Today anchor and former Good Day Philadelphia personality Sheinelle Jones wanted a showstopping gown to wear for her debut Thursday night on the Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection runway.
And she didn’t mind, she said, if it was a little fun.
She just wanted all 4 feet, 11 inches of her to feel comfortable.
“I lean on the conservative side,” she said. “I wanted something that was big, fun, and bold and still authentic to who I am …. And when I found out the dress was made by a Philadelphia designer, well that was icing on the cake.”
Score yet another runway win for our city.
Philadelphia Fashion Incubator designer-in-residence and Moore College of Art and Design grad Madelange LaRoche is one of two students who will have the honor of designing crimson gowns for the annual Red Dress Collection, the American Heart Association’s star-studded reminder that heart disease should be taken seriously. The runway show will take place Thursday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom, and the annual runway show/party is considered one of the official kick-off events for New York Fashion Week.
“I’m so excited,” said LaRoche, the 38-year-old bridal designer and entrepreneur behind her eponymous Elkins Park bridal brand. “This is really the biggest thing I’ve done so far. It means so much to me.”
In 2003, the American Heart Association began hosting the Red Dress Collection, along with the Macy’s show to bring attention to heart disease, the world’s leading cause of death. Over the last 16 years, A-list designers like Badgley Mischka, Zac Posen, and John Paul Ataker have dressed celebrities. This year, 23 celebrity models will take the runway, including one dog, Flynn, the bichon frise that was crowned best in show at the Westminister Dog Show. Twenty-eight designers are working on the gowns. Macy’s isn’t yet releasing the names, in an attempt to keep the models top secret.
Past Philadelphia Fashion Incubator designers-in-residence tapped for the showcase include Annina King, who dressed Today anchor Jill Martin in 2010; and Jovan O’Connor, who made a halter gown for Real Housewives of Atlanta star Cynthia Bailey in 2015. Conrad Booker sent rapper and actress Ta’Rhonda Jones down the Go Red runway in a creation that was one part harness, one part gown two years ago.
The delicate floor-grazing gown LaRoche designed for Jones was inspired by tears.
“So many women are affected by heart disease,” LaRoche told me. So far, she’s spent at least 40 hours on the gown. "This dress is my artistic way of saying my heart goes out to them. It’s a way to express my feelings of what happens.”
The gown’s bodice, with its sweetheart neckline and off-the-shoulder sleeves, was fashioned from heavily beaded Chantilly lace and flows into a form-fitting mermaid silhouette. The part of this gown that screams, “Fabulous!,” however, is the clear red detachable skirt that LaRoche fashioned from organza. The tiers of the skirt, LaRoche said, are shaped like teardrops. That magnificent play on words is no coincidence.
The peek-a-boo ballgown, as I like to call it, has become quite the mysterious, if not indecisive, red carpet staple. The design is a corseted bodice that flows into a princess gown, and that full ballgown can be detachable, revealing a skinny mermaid silhouette, a pair of trousers, or even a miniskirt. Basically, it’s a two-for-one deal.
The hybrid got its start as a hostess look favored by the ladies who lunched in the 1950s, said Clare Sauro, keeper of the Robert and Penny Fox Costume Collection at Drexel University. Movie stars Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and even Lucille Ball wore them as they did their fair share of luxe lounging on the big screen.
The look hit Hollywood’s red carpet in quite a tacky way in 1989, when Demi Moore designed her own full-ballgown-over-biking-shorts look for the Academy Awards. And the outfit has famously topped all-time worst-dressed lists since. It didn’t become respected on the red carpet until recently, as more and more celebrities — from Janelle Monae in Ellie Saab at last year’s Academy Awards to Julia Roberts in Stella McCartney at this year’s Golden Globes — strutted the silhouette in a very modern femininity-meets-strength way.
“She found a way to check all the boxes with this one fabulous dress,” Jones said on her way to the final fitting Tuesday morning. “I feel there aren’t many times in life when you can feel like a princess or a queen, so when you get those times you must take advantage.”
LaRoche’s design isn’t the only look from a Philadelphia designer that will blur the lines of sartorial tradition at New York Fashion Week.
Two designers from Jefferson University will debut their androgynous collections as part of an emerging designers showcase Saturday at the Designers’ Premiere at the Prince George Ballroom.
Senior Vanessa Fath, inspired by sexual-abuse survivors, screen-printed photographs of victims — men and women — on denim. She then fashioned the pieces into collections heavy on the drape and moving sentiment. These are real people, and her pieces express that.
“I wanted my collection to be a strengthening and unifying moment for people to be empowered and come together," Fath said.
Allegra Pronesti’s collection, “Family Values,” was made to reflect the love and strength of queer and trans people within their chosen families. “My collection takes silhouettes from the 1950s nuclear family and puts a queer punk spin on it,” Pronesti said.
And Pronesti gets it done in a leather-bodice-meets-ballgown way.