FASHION, FASCINATORS AND FOOTWEAR: A TUCSON DESIGNER’S FABULOUS JOURNEY
Fashion designer Jeanne Bjorn was walking down Fifth Avenue in 1980s New York when a woman asked her where she got her stylish fur coat.
When Bjorn replied it was her own design, the woman gave her a business card. It was Jean Rosenberg, vice president of iconic Henri Bendel.
The meeting would become fortuitous — not in launching Bjorn’s fashion star — but in ushering the now Tucson-based designer into compelling work in Oscar and Tony-Award winning costume creation, beautiful millinery and shoe design.
“She came to see my clothing and she said, ‘I think your work is really amazing,’ ” Bjorn recalled. “ ‘This is how much money you are going to need to go forward, if you’re going to compete with say, Donna Karan or Calvin Klein.’” “And I looked at that number and I was stunned. It was so much. It was like a New York wake-up call.”
Bjorn grew up on a Missouri farm, fascinated with her mother’s bolts of fabric. She would meticulously touch and study their textures, designs and sheen. Her passion led her to a degree in textiles and fabric design at the University of Georgia and then propelled her across the country to San Francisco, where she would launch her own label of women’s designer sportswear. Her namesake line, J Bjorn, would be featured in shows and stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, where she had just relocated when she met Rosenberg.
After that Bendel moment, Bjorn instead sought out a job in costume design for stage and film with Barbara Matera Ltd. and would eventually help with creations for Broadway’s Dream Girls, The Secret Garden, the Tony Award-winning Crazy For You, Oscar-winning designs for The Age of Innocence, Hook and the New York City Ballet’s production of Sleeping Beauty. “I used to joke with my friends that I had to leave fashion because the pay was lower and the hours were longer, but the creativity was over the top.”
Bjorn also continued to take classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She chose millinery by opening up the class catalog and blindly pointing a finger. She instantly loved it and soon began making hats for clients and select lines for stores. But after a health-threatening experience at a New York costume shop where she was head milliner, she moved to Portland, Ore. There, she spent more than a decade teaching millinery and eventually shoe design, too. “I love designing and creating, but teaching is the best gift I can give someone because it passes the skill on, not to be forgotten.”
Indeed, some of her students included shoe designers from Columbia sportswear, as well as, rising young artisans who, after her instruction, ultimately moved to Italy to further their studies.
Now in Tucson, Bjorn has continued classes in hat and shoe making. Though she is awaiting her next move after the Covid-19 pandemic, the designer can look back proudly on a career that has seen her work featured in Women’s Wear Daily, California Apparel News, The San Francisco Examiner and The Oregonian, to name a few.
“We need a world of good designers,” she said. “Some of these skills, I worry we are close to losing them if we don’t teach a new generation.”
You can find out more about Bjorn’s classes on her website, jeannebjorn.com.
RETAIL TITAN TERRY LUNDGREN A TUCSON SUCCESS STORYEmbed from Getty Images
I had the privilege of interviewing former Macy’s CEO and UA grad Terry Lundgren this month for an upcoming article in BizTucson magazine. Lundgren’s story is an incredible one. He led Macy’s for 14 years, bringing one of the country’s largest retail companies to its highest revenues in 2015, before retiring in 2018. Vogue editor Anna Wintour and designers Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Tory Burch are just a few who have lauded his efforts in the fashion industry. And he is genuinely a good guy. Lundgren once worked at The Solarium in Tucson, shucking oysters! He has also brought retail giants here for the last several years to talk winning strategy through his Global Retail Conference. “All that happened while I was at the University of Arizona meant everything to me,” he told me. Hope you will read the entire story in the Spring issue of BizTucson!
TUCSON DESIGNER LAURA TANZER REWRITES THE RULES
It’s with beautiful irony that fashion designer Laura Tanzer opened her atelier in the historic depot of downtown Tucson. For the creations of this Parsons- and Fashion Institute of Technology-grad are definitively modern and forward. Yet, perhaps they do share one trait with the old train station—sustainability. “I really try to walk the talk,” says the elegant, flame-haired designer, who also holds a master’s degree in international finance and completed her dissertation at the UA’s School of Renewable Resources. “I look for natural fabrics and fibers and work with companies that don’t add toxins to their fabrics.”
