Dayton’s Althea Harper Brings New York Style Insights to Main Street
By Kate Eviston
When one thinks of style — in terms of fashion — many words, in varying capacity, come to mind. There are volumes and volumes devoted exclusively to both the history of fashion and the progression it continues to undergo. There are timeless designers who have managed to survive the tribulations that accompany this ever-changing idea that clothes our bodies, and there are designers that are buried along with their clothes in our closet, only to resurface during spring cleaning.
If you don’t necessarily follow new clothing lines and emerging trends — I’m relatively guilty myself — and aren’t glued to the television — good for you — or if you missed the article in Dayton City Paper’s early October issue formally introducing her, you might not be familiar with Oakwood-native Althea Harper. But since then she’s been busy with preparations for 2012’s New York Fashion Week, and she took time out of her busy schedule to give us some of her insights on style, design and Dayton in general.
You’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the most influential people in the fashion industry. You interned for Zac Posen here in the States, Alexander McQueen in London, Tim Gunn praised your work on Season 6 of Project Runway, Tommy Hilfiger regarded your work as genius, and you’ve designed for Tory Burch. With all these insanely brilliant, yet undeniably different designers, who has left the greatest impact on your work? Whose voice still resonates in your head?
I can easily say that working with Lee, Alexander McQueen, left the greatest impact on me. When I was there I learned a lot about great design, and how to take inspiration and make it something great! I feel like so many designers work just to make something pretty, but McQueen always has a story behind it. [Althea Harper]
Being from a small city, have you come across any great barriers on your journey? How did you overcome them?
Of course finance is always a barrier for any artist, but coming up with creative ways to achieve things on a shoestring budget is part of the process. I would also say that people might be a bit close-minded about clothes they haven’t seen before, because it is new and different and you have to stay true to yourself and your craft. If everyone gave up when they heard “no” then there would be no successful people! [AH]
If you could design for any one person, at any one event, to epitomize your career … for whom and for what?
I really want to design for Sofia Vergara. I think she is a talented actress and a beautiful woman — I would love to dress those curves since I design to enhance that. [AH]
If you were to be categorized as a jaw-dropping, bold designer or classically chic, in an ideal world, where would you fall in the design spectrum?
I would say a bold designer. I think the most important thing to have as a designer is a true esthetic so that people can recognize your design before even seeing the label. [AH]
Which musical artists do you listen to when you create your designs?
I listen to all different music! One day might be Shania Twain (I’m not kidding) the next day Amy Winehouse or Lil Wayne. It really depends on the mood. My favorite band is the Dayton local band Ohio Briars. [AH]
Who or what inspires you?
I seriously find inspiration everywhere and in so many different ways. It can be a person, place or thing … really anything! I love architecture and culture. [AH]
What is your favorite go-to accessory?
I would say my go-to accessory is an oversized scarf. It easily dresses up any outfit and when I am in between working in my studio and going to meetings it’s a quick way to look more “fashionable.” [AH]
Any advice for do-it-yourself designers? I prefer hand-crafted items and recently turned a funky, full length skirt into a kimono. Without revealing too many secrets, do you have a favorite DIY project from before you became a professional designer? Perhaps something that the less-savvy designers might be inspired to tackle?
Very proud of you!!! I would suggest what you did and take old items or thrift store items and make little changes to make them unique — much easier than starting from scratch. I actually have a video on this I could send you if you are interested! [AH]
Since this is a piece for the style segment, what three adjectives would you use to describe Dayton’s style?
I would say easy, unique and can take you from day to night! [AH]
Any local shops you’re especially fond of?
I love the market and the shops by Therapy Cafe. [AH]
Aside from Therapy Cafe, what are some of your favorite Dayton hot-spots?
I love The Pub! [AH]
Moving forward, where do you see trends shifting with the change of the seasons and the shedding of layers?
I see color definitely coming back! Neons paired with neutrals are a great way to keep it fashionable and not overwhelming! [AH]
And there you have it. Be sure to check out her collection at www.altheaharper.com. And don’t forget to stock up on scarves and vibrantly colored pieces. Harper’s DIY video can be found at http://vimeo.com/28815349.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kate Eviston at KateEviston@DaytonCityPaper.com