Meet the Park Avenue Fashion Week judges

Meet Fashion Week judges

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  • | 11:13 a.m. October 10, 2012
Winter Park Photography - The judges for PAFW 2012.
Winter Park Photography - The judges for PAFW 2012.
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The challenge: take what’s in the box and make an outfit in 10 days that a fashion-forward woman would want to wear. The catch: the box contains street signs, city flags, police officer patches and landscaping materials.

The contestants of Harriett’s Park Avenue Fashion Week’s Emerging Designer contest have a tough job to do. Not only do they submit designs to be judged, but they also must create an ensemble fit for wearing with decidedly unfit materials.

Added to that, the clothes must be inspired by what they think someone would wear 125 years into the future. The “Project Runway” style component of the competition was sponsored this year by the city of Winter Park, representing the city’s 125th anniversary.

“It’s an opportunity to see and to know one person’s true creativity,” said Kristina Mackinder, chair for the Emerging Designer contest.

All five of the Emerging Designer semifinalists will get to show their crazy Winter Park-inspired outfits at Fashion Week’s finale runway show on Oct. 20, but the overall winner also gets to show a full collection that night.

All the contestants were in good company at their judging, where the winner was chosen by some of Central Florida’s fashion heavy-hitters. The panel of judges includes “Project Runway” contestant Jesse LeNoir, last year’s Emerging Designer winner Rhonda Spears, Mackinder, who is a marketing professional and fashion writer, celebrity stylists Sabrina James, Tammara Kohler and Melanie Pace, and Tuni Blackwelder, Winter Park’s style maven.

Harriett’s Park Avenue Fashion Week (HPAFW) will be held Oct. 14-20 with enough events going on to impress even a New York fashionista. Many Park Ave. boutiques are featuring promotions throughout fashion week, with trunk shows, snacks and sips of bubbly from some, and opportunities to meet designers.

The week culminates in the signature HPAFW Runway Show at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, under a 20,000-square-foot New York Fashion Week style tent. There, audience members will see collections put together by Winter Park boutiques, and the designs created by the five semifinalists in the Emerging Designers contest. The winner of the contest, picked by judges who work in the local fashion industry, will then get to show their whole collection.

After the show, the Runway Rendezvous party will start, where fashion-forward locals can rub elbows with the fashion industry elite. The party is from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. and will include drinks, desserts and straight-off-the-runway shopping.

For more information about all the events and special deals, and to purchase Runway Show and party tickets, visit

Jesse LeNoir

Jesse LeNoir, who was on Season 7 of the “Project Runway” television series, began his fashion passion modifying hand-me-downs and thrift store purchases to make them his own, and a lot more fashionable. There were lots of kids in his family, and buying the newest trends just wasn’t an option, he sad. He uses his outfits as a way of expressing his point of view.

“I think the creative outlet that you can have and the flexibility and freedom to put whatever you want together can be a daily thing that can be fun and exciting and show a little bit of who you are,” he said. “So I’ve always been drawn to that way to separate yourself from just a mass of people.”

Since “Project Runway,” College Park resident LeNoir has done fashion designing more as a hobby — he isn’t into the business side of designing — and has been focusing on acting. But he said the experience was invaluable to him as a designer and artist. He loves that through being part of the Emerging Designers contest he can give a little of that back to new designers, so that they can also improve.

“I feel like I was blessed to get some really good criticism when I was on ‘Project Runway’ and it definitely helped the way that I think about design and what I’m doing personally and how to stretch myself further, so I’ve always figured that if I can give that back to some people who haven’t had that opportunity yet I’d definitely love to do it,” LeNoir said.

Rhonda Spears

And that’s exactly what judge and last year’s winner Rhonda Spears said she got from her experience with the Emerging Designer contest. She finally felt like she was validated as a designer.

“I think I found a sense of confidence that I didn’t have before,” Spears said. “I became more clear on who I am as a designer.”

Spears has been interested in fashion and designing since she can remember — instead of watching cartoons as a kid, she’d be watching fashion shows. She went to Atlanta to study fashion right after graduating high school in Ocala. Her winning collection was inspired by heavy metal music and life changes that made her put her nose to the grindstone. She likes to say that there was no inspiration of love or softness there.

But that moment of winning and seeing her collection strut down the runway was certainly a different feeling for her.

“It goes by so fast,” she said. “It’s a high and then it’s over … you feel like you’re not in it.”

Spears said hers and LeNoir’s experience as designers give them a unique perspective in judging the emerging designers.

“You know the hard work that it takes to birth an idea,” she said.

Kristina Mackinder

That’s what Mackinder said she was looking for in choosing judges — a full spectrum of people with different expertise in the fashion industry. Her passion, which really sparked in high school when she sewed her own prom dress, is expressed in her career in marketing and fashion writing in Winter Park. She loves the excitement of seeing designers bring the unexpected to Fashion Week.

“Does the design have a point of view, does it have a fresh perspective, is it bringing something new to the marketplace, that this designer has something inside them that shows us something that we’ve never seen before?” she said.

Not only that, but she said she and audience members love seeing someone’s future being played out right on the runway. It’s a snippet of one of the best days of their lives, which makes the Emerging Designer part of the runway show so special.

“You’re seeing first-hand somebody achieve one of their first major milestone goals in their career,” Mackinder said.


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