Grace Leigh was sitting in the sun, eating an ice cream sandwich.
Slight-framed and quiet with intelligent gray eyes, she had the slight smile of someone who knows something she shouldn’t. Her laid-back demeanor didn’t betray the fact that she’s a full-time student, a part-time waitress, and had just debuted her own original clothing line, “Thistle.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 12, Thistle saw the runway lights in its own fashion show as a part of North Park Fashion Week, a three-night event at the Bluefoot Bar & Lounge. The young designer was featured by Christine McLaughlin, owner of Neighbourhood Boutique in University Heights, which held its own runway show later in the night. McLaughlin invited Leigh to participate in the event after seeing her wear many of her own original creations.
With their unique lines, asymmetrical blocks of rich color, and subtly unusual fabrics, Leigh’s original, off-beat designs make it clear that her ideas about fashion go above and beyond the throw-back trends so common in fashion today. Instead, she draws inspiration from unusual clothing and, especially, fabrics.
“I see what it could be,” she said between bites of ice cream. This is evidenced in the strapless, butter-yellow jumpsuit, the asymmetrical, silver mini-skirt, and the kelly-green halter dress, made from a scarf, that were featured in the collection.
“I thought it would look better as a dress,” explained Leigh. She described her own style as, “The shy person in the corner who thinks about what they wear, but doesn’t want to stick out. They want to be as comfortable as possible, but still look nice. Not necessarily wearing a bag.” She also expressed an inclination to play with shapes and blocks of color.
Leigh is a self-taught creator. She recalls using material in different ways playing dress-up as a little girl, instead of just simply trying on clothes. At the age of 10 she sewed her first piece: a Halloween costume of a harlequin, consisting of a purple-and-gold-striped jumpsuit. She got her first sewing machine at 18.
“But,” she said, “it used to eat the fabric,” and upon further reflection, “I think it was broken.”
Though Thistle had a humble start, the future of the line is all up to chance for Leigh. She just plans to “learn about design and see what happens.” She has been a student at both City and Mesa colleges for several semesters, and when asked how the success of Thistle would affect her educational plans, her reply was surprising.
“I want to be an architect.” She plans on staying in school no matter how well her line fares. It seems the community can look forward to seeing many more original designs from the ambitious student. She may be creating homes, and not just clothes, one day. For now, however, she is eating ice cream in the sunshine, saving the strawberry part for last.