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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 2 years ago

Self-made style

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Homebuilding marketing executive Leisa Weintraub can often be found wearing outfits she designed and sewed.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Executive: Leisa Weintraub, vice president of marketing and creative director for Lakewood Ranch-based homebuilder Neal Communities.

Diversion: Designing and making her own clothing.

Like mother, like daughter: Weintraub's mother made clothes for her during her childhood. When she was 17, she decided to learn how to do it herself, choosing a velvet evening gown as her initial endeavor. “It was sort of interesting for a first project,” she admits. “But I like a challenge, and I had my mother's supervision. It turned out great, thank goodness.”

A needed escape: Weintraub has a sewing studio at her home where she heads in the evenings and on weekends whenever she has the time. “It's really a form of therapy for me,” she says. “I can just shut out everything else and get lost in it and just focus and do what I love to do. And since it's for me, and there's only self-imposed deadlines, I can do it whenever I feel so moved.”

By design: Weintraub says she loves being able to conceive and control a project. “I think what I like about it is that it's creative,” she says. “It's a challenge to take a piece of fabric and figure out what it wants to be and how it will work best. And then all those little details that go into it, right down to the finishes — zippers, buttons, whatever — I like that part of the process.”

Up for the challenge: Weintraub says her most difficult project to date was her wedding gown, made with a gold brocade fabric she bought in Miami. It took about a month to complete, a process that included a muslin mockup of the dress and plenty of careful planning to make sure the brocade in each section of the gown lined up and fit together properly.

Office attire: Because she spends a good chunk of her life at work, Weintraub makes a lot of business clothes. “I love fabrics that are really nice quality that have a crispness to them,” she says. Some of her coworkers know about her talents, but others are surprised when they learn she made a dress or outfit they're admiring. “People do talk about it, in a good way,” she says. “But I don't make everything that I wear; I don't have that much time.”

Quick draw: Weintraub always has her sketchbook handy to jot down ideas or sketch out designs. “I'm forever ripping things out of magazines and making notes and putting them in my book,” she says. “You never know when one little thing you see is going to trip an idea for a design.”

Buying trips: Weintraub finds most of the fabrics she uses online or when she's traveling to places like Miami or New York. Last October, a visit to New York's famous Mood Fabrics resulted in a purchase of 35 pounds of fabric. “I allow myself to just look around, and if I see a piece that moves me, I get what I think I'll need even though I don't know what it's going to be yet,” she says. “I was getting a piece of fabric cut for a project and looked over and saw a bolt in blues and turquoises and dark Kelly greens that was clearly an evening fabric. I don't have any plans for anything like that, but I had to have this fabric, so I bought it.”

Required equipment: She recently bought a pair of scissors while in Toledo, Spain, a place known for its metalwork. She creates her clothing with the help of a couple of Swiss-made Bernina sewing machines. “I've got one that's 25 years old and it just works great,” she says. She's also has her own mannequin, which helps her see how a particular fabric will drape and hang on the body.

Outside Influences: Weintraub will occasionally make gifts for other people and enjoys seeing different perspectives on style. When she's in New York with her husband, Richard, who owns Sarasota's Yellow Strawberry hair salons, she'll often take him with her when she's shopping for fabrics because he shares an interest in fashion. “He'll help me pick out things that are different than my normal comfort zone,” she says, “which is sort of fun.”

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