Fashionable Philanthropy

Business Women of Loudoun Fashion Show Unleashes Creative Giving

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Celeste Linthicum

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

Every year, usually in the fall, the Business Women of Loudoun hold a fashion show for charity. This year’s beneficiary will be Loudoun Cares (see p. X). Because September is typically so busy, moving the event to May seemed like a good idea, until COVID-19 put everyone in lock-down making it unlikely to fill a room with people by mid-May. 

As they say, you can’t keep a good woman down. As we went to press, hopes remained high that the show will take place, if not this month soon after. Because, really, in times like these, we're stronger together. 

Paige Buscema, Eyetopia, 223 Loudoun St SE #3115, Leesburg

Paige's father-in-law Sal Buscema drew many superheroes for Marvel Comics, including the Incredible Hulk. So, it was natural that her shop, Eyetopia, both a licensed optician and trendy women’s boutique, would own the local franchise for selling Marvel movie eyewear made by Initium Eyewear.

Combine that with a recent request from Chamber President Tony Howard that Paige head up a committee on inclusion, and you can imagine what happened next. First, Tony was tapped as the fashion show’s first male model; he’ll be the one in the Tony Stark sunglasses. Then there’s Grace Skinner, an ebullient, 16-year-old with Down Syndrome. Grace is rocking her look as Wonder Woman. Next up will be a male and female Superman, followed by the piece de resistance: “Our drag queen will be the belle of the ball because she is going to come as She-Hulk. What’s more inclusive than green people?”

Paige is “just geeky enough” to appreciate that the Marvel universe’s X-Men movies explore “being cast-out of society – not accepted for who you are,” she explains. In her mind the Chamber’s motto “Be More. Together,” concerns more than just business, but rather “who we are as humans. I wanted the fashion show to speak to that and make sure we are embodying that at every turn,” she says. 

Sondra Falk Couture (

Sondra Falk has spent her career in couture, but began her own couture business in 2009, which became self-supporting in 2016. She rapidly developed a following of 40 regular customers and makes another 140 gowns during wedding season. Among the hallmarks of her work is that it fits superbly – literally as if it were made for you, because it was – out of luxury fabrics and textures that are finished by hand. Her gowns have been worn to embassies, by the mistress of ceremonies at last year’s fashion show, and even to the White House.  

Her mantra: “Designing is all about attitude and giving clients that awesome feeling in everything they wear. It’s not about how it looks as much as it’s about how it makes you feel.” As for her runway concept, “I’m a couture designer so it will be very high end; it will be cohesive and feature the use of a signature fabric.” Rest assured, her models will love every minute of it.

Melissa Franklin Studio and Boutique (

Melissa has sold her own line of pure, mineral-based makeup, with no parabens, phthalates or animal products, for seven years. She has since added a line of clothing that she describes as “a little BoHo” or “romantic with an edge, though never overdone.” She’s been building relationships as she builds women up at her studio in Purcellville. “Many of my clients have become friends,” she says, perhaps owing to the very personal care she takes to complete each of her clients’ personal “looks.”

She believes, “Each woman’s uniqueness is beautiful.” She says that while she’s not as a rule “trendy,” the season’s hot trend in makeup is blue, so she’ll be using different, vibrant shades of blue, while making sure the makeup helps her models look classic and fresh, with “just a pop of color moving into Spring.”

Christina Mellott, Student Designer

Christina, a senior at Freedom High School in South Riding, turned 18 about the time she learned that Virginia had closed its public schools for the year and that she likely wouldn’t have a graduation ceremony. For her, the fashion show will likely provide that affirming runway, where she can feature her favorite style of formal wear, a wedding dress and an “iridescent” dress illuminated to represent the lights of Paris at night in keeping with the show’s theme. She’s precocious, creative and daring, having crafted a dress for prom and a fellowship competition entirely out of duck tape. She’s been accepted to and plans to attend Radford University in the fall.

Rebekah Murray, Virginia Dare Dress Co. (

Rebekah Murray launched her online dress company about three years ago. She designs, sources fabric for, then works closely with seamstresses to manufacture her clothing line which is intended to provide timeless apparel for professional women. Like a true product of the e-commerce era, she produces two ines per year, but each is informed by comments from her customers as well as which styles sell best while allowing for new looks. That affords her a kind of “perennial catalog” that can be restocked with new colors and fabrics. “I try to focus on pieces that I can sell year-round and that people can wear year-round.” Think, “Kate Middleton out for a picnic,” she says in describing her look – “It’s feminine but not too formal.”

Giving is also part of her design. Rebekah has created the concept of “Solidarity Dresses,” where clients can nominate a deserving woman to receive the dress of their choice as a gift of the designer, “just to brighten their lives, and at no cost to the person who nominates them. It’s just an opportunity to help women and give people an opportunity to bless someone in in need.

Watch the Loudoun Chamber website for the BWOL 13-Annual Fashion Show for updates and come celebrate when it's safe to come out and play!

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