I have this recurring dream: I’m driving along the sun drenched hills of Highway One in Malibu and it’s the most glorious day. I’m headed north to Santa Barbara to rendezvous with the man of my dreams. When I grow restless behind the wheel, I pull to the side of the road to stretch my legs and walk to my favorite spot: the ledge of the steepest cliff the road has to offer.

After planting my espadrille-flanked feet securely on the very edge of the rocky drop, I inhale the thick, salty ocean air as if my very life depends on it, letting the wind whip my hair and clothes around me. As I toss my head back, I throw my arms open and let the beauty of life wash over me. It’s undeniably my moment.

One that always reminds of the scene in Joe Wright’s “Pride & Prejudice,” when actress Kiera Knightley, who plays Jane Austen’s beloved Elizabeth Bennet, stands at the edge of the most amazing, awe-inspiring cliff with her dress flapping in the wind, contemplating the wonderment of life.

In the dream, though, I’m not wearing an opulent 18th Century dress. I’m in the chicest clothes: a crispy blue and white blouse, roomy buttery-blue slacks and a loose colorful scarf is tied easily around my unruly brown locks. The day is perfect; stunning actually, as the waves crash against the rocks creating the kind of soundtrack only Mother Nature can compose.

I sigh at my good fortune, as I’ve designed my life just as I’ve always wanted it and living it is a blessing. When I’ve had my fill of the seascape, I turn around, walk back to my car and drive off into the warm, golden-hued sunset and then I wake up: peaceful, centered and longing to make my dream a reality.

I’ve written of this very moment before in my blog, “The Elegant Espadrille,” when the aforementioned dream used to be somewhat of a fantasy. For whatever reason over the past year, it’s sunk its way into my psyche and now visits me on a regular basis in my most vulnerable unconscious state: while I’m sleeping.

I’m glad for my new recurring dream because my old one was incredibly haunting: a nightly torment of me vomiting thousands and thousands of black butterflies. For a solid year, I woke up screaming and clutching my mouth and stomach. The dream was so disturbing, I sought the help of a professional dream analyst to help me make sense of it.

She quickly reassured me that black butterflies were a symbol of good luck and a sign of deep and profound transformation. Man, was she right. If you’re a regular blog reader, you already know about most of the events that have unraveled in my life over the past few years: the loss of a child, a horrible illness and a painful divorce. During that time, things weren’t just changing, my entire life toppled over and yes, I transformed. Undoubtedly, for the better.

This year, though, the black butterflies finally flew away and my trek up the golden Pacific Coast Highway took its place. Coincidentally, it was right around the same time that I discovered Maritza Filomena Fernandez, the Founder and Designer of Filomena Fernandez and I had something serendipitously in common, despite never meeting face-to-face.

The aforementioned outfit that I’m wearing in my recurring dream is strikingly similar to something Maritza had designed for her Spring/Summer 2015 line. The crispy blue and white shirt, the buttery-blue pants were both a part  of her lastest collection. I stumbled upon the coincidence when I was perusing her website looking for blog ideas.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I grasped for any type of prior memory or experience that perhaps may have influenced my recent dreams, but I had none. The thing is, I had been trying to track Maritza down for almost a year to collaborate with her on a story, but our lives were both so busy it was almost impossible to get in touch with her.

I was first introduced to Maritza’s clothing by Deco Drive Stylist, Elysze Held, who had invited me to walk in a charity fashion show and model two of Filomena’s looks.  Not only did I fall in love with the clean and elegant lines of her clothing. I found her pieces to be incredibly comfortable, beautiful and like nothing I had ever worn.

What’s more, the night of the fashion show, I posed for a picture (in one of Filomena’s famous jumpsuits) that would become the headshot used to announce my Deco Drive promotion to co-host. The jumper not only became my official good luck charm, it turned into my favorite article of clothing and hangs in my closet to this day. It’s even what I’m wearing in my Instagram avatar. I knew back then that I was meant to write about “Filomena: A Style of Her Own.”

Maritza, who’s originally from Venezuela, is a beautiful, gamine brunette who oozes style. There’s something about her that reminds me of days gone by, when fashion was still gorgeous and glamorous. Her beauty is reminiscent of actress Audrey Hepburn mixed with the subtle steeliness of Lauren Bacall.

I’ve read many articles on her, mostly in Spanish, where her style is described as a fusion of Latin America flare and Asian simplicity. It makes sense, too, as she studied fashion in Japan when she was just starting out. That’s where she met her mentor, established Tokyo designer, Kyoko Higa. The two became fast friends and eventual business partners; their collaboration continues to this day

Shireen Sandoval: Where does the name of your label come from?
Maritza Filomena Fernandez: It was my grandmother’s name and my middle name.  My grandmother was of great influence to me growing up so it felt fit naming my brand after her.

