BY :: SPARKLY STELLAFLY
PHOTOGRAPHER TIM MOTLEY
On Thursday night, fashion took center stage on the Medical Mile, as over 400 people arrived at the Van Andel Institute for the seventh annual Couture for a Cure. The first floor of this world-class research facility was transformed into a scene from New York Fashion Week for this event, which raised thousands of dollars to support the life-changing scientific research that takes place in the floors above. After a reception that included a wide variety of hors d’ouevres and cocktails, the crowd moved to the seats along the runway for a fashion show put on by Leigh’s at Breton Village mall, and which featured the spring 2013 line by Daniel Vosovic, the NYC designer who was born and raised right here in West Michigan.
But this event did not just happen overnight. It was a year in the making. Planning began just days after the 2011 event, and a key player in the execution of the annual event since its inception in 2006 has been Patrick Plank, Creative Director and Director of Visual Merchandising for Leigh’s. His position covers a wide scope of work, from creating window displays for the store to spending time in New York City on buying trips for clients. He was the perfect person to talk to in West Michigan about orchestrating a large fashion show, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to spend some time watching him in action and hearing about how he got to where he is today.
I arrived at Leigh’s on the eve of Couture for a Cure, and walked back to see Patrick, who was wrapping up a day of model fittings. He told me there would be 16 models, each showing four different looks—Bond Bombshells, a tribute to the 50th anniversary of James Bond; Colorful Characters, because “color is big this year” according to Plank; Rock-Her, some rock-and-roll styles; and After Hours Diva, which would showcase this season’s evening wear looks. I watched as he put together just the right looks for each model and made sure that each look was complimented by the right shoes, bag, and accessories. There was energy in the fitting area that could not be missed, and Plank never slowed down. As I spoke with him I could see the wheels turning in his head, thinking about what else he could do to make the event even more special.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Patrick Plank once had aspirations of becoming an elementary school teacher. While in high school, he had his first experiences in retail at North Kent Mall, which gave him the experience he needed to get a job at Jacobson’s in 1992, while taking classes at Grand Rapids Community College and Kendall College of Art and Design. For three years he worked in sales, starting in the boys clothing department, then men’s clothing, and then the women’s shoe department. It was around that time he began to use his art background and helped to create displays in the store, eventually earning him the title of Visual Merchandise Manager, a position he held until Jacobson’s closed its doors.
After Jacobson’s closed, Plank took initiative and the experience he had acquired and started his own company, P2 Merchandise Presentations. His clients included Leigh’s and Fitzgerald’s Men’s Store in Breton Village Mall, as well as Woodland Mall and Wolverine Worldwide. In 2005, Larry Leigh asked Patrick to come on board full-time. Seven years later, he still loves his work as much as he did when he began, and is very excited about the increased interest in fashion in West Michigan. Couture for a Cure began as a small fashion show in Leigh’s and last night filled the Van Andel Institute venue to its capacity. Plank said he sees that this area has, “an increased awareness of fashion” and that people are “treating the event like a fashion event and truly dressing for the event.”
Couture for a Cure has become just that—a fashion event. And much of that has to do with the vision of Patrick Plank. From creating a longer runway and having more models on that runway than ever before, to creating a truly theatrical experience with amazing lighting, music, and even props for the Bond Bombshell segment, the entire show was a work of art.
Thursday night, I arrived and was able to see in real-life what I had heard about the night before. But in real-life, it was so much better. I watched Patrick in action throughout the evening, before the show began, making sure that everything surrounding the show was picture perfect—looking through each look on the racks backstage, making sure the lighting was just right, and checking in on all of the models in hair and makeup. He not only selects the clothing, he manages the staff, works with the production company, and finalizes the music for the show. With all of these responsibilities, I was amazed at how calm and collected he seemed…ready for anything.
Watching a fashion show from alongside the runway is a completely different experience than what is seen backstage. Thursday night’s show required each girl to have four or five looks, depending on whether they were part of the Daniel Vosovic show. They had all of about 2 minutes in between each look to change into their next outfit, line up, and have Patrick take one last careful look at them before they start to walk the runway again. Last minute adjustments are made, such as adding a brooch, clipping a piece of clothing with a binder clip to make it tighter, or helping a model get into her impossibly high heels and ready to walk the runway.
As the last girl came off the stage after the finale, I saw Patrick have a deep sigh of relief and a smile on his face, as I’m sure he knew that once again, he had just created something incredible. The applause and cheers from the audience was proof of that. He had created just the experience that he wanted it to be for everyone there.
When I asked Patrick what he would be doing after the night was over, he said he would relax, take some time for himself, and then begin preparing for the 2013 Couture for a Cure.
If you are looking for the latest in today’s fashion trends, stop into Leigh’s and see all of the wonderful things they have to offer. And to see all of the wonderful work that is happening at the Van Andel Institute, check out their website at www.vai.org.