Designer Kimberly Hendrix leaves behind a love for life

Published March 17 2015
Updated March 18 2015

Kimberly Hendrix often rode her bicycle through the streets of St. Petersburg, platinum hair blowing all around. The fashion designer was known around town for her bohemian princess energy, her sequins and ripped denim, her barefaced ease.

Her designs represented imperfection, of making the most of what already existed.

Ms. Hendrix, 45, died March 11 after a battle with cancer. She spoke only occasionally of her illness, preferring to pour energy into her fashion line, k.hendrix. She wanted to leave the business in shape to benefit her 19-year-old son, Alex, and her 5-year-old daughter, Isabella, a blond-haired, blue-eyed miniature Ms. Hendrix.

She was a frequent designer at Tampa Bay Fashion Week. In 2013, she headlined the fashion show, sending her glittering gowns down the runway on models adorned with twigs and branches. In 2014, as she tried to listen to her body amid illness, she sat in the front row to cheer on her friends.

Ms. Hendrix was a vegetarian with an interest in Buddhist teachings. She loved nature and recycling, and her designs were painstakingly crafted from existing materials.

Celebrities including Academy Award-nominated actor Juliette Lewis and reality TV star Kendra Wilkinson had worn her creations. Her sequined leggings were photographed for In Style magazine, paired with Chanel. Recently, her publicist said, Ms. Hendrix was working with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's production company.

She was featured in a 2011 Tampa Bay Times fashion shoot, transforming a plain men's T-shirt into something special. She stained it with tea and shredded the fibers one by one with her fingers. The result was as delicate as spun sugar. It looked like it could shatter.

"Her stuff was awesome," said her friend and publicist Nancy Vaughn, who organizes Tampa Bay Fashion Week. "She was so good. You have to see it in person, with all the lights shining against everything. The way she selected her models, she just put together this really cohesive-looking collection and show every time. It was exciting for us."

Ms. Hendrix was born in Riverside, Calif. She was creative from the start, said her father, Tom Hendrix. She was always a deep thinker, entranced with the world. When her family would walk along the beach, Ms. Hendrix would lag behind, studying whatever was around her.

She loved anything beautiful.

"She used to grab all kinds of materials and drape them around her and come walking out, like, 'Hey, look at me,' " said her father.

She was interested in sports, from track and field to gymnastics to volleyball. After high school she got into modeling. She moved to Japan to pursue the career, got married and had her son, Alex Hendrix-Usami. Eventually she divorced and came back to the states.

She tried many careers before finding her groove in fashion design, her son said, from interior design to buying and selling vintage clothes, sometimes waiting tables to make ends meet. She moved to Florida in 2007, growing her business with rare acumen for both the creative and business sides.

Sometimes she would work late into the night, and other times she would create something two hours before a show; that stuff usually sold better. She used to stress before fashion shows or overthink designs, her son said.

But when she gave birth to her daughter five years ago, Alex said, something in her shifted. She became more relaxed, more free-spirited, more willing to take on whatever happened. It was how she approached her illness.

"Life happens and you kind of have to just go with it," Alex said. "And that was the kind of person she was. Once Bella came, she was very, very easygoing. I've sort of become like that as, well."

Ms. Hendrix was kind, above all, friends said, someone who stayed up all night if you needed her, who took everyone seriously, who spoke to her children like they were grown.

"She taught me a lot," said her birth mother, PJ Eakins-Eagle. "A lot of humility. To be kinder. To look at the world through a different view and not see all of the negativity."

Ms. Hendrix loved to write and share quotes. Since her death, people have been sharing this one online: I don't just want to dream. I want to wake up, get out of bed, have an amazing cup of coffee, and then make it my life.

Fans, family and friends gathered over the weekend to celebrate her life. Ms. Hendrix had asked everyone to come ready to party, to eat Twizzlers and Skittles, to wear white, and plenty of sequins.

Contact Stephanie Hayes at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

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