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Project Runway Contestant in Columbus for HighBall

 Melanie McIntyre
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To date, Althea Harper is probably best known as the tall, blonde “Project Runway” contestant with a fondness for Brigitte Bardot and ‘30s glamour. But with season six behind her, the 25-year-old Dayton native is steadily building her brand, and lending her talents and discerning eye to Columbus’s second annual HighBall Halloween.

Once “Project Runway” wrapped, Harper moved to Brooklyn, where she works out of a studio attached to her home.

“When my lease is up, I’ll look for a studio-showroom in Manhattan,” she says.

The designer began work on a Spring/Summer 2010 collection for her eponymous label in June. During the conception phase, Harper spends a lot of time pulling images and doing research for inspiration.

“And then I begin sketching and draping, and from there it evolves,” she says. “The final product often looks very different from the original sketches.”

For quality fabrics, Harper turns to Mood in New York City. “It’s like a one-stop-shop,” she says. “They have everything!”

For the aforementioned collection, Harper says she was inspired by “cowgirls− their strength and the way they used men’s clothing and made it their own. And then the general migration of pioneers moving out west and how they interacted with the Native Americans, and the culture that grew from the two being inspired by each other.” (Although the two groups’ coexistence wasn’t always handled in “the best way,” she says she chose to “focus on the positive.”)

Shown during New York Fashion Week in September, the collection consists of 24 looks, or about 40 garments, including shorts, pants, skirts, shirts, jackets, and dresses.

“I like to use a lot of separates and sportswear — I also always have to throw in a gown or two,” she says.

In fact, the priciest piece is a “tailored gown” that retails for $800. For the frugal fashionistas, she offers “great loose T’s for $60.”

The collection has garnered a lot of positive feedback, she says. “Next, I take it to market in January.”

Optimally, the clothing will hit stores in February for summer delivery.

A mogul in the making

In the near future, Harper says she’d like to get an online store up and running, and sell her wares in select boutiques and department stores. Down the road, she hopes to have stores of her own, as well as exclusive space at high-end department stores.

“I also want to branch out to bags, shoes, and fragrance,” she says.

Althea Harper’s core customer is “strong,” “confident,” and has a “demure sexiness,” according to the designer.

On pins and needles

“[Project Runway] was a good experience,” Harper says. “Looking back, though, I don’t know how I did it! I look so tired and stressed on camera!”

Among her favorite garments from season six are the suit she made for model Tanisha in Episode 4 (“What a Woman Wants”) and the film noir look she made in Episode 6 (“Lights, Camera, Sew!”).

“You really learn who you are as a designer in a short amount of time,” she says. “You are also exposed to some great feedback from important people in the industry. Doing this straight from school was great in those ways.” (Harper graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning in May 2008.)

High jinks

On Saturday, Harper will be in town to serve as celebrity judge for the HighBall Halloween Costume Couture Fashion Showdown scheduled for 8 p.m.

During the event, 11 designers –including Harper, Larissa Boiwka, Jennifer Carlson, Esther Chung, Huevan Cox, Maddie Etter, Miki Gotoh, Kevin Kerr, Annika Simmons, Barb Wallace, and Terri Stevens− will show three to four garments from their labels, as well as a couture costume, on an 80-foot runway down the middle of High Street.

However, only one designer (chosen by Harper and three other judges) will be named Highball Couture Costume Designer of the Year and receive a $1,000 prize package.

“I am excited!,” Harper says. “I love any opportunity where people are allowed to showcase their creativity.”

So what will Harper be looking for during the contest?

“A costume that is creative, fun, unique, and the attitude of the person wearing it,” she says.

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