My whirlwind weekend was hardly work. I soaked up advice and fashion finesse from one of the biggest names in fashion. For the 10th year anniversary of Omaha Fashion Week, producers Nick and Brook Hudson surprised Omaha with none other than Fern Mallis. Fern is the creator of New York Fashion Week, former executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and, now, a role model for me.

Fern Mallis with the author, Virginia Rodriguez

Fern Mallis with the author, Virginia Rodriguez

A couple weeks before Omaha Fashion Week, my boss, Alyssa Dilts, send me one of the most exciting texts of my life: "You are going to be Fern Mallis' assistant when she comes to Omaha!" For the next two weeks, I could not stop smiling, dancing and screaming at the same time. As the days passed, I got more and more ecstatic; I could not wait! They flew by quickly, and without me even realizing, it was already Friday.

When the time came to pick up Fern at the hotel, it hit me; she was really here, I was really going to meet her. We introduced one another, and I talked a bit about myself. I told her that I am from the Dominican Republic, which led to conversation about some of the amazing designers that come from there, specifically Oscar de la Renta. 

It took us less than five minutes to arrive at our first destination. The Hudsons organized a small and cozy welcome reception for Fern at the Anderson O’Brien Fine Art gallery with OFW sponsors, long-time supporters, selection panelists, headline designers, educational partners and city officials.

As we entered the gallery, whispers and cheerful faces filled the room. Fern was immediately approached by people who told her how thankful they were that she decided to visit us, as well as how much they admire her and her work. The conversations ended with her agreeing happily to photos. Looking at how people reacted made me realize not only how inspiring and impactful Fern is. Before leaving the reception, Fern gave a thank-you speech along with some crucial advice: Be nice.

After the reception, we headed to the Omaha Design Center for The Homecoming Show, a retrospective look at Omaha Fashion Week designers over the past decade. Afterward, Fern stayed for the Nebraska AIDS Project Runway Wrap Up, featuring garments made entirely from condoms. As a founding board member of Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, Fern looked excited to stay and watch the show.

The next morning, Fern hosted lunch with the ten designers selected to compete in the VIP Runway Finale. It was incredible to see the designers' eagerness to ask questions, and she responded with excellent advice to each one of them.

Afterward, we moved ourselves to the conference room where Fern spoke to a group of enthusiastic high school and college students. As I sat with the crowd, I looked around and smiled because of the impact that Fern had on everyone that heard her speak. Some laughed and others became teary-eyed, but it is safe to say that all of them enjoyed the talk. The eager crowd had more face time with Fern after the talk as she signed copies of her book, “Fashion Lives, Fashion Icons”.

Later that evening we returned to the Omaha Design Center for the VIP Runway Finale, where Fern sat on a panel alongside designers Amanda Valentine and Michael Drummond. The ten finalists showed their current collections with the hopes of winning the SAC Fashion Cup along with a prize package valued at $25,000 to help launch their career. The winners were SuShe by J. Tracey and Zaftig Kitty by Korinne Zimmerman. 

Following the show fashion fans headed to Omaha Marriott Downtown at the Capitol District for the Official OFW Afterparty. Fern and I discussed what the future holds. The next morning as we said our goodbyes I could not help but smile, reflecting on the incredible weekend that I just had. I never imagined I'd have the opportunity to meet Fern Mallis let alone, work with her. As Fern said, the people who get their dream jobs are the ones who work their hardest and do everything to get them; they do not wait for others to tell them what to do.