El Centro Grads Make Their Mark in the Fashion World
At El Centro College in downtown Dallas, aspiring designers can get a fashion education at a fraction of the cost of other programs. These six designers are the best of the recent graduates.
El Centro ’04
Assistant designer for men’s trend line at H&M
Growing up in Belton, Texas, Palmer gravitated toward the Goth scene in the ’90s and made his own clothes because he couldn’t find what he wanted in the small town south of Waco. “I was finding my own sense of style,” he says. “A lot of times it didn’t work, but that’s fashion.”
Palmer moved to Dallas at 20 and enrolled in El Centro’s fashion program in 2001 to study pattern cutting and fashion design. He won a career day competition based on three dresses he designed with organic materials, which got him a ticket to study in Paris and London. Inspired by high fashion and European trends, he returned to Dallas and signed up to take a jewelry course at Michael Anthony’s suggestion. He launched a small collection of avant-garde jewelry that stores like Stanley Korshak and Fred Segal snapped up.
Palmer left Dallas in 2005 to study at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design (grads include Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, and Hussein Chalayan), where he switched his focus to menswear. “Because of my education at El Centro, I was a step above other students,” he says. In June 2009, his graduating collection—inspired by his mentor, Jan Strimple, and his Texas roots, fertilized with a little Grace Jones and ’80s excess—got the attention of H&M recruiters and British Vogue, which called him “Best of the Grads.” Four months later, he landed a job with H&M as a designer in the menswear department and was off to Stockholm, where the company is based.
Strimple, who sits on the El Centro fashion program’s board, thinks very highly of Palmer. “Levi is charming, wonderfully madcap, and intensely focused on succeeding,” she says. “I have no doubt his star will shine brightly.”
So what can we expect in the future from him? “I’m always developing,” he says. “Things shouldn’t be overdesigned, but have a statement, a sense of drama. My ambition is to be the next Tom Ford.” We’d settle for an H&M in Dallas, which Palmer assures us he is pushing for. “Victory Park or downtown near Neiman Marcus would be fantastic,” he says. “Dallas is definitely ready for one.”
El Centro ’04
Associate designer for 7 For All Mankind
The Arlington native graduated from Martin High School with a scholarship to play football in Nebraska at Chadron State College, where he studied graphic design. But an injury led Guest back home. A friend studying fashion piqued his interest in the field, and Guest initially went to Texas Tech to study it, but after a short and unsatisfying stint in Lubbock, he transferred to the El Centro fashion design program in 2002. “I was surrounded by creative and talented people that really inspired me,” he says. “It’s one of the best technical design schools in the Midwest.”
Guest went on to design costumes for Chickasaw National Multimedia in Oklahoma, where he met his wife, who is a fashion stylist. In 2006, they moved to Los Angeles, where he landed a job at 7 for All Mankind jeans, working in the production department. He’s now an associate designer for men’s and women’s denim, and he works with a team of four designers. For the spring 2010 collection, he designed the Coco denim leggings. Guest likes to make classic silhouettes contemporary by mixing the old with the new and adding details like raw edges and handmade rips. He has worked with Katayone Adeli for KA7 and on collaborations with Vans and Jonathan Adler.
“I’ve met people that went to design school in L.A. and don’t have the level of couture or high-fashion understanding that I do,” Guest says. “El Centro was a huge instrument in making me what I am today. I wouldn’t have been ready for the industry if I had not gone there.” At some point, he’d like to make his way to New York and have his own line, but right now his focus is on jeans. “I’ve always loved denim,” he says.
El Centro ’08
Owner and designer of Louise Black Designs
The now infamous black-bobbed girl from Temple started out studying clinical lab science but changed her focus to fashion in 2000. She taught herself to sew on a used machine that she bought at a garage sale. “I started revamping vintage pieces to suit my aesthetic,” she says. “It was all trial and error at first.”
After living in Louisiana for a bit, Black married and moved to New York, where she was accepted at FIT, but the tuition was too much to bear, and she found herself back in Dallas in 2006. Her friend Levi Palmer suggested she look into classes at El Centro to brush up on her pattern-making skills. She started selling her handmade pieces, all created in her Lakewood studio, on Etsy.com in 2007. And even before she completed the El Centro program, she received an e-mail from the folks at Project Runway asking for an audition tape. She was selected as a contestant for season six, which aired last year.
“It was a great learning experience that broke me of my shyness,” Black says. “One of the best things was learning about doing runway shows and what to do to catch the spectator’s eye, like flashier colors and bigger pieces.”
Her designs and corsets—often inspired by silent film starlets from the 1920s with a little bit of Victorian-Goth thrown in—caught the eye of many burlesque dancers and rock stars, including Courtney Love. When we spoke with the designer, she had just returned from a five-day visit from New York, where she stayed in Love’s house, sewing clothing by request. “If someone had told me I’d be making clothes for her one day, I’d probably have laughed. She’s very down to earth and a sweetheart.”
As for her time at El Centro, Black says, “Michael Anthony was really great at working with my busy schedule. The pattern-drafting and draping classes were very helpful, giving a good basis on how to make a garment.” Now employing three people, including her husband who is her assistant and helps manage the Etsy shop, Black works tirelessly to keep up with the demand for her intricate corsets, neck pieces, and garments, with no intentions of slowing down.