Local fashion designer in bloom on TV’s ‘Project Runway’

Opinion, People August 18, 2011 0 Comments

by Vivienne McCarthy
In an industry that trades in a currency of cool, it comes as a welcome surprise that one of its hottest young designers is more of a gardener than a bon vivant. When at home, Germantown fashion designer Kristin Haskins Simms loves shopping at the garden sections of Home Depot as much as  trawling New York’s flea markets and consignment shops.  As well as a graphic artist, web designer and fashion high priestess, Haskins Simms is an avid gardener, handed down from 4 generations.

Haskins Simms, 40, the daughter of a  real estate lawyer (mother) and retired Director of Academic Support at the University of Pennsylvania (father), grew up in West Mt. Airy and attended Springside School and Germantown Friends School, where she graduated in 1989. She has two older brothers.

In 2010 Germantown fashion designer Kristin Haskins Simms, 40, was selected to appear on “Project Runway,” a “reality” show now on the Lifetime cable TV network. The Mt. Airy native attended both Springside and Germantown Friends Schools.

She did her undergraduate work in English (with a minor in French) at the University of Pennsylvania and then attended the Rhode Island School of Design where she graduated with a MFA in Graphic Design. After graduation she taught graphic design at the University of Connecticut and later at the Penn School of Design, Rutgers University, Philadelphia University, along with Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. “I loved teaching and graphic design overall,” said Haskins Simms, “but there was something missing.”

When her father asked her to design greeting cards for his students, she in turn designed T-shirts using the same designs, and her fashion business took off. She called it “Strange Fruit” after the controversial Billie Holiday 1939 protest song about a lynching. In 1978 Holiday’s version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

(When asked why she would name a fashion design business after the song, Kristin replied, “I equate it {the song} with people who dared to be different, people who were ‘strange.’ My brand has been in existence for five years now, from T-shirts to Ready-to-Wear, and only seven people have ever asked me such a question … Again, it’s using fashion to educate about history.”)

While single-handedly jump-starting a fashion business is the privileged realm of a handful of exceptional designers, Haskins Simms has no illusions about her luck. “I realized I had a talent for dyeing and cutting fabrics. I began my business making jackets and blouses. I had help designing patterns, but I am a fast learner. I began selling to small boutiques in Philadelphia and at vendor events.”

In 2010 Haskins Simms was selected to appear on “Project Runway,” a “reality” show now on the Lifetime cable TV network. The contestants compete with each other to create the best clothing. The designs are judged by experts, and one or more designers is eliminated each week until the final challenge.

Kristin had shown the first collection she ever designed at Philadelphia Fashion Week at the Armory in 2009. “It was a three-day event, and I got a huge response to my designs,” she said. “It was after this, with much encouragement from clients and family, that I applied to the show. I didn’t think I had a chance. Imagine my surprise when three weeks later I was called and asked to come in for a special interview, after which they cast me.”

Haskins Simms appeared on four shows until she was eliminated, but the publicity she received helped place her outfits in many high end stores in Philadelphia such as Pileggi and the Bus Stop Boutique. She also has her online boutique, www.bestrangefruit.com. She also has an origami blouse at the White House for the First Lady’s approval. Despite her success, Haskins Simms is still not a big fan of the fashion industry as a whole. “I just want to make clothes and sell them,” she said.

This puts her at extreme odds with fame-obsessed designers.    “We’re in an age where celebrity is everything,” says Simms. “Image is everything, and having a red-carpet shout-out is key, but I would much prefer to remain under the radar and sell to the average woman who works, takes cares of her family and looks good doing it.” Haskins Simms still works as a graphic designer and web designer from time to time when someone asks her.

Kristin is married to entrepreneur Harold Simms, who has an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and who does business development for her company. They are expecting their first child in February, 2012. They live in a beautiful three-story home in Germantown that has belonged to the family for over 60 years.

What’s next for Kristin? Her pre-fall collection. Beautiful pants, jackets and blouses, flowing yoga dresses and cocktail dresses, to name a few.

For more information about Kristin Haskins Simms, visit www.bestrangefruit.com or email info@bestrangefruit.com.

 

 

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