It’s all about nurturing and encouraging young talent. I couldn’t say no when, for the second time, I was asked to be on the judging panel for the 2019 Kleinfeld Bridal Competition. It’s a partnership between Kleinfeld Bridal and the High School of Fashion Industries. The program has morphed into a bonafide school curriculum just this year.
The Inaugural Bridal Design +Development Class is the only class of its kind. Credit has to be given to multimedia personality and Lifestyle Commentator Robert di Mauro. Robert initially established the Industry Partnership Program (IPP) in 2006, bridging the HSFI with the fashion industry and was also a way to honor his father, Thomas Gaetano. The senior di Mauro attended the school when it was known as the Central High School of Needle Trades.
As Daryl Blank, the Principal of HSFI put it “nobody on earth works harder or advocates for this school and its talented students as much as Robert. Without him, it would just be a building on 24th Street”. FYI, Robert’s annual nominations for the FGI Rising Star Award have jumpstarted the careers of some of fashion’s biggest names (Jason Wu among them).
The first step in the process began earlier in the school year, when a group, including Kleinfeld Corporation’s principal owner and President Mara Urshel, internationally renowned bridal designer Madeline Gardner (her company is Morilee), and Robert di Mauro, convened at the High School of Fashion Industries to select 6 mood boards out of 30. The final six design students were later provided with a selection of headpieces and veils to help begin bringing their designs to life. Also, fabrics were generously donated by Madeline Gardner. The New York City-based FIT grad, who has been involved since the beginning, has also tirelessly been giving the students some guidance as well.
The results were ‘unveiled’ on Monday, June 10th, at the spacious Kleinfeld Salon on West 20th Street famously known for having the largest selection of bridal gowns in the world. The salon was turned into a runway for the occasion. On hand were friends and family of the students and a panel of 10 judges. In addition to Robert di Mauro and myself, they were Madeline Gardner-Morilee, Sareh Nouri-Sareh Nouri, Mara Urshel-Kleinfeld, Rachel Leonard-Bridal Council, Michelle Roth- Michelle Roth, Emily Goldman-The Bridal Guide, Stephanie Simon- NY1, and Myrdith Leon-McCormack-World Bride Magazine.
After Robert gave his enthusiastic, welcoming remarks (he is a natural born cheerleader and emcee) each of the 6 bridal designs came out one by one (along with the design student). This gave us a chance to review them (and the mood boards) and ask questions about the design students’ inspiration, the design process, etc. To select a winner, we graded them in five categories: Construction Techniques, Overall Appearance/Quality, Mood Board, Creativity, and Interview.
All 6 of the finalists were impressive. Their talent is all the more remarkable when you consider they are 16 and 17-year-old teenage high school students, not graduate design students. They are all winners, as Mara Urshel pointed out, and each of them receives a monetary reward.
But a few definitely stood out for me. I loved the way Cartomu Kabba, whose mood board heading read, “The Nostalgic Wagadou Queen of Sononkara,” paid homage to her African culture with the beautiful two-piece dress and dramatic headpiece she created.
Because I always appreciate tailoring, I was attracted to Symphony Archibald’s “dress” that wasn’t a dress but rather, a corset pantsuit. She saw it as “a mix of masculine and feminine that shows empowerment and luxury.” Symphony said that she was inspired by the natty white pantsuit worn by Bianca Jagger when she wed Mick Jagger.
The first runner up, Lucero Salas, was inspired by “Chateau Royal” architecture. Lucero created a stunning ivory gown that was decorative but not over the top. She even managed to create a voluminous skirt that was flattering, thanks to her expert use of box pleats at the waist.
But the clear favorite was Sarah Moskowitz whose mood board heading was “Earth Angel.” The junior design student’s dreamy yet sophisticated dress immediately stood out for a number of reasons: the impactful yet discreet way she used lace; the color (it was not white or ivory, but a nude shade with just enough peachy pink to make it flattering on all skin types); the way it effortlessly floated on the body. It was graceful, angelic, and elegant. An added advantage it can be worn for many occasions, not just for a wedding. I could imagine seeing it on a red carpet, and I predict you will hear more about her in the years to come.
Ms. Moskowitz not only received recognition and a monetary reward but, for only the second time in this competition (now in its 9th year), her design is deemed so outstanding it will be produced by Madeline Gardner and available for sale at Kleinfeld’s.