Karl Lagerfeld opened his fashion house in 1974. Yves Saint Laurent set up shop in 1960. And of course, Marc Jacobs spread his grungy wings out of Perry Ellis in 1993.
These legendary designers all set off on their own in their 30s and 40s, as have most of their contemporaries, and did so in the four citadels of fashion: New York, London, Paris and Milan.
But what of Louisville?
What undiscovered designers are waiting for their day in the sun in their old Kentucky home?
One such undiscovered gem came up from Paducah, Ky. to Louisville through the pageant circuit not too long ago. In 2012, she and her cousin started a small operation focusing on one-of-a-kind hair bows, only to expand into childrenswear months after.
Her name is Isabelle Travis, her label is Belle Ree Boutique, and she is 11 years old.
Isabelle, who will be a sixth-grader at Farnsley Middle School this August, debuted her maiden childrenswear collection of one-of-a-kind pieces this July during a fashion show at Louisville Glassworks. The collection consisted of pillowcase dresses, bedazzled denim vests, and austere suits with just a hint of sparkle.
At the end of July, she introduced her collection to viewers of FOX affiliate WXIN-TV in Indianapolis prior to her appearance on The Greatest Tour the following Sunday at the tour’s stop in the city, where her fashions were featured.
(Editor’s Note: The Greatest Tour is a regional hair, fashion and talent competition held throughout Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Travis had to audition to appear.)
I recently sat down with Isabelle and her mother Lindsay Holloway to learn more about the daughter’s foray into the fashion world, her life on the pageant circuit and what the future holds for the young designer.
“Over the summer [of 2012], [my family member Clarissa and I] got a little bored… so we just started making bows,” Isabelle said. “And then, we thought of an idea to make a business.”
The company name, Belle Ree, is derived from the nicknames of both Isabelle and her 10-year-old cousin, the latter having since moved on to other interests. Isabelle and her family have since acquired a building in Shively where a storefront and photo studio will operate on the first floor, while Travis’s father Terry manages his HVAC business on the second floor.
There is no set date of when the boutique will open, though Isabelle is set to enter the second round of casting on the ABC reality competition series Shark Tank in the hope of introducing her collection to the show’s group of investors for possible funding.
The transition from bows to childrenswear was a natural path to follow for Travis and Holloway.
“Well, me and my mom,” says Isabelle, “ it was bows first. And then, we wanted to build up more to it. So, we just started buying fabric and started playing with it.”
“One day, we did outfits,” Isabelle added, “and we thought, ‘Making outfits and bows go together, make a whole entire costume line,’ we thought it would be good.”
As far as inspiration is concerned for the budding designer, Isabelle says she has no designer icons, pulling together her unique pieces from playing with the assorted fabrics and add-ons around her.
She is also responsible for construction of each piece, though Holloway doesn’t let Isabelle sew on sequins and beadwork to each bow and garment yet due to safety concerns, opting for hot glue until her daughter’s skills behind the sewing machine – Travis received her first more than a month ago– improve.
Though most of the focus of the collection is on young girls, there are a few pieces available for young boys, such as the crystal suit Isabelle designed for her brother, who also competes on the pageant circuit. Isabelle herself has been in the pageant world for around three years, beginning as a way to bond with the designer’s stepmother.
“We went to a local mall [in Paducah] and did one, and then I won that, so we just started to build up and do more,” Isabelle said. Holloway added that the designer won her first title in only her second pageant, beating out over 100 competitors for Overall Ultimate Face in the America’s Ultimate Extravaganza while facing down her internal doubts.
Outside of fashion and pageants, Travis recently went in front of the camera for an episode of Logo TV’s “Eden’s World,” the reality program based on child beauty pageant queen and “Toddlers & Tiaras” alumnus Eden Wood.
The designer and her mother also acted as skaters in the film “Cry for Revenge,” a grindhouse film that was shot in part at Kingsway Skateland in their native Paducah.
When asked how and why Travis and her mother came to relocate to Louisville from Paducah – and not opt for a city more known for its fashion such as New York or Los Angeles – Holloway had a simple explanation: On their way into Louisville, the two had stopped in a McDonald’s where Holloway met, and fell in love with, her then-future husband.
As far as the designer’s future, and that of Belle Ree, is concerned, her mother offered this observation: “With her, it seems like the sky’s the limit. She’s gone from helping me pay for pageants, which can be really pricey… she’s now on to clothes. I don’t know what is in her future for her. Hopefully, the sky.”
Isabelle’s pieces range from $25 for the pillowcase dresses with matching accessories and $6 bows to pageantwear items priced from $75 to $150. She also donates bows to young girls at Kosair Children’s Hospital whenever a bow is purchased and has plans to create, donate and personally deliver 150 pillowcase dresses next summer through Dresses for Haiti to young girls in the rebuilding country.
Isabelle will return to the Louisville fashion scene September 28 on The Greatest Tour when the tour stops over in the Clifton Center, prior to the finals in November. She will also have a separate fashion show in Cincinnati August 24.
See fashion photos and get more information on the Belle Ree Boutique Facebook Page.