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High Class

by Lisa Horten and Kelly Skinner | Jezebel magazine | July 5, 2011

Just days before their graduation, we caught up with 11 of the best and brightest young designers to emerge from Savannah College of Art and Design’s fashion program. All had recently presented at SCAD Atlanta’s SEEN Gala, and several were participants of the Style Lab program, where Rachel Roy served as their mentor. The group gathered to showcase pieces from their collections on SCAD’s roofdeck, where they were photographed against the Atlanta skyline by classmate Mike Cooke.

Veronica Restrepo, 26, Colombia
The heavy wool coats and trousers that define Restrepo’s Eastern-European-inspired menswear collection are a stark contrast to the vivacious woman in stilettos and a ruffled top. “I find my inspiration everywhere—pictures, places, movies,” says Restrepo, who juggles motherhood with her design career. She cites Giorgio Armani as her favorite designer and favors a sophisticated, minimalist look.

Malcolm Barrett, 22, Washington, D.C.
One look at the masterfully tailored jacket and skirt on display from Barrett’s collection, and it’s easy to see why his phone was ringing off the hook after the SCAD SEEN Gala. After graduation, he’ll move back to his native Washington, D.C., where he’s taken a job with the Department of Energy. In addition to covering the cost of graduate school, Barrett says that the job will allow him to continue doing what he loves—designing—without worrying about his finances. “My muse is Daphne Guinness—but a wearable version of that style, for a younger customer,” he says.

Inhee Jang, 28, Seoul, Korea
“My collection is inspired by Dadaism,” says Inhee Jang, the native Korean whose line stands out for its innovative use of mixed materials and fabrics. A highlight piece is an elegant one-legged pant with a sweeping skirt where the other leg would normally be. Jang is a vision of sophistication in a neutral shift dress, one of her own. “My clothing is usually wearable, but, for this collection, I wanted to show off what I’m capable of,” she says.

Stephanie Waldrip, 24, Marietta
“When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with rocks, and I’ve always wanted to be a fashion designer. For this [collection], the two just came together,” Waldrip says. The talented designer’s sleek, feminine collection—reminiscent of glimmering stones—utilizes mohair, leather and pleating for a modish-yet-natural aesthetic. Mentored by Rachel Roy, Waldrip’s design sense has caught the attention of several top-tier designers, earning her a coveted internship with Frank Tell this summer.

Recho Omondi, 24, Champaign, Ill.
A 24-year-old with model looks and a sensibility that far surpasses her age, Recho Omondi’s style is minimal with an “adherence to masculinity,” she says. “I grew up with a single father, so that was all I’d ever seen.” Omondi pulls a billowy white blouse off of the wardrobe rack and describes it as being the face of her collection. “With strong silhouettes, you can eliminate detail, pattern and print,” she says. Later this month, Omondi will begin an internship with designer Kimberly Ovitz
in Manhattan. “Our aesthetics really mesh,” says the burgeoning designer. “I’ll be shadowing their pattern-maker. I feel really blessed.”

Erika Cheng, 25, Peachtree City
“If I wouldn’t wear it, then why would someone else?” says Erika Cheng, describing her no-nonsense approach to design. Her current collection is inspired by the Old West—think vintage saddles, cowboy gear, hardware and suede. The young designer is clearly at ease in her own pieces, demonstrating how detachable sleeves transform her chic vest (shown above) into a swingy jacket. Cheng’s postgraduation plans include moving to New York mid-summer and working freelance jobs while
she looks for a more permanent position. “I just want to be designing for someone who I can learn from,” Cheng says.

Ron Daniel Hedgepeth, 21, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“When André Leon Talley started flipping through my portfolio, he screamed, ‘Aah!’” recalls the eclectic designer about Talley’s shocked reaction. Hedgepeth’s collection revolves around the theme “art is our second skin”—illustrated most startlingly in his portfolio by a massive Sphynx cat—and makes a heavy use of wrinkles, pleats and textures to create elegant earth-toned pieces. His future plans include moving back to Brooklyn to work in either fashion or theater.

Melissa Urbina, 22, Suwanee
“My collection is about color. It’s vivid, and it’s happy,” Urbina says. Inspired by Frida Kahlo, Mexico City and Julieta Venegas, her pieces blend the lines of the 1930s with the spirit of Latin America. Though she was born in Georgia, Urbina’s parents are from Colombia and Costa Rica, and she relates strongly to Latin American culture. Her future aspirations include apprenticing with a major designer, living in Madrid and designing lingerie and eveningwear.

Maria Lara, 22, Panama City, Panama
“My love for fashion all began with my grandmother,” she says. “She was so elegant and sophisticated. She’d let me play in her closet when I was little and would take me shopping and explain why some pieces looked good and others didn’t.” Also inspired by her art collector/surgeon father, Lara’s design aesthetic draws off of the Spanish matador with a flourish of vibrant fabrics and ’50sinspired lines.

Kelvin Parker, 21, Little Rock, Ark.
When a teenaged Parker’s father retired from the military due to a disability, the family’s loss of income drove him to do something he’d never considered: make his own clothes. Now, the one-time aspiring mortician finds himself with a hopeful future in fashion. Turning the heads of André Leon Talley and Manolo Blahnik, his
garments pay homage to the human body, using pieces of shaved velvet to mimic organs, rib cages and intestines, resulting in designs that are equally whimsical and gothic.

Lorena Cuevas, 23, Colombia
This fall, Lorena Cuevas will be one of a very select group of student designers to present at New York Fashion Week. The tremendous honor is well deserved, as Cuevas’ sculptural styles could easily be mistaken for the work of one her style icons: Alexander Wang, Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta. “I like to look at things that are not obvious,” says Cuevas, whose collection was inspired by the architecture of watches juxtaposed against the female body.