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Sep 25, 2008

Young designer Sariah Carson brings her intricate prints to the runway.

By Tara Kyle

Amid the wash of emotions experienced by the average tourist while visiting Hiroshima, aesthetic inspiration isn’t likely to be one of them. For designer Sariah Carson, the memorial provided the basis for her debut prints. Her visit to the first city devastated by an atomic bomb was part of a trip through Japan and Korea in 2007. “It just really blew me away; it opened up my imagination to create.”
The fashion world is starting to notice her unique brand of creativity. Carson, who is only 25 and a 2005 graduate of the Parsons School of Design, was recently named one of this year’s “Fresh Faces in Fashion” by Gen Art, the arts organization charged with running New York Fashion Week, one of the most important events in the global fashion cycle.
This honor gave Carson the opportunity to show her spring 2009 collection on the runway this September. Her fall collection, featuring patterns of paper cranes, irises and the Korean landscape, is already on sale exclusively at Barneys New York.
“Sariah’s strength is in her original prints. They are beautiful and unique and her collection is able to stand on its own,” remarks Tomoko Ogura, fashion manager of Women’s CO-OP Barneys New York. “We’re always looking for new things that work well among our assortment, but can also tell a story on their own.”
Ogura likes the versatility of Carson’s line. She says that the young designer’s dresses are equally appropriate for a Southern woman at the Kentucky Derby or for a New Yorker at a downtown gallery opening.
It was at her family home in Dallas that Carson began her path to the runway. Carson’s grandmother used to make her own clothes, as did her mother, who took her to the fabric store and taught her to drape and make patterns. 
In high school, she made her own dresses for the busy slate of formal events that are a staple of teenage social life in Texas. The mix of cultures and colorful aesthetic of Dallas helped to shape her early work.
“I don’t think I’m a traditional Texan by any means. But definitely the culture there is very warm and laid back and fun, and kind of whimsical in that way, and I think that my prints definitely represent that,” says Carson.
The prints that have come to define Carson’s work draw upon another aspect of her childhood: her early explorations in painting. For her fall collection, Carson makes use of a traditional Korean ink-and-brush technique that she learned during her trip to Asia from her husband’s grandmother, who happens to be a famous calligrapher.
Each paper crane in the designs was painted by hand, using a “very fast, gestural motion, over and over again.” She made silk screens from the original artwork, had them printed in Korea and sewed into dresses in the U.S.
Carson shifted gears for the spring 2009 collection. She found her inspiration in nature and fossil books, where she discovered sea scorpions, sea stars and coral that she hadn’t seen before.
“They’re just really unusual and really beautifully preserved. I wanted to take something from nature, but something from the past and make something totally new and exciting,” she says.
In the fast-paced calendar of the fashion world, Carson is already thinking about the motifs she will employ a year from now. Finding inspiration isn’t something Carson says she struggles with—the challenge is more to winnow them down into a cohesive whole. She admires European designers such as Marni, Lanvin and Dries Van Noten, who also cater to “that quirkiness, the individualist who is seeking something really unique.”
Even at a time when the economy is in recession, and many consumers are cutting back, Carson is optimistic. “Especially in times like these, turning towards the arts can be almost a distraction, an outlet, an escape,” she remarks. “I hope that people see my clothes and they feel excited or happy and they want to wear it because it makes them feel good.” 

On the Runway: Watch a video of Carson’s designs at New York Fashion Week, and a video interview with the designer.

East and at Sea: After a fall line that evoked East Asia, Carson is using ocean-based prints for spring. In our interactive video slideshow, check out her latest designs.

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