Issaquah designer Lizzie Parker is NBC ‘Fashion Star’

March 27, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

Lizzie Parker works in her Gilman Village clothing store as her English bulldog, Angus, sits on the wood floor next to a space heater. By Lillian Tucker

Lizzie Parker’s clothing shop is tucked away in Issaquah’s Gilman Village surrounded by wooden sidewalks and flowers sprouting out of weathered barrels. Inside, Angus, an English bulldog, lies on the wood floor looking up at the racks of clothes his owner designed and made herself.

Used to make herself, that is. Demand is far too great for the designer to handle on her own now that Parker’s line of modern knitwear gained national attention since NBC’s reality show “Fashion Star” premiered March 13.

Thus, Parker’s waxed jersey leggings, dresses, tops and asymmetrical jackets are all being put together in Los Angeles — a long commute for this Sammamish mother of two.

To get her designs for the show, Parker draws a pattern of what she envisions, and from that she sews and perfects a first sample. The sample is sent to Los Angeles, where Parker regularly travels to consult with everyone from the person who treats the jersey item — made from Parker’s fabric of choice — to the person who sews on the tag.

“Everyone assumes it’s so glamorous,” she said. “But it’s a lot of physical work.”

Humble beginnings

The designer didn’t always have this much help. Once upon a time it was just Parker, her garage and two industrial sewing machines she bought off craigslist that were constantly being unthreaded by her cat.

Parker was taught by her grandmother to sew on a treadle sewing machine.

Using the foot pump on the old-fashioned machine, she logged many hours as a girl making teddy bears.

Lizzie Parker scores a ‘Fashion Star’ deal

Sammamish’s Lizzie Parker — one of two Seattle-area designers competing on “Fashion Star” — scored a clothing deal with Macy’s on the NBC reality-TV show’s first episode March 13.

Parker’s asymmetrical, jersey tunics, featuring a single capelike sleeve, were a hit with Macy’s buyer Caprice Willard. A mass-market version of her design is now for sale for $79 at www.macys.com.

Parker owns and operates a shop named after herself at Gilman Village in Issaquah.

Taking a long break from sewing, Parker grew up, earned a business degree and entered the corporate world.

In 1998, she and her husband were working for Microsoft and bought a house in Sammamish. Three years later, she left her job to stay at home with their new baby boy. Before too long, Parker began brainstorming about businesses she could start from home.

Then in 2003, she turned her family’s garage into a one-woman clothing factory, designing pieces that fit her life experiences — from attending board meetings to attending bath time.

“I always started with jersey. It is something I gravitate toward,” Parker said. “When I started my line, the whole ‘designer denim’ was going on and everyone was wearing knit tops, jeans and nice shoes.”

But it wasn’t just the fashion of the time that inspired Parker. She also pulls from the music that has been blasting out generations of stereos.

“I have a closet love of metal music,” she confessed. “Clearly I am not going to bring back spandex and flannel.”

However, she does draw on the look. Her “waxed Lizzie seamed legging” was inspired by the skin-tight leather pants worn in the music video for Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” To achieve the rock-star look the leggings are hand-coated with a wax treatment that gives each pair a unique and worn-in look.

“I like it to have a little edge to it, but still be suitable for women of any age,” Parker said.

She does not market to any one specific age group and recalls selling the same dress to an 80-year-old woman and an 18-year-old.

“It’s about being versatile and comfortable and making it your own with your accessories and your bag,” she said.

Jodi Collins went into Parker’s store one day just to look around and quickly became a devoted customer. The designer’s fabrics work well for Collins, who travels often and always with her Lizzie Parker pieces stuffed into her carry-on — the only luggage she takes.

“Lizzie is one of a kind — she takes time out to help me pick out the clothes I need for my trips,” Collins said. “I absolutely love her clothes, her fabrics, her style, her sense of humor, her honesty and, most of all, her willingness to make every woman look her best at any function.”

Her big break?

On the Web

Browse Lizzie Parker’s fashions at www.lizzieparkerstore.com.

Parker’s fashions are being showcased, along with those of 13 other designers, on NBC’s “Fashion Star.”

Hosted by Elle Macpherson, the show follows the contestants through various challenges as they compete for a multimillion-dollar prize to launch their line nationally.

Each week they will be advised by mentors Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos and judged by buyers for Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and H&M. Additionally, the day after each episode is aired the week’s winning design will be available for purchase at the three retail stores.

“It’s about making clothing that America wants to wear. It’s not about making a dress out of grass or banana peels,” Parker said. “It’s about the business of fashion, which is one of the things that attracted me to it.”

While the show was filmed over the course of several weeks this past summer, Parker is contractually obligated not to give anything away. But she did admit that her biggest competition on the show was herself.

“You are really trying to be better than you were last week,” she said. “I have a store, two kids, a house … for me to go and only have to focus on design and really think about who I want to be was great.”

It doesn’t look like life will be that straightforward anytime soon for Parker. When “Fashion Star” debuted, Parker attended the premiere party in New York City.

Immediately after that she was set to fly to Los Angeles for Fashion Week, where she is presenting her new line.

“Even though I didn’t have the most glamorous beginning I am excited to have my brand be more national,” Parker said. “Who gets to have this experience? It was great and I am thankful but you have to have fun and enjoy it — and I did.”

After Los Angeles, Parker said she plans to focus more on her online exposure, which will include photographing her pieces in all sizes so customers will have an easier time deciding what’s best for them.

Lillian Tucker: 392-6434, ext. 242, or ltucker@sammamishreview.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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