How a future as an orthodontist somehow transformed into a very different career indeed
Stephanie Young sits in the small studio she has fashioned out of one room in the double she rents on a quiet street near Tulane University in New Orleans. Every bit as lithe and beautiful as the fashion models who grace the pages of Vogue or Elle magazines, she smiles as the sunlight filters through the single window in the room, crosses the rack of clothes she has designed, and seems to play on her well-scrubbed, smiling face. Then she speaks in a soft voice about winning the Top Designer award in the 2012 Fashion Week New Orleans, “It was a leap of faith for me to enter, although I always tell myself to enter into everything without any expectations.”
She removes a unique evening dress that features antique lace appliqués from the rack. It is the pièce de résistance that helped her win the prestigious award.
One look at the rest of the hand-crafted fashions she designed makes it easy to understand why she came out on top. Each item is marked with imagination and style and sewn with the precision of a leading fashion house, and, yes, she did all of her own sewing for everything she entered in competition. “I remember being so excited the day that I was accepted,” she says with a smile. “I was beyond thrilled when I made it to the finals, and it was a total ‘Miss America’ moment for me walking the runway and with tears in my eyes, and carrying a spray of roses in my arms when I was named Top Designer.”
Winning Fashion Week opened many doors for the young Louisiana State University graduate who will turn twenty-six years old later this month. “It was a special validation for me—a reminder that it didn’t matter where I started from or how long ago, I just knew I could do it.”
The pathway to becoming a fashion designer occurred halfway through LSU. “I was majoring in biology and planning to be an orthodontist, when I realized it wasn’t the right choice for me. I switched to business and that also wasn’t a good fit, but the moment I decided to transfer to the Apparel Design Program, I knew I had found my calling.” She excelled in the program, leading her to win many awards including the “Marsh on the Catwalk” alligator design competition.
Her first adventure with sewing occurred when she was a sophomore in high school and couldn’t find the right prom dress. “ ‘Mom, pull out the Singer because I am going to make my dress,’ I remember telling my mother. Of course, she did most of the sewing, but I loved the idea of having a truly unique, one-of-a-kind dress to wear the prom.” Young recalls that the dress was a black and white floral print mermaid-style dress. Then she laughs as she explains, “You won’t catch me wearing one like it today, but I loved it back then.”
The Fashion Week competition included ten designers selected for runway shows, with four named as finalists. The impressive list of judges for the 2012 competition included Janie Bryant, the costume designer for the award-winning AMC show Mad Men.
Of special note was the moment when one of Young’s creations was singled out during the runway show by a movie costume designer who wanted to know if the white lace dress could be modified for a wedding dress. “I was truly blown away by his attention,” she says.
An important step along the road to polishing her design skills was being selected as an intern with noted New Orleans designer Suzanne Perron, who worked as a top designer for Vera Wang before moving to New Orleans to open her own business. (Perron was profiled in Country Roads in January 2007.) “It was a great experience working with Suzanne,” she says. “She is very talented and I learned a deep appreciation for craftsmanship from her. There is so much skill and attention to detail put into each of her gowns. She was an outstanding mentor.”
When asked what fashion icon she admires, she quickly answers, “Jackie Kennedy. One of my friends says that I am like a blonde Jackie O. When I think of Mrs. Kennedy, I always think about her classic beauty and elegance. She was very feminine and I think of my style as feminine, with just a little bit of an edge to spice things up. I think there’s a very old school element to the silhouettes of my pieces, with a modern take on my use of materials.”
Now that the hoopla has died down from Fashion Week, Young is concentrating on the gowns she has been commissioned to make for Mardi Gras and she is already thinking about what she will create for her spring 2013 Fashion Week collection. “My dream is to open my own store in New Orleans,” she enthusiastically exclaims. “Right now I am selling my designs from my website.” She also hopes to show her garments beyond Louisiana. Her fearless spirit is in full operation as she explains, “I even thought about Fed Ex-ing a gown to the White house in hopes that Michelle Obama might wear it to the Inaugural Ball, and I’d love to create a gown for Emma Stone to wear to the Oscars.”
She is proud of the commissions she received as an outgrowth of Fashion Week. “I am excited each time I am contacted about making something special."
Young has already received commissions from Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She is quick to add that her mother (Carole Perret Hackert) and her father (Dale Young) are two of her biggest supporters, as is her sister Elizabeth, who is a senior at Southeastern University in Hammond.
“I don’t think a day goes by without my father calling to see how I’m doing.
“It’s still a leap of faith each day to move ahead with my career as a fashion designer. I constantly remind myself that dreams do come true.”
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