Fairytale of New York
Michelle Spenser cried three times before the end of the weekend. The first was in a department store; the third time, she struggled not to ruin her fresh face of make-up.
They were all happy tears — she had won the “trip of a lifetime” to New York Fashion Week with Shiona Turini.
“You know how you see initiatives in the paper but you don't really pay attention,” Ms Spenser said of the fashion consultant's partnership with Clarien Bank offering Visa users the experience.
“Nobody you know ever wins these trips. I didn't give it a second thought.”
The school counsellor was put up in one of the city's newest hotels — blogger-favourite 11 Howard — from February 9 to 12.
Her itinerary included a shopping spree with Ms Turini and Nicole Chapoteau, former fashion director of Allure magazine; a spot at Soho House's Fashion For Breakfast event; lunch at Cecconi's in Brooklyn; a MAC makeover and the Tibi fashion show.
When she got the call, she thought it was a prank.
“I was sure this wasn't for real. I thought they were going to say I owe some balance on my account or something,” she laughed.
“She said, ‘No Ms Spenser this is actually good news'.
“I was so excited I didn't even know who to tell. I was blown away.” The experience made her “feel like a rock star”.
“There was the limo driver who had my name and took my bags,” said Ms Spenser, who took her friend Shelley Daniels on the jaunt.
The food was “divine”; the Soho hotel was “fabulous” — it helped that she was in the penthouse. A welcome basket filled with cosmetics, Starbucks gift cards, face masks and cookies and confections from Momofuku Milk Bar was waiting when she arrived.
“I felt so special and spoilt. I'm still bubbling over,” the 42-year-old said.
Ms Turini's assistants met them in the lobby and the group headed to Macy's.
“That's where I got my biggest surprise,” she recalled.
“I knew I was going to go on a shopping experience and that they were going to have Shiona direct me on what I was going to wear, but I didn't realise that part of the prize was $1,000 for Shiona to spend on me.”
She started crying again.
“I was overwhelmed at that point,” she said. “I didn't realise the extent of all that I had won.”
They styled her in striped pants, a black fur coat and on-trend white sock-boots for the fashion breakfast and lunch at “swanky” Brooklyn restaurant Cecconi's; they chose a red jumpsuit and white blazer for the fashion show at Pier 17.
“I tried to relish and embrace everything that came my way,” she said.
Ms Turini was the moderator at the Soho House event with Aurora James, designer of accessories brand Brother Vellies and winner of the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Incubator Award.
“She talked about sustainability,” Ms Spenser recalled.
“She creates jobs in Africa for women. It was amazing to listen to her story as a black person on the struggle of getting into the industry.
“Listening to them talk around the table about the fashion world, I felt like part of the fashion family for my little two seconds.”
Ms Spenser was wowed by the Tibi show and all its attendants.
“I took pictures of the people in the audience and people in the streets.
“You feel very special when your name is on the list,” said Ms Spenser, who was “papped” on the way in by style photographers.
“Shiona and her assistants were amazing — so sweet. Whatever I needed, they were on it. They made me feel that I was really part of the fashion world for a second. I felt special from the beginning to the end.”
Ms Turini shared the sentiment.
“She was awesome,” she said of her guest.
“So gracious and appreciative. We went to Macy's for a few hours and showed her what the new trends were, what looked best for her body. It was a lot of fun and a huge surprise to her that she didn't have to pay for anything.”
Ms Spenser loves to travel. She counts Greece and California as her favourite spots.
This is her twelfth year as counsellor at West Pembroke Primary School.
She started as a teacher of middle-school English, but found that her students would confide in her, even after they had left the school.
“I felt like God was calling me to try this avenue,” she said. “I decided to go back to school and get a masters in counselling.”