any of us down for interviews. Just as Ivanka connected with the Petit Peony brand and put her faith in Kate, Kate offered an opportunity for each of us to be part of her growing business and put her faith in us. This opportunity changed my life in a way that Kate may not even yet know. But more of that to come in a future post.