Behind the Scenes with Nicole Doherty, Fashion Event Planner

Nicole Doherty is a marketing and event services consultant with a knack for getting people inspired and excited about something.  Since graduating from Georgetown University with a BSBA in Marketing, she’s been cultivating her skills passionately.  With over 15 years of combined experience in advertising, marketing, sales, event planning and production, she founded her first consulting company five years ago, NicolePresents.  She has produced all kinds of events within San Francisco, but most notable are her fashion trunk show events, involving cutting edge DJ’s, indie fashion designers, and innovative performers of all kinds.  She has a talent for producing energetic, creative events in the greatest venues within San Francisco.


MG: So how old were you when you became interested in fashion and style?

ND: I’ve always liked fashion as a kid.  My mom would take me shopping and would say “hmmm, you have the most expensive taste”.  It always turned out that I would pick up the most expensive item in the store.  My mom said to me “You’re going to be in so much trouble when you’re older”.  I was always kind of a clothes whore.  When I was young, I would go shopping with my mom and I was one of those people if I got anything it had to be matching.  The pants had to match the shirt.  The shirt had to have jewelry to match.  I was always like that.  I call it the Virgo in me.  I’m very anal and organized and things have to go together.
     Now, I realize nothing has to really match.  You just have to buy a bunch of things you really like and piece it together.  I have a different mindset about clothes.  I was always inspired by beauty, whether it be clothing or jewelry or nature.  Visually I’ve always been stimulated.

MG: Have you always wanted to go towards fashion and event planning?
ND: I stumbled across it.  I began the trunk shows through working with Kiri Eschelle at Levende Lounge when they had a SF location.  I didn’t seek out producing fashion events.  It just happened because of my organizational skills.  
     I was in marketing and advertising before.  Marketing is selling or promoting something.  My interest evolved into how I can promote and market people in my life, who I like and admire.  Getting involved in event planning came from an inspirational stance, rather than from the actual work itself.  For instance, if I liked something, I liked to promote it.  Right now I’m interested in yoga.  If it’s anything involving yoga, I’m the first person to promote it.  I like to inspire people, publicize people and make them aware of what other people are doing.  I enjoy connecting people and networking.  It’s really about people, ultimately.

MG: Especially for someone who isn’t selfish, as yourself.
ND: I get a lot of joy seeing other people become successful through introductions.  It’s nice if it’s fashion, but I love music too.  I’m very involved in the music scene also.

MG: Have you always enjoyed bringing out the best in others?  I know in the corporate environment, it’s a little different.  It’s more competitive, it can detract from your other interests and it can be stifling.  I remember feeling like just another cog in the wheel.
ND: That is why I left the corporate world.  I felt like I wasn’t making as big of an impact. I like variety and change too, to see my results immediately.  I do like a team environment though.  With events, you’re working with a lot of people and it’s a socially interactive environment.  It wasn’t always something I thought I’d be doing and really enjoying.

MG: Was it difficult starting your business in the beginning?
ND: It’s still difficult!

MG: What are the challenges then and now?
ND: Originally, the challenges were having confidence in my work and learning what I needed to do.  I just kind of threw myself into it.  Reading, reading, reading and figuring it out.  Now the challenge is more the finance and the operations of the business.  How to market yourself.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the production of the events, when I also need to be marketing my own business and handling the finances and the accounting.  I’m putting on all the hats to run a business and that’s a whole new ball game for me.  

MG: So what are you assets that help you in developing your business?  For example, offhand I know you’re a great networker.
ND: I would definitely say networking.  I’m also organized.  Socially enjoyable.  Lighthearted.  I don’t take anything too seriously.  I can laugh at myself.

MG: Do you consider yourself a “type A” personality?
ND: I have some type A personality.  You need it to to run a business.

