Written by Alexa Ray. Edited by April Barlow
Making a statement has always been equally important to me as rehearsing for an upcoming gig. Early on I learned that the way you present and style yourself can affect how others perceive you. I used to be the kid with dark eyeliner, rainbow socks and a hot pink stripped fauxhawk, so you can image the looks I used to get walking into a room. I lived for the reaction! But now looking back, I also realize the valuable lesson I learned early on — the power of style and the influence it can have on others’ perception of someone.
I have always been serious about music and performing, I live, eat and breathe my music career and have for the past 10 years with immense focus, so never in a million years did I think I would or could start a fashion boutique.
I began my music career in opera ( as Alessandra Paonessa ), so not only was my world engulfed in music scores and countless hours of practice, but also the constant hunt for the right performance gown. Over the years I spent thousands of dollars in wardrobe and time searching for appropriate attire making sure each gown followed appropriate etiquette for time of day, type of stage — not too short, not too low, when to cover my arms…so on, and so on. Most often my shopping options were between a mother of the bride or prom dress… And can I mention that there were many, many, MANY unsuccessful shopping trips.
Over the years I tried to get smarter. Winners was often a great go-to….IF gowns were in season. Eventually I turned to shopping online and had great success with small item purchases… But when it came to buying gowns online? WHAT. A. NIGHTMARE.
In the fall of 2019, I received word that I had been nominated in the Hollywood Music in Media awards for ‘Best Female Vocal Performance’. I decided immediately I wanted to make the trip to attend the event and of course the big question that comes to anyone’s mind immediately is ‘what to wear?’ I really wanted something that would turn heads. And if I was flying all the way from TO to LA I wanted to make sure I looked flawless.
So the hunt for the perfect gown commenced… and so did the horrors…
I won’t name the brands I shopped so I don’t start a lawsuit of slander, but what I will say is that I learned very quickly what you see in the photos isn’t always what you get… Have you ever seen those Pinterest shopping fails? Ya…That was basically my experience in a nutshell…
Sizes were an issue. I thought I was safe ordering an XL as something too big can always be taken in by a seamstress, right? Apparently wrong?! When the order arrived that ‘XL’ wouldn’t even go up my leg ( I’m a size 8 US Women by the way ).
Another order I placed was for a beautiful navy off-the-shoulder gown and overskirt. I was SO excited for this one. And when it arrived? Let’s just say I’m still picking up the sparkles that fell off before I even attempted to open the bag. The sparkles literally looked like they had been hand glued onto the fabric which had dried, crusted and flaked off on its way to me.
Returning the gowns were always an option but I didn’t even bother… Even though I had spent over $100 USD on each of the dresses and could certainly complain with a strong case, by the time I shipped the dress back to China it would have cost the amount I paid for the dress (which wouldn’t have been covered by the company)
And the stories go on, and on…
Which is how the idea of Stage 9 Secrets Started
All of these nightmare experiences got me thinking that if I was struggling so hard, others must be too. WHY is it so hard to have a quality brand? Is it really that hard? The more questions I asked, the more research I did which led me down a rabbit hole of information. I ran to my closet and quickly started looking at all the tags of my favorite gowns and collecting information. Before I knew it, I was booking meetings and applying for wholesale accounts. It just so happened that the designers I connected with were all in, you guessed it, LA! A week before the HMMA’s I decided to pop by the fashion district to meet with the brands. Once there I was able to connect with designers and even look over products firsthand to make sure everything I had been told over the phone was true and the quality was real. And it was! Not only did I walk out of the meetings with a wardrobe for the HMMA’s, but a full-blown business plan, products and a catalogue.
I realized that my newfound knowledge of the industry coupled with my personal experience as a singer could be valuable to many. I decided that with it I wanted to create change — to better the world of performers by creating a place where artists could support one another. An ecosystem where visual artists/designers could create custom statement pieces for singers which would mean artists would be supporting each other. Not only would I be offering designer dresses at affordable prices, but also building a community where independent artists, actors and performers could go to find unique pieces for shoots and the stage and a resource for styling tips.
As an independent artist in Canada, my experience and biggest struggle has been the lack of support and resources available. An independent artist’s pockets are already dug into with funding our own projects, meaning style and fashion budgets are usually tight or ‘whatever is left’. I realized that most often artists really fall through the cracks and unless we are with a label, management or have wealthy sponsors, we don’t have the same access to companies or individuals who would help grow our brand/ style, which arguably is just as important as the music we create.
Especially now with the entertainment industry hit so hard by the pandemic, supporting talent has never been more crucial to the survival of the arts. With so much uncertainty in the industry right now, the aim of Stage 9 Secrets is to support the community of artists how it can with its resources, and I’m really excited to show the community what I’ve got in store!
Alexa Ray, 30, is better known as an award winning singer and songwriter who was the recipient of HMMA’s ‘Best Lyricist’ in 2019. Over the years her music has be heard on radio around the world and has performed in Canada, Netherlands and in 2015 toured with Britain Has Talent singers G4 across the UK.
Her music has been seen in the top 25 UK classical charts and streamed millions of times by listeners online. www.stage9secrets.com