The photographer lowered his camera for a moment and smiled at the group of women in front of him. "You look like you're on America's Next Top Model," he shouted, whipping his camera back into position to fire off a few more photos as the women laughed.
This was no reality show, however, and these women weren't wispy ingenues competing for a chance to work a Fashion Week runway. This was real life, and these were real women -- mothers, wives, business owners and corporate types, many from Fort Worth. All 16 of them had agreed to donate their summer day to help create a national marketing campaign for a clothing company called Ming Wang. It's the company's first use of nonprofessional models.
Sold nationally at stores like Dillard's and Nordstrom, Ming Wang maintains a design team and a showroom in New York City. But label founder and namesake Ming Wang and her children call Tarrant County home, along with the woman behind today's photo shoot, Carolyn Raab.
As the owner of The Bridge Boutique in Fort Worth, Raab has developed a devoted following among local women, often of a certain age and shape, who are seeking stylish, professional looks that stand the test of time. Ming Wang's smart, Chanel-like jackets and sensible, St. John-style knit fabrics are the perfect fit for these women, and Raab is known for making house calls to customers' closets to demonstrate how to mix Ming Wang pieces into existing wardrobes.
Raab understands the Ming Wang line because she has spent her entire professional career with the company, beginning in the studio as a designer in 2003 during her studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. This fall, she will have a personal connection to the company as well when she marries Ming Wang's son, Eric. The Wang family moved to Grapevine five years ago; Raab followed, settling in Fort Worth and opening The Bridge.
A petite blonde with boundless enthusiasm, Raab not only sells the line at The Bridge, she has helped to bring the company into the age of digital marketing and beyond as the company's national merchandising manager. So far, she has launched a Facebook page, attached a style blog and video feeds to the company's website, and made an appearance at this summer's Full Figured Fashion Week in New York City.
Raab also oversees many of the styles that come out of the company's New York design studio, steering the direction of each collection based on firsthand feedback from her clients at The Bridge.
"Most designers sit in a design studio all day; they're not working with customers and their clothes," says Steven Wang, president of Ming Wang. "She is the communication link between what the company wants to design and what the customers want the brand to be."
The brand is certainly a hit among the women being rearranged for another series of group shots. Delena Otteson, a Fort Worth cosmetics sales rep, says Raab has helped her find the right look for events ranging from her son's wedding rehearsal dinner to her company's leadership conference, and Otteson says she was flattered and excited when Raab asked her to participate in the shoot.
"I love Ming Wang -- it fits well, you can wash it and it doesn't fade, and you can sit for hours and always look fresh," Otteson gushed, noting that the Ming Wang dress she was wearing came from her own wardrobe.
Retiree Sue Huston, who met Raab during a Ming Wang style show at the Fort Worth Club, was pleased to be part of the shoot, as was Laura Bacigalupo, a public information officer who appreciates the tailoring and unique look of the knitwear line. Bacigalupo became Raab's client and friend through their membership in the Junior Woman's Club.
"These women are a great representation of the women who wear our product," Raab says as she prepares to join the group. "They show how, from your 20s to your 70s, you can wear Ming Wang and make it into your own style."
And with that, Raab adjusts the mesh blouse beneath her knit Ming Wang jacket and walks off in her Louboutin heels to take her place with the others in the spotlight.