Tanzer’s aesthetic is refined and architectural for the 35+ woman who values quality construction and perfect fit. A pair of luxuriously striped pants come in high and low-waisted versions. A white sculptural jacket covers as a chic, statement piece. A dress hem reaches to a distinct, flattering angle for older women. Her silk scarves, digitally printed with her colorful artwork, finish her chic, comfortable look. Inspired by her fashionable, doting grandmother as a girl, Tanzer went from sewing clothes for her Barbie dolls to attending New York’s most exclusive fashion schools and ultimately working for various designers on Seventh Avenue. Yet, in her own time, she was always freelancing, designing her own handbags, shoes and even furs. Now, in Tucson, Tanzer is building her signature design business in the desert.
She was just chosen for Phoenix Fashion Week’s Emerging Designer Boot Camp, where she will launch her Spring collection in October. She also plans to team with the UA Museum of Art for a Nov. 5 fundraiser at the museum. Sustainability will always be the soul of her business. Nothing is wasted at her atelier. “We save all scraps,” she says. Some go to her cousin who designs handbags. Others go to schools for art projects. She even sends pieces to Pima Community College’s Fashion Design Program. “We are careful about recycling anything and everything we can.” To that end, Tanzer also hosts a sustainability series on the fourth Wednesday of each month, which has lured as many as 40 guests each occasion to enjoy food, drink and valuable dialogue about guarding our natural resources. “We really get a good discussion going.”
TUCSON SKIN CARE COMPANY HARVESTS DESERT SECRETS
Certified cosmetic chemist Christina Mercy Mahar is the incredible Tucson entrepreneur behind Sía Botanics, a skin care company that harvests the moisture-hoarding ingredients from our own Sonoran Desert for creams, cleansers and serums sold in Whole Foods Market and at www.siabotanics.com.
Working with an herbalist and making formulations for at least 20 years, Christina went on to earn her MBA in business management and launched Sía in 2012. “I love what I do,” says the blonde, radiant-skinned CEO. “It’s because I really believe in this line, it has the best of anything I can put into it.” Our desert is one of the harshest, most extreme environments on Earth, with our temperature swings and rain-starved climate. Hence, cacti, especially the prickly pear, have winning survival tactics to trap and keep moisture within and they know how to concentrate their nutrients in an efficient way.
Indeed, the prickly pear cactus contains the highest level of betalains of any plant—super antioxidants that help nourish skin cells and fight free radical damage, Mahar says. Jojoba, aloe and white sage also find supreme purpose in Sía products. Christina’s prime focus is on premium ingredients, constantly testing them to assure quality. “I’m picky,” she explains. “It has to be the ingredient that I want and sourced from where I want.” She also teaches classes with estheticians to increase that level of product understanding for their clients. “Part of my passion is education,” she says. “I hope to help them look at skin care differently, in terms of both beauty and health.”
A WELLNESS JOURNEY LEADS TUCSON MOM TO NEW CAREER PATH
In a search to find the cause of her daughter’s eczema, Amanda Saffer found a new pursuit of her own: Wellness.
“We were trying to understand the underlying condition that was causing her so much discomfort,” recalls the Tucson mom of two. “Many doctors told us it was genetic and to rub a little cortisone cream on it, never addressing the root problem.”
Saffer conducted her own research, finding clinical studies that link certain foods with eczema flare-ups. She also consulted a naturopathic doctor, who ran several tests and found her daughter did have food sensitivities. An elimination diet helped “pinpoint the culprits” and her eczema began to diminish. Saffer herself noticed brain fog, exhaustion and a touch of the blues after age 40. A naturopath found that she was low in several vitamins and minerals and wasn’t eating properly. “A few tweaks and about 30 days, I was back to feeling like myself…,” she says.
Her new namesake company, Amanda Saffer Wellness, is what has emerged from her quest for answers. “It was the knowledge I had learned and my unquenchable search for more that propelled me into enrolling in the largest nutrition school in the world, The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and it’s been a worthwhile journey ever since.”
As a health coach, Saffer now offers options from a pantry reboot to healthy cooking demonstrations to more in-depth wellness sessions. She recently created a healthy eating guide for one of her college-bound clients. Her new website, AmandaSafferWellness.com, also offers healthy recipes and a blog where she tackles topics such as sugar intake and self-care.
“Nutrition is my hot-button,” Saffer says. “So many diseases are linked to a poor diet, and it’s amazing how making just a few tweaks to your diet can help you feel so much better.”
