Fashion Frenzy: Designers to Watch

By Erin Donnelly

It’s official: the mall is sucking your will to live. The crowds…the tempting-but-oh-so-bad-for-you grease gauntlet that is the food court…the fact that everyone is buying the same mass-produced clothes, which means there’s a very good chance that your cubicle-mate will know not just where your dress came from (The Gap), but also how much it cost (on sale, $39.95) and how it looks on her, because she has the same one at home. pic11
If mainstream style’s not working out for you—and you don’t feel like remortgaging your home to splash out on Chanel—look to the fashion world’s up-and-coming designers for unique, impossibly chic looks that you can afford. Not only will you be supporting talented artists who put their blood, sweat, and tears into each outfit (not literally, don’t worry), you’ll also be scoring fashion-forward, runway-ready outfits before anyone else. It’s a total win-win situation: Fab clothes, reasonable prices, and the chance to smugly shrug your shoulders when your jealous co-worker begs to know where you got that fierce new dress.
Check out our list of buzz-worthy designers—coming soon to a runway near you.
Leave it to a former model to blow the fashion industry away. Abigail Lorick juggled a modeling career while taking classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the fruits of her labor can now be admired via her standout women’s collection, Lorick. Though the line only debuted last year, it’s already generating a lot of buzz with fashion editors who love Lorick’s take on elegant ladylike style.
The Lorick Lady is described as someone who is “always pulled together and timeless, but still modern.” That translates to sleek pencil skirts in floral prints, navy coat dresses, and sunny yellow blouses for spring, and sexy open-back dresses and high-waist shorts with skinny yellow belts for summer. Feminine and charming, strong and chic, every piece seems to have come straight out of Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly’s closet, albeit with modern updates (think intricate pleating and skinny belts) that keeps the look fresh.
Oh, and if you’re thinking that these darling designs look familiar, it’s because they have a starring role on the hit show “Gossip Girl,” where they stand in for Eleanor Waldorf’s fashion line.
Click here for video footage of the Lorick Spring/Summer Collection.
Jahanna Martinez
Flamenco skirts might be most commonly associated with the wardrobe department at “Dancing with the Stars,” but New York City-based designer Jahanna Martinez has transformed them into something much more wearable and—get this—versatile too. “This style is a knit fabric and it has 3 1/2 yards of fabric in it,” Martinez says of her signature look, the flamenco-style skirt and dress (halter-top florals for the beach, long-sleeve solids for the boardroom). “It has beautiful movement and it packs great—no wrinkles! You can wear this piece from work to the hottest salsa club in town and dance all night long. My customers love them!”
But Martinez—who has been designing professionally since 2004—isn’t limited to flirty curve-hugging dresses. Her new collection has what Martinez calls a “1950s house dress twist,” featuring bright red and blue dresses with pockets. “Everything draws your eyes to the waist, which I think is the most flattering part of a woman’s body,” she says.
Flattering cuts aren’t the only reasons women in the know are rushing to buy Martinez’s collection, which is sold at Edge*nyNOHO and Neda in New York City (and soon, through; they’re also drawn to her realistic—but fun—understanding of the busy modern woman’s fashion needs.
“I design for the working woman that loves to be in style and be able to interchange and her work and play wardrobes,” Martinez says. “I think it’s great when you can take the suit that you wear to the office and pull it apart by pairing the jacket with jeans or the skirt with a sweater set. A woman should have one wardrobe that is interchangeable.”
No arguments here.
“Project Runway” fans will remember designer Alison Kelly as the kittenish platinum blonde booted before her time in Season Three. Turns out Kelly didn’t need a giant check from Heidi Klum to become one of the show’s biggest success stories thanks to her darkly romantic, vintage-inspired women’s label, Dahl.
The beauty of Dahl is that most pieces are made to measure according to the client’s cup size and waist measurement. Along with hand-screened organic cotton tees (a steal at $32) and chic jewelry like the sterling silver shell necklace, Dahl offers custom-made versions of its stunning black hand-crocheted Victoriana top and sexy leg-baring dresses like the Bye Bye Birdie (shown). Dahl also accepts bespoke orders, creating one-of-kind garments for weddings and other big events.
“I design clothing through an organic process; where seeds are planted into my imagination through various mediums, such as music, art & literature,” Kelly says. “These seeds blossom into wearable interpretations of beauty and grace. The clothing outlasts seasonal trends and tends to have a bit of a soul, a personality, which the wearer can interpret and feel empowered from.”

Kelly also takes inspiration from iconic screen actresses; her silk charmeuse Un Acte D’Amour dress pays homage to Brigitte Bardot, and a retro floral Japanese cotton mini-dress was modeled after Gena Rowlands wardrobe in A Woman under the Influence.

Visit to place an order. Click here for video footage from a Dahl fashion show.
Starr McCaleb
One would expect great things from a woman named Starr, and this young designer doesn’t disappoint. McCaleb’s eponymous fashion line, Starr McCaleb, offers women a sophisticated sampling of minimalist dresses with maximum versatility. Putting fussy details and disposable trends on the backburner, McCaleb creates garments with a timeless, yet still modern, European appeal. To that effect, her dresses for spring and summer come in a muted color palette of white, slate, mushroom and black, and the only print you’ll find is a modest border of stripes on one dress’s hem. 

But don’t mistake McCaleb’s restraint for austerity or blandness. Intricate details like complex pleating and ruching reveal high-quality construction, and indeed, the garments are painstakingly handcrafted by small businesses here in the States. Another bonus? The versatility of these classic pieces gives the wearer the power to transform her look for day or night with the addition of accessories; gladiator sandals make it bohemian, while a statement belt and heels make it dressy and glamorous. 

Oh, and eco-conscious fashionistas should take note: Though McCaleb’s known for her use of luxurious fabrics like crepe de chine, she’s happy to reproduce many of her dresses in organic cotton. 

The Starr McCaleb line is available at I Heart NYC.


More SMW Fashion & Beauty Advice:

10 Floral Fashions We Love

10 Eco-Friendly Dresses

The Woman’s Guide to High-Tech Beauty Tools