Katya Leoncio's swimwear brand Dolcessa was named emerging designer of the year Saturday night at Phoenix Fashion Week 2013 at Talking Stick Resort.
Leoncio accepted the award, which comes with a prize package valued at more than $10,000 in goods and services, before Fashion Week's finale from avant garde Filipino designer Rocky Gathercole.
Surprisingly, the Las Vegas-based swimwear brand that has been featured in Sports Illustrated multiple times beat out those who looked like front-runners, including Trang Nguyen and Doux Belle, which both revealed their collections last night.
This already-successful brand being named emerging designer of the year highlights problems with the competition. First, Dolcessa makes swimwear, while other designers create evening wear and others make T-shirts. So, from the get-go the playing field is uneven, because all designers are being judged on making wildly dissimilar garments that require different skill sets. Second, Dolcessa is a brand that's obviously well-connected, having appeared in such major magazines as People, Maxim, and OK, in addition to ad campaigns for Vegas' Cosmopolitan Casino and on Kate Upton in Sports Illustrated. Other designers in the competition appear to be learning how to construct a collection that isn't an utter trainwreck, let alone garnering national attention for their work.
Third, and most problematic: Dolcessa is, without question, an established brand, and should've never been included in this emerging competition -- unless all the rest of the emerging designers were at the same level. They weren't. And it's only confused further the premise of the competition.
The final night of Phoenix Fashion Week 2013 featured a few familiar names: Silvia Bours, who was 2011's emerging designer of the year, PFW advisor Percy Knox's impeccable menswear label Élevée, which caters to pro athletes, and formal wear label Enzoani, which opened the evening. All have shown at Fashion Weeks past.
Enzoani opened with overly embellished prom dresses and bridal gowns. Bours followed with a line of sparkly, girlish dresses reminiscent of a baroque Betsey Johnson. The bigger Bours goes when it comes to spectacle, the better. The designer's flouncy party dresses work best when they're glittered and sequined to the hilt.
As expected, Élevée showed a selection of beautifully tailored and styled men's suits and casual wear. The brand's use of color and crisp, classic styling exhibits why the label has such a well-heeled following (and why it's been name-dropped by both Esquire and GQ). A quilted leather blazer was the showpiece of the presentation.
Then came the emerging designers of the evening.
Scottsdale's Doux Belle was a pleasant, elegant surprise. Designed by Rachel Wagner, the line featured vintage-inspired evening wear for women. While Wagner's pieces had major fit issues (the dresses only fell well on the twiggiest of the models), she went all out with her premise with feathered frocks, a creamy, chic 1920s-inspired dress, and an all-black showstopper that evoked the iconic Givenchy dress in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Michelle Hebert fared less well with her naturalism-inspired gowns. Her first look was a lovely leather mini-dress with laser-cut details at the shoulders. The line moved into dresses made from twigs, gowns with unfinished hemlines, and pieces of messy construction. Perhaps the raw edges were intentional, but the designs weren't strong enough conceptually to carry the faults.
Nguyen seemed heir apparent to 2012 emerging designer of the year Bri Seeley. Her collection progressed beautifully from stark white and rich red ready-to-wear pieces to a dramatic red wedding dress. There were flaws (like the overuse of red lace), but some of the designer's riskier choices paid off. For example, her use of a bright pink floral print paired with red and white was a daring choice that showed she's pushing herself and her clothing. Unfortunately, she didn't win emerging designer of the year.
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Dolcessa being named designer of the year proved to put a bit of a damper on the remainder of the evening (for me, anyway), in addition to throwing off the evening's rhythm. After the winner was announced, many attendees got up to leave. Instead of a quick break or intermission, the show moved into Phoenix Fashion Week's final show from Gathercole.
The designer's artistic designs were brought to the event to top or match the spectacle that Furne One closed with in 2012. It didn't exceed last year's finale in grandeur, but it was entertaining enough. With sculptural designs made of paper, spikes, sequins, and feathers, Fashion Week made its finale a must-see.