At the January Coastal Fashion Show in New Orleans, Lafayette’s own Isabel Eldredge showed the clothing line she designed from a label previously known by a small, but loyal customer base – Sew Isabel. It was an exciting time for the 15 year old who didn’t think her work would be chosen among the many who vied for the runway exhibition, considered by some as the South’s version of New York fashion week.
She spoke to us in a phone interview from her school, The Governor’s Academy in Boston, where she is in her sophomore year. Between her forensic and AP world history classes, she spoke about how her passion for fashion led to a career choice.
Like so many girls her age, Eldredge has always had a love for fashion. But the interest was really sparked when she read several books from the series “The Mother-Daughter Book Club.” While still in the “pillows and aprons” stage of sewing, she grew to admire and was influenced by the book’s main character, a seamstress and fashion designer.
Eldredge has soaked in fashion since she was in fourth grade, when she and some friends attended a sewing camp. By fifth grade, she was sewing clothes and shortly afterwards got more serious about fashion. She designed her first dress at 13 and for two years sold her clothing online that included her signature capes and monogrammed tops.
Influenced by Ralph Lauren, Eldredge describes her designs as timeless pieces. “I’m not a trendy person,” she says. “I love the Chanel tweeds and classic pieces from the 90s. And I like a preppy look. One of my favorite icons was Audrey Hepburn. I’m also inspired by the 60s refined mod fashion - not the hippie style, but blazers, shift dresse and go-go boots.”
Eldredge admittedly stepped out of her comfort zone when, in March, she was asked to design a one-of-a-kind dress, made from Mardi Gras ball gown fabric, for family friend Naomi Maraist, a 2019 Stars of Style nominee, who needed a gown for the fundraiser’s ball. “Before then, I had been approaching others with my work, but no one had approached me,” she says still amazed.
Eldredge says after an initial conversation with the client to learn their vision, she’ll provide multiple sketches making it easy for the customer to pull favorite parts of each, all leading to a final sketch. Amazingly, when sewing for herself, Eldredge will often sew from an idea in her head.
Her own wardrobe reflects the thought she puts into dressing every time she opens the closet. “I dress up every day,” says the student named the Academy’s “Best Dressed” this year. “At school, I dress for comfort, yet I like my preppy style. Other times, I’ll wear a skirt or a dress and boots.”
While fashion is fun and expressive, Eldredge is fully aware of its power to uplift women, particularly young girls who don’t feel good about their bodies. “When I’m designing something, I’m not thinking about a particular body type; I want to create looks that a woman would want without worrying whether it’s available in her size. I make designs that are going to look good on any woman, whether she wears 00 or a plus size, and whatever the skin tone. That’s why I prefer to work with clients one on one, so that the outfit can fit perfectly. I think about what’s going to make her feel great when she’s wearing it, because I want her to get up every day and feel like she can conquer the world!”
If Eldredge sounds passionate in this belief, it’s from watching her mother, Dr. Brytton Eldredge, an ENT specialist in Lafayette, who her daughter says has always managed to incorporate her style at work, even given the white jacket that’s part of the uniform. “She’s very stylish and has been a huge influence on my taste in clothing. She’s proof that you can look amazing while doing amazing things at work.”
Eldredge relayed that strong message, subtly, at the Coastal Fashion show when models came out sporting boxing gloves that, side by side, read, “She Did.” Her Girl Boss collection offered clothing that easily transitions from work to dinner.
With the working woman as her muse, Eldredge plans to pursue work in ready-to-wear after graduation - with maybe one high-heel in haute couture. “I like the romanticism and the hand work of couture,” she says. “Since I do my own sewing as well as design, I can visualize how well clothes are made – and should be made.”