Byline: Leonard McCants

NEW YORK — Don’t get the three participants in this season’s Moet & Chandon Designer Debut wrong.
Of course, they’re thankful for the opportunity to show their collections before the eyes of hundreds of buyers and members of the fashion press at 7th on Sixth. But for Christine Ganeaux, Elisa Jimenez and Seth Shapiro, this opportunity is more about furthering their individual messages and continuing their design philosophies than finding a backer and becoming a fashion icon.
“I’ve turned down five backers,” said Jimenez. “I have a great group of people who help me because they feel like they’re helping a greater good.”
Added Ganeaux, “I wouldn’t object to [selling to a big backer], but I’m not ready to give up my aesthetics for that. But if someone wants to help me do what I’m doing, I would talk to them.”
In its fifth season, the Design Debut allows young designers the opportunity to stage a large presentation in the tents at Bryant Park during New York fashion week. Winners are chosen by a group of fashion writers, editors and retailers, who were asked to submit names of those who have not previously shown during 7th on Sixth and had the talent to support a such a presentation.
Previous winners included Alice Roi, Sally Penn, Lizzie Disney, William Calvert, Robert Danes, Thomas Steinbruck, The Wrights, Lotta, Alexandra Lind and David Rodriguez. This year’s presentation will be Feb. 11 at 1 p.m. in the Tent.
There seems to be a reoccurring desire among several Designer Debut winners to remain on the outside of the Seventh Avenue establishment — this season’s crop in particular.
“My work is all about aesthetisizing the grass-roots movement,” said Shapiro, who designs under the American Manufacturing label and draws upon mythic archetypes and Native American customs for his inspiration. “The quality of the clothing is based on my relationships with people. It gives you an image in your mind and it’s born to an idea of play.”
Shapiro, who was also an original collaborator of the Bernadette Corporation and a co-founder of the Organization for Returning Fashion Interest, went on to say that he “despises” the actual process of making clothing, but “if you have a great mission, you’ll do everything you can to accomplish that.”
“Each season I find a story that I am passionate about and once I find that story, there is nothing you can do to stop me from accomplishing it,” he said.
On the other hand, Ganeaux said she “loves clothes and I love the process. I love patternmaking. I love draping. It’s like architecture.”
She began her business out of her home and eventually opened a boutique in Manhattan’s SoHo district under her own name. Ganeaux’s designs have been called clean and sexy with a refined urban edge and she has become known for her custom-tailored pieces and ultra-flattering pants.
As a youngster she loved clothing, Ganeaux said, but when it became time to choose a college she decided to study painting at Cooper Union in New York, instead.
She didn’t last there too long.
“I went to art shows and all I wanted to talk about was what people were wearing,” she said.
Now, after having her boutique for several years and thinking on a retailer’s schedule, participation in the Designer Debut is forcing her into a different direction.
“It’s helped me think about my clothing as a collection,” Ganeaux said. “I hadn’t thought about what I was doing as a show. It’s also forced me to show a collection during fashion week and that will help my wholesale business.”
Jimenez considers herself to be a fashion outsider. So much so, she didn’t even know what the Designer Debut was. She only returned a Moet & Chandon official’s voice-mail message because her voice was so pleasant.
“I live very hermetically,” she said. “I didn’t know what it was about or what it was for.”
Jimenez studied fine art and earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Arizona at Tucson. She is still a sculptor, performance artist and teacher and considers her role as a “maker” of clothing.
“Fashion was something that just landed in my lap,” she said.
For her performance-art exhibitions, she would often design the clothing. After several people expressed interest in purchasing her designs, she started her company by using sewers from the neighborhood.
Her one-of-a-kind pieces, made under The Hunger World label, are cut and sewn on the body and then “scented” with botanical oils or spices to initiate an alchemic response in the wearer.
Jimenez’s clothing and sculptures have been on exhibition at the Holly Solomon Gallery and her work was featured in the Costume Institute’s “Rock Style” exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“I always wanted to be a part of the creative movement,” she said. “And fashion has introduced me to this incredible pool of talented people.”

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