"Being a designer and a business owner is not as glamorous as you might think," confessed New York-based designer Pamela Dennis to an eager audience of designer wannabes.

Dennis, who was the keynote speaker at a Fashion Group seminar for fashion students and their teachers, related tales of 24-hour days and an endless parade of trunk shows. She also told how she had to lean on her father for a $25,000 loan and commandeer his office -- conveniently located on Seventh Avenue -- to fill her first order, for Henri Bendel.

While most of the 600 audience members are learning the orthodox approach to the fashion industry, Dennis did things her own way -- backwards. An aspiring lawyer with no formal fashion training, her first designs were executed by a tailor who cut a pattern around her body as she lay on the floor. Only now is she learning the basic skill of pattern-making. "You never know when you're going to need it," she said.

Dennis's advice to fledgling designers: Pay attention to what your customer wants. "I'm the queen of specials," Dennis said. "I'm very keyed in to the customer, and I believe that is 100 percent of my success."

Following her address, the audience was treated to a show of Dennis's collection for spring '94. Then it was the students' turn, with designs from the Fashion Group Foundation student design competition. The contrast between Dennis's pared-down, wearable silhouettes and the students' otherworldly creations offered yet another lesson in the realities of fashion.

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