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Making it work

By Keegan Prosser on August 30, 2013 – No Comment

BY KEEGAN PROSSER // Fashion photos by Nate Gowdy

For the second year in a row the Bellevue Collection will present it’s Independent Designer Runway Show (IDRS) as part of Bellevue Fashion Week, and as the big day inches closer, the competition is beginning to heat up.

This year’s competition will feature new collections from 11 of the area’s most promising new designers – who were selected by a panel featuring local fashion experts Laura Cassidy (Style Editor, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine), Vivian Miller-Rahl (Regional Director, Fashion Group International, Seattle), Drew Holland (Business Development Manager, Amazon) Bruce Pflaumer (Owner, Michael Bruce Image Consulting) and Rebecca Luke (Key Costume Designer, Rebecca Luke Costume Design).

Over the past few months, designers have been working with the panel to curate a 10-look collection on the runway, with hopes of taking home the prize: a package that includes $5,000 cash to help build their business and a special display in Bellevue Square during the month of October.

The Scene recently caught up with two of the shows competitors, Corban Harper and Michael Cepress, to learn more about what we can expect at the big show.

On the rise: Corban Harper

A 2012 graduate of the International Academy of Design and Tech, 23-year-old Corban Harper says his interest in fashion evolved naturally.

“I’ve always been really interested in art, so any medium was a creative outlet,” Harper says.

Known for his elegant, graceful take on women’s wear, Harper made a splash in the local fashion scene when he took home the top prize in last year’s Project Red Dress and when he was deemed the Best Emerging Designer at Metropolitan Fashion Week 2012.

“I dress in men’s wear so it obviously comes more naturally to me,” Harper says. “But women’s wear has kind of taken a front seat.”

Harper says he’s constantly paying attention to pop culture, architect and religion for new ideas. But his main source of inspiration continues to be strong women.

“It’s always inspiring to see powerful women in history – like Joan of Arc,” Harper says.

For him, designing clothes for women is about achieving that balance of fierceness and femininity.

For the Bellevue show, Harper will trade his flow-y gowns for styles a little more street-friendly.

“My woman of power this year is Cat Woman,” Harper says. “Which is kind of a really fun tongue-and-cheek way to keep it lighthearted but still have a really cool, languid edge to it.”

Don’t expect Harper’s collection to include cat ears and animal print. Rather, his vision is more theory-based.

“I’m referencing her – but my clothes won’t look like costumes,” Harper says. “It’s more, like, if Cat Woman was a real person – what she would wear.”

For those familiar with Harper’s work, the edgy lean may come as a bit of a surprise, but the designer ensures his polished aesthetic will remain.

“I have a friend whose dad is in a motorcycle gang, so I looked at his motorcycle jackets,” Harper says.

It’s in these details – the construction, crafty, do-it-yourself techniques – where Harper is looking to bring his refinement to the streets. But, it’s proven to be a challenge.

“Not only finding out what’s appropriate for this area, but blending the [hard and soft],” Harper says. “They’re polar opposites; they don’t necessarily blend together.”

The young designer says he was determined to pursue this line even if he didn’t get accepted for the Bellevue show, but he’s excited about the opportunity to share his line on such an important stage.

“It’s still intimidating,” Harper says.

Big business: Michael Cepress

For Michael Cepress, the opportunity to show in the Independent Designer Runway Show isn’t so much about debuting a new point of view as it is taking his business to the next level.

The Seattle-based designer, who founded Michael Cepress Design in 2008, has been a full-time designer, tailor and fashion maven for 10 years. In addition to being one of the most buzzed about designers in the area (he was voted “Best Men’s Wear Designer” as part of Seattle Weekly’s “Best of 2013” poll), Cepress calls hip-hop superstars Macklemore and Ryan Lewis customers. The up-and-coming designer also recently launched his first full men’s and women’s lines, after raising more than $50,000 through a Kickstarter campaign.

“That was absolutely central to being able to take this next step,” says Cepress, who also teaches design courses at the University of Washington and operates a tailoring business out of his studio.

“It was a moment where I really rallied the support of the community around me – and when I realized people really believed in what I’m doing.”

The money raised helped Cepress finish the “American Dreaming” collections and premiere the looks at his own runway show, held at Seattle’s Century Ballroom in June.
Cepress first got involved with fashion design while in graduate school at the University of Washington – where his passion for clothing was showcased through drawings, performance and fine arts pieces.

“Eventually it got to the point where I was like, Why am I beating around the bush here? Just start to make the clothes in the way that you want to make the clothes,” Cepress says.

Once he made that revelation, Cepress made his master thesis a runway show – for which he put together his first two collections.

“That’s when I feel like I really started to cut my teeth,” Cepress says.

He credits that body of work – 70 garments – as the reason he was able to find work as a costume technician the minute he graduated. That’s likely where his dramatic aesthetic comes from.

“I think there is something theatrical about how I design – a certain boldness about it,” Cepress says. “I think there is kind of a historic element about how I design my collections.”

For the Bellevue show Cepress is building on his recent collections – creating 10 original looks (five male, five female) that pay homage to the 1960s and 70s.

“That moment in history has always been hugely inspiring to me; it really fuels me in a big way,” Cepress says about his source of inspiration. “In my opinion, it’s one of the last moments in American history when people truly cared about one another. And this is my opportunity to honor that and celebrate that – and to remind people that we need to get back to that.”

Cepress’ intent is to keep the dramatic, historic quality of clothes without overwhelming people.

“They should feel like they are wearing something powerful or special – but not a costume,” Cepress says.

So what should attendees expect from his show? Feel good, earthy vibes – and awesome, classic tunes.

“It’s all about that full experience around the clothes,” he says.

The prize

Ultimately, the exposure and mentorship they’ll receive from the show in Bellevue is what drew Harper and Cepress to the Independent Designer Runway show.

“They’re really about fostering creativity,” Harper says. “And helping you display your collection in the best light.”

For Harper, winning the competition means being able to establish himself as an important voice in the fashion world.

And for Cepress, it means confidently stepping toward making his clothing available to the masses.

“I am eager and ready for relationships with local retailers,” Cepress says.

The Independent Designer Runway show will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue, 900 Bellevue Way N.E. VIP ($75) and General Admission tickets ($50) are available now.