I first met Nzimiro, Kara and Ronnie in less-than-glamorous circumstances. My fellow buyers and I sat in a little room at an airport hotel in L.A. for hours on end. Dozens of designers would walk in, with each getting just 15 minutes to introduce themselves and their design aesthetic. Of course, there was a huge one-way mirror with NBC producers behind it, giving the entire situation the feeling of a police lineup.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF RONNIE: Ronnie didn’t really stand out at the time, though he may have had the strongest design background of anyone in the competition. In addition to his current position at Abercrombie, Ronnie had worked for Zac Posen and Chado Ralph Rucci—two designers that we sell at Saks. I also noticed that he had served in the Navy.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF NZIMIRO: Nzimiro came across as someone still very new to the design world. He was an engineer with great energy, and needless to say has come a long way since our original encounter. But at the time, I was worried about his ability to create clothes that would fit in at Saks Fifth Avenue. The proof? Here’s the initial sheet I filled out on Nzimiro (note that the show didn’t even have a name yet).
FIRST IMPRESSION OF KARA: Kara was one of the last designers of the night—a big disadvantage when you consider that the buyers were exhausted and more than a little cranky as the hour approached 1am. To her credit, Kara was relentlessly positive from the beginning. I was most struck by our similar influences. Kara spoke about being inspired by Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Alexandre McQueen and Jil Sander—all designers that I admire.
Nice Makes Right
One final note to all the aspiring designers out there. Notice how all three finalists are charming, humble and—dare I say it—nice? If you’re going to get your label off the ground, you’ve got to work with so many people: retail buyers, PR agents, customers, pattern-makers, party promoters, magazine editors, Cirque de Soleil performers flying above your runway show, and the list goes on. It may seem like design is all attitude, but a sunny disposition does wonders when you’re trying to get a large number of people to believe in your vision.
Last Looks from Orly and Nikki
Though they didn’t make it to the finals, I’m excited about the looks we bought this week. Nikki’s form-fitting candy cane of a dress is ideal for hot summer days, and Orly’s hourglass sheath is feminine but strikingly simple. Both are available now at saks.com.
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