Kaitlyn Fitzgerald visited Los Angeles for the first time in her 17 years on Tuesday — the same day the iconic Hollywood sign was getting a fresh coat of paint.
That seemed symbolic to Arianna Sinclair, backstage producer for Style Fashion Week, one of the biggest of many loosely affiliated fashion shows happening throughout Los Angeles through Oct. 21.
After seeing Fitzgerald's fresh, crisp, feminine, eight-piece collection for her KAITblu line during Omaha Fashion Week in August, Sinclair rushed backstage to offer the surprised teenager a spot in Style Fashion Week's emerging designer showcase.
Sinclair spent the summer attending fashion shows in cities across the country — Seattle, Dallas, San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz., among others — searching for designers to feature in Style Fashion Week. She heard about Omaha Fashion Week from JLynn Hausmann, a Los Angeles-based designer who showed her denim collection during this fall's Omaha Fashion Week.
Fitzgerald, a senior at Omaha's Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, immediately caught Sinclair's eye. She was the only Omaha designer Sinclair invited to Los Angeles.
Fitzgerald will present the eight pieces from Omaha, as well as two more pieces she designed specifically for Style Fashion Week, today at 6 p.m. CDT at Vibiana, an elaborate 19th century church converted into an events venue and performing arts space.
Fitzgerald is also the youngest designer ever to be featured in the emerging designer showcase — or in any show in the four-year history of Style Fashion Week, Sinclair said. And Los Angeles Fashion Week, the second largest fashion week in the United States after New York, attracts influential fashion stylists, buyers, bloggers and journalists, which could put the young designer in the national eye.
Sinclair, for one, believes that Fitzgerald's collection — meticulously detailed seperates composed of neutral shades and bold handpainted fabric — is ready for the attention.
“It is just exactly what L.A. needs to see,” Sinclair said. “She has great details with every single outfit. The structure was done at a level of someone who has been creating clothing for many years.”
Fitzgerald has not, in fact, been creating clothing for that long.
A year ago, she barely knew how to sew.
She did know how to draw, and the summer before, she had taken classes in the Fashion Design Department of the Chicago Art Institute.
“I always had an interest in fashion design, and I always loved sketching,” she said.
The summer class piqued her interest in both. So she sketched a collection and submitted it to the Omaha Fashion Week selection committee.
She was surprised to get a callback, she said, and somewhat alarmed to learn that she would have to bring an example of a garment she had made.
The day before the interview, she stayed home from school to work on her garment, said her mother, Denise Fitzgerald. She sewed all day and all night, but her project was complicated and she ultimately ran out of time before she was finished. Tearfully, she told her mom she would have to cancel the interview.
“I told her, ‘You bring them what you have, and you tell them, “I will learn. I will learn how to sew.”'
She did tell the committee, which decided to take a chance on the ambitious and poised 16-year-old.
And she did learn.
She took classes at a Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store a few times a week, and she practiced every day. Working every day after school and on weekends in her basement, she produced a collection of nine 1960s-inspired looks for Omaha Fashion Week's spring 2012 show — mostly party dresses, but a few gowns and separates, too — in rich shades of burgundy, black, red and pink, with a few pops of bright green. She called her new line KAITblu.
“She blew us away,” said Omaha Fashion Week Producer Brook Hudson.
In August, Fitzgerald participated in the Omaha Fashion Week fall show with an eight-piece collection very different from her first. This collection featured structured separates in softer colors — white, camel, coral, yellow, pink. The contrast of the pastel palette with the clean lines and crisp pleats of the garments in the collection caught Sinclair's eye.
Over the summer, Fitzgerald had gone on a school trip to Paris, which ended up informing every element of her collection.
“While I was in Paris I really liked all the architecture and structure, so I incorporated all of that into my collection,” she said.
She also hand-painted white fabric with a delicate but bold floral design, inspired by Parisian gardens. The handpainted fabric was featured in most of the looks she showed at Omaha Fashion Week.
“That was sort of the focus of my collection,” she said.
The resulting garments are interesting but wearable, Sinclair said. She could envision young stars, say Demi Lovato or Taylor Swift, wearing KAITblu.
It's possible that could happen, given the Style Fashion Week audience, Sinclair said.
And Sinclair suspects the audience will find Fitzgerald's path to L.A. compelling: a teenager from Omaha teaching herself to sew and creating her own clothing line in her parents' basement, all in a year.
“It's a Hollywood story,” she said.
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