If you've been to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, you've probably noticed a lot of signs and memos reading, "Brought to you by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Director of Fashion at Lincoln Center." As the person who oversees Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week from the big picture -- both now and in the future -- to every small detail in between, one probably would assume her life is full of glamour with fancy parties and events around the clock. But at the end of the day -- a very long day, to be exact -- Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is a mom, which led her to create an event for one of fashion's most important weeks in celebration of and to empower moms worldwide.
In partnership with The Moms, Mom-entum, Big Fuel and Getting Gorgeous, Winston Wolkoff was vital to making Strut: The Fashionable Mom Show a reality for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. It's a realm that has never quite been explored amidst the world of pin-thin models and couture. But according to Winston Wolkoff, fashionhood, a term she uses to describe the parallels between fashion and motherhood, does indeed exist and she is helping to bring that project into the spotlight.
"It's green-lighting an initiative, that's almost unprecedented, with a spin," Winston Wolkoff told the International Business Times. "This is a huge demographic that is never really tapped into. The timing couldn't have been more perfect."
As a mother of three, Winston Wolkoff truly is an archetype of fashionhood, after spending almost 20 years immersed in the fashion business. From her role as director of special events at Vogue under Anna Wintour to her current position as founding director of Fashion at Lincoln Center, serving as a liaison between the countless parties involved, Winston Wolkoff believes that not only can mothers be fashionable, but gain strength from mixing style and raising children while working.
"When I met The Moms, to me it was an empowerment of moms," Winston Wolkoff said. "I recognized the concept and celebrated the hard work of all of these mothers and I find it extremely relevant to everyday life."
But Winston Wolkoff didn't just love the concept of a mom show, it resonated with her personally. With her extremely busy role as founding director of Fashion at Lincoln Center, she frequently finds herself torn between her hectic work schedule and spending time with family.
"It's taking that personal life with three children and being able to juggle fashionhood, fashion and motherhood," Winston Wolkoff said. "I feel that, being in a position where I'm doing something every day, I can intrinsically do something that's going to make women feel good."
For many women, it's simply impossible to juggle a time-consuming career, while having the time and energy to tend to their families. But seeing how Winston Wolkoff pulls it off proves that the impossible can indeed be done.
"My family always comes first. I'm constantly trying to seek that perfect balance," she said. "There's never a way to fully have the best of both worlds. But I do find ways to mix work and family together."
Winston Wolkoff told me that her children are frequent visitors in her office, where they sometimes do their homework. After her work day ends, she goes home and has dinner with her family before tucking the children in, and then on occasion even goes back to work, but never to superfluous events.
Sometimes Winston Wolkoff makes her children a part of her work. For example, during the Fall 2012 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Winston Wolkoff brought her daughter to explore the Barbie dream closet at Lincoln Center and had all three children tag along to see Victor Cruz of the New York Giants cut the ribbon to start Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Lincoln Center, much to their pleasure.
"By doing that, that's something that they love and enjoy and that's something I have to do."
But Winston Wolkoff did not learn how to juggle out of nowhere. Her former job at Vogue as director of special events under Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour helped prepare her for almost anything thrown her way.
"My tenure [at Vogue] truly taught me everything that I needed to do to know how to take this next step," she said. "It truly allowed me to connect with all parts of the fashion industry. The events I produced united the industry and, sometimes, literally under one roof. I have to say that was my greatest gift, she advised, describing those Vogue years. That period taught her to operate with autonomy to produce, create, implement, oversee the most incredible fashion events in the world."
Of particular importance was working with Anna Wintour, who nurtured and mentored her.
"I had the privilege of working closely with Anna Wintour, whom I consider my most sincere and caring mentor. It's an honor to work with her. It really is. I'm very lucky," she said. "She's a mentor, she's a friend and she's truly an innovator and a visionary...I value our relationship, as well as everything she has to say."
Specifically, Wintour kept Winston Wolkoff on her toes, a trait she values today.
"She taught me a great deal about the industry and its next steps for the future," she said. "Always how to be on what's happening in the present day. She created some of the most amazing things and I was able to implement that."
