The faces of Pittsburgh Fashion Week: Meet designer Alicia Akrie

Written by Sara Bauknecht on .

AliciaCoat 400

Pittsburgh Fashion Week has evolved into a showcase of some of the city's fashion talents, three of whom will be featured tonight at Highmark Stadium.

One who is new to Pittsburgh Fashion Week is Alicia Akrie, 23, of Chartiers City. Inspired by her grandmother to pursue her passion for the arts, Ms. Akrie earned a fine arts degree in fashion design at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Ga. She graduated in June and will present her senior collection at Pittsburgh Fashion Week's opening extravaganza.

How long have you been designing? I think I started designing when it came time for prom season when I was in high school. I wanted something unique and thought this could be my first stab at designing a garment. It went pretty well!

I get inspirations for my collections from ... literally anything that captures my attention, from my Bible scriptures ... to "Beauty and the Beast."

I would describe my design aesthetic as ... sharply confident. It's angular but smooth. I love menswear, and it has significant influence on my work. Overall, I want my clothes to bring out a possibly inward confidence forward. Every woman is masterfully created. I want her to feel confident in that.

Alicia 200At Pittsburgh Fashion Week, the collection I have in store for audiences is ... inspired by ancient samurai armor and intricate paper sculptures by Yun Woo Choi. I like to blend totally different concepts to have more to draw from. It allows the collection to take on its own life.

My proudest moment as a designer was when ... [having someone consider me] a "designer," graduating from a prestigious school, having my parents proudly support me, seeing each garment come together from a daydream of a sketch to walking down the runway. I'm thankful for it all, even the mistakes that turn into design decisions. Just seeing how God has moved and is moving me is a blessing to me. I want to take nothing for granted.

In 10 years, I'd like to be ... what Karl Lagerfeld is to Chanel, a highly respected creative director for a flourishing brand that is leading the way. Whether it be my own personal brand or one I take over, I plan to be great.

One of the greatest challenges of being an aspiring designer is ... the possibility of "being discovered." No one knows if or when the time will come, and it's a frightening thought but one I pray over. And then I throw myself into my collections.

If I could tell myself when I was starting out in fashion something I know now, it would be ... expect to work hard. Every day at every moment work hard, and stand behind every decision you make.

If I could collaborate with anyone in the fashion or beauty industry it would be ... without a doubt Alexander Wang. I am a huge fan of his work and hope that someday I really can collaborate with him. As a young designer, I think he makes ambitious decisions with his collections, and I aim to do the same.

A go-to spot for shopping in Pittsburgh for me is ... local thrift stores! I love thrifting and repurposing clothing, and there's always the hunt! I also love traditional shopping stores, as well.

One of the greatest misconceptions of the Pittsburgh fashion scene is ... that we aren't "real" designers and that we all "distress and rework" clothing that's already made. I have every original pattern for every garment you'll see. This is a real career for me. ... Nothing is wrong with reworking clothing; I have friends who do it (and do it well). But as a designer I create from nothing.

In the next five years, I think the Pittsburgh fashion scene will be ... even bigger and better than it is now. The fashion scene here is growing, and more people are recognizing the talent that is here.

My advice for other aspiring designers is ... to work hard and settle for nothing but the best. God has blessed you with a specific skill set that no one else has. Walk in that, and know that anything worth having is worth the struggle.

Photos: Above, one of Alicia Akrie designs. At right, Alicia Akrie.

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Science educational programs for kids at Phipps

Written by Doug Oster on .

