Project Runway

Aspiring designers compete for bragging rights to best little black dress

Aspiring designers compete for best little black dress

Andre Redar, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Andre Redar with his design, which took first place at the first-ever Little Black Dress Designer competition in Dallas. Photo by William Neal for WJNPHOTO
Jose Castellanos, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Jose Castellanos and his design. Photo by William Neal for WJNPHOTO
Cheryl Vick, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Cheryl Vick earned fourth place for her design. Photo by Wade Livingston
Jeff Shell, Little Black Dress
Little Black Dress Designer founder Jeff Shell and the 10 competing dresses from Dallas. Photo by William Neal for WJNPHOTO
Jose Reyes, Little Black Dress competition
Jose Reyes and his design. Photo by Wade Livingston
Courtney Edwards, Nerissa Helpenstill, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Courtney Edwards, Nerissa Helpenstill Photo by William Neal for WJNPHOTO
Kesia Knowles, Kim Pham, Andre Redar, Jeff Shell, Christine Bullard, Cheryl Vick, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Kesia Knowles, Kim Pham, Andre Redar, Jeff Shell, Christine Bullard, Cheryl Vick Photo by William Neal for WJNPHOTO
LeeAnne Locken, Jarrod Fresquez, Cynthia Smoot, LBD Competition, House of Blues
LeeAnne Locken, Jarrod Fresquez, Cynthia Smoot Photo by William Neal for WJNPHOTO
Kesia Knowles, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Kesia Knowles took fifth for her sleeveless, sheer-paneled dress. Photo by Wade Livingston
Andre Redar, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Jose Castellanos, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Cheryl Vick, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Jeff Shell, Little Black Dress
Jose Reyes, Little Black Dress competition
Courtney Edwards, Nerissa Helpenstill, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Kesia Knowles, Kim Pham, Andre Redar, Jeff Shell, Christine Bullard, Cheryl Vick, LBD Competition, House of Blues
LeeAnne Locken, Jarrod Fresquez, Cynthia Smoot, LBD Competition, House of Blues
Kesia Knowles, LBD Competition, House of Blues

It may have started with Coco Chanel, but it was Audrey Hepburn and her chic Givenchy sheath in Breakfast at Tiffany’s that solidified the little black dress’s fate as a wardrobe must-have.

In the decades since, the LBD has never gone out of style, as designers attempt to reinvent this iconic piece year over year — and successfully at that.

To help sustain the future of the LBD, Jeff Shell, director of the Neal Hamil Agency in Houston, established the Little Black Dress Designer nonprofit to support up-and-coming fashion design students throughout Texas. This year, $30,000 worth of scholarships was distributed among five individuals.

Just a week after Houston held its fifth annual Little Black Dress Designer fashion show, more than 200 fashionistas flocked to House of Blues for the first-ever Dallas competition. Attendees watched a short film featuring the top 10 designers, who flaunted their handiwork in a stylish runway show.

Prior to the event, judges who work in or close to the fashion industry — Amy Adams, Nadia Dabbakeh, Jackson, Justin Ghirardi, Nerissa Helpenstill, John Johnson, Bret McKinney, Neil Marek, Khanh Nguyen, Stephanie Quadri, Robbie Richard, Marjon Zabihi and this reporter — ranked the designs based on criteria such as creativity, construction and fit. 

Nguyen, designer of Nha Khanh, told us she was very impressed by the young talent. The designers used unique fabrics, textures and bold accents to make each LBD special. 

Before the dress presentation, guests sipped on cocktails and talked about the young designers from schools throughout Texas. Then Shell, sporting a snazzy all-black ensemble, strutted his own stuff down the runway before introducing Shannon Hall of Sloan Hall, who co-chaired the Houston event. 

“With funding, think about how we can help,” Hall said. “We’re all a part of the design community and are all consumers.”

The focus immediately shifted as the models came out donning looks by both the Houston and Dallas designers. We spotted Chuck Steelman, Cynthia Smoot, LeeAnne Locken, Allison Edwards and Courtney Edwards wide-eyed on the front row, taking in the impressive designs. For the final strut, Dallas designers walked out hand-in-hand with their models before the top five winners were announced — a surprise to even the judges: 

  • Andre Redar took first place for his fitted structural dress with ruffled whimsical hemline.
  • Kim Pham placed second for her fit-and-flare sleeveless dress with gold collar accent.
  • Christine Bullard received third place for her cap-sleeved sheath dress with geometric details.
  • Cheryl Vick came in fourth for her cap-sleeved brocade sheath dress with beaded fringe accent.
  • Kesia Knowles took fifth place for her sleeveless, sheer-paneled dress with overskirt.

The fete continued into the night, with many toasts to the award-winning designers and creative contestants.