At 64, Deb Chandler, remembers an uncomfortable "talk" her mom had with her at age 5. "It's like it was yesterday," she smiles, laughs, then explains. A monumental meltdown had occurred while dressing for school that morning. Day 38 of kindergarten was rough for the future fashionista! The first 37 days of school she had new dresses each day, and there must be a new dress for day 38! Wrong. "I managed to survive this early childhood trauma;” she recalls. Adding, "My mother's practical advice has served me well over the years. She was patient, loving and firm. The bottom line, I was going to have to adjust my expectations, pivot, wear a dress for the second time, and catch the bus." A lesson on being flexible that has followed the entrepreneur throughout her life.
Deb is CEO of KF Media Group, LLC, only one of several businesses she either owns, or holds a partnership stake in. Turns out the blond Washingtonian, and serial entrepreneur pivots extremely well, owning a boutique financial services firm since 1994, the media group, and partnering a year and a half ago with luxury fashion brand Dur Doux. I was curious about the types of businesses she chose and why. “It’s a natural flow, in that, I won't go into a business I don’t believe can make money and that I can't love. There isn't a business owner, or an entrepreneur who hasn't had that special moment," she pauses and smiles, "Before you ask, it's the moment you wonder when you took leave of all your senses to start the business. Happens to the best of us. At that moment, you better love what you do.” I asked, if she had those moments often. She explained, she is human, and yes, she does have moments. Not often. However, she doesn't allow herself to wallow. Her philosophy is simple. Time is money, life is short, you cannot live a fear filled life, or you'll never be happy or successful. Pivot, and move forward, there's no going back. Failures are inevitable, learn from them. Don’t repeat and move on.
In January, she admits everything was going to plan. The media group's preparations to film their first reality series was underway. The show is a deep dive into lives of designers Cynthia Burt and Najla Burt, the mother and daughter team behind Dur Doux. Aptly named, Designing Burts - DC will follow the Burts journey to grow the luxury brand into the first true Black Fashion House. Chandler is heavily committed to the success of the brand, and the series. She has worked with Najla and Cynthia, since March of 2019, as an invested partner, taking a stake in the brand. Nothing like skin in the game. In Chandler’s partnership role she serves as brand advisor, collaborating and plotting strategic moves with Cynthia and Najla. It’s a solid fit.
"I was introduced to the Dur Doux brand 3 years ago, by several local DC stylists. At first, I thought they were a boutique," she goes on to explain, "for me, there has always been an interest in the business and the artistry of fashion. The brand Dur Doux kept popping up everywhere. I felt like they had an outstanding buyer. I saw design influences from European luxury fashion houses like Valentino, yet with an edginess of New York based Proenza Schouler. I had to find out more." It was after reading an article in DC's fashion magazine, Capitol File, which featured designer Najla Burt among other leading fashion influencers in DC, that Chandler requested a meeting. She met with Cynthia Burt and came away with a different understanding of the vision behind Dur Doux's label. No boutique buyers here, only designers with their sight set on building a fashion dynasty! Najla had graduated from Parson's in New York. She had also worked with several influential designers, including Alexander Wang while studying. Cynthia's own exposure to fashion early on made the mother and daughter team a refreshing combination of elegance and edginess.
Chandler was delighted, seeing potential as she toured the Burt's showroom located at the trendy Wharf district in DC. The luxury designs, and one of kind pieces were unlike anything she had seen in DC. Having mentored other startups Chandler was all too familiar with many of the obstacles the Burts faced each day as designers. In the late 70’s Deb signed with Model’s One in Athens, Greece, working as a professional print model and actress. The agency was owned by actress and model Mary Drakopoulou. Deb attributes Mary with her total immersion, remembering the Greek icon was much more than an agent. She learned the ins and outs of the fashion and film industries by being thrown into the deep end of the pool. It was a sink or swim. The two industries are not only highly competitive, but unforgiving, with critics at every turn. Cynthia and Najla were in the deep end of the pool, and they were swimming very hard with 3 years, and 5 collections under their belts.
The meeting with Cynthia Burt was pivotal. For some time, Chandler had wanted to create a reality series about the fashion industry. She knew she did not want a competition show, as the genre has been well represented with Project Runway on Bravo, then Lifetime, and back again to Bravo. Netflix entered the fray with Next in Fashion. Amazon offered up Making the Cut last year with a warm reception. Never one to shy away from "the ask" to her industry network, Chandler pick up the phone and called a friend, who happened to have a new streaming network scheduled to release in 2020. she pitched the concept to see if there would be any interest in a distribution deal. The excitement surrounding the idea of "Designing Burts - DC" grew when Chandler received a call back a few weeks later. There was interest in the series. KF Media would create, produce, and distribute to a new streaming network. A huge undertaking for a new Executive Producer. Chandler's media group signed a development deal with the Burts last year. The ball was rolling, with production targeted for Fall 2019/Spring 2020.