Saffer especially has some take-home ideas for multi-tasking moms, whom are often the last to take care of themselves:
- Put yourself at the top of your to-do list every single day, and the rest will fall into place. That could mean making a list and prioritizing your day.
- Take 10 to 20 minutes to get outside for a walk or take in the sunshine.
- Take a relaxing Epsom Salt bath.
- Watch your sugar intake, eat healthy fats for brain health and reduce processed food from your diet.
“We all have our struggles, no one is perfect, and…so many of us feel the exact same way,” Saffer says. “I have met with so many clients…who share the same exact ailments. And every time, it seems to boil down to the fact that we are not taking proper care of ourselves, not eating or sleeping well and are flipping exhausted. I know how good it feels to feel well again, what it takes, and I’m excited to share that knowledge with others.”
MONSOON CHOCOLATE PUTS THE MESQUITE IN DESERT TREAT
I’ve been droolingly (a word?) following the Instagram account of Tucson’s Monsoon Chocolate and finally had to visit the place this week. Monsoon Chocolate encompasses both a chocolate factory and a petite cafe, located at 234 E. 22nd St., which opened earlier this year. The place is at the corner of 4th Avenue and 22nd Street–a short drive south from Armory Park. While its website is under construction, you can buy Monsoon’s chocolate bars, wrapped in stunning artful wrappers, and bon bons at the cafe, and also find its goodies around town at places like The Loft Cinema, for one. A specific shout-out to the Mesquite White Chocolate bar, which features ground mesquite pods from the San Xavier Cooperative Farm. It is very unique in taste and color, it is vintage Tucson and a great desert-themed gift for the upcoming holidays.
TUCSON SOAP MAKER AIMS TO CAPTURE SCENT OF DESERT
Tracy Conklin loves everything about making soap. It wasn’t until her husband stopped her from hauling inside a five-gallon bucket of oil–“Honey, what are we going to do with all this soap?” –that she decided she would try selling it. So, she did. And now, after years of selling the luxe, desert-infused, cold-process creations at street fairs, the master soap maker is now a staple next to Embellish Home Etc. at La Plaza Shoppes, Artemesia Soaps, Salts & Scrubs.
“I just love that you start with a fatty acid and a base and you end up with this beautiful bar,” says Conklin, whose artfully scented soaps, with names like Saguaro Blossom and Desert Rain aim to capture the elusive essence of her desert home. The bars are as visually striking as they are addictive to smell and touch, with rugged edges, textured swirls and modern blocks of color while her girly, rustic packaging and modern website flaunt her roots as a savvy graphic designer.
The craft-loving Conklin owes her passion to a professional soap making class she took at the once-world famous Snowdrift Farm Soap Supply Company, which used to draw eager apprentices from all over the globe to Tucson to learn the craft. She has since expanded her line to include lotions, shave balms, masks and botanical exfoliants. Artemesia will offer the perfect desert souvenirs for travelers as well as gift baskets for brides, birthdays, gifts, etc.
POSH BOUTIQUE A STAR IN CITY OF RESALE
It could be said that this petite mom with the rose-gold tresses has tapped into the same magic that crowned Sam Fox a restaurant success story.
Except in this case, we’re talking luxury resale.
In fact, when it comes to designer brands, Haley Greene Ochoa could be one of Tucson’s best resources. “I just love shopping, I love clothes,” said the owner of Posh Boutique. “I feel very lucky that I can do this.”
First opened in 2003 as the ultimate cool-girl retail spot with eye-catching ads featuring UA greats like Channing Frye, Posh is now Tucson’s luxury resale destination, offering authentic apparel and accessories from Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Tory Burch, Gucci, Hermes, Escada and many other haute labels. Since Buffalo Exchange closed one of its locations, Ochoa’s boutique is quickly becoming the place to consign on the east side.
After a few months of working for her (writer’s disclaimer), it’s easy to see that Haley really knows her business. A fifth generation retailer—her grandparents were milliners and her mother owned a gift store in Illinois—she truly has an eye for what works and what sells.
She can also spot a fake a mile away and boasts an edgy-luxe style that her social media followers both expect and demand from her popular outfits of the day on her Instagram feed, shopposhboutique.
Besides her chic store with a cocktail bar and a girl’s dream closet-feel, Haley also operates a website, www.poshboutique.com and is constantly vetting new consignments daily. Posh offers those who want to sell items at her store 50 percent of the selling price, after thoroughly researching each piece. Designer handbags are perhaps some of the store’s most treasured finds.
