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Designers To Watch 

This week, 17 designers show their collections at NOLA Fashion Week. Here are three standouts.

click to enlarge DeLeon's architecture background influences her structured, tailored pieces.
  • DeLeon's architecture background influences her structured, tailored pieces.

Isabel Varela

Isabel Varela studied apparel design at Louisiana State University, attended programs in Miami, Paris and China, interned at BCBGMAXAZRIA in Los Angeles, worked as a wardrobe stylist for movies, made it to the semi-finalist round of tryouts for Project Runway season 8, started her own label in 2010, and last year, partnered with Ashlee Brooks to design Varela + Brooks, a venture for which the two were chosen as finalists for a spot on the NBC television show Fashion Star. A less-driven fashionista might need some rest. But Varela is just getting started.

  "It's helped me to have experience in retail, visual merchandising, sales, management and production," says the Dallas-based designer.

  For spring/summer 2013, Varela re-launches her own line, Izavel (www.izavel.net). Varela is known for sleek, minimalist yet feminine silhouettes, asymmetry, nods to menswear and graphic fabrics printed with digitally abstracted images. This season, she found inspiration for those fabrics in roadmaps, a symbol for the paths we take in life. NOLA Fashion Week is a natural venue for Varela, whose fall collection is on sale at Vernon (2049 Magazine St.). "New Orleans is the first place I brought the line," says Varela, a native of Lake Charles. "People here are open to new ideas. They value individuality."



click to enlarge Iacono takes inspiration from disco divas for her spring 2013 collection.
  • Iacono takes inspiration from disco divas for her spring 2013 collection.

Lisa Iacono

While studying fashion design at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio native Lisa Iacono (www.lisaiacono.com) fulfilled fieldwork requirements working for New Orleans designer Suzanne Perron. "I fell in love with the city," Iacono says. "I felt very much like I wanted to come back."

  Last year, after interning for Proenza Schouler and working as a designer for Betsey Johnson and American Eagle in New York, she returned to New Orleans; our fashion industry is better because of it. In addition to designing her own high-end line of simple, sexy pieces, Iacono partnered with Tam Huynh to found and run NOLA SEWN, the first New Orleans-based manufacturing company of its kind, producing the work of more than 30 designers.

  For her spring 2013 collection, Iacono was inspired by the images and icons of the disco era — Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall and Donna Summer, to name a few. Like the soigne pieces those divas wore, Iacono's designs are made of fine fabrics like silk chiffon. "I've always been turned on by beautiful fabrics and that's what I try to do with my own label," says Iacono, who this week sends 12 looks down the runway. "NOLA Fashion Week is an amazing platform to celebrate fashion," she says. "Everybody seems to want everyone to achieve excellence. You feel like you're part of a movement."



click to enlarge The 15-piece Izavel collection includes this menswear-inspired pantsuit in silk brocade.
  • The 15-piece Izavel collection includes this menswear-inspired pantsuit in silk brocade.

Amanda deLeon

Designer Amanda deLeon (www.amandadeleon.com) first showed her designs at Fashion Week in Charleston, S.C., but NOLA Fashion Week is where the Louisiana native and New Orleans resident brings her work to the fore. DeLeon's grandmother was a quilter; her mother taught her to sew and she is influenced by her love of the city's rich and diverse music scene.

  "It's usually a song that moves me to think of an entire collection," deLeon says. Her fall collection, which includes references to cemeteries, grew out of hearing Paul Sanchez sing "At the Foot of Canal Street." Having studied architecture in college, she also is influenced by the precision of that discipline, which helped her hone her skills as a pattern maker. "My architectural background helps me to build the pieces," she says. "Architecture is a good starting point for a lot of designers."

  DeLeon's clothes are structured and tailored with attention to details like topstitching rather than ornamentation. She will present a performance art piece featuring five garments loosely inspired by ballet and the world of dance.   

  "Fashion Week is the one time of year when designers get to have people's full attention and really show how hard we work," deLeon says. "It's important to be part of this community."

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