What happens when a classically trained artist and photographer gets an itch for something different? She seeks out a new medium. Or at least that’s what happened in the case of Aidah Fontenot, a 26-year-old artist turned fashion designer based on Capitol Hill.
In fall 2008, Fontenot launched Aidah Collection, a clothing line that combines shapes for women of all sizes with bold colors and hand-painted accents, including her signature swirls and spirals.
“My clothes are designed for real women with real figures,” she says. Each piece is hand-crafted to flow around the body, which means there are no zippers, buttons, or clasps. Instead, the clothes are adjusted with ties or belts.
Fontenot grew up in San Francisco. By the time she was 15, her artwork had been exhibited in the San Diego Museum of Art and the Centro Cultural in Tijuana, Mexico, as well as several private venues. The next year, she began her first fashion endeavor, Aidah Designs. While studying photography and graphic design at the San Diego School for the Performing Arts and San Diego State University, she made clothing for friends and family.
What: Contemporary women’s wear, including coats, dresses, pants, and blouses.
Who: Tsyndyma Kroujilov. She was born in Siberia and lived in Russia and Houston before moving to Washington 12 years ago. “In some kind of way, I’m getting closer to New York,” she says with a laugh. She lives in Potomac with her husband and two sons.
Where to buy it: View the clothing line on her Web site, tsyndyma.com, and call 240-888-5175 to make an appointment to visit her showroom at 9317 Bentridge Avenue in Potomac.
Engineer-turned-designer: Tsyndyma started sewing when she was six years old, but in high school she was a top math student, so she decided to attend Moscow Polygraphic Institute for mechanical engineering. At school, friends would ask her to help them with their wardrobes: “I would say, ‘First tell me why you want to change.’ Beauty is confidence.”
After spending six years as an engineer, she decided to begin working as a couture dressmaker in Moscow, where her passion for the fashion industry really began to grow. She also found that her math skills helped her with the dress designs and proportions.
Who: Luciana Tiktin. Originally from Argentina, she was living in Miami before moving to DC two years ago when her husband, performer and visual artist Joshua Tiktin, got a job offer. Not only does she have her own clothing line, but she opened the Dekka designer showroom on U Street with Joshua last April.
Where to buy it: At the Dekka showroom (1338 U St., NW, Second Floor) and soon online at Dekkafam.com
What: Brightly colored screen tees, ties, blazers, and 80s-inspired glass jewelry for men and women.
Who: The 31-year-old began designing when she moved back home to D.C. after graduating from the University of New Hampshire. She started out printing t-shirts for junior high soccer teams and corporate softball leagues at a mom-and-pop shop. She only worked there for nine months, but looking at the rows of screens Bilonick keeps in her studio, it’s clear that experience left a lasting imprint—no pun intended.
Today, Bilonick works myriad jobs in the DC arts community. She’s a program director for the Washington Project for the Arts and her show—a display of printed images on large wooden blocks—just closed at the Transformer gallery. She also makes time for her clothing line.
Where to buy it: Smash!, Civilian Art Project, and on her Web site www.kristinabilonick.com
What: Neon screen tees, brightly colored hobo bags, and unique knit accessories, such as hats, scarves, and gloves for the “casual, urban female.”
Who: Designer Virginia Arrisueño, a 28-year-old New Jersey native, and her husband Kelly Towels. The couple met at the University of Maryland and settled in DC soon after graduation.
Where to buy it: www.denadadesign.com and various stores in DC, California, and even Japan.
Oh, it’s nothing: Arrisueño is a tricky last name, admits Virginia Arrisueño. It’s so difficult to pronounce, in fact, that she decided to opt for a different title for her clothing line. But she remained close to her Peruvian roots (her parents hail from the South American country) and decided on the well-known Spanish translation of “you’re welcome”: de nada.
Quite the résumé: While in school, Arrisueño found a unique love—fiber arts. She won several awards for her work, including the Sadat Art for Peace Award, delivered by Nelson Mandela. Postgraduation, she won first prize in the Viridian Artists National Competition juried by Robert Rosenblum, curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. She also interned at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Numark Gallery in DC, and Vertigo Gallery in London before starting the clothing line.
All about Kelly: Raised as an Army brat, Towels spent much of his childhood moving around, but he spent most of his younger years living in Alice Springs, in central Australia. In addition to his role as a designer, Towels works as an artist and freelance graphic designer, catering to bands including Brand New, Senses Fail, Victory Party, Augustana, and Dashboard Confessional.
Arrisueño and Towel’s faves:
Place for clothes: H&M, Urban Outfitters.
Restaurant: Cork, Sushi U, Marvin.
Bar: Black Cat, DC9.
Ideal DC day: Start out with Sunday brunch, head to the dog park in Adams Morgan with pup Mia, then finish things up window shopping.
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What: Girly vintage pieces from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and unique stone jewelry in a variety of styles and colors.