MG: Do you think that’s the thing with SF.  There’s a lot of type A personalities, but they balance it out by being chill.
ND: You have to have the skill set to be organized and manage things.  That’s type A, right.  But if you take yourself too seriously, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Because, especially in events, there are so many moving parts and you can’t be attached to an outcome.  If things arise that aren’t expected, you have to just run with it and be solution oriented instead of problem focused.  You have to be able to solve things on the fly, and do it with grace and ease and a sense of humor.  Otherwise you’re just going to break down, and so I think that helped me a lot too. And yeah, keeping in touch with people always.  It just comes back to networking.  Knowing so many people in the city and constantly staying in touch with them, through emails and Facebook

MG: There’s a lot of people on the party scene that want to get into event planning, however partying too much can get in the way of planning events.
ND: I actually got into yoga because I wanted to exit that aspect of the scene and become more grounded and get more business focused.  

MG: Were you able to get your business off and going when you were in the party scene?
ND: I started NK7 Productions with  Sean Evans while in the party scene.  He was already doing his DJ business and parties, so I kind of organized him and Kollol Huda, a promoter, and we formed NK7, our production company.  We focused on underground events.  That’s also when I actually started doing fashion events because Kiri Eschelle from Levende Lounge wanted to do fashion events.  So we collaborated on events for her space.
     That’s how Trunk n’ Funk started 6 years ago.  I wanted to do events and fashion related things because I was into fashion and Kiri wanted to do it also.  We then thought of the pop up store idea.  The trunk show idea.  It was fairly unique at the time.  Now it’s more common, you can trip over a trunk show in this city.

MG: What makes yours unique?
ND: Initially it was unique because it involved independent fashion designers and we did have a brunch as part of the experience.  There were also DJ’s, so it was really an all inclusive shop, hangout, and eatery.

MG: I liked how it appealed to different people, who not necessarily had an interest in fashion, but maybe were more interested in the music, but then were introduced to all of these designers.
ND: That’s what kind of happened.  Since mine & Sean’s background was from music, it kind of ended up as this hybrid type event.  And a lot of those people ended up getting introduced to independent fashion and getting excited about it.  Back then the pricing was pretty low.  Now, the trunk show people are charging a lot more money and its become a little more mainstream rather than underground indie.  
     There were few that were doing what we were doing, but they didn’t have the brunch aspect or DJ’s either.  Now everybody does the hybrid.  You can get massages, your nails done, etc.  In this community everyone has such a short attention span, you really have to give them everything but the kitchen sink so they’ll show up.  They have a broad appeal, mass marketed to everybody. There’s men’s fashion, women’s fashion, manicures, pedicures, DJ music, food, everything.  You get a little bit of everything.

MG: I remember even getting false eyelashes put on at one of the shows.  It’s such random stuff.
ND: The Funk n’ Trunks over the summer at Triple Crown had makeup and brow shaping.  What can you throw in for people, to make it interesting, that they will enjoy.  The goal is to have them stick around and to cultivate a relationship with the designer.  That’s the nice thing about the trunk show.  You’re able to meet the designer one on one, and then if you cultivate that relationship with them you’ll be more loyal to them.  You might want to get custom clothing from them.  That’s the real relationship, outside of the store.  That’s what people really appeal to, that level of customer service.  In a mass market economy, you don’t get that personal touch.  That was our main concept.  What can we give people to make their experience unique?  We even had on site hemming.  “If you want this outfit, take it and I’ll custom fit it for you”.  It makes the piece memorable.  The customer becomes loyal to that designer.
     I have a few relationships like that with some of the designers.  I brought a costume bin full of old Burning Man clothes to Miranda Caroligne and said “I want to recycle this. I don’t want to throw it out.  Can you do anything with it”.  For them it’s a fun challenge.  They get these new materials to work with and it inspires their creativity.  They’ll take it all, shred it up and give it back and for a fee.  It’s recycle re-use… it’s good for the environment.  I just did that with another jewelry designer, that used to be in my shows, Josie Adele.  I had a bunch of old jewelry that I didn’t want and was just going to throw it out, so I called her up and said “hey, would you want to melt some of this down or use the raw materials”.  She said, “come on over and bring the bag of jewels”.  So I did, and she ended up taking a bunch of it and she’s going to re-use a lot of the stones.  She calls it “upcyling“.  Taking those items and making a nicer piece out of it.

