When Megan LaRussa Chenoweth of Southern Femme moved back to Birmingham after working for a trend forecaster in NYC, she had one goal in mind: to bring more fashion to Southern women.
“My background is in art history, so my family suggested that I work at a museum or become a lawyer, because they thought I wouldn’t be able to do fashion in Birmingham, but that just made me work that much harder,” said Chenoweth.
Now with her family’s support, she’s following her dream. Through Southern Femme, her blog turned fashion consulting business, she has provided style coaching, demonstrated beauty tips, styled countless photo shoots — including many for Birmingham magazine — and orchestrated many of the city’s fashion events.
“There’s a community of women and men here who do care about fashion. They may not know all the designers, but they care about their appearance. I worked at Saks during high school and college, and did an internship at Parisian, now Belk,” Chenoweth said. “Parisian used to be based out of Birmingham.”
Southern Femme began as a blog when Chenoweth moved to NYC for a year after graduating from Birmingham-Southern College. What was originally a way for friends and family to keep up with her big city adventures turned into her fashion consulting business and nom de plume.
“When I moved back, I started using my blog to cover fashion events around town and it evolved into content about living a fashionable life,” explained Chenoweth. “Even now we’re focusing on a video series about inner beauty, like building confidence and feeling great about yourself. To dispel the myth that fashion can be shallow, Southern Femme is a holistic approach. I never want Southern Femme to feel like it’s about me going out and buying a designer handbag.”
Chenoweth’s time working for a trend forecaster gave her skills and insight into the fashion industry that she uses on a daily basis at Southern Femme. Trend forecasting is the ability to study the runways of today to determine the styles of tomorrow.
“Trend forecasting is a subculture of the fashion industry that I never would’ve known about otherwise. It helped shaped my future career because it lets you understand the why of fashion and where things come from. Fashion trickles down,” said Chenoweth. “It’s important for us to know where our clothes come from and why we’re wearing something. Like a fashion that was big in the ‘70s being reinvented — most things eventually come back in a new way, like an old pattern in a new silhouette.”
Using the knowledge she’s gleaned from watching many a runway, Chenoweth works with women to find styles that not only look great, but build confidence.
“I do a personalized approach, because fashion is a very personal thing to women. It resonates on a deeper level than people often realize. It’s about how you look, but also how that look makes you feel,” Chenoweth said.
Southern Femme has seen many women undergo transformations — quite literally — under Chenoweth’s guidance. In some cases, strong and inspiring women were hiding beneath clothes that didn’t make them feel empowered to be the women they wanted to be.
“When one client first came to me, she was timid and was wearing a white oxford shirt and black pants. But when you asked her questions, she was so interesting. Since then, she’s gotten a promotion at work and her family and friends say she just glows. She just gained all this confidence to do the things she wanted to do in life. It’s never too late to take care of yourself,” said Chenoweth.
While Chenoweth’s mother taught her about fashion at a young age, she understands that not all women are raised with that knowledge or support, so she understands the importance of a holistic style coaching experience.
“We all have a style history — like my mom teaching me at a young age about fashion. But I have some clients that know nothing about fashion because their moms knew nothing about it and they had to wear uniforms for school or work, so it wasn’t a priority to them,” explained Chenoweth.
Southern Femme has clients all over the state ranging from teenagers to women in their 70s, but no matter who her clients are, Chenoweth always imparts the fundamentals of fashion advice.
“The number one thing I tell all my clients is to know what silhouettes fit your body’s shape and go with what flatters you. Knowing what fits work for your body makes shopping easier, because you know what to look for and it makes dressing easier, because you’ll know what to put together,” Chenoweth said.
In the eyes of Southern Femme, Southern women deserve access to fashion like the women of NYC, Paris and Milan have. While that isn’t always possible, the fashion culture in Birmingham is growing steadily and enthusiastically.
“I love Birmingham, and I didn’t realize it until I moved to New York. In addition to my family friends and college being here, it’s the community and the constant evolution and growth. Southern women are unique and well-mannered. They have the biggest hearts, and I want that reflected in their outfits. I wanted to bring more fashion to Southern women because Southern women deserve it. It’s not to say I wouldn’t work with women elsewhere, but Southern women have my heart,” Chenoweth said. “Everywhere I go I ask people if they’ve heard what’s going on in Birmingham.”
In fact, Southern Femme is expanding to include virtual style coaching in the coming months. Chenoweth was inspired to expand her internet-based offerings after working with a client from Montgomery who currently lives in Thailand.
“Even there, she’s still a Southern woman and dresses like a Southern woman. But it’s hard for her to find clothes that fit her style in Thailand,” said Chenoweth. “I want to help women in her position and other women for whom it isn’t feasible to visit or come to Birmingham. Growing style coaching is a huge focus of Southern Femme, so in the fall I’ll launch a virtual program that will be affordable and accessible for women anywhere.”
While Southern Femme is working toward bringing out-of-town women to fashion, Chenoweth also plans on bringing women to the fashions of Paris.
“I really want to take women shopping in Paris. I’d take a small, intimate group and help them experience the city in a stylish way,” said Chenoweth.
And while Chenoweth’s clients learn invaluable knowledge from her, she also learns from them.
“The community’s excitement about growth makes me want to constantly evolve Southern Femme. Every one of my clients inspires me, like a client who’s involved in the AIDS outreach groups and a client who does incredible things with the sailing community. I learn from them and they inspire me, too,” Chenoweth said.
Chenoweth encourages budding entrepreneurs, particularly in fashion, to chase the dream.
“My grandmother was my first client and my aunts were my guinea pigs,” Chenoweth says with a laugh. “It’s amazing to see how far Southern Femme has come. Dream big.”
For a taste of Southern Femme, plan to attend the June and July Art on the Rocks events at the Birmingham Museum of Art on June 13 and July 11, respectively. Southern Femme has collaborated with the BMA and fine men’s clothing store Shaia’s to bring a men’s pop-up shop to the June AOTR, just in time for Father’s Day. And for the July AOTR, Southern Femme has collaborated to produce a Japanese performance art fashion show in light of the opening of the BMA’s samurai exhibit, Lethal Beauty. DJ Coco will be providing the music for the night, and the show will take place in the BMA’s gardens.
For more information on Southern Femme, including Megan LaRussa Chenoweth’s work and style coaching packages, check out her website at southernfemme.com.