When the runway lights up for the Top Design Competition at New Orleans Fashion Week, local designer Ashley Andrews’ collection will be among the lucky 10 in the spotlight.

The March 25 show is among more than 50 at the annual event in its third year, but it’s this competition that puts emerging designers front and center.

For Andrews, that means showcasing her “Blackbird” collection.

“It’s exciting,” she says of being among the chosen designers. “It’s me challenging myself to see if I can do all this. It’s gotten down to the nitty gritty at this point. I’m looking forward to seeing it (the collection) all come together and walk down the runway.”

The recent LSU School of Textiles, Apparel Design & Merchandising graduate’s 10-piece collection is all long gowns and dresses, and connects back to Andrews’ senior project.

“I was taking my dog for a walk, and we found a dead bird,” explains Andrews. “I pulled off a feather and watched it float away, and it made me think of life and death and the transition between the two. … I’m in transition between different phases of my life right now. … I’m kind of telling my story through clothes.”

The 21-year-old daughter of Holly and Bo Andrews has been “playing” on a sewing machine since she was about 10. Grandmother Beulah Andrews gave one to older sister Amy, but it was Ashley who wanted to learn how to use it. “I’m the complete opposite of my sister,” she adds with a laugh.

“When I was 5 or 6, I used to play in my mom’s nightgown,” says Andrews. “I’d twist it up and create all these different looks, but I wasn’t really into fashion until I found the first season of ‘Project Runway.’”

Fashion was a newfound passion, but Andrews always had a love of art, even taking private lessons. Being able to combine the two as she sketched her fashion designs and then stitched them up was the realization of a dream. While a student at St. Joseph’s Academy, she took three different construction classes.

“I always said that’s what I wanted to do,” says Andrews. “Everything else was so boring, so when I went to LSU, I majored in apparel design.”

As she created the sketches for her “Blackbird” collection, Andrews pulled different lyrics from the Beatles song of the same name and jotted them down. She also makes her own jewelry to accompany her fashions and relies on her mom to be her “editing eye.”

“A lot of the designs have detachable pieces, and I use a lot of feathers,” Andrews says of the primarily black, white and gold collection.

One of her favorites is the detachable “wing” with its feather-covered cage that perches on the shoulder and can be easily removed. Another is the pectoral, a Cleopatra-style necklace made of alligator skin and hand-embroidered lace.

“And, for some reason I really wanted to make a cape,” adds Andrews. “It attaches at both the shoulder and the hem.”

So, what’s after New Orleans Fashion Week? Hopefully, she says, graduate school in LSU’s theater department.

“I would love to do costumes for theater and movies,” Andrews says.