MG: Love it!
ND: So now she has four different jewelry lines.  It’s been nice over the years to watch everybody’s business expand and evolve.

MG: How has the economy impacted the industry?
ND: Designers have had to come down on pricing.  We just had an event at Vessel this past Thursday and there weren’t that many people there in relationship to the amount of marketing we did.  We were expecting a lot more people.  We had four or five different articles written in magazines and also in different blogs.  We thought it would be really busy, since we had international designers at the show, but it wasn’t that busy.

MG: It was a real competitive evening because several museums launched their Thursday night happy hour series the same night.
ND: That’s the thing with the city.  There are so many events here that compete with the same 1,000 people.  Plus it was also the day after St. Patrick’s day so a lot of people were taking it easy.  There’s lots of factors that go into planning. 
     If anything, the marketing will stand out to people, even if they were not able to go to the event.  The designers received press.  As long as they get something out of it, it’s worth it.  Another thing that’s nice about the trunk shows is the designers get to hang out and network.  Connect and partner.  That’s how Trunk, the designer coop store, started.  It was a collaboration of designers.  It was a fashion cooperative that was spawned from participating in the trunk show circuit.  Another example is Mission Statement, the store in the Mission.

MG: When you’re throwing trunk shows do you get a lot of responses from designers who want to show their collection and is there a selection process you go through?
ND: Yeah, there is a selection process depending on the type of show you are having.  You want to know who you’re trying to appeal to.  Initially, my trunk shows were about getting independent designers exposure to a new audience or broader audience.  Also giving them access to an audience.  A lot of them could not get into stores or it was expensive for them, or they didn’t have enough designs yet.  We wanted to help their business.
     

MG: So who have been your greatest influences with fashion and with starting your own business.
ND: In fashion, my biggest influence  would be someone like Irene Hernandez-Feiks of Chillin’ Productions.  She was the one doing all the Chillin’ shows before anybody.  She’s amazing.  She was the first person in the city that was really doing trunk shows at a larger scale.  Now she is doing them at Mezzanine.  She was the first one in this city that was really supporting the independent fashion scene.  So when I first started the trunk shows, I actually went to her and asked her if she could coach me on what she does.  I helped her set up a couple of her events and then I told her I wanted to do it on a much smaller scale because I wanted my shows to be in an intimate environment, versus a huge event space.  Plus I didn’t want to undertake too much.  Just starting out and doing huge events I couldn’t support didn’t make sense to me.  She grew her events over time.  You just don’t start at Mezzanine, you have to start somewhere.  She started out at 111 Minna Gallery and cultivated an audience that became consistent over time and grew.  Consistency is really important.  You can’t have one or two or three events and expect everyone to show up and it will be great.  There are some events where you’ll have a couple hundred people and some where barely anyone shows up, and you can’t beat yourself up over it.  Consistency over time actually builds your audience.  She has been doing it for ten years!  That’s a lot of trunk shows.  I only have been doing it for a couple years in comparison.


MG: Haven’t you had your event planning business for five years?
ND: I have, but I have taken breaks to pursue other interests at different times.  I took a break for a whole year from doing Burning Man shows, but those have grown incredibly.  They started at Levende lounge.  The following year they were at Cafe Cocomo. The third year they grew to a bigger venue at Mighty.  Each year had more and more people in attendance.  The last one we threw at Mighty had a thousand people in attendance.  But it didn’t start there.  The first one at Levende was small and popular.  We then had to get a bigger venue.  Smaller is intimate and fun.


MG: I heard that you’re moving to LA!  What’s your plan with your move to LA?  Are you going to maintain your business here in SF and work both cities?
ND: Initially.  I still have contracts for July events.  I’m doing marketing for the Wanderlust Yoga & Music Festival which is coming up in July and I’m doing the Superhero Street Fair, which is also in July.  And then after that, I don’t know.  I’m leaving the possibilities open for anything.  I’ll still have my business.  I’m also pursuing yoga teacher training in LA.  Ideally I would primarily like to teach yoga.
     I thought about doing yoga and event work within the Festival community. There are new festivals cropping up that combine my interests of Yoga, music and fashion, like Wanderlust.
     I’m helping Wanderlust with marketing outreach to my network and contacts to spread knowledge of the festival to a wider demographic.  They want to expand to the Burning Man community, for its interest in creativity.  They’re striving for the festival to be more artistic, more collaborative, and more community driven.  


