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Designing her dreams: Nicole Box, creator of Fouche Couture, has big plans for the future
"Every day, I think about fashion," says Nicole Box.
Nicole, a Southern Illinois native, learned to sew when she was 14; her mom taught her. "We didn't have a lot of money," she says. "So I made some (clothes) for myself in high school."
Flash forward to 2011. That's when Nicole established her own fashion label, Fouche Couture (Fouche is her maiden name).
But the road from teenage seamstress to fashion designer had its share of bumps and detours. At one point, "I almost gave up," Nicole says of her dreams.
Her journey started after high school. "I decided to go to L.A.," she says. Nicole, also an artist, sold paintings to pay for her flight. She knew her mom didn't want her to go, so she didn't tell her. "I called (Mom) from the airport and told her I was in Los Angeles," Nicole says.
In California, she enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, a world-renowned design school. While there she took classes taught by Nick Verreos, who competed on season two of "Project Runway." Before she could finish her degree, however, tragedy intervened. Box says she returned home to Illinois to help her mom after her brother died.
That's when she met her husband, Chavis. It's also when she thought about giving up her dreams of being a fashion designer.
And then she entered Macy's Million Dollar Makeover contest. Though she didn't win, the experience was still life-altering for Nicole. She got to know Clinton Kelly, host of the contest and "What Not to Wear" on TLC. Kelly became a mentor, giving her simple yet valuable advice. "He told me to not give up, and to go for my dreams," Nicole says.
So, she did.
With her husband deployed, she began by modeling, getting her foot into the door of the fashion world while she worked on her sewing skills. "I had made some clothes for my daughter," Nicole says -- nothing too ambitious.
"I was scared to make real dresses," she says. "So I taught myself to make anything."
And "anything" usually involved anything but fabric. Nicole says one her favorite designs is the "Pepsi dress." It's made of 74 Pepsi Throwback cans and some blue garbage bags. Nicole, not a soda lover, says she and her mom drank Pepsi for weeks so she could use the cans in the design.
"I sent (a picture) to Pepsi," she says. And the dress? "I recycled it," Nicole says. "I didn't want it to go to waste."
She also crafted avant-garde looks out of tin foil, balloons and playing cards. "The avant-garde costumes, I do those for myself," she says.
When it comes to working with fabric, she's carving a niche making special occasion dresses. "Formal gowns are what I love," she says.
Her first collection, for spring/summer 2012, reflects that. Called "Once Upon a Fashion Fairy Tale," the collection features gowns and dresses inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood, Belle and other fairy tale favorites.
"I like to recreate the past in a modern look," she says, noting she draws design inspiration from art history and all things vintage.
The collection is just one step in Nicole's long-term plans. For one thing, she's enrolled in classes at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale to finish her degree in fashion design and styling. She's also working on getting more exposure for herself and her clothes.
"I'm constantly trying to build my portfolio," she says. When she's not working on looks for her Fouche collection, she's making custom-designed gowns.
"It's really been picking up since January," she says. "Prom is big right now." Nicole says it's important to her that her designs be affordable. "I can't charge a lot," she says. For example, she spent $30 on the fabric for a prom gown that she priced at $75.
When it comes to getting her work seen, "I'll try everything I can," she says. "You go through a lot of rejection." But she keeps putting herself and her work out there. She submitted a red carpet design for E!'s Adrianne Pappell Red Carpet contest and made it to the top 25 of the online competition. She was one of seven designers, chosen from 20, to be featured in the Pronto Fashion Show held in late April in St. Louis. She also, on mentor Kelly's advice, applied to be on "Project Runway." Earlier this spring, her designs were featured in The Goods Magazine, based out of San Diego. "I didn't send them anything," Nicole says. "They just contacted me."
Deb Maevers, owner of Pastimes Antiques and coordinator of the VintageNOW fashion show, was in the audience for the Pronto show, along with other members of the VintageNOW board. "I just think she's got a great career ahead of her," Maevers says of Nicole. "She's very talented, and I look for her to be a star someday."
In addition to modeling for the VintageNOW show, Nicole entered a look in the event's Stylist Showdown. Nicole says her entry was inspired by the TV show "Pan Am" and fall trends. Though Nicole didn't win, "It was very close," Maevers says.
Nicole says she'd eventually like to have her own designs featured in the VintageNOW show. For now, she's taking the next step toward her ultimate goal of owning her own boutique.
"I'm going to add a tab option (to her website, fouchecouture.com) to purchase ready-made garments with the option to have the same garment in any size," Nicole says. "My plan is to offer unique, one-of-a-kind, affordable formal wear for special occasions."
All of the dresses from the Fashion Fairy Tale collection and the garments from the Pronto show will be available. "I want to offer wedding dresses as an option as well," she says.
And, as always, Nicole's designs will be kept affordable. "Each garment will be based on the fabric and material cost, plus the amount of time it took to make it. For instance, I will have garments as low as $50, such as skirts and tops, or formal dresses as low as $100 and wedding dresses as low as $200."
She'll also be selling custom made tutus, bows and dresses for little girls. After all, she says, her daughter is the inspiration behind everything she does.
"She's awesome," Maevers says of Nicole. "Some people say you can't have it all. She's showing you can. Wife, mother and fabulous career. And on top of it, she's just a sweet person."
And determined to make her dreams come true.