Phipps Announces Fall/Winter Line-Up of Science Education Programs for Children

Registration now open for diverse sessions offering immersive learning experiences, exploration and fun.
Pittsburgh, Pa.  This fall and winter, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardensis pleased to offer an exciting line-up of science education programs for children that focus on ecology, conservation, healthy living and art, including a special Celebrate! Series (ages 4-9), Little Sprouts Single Servings and Multi-Day Camps (ages 2&3), Move with Me programs (ages 3&4) and Evening Ed-ventures (ages 6-9). Covering topics from gardening and cooking to plants and animals, all sessions immerse kids in nature.
   Offering a variety of hands-on activities, Conservatory exploration time, healthy snacks and opportunities to create take-home crafts, upcoming programs for the remainder of 2013 include:
·         Celebrate! SeriesOptions for these Saturday sessions covering holidays and health include Celebrate! Autumn on Oct. 12Celebrate! Fitness on Nov. 9 and Celebrate! the Holidays on Dec. 14. Times and age groups vary. Cost: $12 for Phipps members and $15 for nonmembers.
·         Little Sprouts Single ServingsThese one-day camps held on Thursdays or Fridays from 10:30 a.m.-noon highlight plants, animals and healthy foods, and include: My Favorite Fruits on Oct. 24 or 25 and Our Desert Adventure on Nov. 21 or 22. Adults must accompany kids. Cost: $12 for Phipps members and $15 for nonmembers. Camps within the same week have the same lesson.
·         Little Sprouts Camp: This multi-day camp with a We Love Critters theme is held on Oct. 7, 14, 21 & 28 from 10:30 a.m.-noon. Adult accompaniment required. Cost: $48 for members and $60 for nonmembers.
·         Move with Me: Teaching children about the natural world through gentle movement exercises, these new programs are held from 10:30 a.m.-noon or 1-2:30 p.m. on Oct. 8, Nov. 12 and Dec. 10. Adults must accompany kids. Cost: $12 for Phipps members and $15 for nonmembers.
·         Evening Ed-venturesGiving parents a chance to have a night out from 6:30-9:30 p.m. while kids learn and have fun, Friday night options include: Kitchen Creations on Oct. 18Art Party on Nov. 15 and A Night in the Tropics on Dec. 20. Cost: $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers.
   Those interested in obtaining additional details and a full schedule, or registering a child, may do so by visiting or calling 412/441-4442, ext. 3925. More about activities associated with Phipps’ science education programs can be found at 
and Facebook/phippseducationandresearch. Camp and program photos can also be viewed on Flickr.

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Secret garden world revealed in photos

Written by Doug Oster on .

Every season there comes a time when I'm compelled to lie on my ample belly and discover what's happening in the garden at ground level.

Much of the activity goes unseen as we walk by occasionally glancing down.

There's beauty, adventure and mystery hidden right before our eyes.

Even weeds or plants we don't grow for their flowers can look beautiful under close inspection.

Before the frost hits, take a minute to see what's happening down low in your garden.

blog yellowjacket cu3A yellow jacket hangs on sideways to a plant early in the morning. Now you can see why they are so painful. First they will grab on with those mandibles and then start stinging over and over again. Photos by Doug Oster

blog bumblback pollen3A bumblebee spent the night on a dahlia. The bee is covered in yellow pollen.

blog cool orange eyed bugThis fascinating little bug is only a quarter inch long and was happy to sit for a portrait.

blog dahlia aphidcu 2I think this is an aphid inside a red dahlia.

blog dahlia little white 2Can you see the little white insect with red eyes in this photo of a dahlia bud? I didn't even know it was there when I shot the picture.

blog anemone cu2Anemone

blog arugula sproutArugula

blog baby cucumberBaby cucumber

blog seedling emerges cuSprouting green

blog seed sproutsUncovered seed begins to germinate.

blog weed cu2A weed

blog wood aster cuWood aster

blog coleus cuColeus flower


blog lambs quartersBristled knotweed


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Pittsburgh Fashion Week begins today

Written by Sara Bauknecht on .

PittsburghFashionWeekShoot 400

Hey, Steel City ... ready to sashay the night away? How about the entire week?

Ready or not, Pittsburgh Fashion Week kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. its fourth year of festivities with runway shows at Highmark Stadium featuring designers with Pittsburgh ties. They are Alicia Akrie, Debbie Weiss and Faith Pongracz of Faith n' Khaos.

Head over to Highmark Stadium early to check out the Fashion Avenue vendor fair (free admission) from 2 to 9 p.m.

While it only lasts one week, Pittsburgh Fashion Week takes months of preparations and several people to pull it off. Here is a look at the event by the numbers:

Number of days: 6 fashion-focused days

MiyoshiAnderson 250Events: 8 chances to learn about fashion and beauty-related businesses and talents in Pittsburgh

Venues: 7 spots across Pittsburgh, each picked to show off the city's diversity

Volunteers: About 20, who are trained to help coordinate various aspects of events

Stylists: About 10 Pittsburgh-based hair and makeup artists

Models: Dozens! Each designer's runway show features about a dozen designers, and there are about a dozen runway shows this week.

Attendance: A few thousand in 2012, including guests and participants. About the same or more are expected this year.

The vision: "When I was modeling 10 years ago, I worked a lot," Pittsburgh Fashion Week founder Miyoshi Anderson said. "I saw in the past decade the decline of work and the fashion industry sort of lying dormant.