MG: What’s your advice on this situation.  I have a girlfriend who is unhappy with her job and she’s trying to do something else.  She has a lot of different ideas within the fashion industry, but isn’t clear on what direction she should take.  What should her next steps be?
ND: She needs to figure out where her interests lie and not be afraid to take chances.  I’ve evolved so much over time that I could be a  professional development coach.  For me life always changes.  I’ll start something and really love it and get super into it.  Then a couple years later, I’ll be “did that, done that” and move on.  I’m kind of a rare breed because I’ve done that many times in my life.  I’m never one to stick to one thing because I’ll suck the marrow out of it, and then when I’m done… I’m done and I will move on.  My mom is funny because she would say “in my days, people used to work at one job Nicole, their whole life!”  I was like “oh God, how boring”.   I thought that was the most boring thing.  When you’re done with something, try something new.  There are people out there like me that are risk takers.
     You also need to be aware that you may not be “successful” right away.  You have to take steps, gain skills, keep learning and keep striving.  I’m happy if I’m always learning and experiencing.  You don’t lose the skills you gain.  


MG: And what might your next steps be?
ND: There’s  a lot of trunk shows in LA.   Sequoia and Gita from S&G Clothing just moved to LA to open a store.  It’s not outside the realm of possibility to bring those Burning Man trunk shows down there.  Our community is larger in SF, but theirs is expanding.  They have the talent there.  I know there’s a lot of designers here that would welcome the idea of traveling to LA for access to a broader market.  It’s definitely a possibility.  


MG: I like how things come to you naturally.
ND: One thing I’ve learned is to set goals and intentions, but don’t set things in stone, so that you close doors.  My Buddhist philosophy is non-attachment to an outcome.  Be open,  let things come and they will unfold as they will, as long as your goals and intentions are clear.
     If a project comes to me and it doesn’t feel right, then I won’t do it.  I follow my intuition.  Even if I need the money.  I used to take on many projects just to take them on.  I would say yes to everything, but would get disappointed sometimes that I said yes.  I would follow through on projects, but I would put myself in positions that made me question why I took them in the first place.  Now I follow my intuition.
     Life is too short.  We should enjoy our life and work.  That’s why we’re here.  To have joy in our lives and to be ever expanding and learning.  Why paddle upstream when you can take the river downstream.  Life can be easy.  When you’re doing things that don’t feel right, you’re resisting and that makes life more difficult.


MG: It’s amazing that people stay in an unenjoyable situation.
ND: They like drama, I guess.  But with the most successful people, you’ll always hear the common theme ‘it just happened’ or ‘I was just lucky’.  They weren’t just lucky… they did things that felt right.  They were passionate and clear about their intentions.
     It wasn’t until the last year or two, that I started to listen to my own advice.  I started to meditate and ask people if I can thing about things and get back to them, instead of being reactionary.  I was being more visionary and mindful..  I never would have done that before.


MG: What has been a common thread for you within your career changes?
ND:  I’ve done lots of different things and it ultimately boiled down to relationships and being inspiring.  Anything moving forward in my life will always be about people and relationships.  That’s why I’m drawn to the healing arts and yoga, getting down to the core of humanity. Finding out what it is that people love to do.


MG: So, what are your favorite pieces in your wardrobe?
ND: I want to say all my Burning Man costumes.  I don’t make clothes, although designers ask me why I don’t design considering all I have done for this.  I’m really inspired by design and the creativity.  Costumes are an expression of your personality.  It represents who you are.  Some days I like more flashy, Sex in the City type outfits and other days I just want to put on my yoga pants and chill out.  My favorite pieces depend on my mood. 


