Philly's 'Project Runway' win highlights a growing scene

Posted: October 24, 2013

PHILLY is not a city known for its fashion.

But recently, it has taken concrete steps to get its swag on, beginning with the creation of The Philadelphia Collection, Philly's answer to New York's famed Fashion Week, and then the Macy's incubator for emerging designers.

Last week, the City of Brotherly Love got another major style boost after Lifetime's "Project Runway" named a local woman, Dom Streater, as its Season 12 winning designer. A graduate of Moore College of Art & Design, the Overbrook resident plans to launch her new design business right here in Philly.

Wait, did you get that? I'll repeat: She's not running off to New York City. Streater plans to stay put.

With a "Project Runway" win behind her, Streater could have started her design house anywhere. But she's looking at Queen Village or maybe Northern Liberties.

"I love the fashion scene here in Philadelphia," Streater told me. "There are so many designers that nobody knows about."

Until "Project Runway," she was one of them, working on her designs from her crowded bedroom in her mother's house. Unable to find a job in fashion, she was a hostess at Silk City, on Spring Garden Street, and worked with animals at the University of Pennsylvania.

For now, she's taking things slow.

"I'm staying here until everything with the money gets squared away," Streater, 24, said about her $150,000 "Runway" cash prize. In addition to cash, Streater gets a 2014 Lexus, among other prizes, including a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine and a $100,000 fabric allowance.

"I'm going to buy a larger studio space to work in," she said, adding that she wants to produce her line here, too. "I don't want to manufacture in China. I'm not really supportive of how things are made overseas. I don't think it's appropriate, given the state our country is in.

"I'm asking around about Philadelphia manufacturing. I think the only way I can do it is if I hire three seamstresses myself."

Streater plans to debut her fall-winter designs at the FBH Philly Fashion Week instead of going the much more expensive New York Fashion Week route. Streater hopes that in addition to Barneys and other national retailers, homegrown boutiques such as Knit Wit and Joan Shepp will feature her line.

"I'm going to focus on starting small in Philly and then going from there," Streater explained.

Streater isn't Philadelphia's only "Project Runway" winner. Jay McCarroll was the show's first winner, in its inaugural season, in 2005. He's still designing, and he also teaches at Philadelphia University, one of at least six colleges in our region that offer fashion programs of some kind.

But a lot has changed on the Philly fashion landscape since then.

Fashion insiders are thrilled that an upstart designer with Streater's national TV credentials will showcase her designs at The Philadelphia Collection. This annual event got its start just three years ago with a mission of promoting the city's fashion scene through large-scale fashion shows and industry-related presentations. It began as a joint effort by the city, the Center City District and the Philadelphia Retail Marketing Alliance. Last month, the Collection featured 60 events over eight days, including a Rittenhouse Row fashion crawl and a primping party at Giovanni & Pileggi.

Desiree Peterkin-Bell, from the city representative's office, is hopeful that Streater also will provide mentoring to the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy's, a nonprofit organized by the city, Macy's and the Center City District.

The program got its start in 2012, and each year hosts talented emerging designers in a "Project Runway"-inspired production space inside the Wanamaker Building, in Center City. Designers-in-residence also get treated to regular workshops on the business of fashion and other help.

"I certainly think that every opportunity we have to showcase fashion talent from a national setting as competitive as 'Project Runway' is just one more feather in the cap of what I think is really a burgeoning fashion scene," said Michelle Shannon, vice president of marketing and communications for the Center City District. "I think it's a perfect storm. I think it's one good fashion story after another." Before the city began to involve itself in fashion-related activities in a big way, Philadelphia had a fashion scene - it just was on a much smaller scale, with various fashion-show promoters each doing his own event. Sharon Waxman's annual Phashion Phest runway show, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, was always a highlight.

Paula Hian, who grew up in Penn Valley, operates Paula Hian Designs out of Manayunk, though she participates in Fashion Week, in New York. She specializes in high-end knits, made in France, that typically sell for $600 to $800 and more.

Hian's been in business for more than 15 years, so she's been watching the Philly scene evolve. She's impatient.

"It's a slow-moving kind of metamorphosis, but at least we're going in the right direction," Hian said. She wishes that the city were a little less conservative.

"Los Angeles isn't like that," she said. "New York isn't like that. I don't know why we're in this pocket of conservatism."

Four years ago, Anthony Henderson, a celebrity fashion stylist who divides his time between Philly and Los Angeles, launched 17 . . . Days of Fashion, a series of parties, trunk shows and other events that take place in August.

Suddenly, it seems that Philadelphia has a lot going on in terms of fashion.

"We're getting there but we have to support one another," pointed out Rakia Reynolds, of Skai Blue Media, a PR firm that has many fashion clients.

Meanwhile, the city's teeming with talented people, such as Meeka Johnson.

Like Streater, she has a side hustle - hers is working for Bloomingdale's three days a week fulfilling orders, but her dream is to work full time as a fashion stylist.

"It's bigger than her, this win, it really is," said Johnson, who recently helped style an ad for Essence magazine. "It gives me hope as a black woman and being in this crazy fashion industry where you just don't know.

"It's something that you can tell your parents. Like, 'See? It can work.' She's on her way."

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