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Fashion Week: Twinkle's First Big Show

Designer Wenlan Chia makes her Fashion Week debut, previewing styles for spring 2004.
Designer Wenlan Chia makes her Fashion Week debut, previewing styles for spring 2004.

The designers at this week's spring 2004 Fashion Week shows under the tents in New York City's Bryant Park feature the industry's biggest names, including Kenneth Cole, Perry Ellis, Anne Klein and Bill Blass. Then there's the relatively unknown Twinkle by Wenlan. Jeff Lunden reports on Wenlan Chia, a 36-year-old designer from Taipei who's preparing her first big runway show. His report is part of NPR's week-long look at the fashion industry.

Wenlan Chia came to New York 12 years ago to study art history at NYU, but found herself taking classes at FIT -- the Fashion Institute of Technology. She started to make clothes for herself. People on the street stopped her to ask her where she bought them. "And then I realize this is probably really something I need to do," she says.

Wenlan started Twinkle three years ago. And Twinkle's star is on the rise. Wenlan's colorful collections are on the racks at Barney's New York and Saks Fifth Avenue. Sally Singer, fashion news editor of Vogue, says that her collections have been well received among retailers, now is the perfect time for Wenlan to do a show on this scale.

But putting on a runway show comes at a significant cost, especially for a company with only one full-time employee -- Wenlan. She estimates it will cost Twinkle almost $80,000 to be part of Fashion Week.

"A runway show really is, like, the ultimate pure view of what the designer wants to show in the collection," Wenlan says. "When I don't have a model to wear those clothes, people cannot visualize what kind of woman I have in my mind when I create those clothes. But, when I have the whole look put together, people say, 'OK, I can see those sweaters should be [worn] in this way.'"

Lunden reports there's a lot of preparation -- all for just 12 minutes on the runway. Details to worry about: lighting, catering, hair, make-up, the photographers, videographers, publicity and music. And the models, of course.

Wenlan and her sales reps, Lynn Rosetti and Kate Goldberg, spend several days casting for the show. "There's a certain walk that you're looking for -- like a strong confident walk, but not too strong and confident," Goldberg says.

A few days before Tuesday evening's show, Wenlan says she's starting to get "a bit nervous... because now as you get closer you start to think about all those details. It is really big." But, she adds, it's also really exciting.

Fern Mallis, the executive director of 7th on Sixth, the company running Fashion Week, is looking forward to Wenlan's show. "That's the future of the fashion business, is always encouraging new talent. And, you know it's a tough industry. But, we push them out there and we give them the platform and... then it's really up to them."

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