MG: Where do you shop?

ND:  I’m flexible with where I buy items.  It also depends on how much money I have and how it looks.  Lately I’ve been going to thrift stores because finances are tight.  I can get a pair of jeans for $15 at a thrift store or go to a trunk show and it will be $150.  Now I have to go to the thrift store.  I do love supporting independent designers.  Because it’s custom made, the price is a little bit higher.  Also, you’re paying to support them and you’re paying a higher price to be unique.  I have a little bit of both.  I have the unique handmade items that are several hundreds of dollars and I have my five dollar shirts.  It’s fun mixing high end and low end items.  It brings out creativity, if it looks good and it’s styled right.



MG: What are you wearing now?

ND: My skinny thrift store $10 jeans with my $300 boots.  My jacket is expensive too.  It’s from Gypsies and Lords. Before it was called Abandon. It’s one of my favorite pieces. They do a lot of trunk shows.  The owner Monique is an amazing designer.  Her jackets form fitting, sexy, yet professional with intricate details and gorgeous leather.  So soft.  I actually never would have gone with this color.  I always purchased black jackets.  But she was the one who put it on me and told me how great I looked in it.  I’ve gotten so many compliments on this jacket over the years!
     I went to a colorist at one point.  It was super fun.  She said I was lucky because I could wear any color. So, I had to get more color in my wardrobe.  People are drawn to different colors for different reasons.  For example, there are power colors, colors to wear when you’re trying to get something from somebody, etc.  I was amazed by the psychological aspect.  I started expanding my wardrobe with blues, yellows, pastels, purples and pinks.  Before it was just black, black, black.


MG: Do you have any fashion secrets or tips that you’ve learned throughout the years?
ND: I know which colors look good on me, from the color consultant.  That was well worth the expense.  Also, you need to have confidence in what you’re wearing and feel comfortable.  It shows in people’s faces when they’re uncomfortable.  It’s important to know your body and your best body parts to accentuate them.  For me it’s my ass.  People said I had the best butt in the city.  I was previously self conscious about my breast size.  However, when I placed more attention to my butt, it distracted from my chest.  But now, I also know the tricks to make my boobs look bigger, ha, ha!  I go with lower neck lines and bustier bras. I’ve learned how to enhance different aspects of my body. 


MG: You’ve mentioned your colorist, who else is part of your beauty team?
ND: My stylist would be my friend Val Cunningham.  She was voted best stylist in SF.  ModeInStyle.com is her web address.  She’s the one who took me thrift store shopping and taught me how to shop.  Before I used to get overwhelmed & scared when going to thrift stores – there’s so many things to choose from that are thrown on racks.  She taught me how to piece things together and how to accessorize.  She also taught me not to just look at things on the hanger but to try them on.  
     My friend Katie Callahan is an amazing makeup artist.  She given me great tips over the years and Julie McCarthy is my esthetician.


MG: Overall, what has kept you motivated and excited about what you do?
ND: What also motivates me these days is letting go of my ego.  That’s why I’m drawn to the more yogic lifestyle.  I admire the Buddhist way of releasing material possessions and getting more and more into the heart.  Not that I’m opposed to having nice clothes, but I do see in the fashion industry there’s a lot of  waste.  If I continue doing the trunk events, I would like to venture more into Eco fashion events and recycling.   That’s why I love the upcycling concept by Josie.  We need to start recycling what we’re producing because we’re creating so much waste.  We are destroying our earth with mass production.  Being able to give items to Goodwill makes a difference in people’s lives around the globe.  Suzanne Agasi from Clothing Swap Inc. is doing it right.  Everyone brings clothing, swaps something in and swaps something out.  It’s an awesome exchange idea.  She’s been doing it for several years and it’s becoming very popular.   One man’s junk is another man’s treasure!
     What keeps me excited about what I do – the people and creativity.  I’m inspired by designers and I love the social, community building aspect of event planning.  I love to see people happy.  I love watching people dance at events.  I love seeing people inspired by art, fashion and music.  It brings a lot of joy to me.

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