By Laura Medina
Monte Durham of TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta" with a Cotilliton of Young Ladies.
Tucked away in BCBG's top secret headquarters, a bevy of Los Angeles' brightest and smartest high school female students, from two of the city's most overlooked high schools, giddily pick and select three dresses and gowns of their choice with an army of styling and grooming help from BCBG's, TLC's, and Discovery Channel's volunteers.
Heading this troop of volunteer "Fairy Godparents" is Monte Durham, the fashion director and star of TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta."
He was willing to embark on this five city tour of assisting the brightest and smartest of young ladies for their proms because he wants to pass on the worthy Southern tradition of grooming and polishing young people, regardless of socio-economic status, for society, whether it's high society or fully-functional society as well-behaved adults.
Monte said growing up in the Virginia, his family didn't have a whole lot of money. They always had food. They always had shelter but they made concessions to groom him for not just prom and high society but how to carry one's self through-out life.
He want to teach these girls, who excel in under-served schools, that you don't need designer clothes or a lot of money to be elegant and classy.
"Even though we didn't have a whole lot of money, there are two things my parents always you will always have, 'That you will always be cleaned; and that you will always have manners." In an uniquely Southern way of joking, "I'm still more of the one than the other. I'm still figuring out what that is." So, we all can't be perfect but we still try to exceed in one of the two arenas.
"We were taught in what we have to take care of. We were brought up to press everything before we leave the house. Even to this day, he still irons his clothes before he leaves the hotel. I press all my clothes. I still polish my shoes to get ready for the day. I still do it. That's the way I was taught. I still do it."
"You know what, it really comes down to respect, for yourself and for others. It actually boils down to paying attention. You don't have to have the most designer garment on but it can be cleaned; it can be tailored; it can be pressed and ready to go. You're gonna make a scene."
"It's about improving confidence and that's what we're doing today. You don't have to wear designer clothes. You don't have to go to an Ivy League college. Confidence needs to come from within."
"A lot of it happens with good habits and good grooming and good manners. Those three things will take you a long way."
To build assurance and confidence that will grow with these young ladies into a lifetime, Monte wants to prove and show them that you don't need a whole lot of money to be stylish; and having manners, whether you're poor or rich, carries you a long way.
Proving that you care and give then receive equal amounts of respect, doesn't mean nor give you the right to be a snob. In other words, don't be slobby with manners.
It is these life lessons, simple good habits, simple yet wholesome grooming, and most importantly, good manners with little money but with a whole lot of care, that is what Monte and an army of fellow "Fairy Godmothers" are trying to instill in these girls, while advising these well-deserving, bright young ladies on what silhouette, colors, and textures bring out their best features then they help these young ladies coordinate jewelry, shoes, and accessories of their own choice then the volunteer stylists make it better.
Monte and volunteer army of stylists from TLC, BCBG, and Discovery Familia call this "empowerment."
Grooming and polishing Los Angeles' 42 brightest and smartest high school seniors for America's rite of passage into adulthood, a passage these students couldn't afford otherwise, is a mission that Joyce Azria, Creative Director of BCBGeneration, is willing to take on.
BCBGeneration is not well-known for their eveningwear and special events ball gown but they do manufacture them...lots of them. Rather than mark them down at outlets or throw them away, much less burn them. BCBG sees it's a worthy cause to donate their eveningwear then let these young ladies have their pick and say in three dresses that will help them transition through life, a prom dress, a graduation dress, and a cocktail dress for college then adulthood. Possibly, these outfits can be passed down as family heirlooms.
Joyce Azria is very excited about donating highly crafted overstock and the family's headquarters for "Say Yes to the Dress" program.
"I'm very excited about this program because I love anything that has to do with girls feeling important, feeling beautiful, feeling honored, and feeling special. Quite frankly, this event focuses on making them feel special, loved, giving them a lot of attention then sharing that is a very important moment in their lives."
This is the first time BCBG, specifically BCBGeneration, participates in the "Say Yes to the Prom" program and as a the fifth and last city, it is also the first time for Los Angeles.
Joyce is open to admit she first learned about the program from public relations but it's a worthy cause that she knows that BCBG can hit out of the ball park.
"Obviously, the show is a huge success. I never thought I'll be related to the show or be working with the show but we're really, really honored to have the ability to throw the show for them. "
As being interviewed during her lunch on a hectic but fun-filled, glamor day, "I work very, very hard. I even work through my lunch."
"I feel like all these young girls are stepping up for their parents. A lot of them have seen their parents come from other countries. We (Joyce being a daughter of French and Russian immigrants) don't take our opportunities living in this country for granted."
In describing these young ladies she is helping in "Say Yes to the Prom," Joyce describes them as, "This girl is a very intelligent girl. She knows she needs to step up for her family and for herself."
What she and BCBGeneration is doing for these young ladies on "Say Yes to the Prom" Day is what she calls, "A definitely "red carpet treatment," usually reserved for A-list celebrities getting primp and prep for the Golden Globes, the Grammys, and the Oscars during Awards Season.
Joyce, "I'm so happy to help."
Monte and Joyce are offering help that these deserving young ladies would never get otherwise. Monte and Joyce are happy to offer their wisdom and resources to these ladies when it comes to that rite of passage from being girls to helping them being debuted into society.
"Say Yes to the Prom" is more than just giving these well-deserving girl the Hollywood Red Carpet treatment. The organization, the production, and the logistics are on par with New York and Paris Fashion Week. Compared to other fashion week shows, "Say Yes to the Prom," the Los Angeles edition was one of the best run fashion productions in the city.
BCBG's factory facility was transformed into a white and gold atelier with fake fur shag carpeting, French Rocco furniture and couches, a make-believe Parisian atelier in the heart of top-secret industrial Los Angeles.
The top-notch production and logistics were needed when handling an army of makeup artists and hair stylists from Ruby Makeup Academy and an army of volunteer stylists, headed of course, by Monte Durham.
Watching 42 young ladies being primp and prep reminds this scribe of New York Fashion Fashion...but with more space.
To make sure that dress is right, Monte and his volunteers escort the ladies to a special alteration/tailoring section where tailors happily adjust and fit the gowns.
Once the look is "finalized," the young ladies walk the runway.
Mind you, these young ladies are academics from two of Los Angeles' most overlooked schools. They're just happy with scholarships and grants but to be "Cinderellas" for a day...now this is special.
Sure, "debuting" on the runway was awkward for the most of them but Monte and Joyce soothe their nervousness. He can't help but comment how everybody's hair in Los Angeles is so lush. He was so happy when one of the ladies selected a bedazzled scarlet red ballgown with a full skirt.
Since this is also a runway show, Monte also commented on emerging prom and eveningwear trends.
This wasn't just a treat for the young ladies but also for the all employees and volunteers involved.
The audience was packed, full of beaming BCBG employees and TCL and Discovery Channel volunteers who were so proud of seeing their work on display.
The finale was when all 42 ladies walked the runway then gathered at the end, surrounding Monte. This was their cotillion that will launch them into society.
BCBGeneration, TLC, and Discovery Familia are thrilled to be "Fairy Godmothers" to these well-deserving and well-earned Cinderellas.