Reporting Sara Boyd Pelissero
They say, “do what you love” and “follow your passion.” But not all of us listen. Or in Richard Beckel’s case, it just takes some time.
Beckel spent a large portion of his life in corporate America, where he learned the ins and outs of finance and business.
He grew up with a mother who had a keen sense of fashion and inspired (or at least turned the heads) of everyone she met. It stuck with Beckel and though it took a few decades, he said his passion for fashion eventually became realized.
On Nov. 11, when he was in his 40s, he launched Primeau (pronounced Pre-moh) — a collection of designs that are true pieces of art with a classic appeal and timeless style. No surprise, the business shares the same moniker as his mother’s maiden name — a tribute to the woman who inspired it all, and who passed away 27 years ago to breast cancer.
February is Go Red month to raise awareness about heart disease and this Sunday, there will be a Red Dress Collection runway show to benefit the American Heart Association.
Our own Amelia Santaniello will be among the 15 women selected to be part of the show and her dress will be made by Richard Beckel.
We chatted with the designer about his collection, his dress for Amelia and the journey he’s taken to finally live his dream.
Where did your love of fashion begin?
I have to say that my love of fashion began early, early on. My sense of style and my love of fashion was inspired by my mother, of course. She grew up in Detroit during the golden age. She lived in New York in the 40s and she had a very chic, metropolitan style. She met my father through her cousin and she was transplanted to rural Minnesota, after they fell in love and got married. It was kind of like “Green Acres,” really. She decorated, for lack of a better word, our small town home with a metropolitan flair. She would show up at PTA meetings in a designer turban and fox-fur trimmed suits.
And of course, people thought she was very eccentric — which she was, totally, in Minnesota that’s rather rare. But they recognized that she had a high style and a sense of energy that was very special. One of the things she instilled in me was quality versus quantity. She had a very small but very fashionable wardrobe and she built off that. So she would buy a few high quality pieces every season. She would buy Oscar de la Renta, she’d buy Chanel, Nipon in addition to Dior, and she loved Schiaparelli, that was one of her favorite designers. It was very edgy. All of these I think reflect timeless fashion and very high quality. … She only invested in things that she knew could reflect her personal style and that she could wear for years. That influenced me. And that really is the basis for Primeau. My tagline is “artful style and timeless designs.”
You started your career in fashion after two decades in the corporate world. What was the final tipping point for you – what finally made you decide to devote all your time to fashion?
I loved and valued my business experience with Ameriprise. It was an exceptional experience. When I first joined, 20 years ago, it was IDS and I worked in many divisions of the business from adviser support to compliance and even technology implementation, which was my last position. Pretty amazing for a right-brain creator to survive in that but Ameriprise actually encourages that. They have a lot of creative people working for them and it’s a wonderful work environment. They value us for the skills that we bring and the drive for excellent service. While I was doing this, my creative ambition wasn’t really fully realized or used so I always had this desire to give fashion design, which is my first love, a go. Just as a silly joke, I suggested to my leaders that I could design a corporate uniform, just so I could use those talents and it was really funny.
All joking aside, it wasn’t as much of a tipping point as it was reaching a point where I’m confident in my ability to enter the design market. You know, the Twin Cities and other major metropolitan cities have a lot of women who invest in high-end bridal, day wear, special occasion, but they leave the city — they go to Chicago or even Europe to buy it. I would like to be part of a local option that people could investigate or seek out for high fashion style and they’ll also get a person experience because I’m right here.
Who inspires you as a designer?
Christian Dior — he started his company when he was 42. And what an impact he had on the entire world — not just on the fashion world but the entire world. He actually only designed for 10 years and then he died of a heart attack. But what an incredible influence he had on all modern fashion.
In addition, of course, it’s also the women I’m designing for. I love to see the transformation and the confidence and energy they feel when a person is wearing something that reflects their personality and fits great — and is made well.
Of the many pieces you’ve done, are there any that you’re particularly proud of?
Well, that’s a great question. When I launched the company in November, we started out the runway show with a gown that I designed in 1986, when I was a teenager for Miss Austin. The reason we did that is we wanted to give an example of what artful style and timeless design is all about. (That gown) is as current today as it was back then. It does show what Primeau is all about. It was interesting, because after the show I had so many people say that was their favorite piece and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, is that funny?’
And then, of course, there’s the wedding gown. We ended the show in a traditional French manner, with a wedding gown. The wedding gown was designed for my niece and is very special. I thought that it was very meaningful to end the runway show with my niece’s wedding gown, as a tribute to her grandmother, my mother. That is something that I think my mother would’ve loved.
You’re designing a dress for our own Amelia Santaniello, what was your process? How did you approach the design?
She is so amazing. I absolutely love working with her. She’s beautiful, she’s very personable and she exudes a very special confidence and style. I was inspired by her personality. When we met for a design consultation, I had some ideas but then after we started talking, and I actually began looking for fabrics, I wanted something that reflects her personality and her beauty. I found a fabulous painterly rose pattern fabric from Switzerland and it looks Japanese to me in its painterly style and I thought, wouldn’t it be lovely to design an elegant and fitted gown that had some Japanese-inspired adornments. That’s all I’m going to say. My mother always said, “a dress should never wear the woman, a woman should wear the dress.” That’s something I always try to keep in mind when I design. I don’t want a dress that makes such a statement that you don’t even notice the woman. So I just want to design pieces that actually reflect the personality of the woman.
Who would be your dream client to design for?
I gotta say, I was very excited to design for Amelia. … As far as a design client, I love designing for all women. But I have to say, I love Nicole Kidman, I love Meryl Streep, I love Angelina Jolie. I think they’d all be knockouts in Primeau.
Amelia will model her Red Dress in the collection’s runway show on Feb. 17. The fashion show starts at 6 p.m. and goes until 9 p.m. For ticket information or more about the event, click here.
For more information about Primeau or Richard Beckel’s work, check out his website.