Local designers will debut full collections at Tampa Bay Fashion Week

Published September 11 2014

Alexandra Lin

44, Bradenton, AlexandraLinDesigns.com

Lin, who came to Florida with her husband and children after being a home-school teacher for USA Gymnastics, got into fashion after witnessing the joy she brought her daughter from making her junior prom dress.

"My son plays tennis and so his friends are from around the world and they all said Mrs. Lin, you should do this," she recalls.

With that motivation, she enrolled in the International Academy of Design and Technology and showed as a student in Tampa Bay Fashion Week last year. Now she's got her own full collection, Alexandra Lin Designs, which she hopes will push forward her brand into boutiques and mass production.

"In describing my aesthetic, I really think for me, it's a bit of Lily Pulitzer, Vivienne Westwood and Audrey Hepburn, and with a pinch of Coco Chanel," she said.

Unsurprisingly, that aesthetic put her at odds with the boyfriend jeans trend. "I want women to celebrate their shapes and their bodies," Lin said. "I get the comfort but it just does nothing for the shape of woman's body."

There is no specific clientele Lin designs for; most of her pieces are inspired by people she knows.

"I don't start from an initial object. Different people inspire me and each of those people get paired with a fabric because it moves like they do or a color that feels like they do. That feeling becomes a garment and that personality that garment. It's almost like the dog choosing you, as I once read in book about adopting animals. It's just how those things work for me."

Sumita Bhojwani

40, Tampa, KalaXpress.com

Bhojwani studied fashion design in India before moving to the United States in 1999. She took a detour into the world of information technology while living in Kansas City, but circled back around to fashion when she moved to Tampa three years ago.

"I had done showcases of my Indian-inspired works in Christian Fashion Week for the past two years," Bhojwani said. "When I design I keep in mind all ages. It's not this is for young girls. ... Anybody can wear my design."

She opened an online shop specializing in tunics, harem pants and other easy-to-wear pieces, but her collection at Fashion Week, will showcase a different side of KalaXpress. She spent one month in Dubai selecting fabrics for her garments and had the finishing touches and fittings done by Italian tailors.

"This time I used more artistic prints and different types of fabric," she said. "My work is always colorful and vibrant. I like to travel around see what people are really wearing on the street, and I try to incorporate what I think would be really vibrant and look good in nature and around me."

One piece you won't see in her collection: mullet-hemmed skirts. "I just don't understand them," she laughed.

Desirée Voight

24, Lakeland, DesireeMarieDesigns.com

Voight graduated from the International Academy of Design and Technology in Orlando in 2011 and has been plugging away at independent mini-collections ever since. She opened an Etsy.com shop for her hand-sewn garments and has been showing her stuff around the state. Tampa Bay Fashion Week will be her first full-collection show and possibly the break she's been looking for into the market that most fits with her aesthetic.

"I think all my ready-to-wear pieces are a little unique. When I get dressed myself, people always say, 'Oh, you're so fancy,' " Voight laughed.

Lace and chunky jewelry are everyday fixtures for a designer who grew up loving Betsey Johnson, and 1950s-inspired girly chic. "I love that silhouette she does, the sweetheart bodice with the full skirt. It's very hard for me to get it out of my head when I am designing."

Not on her love list: jeans with obnoxiously big holes. "I just like girly things," she said.

Recently, Voight has begun tackling formal wear for the most important day of many people's lives. She's made bridal collections referencing The Great Gatsby and even launched a successful bridesmaids collection based on French royal-court style of Marie Antoinette. "I think as more and more women gravitate toward choosing a color and letting their bridesmaids find a dress that works for them, there's an opportunity to take the stigma away from bridesmaid dresses," she said.

Her fashion-week collection of formal dresses that could be considered bridesmaid gowns are Mermaid-centric, using the colors Tampa Bay-area residents are so familiar with and a by-the-sea motif we all have come to recognize.

R eaching the heights of fashion design comes in incremental advances, and this year three local designers will count their first full-collection showings at Tampa Bay Fashion Week as a another step on the road to world domination. • Out of the many who submitted for the open call, these three women were chosen to showcase their wares for Tampa's elite, local boutique owners and fashion bloggers at the annual show on Wednesday. Their styles range from classic chic to internationally inspired, giving this year's event diversity on multiple levels. • tbt* caught up with Tampa Bay's new design stars to find out, what makes them tick, what ticks them off, and how their looks will change the way we look for the better. — Robbyn Mitchell rmitchell@tampabay.com

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