By Keysha Drexel
The Over the Mountain area was well represented at this year’s Birmingham Fashion Week with several local budding designers making it to the final night of a competition in which they had to make garments using unconventional materials.
Several of the 40 finalists in the 2014 Rising Design Star Challenge were from Vestavia Hills, Homewood, Hoover, Mountain Brook and North Shelby, and half of the 16 finalists selected to take the runway on the final evening of Birmingham Fashion Week were from the Over the Mountain area.
Chloe Miller and Rigdon Hendrix of Homewood and Morgan Taylor, Bradford Billingsly, Brooke Lindsey, Ella Kate Dewees, Brooke Tarrant and Taylor McGill, all of Vestavia Hills, were all among the finalists who got to see their designs come to life on the Birmingham Fashion Week runway this year.
Billingsly won second place and a $300 scholarship, and Hendrix won third place and a $200 scholarship in the Rising Design Star competition.
The fourth annual Rising Design Star Competition showcased the unique designs of middle and high school students. From more than 120 applicants from around the state, 40 were chosen to display their creations at the Birmingham Museum of Art last month.
The designs of 30 semifinalists were selected to be modeled on the runway at Birmingham Fashion Week April 24 and 25, and the final 16 designs were showcased April 26.
The students used materials ranging from video film, party balloons and recycled aluminum to newspapers and bubble wrap.
New to the competition this year was the Rock the Runway: Rising Design Star Challenge presented by Buffalo Rock. For that challenge, students had to create clothing made from recycled Buffalo Rock Co. products that showed creativity, fashion knowledge and the engineering know-how that goes into crafting the outfits.
“We have enjoyed our partnership with Birmingham Fashion Week, and we are thrilled to sponsor this year’s Rising Design Star Challenge,” said Matthew Dent, president and chief operating officer of Buffalo Rock Co. “Our company is committed to helping students reach their potential as they explore their dreams and overcome their challenges.”
On April 13, the materials for the new challenge were revealed, and the students had 11 days to create a new design and construct the garment using only tape, glue or staples and recycled items from the provided list.
“The designers have proven that they have the creativity for the fashion world. Now, let’s see how they do with limited resources and limited time,” said Heidi Elnora, founder of Birmingham Fashion Week. “Creating a second look gives the young designers a chance to further explore their abilities and real world experience working on a tight timeline.”
Elnora said she and Birmingham Fashion Week co-founder Jeanna Lee Fleming created the Rising Design Star competition to inspire young designers and provide a place to showcase their creations.
Other Over the Mountain area students selected to the top 40 in this year’s Rising Design Star Challenge included Sarah Gann, Camille Miceli, Annegret Tarrasch, Kate Schneider and Laney Moers, all of Vestavia Hills, and Isabel Estes, Zoe Jacks, Lily Jacks and Mikyla Weatherington, all of Birmingham. Heather Howard of Homewood and Mallory Mus of Hoover were also named to the top 40 list.
Along with the Rising Design Star challenge, this year’s Birmingham Fashion Week featured designs by Elnora, Rebecca Taylor, Leona, Harold & Mod, Salence, Show Me Your Mumu, State Traditions, SW3 Bespoke, NBC’s “Fashion Star” winner Hunter Bell and “Project Runway: All Stars” winner Anthony Ryan.
Proceeds from the event will benefit Camp Smile-A-Mile and Alabama Forever.
While he was excited to place in the top three in his first time competing in the Rising Design Star Challenge last year, 12-year-old Bradford Billingsly of Vestavia Hills said he was determined to do even better in this year’s competition.
The Pizitz Middle School seventh-grader won second place in this year’s contest with an off-the-shoulder red dress that looks like it is made of fine lace.
“I wanted to make a daring and bold couture-looking gown out of odd materials,” Billingsly said.
And that he did.
Using intricately cut paper and window screens, Billingsly created a gown that looks nothing like the materials that went into making it.
The most challenging part of creating his design, Billingsly said, was “cutting each piece of paper out with an X-Acto knife and gluing them all on the porch screen the way I envisioned.”
