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Fierce fashion, made in Savannah
Independent designers make it work here at home
The Savannah Independent Designers pose at Dollhouse Studios, l. to r: Troy Allen, April Johnston, Meredith Sutton, Blake Mavrogeorgis, Nanci Zabko, Leslie Miller, Risha Carnes, model Nikki Lomelli and Emily Bargeron. Not pictured: Brooke Atwood. PHOTO: Pat Bombard

Savannah Independent Designers Showcase

When: 7:30-9:30 p.m. Friday, April 26

Where: Dollhouse Studios, 980 Industry Dr.

Cost: $35/$50 VIP


We're forever hearing that some trend is the "new black," meaning that basic noir has once again been displaced as the most essential and chic element in personal style.

In context of the Savannah Independent Designers and their unique collections, one could posit that "local is the new black." Except that SID's cadre of creative minds makes such fine use of black in their garments and jewelry, it seems a pity to downplay fashion's enduring color in order to magnify the killer designs coming out of our sartorial community.

Not that there's anything monochromatic about this Friday's SID Showcase, to be held in the lofty Dollhouse Studios. Conceived as a way to bring local designers together for Savannah Fashion Week, the show promises plenty of color.

To say that Emily Bargeron makes original use of a Mexican blanket is to understate the sexy perfection of a simple maxidress in Tijuana tequila tones. Bargeron has managed a balance between independence and commercial success with Mamie Ruth, her collection of "music festival chic" dresses and separates. Growth had been slow and steady since her debut as an emerging designer at Charleston Fashion Week in 2009, but Mamie Ruth's free-spirited designs didn't find their way into 53 stores around the country until Bargeron hired a rep to help her take the line to the next level.

"For so long I tried to do everything myself – the marketing, the sewing, all of it," says the 28 year-old. "I realized that you can't wear that many hats and stay sane."

That's advice Troy Allen takes to heart as he develops Aureus, his line of punk knitwear. The Savannah Arts Academy sophomore is by far the youngest member of the SID team, though his original designs — from a raspberry knee-length dress edged in leather to a webbed skirt shot with silver thread — reflect a worldly sophistication. Allen's fiber frocks will be accompanied on the runway by Nanci Zabko's edgy, rock n' roll-infused necklaces and accessories, jangling with bullet shells and guitar picks.

A dance major at SAA whose work was recently featured in the school's Junk 2 Funk Fashion Show, Allen used to dream of creating fashion but didn't learn to sew until his stepfather bought him lessons with designer April Johnston.

"For a long time I was afraid to even try," Allen says with a shy smile. "I blossomed when I met April."

No gathering of Savannah's independent designers would be complete without Johnston's Mangled Courtesan collection, embellished with exquisite collars and other beadwork by Leslie Miller. Johnson, a SCAD grad and former Project Runway contestant, has been an anchor for the local fashion scene with her edgy, all-black profiles and tireless work ethic. A collective pout could be sensed when she announced a few weeks ago that she will be relocating to Philadelphia in late fall.

Also on the SID runway will be Brooke Atwood's cropped lambskin T-shirts, already a coveted item amongst local fashionistas. Jewelry designer Meredith Sutton is creating brass cuffs to complement Atwood's tops, a marriage of leather and metal that is likely illegal in some counties.

Sutton, another SCAD graduate whose broken heart necklaces and avant garde cufflinks appear locally at Kobo Gallery and Paris Market as well as shops in Los Angeles, has made a living with her artistry for almost a decade. The secret, she says, is to not to depend too much on a city this size to sustain a design career.

"Live in Savannah, enjoy Savannah, but it's important to get your work out of Savannah," counsels Sutton.

While manufacturing and distribution remain necessarily outsourced for the most part, Savannah's burgeoning independent fashion scene continues to be stoked by new fuel. Risha Carnes moved here last year to launch Are Carnes, her original accessory designs. Locals are already fawning, particularly over the Gaston Bag, a roomy tote in buttery leather.

"It's my interpretation of the Southern woman's large bag," says Carnes, who sources independent designers locally as well as from Paris to stock her downtown shop, Extant Fair.

Favoring flowing silks and elegant harem pants for summer, Carnes says the mission of Extant Fair is to "translate high fashion into comfortable, chic luxury for Savannah."

This coterie of independent thinkers has found kinship in Dollhouse Studios, owned by Blake and Pete Mavrogiorgos. Off the beaten path in an area of town dominated by welding shops and other industrial endeavors, Dollhouse is fast becoming a nexus for Savannah's underground. With Pete's recording studio off to one side, Blake curates an eclectic line-up of electronic music shows, art gatherings and other cultural happenings. The SID event, she says, was borne out of "my own need to have something fashion-related in this space." However, she defers the electric charge that the event has created to the designers themselves.

"I don't even want to call myself the organizer," says Blake. "We're hosting, but this is a collaboration. "

Supporting the local fashion scene is also a collaborative endeavor. In fact, it inspires the employment of another well-heeled fashion expression: Power dressing. Yes, we can have our black and wear it, too.

The Savannah Independent Designers pose at Dollhouse Studios, left to right: Troy Allen, April Johnston, Meredith Sutton, Blake Mavrogeorgis, Nanci Zabko, Leslie Miller, Risha Carnes, model Nikki Lomelli and Emily Bargeron. Not pictured: Brooke Atwood.