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LaVelle Olexa's Mentoring Program

Industry alum admits it was tough leaving Lord & Taylor five months ago after marking her 20th year there.

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LaVelle Olexa with Nicole Miller and the twentysomethings

LaVelle Olexa admits it was tough leaving Lord & Taylor five months ago after marking her 20th year there. “I loved my career,” said the retailer’s former fashion director. “I had to reflect on what would be the most meaningful things for me to do. You have to find new directions. I’m finding interesting things to do.”

Among the most interesting is right at her Manhattan home, where on the fourth Wednesday of each month she hosts about two dozen women in their twenties for cocktails and conversations with prominent women. “It’s really just us sitting in my living room. Everybody gets to talk to the guest and meet one-on-one,” Olexa said. “It’s not like hearing a lecture. It’s truly about getting to know somebody who is successful and who hopefully inspires these young people to do great things in their lives. They need to understand they can be a force in the world.”

In an age of Facebook and Twitter, “The girls all tell me that face-to-face interaction is a lost art.”

Last week’s guest was Evelyn Lauder, who talked about her personal life, the foundation she founded for breast cancer research and the pink ribbon she established as the symbol for the fight against cancer. Previously, Francine LeFrak, Nicole Miller and Time Inc.’s Stephanie George were guests. “They talk about their passion for philanthropy, a cause, the environment, whatever it is. It’s not all about fashion,” Olexa said.

Typically, the women address the group but mainly mingle. The group, called LaVelle & Co., is developing a Web site. “The girls want to communicate the lessons learned from the meetings,” Olexa noted. They represent a range of interests and professions, including an attorney, a teacher, someone involved in stem cell research, an intern from Christie’s and some from fashion and retailing.

“Initially, it was just a few people that worked for me, or daughters of friends, who wanted to meet me for a cup of coffee,” Olexa recalled. “Then I had them here for cocktails and it’s just grown. I decided it would be only twentysomethings and don’t want it to be more than twentysomething in the group. It’s kind of a closed club, but it just depends. They are all highly educated and very privileged, but they still have a need for support.”