Billingsly said he channeled the skills of his favorite designers, Giana Versace and Alexander McQueen, to complete the dress.
Billingsly said he knows that this is not the last time his designs will grace a fashion runway.
“I want to be a famous fashion designer,” he said. “My goal is to attend Central Saint Martins (College of Arts and Design) in London and from there, become a head designer of a famous designer brand and from there, start my own Bradford Billingsly couture fashion house.”
Billingsly said he thinks fashion is important because it gives people a way to express their creativity.
“I think that it is a way to express yourself and tell people who you are,” he said. “I think everyone should set their own personal style and goal with it. Wear what speaks to you.”
Catching the Waves:
A spring break trip to the beach inspired the dress design that gave 13-year-old Rigdon Hendrix of Homewood a third-place win in this year’s Rising Design Star Challenge.
The homeschooled seventh-grader reimagined an ocean with sharp edges instead of smooth waves in his first foray into the Birmingham Fashion Week competition.
“I’ve always liked the ocean, and seeing something wavy like the ocean represented in such a sharp design really popped out as a cool idea for a dress,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix said he first became interested in the Rising Design Star Challenge after attending last year’s Birmingham Fashion Week with his mother and his sister.
Hendrix hand-cut paint sample cards into triangles and used duct tape to affix them to a dress form made of chicken wire. The asymmetrical dress was accented with a belt Hendrix made using a starfish and marbles.
“The hardest part of creating my design was getting my sister to sit still long enough for us to actually construct the skeleton of it and resize when necessary,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix said he was shocked when he found out he had been named a finalist in the Rising Design Star Challenge.
“Just being a part of something as cool as Birmingham Fashion Week with my friends was its own reward,” he said. “Earning third place was just icing on the cake.”
While he’s not sure if he will pursue a career in fashion design or not just yet, Hendrix said he thinks fashion is important because there’s a look for every personality.
“Fashion is important because it gives people an outlet to express themselves and their individual personality,” he said.
Blast from the Past:
For her first entry in the Rising Design Star Challenge, 15-year-old Brooke Lindsey looked to her grandfather for fashion inspiration.
The Vestavia Hills High School freshman used soda bottle caps and popcorn boxes to craft a colorful, off-the-shoulder dress for the competition.
“My design was inspired by the 1950s drive-in movie theaters and my grandfather, Pops. He always likes to act like Elvis,” she said.
Lindsey found out about the competition after she attended Birmingham Fashion Week last year and decided to see if her ideas could make it to the runway this year.
While coming up with the materials she wanted to use was easy, Lindsey said, the real challenge was making the design wearable.
It was difficult to “take nonconventional items and make them fit in a cute and flattering way,” she said.
While modeling her design, Lindsey topped off the look with a pair of blue suede shoes.
“Fashion tells you a lot about a person,” she said. “You just have to look at the details.”
Lindsey said her favorite designs come from Sue Wong and Alice and Trixie.
Lindsey said she would love to pursue a career in the fashion industry with the aim to create elegant, modern gowns that have “a touch of Southern charm to them.”
“I would love to have my own line of clothing one day,” she said. “The idea of walking down the street and seeing a piece of my clothing on a lady would be a great sense of accomplishment.”
Chloe Miller wanted to send a message with the dress she designed for the Rising Design Star Challenge.
In her design, the 14-year-old Homewood Middle School student used advertisements from magazines in which she felt the models were digitally altered and offered an unrealistic image to young girls.
“You see all these beautiful models and sometimes that can affect your self-esteem,” she said. “My message is to love who you are and do not try to be someone else. Many women suffer from body image issues, and raising awareness can only help.”
Miller said the most challenging part of creating her collage-style strapless dress was the fitting process. She made the dress with the ads, plastic wrap and sculpting wire.
“Using unconventional materials adds to the difficulty of fitting,” she said.
Miller said she found out about the competition after attending the finale of last year’s Rising Design Star Challenge.
“I fell in love with the idea, as I am not the best at sewing, but I love sculpture and have always loved fashion,” she said.
Miller said her favorite fashion designer is Coco Chanel.
