Emerging Designers bring passion to GSO Fashion Week

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We can tell a lot about people by how they’re dressed, even before they speak or tell us their names.

For those who design the clothes we wear, it’s even more personal.

At this year’s Greensboro Fashion Week, which kicked off Tuesday and has shows Thursday through Sunday, seven emerging designers from all over the world will get to show their personalities through their designs.

“Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of African-American designers,” says Tygerian Burke, one of the designers competing for the $1,500 top prize in the Emerging Designers showcase which takes place Friday night. “I always wanted to be fashion designer as a kid but I was the first to go to college from my lower-income family. It didn’t seem like I could do it.”

After majoring in sociology and criminology and eventually working in accounting at MetLife, Burke turned to designing in 2014 after she found that she wasn’t happy with either her job or the kinds of clothes she was seeing on the racks.

“I initially started off designing pieces for myself,” Burke says. “I was a mom of two, and you can’t afford to spend lots of money on a blazer, so I tried to make it myself without the price tag.”

Four years later and Burke has her own clothing brand, Tygerian Lace, which “provides a luxury aesthetic to girl bosses worldwide” according to the website, and one title from her win in March at the Charleston Fashion Week Emerging Designer Competition under her sleek, leather belt. She also competed in last year’s Greensboro Fashion Week in the same showcase.

This week, Burke, who is based in Charlotte, will be showing a brand new collection that epitomizes her essence as a designer. Titled Liberation, the collection is a literal representation of how Burke says she feels liberated from a lot of things in her life.

“It’s built off the concept of business suits and deconstructing them,” Burke says. “You can tell that the person that’s wearing the pieces is in a really good place.”

The brightly colored pieces drape elegantly over the models and look comfortable but sharp which is exactly what Burke says she was going for.

“This woman is confident in showing who she is,” Burke says. “She enjoys her body.”

Kiana Bonollo, another designer in the emerging showcase, brings a whole other perspective as a designer — a model’s.

Bonollo, a sophomore at NC State University, began modeling when she was just 15 years old and continued through high school.

“I was always very interested in the fashion industry and design in general,” Bonollo says. “I started modeling so I could see the behind-the-scenes of what it’s like to be a designer.”

Eventually, Bonollo used her experience as a model to start designing and won the university’s African American Textile Society Fashion Exposé in April for her collection, “Queen of Hearts,” based on the character from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. This week, Bonollo is showing Bloom, a new collection inspired by cherry blossoms. Shades of pink, black and white color her new pieces while patterns like plaid used in a skirt are reminiscent of Alicia Silverstone from Clueless.

“It still has the edgy aesthetic that Queen of Hearts had but with a little bit more femininity and more modern,” Bonollo says. “I ordered the pieces so they would grow and change in the sequence like a flower would.”

Bonollo, who still models from time to time, says that she tries to design for girls her age.

“I feel like I kind of design for around my age group, someone in their twenties,” Bonollo says.

At 19, Bonollo is one of the youngest designers in the emerging showcase, along with Riley Phillips, who is a sophomore at Wake Forest University. Phillips, who began by making recycled fashion out of old magazines, is using this opportunity to try her hand at making read-to-wear for the first time.

Studying studio art in school, Phillips says she began making recycled fashion “for the sustainability and abstract nature of it.”

“Living in Florida, sustainability has been a big part of my living habit,” Phillips says. “Through that, I’ve been made thoroughly aware of the significant amounts of waste that build up in our ecosystems, especially as a result of the fashion industry, where products and materials are quickly discarded. With my background in sculpture, I wanted to incorporate the dramatic impact of unconventional materials, additionally giving them a new life and use in the form of wearable art.”

For Greensboro Fashion Week, Phillips is showing a new collection that she says was inspired by her love of Italy. She says being accepted into the study abroad program around the same time she got accepted into GFW inspired her to take elements from Venice, where she’ll be traveling in the spring, and put them into her designs.

She says she was particularly inspired by artist Lorenzo Quinn’s “Support,” a gigantic sculpture of long, white hands emerging out of a canal and supporting a building in Venice.

Much like the smooth, curved lines of the hands in the sculpture, Phillips stitches flowing, continuous line-drawings into several of the pieces in her collection. And despite her inspiration coming from a faraway place, Phillips says that what’s really important to her is that her designs reflect who she is.

“I like the idea of being able to represent myself and wear clothes that represent me,” Phillips says. “It’s important to represent myself and the people that I love. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

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