By: Madison Jenos
Rhonda Sargent Chambers loves the opera: the music, the lighting, the costumes, the trickery that creates the scene. That’s why the well-known Dallas fashion model-turned-event-producer jumped at the chance to hold a fashion show at the Winspear Opera House in October.
At the show, models wearing colorful pieces from designer Carolina Herrera, came through six doors, cascading down to the stage and lining up in a vignette in front of the backdrop for Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.”
“I love history of costume, which I feel is so parallel with fashion because in opera you have an orchestra, you have singers that aren’t mic’d, you have dancing, staging, lighting. To me it’s the ultimate experience,” said Chambers one day recently in an interview at her Uptown home to talk about her work, and her long involvement in Dallas’ fashion scene.
“I get a lot of inspiration from opera,” she said.
Chambers, 54, has epitomized Dallas fashion for years, but you would never know it thanks to her youthful glow. She has walked runways around the country, modeled for couture designers, is a frequent speaker at events, and is involved in numerous Dallas charities.
These days, Chambers typically doesn’t walk the runway. Instead, she is behind the scenes with her company RSC Show Productions producing some of Dallas’ most high-profile charity events, fashion shows, galas, and luncheons.
Bookshelves filled with photos, fashion books, and eclectic knickknacks frame Chambers as she sits at her dark brown desk. Her perfectly curled blonde hair is loosely clipped back and stray pieces frame her face. “You can ask me anything. I’m an open book,” she said.
And she has a lot to talk about. Chambers began modeling in 1979 for Dallas’ Kim Dawson Agency after she was discovered at 15 by a sailboat company that saw her lifeguarding and giving windsurfing lessons at the Chandlers Landing Yacht Club in Rockwall. She became known for commercial print modeling, as well as runway modeling later in her career.
When her modeling career was winding down in 2002, Chambers knew she still had a big career ahead. She started working on a business plan that would include her love of fashion and style, and all the experience she’d gained in the modeling industry.
In order to have a successful business, you have to first understand the needs in a community, Chambers said, and in Dallas’ regional market that means doing a little bit of everything. Prior to RSC Show Productions, there were only a handful of producers in Dallas doing fashion shows, so Chambers decided to create a production company that would offer clients more: think events without a fashion component, like luncheons and galas.
“What did I want to do? What was out there? Were the needs there?” she said.
RSC Show Productions has produced for Escada, Mulberry, Roberto Cavalli, Versace, Neiman Marcus, Tootsies Boutique, North Park Center, Children’s Cancer Fund, Project Ruffway for the SPCA, Baylor Health Care System, Highland Park ISD, and many more.
Chamber’s involvement with the nonprofit Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA/Dallas) has come full circle. She was one of the original models in 1986 and now produces DIFFA’s annual fundraising gala and fashion show. This is always one of her favorite shows because the events are experiential and allow her to create dynamic, over-the-top events.
Abigail Erickson, CEO of Br ya n’s House, has known Chambers for four years and raves about her professionally and personally. Her best work attributes are that she is on time, connected, well priced for the services offered, professional, has a giving heart and cares about what she does. She pulls events together with excellence. She has great knowledge, experience and style. She is also fun to work with.
“Warm personality and fabulous,” said Erickson about her friend.
Eighty percent of Chambers’ clientele are charities. This can be tricky because each charity has a different budget and can’t always pay the producers fee. Chambers typically takes on one to two charities pro bono.
“I’m choosing to be involved with a mission I’m passionate about. So I like to listen. I have a new client right now and I just fell in love with her and her mission and what she was planning for. She has lifted herself to lift others and that spoke for me,” she said.
Chambers is the mother of two and has been married for over two decades. From the start, she knew she wanted to be present for her children and that work couldn’t consume all her time.
“When you have a family and want to work around their schedule you need to be an entrepreneur and freelancer. That means you have to do everything. Script writing, commentating, social media. Most events now have to have some level of entertainment. The way you can noodle that around the needs to be a part of your strength. Sounds, color, music it all needs to be well organized and thought out beforehand,” she said.
The Power of Glamour and The Power of Style are two of Chambers’ favorite books from college. She attended The Art Institute in Dallas where she majored in Fashion Merchandising. She returns to these books often because designers look to the past to create the future and styles get reinvented.
“It always, always, always comes back,” said Chambers.
Chambers predicts the future of fashion and style in Dallas over the next year will be more conservative. High collared tops paired with short skirts will be prominent. According to Pantone, the color pallet for this spring season are cranberries, rusts, and yellows. These colors are the same as those commonly worn in the 70’s and are typically seen in modern fall pallets.
“The mustard, brown cognac, oxblood will easily translate into a lighter fabric. The yellow and mustard are hard for most people to wear so they will be mostly in trim pieces,” said Chambers.
Fashion shows and charity events all require colors, fabrics, and texture. Fashion translates directly to events. Going from the client’s vision to a final product requires thinking outside the box and keeping an open mind, but ultimately the customer is always right. It might be the same event, but each year has a different chair that has their own vision that you must bring to fruition.
Tracy Mott, Event Director at the Dallas Opera, believes Chamber’s best work attributes are her confidence and ability to remain patient and calm even in a crisis.
“I think her sense of humor helps, and also her never let them see you sweat attitude,” said Mott.