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Design Wars has 10 local student designers battling for top honors this weekend in White Plains

Westchester Fashion Academy for Children students Peter Wenger,

Westchester Fashion Academy for Children students Peter Wenger, 11, of Manhattan, and Adriana Cocucci, 13, of Eastchester, work on designs in White Plains before the Design Wars competition at The Westchester mall. (April 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

As Tim Gunn says on "Project Runway," student designers will have to "make it work" on Saturday as they present reimagined and refurbished prom dresses during the Design Wars competition at The Westchester mall in White Plains.

Ten student designers from Westchester Community College and the Westchester Fashion Academy for Children, ranging in age from 11 to 22 years old, will present their creations, modeled by high school seniors involved with the Her Honor Mentoring Program. Dresses were donated by Operation Prom, an organization established in 2005 to provide free prom dresses and tuxedo rentals to students in need, and designers were given four weeks to turn the secondhand dresses into something runway worthy.

"I'm still in the process of making my dress, and it's turning out amazing," said student designer Pete Wenger, an 11-year-old who's originally from Scarsdale and now lives in Manhattan. "I'm really excited to see my model walk down the stage."

Wenger, the youngest designer and the only male in the competition, is working with model Maria Barto. Barto, an 18-year-old senior at Mamaroneck High School, credits Her Honor Mentoring Program, which she joined in September, with helping her build confidence and giving her the encouragement she needed to join Design Wars.

"I'm really shy with people, but I want to communicate better and to get out of my shell," she said. "This has been so fun and has made me think about all the opportunities that are out there for me."

Establishing a strong connection between designers and models was important, as the final product will be worn not only during Design Wars, but also during the models' senior proms later this spring. And although trusting a student with making a prom dress may be tough for some to imagine, designer Denise Proctor, who founded the Westchester Fashion Academy for Children, knows the models have nothing to worry about.

"No one is going to believe these kids made these gowns," she said. "They've done wonderful work."

Design Wars, which is part of a two-day Simon Fashion Now event presented by the White Plains Hospital, will be hosted by News12 Westchester anchor Tara Rosenblum. A distinguished panel will judge the student designers and models, and after all the judges’ votes are in and tabulated, one designer from each program will be named the winner, taking home a $300 Simon gift card. The panel also will name a runner-up from each school, who each will receive a $100 Simon gift card. And, for the first time this year, the Design Wars audience will have a chance to vote, via text message, for the dress they like most. The one designer with the most audience votes will be named the competition’s “fan favorite” and awarded a $50 Simon gift card.

Whether Wenger wins the competition or not, he's still happy to have the experience and can't wait to see his look on the runway.

"In fashion there are two prizes," he said. "One is making the dress. The other is giving it."


What: Design Wars fashion show

When: Noon Saturday, April 13

Info: Nordstrom Court on Retail Level One at The Westchester, 125 Westchester Ave., White Plains; 914-421-1333;

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