Small Town, Big Talent: Madison La Rae Durant

Featured Sliders / Stories / May 11, 2016

Madison La Rae Durant has never been to Paris, but the city of lights inspired her first fashion collection.

La Rae’s L’amour Paris collection of 10 couture and ready-to-wear fashions debuted on the runway during the 2016 Fall/Winter Kansas City Fashion Week, KCFW, at Union Station.

Pretty heady stuff for any budding fashion designer, much less for one who’s only 15. But this wasn’t La Rae’s first time in the spotlight. In May of 2014, she was chosen as the runner-up on Lifetime’s “Project Runway: Threads,” a reality show for teens and tween designers based on the successful “Project Runway.”

The resident of Stover, Missouri, who is home schooled, entered an online casting notice and show representatives contacted her; soon she was flying out to Los Angeles for the three-day taping.

“It was a really tight production schedule,” said La Rae, who stayed at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

La Rae’s inspiration board, including the slogan for her collection: “For the girl who isn’t afraid to Speak Up”. Photo courtesy of Madison La Rae.

“I got a taste of what the industry was all about but there was so much going on behind the scenes,” she said. “It was very competitive but I loved meeting the other designers and having an inside look at the fashion scene.”

While she’s very glad for the experience, she wasn’t pleased with the clothes she made for the show.

“I hadn’t found my aesthetic yet,” La Rae said.

Now she has, and it’s a penchant for more formal and feminine fashion.

“In this age of jeans and a T-shirt, the art of elegance is a dying art and something we are losing,” she said.

Her new collection L’amour (the feminine word for love) is really a love letter to women’s fashions that are classic and figure flattering.

“I like to pull inspiration from vintage looks and give them a modern edge,” she said.

She began brainstorming and sketching designs in November of last year, and within a couple of days she submitted them on the KCFW web site.

When she was done, there wasn’t a pair of pants among her collection.

“I don’t like wearing slacks, my personal preference is wearing a dress or a skirt,” she said.

La Rae patterned and sewed all of the pieces for her collection, but her mom, Tracey, helped with a few things in the last few weeks before the show.

“My mom is my production manager, adviser, brainstorming partner and is always there to offer her opinion and support,” she said.

The dominant color pallet for her collection is silver, midnight blue and black with splashes of white and blue variations.

Brynn Shaffer wearing the midnight blue overcoat with white faux fur trim. Photo by Eli Stack,

“There wasn’t any one thing in particular that inspired the colors, a lot of design elements just come from some little corner of my brain when I’m in the design mode,” said La Rae, who did a lot of research on 1930s Paris fashion.

“I of course love every piece of the collection, but after seeing it on the runway I think my favorite piece is the midnight blue overcoat with white faux fur trim,” she said.

There’s also a dramatic black ballgown with lots of tulle, a flared blue gown with capelet and a three piece outfit, with pencil skirt, blue and black paneled vegan leather zip bodice, and a black felt capelet with organza overlay and silver clasp.

A look at the KCFW web site reveals some amazing designs from the group of 22 designers chosen. While other designers showcased more artistic or avant garde fashions, La Rae’s passion is for wearable fashion for women.

Prior to the fashion show, she chose the models who would give her designs life and movement on the runway. While given a roster of each one with full body shots and measurements, La Rae’s choices were more intuitive.

“I really didn’t care what their measurements were or their experience but how they would represent my brand. I could just see certain girls being a customer of La Rae Fashion,” she said.

The idea for her fashion label came when she was 7 years old. “My middle name sounded French and I had made a dress with the cursive L on it and that become a constant in my fashion design label.”

She grew up watching her grandmother and her mother sew in Casper, Wyoming where she grew up.

“The first thing I remember sewing was pajama pants that would fit over my cast,” she said. “I was 5 years old and there were cats on the fabric.”

She continued sewing in 4-H, where she also was involved in robotics, woodworking, computer technology and showing ducks. She traveled to Japan through an exchange trip through 4-H.

In 2012, her family moved to Stover, and that’s when she focused on pursuing fashion design as a career.

She did alterations for the tuxedo pants rented and other formal wear at Western Emporium in Stover, she also made costumes for the cosplaying

“I’ve always been dreaming up my own designs. I’ve always had that in me,” she said.

Model Abby Boyd on the runway. Photo by Jason Atherton Photography

An entire collection though was a major undertaking on a much larger stage. Prior to the big night, she and some of her collections were featured on talk shows in the Kansas City area.

On the day of the show, La Rae and her hair and make up team arrived at Union Station at 11 a.m.

“Most of the day was very relaxed,” she said. “The models had their coloring books and we had a great time talking. My backstage crew was amazing and we became a close-knit team that worked so well together.”

The models’ classic and vintage hairstyles were a collaboration between La Rae and hair stylists Travis and Elisabeth Harland from Shear Dimensions in Olathe, Kansas. Ashley Marie Hazelwood did all of the make up.

“I gave them a basic idea of the “classic” look I was going for, and then let them take most of the creative liberty to bring it to life,” she added.

Then it was time for her show, the final one of the event. The upbeat music mix pulsed and anticipation filled the air for both her, the models and the audience. The first model walked the runway.

“I was horribly nervous until the moment the first model lined up for the finale walk,” she said.

She selected Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” for this seminal moment.

“I went out and heard the cheering. It was so loud and with the lights and everything it was overwhelming. My mom was in tears,” said La Rae,  who wore a dress purchased at the FIDM Scholarship Store when she was in Los Angeles.

“I loved it and wanted to wear it at my first big fashion event, my runway debut,” she said.

Being part of fashion week was such a confidence booster, said La Rae.

“The experience was so much more than what I thought it would be,” she said.“This was a real stepping stone for me to have my product in front of people.”

Given her talent and drive along with the events of the past few months, her career is definitely on the rise. Her goal is to expand her exposure and to have her collections for sale and online by the fall.

With her nod to the past, she’s very much in the present, moving forward on her spring collection while also writing a business plan and handling the administrative side of the operation. Who knows where her career will take her but she admires Parisian designer Coco Chanel, known for her timeless fashions, tailored suits and little black dress.

From L to R. Back Row: Elisabeth Harland, Ashley Marie Hazelwood, Madison La Rae, Bre Bennett, Nina Monzon, Abigail Schiff, Brynn Shaffer, Abby Boyd, Lexy Covinsky, Lena Hoster, Joyce Hurley, Travis Harland. Front Row: Scarlette O’Shea, Launa Beal. Photo by Ryan Swartzlander.

“She was such a pioneer in her field and is still such an icon and her brand is still alive,” she said.

Perhaps one day La Rae will take her place among the top designers on the runways of Italy, New York and Paris. She’s currently learning from online courses through the Style Design College of Milan.

As she has drawn inspiration from the image of a woman standing in front of the Eiffel Tower on her inspiration board, it seems certain one day she will there in person gazing at the iconic monument herself.

“Going to Paris is definitely on my bucket list,” she said.

Story by Shelley Gabert

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