This June, I had the exciting opportunity to show my first fashion collection at Greensboro Fashion Week. Through my time spent in design, construction, and the final runway show for the collection, I was reminded of how my “fashion career” began, reflecting on the development of my skills, passion, and personal growth as a designer from my first dress to this recent finale show.
Fashion design has been an interest of mine since early high school. I made my first dress during my sophomore year, and, given my comfort with sculpture and unconventional materials, it was made out of fashion magazines and, naturally, put together with a hot glue gun.
Since making my first dress at sixteen years old, and even more so after showing my first runway piece at seventeen, I knew that fashion was something extremely special to me. The feeling I get during a runway show is unlike anything else; between the excitement of a good inspiration, the satisfaction of a successful construction, and the rush of a runway show, my passion for the art and industry was and is unrivaled. Fashion was something that I knew I would want to keep in my life; however, given my status as a self-taught designer, with no sewing machine (up until last year), little experience, and a portfolio of paper dresses, fashion didn’t exactly feel like a viable option for me, especially when making my college decision.
Riley’s first runway design, made from paint swatches, magazines, and painting canvas
Fashion was always at the back of my mind, though, because when choosing Wake Forest University, I found myself looking into possible majors, jobs, and organizations (i.e., WFU Style) that could be my “in” to the industry. From my work study position in the costume shop to photographing local art and fashion events, I quickly discovered that I could find opportunities in fashion as long as I looked for them. While photographing Winston-Salem Fashion Week in 2017, I heard about Greensboro Fashion Week, an acclaimed local fashion event that has grown in size every year since its debut in 2013. Despite having a design portfolio devoid of any conventional pieces, I applied to the Emerging Designers Competition, and much to my surprise, I was accepted!
As a designer at Greensboro Fashion Week, I was able to show a mini, five piece collection at their Preview show on June 23rd. The Preview was designed to prepare guests for the big event in October, for which I will be creating an eleven piece collection. My inspiration for this preview collection was Italy- a result of my recent acceptance into Wake’s Casa Artom program. I was influenced by the vibrancy and romanticism of Italian culture and my perception of Italy through my personal travels and classic films like Roman Holiday (1953).
Film still from Roman Holiday (1953), a major source of inspiration for Riley’s collection
After many busy weeks of sketching, patterning, and sewing, I finished my collection with a few days to spare. With this being my first “real” collection, the process of unadulterated sewing and construction was obviously foreign to me, but I quickly got into a rhythm. The satisfaction I gained from every finished piece was easily enough to keep me sewing, especially during those last few stressful nights.
The day of the Preview runway show was filled with energy. My models and I spent hours in hair & makeup, run-throughs, and photo shoots leading up to the runway. Assigning my models their looks was one of my favorite parts of the day. Their respective designs fit them all beautifully, and to see their individual personalities come to compliment my designs and aesthetic was so rewarding- after all, art, including fashion, is a vehicle of collaboration.
Pieces from Riley’s ROMAN HOLIDAY collection, walking at The Preview – Photos by Scott Russell
Watching my collection showcased on the runway gave me butterflies even more erratic than those of my first show almost three years ago, which I wasn’t even convinced was possible. Participating in the show just confirmed that fashion is the path for me. From the designing to the sewing to the styling, and especially the runway walk, every bit of it gives me a rush. The combined power of such creativity, performance, and empowerment in fashion allows one to express themselves and establish their individual points of view. As I continue to find opportunities in fashion, I know that my passion lies in design and the fashion industry. Through these opportunities, especially that of my first professional runway show as a burgeoning designer with growing comfort and confidence, I’ve established a personal aesthetic, balancing femininity, sophistication, and fun. Sixteen year old-Riley would be proud.
Written by Riley Phillips
Edited by Julia Sawchak
Photos as marked