You can take Amber Perley out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of Perley, at least not when it comes to fashion design.
The LSU graduate and Austin, Texas, resident has lived and worked in New York, and recently competed on NBC’s “Fashion Star” in Los Angeles, but when it’s time to design clothes for her fashion line, Pearl Southern Couture, her Texas and Louisiana background takes center stage (or runway).
“I wanted to create a line that reflected everything I’d come to love about living in the South, and people in the South, just the way they dress, the whole culture and lifestyle,” Perley said last week from Austin. “When I design I keep that Southern customer in mind, you know, what is she doing, where is she going, what does she want to wear to work, what does she want to wear out, what does she want to wear when she goes to tailgate at a football game, or a formal event.”
Viewers will get the chance to see Perley’s creative process at work on “Fashion Star’s” second season, which premieres Friday. Each week the 12 contestants will be given a challenge to design clothing with a certain look, feel and function. Mentors Nicole Richie, Jessica Simpson and John Varvatos will offer input as the designers progress with their creations, shop for materials and oversee the production of their garments.
It’s all capped off with a fashion show where the contestants will display their work to buyers for Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Express.
One contestant is eliminated each episode. The winner’s multimillion-dollar prize will be launching his or her original collection at the three fashion retailers.
“When the first season aired, I watched it, and I really liked the entire concept of the show, and my friends and family definitely encouraged me to apply,” Perley said.
As for how she decided on “Fashion Star” as opposed to other such design reality series including Lifetime’s “Project Runway,” Perley said “Fashion Star” is more of a realistic approach to how the industry works.
“You’re designing to sell. The entire concept of the show is you’re creating a collection that is going to appeal to a national audience and that major retailers are going to want to buy and carry it in their stores, and that will sell. It’s all about running a business. It’s not just one dress, or one crazy look on the runway,” she said.
Although “Fashion Star” rules prohibit Perley from revealing how she fared on the show, she did discuss her time in L.A. in general terms.
“I’ve never done anything like that before so I knew it was going to be a new experience for me. There was a lot that was all very new to me. A very cool experience. Being on camera, competing in front of a national audience is exactly how you think it would be, it’s very intense. It’s something you don’t get to do every day.
“It was really great meeting other people who were doing the same thing I was, you know, we’re all around the same age (she’s 30) and in the same boat, just trying to make it and this opportunity is huge because the amount of the exposure you’re going to get for your line, on TV in front of a national audience, there’s no amount of money you could pay with marketing or going to market, or advertising that can get you in front of such a national audience, so we were all so grateful to be there,” she said.
“It’s going great so far.”
Perley graduated from LSU in 2006, with a degree in apparel, design, textiles and merchandising, and a minor in photography.
“I take all the photos for my line,” she said.
Her first job after college was working for Neiman Marcus in Dallas in its photo department. Following that was an internship with designer Charlotte Ronson in New York, then a stint back at Neiman’s, in the buyers’ department this time.
“I worked for one of the buyers and did that for several years, so I got to work in design, photography and buying.”
Perley said she switched gears temporarily when the House of Blues Dallas opened.
“I just really wanted to work there. I was missing New Orleans, the House of Blues, the whole culture, and I just wasn’t getting what I wanted in fashion. When you’re a buyer, it’s more about number crunching and not so much design.”
It was in 2008, while working as an executive assistant to the general manager at the House of Blues, that Perley started Pearl Southern Couture.
“I did both jobs for about a year and a half, and finally, my company reached the point where I could take off and quit my job and go for it full time,” she said.
Perley’s garments are made in Dallas, and are available online, and in Baton Rouge at Hemline, Aria and Angelique boutiques.
“There’s attention to detail and quality. They’re clothes you want to keep in your closets for a long time.”