FLORENCE — Hunter Bell may be a New York fashion designer, but she has not left her Florence beginnings behind.
Bell, 32, a Florence native and West Florence High School graduate, has been focusing full-time on her fashion line, Hunter Dixon, since 2009. Even though she operates her business out of the bustling Manhattan borough, her style still harkens back to the South.
"A Southern girl with a New York mindset" is what Bell likens it to — a combination of colors and prints inspired by her surroundings and the modern professional woman.
That style can currently be seen not only in Saks Fifth Avenue, Anthropologie and more than 200 boutiques worldwide, but weekly as well on NBC's "Fashion Star," a reality competition show that pits designers against each other to develop the best styles under a compressed timeline.
"It was the most phenomenal experience of my life," she said. "Working with the company of mentors and other designers was so inspiring."
The 12 contestants are divided up among the three celebrity judges, and Bell's mentor is Jessica Simpson.
"Working with Jessica was amazing. She was an incredible mentor. She was supportive of my vision, but also had wonderful ideas to bring to the table," she said.
Bell, a graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in fashion design and studio art, interned for New York-based designers Nanette Lepore and Rebecca Taylor. It gave her a taste of the city life, so she moved there and began working as an assistant designer at Jones Apparel Group and later at Vineyard Vines.
Bell was a fan of the show's first season, which aired last year. She was encouraged by people she knew in the fashion industry and decided to audition for the show. After showing off her designs and completed materials and undergoing a number of pre-screening interviews, she was cast on the show.
Each week on "Fashion Star," the contestants must create clothing designs that meet the requirements of that week's theme. The designs are then presented to three "buyers," or representatives of three major fashion companies. The three companies are Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Express.
The buyers make offers of how much money they would pay for the designers' weekly clothing lines. If a contestant is not made an offer by any of the three judges, they are eligible for elimination. Bell is still in the running and has amassed the largest amount of total offers, at $500,000.
The format is extremely challenging, Bell said. A recent episode, "Something for Everyone," tasked the designers with creating a fashion piece that could fit any body type.
"It was tricky, because you had to make something that would not only fit a size 2, but would also look great on a plus-sized model," Bell said.
While the weekly format keeps a basic premise, she promises it's far from predictable.
"I can't give anything away, but there are some changes coming in the next few weeks," she said
Bell has been the top earner in two of the five episodes that have aired, putting her at the top of the pile. It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue in the weeks to come, leading up to the May 10 finale, where three of the designers vie for the title of Fashion Star.
Bell's clothing line Hunter Dixon can be found at hunterdixon.com.
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