Who: Abigail de Casanova has come a long way from the pompom-adorned alpaca sweater she wore on her first day of school after moving to United States at age 13. Today the fashion designer, makeup artist, hairstylist, and head of the DC Fashionistas wouldn’t be caught dead donning such a major fashion faux pas. But there are still signs of her Peruvian roots in her current style. It’s travel—exotic locales inhabited by people with styles and clothes completely foreign to her—that inspires this beauty and fashion jack-of-all-trades. But even now she still winces when looking back on that first day of school.
“Now that I think about it, I would have skipped the pompoms,” she says.
Where to buy it: Abigaildecasanova.com
Who: Lara Akinsanya, a 31-year-old biochemist by day and fashion designer by night. She works in HIV clinical research and never really dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, but she decided to create clothes that worked for her: “I just liked fashion. When I started getting older and having the choice on my own personal style, I didn’t like black; I like colors. I wanted to make it my own and let it reflect my own personal style.”
Where to buy it: On her Web site, lshandi.com, or at Caramel Boutique on U Street. Her designs are also sold in stores along the East Coast, including Patricia Field in New York and Rag Junkie in Florida.
What: Classic pieces and custom clothing for men and women, including bridal wear, evening wear, and business wear, as well as alterations. Also custom home decor, including drapery and upholstery.
Who: Kymberly Davis, a budding designer based in Fort Washington who currently works as an executive assistant for a contracting company. Davis works an early shift so she can focus on her designs after work and on weekends.
Where: Learn more about Davis at her Web site, kdavisdesigns.com, and place an order by calling 202-680-4943.
Early beginnings: When Kymberly was in elementary school, her aunt taught her to sew, and what started as a hobby became a passion. She’s still in the process of becoming a full-time designer, which has proven difficult at times: “I’ve been sewing for over 20 years. It’s been a while, and it’s much more challenging when you have to work another job.”
The art of fashion: Kymberly’s ultimate goal for her work isn’t mass production. She enjoys not only the design aspect of her business but also constructing garments. Her clientele is mostly executives, so she often designs suits, but she has also made clothes for weddings.
Who: Alex Ayrom, 43, one of three owners of Moojoo Ken boutique, was born in Iran and moved to France before settling in the United States in the late ’70s. He earned his master’s degree in French literature in Mississippi and taught at George Washington University and DC’s Cardozo High School before opening the boutique with John Mark Anderson and Heather Dadmanesh.
Where to buy it: Moojoo Ken (which means “unconditional” in Japanese) is located at 1512 U Street, Northwest. It also carries jewelry and clothing from other designers, and some of the handbags, shoulder bags, and jewelry are available online at shop.moojooken.com.
Symbolism: The little emblem you see on the Moojoo Ken Web site has a story behind it. Alex remembers doodling it as a child and thinking, “Maybe one day I’ll design a line of clothing and this will be the emblem.” When he started Moojoo Ken with his business partners, the idea came back to him, and now the emblem is incorporated into all of his designs.
Natural talent: Alex had no experience in fashion design before opening Moojoo Ken. “I was teaching, and I wasn’t thinking about designing,” he says. “Then I decided it was a good time to do something I always wanted to do.”. When the boutique opened in January 2006, he designed most of the handbags and shoes, but now some of the designs are collaborations. He also stocks jewelry from local artists and clothing from designers as far away as Los Angeles and France.
Localized designs: The idea to name the designs after areas in DC adds a personal touch to each handbag and shoe. “We thought we were the only people who ever designed shoes and handbags in DC,” Alex says. “We wanted to do something for Washington . . . as far as fashion is concerned.” He acknowledges that DC has come a long way in fashion but says the men need to step it up: “It’s still not there yet, but I think the women are doing a great job. The men—forget about them. They are clueless.”
Place to shop for clothes: Barneys Co-op, Saks Fifth Avenue, Relish.
Place to shop for shoes: “I only shop for shoes when I travel abroad, unless I’m buying Converse tennis shoes.”
Ideal day in DC: “During the day on a weekend, I like to walk around the different neighborhoods and see all the new stores that have opened. Another ideal day is spending weekends here at the retail store when we have the most traffic with customers and getting their feedback. That’s the perfect day for me.”
Who: Evelyn Brooks, 33, an Alexandria-based designer who grew up in Peru watching her father operate his jewelry business. She never thought she would follow in his footsteps, but now she’s an award-winning designer.
Where to buy it: On her Web site, ebrooksdesigns.com, and at these area boutiques.
Turning point: Before considering jewelry design, Evelyn was a United Airlines ticket-sales agent in Mexico City for two years. In fact, on September 10, 2001, she was on the same plane, United Airlines Flight 93, that would be part of the next day’s terrorist attacks. She spent September 11 working at an airport in Mexico where hundreds of people were left stranded. A month later, she was laid off and returned to Peru, where her father encouraged her to create her first designs.