Young designer ready for the red carpet

Turn the pages of Vogue a year or two from now and you just may stumble upon the work of Greenwich native Katie Fong, a 21-year-old designer who specializes in special occasion and bridal garments.

In her brief career thus far, Ms. Fong has acquired ample experience, yet her dreams of becoming a designer started long before she could embroider lace by hand. In fact, her path seemed clear even as a little girl, when she would sketch wedding dresses for each of her friends, she recalled.

Perhaps Ms. Fong’s greatest influence growing up was her father’s dry cleaning shop on Lewis Street, Thomas Cleaners, where she often helped out. As she watched scores of high-end clothing made by the likes of Valentino and Chanel pass through the store, she was inspired, and started dreaming of becoming designer herself one day.

Taking fashion classes throughout middle and high school, Ms. Fong’s dream progressed until, as a high school senior, she landed a highly coveted internship at clothing and beauty brand Tocca. From there, she was able to snag public relations, sales and design internships with some of the biggest names in fashion, including Stella McCartney and Vera Wang.

Throughout the years, Ms. Fong’s father regularly posted her designs in his store, allowing customers to follow her progression as a designer, she explained.

At the age of 19, while studying the technical aspects of design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City, a father showing off his daughter’s talents turned into something more. A customer viewed Ms. Fong’s work and offered her the greatest opportunity of her career up to that point: a design internship at Oscar de la Renta. For those not well versed in fashion, that might seem like any other job, but to those in the industry, it is more like a golden ticket of opportunity to work with the very best.

For the next three years, in addition to attending FIT, Ms. Fong dedicated herself to the internship at Oscar de la Renta. Although college courses taught her well, she felt she “could do more with [her] time” as a designer, she said, adding that her three-year stint there was “hands down” the best internship she ever had.

During her time there, while absorbing as much knowledge as possible and learning design techniques such as fabric appliqué, Ms. Fong was also working major fashion shows in New York City, leaving her little free time for anything else. Somehow, it never felt overwhelming, she said.

“I love [design] so much that no matter how hard it is, it never actually seems hard,” she explained.

By the end of her tenure with Oscar de la Renta, Ms. Fong’s passion and hard work paid off. She was asked to design a veil to match a bridal gown designed by the brand, which was exciting in and of itself, she said. Not long after finishing the project, she was stunned to see the veil she had designed out in the public eye. It had surfaced both on the runway and in a bridal ad, surpassing even her highest hopes of what dividends the internship would pay out.

It is these kinds of experiences that have continued to fuel Ms. Fong’s dedication to establishing a career in fashion design. After earning her bachelor’s degree from FIT in fashion design with a specialization in evening wear this past May, Ms. Fong now looks forward to building her career.

Born and raised in Greenwich, Ms. Fong said the town has always had an influence on her designs. From the overall lifestyle to residents’ “classic” looks, Greenwich has found a permanent place in the young designer’s style, she said. Even while attending school in New York, the simple silhouettes and New England spirit the town embodies has endured in everything she creates. What makes the style her own is the “flair” Ms. Fong adds to her clothing, most often with embroidery work. “To me, details are everything,” she explained.

From her home studio in town, Ms. Fong is working on a number of freelance projects. Perhaps the most liberating is designing clothing for Zylie the Bear, a fashionable doll-like teddy bear, created by town native Mary Beth Minton, whose toy line has taken off over the last few years. Ms. Fong has been helping design children’s clothing for the line since she was 18, and credits Ms. Minton with allowing her an abundance of creative freedom.

Designing for Zylie is “a nice break from [designing] evening wear,” Ms. Fong said, though she hopes to find a full-time job that focuses on the special occasion or bridal garments that have become her specialty.

Competing for a job, however, with approximately 40 other designers who graduated from FIT with a concentration in special occasion design, has made the hunt “cutthroat,” Ms. Fong said. Nevertheless, she hopes her unique style will give her the edge she needs to succeed.

The first step, she said, is to focus on the business aspect of fashion design, which begins with marketing herself. Ms. Fong is turning her current blog at katie-fong.com into a full-fledged website and accumulated nearly 150 fans on Facebook earlier this summer within minutes of launching her design page on the popular social media platform.

In the future, Ms. Fong said she hopes she’ll have the opportunity to open up a small “personal” store under her own label, whether it be a bridal line or high-end evening wear. Although the road ahead is long and an offer for any full-time position in the fashion industry would maker her happy, Ms. Fong said her greatest objective is to create her own brand. “The ultimate dream is to have my name out there,” she said.

To view more work by Katie Fong, visit her website at katie-fong.com

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