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Designs On You

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By Emily Heil
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sure, Washington has had its share of fashionable moments. Think of Jackie Kennedy's tenure as first lady, or the days when former Georgetown doyenne Deeda Blair would show up impeccably turned out in the pages of Vogue. Fast-forward a few decades, and you have women such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cutting a surprisingly edgy figure in commanding coats and tall black boots.

But for the most part, the District is not known for being on the sartorial cutting edge. The reason is simple: "There's just not as large a creative community" here as in some other cities, says "Project Runway" star Tim Gunn, a native Washingtonian who now is the chair of fashion design at Parsons the New School for Design. "But the wonderful thing about the way the world is changing is that we can be anywhere and do what we need to do." Gunn maintains that designers should have some fashion connections in New York, but says they don't have to live there to be successful.

A glimpse at the District's design scene, where a community of designers is turning out some very worldly wares, shows there's great opportunity for success right here. Indie boutiques are popping up in neighborhoods from Silver Spring to Shaw, giving local designers an outlet to hawk their products, and offering shoppers a stylish alternative to cookie-cutter department-store brands.

Liberty Jones, whose Foggy Bottom boutique Alex stocks no shortage of designs from local and international talents, says her customers are looking for unique pieces. "The interest in wearing local is growing," she said. "I used to have trunk shows and maybe five people would come, but now I can have fashion shows with all local designers."

We found six area designers whose wares could hold their own against any city's. Together, they produce everything from sculptural handbags to vintage-inspired baubles to groovy screen-printed tees. Each has carved out his or her own niche, and they're all doing it close to home. To find out more about them, turn to Page M4.

Danielle Insetta, 31, Bethesda

What: Sixties fashion icon Penelope Tree would look perfectly at home in the candy-colored necklaces, bracelets and earrings Insetta crafts for her label, Circasixtythree.

Inspiration: The colors and shapes of vintage Lucite dictate her designs, says Insetta, who will become smitten with a particular specimen from her trove of nearly 1,000 pounds of beads, then tinker around with combinations to highlight it. "I like sticking to the aesthetic of the era," she says of her 1960s materials. "And I really like crazy color combinations."

How She Did It: When Insetta came across a box of vintage plastic beads at a Parisian flea market last year, she decided to trade a career in finance for one in design. Upon returning to the States, Insetta took a few Corcoran jewelry design classes and launched her label. Now she's turning out about 50 pieces a week and selling to local boutiques as well as French and Japanese department stores.

Advice: Insetta relies on networking through the Internet and through friends to team up with other young creative types: She met the graphic artist who designed her sales materials on MySpace and recruited the barista at her neighborhood Caribou Coffee to model her work.

"Working with people who are just starting out, too, is great," she says. "They're often less expensive, and they're really ambitious."

Signature Style: A navel-grazing necklace of vintage Lucite hoops and brassy gold plate, left, typifies Insetta's aesthetic: vibrant hues, chunky lines and a mod sensibility. $98 at Lettie Gooch, 1911 Ninth St. NW. 202-332-4242, http://www.lettiegooch.com/ or http://www.circasixtythree.com/.


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