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White Plains Fashion Academy to Premiere Work

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – After sketching designs, working through the calculations and unwinding fabric bolts, practicing four stitches and refining their work on mannequins, the children have to be ushered out of the Westchester Fashion Academy for Children 's White Plains headquarters.

This Saturday, the enrollees aged 6 to 17 in the academy's 10-week session will get to extend their stay at the studio while hosting a fashion show, according to Denise Proctor , the designer who founded the academy.

"The parents say the biggest problem is they don't want to go. They're like, 'What do you do?' I give them jewels and sequins and fabrics," said Proctor, a White Plains resident. "This will be really good because they've done some really nice pieces."

Proctor, an Elmsford native who got a full ride to the Fashion Institute of Technology, spent decades designing costumes for celebrities and running a bridal and evening gown boutique in Manhattan. She then started a pilot design program for children at the Pelham Art Center. Proctor soon grew overwhelmed with shuttling between private lessons. In 2005, she opened the academy in the ArtsWestchester building she remembered beckoning her with its gold, embossed doors as a 9-year-old.

"I showed Versace my work and he wanted me to come to Italy before he passed away. I chose to get married instead. I still have the best design in the world: my son," said Proctor. “This is my Westchester thing.”

Proctor organizes her courses around themes such as "appreciating your mom," which tasked the students in the ages 6 to 8 class with putting their mothers on the stage in shawls, hats, gloves and older students with donning their moms in suits.

"I've always had a program that teaches self-respect,” she said of her upcoming “diamond in the raw”-themed spring courses. “We learn to work as a team, to critique respectfully and to keep thoughts about what you don't like to yourself.  Now we're focusing on the gems within. We want them to think about how strong a diamond can be."

The designers will be taken to Tiffany & Company to examine stones and learn about the process that refines charcoal into gems for inspiration this spring session. The courses always integrate "trend boards" that capture fabrics, beading, henna, body art, color and art spanning across the globe. Proctor, who taught a boutique business course at Parsons, includes lessons on designing for a market, packaging work into seasonal collections and the finances of the fashion world.

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