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Fashion 87 : Late Bloomer: From Window Dresser to Men's Dresser

November 13, 1987|DIANE REISCHEL | Times Staff Writer

Unlikely scenario, but Cecilia Metheny courts the unlikely:

Kentucky girl moves to Baltimore to become a window dresser. She studies art, makes TV commercials, tries acting--and sometime in her mid-30s, decides to become a menswear designer.

Some nerve. Now 39, designer Metheny already is playing with the big boys. Wilkes Bashford ordered her first lounge-wear collection last summer. The upscale Torie Steele menswear boutique in Beverly Hills and several specialty stores across the country carry her second collection--sportswear and tuxedos for fall and winter '87.

But Metheny knows she's still "very new"--without so much as knowing the basic garment-industry slang. "They use these words, and I don't know what they're talking to me about," she says of store buyers. "So I just ask."

Metheny and her husband, Fred Henry--an oil-pipe importer and president of Metheny's New York-based business--were at Torie Steele recently for a trunk show of the line.

"How does either of us know anything?" said this pale, slim woman who looks more concerned with work than herself. "Rules of business are pretty consistent, whether you're in the film industry, steel industry or fashion."

And Metheny did her legwork, taking a crash design course at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology and taking several trips overseas to learn about Italian mills. "You've got to have the basics or you're just not going to be respected," she said.

"I really wanted it to work. To me, designing is an extension of being an artist. It's like a new block of clay. Clothing design takes creativity away from the dimension of being in a closed room by yourself. Either people are going to buy a garment or not. That confrontation is very scary and very exciting."

Metheny works with Italian luxury fabrics in quiet colors and comfortably draped, European-inspired silhouettes. Her printed silk bathrobes, priced more than $800, are based on peacock and cathedral patterns.

She's learned that simplicity in design is deceptive. "When something is simple, it's either right or wrong, and if it's wrong, you can see it a mile away," she said.

Refusing the frequent stepping stone of working for another design house, the fledgling designer and her husband started Cecilia Metheny Limited two years ago based on Metheny's theory that the American men's market needed more creativity in the higher price ranges: "I felt there was some space there where I could contribute." She refers to her line as a family-owned business and admits she's yet to earn back her investment.

"A big backer would sure make it easier--but I don't think I'd want one," she said. "I'm a risk-taker--I wouldn't say my life has been easy. A lot of times you have to lose to win. I learn by my mistakes, not by my successes."

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