Today we are pleased to present an exclusive Over My Shoulder Foundation interview with Denise Hajjar, Boston-based fashion designer, philanthropist and Designer-in-Residence at Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. Fashion New England calls Denise “a favorite of the chic ladies in downtown Boston”. Denise was gracious enough to lend her talents to a benefit fashion show for the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston earlier this year in April. Here she reveals her inspirations, mentors and ideas about mentorology – the art and science of mentoring.
-Dawn Carroll, Over My Shoulder Foundation Co-Founder
Hi Denise. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today about mentoring, fashion and inspiration. You’ve certainly made a name for yourself, especially in Boston. What drives you to accomplish all that you have accomplished in the world of fashion and design?
My drive came from the fact I was given a talent from my grandmother who was a designer and taught me how to sew. Also believe it or not all the years of classical ballet training. I trained for 12 years 7 days a week as I thought I would be a dancer. This I feel is what gave me the discipline I needed to do what I do now. In the ballet world there is no room for wasting time. I had to grow up very fast and be very focused. I truly love what I do every day. And for that fact I always want to do better and be better. I get great joy in making women look and feel beautiful.
We love how early influences mold us into the people we are today. Do you credit certain individuals as mentors who have helped you really take advantage of the key qualities you picked up early on from your ballet practice and your grandmother?
I have several people who have helped me greatly and I still can go to. First, always my family and closest friends who never give up on me and are my main support in the good and bad times. Chuck Albert, who was the manager of Bonwit Tellers back in the 80’s. I sold to four Bonwit stores back then. VG Di Geronimo who owned a boutique on Newbury Street called Adornments Creative Clothing. I got to sell my pieces and it just grew from there. Today I would have to say Jon Crellin who was, at the time, the general manager of this Fairmont. He asked me to be their “designer-in-residence” 6 years ago! The rest is history. It has opened so many doors being here. Also I have to say, Amalie Canna, this incredible women whose knowledge of clothing construction is amazing. Whenever I am stuck on something I go to her. I am still learning after 30 years. So blessed to have her in my life!
On your website you write that your designs are a “reflection of the world…a combination of strength, sensitivity and imagination”. Strength, sensitivity and imagination are qualities that we think make mentors effective and successful. Can you think of some other qualities that befit an effective and successful mentor?
Well one must never forget who they are and where they started. Because at a moment’s notice, it can all be taken away. You must love what you do, almost to a fault. You have to want to keep learning from everyone around you. Helping along the way only will make you better at what you do, because you have to constantly be thinking outside the box. You never know who you will inspire OR who will inspire you!!!!
At Over My Shoulder Foundation (OMSF), we are convinced about the truth of our favorite Jimi Hendrix quote “If there is something to be changed in this world…then it can only be done through music”. Are you inspired by any music in particular? Do you listen to music when you work?
I ALWAYS listen to music, all kinds of music. It helps my creative juices going along with my fabrics that I work with. I think music and beautiful fabrics go hand in hand
How about you? Have you found yourself mentoring others? We’re thinking about Big Dreams Start Small benefit event for St. Jude’s Hospital and your philosophy “Giving back should be the rule, not the exception”. In these instances, do you think of yourself as a mentor?
I always have believed in mentoring. I have done it for so many years now. I get so excited when I see a student from the past or a young person who shadowed me come to me years later to say how I inspired them, how I motivated them to do what they went on to do. Or how a parent will come up to me to tell me their child was changed by what they saw and did when they were with me. You don’t realize the impact you make at the time.
Now let’s talk about the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston fashion show. How did the idea for the benefit fashion show come about? What made you decide to do it?
Well it’s not so much helping “Big Sisters” as it is helping women whether young or grown. To give them motivation and confidence to be or to do whatever you want. Not everyone has the support or skills in the beginning given to them like I did. So it is our job to give them a little help in getting started. In the fall I do my show for “Dress for Success”. This helps women who want to get back on their own. DFS helps them in many ways including providing job interview clothes.
Do you have any advice for youngsters out there yearning for a fashion career?
Advice? Be willing to do your due-diligence and work hard, very hard. Fashion and the world of design is not about making a lot of money BUT the love of doing your craft well. In this field we have to think the glass is half full always! Do not give up if you REALLY believe you are good and know you have something to offer. Go to school and take the classes needed to understand what you are going to do. Do internships. Volunteer to help out at shows or fashion events. Be happy at what you decide to do. If not, you will fail for sure.
Denise, thanks again for talking with us at Over My Shoulder Foundation about your fashion career and mentoring. It’s really clear that you LOVE what you do – and that is an inspiration to us all. We look forward to seeing what great things you’re going to do next!!!