The focus was to build brand visibility while preparing for the series to film. The Dur Doux team including Chandler did that; collaborations with famed photographer Tina Krohn for the Washington Ballet, illustrator Cris Clapp Logan, stylist Maggie Francois for Adam Lambert's Superpower video, and British Popstar Aaron Paul's music video Dance America. In 2019, the designers collaborated 3 times with veteran MTV stylist and Image Guru Montgomery Frazier for Paul's Dance America video, a magazine feature with beautiful Hamptons socialite Pamela Morgan and Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin’s Soho Muse launch in New York City. Frazier was at his finest for the Soho Muse launch, showcasing top designers Marc Bouwer, Malan Breton, Nicole Miller and Dur Doux.
The brand next presented for the first time at fashion week in Los Angeles, featuring their elegant designs and resort wear. January brought bold moves with the brand joining The Confessional Showroom in New York. A major leap, the showroom, provides industry stylists access to Dur Doux’s designs for magazine shoots, film, red carpet, and more. The first quarter was exciting with the luxury brand’s designs showing up in magazines Nylon, Cool America, and Guardian Weekend where Tyra Banks wore Dur Doux. Deb was thrilled with the brand trajectory, as they got closer to filming the series. Little did she know what lay ahead.
A week before February's New York Fashion Week, Deb received a call from Terry Owen, the head of the Akyumen Entertainment Network. Owen was informed by his Asian team of a virus, which originated in Wuhan, China and now was spreading outside the country. He did not want to alarm her but thought she should take a few extra safety precautions. Scheduled to sit 34 shows, being exposed to thousands of people, maybe pack an extra hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes and less hugging might be in order during her 10-day trip. Treat it like you would a flu outbreak, he warned. This was weeks before "social distancing" was on our radar in the U.S.
She arrived in New York February 4th and left 10 days later, Valentine's Day. A successful trip. The following weekend the executive producer scheduled a shoot with Cynthia and Najla for the reality series promos. She wanted to shoot the Dur Doux Red Carpet Collection with photographer Carlton Hart. Chandler and Hart are friends and have worked together in the past. In New York, they bumped into one another attending designer Romeo Hunte's show. She was thrilled to confirm with Hart for the Dur Doux shoot. Hart is known for capturing amazing shots during fashion week at Spring Studios.
Back in Washington the morning of the shoot, the news reported a few cases in Washington state and 1 case of Corona virus in New York City. Still no major alarm bells going off in Washington, DC. Numbers were rising in China and Europe, but not in the U.S.
After the shoot, the Dur Doux team walked around the corner for a celebratory lunch together. They chatted about many things the food, the shoot, the show, plans, and the virus. They have not seen one another since that afternoon in late February. All have self-quarantined.
No doubt, there have been hurdles to clear since February, unlike any Chandler has experienced. She has worked from her home office, utilizing the computer, phone, and Zoom to stay in touch. She reflects on our lives mid-June 2020, " As if a pandemic wasn't enough to derail this year, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks have been a devastating blow to their families, blacks in America, and the entire country. History is unfolding. I pray as human beings we get this right. The time is now. Black lives matter is not a movement it’s a must moving forward.”
Yet amid everything life doesn't stop, nor does business. Najla and Cynthia, along with Dur Doux associate designer Moriah Mosley are busy working on a new line Dur Doux Every Day. The brand is also now in the Harper's PR showroom in LA. Last month, funding for Designing Burts - DC was green lighted. Chandler remembers hanging up from the call, realizing that production was shutdown, before she started. She finally had the series funded and can't film. Industry wide film production companies, and networks are figuring out how to move forward in 2020. Production costs will increase in efforts to protect cast and crew when filming from a virus that can’t be seen. Attorney’s and insurers are hashing out guidelines, and risks associated with filming in a COVID-19 world.
KF Media Group has multiple projects waiting in the wings, which include a drama series, documentaries, feature films over the next 3 to 5 years, plus a podcast she launched recently to fend off quarantine crazy with co-host Linda Suter. The Princess Chronicles X Deux (2) is a tongue and cheek grownup comedy talk show, which can be found on YouTube.
Chandler concludes, “Designing Burts - DC is the first of several projects. Provided the series can film and wrap post-production without additional hitches we will premiere early in 2021. This journey will unfold, and the audience will love Cynthia and Najla Burt. I am confident we will film before the end of the year. What else could possibly happen? An extraterrestrial invasion," she laughs, casting a serious look toward the horizon.
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