Her successful career at Vogue for over a decade, where she helped with events like the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala and the annual 7th on Sale shopping event, led to her current position overseeing Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, where she is integral in organizing the week-long celebration of fashion. She serves as a liaison between Lincoln Center, IMG Fashion, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, retailers and designers.
"The planning is triangulated with the industry as a whole. Every entity counts: the designers, the retailers, the trade. It's almost like a chess game; Every piece that you move is an elaborate move...to come up with the next best move for everybody," she explained.
"And that has to happen during all phases," she added, "from creating the installations, the presentations, the exhibitions to the runway shows that take place at Lincoln Center itself during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week," said Winston Wolkoff. "It's spreadsheets, lots of conference calls, lots of meetings, and the list goes on and on."
In addition to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Winston Wolkoff also organizes new projects that coincide with the week, like Juicy Couture co-founders Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor unveiling of their new brand Skaist-Taylor held in the garage underneath Lincoln Center transformed into a forest, thanks to Winston Wolkoff's thinking outside the box.
"It's about opening and expanding the venue you see at hand and also being able to decipher who would be best fitted for somewhere like that, to take a garage location and transform it, as they did, into a Los Angeles tree...and finding the right location and making sure that what their vision is, to implement that."
Self-described as the "Switzerland of Fashion Week," Winston Wolkoff even helps out young designers, as they climb their way up the fashion totem pole or breakthrough in New York.
"I work closely with so many different emerging designers," she said. "I consult and team up with a lot of them and create productions and manage to lower their costs for Fashion Week productions into a lot of backstage sharing costs, for hair and makeup, one load in one load out, have four designers in a row. It's just non-stop."
Non-stop is exactly what Stephanie Winston Wolkoff hopes some day to make the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. In addition to everything she works on year-round, she has plans to expand the biannual week to a year-round entity, and in the process, create an even more hectic life for herself.
"Fashion's presence in New York, as we all know, definitely extends beyond the two weeks of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week," she said. "For me, I strive to make it become, here at Lincoln Center, a cultural institution, beside the opera and the ballet."
One instance of Winston Wolkoff's influence was evident in the last year, when she took over a fundraiser for established designer Ralph Lauren called "Lincoln Center Presents: An Evening with Ralph Lauren" charity event. Hosted by Oprah Winfrey, the charity raised over $7 million, the largest fundraiser in the history at Lincoln Center.
"After the success of Ralph's event, I definitely plan to bring more designers to the stage to discuss their lives and careers in the fashion world," she said. "I believe that as we continue to honor our industry, the industry's artists, we'll begin to solidify fashion as a sort of cultural pillar in our city. We're definitely working on a whole array of activity."
With this, Winston Wolkoff plans to create a world of fashion around the campus of Lincoln Center, where Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is held, with symposiums, fashion technology panels and social media events year-round.
As her she continues her role as director of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Winston Wolkoff has already brought one of her ideas to life with "Strut: The Fashionable Mom Show" which will be held on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 3 p.m. at The Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. The show will have moms of all shapes and sizes and those who are pregnant and those who are not wearing clothes donated by designers, which, of course, was organized by Winston Wolkoff.
"In the spirit of collaboration, I reached out to my designer friends who are also moms, like Rachel Roy and Tory Burch and Vera Wang, whose mission is really in line with empowering moms and women and glamour," she said.
Winston Wolkoff also reached out to Iman, legendary supermodel, mother, and wife of David Bowie, who will host the event.
"When I reached out to Iman, who is a friend of mine," Winston Wolkoff said, "She said to me, 'This is something you believe in. This is something you're passionate about. This is something that makes sense.' It is something the two friends agreed was an important way to influence the fashion industry."
Having been instrumental at Vogue, and in the effort to move Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week from Bryant Park to Damrosch Park Lincoln Center in 2009, and now establishing the first ever fashion show dedicated to mothers, one would think Stephanie Winston Wolkoff expects her children to follow in her footsteps. However, all she wants is to do at the end of the day is to influence them positively.
She brings them into her world, she said, "to see the hard work that I've done that goes into it. I think it gives them also that sense of wanting to strive to say, 'I want to do this and I want to do that.'"
"Whatever they decide to do," she added, echoing moms everywhere, "I just want them to be happy."