Roosevelt Field's 'Design Wars' are under way

Nassau Community College fashion design student Celin Cardoza,

Nassau Community College fashion design student Celin Cardoza, 22, of Long Beach works on a gown for the upcoming "Design Wars" competition where apparel design students are paired with Long Island personalities in a Project Runway type competition. (Sept. 27, 2011) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Broken zippers and puckered seams failed to derail a group of young designers on a deadline to transform their imagined designs into red carpet gowns.

"It's a lot of work," said Christina Lagarde, a 19-year-old in Nassau Community College's fashion design program. "It's a challenge, but that's what I like about it."

Lagarde and seven other students will launch two days of fashion shows at the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City Friday, as they compete before a panel of judges from the fashion industry. "Design Wars," a local contest resembling the TV hit "Project Runway," is a way for Simon Property Group Inc. to customize its national tour of runway shows and one-on-on style demonstrations known as Simon Fashion Now.

"Who knows, some of these students may eventually have their looks being sold in some of our retailers' stores or may have their own stores," said Jacque Ellis, Simon's assistant vice president of corporate special events.

The competitors were each given a $100 budget, paired with one of Long Island's personalities as a model and given 5½  weeks to design and create a custom red-carpet look. The goal of the contest: provide the students with real-world experience working with clients and the chance to display their fashions on the runway.

"You have an idea as a designer, and sometimes you have to control creative urges if you are designing for a target market," said Sharyne Wolfe, a professor in the college's fashion design program.

Lagarde, whose favorite designer is Betsey Johnson, was tasked with designing for Astra, the WBLI-FM radio personality who goes by one name. Astra described her style as sexy but classy and cited Kim Kardashian as her celebrity inspiration, Lagarde said.

"I learned how to put your input in and take their ideas," Lagarde said. "As a designer, you have to balance them."

For several of the contestants, the contest is their first opportunity to create a red-carpet gown for a person rather than a dress form.

"When you have a real person it's a great experience," said Celin Cardoza, 22, of Long Beach. "I feel like I can do a dress for anyone and now I can work with any size."

Staying within budget meant taking off certain details and embellishments, said David Diaz, 20, a Jamaica, Queens, student. His primary concern was achieving the perfect fit.

"A strapless garment is one of the hardest garments to make," Diaz said. "I literally did four fittings."

Tori Perea, 19, from Franklin Square, said she chose to work with silk charmeuse in shades of gold, copper and a dusty silver, to complement the thrift-store, hippy-chic style of her model, country singer Mary Lamont. The fabric is "shifty," she said and not easy to handle.

"Sometimes when you transfer things from muslin to the [dress] fabric, that tiny bit being off can make a difference," said Perea, who, during a fitting, noticed one seam she would have to resew.

A big challenge for Ina Visich, 22, was catching up with her busy model, Jessica Pinckney, Miss Long Island 2012. One day Visich left her Calverton home at 5 a.m. to make a 7 a.m. fitting in Manhasset. Visich made it through a broken zipper episode last week.

"Only you are going to know how long it took to make and all the stress there is," Visich said, "but people only see the beautiful garment outside."

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Check back after 5 p.m. Friday at newsday.com/fashion to see the finished dresses and "Design Wars" winners -- and to vote for your favorite outfit.

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