The pink dress with white daisies was a thrift-shop muumuu before Nicole Lebreux refurbished it. Now it's headed for the runway.
VINTAGE MADE NEW Lebreux.
Lebreux, a Tiverton native who specializes in vintage cloth made new, will join 25 other designers at the upcoming StyleWeek Providence, a bi-annual affair meant to showcase fashion talent and turn heads toward the Creative Capital.
Jonathan Joseph Peters, creative director and vice president of brand development for StyleWeek, says the event can offer designers a launch pad to commercial recognition. Designers get help with hair and makeup for their models, and this year, they get to show their stuff on stage at the Providence Performing Arts Center.
"We've taken our designers, regardless of how far along they are in their company or their career, and made them equal," says Peters.
That includes experienced designers like Peters — who insists his stint on the popular TV show Project Runway is not the reason people come to StyleWeek, since that was a few seasons ago, after all — and designers like Lebreux, who have never shown their work.
Jennifer Greeke, a Gloucester, Massachusetts-based designer, debuted her Harpy clothing line at last season's StyleWeek in January with a collection of edgy, black-and-white garments — think a stylish Wednesday Addams in evening and office wear. This year, she's adding color in a collection called Modern Joan that she says is influenced by armor.
StyleWeek "makes my little line feel a lot bigger than I could have hoped for," says Greeke, 30, who makes her clothing by hand.
Lebreux, 28, has been preparing for StyleWeek in the dining room of her Bristol apartment. On a recent Friday morning, she watches a young woman model a pair of high-waisted, nautical-print shorts, a long, brightly-colored dress, and the former muumuu.
"I want smiles," she instructs the model. "This isn't stomping down the runway with serious faces. I want to see your bright, shiny smiles and, yeah, just put yourself into it."
While this may be her first show, Lebreux seems confident in who she is — and who she is not. She is not a New York fashionista, for example. Sometime after a stint in the New York clothing scene — during which she collected paper from her office to recycle in the bin at home — the waste-conscious designer opened a small vintage shop in Newport called Fidget Finds. While she enjoyed attending school at the Fashion Institute of Technology, living and working in New York just wasn't for her, she says.
"The fashion industry is unbelievably abhorrent," she says, referring to its labor practices and environmental toll. "It's so bad, because it's covered in beautiful things."
The solution, for Lebreux, was to create an alternative. Now, she hunts vintage cloth at yard and estate sales, auctions, and thrift shops and makes adjustable dresses and billowy tops from loud floral prints and former bed sheets.
Among her first successes were skirts made from pillowcases — an economical project that used almost the entire piece of fabric. While "sustainability" may be a mere buzzword in the fashion industry these days, Lebreux takes it seriously. She outsources some work to a couple of women in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts, and takes pride in the local nature of her business.