Macy’s may be known primarily as a retailer, but the brand is also on a mission to foster and develop emerging talent. In Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia, Macy’s has established a series of Fashion Incubator programs that provide mentoring, business curriculum and dedicated workspace to young designers. Three participants of these innovative programs have been selected to design pieces for a trio of celebs to wear at New York Fashion Week’s annual Red Dress Collection fashion show. We had the chance to talk to the talented group of designers who are busy crafting the looks for the highly-anticipated show.
Not many up-and-coming designers can say they created a piece for a true legend, but Jovan O’Connor certainly can. She was tasked with designing a dress for Patti LaBelle while she was still a senior at Philadelphia University. After graduating, the Philadelphia native built her reputation as an independent custom designer and stylist before deciding to launch her own namesake line in 2013. Now, the ambitious designer will be creating a look for model and Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta cast member Cynthia Bailey. Discover just how young O’Connor was when she first started designing, her latest movie inspiration and how spending time in Italy cultured a love of architecture as well as ancient structures.
theFashionSpot: How long have you been designing?
Jovan O’Connor: I’ve been designing since I was 6 years old. I used to draw little fashion shows on any blank paper I could get my hands on; the backs of my tests, church programs, you name it.
tFS: How did you get involved with the Fashion Incubator program?
JO: I learned of the Fashion Incubator through a few sources, including my PhilaU classmates Melissa Choi and Pia Panaligan of Senpai+Kohai. They were actually in the Fashion Incubator as part of the 2013 class, and I was able to follow their amazing journey and see how their business had advanced during their residency.
tFS: What were your thoughts when you were selected to design for the Red Dress Collection?
JO: I was beyond thrilled! The gown I designed for Patti LaBelle was also a red gown, so when I was selected, I was reminded of a recurring theme of my life that involves things coming full circle. It feels as if everything I have designed thus far has prepared me for this moment.
tFS: Tell us about your inspiration for the dress you’re designing.
JO: My dress, like my latest collection, is inspired by 70s glamour as in the movie Mahogany. Mahogany was about a young woman from Detroit with dreams to become a designer. She followed her dreams to Rome and became a star. Tracy, played by Diana Ross, had a vibrant, unique sense of style that commanded the attention of the room. Like Tracy, the dress I design will be glamorous, vibrant red, unique and eye-catching.
tFS: What does the Red Dress initiative mean to you?
JO: The Red Dress initiative is dear to my heart because it works to promote awareness that heart disease is the number one killer of women. It also addresses the fact that many women are unaware of heart disease’s causes and prevention. Participating in this event presents an opportunity to start a dialogue about women’s heart health with my family and network, and I am honored to do so.
tFS: How would you describe your design aesthetic?
JO: As a result of the time I spent in Italy, I am greatly inspired by the architecture and sculptures of ancient structures. I love to drape and I also like to use fabrics with interesting textures, style lines and silhouettes that flatter the female form, while making a statement.
tFS: Which designer(s) are you most inspired by?
JO: I am most inspired by Chanel because she was a pioneer who contributed so much to the fashion industry by marching to the beat of her own drum. Chanel is synonymous for iconic class, style and quality, and I hope to establish such a legacy for my brand.
tFS: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
JO: In 10 years, I see myself as the head of a successful fashion company with a loyal and growing customer base. I see my highly-anticipated collection floating down the runway at a show at NYFW. My designs will be highly sought-after by the most stylish clients for the most fashionable of events and my work will be recognized as a fashion force to be reckoned with. Hopefully, I can return to the Red Dress Collection runway as well, as another full circle moment in my career.