Haley and her staff are now busily preparing for Black Friday, when shoppers can get their hands on the newest “It girl” pieces, along with a glass of champagne.
UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA BIOCHEMISTS BEHIND MAGIC OF NIACIN SKINCARE
Thanks to more than 30 years of groundbreaking research by noted UA biochemists Drs. Myron and Elaine Jacobson, the skin care brands StriVectin and Nia 24 are finding incredible success in the prosperous anti-aging market.
The Jacobsons, formerly with the Arizona Cancer Center and now retired, studied the ways in which cells naturally avoided the development of skin cancer. Their exhaustive research led to the discovery of a patented derivative of Niacin/Vitamin B3 that repairs UV-induced DNA damage deep within the skin.
The husband-and-wife team’s work, some of which was partially funded by the National Institutes of Health, also led to the founding of Niadyne, Inc. in 1997, which has a lab right here in Tucson.
Then, StriVectin, best known before for its enticing “Better Than Botox?” ads in magazines hired the Jacobsons as paid consultants and began infusing its line of products with a niacin derivative, recently nabbing 2017 Best of Beauty Awards by Allure Magazine and a 2015 nod from O Magazine’s O-Wards. The Jacobsons were also awarded the 2011 “Innovator in Dermatology” by the Cosmetic Surgery Forum.
So, the next time you are hunting for anti-aging skin creams, maybe pay a nod to these Tucson game-changers. Their products are born from years of science. (Photo provided by Nika Akin, Unsplash)
UVIDA, A TUCSON STARTUP GOES GLOBAL
Beth Naughton knew her stylish, sun-wear company was taking off when she recently saw a woman wearing one of her shirts, two states away. “I was just in Denver and looked up to see a woman walking down the street in a red Uvida shirt…” said the co-owner and marketing director of Uvida UV-protective Sportswear. “When she told me how much she loved it, I couldn’t help but smile. That is my definition of success.”
Uvida has now branched well out of Tucson to reach spas, resorts and country clubs in California, Texas and Nevada; as well as, internationally, in Turkey, Dubai, Mexico and Canyon Ranch “Spa Club at Sea” cruise ships. “People are buying Uvida aboard ships that sale to Alaska, Europe and the Caribbean,” said the busy mom of two.
“It is more than a full-time job now,” she said. “I love what I am doing and still manage to keep up with my kiddos’ active lives. I just spend many late nights and weekends trying to keep up!” The brightly hued, stylishly cut sun shirts can still be found in retail boutiques across our desert city, including the University of Arizona bookstores, where they boast the distinctive “A.” Uvida has also launched a men’s line, which appears to be selling well, and its website (uvidasportswear.com) now offers a blog on sun protection and skin cancer from one of Naughton’s partners–Tucson skin cancer surgeon Dr. Michael Huether.
“We are working hard to stay true to our mission,” said Naughton. “Uvida UV-protective Sportswear offers people with active lifestyles protection from the sun’s damaging rays. I personally have been overwhelmed with the support I’ve received in the Tucson community. Friends and business associates have really helped me to grow our business and believe in our mission.”
Next stop – Oprah!
FASHION DESIGNER GOES FROM SOFTWARE TO COUTURE
Tucson fashion designer Jaime Edwards could be the region’s rising star in couture. A past “Designer of the Year” named by Tucson Model Magazine, this former software analyst aims to perfect her love of luxurious fabrics and creative color mixes, as well as, her reimagining of the classic neckline to best frame the feminine silhouette.
“I love making couture because it highlights the individual and unique qualities that define the beauty of each woman,” says Edwards, whose namesake line JL Edwards was invited to appear in last year’s NYFW.
“What an exciting and overwhelming feeling to be on Fashion Avenue during that week,” she recalls. “Models, artists, designers and vendors moving quickly in several different directions…I was quite frightened, feeling I was out of my league, but the people, models, producers and other designers were very welcoming and encouraging.”
Edwards, who followed her longtime fashion dreams after a debilitating illness hit her head-on with life’s fragility, is hoping to expand into menswear and a creative collaboration with glassmaker Jonathan Russell. Eyeing a return to NY, she’s focused now on refining her details.
“Jonathan and I have a lot of future ideas and designs we want to use,” including a retake of the bustier. Her beautiful advice to women: “Talents lay quietly and dormant like seeds beneath the soil, feed them and they will blossom.”