It almost seems unfair to call 19-year-old Parsons freshman Kate Walz a design student. Despite being in her second semester, the self-taught Omaha native has been toiling away at a sewing machine since she was only an 8-year-old 4-H student. She began selling to local boutiques at age 12.
“They were a bit avant-garde,” says Walz of her earlier designs. “I was using a lot of wire at the time.” Since then she has shown her work at 40 fashion shows around the United States, mostly in Omaha and Kansas City. In 2014, Walz was the first designer to present a collection at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. “There aren’t too many fashion designers in Omaha,” Walz admits, and the relatively open field has been to her benefit in terms of press coverage and growth as a designer.
Walz’s latest challenge is balancing the demands from her customers back home, where she designs mostly custom pageant and wedding gowns, to the realities of student life and an ever-evolving aesthetic. “I travel back and forth quite a bit so I’m still trying to figure it out,” says Walz.
While the pageant pieces are ultra-feminine and bursting with color, Walz’s collection for this year’s Parsons/FIT Fusion show took a decidedly more somber tone. Titled ‘Self Portrait,’ her range shifted from soft slip dresses to more hard and structured tailoring, symbolic of personal and emotional growth due to the loss of a few loved ones to suicide. Embroidered on a few of the garments are Walz’s own reflective words from her personal journal.
Walz credits New York with giving her a “more focused, better work ethic,” evident on a Saturday afternoon while she is hard at work in the studio. When she does take a day off, she can often be found at MoMA or the Cooper Hewitt. “I love the late ‘60s, in terms of music and pop art,” says Walz, who has designed two collections inspired by the Beatles.
The pop art influence is apparent in the embroidered satin slip dress, something of a Walz signature, that she has created for Designow, which contrasts Pantone’s color of the year Rose Quartz with a darker coral hue.
“[Slip dresses] are something I wear often, so I’m excited to be able to offer it to a larger audience,” says Walz. “I really appreciate how Designow is giving young designers a head start, but also allowing freedom in terms of our designs.”
With her extensive range of design experience, it is without a doubt that this freshman student is no freshman designer at all.