On a recent four day visit to cover St. Louis Fashion Week 2009, Splash Magazines Worldwide publisher Lawrence Davis and I devour as much of this cool city of neighborhoods as we can in between fashion shows. I arrive on a non stop American Airlines flight from New York Thursday morning, expecting Lawrence to fly in from LA shortly there after, but he misses his connection in Dallas due to an intentional late take off by American as they waited for late passengers to arrive on his plane which causes a bit of initial confusion. However, once we hook up and check into our respective suites at Lumiere Place Casino & Hotels, we’re off on a fabulous four day itinerary, scheduled by our hosts, the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The Pinnacle Entertainment Group has built a fabulous 500 room hotel/casino complex which includes a Four Seasons Hotel, the Lumiere Hotel, a casino, spa and several restaurants … all connected by a skywalk. Conveniently located near the Mississippi River in downtown St Louis, it is the hub of Fashion Week, and where all the Fashion Shows, after show parties, market place and the St. Louis Fashion Group Luncheon are being held.
Thursday evening Rebecca takes us to Bailey’s CHOCOLATE BAR for a decadent sweet treat. Winner of the best martinis in the city, their signature martini is a blend of chocolate vodka, Irish Cream, pure dark chocolate and steamed milk. Bailey’s not only serves 100 beers but the best hot chocolate, shakes, and deserts, in addition to their dinner menu. A few outrageous ones we tasted: Chocolate Inebriation, layers of chocolate cake accented with chocolate stout, bittersweet chocolate ganache and cinnamon ice cream . . . passion fruit cheese cake . . . and milk chocolate bread pudding.
Friday Morning we set out to tour the city, passing the apartment of Tennessee Williams, said to be the setting of his classic play “ The Glass Menagerie”; visit the breathtakingly beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, and then drive through Forest Park. The park, site of the 1904 World’s Fair and three times larger than Central Park, is home to the World’s largest aviary, the famous Saint Louis Zoo, the Missouri History Museum ( legendary dancer Katherine Dunham’s costumes are on exhibit) and a 12,000 seat outdoor theater that mounts road productions of Broadway shows. The palatial mansions that look out onto the park reflect the wealth that has helped build St. Louis into a great place to live and thrive.
St. Louis is a very manageable city. It has lots of culture, and a wealth of music, art and theater venues. There’s so much to do here that costs so little, in addition to all the events and exhibitions that are free.
The Missouri Historical Society, housed in the Missouri History Museum, has a beautifully preserved collection of women and men’s clothing and accessories, dating back to the 1700’s.
Curator Ann Woodhouse, takes us on a private tour, down two levels to the meticulously preserved collections of dresses, handkerchiefs, shoes, hats, belts, and men’s suits and shirts … carefully wrapped in treated tissue and stored in cabinets or hanging in canvas protected closets.
We browse, shop and people watch in the city’s Central West End and Grand Central neighborhoods; it is a beautiful spring day and the sidewalk cafes, eclectic galleries, fun antique shops and trendy boutiques are in full swing. The row houses and federal architecture reminds me of Baltimore.
St. Louis is best known for its Italian food. The Hill is another trendy where 75% of the residents are Italian; the fire plugs are painted the tricolors of the Italian flag, and there’s a family owned Italian luncheonette on every corner. We stop at Adriana's On the Hill at 5101 Shaw Ave. to savor homemade pastas, antipasti hero sandwiches and homemade lemonade.
After lunch, it’s on to SKIF INTERNATIONAL (2008 Marconi Avenue), an organic cutting edge knitwear company to meet owner and innovator Nina Ganci . . . an energetic but grounded designer whose bubbly enthusiastic personality embraces me the minute I walk into her spacious atelier. Nina is sitting at a sewing machine when we arrive stitching up an alpaca and bamboo blend knit fabric into one of her classic distinctive designs. For me, her Spring/Summer collection, a blend of alpaca and linen in delicious ice cream colors translates into go-anywhere must haves. I love the versatility of Skif’s Small, Medium and Large Styles,
Nina’s weekly Friday yoga class for her staff, clients and friends, held on an upper loft is just ending, and I am disappointed I missed joining in. Nina tells me “life in St. Louis is balance, we do our work, live our passions, but at the end of the day we have a life with our family and friends. I am happy selling to 200 stores around the country. Yes, I welcome new customers, but I don’t stress to reach out for them”. Nina Is befriending the planet … in more ways and movements than one, from her collection of organic knitwear to her organic and pure persona.
Washington University is one of the most highly endowed universities in the country; it competes academically with Harvard and Stanford. The campus is beautiful; a student sits on the lawn embroidering a blanket. We are here to meet Jeigh Singleton, Associate Professor of Fashion Design, whose students are staging a fashion show on Sunday at the conclusion of Fashion Week. He shares his philosophy on fashion. “Fantasies are great, but people dress in the morning with a certain look. Design could be geared towards sustainability, as a source of commerce. Fashion is separated into entities doing great things; a section of society is gathered into an entity of movers and shakers”.
