Dresses embellished with intricate hand-beaded lace, a hat with a flourish of feathers, and a sash of real roses were modeled on the runway Friday, but it was James Marvullo's light-gray, jersey-knit gown with black lace and Grecian-inspired draping that captured first place at the "Design Wars" fashion competition at the Roosevelt Field mall.
"I was very surprised," said Marvullo, 22, of Ronkonkoma, one of eight Nassau Community College fashion design students competing in the "Project Runway"-style contest that kicked off Simon Fashion Now, two days of fashion shows at the mall in Garden City.
"Going into it," he said, "I thought that I had a really good chance, but once I saw everyone's designs I thought everyone had a good chance of winning."
Marvullo and his classmates toiled for 5 1/2 weeks to create red-carpet dresses inspired by assigned models -- Long Island celebrities -- all on a $100 budget.
For many, this was their first experience working with a client and designing a formal, red-carpet look.
Friday, the models strutted past four judges who work in the fashion industry. Several said they were struck by the originality, elegance and practicality of Marvullo's gown.
For Marvullo, the experience was especially gratifying.
While he always has had a passion and talent for art, school hasn't always come easy because he is dyslexic, he said. He didn't get into the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, known as FIT, but he found a nurturing program at Nassau Community College.
"I didn't give up," Marvullo said. "I kept stitching and sewing, and I think Nassau [Community College] helped me become what I wanted to be."
Royner Sarria, 21, of Islip, placed second with a princess strapless dress made of a dark purple, leopard-print chiffon.
"I am very happy," said Sarria, whose dress was modeled by Peri Appollo, co-host of the "KJOY Morning Show with Steve & Peri." "I am super happy."
Appollo said the process was equally rewarding for her.
"For him to get a real-life experience and for me to get something so beautiful, it's a win, win, win."
All of the students' designs impressed their fashion design professor, Sharyne Wolfe.
"I said to them, 'Any of you could have won,' " she said. "They're all winners."