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Metropolis / So SoCal

'Overnight Success' Is Sweet for an L.A. Designer

January 20, 2002|LINA LECARO

Nellie Oleson a fashion muse? With her prim petticoats and rigid ringlets, "Little House on the Prairie's" spoiled minx may not be an obvious style icon, but for Cornell Collins, Laura Ingalls' nemesis has been sweet inspiration.

The Long Beach-based designer's penchant for unconventional influences, meticulous detailing and fine fabrics has drawn notice for a couple of seasons, but things reached critical mass after the 27-year-old's "Prairie"-themed spring 2002 collection hit the runway during L.A. Fashion Week in November.

Since then Collins, who was working a day job and designing at night, has created a million-dollar dress of casino chips worn by fashionista Paris Hilton to the Palms Casino Resort opening in Las Vegas and fielded orders from high-end boutiques such as A. Mason in Santa Monica and Los Angeles and Boulevard in Hong Kong.

Born in North Carolina, Collins moved to L.A. right out of high school in 1993, attending the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and graduating from Brooks College. After assisting women's wear designer Antonio Garcia, Collins debuted what he calls a "very bourgeoisie" fall 2000 collection. His fall 2001 collection, however, was inspired by Edwardian freak shows and the Bauhaus. By the time he showed his "Prairie"-based spring 2002 collection during New York's Fashion Week, Collins was generating a buzz. "I've felt like this is happening faster than I can keep up with, but I know how much went into it," he says of his "sudden" success.

Collins knows that his pricey, avant-garde pieces don't fit in with the casual aesthetic that epitomizes Southern California. "My sensibility is very dressed up and very European," says the designer, who's keeping mum about his next collection. "Things could've happened faster, but it would have meant compromising and I'll never do that," he says--a pioneer spirit worthy of the prairie.

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