After a long day of fun discoveries we are famished and Nancy, our charming guide for the day, suggests we stop at Pappy’s Smokehouse at 3106 Olive for the treat of all treats. Lawrence and I are overwhelmed by the smells and sight of pulled pork, pulled chicken, beef brisket, turkey breasts, hot links and their dry rub ribs, (three sauces are served on the side) all smoked for hours in their special smokers.
We salivate when we see another customer eating
Pappy’s famous Frito Pie … Fritos topped with baked beans, cheddar cheese, onion and a choice of meats, but go for half slabs of ribs with sides of potato salad, coleslaw and their spicy baked beans. Luckily, it is an off hour; the usual line out the door has subsided for the moment, and one of the owners
John Matthews graciously sits with us, sharing his blessings over the success of this recently opened, already a legendary BBQ pit stop.
The City Museum, housed in the massive old International Shoe Factory, is a hoot, too zany to describe in a few words. It is an interactive multi -dimensional work- in- progress created from recycled junk, treasures and nostalgia that sculptor Bob Cassilly has rescued, collected and installed. Since it opened in 1997 it has welcomed, entertained and delighted thousands of kids; every space is rentable, and at night it becomes an adult venue where grown-ups can play and revisit their childhood.
Bob, an eccentric genius, and a shameless huckster, has as much for sale as for play. Among the unexpected, a person sits knitting shoe laces on an authentic vintage show lace manufacturing machine. Every corner you turn, you find a new world. .. and every centimeter of space is filled with a creative treasure or an interactive happening. There’s a social circus called Harmony that had kids squealing like little piggies, fish habitats and caves to explore. Children are playing with building blocks, sliding down an old chute that carried shoes and touring the factory on a miniature train. The museum is for rent for just about any occasion; Bob even has his own catering company.
The architectural museum, within the museum, is not to be missed. Vanishing architecture and the craftsmanship that went into building the city of St. Louis are on display . . . grillwork, building facades and gargoyles; something new that is old is always being added to this amazing world of mirth and mayhem.
Saturday Night’s dinner at the Four Seasons Cielo Restaurant, organized by PR Director Amanda Cook, is a delicious celebration of the culinary talents of Executive Chef Karen Hoffman and Chef Bruno Cardone who takes great pleasure in pleasing us with a medley of specialty courses. The Caesar salad is crisp and tangy; Lawrence and I share two signature dishes: the steak and the succulent tender lamb chops, comparing the fusion of flavors in both dishes.
We can’t leave town without visiting St Louis’s famous “Arch”, designed by the world acclaimed architect Eero Saarinen, who died before The Arch was completed. We climb into the five passengers Pod; ducking as we enter, so as not to hit our heads, which we do anyway; it is a three minute ride to the top of the arch.
The doors open when we are 630 feet above the city, and we all take turns peering out of rectangular windows.
On the way back to the hotel, we stop at the Historic St. Louis Union Station. It is a massive, Romanesque-style building, designed by architect Theodore Link in 1894 and was once the largest and busiest railroad terminal in the world. In 1976, the Saint Louis Union Station was designated a National Historic Landmark. After an extensive $150 million restoration, the facility, including an expansive 11.5 acre trainshed reopened in 1985 with a hotel, unique marketplace of shops, assortment of fine restaurants and cafes, live entertainment and a lake with boats ... all under one roof.
Brunch at the Four Seasons, overlooking the 25,000 square foot sky terrace with three pools and an outdoor bar, is casual and relaxing; my Bloody Mary is tangy and spicy; my salmon benedict moist and rich. I would have liked to linger a little longer, perhaps sip another Bloody Mary, but Dot Fleshman, Director of the Spa at Four Seasons has graciously arranged a little spa pampering before we depart for the airport.
Lauren, my therapist cleans, tones and massages my skin; then applies a series of hydrating and tightening masks. The results of her efforts and my “Oxygen Facial” leave my skin glowing. She tells me: “I’ve learned to listen, it’s one of the best things you can do. I focus a lot on energy; I am a very calm person and try to reflect my calmness on the clients I work on. We are a business center and people come in stressed; when they are, I work extra hard”.
When I arrive at the airport, my plane is delayed due to weather in New York; I settle in, enjoying time to reflect on St. Louis as a great city to visit, and an even greater city to live. I reflect on the words of those I met who live here, and there’s no doubt about it: “People are here because they want to be; some left, but many came back “.
I may not have grown up here, but I am looking forward to coming back.
St. Louis not only drew me in, but it also made quite an impression.
Learn more about St. Louis here
To see our article on St. Louis Fashion Week click here