Independent designers key to area’s fashion future

A model wears a gown designed by Phuong Minh Nguyen

Kicking off Bellevue Fashion Week’s tenth anniversary, designer Phuong Minh Nguyen won the top prize at the Independent Designers Runway Show. But for the first time this year, audience members also voted and chose Varsha Agarwal as their favorite independent designer.

“Every year after the show, you could hear people expressing who they would have chosen. It’s really important for the guests to come to feel like they’ve had a hand in the decision,” said Jennifer Leavitt, vice president of marketing for the Kemper Development Company, which produces the event each year.

The panel of judges for the Independent Designers Runway show works with the designers for the nine months preceding their final presentation. This year, the show’s panel included Seattle Met magazine Style Editor Amanda Zurita, Bruce Pflaumer of Michael Bruce Image Consulting, Marj Turner of Fashion Group International and fashion industry veteran Patricia Wolfkill.

Over that time, they will give feedback and see the evolution of the designers’ work.

But, there have been plenty of occasions in which a designer has pulled out great pieces in the last day or week.

While the panelists have had a larger viewpoint of the designers and will still present the main award, audience members voted and chose as the winner for the first time during the runway show.

The eight designers featured in the Independent Designers Fashion Show on Sept. 23 have a range of backgrounds. They have been born locally and far abroad, and design everything from wedding dresses to casual day-to-day pieces.

Independent local designers are not only a large part of Bellevue Fashion Week every, but are also the past and future of the Bellevue Collection.

As a market, the Seattle area embodies the spirit of independence, she added.

Given that the Pacific Northwest is removed from the Los Angeles and New York markets, there has been a focus on nurturing local talent but keeping it here.

“It’s tough to stay in this market, a lot of the designers don’t have the resources they need. Yet, there’s a huge wealth of design inspiration here and we want this to be the fashion place for the region, so we have to do something to keep designers here,” said Leavitt.