"I've seen [Pittsburgh Fashion Week] encourage them to open up and develop their own companies, just getting it out there. They're really pushing forward with the exposure."

Learn more or purchase tickets at

Photos: At top, models pose for a promotional Pittsburgh Fashion Week photo shoot along Smithfield Street, Downtown, in 2011. (Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette) At right, Pittsburgh Fashion Week founder and director Miyoshi Anderson.

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Garden for seniors nurtures body and soul

Written by Doug Oster on .

Eighty-nine-year-old Bill Ferguson runs a rototiller down the center of six long beds in the community garden at Longwood at Oakmont. It's obvious he knows his way around the machine as he deftly navigates it around an area behind the retirement community that was used to grow corn. His love of gardening goes back to childhood.

"I had a little garden in the backyard in Kansas. I learned the hard way, all by myself," he says.

His parents had no interest in gardening, but the 12-year-old was hooked. For more than 40 years, he gardened on 61/2 acres in Murrysville. And when he discovered that Longwood had 48 plots reserved for residents, well, there was no doubt how he would spend his free time.

Mr. Ferguson is the chairman of the Plum facility's gardening committee, a job he rotates every few years with other members. He helps get gardeners into the right plot and tends to their needs. When a resident gives one up or can't garden anymore, another takes over the spot. He sees great health benefits for older people in gardening.

"It's good, healthy, invigorating for us to be as active as we can. It improves your life, it improves your health, it's better all the way around."

Like most gardeners he enjoys sharing his harvest, dropping off extra tomatoes at the front desk, where "they magically disappear," he says, smiling.

When asked how long he can keep gardening, he paused. "I don't know. I'm going to keep going as long as I can move."

Another of the committee's rotating chairmen, Peter Kiproff, 90, forgoes the tiller and turns his garden over the old-fashioned way, with a garden fork. "I feel very fortunate to be able to do it."

Like Mr. Ferguson, he gives away part of his harvest.

"It was a good year for tomatoes. I got more than I can eat," he says, adding that he has left more than 20 pounds of tomatoes at the front desk.

Melba Parris, 96, is the oldest person gardening at Longwood. She gives hope to all gardeners, as her passion for digging in the dirt still burns strong. "It's just like making mud pies when I was a child," she says with a laugh.

She grows beans, potatoes and giant 'Brandywine' tomatoes and says she's canned 30 quarts of tomato juice "so far." Mrs. Parris hopes the remaining fruit will provide her with enough juice to get her through the winter.

Standing in one of the garden paths, she holds a letter she sent to her college roommate in 1943. Jessie Messemer Blomquist, who went to MacPherson College with Mrs. Parris, stumbled onto the letter and sent it back to her. Inside are details of the garden Mrs. Parris grew in Kansas during World War II. The letter reads in part:

"We have had quite a lot of rain, but our garden still isn't very good, I guess we just planted it too late."

She went on to describe what she had put up from the first part of the season. The list is impressive: 6 quarts green beans, 1 quart blackberries, 2 quarts strawberries, 3 pints beets and 8 quarts sauerkraut. One has to wonder what she would have put up if the garden had reached her expectations.

Gardening has always been a part of her life. "I can't remember a time I wasn't following my mother around in the garden."

Mrs. Parris didn't know about this garden when she moved into Longwood. She told her brother she was probably done gardening, then called him back when she discovered it. Both were overjoyed.

"I can't imagine you not in the garden," he said.

Robert and Flo Conville didn't do much gardening before moving to Longwood. Their two beds are a mixed bag of flowers and vegetables. Tomatoes and basil share space with calla lilies, a hydrangea and a peony plant they inherited from the plot's previous tenant. Their four tomato plants produced much more than they could use; they gave away the fruit to their church and family.

"It gives us a chance to spend a little time together," Mr. Conville says.

After the couple finishes for the day, they hold hands as they walk slowly back to their home. Mr. Conville holds his wife with his right hand and two fresh garden tomatoes in his left as the sun slips away.

blog oster longwood brandy portraitMelba Parris who is 96, poses with one of her large 'Brandywine' tomatoes.

blog oster longwood letter tightThis is the letter Melba Parris sent to her college roommate in 1943.

blog oster longwood roto wideBill Ferguson, 89, tills the communal corn patch.

Blog oster longwood flowersAlthough most of the gardens are filled with vegetables, this one is a spectacular garden of flowers.


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