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ARLINGTON, Va. — Cynthia Rowley took time out from a whirlwind schedule last week to accept Marymount University’s Designer of the Year award and counsel graduating fashion design and merchandising students.

“If I can do it, you can do it,” the designer told them.

The visit Friday to the Marymount campus here for “Portfolio in Motion 2008” included the awards ceremony, reviewing portfolios and attending the student fashion show that capped a day of events.

Rowley sold her first line while still a student at the Art Institute in Chicago. She recounted her own discovery by a department store buyer on a train who was drawn to one of her coats.

The designer took note of the professionalism and focus of the students, and their realization that there isn’t a “magical formula” to the fashion industry.

“There’s no formula, no rules,” Rowley said. “You have to create your own world and your own career.”

The Art Institute put an emphasis on artistic expression in clothing, she said. Of her own student fashion show before graduating, Rowley said, “It was more like a performance art piece than a real show.”

In talking with students, Rowley said she hoped to convey the importance of dedication and innovation.

“At this stage, I think the most important thing is to be as experimental and visionary as possible,” she said.

Rowley’s line for Target of products for summer entertaining is bowing, her Flower and Petal mother-daughter fragrances with Avon are out for Mother’s Day, Rowley’s Web site redesign will relaunch in two weeks and her company continues to open new stores.

The theme for her Target collection is a focus on what Rowley called “the fashionable family.” The line includes a madras plaid inflatable pool, pink and blue garden hoses, a blue and green Weber grill and a “really cute badminton set,” Rowley said.

“I’m a wicked badminton player,” she said, adding that she competes in a casual tournament every summer with friend and badminton partner Hunter Hill against Rebecca Romijn and her husband, Jerry O’Connell. Rowley was coy about which team was better.

This story first appeared in the April 29, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Let’s just say we’ll see what happens this year,” she said.

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