Jan Strimple is a busy woman. Even over the phone it’s obvious, as the former supermodel rustles through what must be the heavily inked pages of her calendar. During the interview for this story, she was prepping for Fashion’s Night Out in September, with six shows planned for three different sites in Dallas. The schedule for Jan Strimple Productions was quickly filling up for the remainder of the year. That should come as no surprise considering Strimple is one of the most successful event planners in the city—a standing she admitted wouldn’t have been possible without her involvement in the Dallas chapter of Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA).
In the early 1980s, as AIDS was just becoming part of the national dialogue, Strimple was living a quiet life in Dallas. Then, in 1982, she was discovered by designer Bob Mackie and everything changed. Inspired by her uncommon beauty, Mackie whisked her away to New York, and soon she was walking international runways for top designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Yves St. Laurent. DIFFA brought her behind the scenes of that world. Strimple was just a few years into her modeling career when the organization was founded in 1984. It was easy for her to wear a garment for the organization’s staple fashion show fundraiser in the early years of both DIFFA and AIDS, when there was a lot of fear still attached to the disease. Then a friend took over the production and asked for Strimple’s point of view, since she’d walked every runway in the world. The following year, commitments prevented her friend from taking the project on, so Strimple ended up taking over, officially forming her production company in 1991.
“It really launched my production career,” Strimple said of that first show. “I had no intention of producing fashion shows. That was not my world. That wasn’t going to be my world, but it is now very much my world. And it really simply came from giving my time to DIFFA and putting my ideas and my work in front of our community, pulling together all the leading people in the design areas of fashion and interior—all help make it happen.”
Strimple’s friend Al James, the former executive director of DIFFA, said Strimple has been the heart and soul of organization. “I learned a lot from Jan,” James said. “Twelve months out of the year, she and her team were sourcing wardrobe donations, having elaborate costumes built from scratch and an army of stylists rounding up the perfect accessories and shoes for every look that walked the runway. She set a precedence for donating your time, and she expected the same of her team.”
Although Strimple left the program for almost a decade, she returned to the helm two years ago. The face of AIDS has changed dramatically since the first show, and DIFFA’s approach has changed with it. Strimple believes that it’s important to move forward. “For youth today, they don’t need to get AIDS. They don’t need to be exposed to AIDS,” she said. “There should be no reason that, in this country, with everything we have at our fingertips, that it should be a part of our vocabulary.”
Doing a show like DIFFA’s takes a team, requiring the highest levels of organization and execution. To ensure these standards, Strimple works with the top event production pros. She doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with having high standards and believes people with high standards are drawn to the people who deliver them. In turn, those qualities rub off on the young people who work for her. “It’s very easy to watch everyone backstage that’s part of the team I’ve assembled walk away with such a feeling of pride of accomplishment for their efforts,” Strimple said.
Nuz Morshed served as Strimple’s assistant producer for last year’s DIFFA show. For Morshed, one benefit of the relationship was watching her mentor in action.
She says the lessons she learned about work ethic and etiquette will stay with her forever. “She is a teacher, friend, boss, and surprisingly, an exquisite chef,” Morshed said. “As the biggest show of the year in Dallas, DIFFA can be quite a handful, but leave it to Jan Strimple to put everything in order with nothing but a laptop, a Twix bar, and a grande nonfat cappuccino, with two raw sugars, of course.”
The idea of being a “straight ally” wasn’t a concept that was necessarily defined years ago when Strimple stumbled into her production role. For her, it just comes naturally. She doesn’t understand the venomous hate that some people feel, and it’s certainly not how she leads her life.
“I do what feels right to me, what feels right in my heart,” Strimple said. “And I think my actions and … whatever things I have contributed, offered, and supported in my personal friendships and in my support of the community at large as a whole, they simply come from my nature and who I am and how I was raised,” Strimple said, “We kind of live and let live.”