NBC’s Fashion Star has been a wild, sometimes maddening, ride for 2013’s two Texas contestants. We’ve followed since this season’s premier on March 8th, growing increasingly annoyed as manufactured feuds and manipulative editing have proved to be the overriding themes of the design competition show.
The first Texan eliminated, Priscilla Barroso, shed light on a number of behind-the-scenes situations in our recent exit interview.
Today, Dallas native and Austin resident Amber Perley will share her side of the story. Though she consistently demonstrated the ability to keep her cool under pressure, work well with her teammates, accept criticism, and net top-ranking sales to the show’s featured retailers, she was eliminated last week after a six-episode run.
Much like the portrayal of Barroso as the ‘sad clown,’ Fashion Star producers seemed intent upon painting Perley as the requisite ‘inexperienced newbie.’ In truth, the 30-year-old designer has helmed Pearl Southern Couture since 2008, possessing a great deal of business savvy. And that’s not the only chapter of this story that didn’t make it onto the small screen.
Check out our exclusive Q&A with Perley below, to learn about her Fashion Star experience, plus what’s coming up next for the talented Texan.
DFW Style Daily: First things first, when did you become interested in fashion design?
Amber Perley: “I was born in Dallas Texas. I attended Ursuline Academy, and then graduated from LSU with a Bachelor’s Degree in Apparel Design, Textiles & Merchandise. I became interested in fashion design when I was very young, though. I started sewing around eight years old. …I still have all my old sketches and sewing creations!”
What prompted you to start your own business?
“I launched Pearl Southern Couture in May 2008. I had worked for several companies in the fashion industry, and at the time was working in the music industry (my second love). I was starting to miss the world of fashion, and I was just ready to be my own boss. I knew I was self disciplined and motivated enough to make it happen. I was so inspired by the Southern culture I had come to love while living in Louisiana, and I had a vision for a clothing line that would represent that lifestyle.”
Do you consider yourself a good business person?
“Yes. Business is 90% of the job. I don’t sit around and sketch all day. My goal from the start was to run a successful company and establish a good reputation as a business owner. My three biggest priorities are quality, customer service, and growth.”
What did you expect to gain from competing on Fashion Star?
“The exposure of my line in front of an international audience every week to millions of viewers on a major network channel. That is the number one reason I decided to go for it! As a designer and business owner in an over-saturated industry, no amount of advertising or marketing could ever add up to getting your name and your story out there in front of an audience of that magnitude.”
You advanced quite far in the competition. What assets do you believe allowed you to do so?
“In addition to my background in the fashion industry, I have five years of experience as a business owner. The majority of that experience comes from trial and error and learning along the way. I have experience in everything from garment construction to sales. I studied the buyers and their customers and and targeted them to the best of my ability.”
On the flip side, critiques often focused on your inability to design outside your “sweet Southern” box. Do you believe you are limited to this perspective?
“Honestly, I was very focused on the challenge at hand and trying to execute it to the best of my ability and appeal to those buyers. I was definitely given mixed signals by both buyers and mentors.
“In the beginning, I was told to step outside my design aesthetic and create looks that would appeal to a broader audience. As [buyer Caprice Willard of] Macy’s stated, ‘Don’t just design things that you and your friends would like.’ I was also told to steer away from just being a ‘dress designer.’ Then down the road, I was told to be more of a consistent designer that would eventually give all three stores a capsule collection.
“I do not feel like I am limited as a designer when trying to appeal to a broader audience. However, I will continue to target my very important Southern customer. It is very easy to design for the general population, but what is special and unique about that? It is easy to loose yourself as a designer when you are trying to please every one else. You have to stand out from the rest.”
In her DFW Style Daily interview, Priscilla Barroso noted difficulties with her assigned pattern maker during filming. Did you have a similar experience?
“Yes. My seamstress and I had major issues with my patternmaker. I would tell him what we were going to do, and then he would just do what he wanted. I asked for a new patternmaker everyday. I told the producers that, in a real life scenario, I would fire this person. At times, I felt sabotaged.”
Was there truly friction between yourself and Cassandra? Did it affect your performance in the competition?
“When I heard through the grapevine what Cassandra was saying about my design, I was surprised. We were getting along fine, and she was my team member. However, it was a rumor she was spreading in addition to that comment that prompted me to confront her. This was not shown. After that first confrontation, she was tearfully apologetic and all seemed back to normal.
“…I really tried to zone out when I was in the competition and focus on my work. I was very intent not to get involved in any drama while on the show, but it somehow found me!”
In Episode Six, shortly before your elimination, it was presented in a private interview that struggles had recently forced you to move back into your parents’ home. Is this the case?
“They showed me starting to tell my story, and then they cut out the rest, so it sounds like I recently had to move in back with my parents! But, that was in Dallas when I was 26 and 27 years old.”
Your aesthetic seemed to appeal to buyer Erika De Salvatore of Express. Will you pursue a continuing relationship with the retailer?
“Yes, I really enjoyed meeting Erika. She is incredibly smart, and she is very direct with designers about who her customer is and what she is looking for. I really appreciated her feedback and was so thrilled to have my designs bought by Express! I will continue to pursue Express and Saks Fifth Avenue.”
If you had it to do over again, would you still compete on Fashion Star?
“Yes. However, I wish I had been a little more physically prepared. It was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting to be on a reality show.”
Finally, tell us what’s up next for Pearl Southern Couture.
“Of course! We have Austin Fashion Week right around the corner, in addition to trunk shows at boutiques across the Southeast that will continue into the month of June. Fall 2013 is in production, and Spring 2014 is in the design process.
“I can’t believe that I have been in business for almost five years. It is very surreal. My proudest moment as a designer is growing my company to this level. Fashion Star chose me out of thousands of applicants because they took notice of my talent as a designer and business owner. I strongly believe that in reality TV and in life, it’s not always the winners that come out on top. It’s the people that have to work that much harder to get there.”
To explore the designs of Amber Perley, visit PearlSouthernCouture.com. Images via Amber Perley and NBC.com.