It was 80 degrees, sunny, not a cloud in the sky—we couldn’t have asked for better weather to kick off the Darling Society 2023 Spring Retreat. Last weekend, our Darling Ambassadors who will represent our clothing line launching May 1st, flew in from all over the country to gather with us at the 5-Star Langham Hotel in Pasadena, CA.
Upon arrival, our Ambassadors were guided through the stunning hotel, around the open-air courtyard and fountain, and were met by our giddy Founding Ambassadors, there to welcome them to a weekend all about community, bonding, and mindful fashion design. The night before, these Founding Ambassadors worked hard to assemble the most amazing goodie bags filled to the brim with all of Darling’s favorite products hand-picked for our community.
Once everyone was settled in, we all met down at the Horseshoe Garden located at the back of the property for the ultimate Darling Dinner.
The two long banquet tables were decorated with stunning florals by Bloom & Boom, and set with elegant tableware from Archive. The attention to detail across the garden created a perfect, minimalist, Scandinavian setting while the sun slowly set behind the vista’s edge.
As we descended the stairs into the garden, we were met by trays full of sparkling white and red wine and a live string quartet. It was so inspirational to see strangers approach one another and quickly become fast friends.
After an introduction to the evening from our Director of Community, Jillean Whittle, it was time to take our seats. Sarah Dubbeldam, Founder of Darling, clinked her glass for our attention and shared the 12 year history of Darling followed by the evening’s Darling Dinner questions:
Icebreaker: “Describe your style and attitude in junior high.”
Q1: “What formed your definition of beauty?”
Q2: “What trait about your appearance are you most critical of? How do you think you could reframe that opinion?”
Q3: “Tell a story of a time that you felt loved, cared for, or seen by another woman in your life. How do you hope to impact women through the Darling Society?”
With each question, it was clear that we were no longer sitting at a table full of strangers. The beauty of these dinners and vulnerable questions is that they help even the most timid personalities open up. Folded arms always seem to ease, drop to one’s side, and transform into bodies leaning in across the table, eager to hear and share more. Each course led to the next question, and then next, and by the time dessert and coffee had arrived, any walls that were up had dropped, and we all felt like we’d known each other for years.
Slowly the tables emptied, hugs were exchanged, and guests returned to their rooms to get a good night’s sleep before the next day’s activities.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, 6:30 a.m. to be exact, Ambassadors flocked back to the Horseshoe Garden for an optional yoga flow with Kami Blease or a journaling exercise with Hannah Brencher, both Founding Ambassadors. After morning activities, everyone reconvened on the terrace for breakfast. Those who had been up for yoga and journaling chatted up a storm, while the rest of us warmed up to the day more slowly as we sipped our coffee.
The main session began right after breakfast, hosted by Executive Coach, Amara Ononiwu, helping us all think about our personal “why” as it related to both our lives, and the Darling Society. She then led us through an exercise on what our vision and perception was versus the actual reality of a situation—how we can rethink the fears of a situation from pain to pleasure.
At last, it was time for…the fashion show! The garden was transformed into a full runway and an audience of over 200 people. The runway was lavender with mirrors on the side, making it look like it was floating over the vibrant green grass.
Looks of anticipation and excitement were exchanged as music started to ring out around the garden. Cheers and claps erupted the moment the first model stepped foot on the runway in the first look, featuring the Coast Blazer, Stride Wide Leg Pant and Carefree Tank. Not only was the Spring Capsule showcased, but the audience got a first look at the summer Trend Drops, going live at the beginning of each month. Clothing was showcased on models XS – XXL and 5’5″ to 6’0″, showing the diversity of the designs. Looking around seeing the smiles in the audience as they saw each piece unveiled made all of the hard work that has been put in over the past year for this collection worth every single minute.
Sadly, the fun of the fashion show had to end at some point, as all good things do, but guests were immediately presented with a lavender champagne cocktail, the color of the weekend! After more mingling on the lawn, we were all eager to eat some lunch before the next general session. Guests meandered upstairs for a buffet-style lunch, all the while exchanging their favorite looks of the show, and what they’re most excited to try on themselves.
After lunch, it was time for our guests to depart and our Ambassadors to get back into their sessions. Now that the clothes had been featured on the runway, Sarah Dubbeldam, Founder of Darling, and Christine Pringle, Chief of Sales and Merchandising, were here to show the Ambassadors some of their best styling tips for the Capsule, diving into tips on proportions, layering and color mixing. Everyone has such unique style, and it’s always so interesting to see how each person would style the same piece in dozens of different ways.
Racks of clothing lined the walls of the ballroom, and at last, the Ambassadors had the opportunity to get their hands on the Spring Capsule as well as the Trend Drops! After looking at and reworking all of these pieces for months, it was so exciting to see people’s reactions that had never tried on the clothes before – holding pieces up, bonding with one another on which pieces they are most looking forward to wearing, and feeling all of the fabrics for the first time, imagining where and how they’re going to wear them.
After we finished perusing the clothing, we headed into a session with Founding Ambassadors Hailey Rutledge and Chelsey Taylor to learn the “Darling” way of representing and selling our clothing through our unique model. They covered topics such as Authentic Sales, Trend Education, Mindful Design, Personal Style, and Brand Philosophy. Each of these tools were created to support our Ambassadors in their ability to spread the Darling message in the best way possible.
Last of the presenters but certainly not least, Keith Fairclough, Darling’s Operating CEO, went through the nitty-gritty aspects of the business model, giving the Ambassador a glimpse into everything that goes on behind the scenes to get the Darling Society up and running.
To finish off the sessions, Darling HQ assembled for a Q&A panel, opening up the floor to any Ambassador who had any questions. Everyone enjoyed hearing about the clothing design process as well as more details about their personal storefront for selling the line. Time was limited, but it was great hearing everyone’s thoughts and questions that had built up over the exciting weekend!
Exiting the ballroom after the session, we were met with a piece of the runway that had been brought up with the backdrop. We all immediately flocked for photos with our new friends. As was the theme of the weekend, servers appeared with the final beautiful lavender cocktail–the perfect farewell drink.
We could have all kept talking all night long, but unfortunately, suitcases had to be packed and flights caught. This weekend was so special for us for so many reasons, but to get to meet so many of our Darling Society Ambassadors in person was truly the cherry on top. So many women from so many different backgrounds have taken a chance and joined the Darling Society to spread its message of positivity, love, and support. We feel so lucky to be a part of this community, and are so excited for its future and for it to never stop growing with you.
Shop the Spring ’23 Capsule Collection starting May 1st!
All images by Megan Williams.