Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Upstairs in the atrium, there's barely room to move. People are packed in shoulder to shoulder around a black runway, short maneuvering in front of tall, shouting at each other over the too-loud music about the lack of chairs and the general inability to see anything.
In the downstairs lobby, though, things are calmer. It's 15 minutes before the Delta Style fashion show at the Arkansas Arts Center, and models are milling around in teetering heels, posing for pictures and getting last-minute instructions from the designers whose creations they're about to show off to the crowd.
“Think about what you're going to do at your stops,” designer Erin Lorenzen tells her models. “Count to four or five — I want it to be really slow.”
Credit Project Runway, the buy-local movement or just the willingness of a couple of Little Rock boutiques to set aside space for local designers — whatever the reason, it's hard to find anything more trendy right now than clothing created in a living room near you. A small but growing number of Central Arkansas designers are carving out names for themselves locally, and drawing increasingly large crowds to events like the Delta Style show and the spring and fall fashion shows put on by the owner of Box Turtle, a Hillcrest clothing store that's at the forefront of the local-fashion scene.
They're a diverse group, both in terms of their backgrounds and the styles they create. The Delta Style show featured Lorenzen, a potter by training who fell into fashion design almost by accident; Korto Momolu, who was born in Liberia, raised primarily in Canada, and has a degree in fashion design; Jamie Davidson, who five years ago was selling his designs door-to-door at high-end boutiques around the country and now designs the Tre Vero line of menswear at Dillard's; and three students of Jamileh Kamran, an Iranian-born custom clothier who started teaching fashion design at her Hillcrest salon last fall.
The back room at Box Turtle also has designs from Georgia Ashmore's Peach Pavlova line of T-shirts; Missy Lipps, who restyles men's shirts and pants with original appliques; and Augusta Fitzgerald, who is, well, 11 years old. And up the hill at Tallulah, a clothing store in the Heights, you can buy restyled cashmere sweaters from Lakey Goff, who got her start remaking the cast-off, outdated clothes her family received from their church during the years they worked as missionaries in Central America.
Lorenzen's designs grow out of a commitment to reuse as much as possible. She creates silk-screened T-shirts using original drawings and shirts she finds on E-bay — at around $40 each, they're her best sellers — but her most identifiable designs are the brightly colored dresses she creates using vintage and outdated clothing and fabric she finds primarily at thrift stores.
“My dad owns a used bookstore. I grew up going to Goodwill, places like that,” she said. “I like that old stuff. It has its own history, its own story.”
She comes by the creative side of design naturally — she's also a potter and painter, and was showing art long before she got into fashion — but Lorenzen has had to learn the craft side as she goes. Sewing still isn't her strong point, she admits, and she doesn't know how to read patterns, much less create them. Perhaps consequently, her dresses have a kind of signature look: lots of raw edges and purposefully crooked seams, uneven hems, patched-together pieces of fabric. They're young, fun, and guaranteed to be one of a kind.