SS: How would you describe the concept of your label?
MF: Casual elegance created with design in mind.

SS: Your flagship store is so beautiful. Explain the feeling you want it to evoke when someone walks through the door.
MF: My goal was to create a beautiful boutique that balanced smart aesthetics with comfort. I hope to fill my space with the right mix of people, smells and sounds that together evoke an inviting atmosphere yet maintain an aura of sophistication and class.

SS: How are you able to keep your clothing so comfortable, but at the same time cool, classy and chic?
MF: I design clothing that I wear daily, so there is no choice but to make it comfortable and chic. In addition to having sensitive skin, I have a busy lifestyle and I am constantly traveling, therefore the clothing I design (and wear) has to be made from quality fabrics that feel great against the skin, are easy to wash yet look elegant and unique.

SS: How would you describe your Spring/Summer 2015 line?
MF: Happy – it’s a colorful line with retro prints and bohemian silhouettes.

SS: What is the one thing every South Florida fashionista would enjoy from your Spring/Summer 2015 line?
MF: An easy, lightweight, chic “throw and go,” transitional piece. The kind of piece you don’t need to put a lot of thought into and can be worn from day to night with just a swap of shoes. Our Los jumpsuit, Lia Dress, Thea tunics and Niobe Dress are exactly that. These are easy pieces that will keep South Florida fashionistas looking chic throughout these sweltering hot summer days.

SS: In fashion, it’s hard to recreate the wheel, but you manage to do it. Where do you find new and exciting inspiration?
MF: A lot of my inspiration comes from standing in front of a mirror and playing with pieces. I will reinterpret the look of something, add a personal twist or create a new way to design an old product with better proportions or more movement. My family inspires me daily. My son is in architecture school and his creativity, designs and imagination are constantly around me; a simple conversation with him evokes a thousand ideas in my head. My 20-year old daughter has unique style and is not scared of expressing herself. She reminds me of the great impact fashion can have on self-confidence.    

SS: How would you describe the South Florida woman, fashionably speaking? What are her strengths & weaknesses?
MF: The South Florida woman is very aware of trends. Her strength is the desire to look good, draw attention, and take risks with exciting and daring pieces. Her weakness is showing too much skin, not fully grasping the idea that sometimes showing less is showing more.

SS: On your day off, what do you wear?
MF: When it comes to my own fashion, I follow no rules and dress everyday like it’s a day off.

SS: What is your closet like?
MF: My closet is comprised of pieces I’ve designed and classic staples I have collected throughout the years. I wear a lot of separates, so you’ll find a variety of pants and tops that I mix and match depending on my mood.  

SS: What is the one article of clothing you would never be able to part with?
MF: My favorite white blouse

SS: When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
MF: When I was 5, I was rushed to the hospital after getting a needle stuck in my finger playing with a sewing machine.  I was attached to that sewing machine throughout my entire childhood, so I knew from a very early age that I was destined to become a designer.

SS: Ultimately, what does fashion mean to you?
MF: Fashion is a form of self-expression. It’s a reflection of the way you live, feel and behave. Who we are changes over time and so does our fashion.

Maritza’s definition of fashion is exactly what my new recurring dream is all about; choosing a new way of living, feeling and behaving. Allowing myself to be happy, fulfilled and realizing it’s okay to let go of the pain and let myself heal. Maybe it’s why I dreamed of her clothing all along. I don’t know about you, but…

Driving on the edge of a cliff, teetering off its ledge and finding my center in the middle of it all, doesn’t seem like much of a hidden message to me. It’s exactly what’s happened to me over the last few years, metaphorically speaking, and the reality of it is, somehow I’ve managed to find the strength to go on. What’s more, I’ve finally found the fortitude to leave it behind me (in my rear view mirror.)  

The three looks pictured in the blog (all by Filomena) are each a direct representation of my personality. The boho dress is the hippie; the smart, off-the-shoulder, white shirt and blue pants; the journalist and the short, white lace shirt with the striped flowing pants; the South Florida Fashionista.

That’s the magical thing about “Filomena: A Style of Her Own.” She sees the fashion in every facet of life and she creates and designs it to blend into the ever-changing beauty of the past, present and future. That’s why she’ll always be one of my favorite things – even in my dreams.

(In loving memory of Sydney Monroe – may you always RIP.)

Wardrobe provided by www.filomenafernandez.com
Twitter: @FilomenaFashion
IG: @FilomenaFashion
FB: @FilomenaFashion

Twitter: @ShireenSandoval
IG: @ShireenSandoval

Photographer: James Woodley
Twitter: @BritFloridian
IG: @BritFloridian

Hair & Make-up: Odette Hernandez
Twitter: @Odettehernandz

Styling & Assist: Jackie Kay
blog ideas: Jackiekay211@yahoo.com  

Editor: Matthew Auerbach

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