….Continued from The Making Of S.H.E Media: Part 1.
It was a cozy, dreary weekday morning in December of 2017 and I was on the couch reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler. Fully lost in the larger-than-life, excessively wild scenes of the 1920’s depicted on each page, I had developed a love affair with the whimsical escapism of historical fiction. There was something so exaggerated and romantic (in the best way) about Fowler’s authored words that my mind couldn’t help itself but to transport me in a time machine to the bustling Jazz Age streets of New York City and Paris, as if I were living in the pages.
A novel about the lives of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald narrated from Zelda’s point of view, the story (based on her extensive research of the lives of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald) was Fowler’s way of connecting with Zelda’s soul, posthumously giving her the voice that–despite her talents and potential–could never fully be heard or realized while she lived, due to the social confines of her time. Something about this notion was extremely endearing and significant to me. It piqued my curiosity, as the fascination with women from history and the lessons they can still teach us about the universal female experience was something Melissa and I were already in tune with in the initial conceptualizations of what eventually became the focus of our new digital platform that’s launching this weekend.
Melissa was still living in San Angelo at the time. These thoughts were all swirling in the back of my mind for days, until I had my “Aha!” moment and called her long-distance with a crazy idea: “What if I really lean into my theater background – stop trying to hide it, and use it to become Zelda Fitzgerald, and we do a huge photoshoot that looks like the 1920’s, and I use current couture to style her to seem relevant, and then use editorial to write to modern-day readers in her voice?” This was the first time I had pieced together all of the things I love into one thought: theatrical productions, elevated fashion, historical fiction, performing on-camera, and sophisticated editorial. Without hesitation, she said, “Genius!! LET’S DO IT.” That has been the beauty of our partnership thus far…creatively, Melissa just gets me. She not only finishes my sentences when I’m spewing ideas, but then she takes them and materializes them into game plans and spreadsheets and prop lists and deadlines…the things that don’t come naturally to me.
A few weeks later, it was February 8th, 2018 and we were pulling up to The St. Anthony Hotel for shoot day like a scene from The Beverly Hillbillies; our cars were piled to the brim with props galore, enough food to last us two days, and couture clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories on loan from Neiman Marcus collectively valued at an amount that would take me years to pay back if something happened to it. (Aside: Thank you to my dear friend Xitlalt Herrera-Salazar, PR Manager of Neiman Marcus, who helped me style the many looks of Zelda’s character and who made all of this possible. This wouldn’t have happened without her unwavering, sisterly support.)
We settled into our secure hotel room (thank you Wendy Haralson) and meticulously laid everything out according to Melissa’s production plan. Cue: arrival of the ‘Twirl Girls’ from Twirl Salon, and the transformation began. It took over two hours to make me into Zelda (thank you Erika-hair, Jade-makeup, Amber and Kim-assistants), and then our photographer Adrian Espinoza arrived. The shoot took hours to execute, with set changes, costume changes, location changes throughout the hotel, and mini “performances” that I prepared with some intensive character work that I hoped would achieve the visual high-level narrative of Zelda’s life. The day ran clunk-ily to say the least, but overall it wasn’t bad for our humble and naïve first attempt at a multimedia shoot.
We never published this work, as grateful as we were to everyone who helped us make it, but it was extremely important to our story. Our trial process with Zelda led us to the realization that what we were creating was a digital magazine, not just a flipbook fashion feature on my blog. This was something that could stand on its own as a new platform, if built out with enough thoughtful layers. Once this hit us, Melissa and I raced to get a concept prototype designed before we left for our important events in March. I wrote all of the copy, thought of the name S.H.E (the acronym that ended up becoming the name of our media company) and Melissa designed the layouts. We didn’t sleep for a week while we scrambled to pull it all together, but we just had a feeling that if we had this prototype on-hand to spontaneously show people in person, we could get casual feedback and, ultimately, important buy-in during that critical early stage of product development.
The making of Zelda, behind-the-scenes:
As it turned out, preparation met opportunity that month and it gave us just the confidence we needed to put our foot on the gas pedal and punch it. A few special people told us we had a real idea and that they believed in us. That was all we needed to hear to believe in us too. During those months of momentum, we went to SXSW for a speech I gave, bonded with designer Nina Means because she dressed me in one of her suits for the Women in Digital event, went to Houston for even more meetings, laid all of the groundwork for our business plans (including the decision to shut down our current consulting / blogging efforts), brought my lifelong best friend Satchie Seidlits into our equation (she helped us during this entire pre-launch phase to get S.H.E Media off the ground) and by April 30th we had founded our company. In the midst of it all, I reconnected with Rahm Carrington during his Unifrom 300 project, which is the starting point for our next chapter, summertime.
It was a whirlwind Spring, but it was only the beginning. What we were about to face in the months that followed, personally and professionally, were beyond what we could have ever imagined…both the good and the bad.
To be continued…
*Thank you to our friends at Neiman Marcus, The St. Anthony Hotel, Twirl Salon, and Adrian Espinosa for making our Zelda prototype happen. We wouldn’t have made it to this point without you.