A year ago, Wayne Bell had never touched a needle. Today he has a studio on Center Street, and is in the process of fitting models for his debut runway show, which will be held next Thursday during Northwest Arkansas’ first fashion week.
“Other than being a reader of Vogue, I had never taken classes,” says Bell, who has a collection of Vogue magazines in his reception area that date back to 2003.
For Bell, designing was an unexpected result of his unemployment. After being laid off during a downsize at his former corporate job, Bell kept himself busy with projects around the house. Sewing was at first a hobby, and the designer recalls the first dress he ever made, saying, “I’m not sure it was wearable.”
Bell taught himself to sew by watching YouTube videos. Though he has taken a couple of classes over the year, he remains mostly self-taught. Today, Bell has an original line of clothing that is sold in Mustache Boutique on the Downtown Fayetteville Square.
The designer finds inspiration in the current trends as well as vintage pieces. Bell says audiences can expect to see a 60 percent vintage and 40 percent original on the runway next Thursday night.
Bell’s altered vintage pieces are part of one-of-a-kind line entitled Social by BonnerBell, which is sold at vintage boutiques across town.
“I like giving a new life to an old piece,” he says.
Vintage is a fashion trend that is popular in Fayetteville because of its individualistic nature, explains Molly Clark, owner of Grey Dog Vintage Boutique. The Fayetteville native opened up her vintage boutique in a 1973 airstream trailer in December 2010.
“The BonnerBell girl is an individualistic, savvy gal who has a strong sense of self,” says Clark. “Any vintage wearer has
her own vision. Fayetteville has always had an artistic, individualistic community, and that intertwines with vintage wear.”
It was at Grey Dog that Bell had a chance encounter with Jade Terminella, owner of Lola Boutique and organizer of NWA Fashion Week.
Not only did Terminella invite Bell to participate in Fashion Week, but she also purchased one of Bell’s dresses to wear during the event.
“It was the first time I had seen his line or met him,” remembers Terminella. “I love his work. He’s really talented.”
Bell’s encounter with Terminella inspired him to take the leap from part-time enthusiast to full-time designer. In February, after being approved for a small business loan, the BonnerBell design team made the move to Center Street.
It was during a Fashion Week gathering that Bell met Melissa Arens, co-owner of Mayapple Salon and Boutique. Arens is also the fashion director for the local nonprofit organization, Art Amiss. She says directing fashion shows is a “fabulous fiasco.”
“I remember being 12 years old and looking at fashion magazines and wanting to be a supermodel,” remembers Arens, as she explains her love for fashion.
While studying for a Spanish anthropology degree at the University of Arkansas, Arens began work at a salon. Feeling as though she had found her place as a behind-the-scenes hair and makeup artist, she dropped out of college to “be a part of that model world.”
“For me, it means getting to express myself as an artist,” Arens explains. “My goal is to make other people feel good about
their inner selves, to take everyone’s natural beauty and enhance it.”
Mayapple Salon is six blocks east of BonnerBell Studios, located on the side of the former Trailside Café. After three years, Arens and her business partner, Roxie Hunt, are expanding their business into a larger building across the street. The new space will allow the boutique side of the business to grow.
Arens and her buying assistant, Natalie Denton, strive to showcase emerging designers, not only from Fayetteville, but from other parts of the United States as well.
Currently, Denton says that Seattle is a favorite destination to find emerging designers.
“Seattle has the same vibe that Mayapple stands for — eclectic and versatile,” she says. Arens is also planning a scouting trip to Denver after Fashion Week, and eventually hopes to bring emerging designers from New York City and Europe to the boutique.
Even with the expansion and plans to import designs from other areas, Denton says that Mayapple Boutique is planning to stick to its roots, which includes supporting local designers like BonnerBell and OneManBand by Emily Smith.
Arens, who has been a part of the local scene for nine years, says that the entire Fayetteville fashion industry is receiving unprecedented publicity due to Fashion Week.
She explains that before Fashion Week, there were only a few larger shows happening throughout the year. “I give a lot of credit to Jade for bringing the fashion community together,” Arens says.
Denton, who will also be modeling during Fashion Week, agrees. “Fashion week has spurred growth and completely brought everyone together. A lot of friendship has evolved.”
The camaraderie created by Fashion Week has empowered members of the fashion community to grow their businesses and grow together.
As they work for the common goals of giving back to the community and supporting independent businesses, boutiques and designers are forming relationships as collaborators instead of competitors.
“A collaboration between all local boutiques and designers will bring a sense of community to the local fashion world,” says Arens.
For Bell, Fashion Week offers the opportunity to establish his business and increase production. “The desired pay-off would be able to sustain the decision (to move into the studio). To know that the people of Fayetteville will support local art and a functioning artist community,” he says.
Though the event has captured the local spotlight for the moment, the lasting impact of Northwest Arkansas’ first fashion week is yet to be seen.
“My hope is that it will continue,” Bell says. “Fashion Week will be over, but we all have to kind of pitch in after Fashion Week to keep this independent fashion community going.”
Arens is optimistic about the future of the local fashion industry.
“I see this first one being the launch of something huge, getting bigger and bigger, making jobs for other people, creating jobs for artists,” she says.
Bell’s pieces will be for sale in Mustache and Mayapple boutiques the week after Fashion Week. Social by BonnerBell will be for sale at Mayapple, Grey Dog Vintage Boutique and Vintage Wolf.