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Inspiration and Perspiration : Young Designers Follow a Pattern for Success

August 24, 1995|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Wet carpet is piled in a heap behind her as fashion designer Dana Bernard haggles on the phone with a manufacturer over a tiny swatch of fabric.

"It's not right," she says, talking over a noisy fan. "I need the color a little more grainy."

A plumbing problem the night before flooded the office, which is now empty except for a couple of desks and racks of clothes, but fashion waits for no plumber.

Such is the seductive world of a designer. As three of Orange County's up-and-coming female designers can vouch, life isn't just about making pretty clothes.

One sews samples in her small apartments, one is trying to make her mark in a large company and one heads a well-known label. Each has had different training, but one lesson they all learn is: To make it, you have to be talented and tough. "It's a great job, but it's not glamorous," says Bernard, the designer for Spot Girl, a junior women's sportswear company in Irvine. "We're lugging fabric. We're down at the contractors" overseeing production.

They sketch, make patterns and sell their collections to clothing buyers, working 50 to 60 hours a week.

Nori Nurita of Attempt

Nori Nurita moved from Japan and last year started Attempt out of her Huntington Beach apartment.

A massive copy of the Attempt logo--a pinup girl--hangs above Nurita's dining room table. The living room is filled with racks of samples from her latest collection. Her upstairs bedroom is a small sewing factory. She does it all, from sketches to sales.

Her newest collection includes an ostrich feather jacket, an A-line black velvet dress, long narrow skirts and striped poor-boy tops.

"I'm inspired by the '50s and '60s," she says. "I love old movies, photos and magazines. Most designers like to see the new magazines, but I'm not interested in that."

Her line is carried by 40 specialty stores, such as Zac Attac in Huntington Beach and Yorba Linda. Her long-term goal: a division of upper-end clothing.

Nurita, 33, has worked as a designer 13 years, mostly as an employee for a Japanese clothing manufacturer. "They told me how to make the clothing," she says.

She quit because she wanted more freedom to design.

Michelle Tripi of Met-Rx Clothing

As many designers discover the hard way, the fashion industry can be perilous. There is precious little job security. Small companies come and go quickly, and large ones change their focus and dismiss designers for various reasons.

At 28, designer Michelle Tripi has worked for at least a half-dozen clothing companies in the county, including Mossimo and Quiksilver. Until last week, she designed women's active wear for Met-Rx Clothing in Costa Mesa until the company was closed down by its parent company.

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"A lot of active wear is moving toward the street. People can go from the gym to the store and not feel they're in their workout clothes," she says.

Her last collection for Met-Rx--which is still available through the Met-Rx catalogue and carried at pro shops and gyms--features V-neck crop tops and leotards with overall straps and bib fronts. Zigzag top-stitching, button closures, buckles and other elements of street wear find their way into her Lycra pieces.

Tripi sketched the clothes and designed the fabrics, often inspired by the street clothes she saw when she trolled clothing stores.

"I really enjoy doing this," she says. "It's fun and exciting, but there's a lot of stress."

Dana Bernard of Spot Girl

Bernard has a clear vision of the young woman who is likely to buy Spot Girl.

"I design for a girl who knows what she wants, a girl who won't go to major department stores. A Drew Barrymore kind of girl," says Bernard, 28. "She has her own style."

To stay in touch with her 15- to 30-year-old customers, she subscribes to magazines such as Teen and Sassy.

"Ideas come from everywhere. I could be at a movie theater or reading a magazine or watching 'Melrose Place.' I never turn it off," Bernard says.

Los Angeles, with its garment district, trendy boutiques and fashion-forward residents, is a destination for most young designers, but Bernard prefers living and working in Orange County.

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"What's great about Orange County is, I'm close to L.A., but I can come back to reality," Bernard says. "It's easy to get swept away on buying trips, but then I come back home and say, 'Oh, that's what my girl is about.' "

Bernard studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, which also has a campus in Costa Mesa, San Diego and San Francisco.

"I love clothes and being creative. I've never thought about anything else," she says.

She specializes in retro-inspired dresses, denim and silk-screen T-shirts. Her holiday collection includes a black-and-white houndstooth jumper ("It's real 'Mod Squad' "), a zebra print mini with matching jacket and a jaguar print velveteen vest.

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