You've heard of the House of Dior. Well, now it's time to meet the "House of Brown-Bernard."
That's as in designer Oonarissa Brown-Bernard, whose star is rising in the fashion world under her own label, OonaNicole.
While the Baton Rouge native is working out of her home in the Austin, Texas, area, her OonaNicole designs can be found on the runways of New York as well as professional workplaces in Baton Rouge.
Brown-Bernard's hometown still generates a bulk of requests for her custom designs, so she stays more than busy while also preparing for her next appearance at New York Bridal Fashion Week in October.
"This will be our third time showing at the Bridal Fashion Week in New York," Brown-Bernard said. "We were there last February and April. You have to be invited to take part, so we were invited back, and now we're trying to raise the funds to get there."
To do that, Brown-Bernard has started a GoFundMe campaign and linked it to her business' website, OonaNicole.com, and its Facebook page.
It's also at OonaNicole.com, where prospective customers can get a glimpse of Brown-Bernard's designs. Her work includes not only custom pieces but also a ready-to-wear line.
Fashion design wasn't Brown-Bernard's career goal when she was a student at Southern University. She majored in theater, pursued acting and landed theater, television and film roles.
Still, fashion design was always on the horizon. Brown-Bernard started sewing at age 12, a skill she learned from her seamstress godmother. She traveled to California after graduating from Southern to earn a second degree from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles. Then she returned to Baton Rouge, where the movie industry was booming.
After the movie tax credits dried up, the industry began looking elsewhere. That's when Brown-Bernard's husband, Jarrick, suggested that she develop her own fashion line.
"I have two boys, and one was born premature with underdeveloped lungs," Brown-Bernard said. "He had to have breathing treatments, and I had to be home with him."
So Brown-Bernard started working out of her home while attending to her son. Both sons, Tariq, 12, and Jace, 8, are now healthy.
"And it's easier for me to work now, because they're more independent," Brown-Bernard said. "And my husband handles the business side."
The family moved from Baton Rouge to Houston, then Dallas, and finally settled in the Royal Rock suburb of Austin. The move to Texas gave Brown-Bernard more business opportunities, while still being able to service her Baton Rouge clientele.
"My business started by word-of-mouth, and it exploded," she said. "Our website is more of a portfolio for now, but we're eventually going to start selling to consumers straight from the website."
For now, though, Brown-Bernard's focus is on the October version of New York Bridal Fashion Week, where the organizers come up with a concept and designers strive to make it work.
"It depends on what package we're given," Brown-Bernard said. "It could be a package with other designers or a private package. We had a private package in February, where we were to design 15 to 20 garments."
The OonaNicole label also was given a bonus: To design a wedding party garment for a little girl.
"We were the only designer with a little girl in the mix," Brown-Bernard said. "So, I designed a flower girl dress."
But the dress was more than just a frilly frock. Brown-Bernard's design allowed for both function and fun.
"It was a jumpsuit with a detachable skirt," she said. "It could be worn as a dress during the wedding, then the skirt could be removed for the reception."
The concept for the New York show in October will be "Psychology of Color," where bridal gowns and other wedding garments are created in nontraditional colors.
Brown-Bernard is planning to create several gowns in colors representing national charities. For instance, there will be a red gown for the American Heart Association and a pink gown for Susan G. Komen.
At the end of fashion week, she plans to have a silent auction with all funds going to each of the charities represented by the gowns.
Not bad for someone who started out designing prom dresses and Mardi Gras ball costumes. And when wedding garb isn't taking center stage, Brown-Bernard focuses on her clientele of professionals looking for blazers and businesswear.
In the meantime, Brown-Bernard hasn't completely counted out the movies. She still takes on a film role every now and then, but now she's considering a different side of the industry.
"I'd be interested in doing costume design for a production," she said. "That would be a possibility."