Wednesday, June 14, 2017

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

Here Comes the Bride - Student Style

The 5 wedding gowns flanked by Daryl Blank far right, Mara Urshel (middle),
Robert di Mauro on far right
All photos Marilyn Kirschner - click images for for full size views

I live in the present but as someone who has been involved with fashion for over four decades, I feel an emotional connection with (and have an enormous respect for) the past, and I am always thinking about the future. It’s all about fashion’s next generation and nurturing and encouraging young talent. So naturally, I was honored to have been asked to be part of the judging panel for the 7th annual bridal gown design competition from the High School of Fashion Industries (HSFI), in partnership with Kleinfeld Bridal (

The five wedding gowns

Multimedia personality and Lifestyle Commentator Robert di Mauro established the Industry Partnership Program (IPP) in 2006. It bridges the HSFI with the fashion industry and was a way to honor his father, Thomas Gaetano Di Mauro, who attended the school when it was known as the Central High School of Needle Trades. As Daryl Blank, the Principal of HSFI put it “no one works harder than Robert on behalf of the High School of Fashion Industries”. Indeed, nobody has done more to help talented fashion students gain exposure and experience, thereby helping them to succeed in the fashion industry. FYI, his annual nominations for the FGI Rising Star Award have jumpstarted the careers of some of fashion’s biggest names (Jason Wu among them).

Robert di Mauro with Amanda Santos' pink jumpsuit

The first step in the process began back in March, when a group convened at the High School of Fashion Industries. Among those who were given the task of reviewing 50 mood boards out of which 5 would be selected were Robert di Mauro, legendary stylist Freddie Leiba (we worked together at Harper’s Bazaar in the 80’s), and Mara Urshel, the Principal Owner and President of Kleinfeld Bridal Corp. The final five: Wu Qian Ye, Windy Dias, Tammy Leong, Amanda Santos, and Victoria Rivera. They were later provided with fabric and a selection of headpieces and veils and began bringing their designs to life. FYI, the fabrics were generously donated by Madeline Gardner of Mori Lee. She has been doing this from the beginning, 7 years ago, and has been giving the students some guidance as well.

The judges review all five wedding dresses 

The results were ‘unveiled’ on Monday, June 12 at the impressive and spacious Kleinfeld Salon on West 20th street. Known for having the finest and largest selection of bridal gowns in the world, the salon was turned into a runway for the occasion and on hand were friends and family of the students and of course, a panel of 9 judges. In addition to myself and Robert di Mauro, they were Freddie Leiba, New York Fashion Stylist & Creative Director; Stephanie Simon of NY1; Diane Forden, Editor-in-Chief, The Bridal Guide; Stephanie Balmir, HSFI Fashion Coordinator; Jennette Kruszka, Director of Marketing & PR at Kleinfeld; Mara Urshel, Kleinfeld; Madeline Gardner, Mori Lee Bridal.

Tammy Leong, Victoria Rivera,  Amanda Santos, Windy Dias, Wu Qian Ye
with their mood boards

After Robert gave his enthusiastic, welcoming remarks (he is a natural born emcee), followed by Daryl Blank, each of the 5 gowns (actually, one was a jumpsuit in pink no less) came out one by one (along with the design student). This gave us a chance to review them (and the mood boards) and ask questions about the design students’ inspiration, the design process, etc. In order to select a winner, we had to grade them in three categories: mood board, their creativity and ability to bring their project to life, and construction. Whoever got the highest scores would be the winner.

Victoria Rivera's Enchanted Garden wedding dress

As Mara Urshel noted, “everyone thinks it’s easy to make a wedding dress but it’s not that easy.” Actually Mara, I didn’t think it was easy. All 5 are undoubtedly talented and they were up for the challenge (and let’s not forget that they are teenage high school students). It was hard to single one out, but the mathematical winner was 16 year old Windy Dias.

Windy Dias wearing her winning bridal gown

Among the things that made her stand out: her elegant white dress, dubbed “Timelessly Modern” was the most classic and traditional of all of them and the only one that was white (the others were in pale pastel hues and the least traditional was Tammy Leong's pink jumpsuit). In addition, she added a versatile detachable skirt which literally gave it two distinctly different looks. Last but not least, she was the only one who was not only the designer, but the model.

Windy Dias with her wedding gown and detachable overskirt 

By the way, the winner not only gets the recognition and a monetary award, she might be as lucky as 2014 winner Hadassa Dorcean. Mara Urshel loved the dress designed by the winning student designer so much; the bias cut silk charmeuse sheath with fitted bodice was chosen to be recreated for purchase at Kleinfeld. It was named after the 18 year old designer herself and a portion of proceeds from each sale were donated to The High School of Fashion Industries.

Hadassa Dorcean and her winning bridal gown

Now at the age of 21, she has created a small independent business brand. Each year or every other season, there is a new collection for her women’s couture line which is made and sold via e-commerce, In 2017, she created a ready-to-wear line for both men and women.

- Marilyn Kirschner

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