When people think fashion, Charlotte doesnt come to mind.
New York, Milan, Paris, Rome, London, sure. But the Queen City wouldnt make anyones short or long list of couture meccas.
That doesnt bother fashion designer Lore Emelio, however.
Because after working for some of the biggest names in the industry, shes here, using her savvy to develop a new generation of designers in a city she believes can be the new fashion capital of the South.
Emelio moved to Charlotte to begin building her own brand in 2009. Since then, shes released collections of womens clothing, womens hats and mens ties and bow ties. Shes helped design wedding dresses. And she taught the city a thing or two about putting on a New-York-style fashion show (invites only, no selling tickets).
But like both the citys arts enthusiasts and high-tech startup scene, Emelio believes Charlotte can be more than the sum of its parts. She believes we can develop an identity for more than banking and tailored suits (though they sure look good paired with her ties and bow ties).
And she wants to play a role in getting there.
Thats why she recently decided to shift her focus from high-brow fashion shows and a gallery of Lore Emelio-stamped haute couture to a venture she started last summer: fashion and design camps.
At her new studio, tucked in the ground floor of the Berkeley Jackson building, across from the Morehead Inn on East Morehead Street, Emelio is now teaching people, ages 7 and up, the tricks of the trade: the vocabulary, critiques, design process, fashion photography, presentation and portfolio-building.
Its one thing to have clothes being made here, Emelio says. Its another to have a whole bunch of designers coming out.
From dust ruffles to big designers
Emelio made her first dress when she was 6 years old.
It was spontaneous inspiration: walking through her room, she decided to pull the dust ruffle off the bed and drape it around her body.
That was it, Emelio says. And ever since then Ive always been very drawn to fashion.
Emelio attended UNC Chapel Hill for her undergraduate studies, where after unsuccessfully rallying for the school to create a fashion-design program, she designed her own interdisciplinary major in law.
Having struggled with a learning disability, Emelio had never learned to sew. She didnt even take an art class at UNC until her senior year. She never felt she had a gift for drawing.
Then, a kind teacher told her something that altered her life:
An instructor at Carolina explained to me that drawing isnt necessarily innate, Emelio says. Its just a skill one that she could, indeed, learn.
So after graduating from college, Emelio opted out of law school and enrolled in a four-year program at the prestigious Parsons The New School for Design in New York.
My approach was that Ill start at the bottom, but by the time I graduate Ill be at the top, Emelio says.
She did. But amid all the all-nighters sometimes two in a row often the only break she allotted herself was a quick trip to Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue, a legendary luxury department store. She gave herself only enough time to ride the escalator to the top floor and back down again.
Those escalator rides to the seventh floor also led to her big break in fashion. Because on the seventh floor the childrens department renowned childrens clothing retailer Best & Co. had an in-house store.
She emailed and called (a lot), always expressing her interest and asking for a phone number for a Best & Co. executive.
Finally I got someone who didnt know any better, Emelio says: She got the phone number for Susie Hilfiger, designer Tommy Hilfigers wife and then-owner of Best & Co. She was in.
At Greenwich, Conn.-based Best & Co., she designed clothes for well-heeled Park-Avenue-type children. It was a stressful ( The Devil Wears Prada is nothing compared to the real industry, she says) and time-consuming (I got more sleep on the train [to Greenwich] than off the train.).
But that was the lifestyle.
And when youre living your dream, who cares? she says.
She then parlayed that experience into a dream job at Ralph Lauren, designing woven dresses for children sizes 2 to 6.
Sketching in Dilworth
But after years in New York, she began to grow weary of the stress. And she wanted to see her own name on the door.
In 2009, she returned to North Carolina.
Now married with an infant child, Dilworth resident Emelio has a different pace.
On a weekday morning last week, the soft-spoken strawberry blonde peers over the shoulder of 12-year-old Amaya Abraham and 16-year-old Devon James while they work on sketches, Mason jars full of every shade of colored pencil in front of them.
Emelio shows the area where last weeks students walked the runway, with the wares they designed.
Critique is such a huge part of it
While giving a tour of her showroom adorned with straw hats with bright ribbon, tulle skirts and seersucker bow ties shes made, Emelio talks less about her inspiration and more about the exercises she has her students do. At the beginning of each session, shell ask them identify their favorite two pieces and then their least favorite.
Critique is such a huge part of it, she says. And it builds up a comfort level with the vocabulary.
Shell take up to eight students a session, which last from three days ($150) to a week ($225) to two weeks ($400 each).
Like many Charlotte startups, Emelio says, her studio was an experiment she had high hopes for. Now she sees a future for it. In education. In Charlotte and beyond.
Its one thing for me to do what Ive done in the past, with making products and client pieces, Emelio says. That has an impact. A presence. But its my presence.
Her new programs are something else entirely, she says: Im sharing the best that Ive had to (people) at any age. ... Its more than offering a commodity.
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