For more than a year, the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of Unit 4A in the Rosemary District Lofts have displayed nothing but a for-lease sign. Now, impeccably dressed mannequins line the window displays, but they only provide a small preview of what is going on inside. Like a scene out of a Vogue behind-the-scenes documentary, inside is emerging local designer Alexandra Lin’s design studio. It features minimalist furniture and dress forms in the foyer, followed by rows of industrial sewing machines, racks of concepts, design boards and cutting tables and some of Lin’s personal decorations sprinkled in between.
It’s a beautiful sight. But the question remains: What is going on? Leasing agent Steve Bradley of New Orchard Group and Lin, spunky sports-mom-turned-fashion-designer, are eager to share her story. Although you can’t walk inside to purchase Lin’s designs yet, the studio is home to a budding designer whose collection will soon be available online. The cat-eye-glasses-wearing designer, whose own style resembles more of a casual, classic look, designs for personalities, clothing that makes someone think not “Where is she going?” but “For what moment is she dressing?”
A knack for styling
Lin’s natural instinct for styling first emerged as a child, when she spent the cold Vermont winters dressing up her Barbies. Her love of sewing, however, was borne out of necessity: Her shorter height led to a frequent need of tailoring, which familiarized her with the idea that just as specific pieces aren’t confined to a size or fit, fashion can be created and altered as one pleases.
Lin always wanted to learn to sew, specifically on an industrial sewing machine, but she didn’t excel at it until her training in fashion design.
“My first sewing experience was a nightmare with the Girl Scouts,” says Lin. “It wasn’t the Girl Scouts, it was me. It wasn’t a pretty thing.”
Despite her failed attempt at sewing with the Brownies, Lin’s interest in fashion didn’t change but, rather, shifted gears to styling.
“Being the girl who was only 5 feet tall, I couldn’t wear all of the things that I wanted, but other people could,” she says. “I could always find the right cut, the right fabric, the right look. I had the ability to find the right thing for just about anybody.”
So she dressed her friends. From bathing suits to prom dresses, she was go-to girl for knowing what you should wear.
Back to the drawing board
For the past 20 years, Lin has been a wife and mother of three, as well as their homeschool teacher and biggest cheerleader. To say that Lin and her family enjoy sports is an understatement — it’s a lifestyle, and it’s how they ended up in Sarasota. They moved from Virginia Beach, Va., when her son was offered a scholarship to play tennis at IMG Academy. Because she dedicated her life to homeschooling and her children’s sports (Lin, herself, was a competitive figure skater by the age of 13), fashion and design were only an interest, or appreciation, for Lin. That is, until 2010, when she decided to go back to school at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Tampa.
“Here I was a mom, a 40-something housewife and all of a sudden here I am back in school,” she says. “It was so accepting and amazing. It was a neat experience to go back to be in the school environment again.”
As a student, Lin showed four pieces at Tampa Bay Fashion Week 2013. When those pieces walked down the runway, Lin had women of all ages, from a 17-year-old to a 70-year-old, asking to buy them.
“The pieces are somehow a person before they are even a fabric or design — a person, a place, a picture, it’s the personality, and when that happens, I’ll see a fabric that matches this category, this personality in my head, and that’s when I realize that this is going to work for a certain kind of woman,” says Lin.
She had pinpointed her direction and learned her pieces reached her target customer — not a woman of a specific age or style, but someone who could connect with the clothing. Next, she accepted an internship at Escada in New York City, where she learned what it takes to run a business.
Interestingly enough, Lin’s daughter was in school at Fashion Institute of Technology during the time of her internship, and they roomed together while both pursued their education in fashion.
“It was the perfect fit,” she says of Escada. “The designs are incredible; the business, the store, merchandising, fashion week, buyers, dealing with the showrooms — it was a great experience.”
The Digital Debutante
Describing her collection as “the idea of a new woman, her debut,” Lin has coined her launch campaign “The Digital Debutante.”
“It’s not the concept so much of a debutante coming out into society but more that the digital age gives you the ability to have your debut,” says Lin. “The feeling inside that you’re being who you are; it’s about when that happens.”
Lin bases her designs off of a classic silhouette: She wants to create a fit that never goes out of style, that can be worn in many ways and exudes personality.
“Maybe every piece isn’t for them, but there is something that can be part of everyone’s personal style,” says Lin. “The woman wearing it can create it to be her own.”
From fashion school, to showing pieces during Tampa Bay Fashion Week, to an internship with Escada in New York City followed by the design and creation of a line to be officially debuted at Toshi’s Penthouse during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week as “the new face of the South,” Lin is well on her way of continuing to live out her dream of designing fashion.
“Oprah once said that everyone should have the experience when they turn around and look at themselves in the mirror: ‘Wow. I feel good,’ at least once in their lifetime,’” says Lin. “With everything that I design, I hope that somebody feels that.”
It was a freezing day in New York City, and Alexandra Lin had lost a glove. In need of another pair, she walked into American Apparel near her apartment. There was nobody in the store, so she decided to look around, and that’s when she saw a leather circle skirt, much like one she had designed herself. She decided to try it on to compare the fit.
There happened to be one other woman in the dressing room. When she stepped out, she saw Lin and asked her opinion on the same leather circle skirt Lin had just tried on.
“It was right around fashion week, and I could tell the sales associates were acting a certain way, so I figured she was a model — I knew I had seen the face before, she was so beautiful,” says Lin.
The “model” continued talking to Lin and asked her opinion on things she was trying on.
“About fabrics, pants, flannel pajama pants for her husband — I’m giving her my opinion and everyone knew who she was but not me,” says Lin. “We were in line to check out, just chatting, and then when I got to the register the girl said: ‘Do you know who that was?’”
And that’s how Lin helped Blake Lively pick out pajama pants for Ryan Reynolds.