“She pioneered women’s fashion and was so classy,” Miller said.
The eighth-grader said she would love to pursue a career in fashion, even though she knows the field is a very competitive one.
“I know that will be insanely hard work,” she said. “My only goal is to get my name out there. I will definitely be competing again next year.”
Long before she entered this year’s Rising Design Star Challenge, 17-year-old Morgan Taylor of Vestavia Hills knew she was destined for a life filled with fashion.
The Vestavia Hills High School senior said she has been into clothes and accessories since she was a little girl.
“Whether it was mixing and matching odd colors or patterns or sketching my design ideas, I realized early in my childhood that I was fashionable,” she said.
Taylor’s eye for interesting pattern and color combinations inspired her to create a dress using paper Chinese fans.
“A good friend of mine gave me the idea to go with a warrior princess look, and (the design) took off from there,” she said.
Taylor said she channeled her favorite designer, Betsy Johnson, while creating the colorful ensemble, which features a cropped top and a multi-layered skirt.
“The most challenging part was getting the hot glue to hold all of it together,” she said. “The most rewarding part was seeing the finished product and knowing that I created it.”
Taylor said she was ecstatic to learn that she had made it to the finals in her first year of competing in the Rising Design Star Challenge.
She said she plans to study fashion design when she attends the University of Alabama this fall and hopes to someday have her own line of clothing.
“My goal is to design a dressy/casual clothing line for people of any size and make them feel beautiful wearing a Morgan Taylor original,” she said.
Taylor McGill is no stranger to the Rising Design Star Challenge.
The 13-year-old Pizitz Middle School student entered the competition the first year it was held and this year once again made it to the finals.
“I competed the first time when I was 11 years old,” McGill said. “I advanced to the finals and came in fourth place overall that year.”
McGill’s first design for the competition was made of soda can tabs and aluminum foil, but she decided to go with a classic look with her latest design.
For her entry in this year’s contest, McGill said she looked to Hollywood for inspiration and created a dress based on the hit movie “The Hunger Games.”
McGill created a V-neck evening gown with a train of black feathers that doesn’t look at all like it is made out of plastic tablecloths.
“Having to construct it using only glue, tape or staples always makes (the contest) a fun challenge,” McGill said.
But no matter how challenging it is to put the garments together, McGill said nothing beats the thrill of seeing a model wearing her designs on the runway at Birmingham Fashion Week.
“Seeing the design come to life on the runway is the most rewarding part of the contest,” she said. “Birmingham Fashion Week does such a great job at the event, and the finished garment looks so great in that atmosphere.”
McGill said her favorite designer is Heidi Elnora and hasn’t decided if a career in fashion is in her future.
But the eighth-grader said whether she makes it her career or not, she still believes fashion is important.
“Fashion helps express individuality and personality,” she said.
Flight of Fancy:
Brooke Tarrant of Vestavia Hills said the inspiration for the dress she created for the Rising Design Star Challenge is closely linked to her feelings about fashion.
The 14-year-old Pizitz Middle School student used newspapers and tissue paper to create a strapless short dress accented with butterflies.
“I think fashion is a form of self-expression,” the eighth-grader said. “I got the idea of a Freedom of the Press dress where the butterflies on the dress represent freedom and flight and the right to express yourself.”
Although she heard about the fashion competition for budding designers two years ago from Larry Gibson, her art teacher at Pizitz Middle, Tarrant said inspiration to enter the contest didn’t strike until this year.
Tarrant said the most rewarding part of her Birmingham Fashion Week experience was seeing her design idea take shape.
“The most rewarding part was seeing (my design) develop from a drawing on paper to seeing it actually go down the runway,” she said.
The most difficult part of the process was working with the delicate materials she chose for the dress, Tarrant said.
“The most challenging part of my design was putting the tissue paper on the bodice because it is so fragile,” she said.
Tarrant, whose favorite designer is Vera Wang, said that fashion is a fun hobby at this point in her life.
“Art and fashion are hobbies of mine, but I don’t think I would like to pursue fashion as a career,” she said.