Nanette Lepore is an acclaimed designer with international recognition. She has celebrity-studded clientele and is a leading fashion figure in the fight to bring more manufacturing jobs back to America.
But all this success stems from humble beginnings in Youngstown, Ohio. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher and her father taught art at Youngstown State University. Immigrant grandparents were carpenters and brick layers.
"I was around people who were always making things," Ms. Lepore said. "I think that working class sort of attitude that life is work but it doesn't have to be miserable was a good way to grow up and understand about work and how it can lead to beauty."
She found her passion in sewing. "I was happiest when I was at home sewing."
She studied business administration and fashion merchandising at Youngstown State University and fine-tuned her fashion skills at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where she's lived since the mid 1980s.
"At one point, I was considering leaving New York and moving to Pittsburgh," Ms. Lepore said. Growing up, Pittsburgh and Cleveland were the cities her family would travel to when shopping for something special. "I was tired of the grind and my husband was like, 'give it another shot.' If you can get past the 5-year mark in New York, then you can be here forever."
Ms. Lepore will showcase her spring/summer 2014 collection at 11 a.m. today at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Lincoln Center.
If I had to describe Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in three words, they'd be ... adrenaline, glamor and exhaustion -- all at once.
What keeps me motivated is ... my love for fashion, my love for what I do.
I find my inspiration for my collections ... I try to visit as many museums as possible. I like to travel, I love to visit flea markets. Just in general sometimes, it's a movie, people on the street -- a lot of different influences. It's also politics.
My spring/summer 2014 collection has in store ... faded romantic florals. It's a step back into prettiness.
One of the biggest challenges about presenting a collection at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is ... having to do it all without a rehearsal. It's like putting on a Broadway show and you never get to see it first. It's crazy, but we do it.
Looking back, one of my most comical Fashion Week moments was ... we did have a Mariachi band invade an after party once. That was very spontaneous.
When women wear my garments ... I want them to feel they are in a really well-made, handcrafted beautiful product. I want them to feel like they look expensive. I want them also to feel sexy. We pay so much attention to fit that the clothing they buy from me should feel like they're powerful and sexy.
If I could spend time with any member of the fashion community (living or deceased) it would be ... Karl Lagerfeld and Diana Vreeland.
In the next 10 years, I would like to see the fashion industry ... have manufacturing return to the U.S. I would love to see the New York City garment center be what it was when I first started. People pushing racks everywhere ... I just love that sense of excitement that you had when you knew you were right in the heart of everything.
My advice for aspiring fashion designers is ... try to find your customer before you put on a fashion show. ... Also, manufacture in America. It makes it much easier.
Photos: At right, Nanette Lepore with her daughter, Violet, at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February 2013 at Lincoln Center. Below, fashions from Ms. Lepore's runway show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February. Courtesy of Nanette Lepore.