Designers ready to shine at Omaha Fashion Week -
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Designer Jeff Hanson, left, walks down the runway behind a model wearing one of his pieces during the emerging designers set of the finale of Omaha Fashion Week in August.(ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD)
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Chad Carr appears during the Leggoons show at Omaha Fashion Week in August.(MARK DAVIS/THE WORLD-HERALD)


Designers ready to shine at Omaha Fashion Week
By Cara Pesek

Omaha Fashion Week officially began Tuesday with a collection of looks from local boutiques modeled by cancer survivors. It continued Wednesday with its first show dedicated entirely to hair, makeup and accessories.The shows featuring original designs from local and national designers begin tonight.

Many designers in the show are worth paying attention to. Among them:

Omaha Fashion Week

Children’s and bridal wear by Aubrey Sookram, Hollie Hanash, Jillian Fellers, Marie Nelson and Yolanda Diaz

Ready-to-wear lines by Brittany Davidson, Caine Westergard, Hannah Olson, Jessica Seeley, Rachel Butler and guest designer, “Project Runway” contestant and Nebraska native Amanda Valentine

Avante garde, swimwear, menswear and eveningwear by Amanda Clark, Chad Carr, Christian Shuster, Hope Reiners, Jeff Hanson and Kate Walz

Where: Kaneko, 1111 Jones St.

When: Doors open at 6 p.m., and shows begin at 8 p.m.

Tickets: Range from $20 to $65. Saturday is sold out, but seats for tonight and Friday night are available at

Amanda Valentine, ready-to-wear

The “Project Runway” reality TV contestant will show several new pieces (she was still working on a few of the looks when we spoke earlier this week) during Friday night’s show.

Valentine described it as a “mini summer collection,” likely featuring six looks, made up of things Valentine most likes to design and wear — jackets over dresses, simple tops paired with pants, “and then you’ve got to throw in a wow dress here and there,” she said.

This will be Valentine’s first appearance at Omaha Fashion Week.

Five episodes into “Project Runway’s” 11th season (episode six airs tonight), Valentine is still in the running. The short, fringed dress she designed for country music star Miranda Lambert last week was one of Valentine’s favorite things that she’s designed during the course of the show. It wasn’t the winner, but her brother texted her to tell her he thought she was robbed.

“It’s so hard not to be influenced by everyone else,” she said. “You just have to listen to yourself.”

Valentine, who grew up in Nebraska, graduating from Lincoln Southeast High School and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said she was looking forward to both the show and the homecoming. A college friend is showing a collection Thursday night, and her brother, James Valentine, will be in Nebraska at the same time — his band, Maroon 5, is playing a sold-out show in Omaha on Sunday.

Amanda Valentine said it wasn’t until a few days before the show that she realized they’d be able to hang out together in their home state.

“I’m not kidding you, we didn’t know,” she said.

Jeff Hanson, evening wear

During Omaha Fashion Week’s finale last August, Hanson was one of several young designers selected to present a small collection during a showcase for emerging talent. He showed a collection of hand-painted dresses featuring spring themes and bright colors.

This week, he’s back with a full collection of dresses, also hand-painted. He’ll present his eight-piece collection on Saturday night.

Hanson’s story begins not with fashion but with art. Now 19, Hanson began painting when he was 12. He was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy after a tumor was discovered on his optic nerve, and he made a few watercolor note cards as a fun distraction.

Soon, he had swapped note cards for canvases and watercolors for acrylic paint. He donated a painting to a charity art auction. It sold, and quickly, his bright, abstract paintings — which he painted with tools like spoons and putty knives — gained a following. Hanson began receiving requests for commissioned paintings, and he set a goal to raise $1 million for charity before his 20th birthday. He’s raised more than $900,000 so far. His birthday is Sept. 30.

Oh, and he’s legally blind. His mom, Julie, described his sight as “Swiss cheese vision.”

His story has drawn national attention. People Magazine featured a story about him. Warren Buffett and Elton John are among his more well-known patrons. And his story also inspired Omaha Fashion Week producers Nick and Brook Hudson to ask if he’d consider creating a fashion line.

Designer Caine Westergard, who is showing her own collection on Friday night, sewed the garments that Hanson paints, and they collaborated on the design. For the art, Hanson drew inspiration from recent travels, incorporating poppies from the Mediterranean and tulips from Amsterdam.

He uses many of the same techniques as his paintings, but it’s not quite the same process.

“You have to be more careful,” he said.

Jillian Fellers, bridal

A bridal designer from Lincoln, the 30-year-old Fellers will show a seven-piece collection Thursday night that will include four wedding gowns and three more simple looks appropriate for bridesmaids. Her pieces are soft and ethereal, but a bit offbeat — she likes working with unconventional colors like muted grays and blues and “a little bit of lace, but nothing too traditional, really.”

For several years in the mid-2000s, Fellers had a studio in downtown Lincoln where she made custom gowns. She made a few prom dresses and one pageant gown, but most of her business came from brides. She came to love helping brides set the tone for their event through the style of the bridal gown and bridesmaids dresses.

She took a break from her business when her first son, now four, was born. Sixteen months ago, she had a second son. Fellers designed and sewed the collection while her sons napped during the day and in the evenings after her husband returned home from work, when she would head to her basement studio and “sew until my eyes hurt.”

Fellers attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with Valentine and was looking forward to seeing her college friend, as well as other designers.

Hope Reiners, swimwear

Seven years ago, after graduating high school, Reiners moved from Hastings to southern California, to attend college and escape Nebraska winters.

Saturday night, she’ll present a 12-piece swimwear collection, which she made using skills she learned in fashion design school.

After college, Reiners worked behind the scenes at Los Angeles Fashion Week. She enjoyed the work, and she learned a lot.

“But I always wanted to do design,” she said.

A former high school swimmer, Reiners was drawn to swimwear.

“Being in a bathing suit all the time is something that I love,” she said.

Through a friend, she learned of an organization that employed Cambodian women with HIV and AIDs to make garments at a fair wage. She worked with the organization to produce her first collection and used Cambodian fabrics in earth colors for her line. The collection she’ll show Saturday was also produced in Cambodia, but the inspiration is pure southern California, Reiners said. The nine two-pieces and three one-pieces feature tie-dye prints, long fringe, and bright colors.

Chad Carr, swimwear

At Omaha Fashion Week in August, Chad Carr resurrected Leggoons, the 1980s swimwear brand founded in Omaha by two chimney sweeps, who initially donned the bright shorts in hopes of attracting customers.

Carr paraded 12 looks down a runway to 1980s anthems like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and models posed for photographs next to a Delorean.

This year, Carr and Leggoons are back.

Saturday night’s show, will be less a tribute to the Leggoons of the ’80s and more a glimpse of what’s yet to come. It will have 12 looks — five for men and seven for women.

“What I wanted to do was kind of capture the essence of what made Leggoons great,” Carr said, “but also listen to what people want now.”

This season’s collection features patterns that are more modern. Carr also lengthened the women’s version of the board shorts — a result of feedback he received during August’s show.

Contact the writer:


Contact the writer: Cara Pesek    |   402-444-4052    |  

Cara writes about nightlife -- bars, clubs, karaoke, and other places people go to have a good time -- as well as fashion, pop culture and trends.

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