Teens explore fashion design at Charlotte camp

Youth + Design

Lore Emelio of Charlotte teaches aspiring teen fashion designers at her summer camps.
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Lore Emelio of Charlotte teaches aspiring teen fashion designers at her summer camps.

“Remember it’s not you walking down the runway, it’s your look,” Lore Emelio says to the girls at her Teen Designer Runway camp.

They’re practicing walking down a makeshift runway marked by two strips of tape in Emelio’s studio, holding their chins high but not too high, smiling without showing teeth, and executing an elegant hand-on-hip sway before turning around. But these girls don’t aspire to be models – they dream of being designers.

The runway design camp is one of many fashion-oriented camps and classes Emelio has created in the past four years.

After studying at UNC Chapel Hill and Parsons School of Design and designing girls’ clothes for Ralph Lauren, Emelio launched her own line in Charlotte in 2009. She held two runway shows a year for her fall and spring collections. In 2011, people began asking if they could bring their fashion-loving 12-year-olds to her shows.

Instead, Emelio created something new. She held a “Design Darlings” event where fashionistas ages 6 and up were invited to the studio for an introduction to fashion design. She covered seasons and collections, colors, patterns, mannequins and fabrics.

Emelio offered her first two fashion camps in summer 2012. She held second sessions and added more camps the following summer. Now, she offers 18 summer camps for ages 7-11 and 12-19. Each camp is $225, or $204 when you register for two at once. Emelio’s camps teach fashion design and drawing, not sewing. However, Emelio offers private sewing lessons.

Running the runway

Emelio’s runway camp, for example, teaches teens to think about a fashion show from a design standpoint: trends, colors and mood of the collection, plus hair, makeup, music, venue and lighting.

During the week the campers watched and studied 41 fashion shows. At the end of the week, they each wore an outfit emulating their favorite show and had their turn on the catwalk.

“This is a whole new way to interact with the clothes,” Emelio tells them. “You draw them all day long, but now you’re wearing them.”

She offers a challenge: Find three ways to showcase a jacket. Emelio demonstrates with a black shiny trenchcoat, showing the girls how to highlight the garment’s strengths. Keep it unbuttoned to draw attention to its details, she says, but show it’s tailored by cinching it with your hands on your waist. A twirl will display volume.

One camper grabs a short fur cape, another an asymmetrical jacket. They experiment with gestures. The second camper cinches the short side of her jacket while letting the longer side swing with her stride.

“See?” Emelio asks. “When you’re the designer, you’re going to have to direct these models. You need to say, ‘I want you to have your hand on the fitted side,’ or, ‘Show that the cape is soft.’”

Building a portfolio

Many high schools offer art classes, but don’t specifically teach fashion drawing or fabric choice. Emelio’s Portfolio Prep camp aims to help young hopefuls applying to design schools such as Parsons or Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

Devon James, 18, wasn’t interested in fashion before her mom signed her up for an Emelio camp three summers ago. She came with a friend, and the two loved it so much they skipped a beach trip to come back for a second session.

James created and finished a portfolio with Emelio last summer. Now she’s updating that, and hopes to attend Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles after a gap year studying in Greece and Italy.

Unlike James, Rita Jones knew she wanted to make clothes by the time she was 6. She started drawing when she was 15, poring over fashion design books. Then she found Emelio.

“I just Googled fashion illustration classes and didn’t expect to find any,” she said. Emelio’s camps taught her how to put together a collection, said Jones.

Jones, 20, is headed to SCAD this fall after taking two gap years. She has albums full of fashion design sketches, but SCAD only accepted observational fine arts drawings in their admissions process. “I didn’t know how to draw like that until I met Lore,” she said.

Sharing her passion

Emelio, who currently creates mostly bridal headpieces, says she’s occasionally been blown away by students. She says she’s seen promise in 6-year-olds and designs by 10-year-olds that could be in stores.

The most important quality in a fashion designer is an inexhaustible interest in fashion, she says, an unyielding desire to keep coming back and trying different designs.

“I didn’t think I could be a designer because I didn’t know how to draw,” she said. So she emphasizes to campers that they can learn.

“I love having the privilege of seeing their brilliance and collaborating with them,” said Emelio. “It’s not like, ‘You’re 7 years old and I’m instructing you.’ It’s more like, ‘Here’s what I know. Now let’s see what you’ve got.’ ”

Capwell: 704-358-6194, Twitter: @jessicacapwell


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