Cut out for fame?

Budding designers show off their work at a student fashion show, hoping to land jobs and make a name for themselves.

Published May 27, 2006

TAMPA -- Fashion designer is right up there with doctor, actor and firefighter on the list of things kids want to be when they grow up.

It seems like such a glamorous, exciting job. You get to create clothes, have runway shows, go to parties, meet famous people and be a famous person.

It is that way. Sometimes. For a select few.

What it is all the time for every aspiring designer is much more than the average 8-year-old - even the average 48-year-old - can comprehend.

"You have to be part psychologist to understand how a woman feels in the clothes she wears," says Nancy McGee, fashion department chairwoman of the International Academy of Design & Technology in Tampa. "You have to be part sociologist to know the demographics of customers . . . The students have to sketch, they have to sew, they need to make patterns, they need to know marketing, how to sell it.

"These are all the skills we're trying to ram into students in a very short time."

Some of the results were displayed at the school's 21st annual student fashion show May 13 at the Tampa Convention Center. Students and recent graduates sent creations down the runway that ranged from bathing suits to wedding dresses, kids clothes to outfits for professional dance competitions. (Several of the latter were by student Ioulia Sviatogor, who works for the Pinellas Park company Designs to Shine, which has provided costumes for TV's Dancing with the Stars.)

Some of the clothes were literally ready to wear. Others weren't ("That hem's not finished," McGee said, pointing and shaking her head at one skirt). Some were practical. Some were flights of imagination (a dress made of men's ties, tops of screen-door material). Awards were given for the clothes judged most marketable, most trendy, outstanding design and best collection.

"Certainly not everyone is good at everything," McGee said. "We're looking for students who are good at most things. Or fantastic in a few things."

Here is a sample of the show participants who aren't intimidated (yet) by the challenges they face in making their mark on our fashion consciousness.

MOST TRENDY: This prize went to Staci Eldridge, 20, of Baltimore, for her collection of brightly colored, casual tops, pants and skirts.

Eldridge said she began designing in the seventh grade with hot-glue guns and glitter. Her big-time inspirations include Marc Jacobs, Dolce and Gabbana, and Betsy Johnson, whose colorful, freewheeling style is reflected in Eldridge's pieces.

Eldridge has an associate's degree from the school and will get her bachelor's in the fall. After that, she wants to go to New York or California and get an internship with Johnson or Baby Phat.

FULFILLING GRANDMA'S DREAM: Itzel Martinez was inspired by her grandmother, who was a seamstress. "When she died (nine years ago), I wanted to make her dream come true," said the 19-year-old from Mexico's Hidalgo state. "So I said, 'I'm going to be a designer.' "

Martinez, who has been taking classes for a year and a half, had three swimsuits and two evening dresses on the runway. They show "who I am and how creative and talented I can be," she said.

She eventually wants to return to Mexico and start her own business.

THE DRAWER: Lindsay Cook is a New Yorker who came to the University of South Florida to study studio art. "Drawing's my niche," the 22-year-old said.

But three years ago, "I just decided that I was sick of the drawing and painting. And I was always interested in fashion," so she changed schools.

Cook wants to design evening wear, and that's what she did for the show. She did three dresses she called her "Zoomania" collection - all cheetah prints and brown suedes and silks - and three more characterized by strips of fabric decorating them.

Her designs reflect a combination of her disparate influences: Funky Betsy Johnson and the classic forms of Vera Wang and Carolina Herrera. Cook, who graduates with a bachelor's degree in June, had internship interviews scheduled last week with Herrera's company, Cynthia Steffe and Anna Sui.

After starting out as an assistant to a designer, Cook wants to "branch off and start my own thing. . . . I definitely want to be a designer."

ANOTHER TRIBUTE TO GRANDMA: "Forever" is how long 29-year-old Essence Flowers of Tampa said she has been designing clothes. Her grandmother taught her to sew when she was 8, but it took her a while to find her niche.

It's bridal couture - "because I didn't want to look like the next person, and I felt like other women didn't want to feel like that, especially on her wedding day" - and it's what Flowers did for the show. But it wasn't couture in the traditional sense. It was more like new wave couture: Among her outfits were a halter minidress, a denim and black lace skirt and top that looked almost Victorian and a strapless top with a brown and yellow equestrian print skirt.

Flowers, whom the school recruited after an administrator saw her portfolio, has graduated with a bachelor's degree. She wants to be the next Vera Wang, who became famous for dressing celebrities for their weddings. But, Flowers said, fame isn't necessary for her.

"It's not about wanting to be famous or rich, because I love what I do," she said. "Regardless, I'll spend my last dime on fabric. It's just that I want that recognition, (to have people) say, 'Hey, this girl is awesome, this girl is a couture designer.' "

Sharon Fink can be reached at (727) 893-8525 or fink@sptimes.com.