Image: Kirby Ellis
Aykut Ozen designer of Ozen Studios with Julianna Vezzetti, his business and communications partner.

Let the games begin.

From a pool of 37 applications for the 2013 season, the Independent Designer Runway Show panel and I recently chose 11 finalists; the names of this year's contestants have just been released.

Prior to September 25, 2013 show, these eleven designers will submit to several criticique panels, lots of advice, and, speaking personally at least, some pretty strong opinions about how to fit in, rise above, and stay grounded all at the same time. More than any other I've seen, the Bellevue Collection's show is about mentorship, and long-term winning.

Like all judging rounds, and like last year, the process was very subjective. There are rarely more than one or two clear-cut, unanimous winners (and certainly never any clear-cut losers), so I asked a couple of my co-panelists to help me tell you about the handful of proven up-and-comers (more on that in a minute) we gave our votes to.

-Benu Cashmere by Claire Kim: A line so raw, I can't even link to it yet. Drats. (#1 To do: Work on web presence.) What I can tell you about Kim's line is that it was the specificity of cashmere that won me over. Knits are so Seattle anyway, but with a tightly edited focus, an eye for sharp basics, and a bit of wiggle room for flair, I'm a believer.

-Corban Harper by Corban Harper: This IADT grad has been making the rounds of local design contests, and his digital prints, pencil skirts, bra tops, and cut-out designs are proof that he's taking the overall industry seriously.

-Erin Roby by Erin Roby: Her plan is to launch September 2013—right in line with the runway show timing—with a one-piece collection and build from there. And we like that kind of first-things-first mentality.

-Lastwear Clothing Company by Rowan Rhys: This designer's tagline is "When the apocalypse comes, you'll be ready for it." More on that later.

-Lia Pal by Liuba Palanciuc: Feminine shapes with well-constructed fleurishes.

-Michael Cepress by Michael Cepress: "What I am really drawn to with Michael is that he understands that fashion and fashion design are art forms. Add to that: his exquisite executation of that art form. I am looking forward to see him continue to evolve." -Rebecca Luke, cofounder and lead stylist, Sustainable Style Foundation.

-Ozen Company by Aykut Ozen "The designer behind Orzen will be an intriguing participant. I’m impressed with his drive to learn this craft of clothing design and leathers, and how he has approached it the same as learning how to play an instrument. It is a technical craft, and only those who truly study it can succeed as designers." -Rebecca Luke, cofounder and lead stylist, Sustainable Style Foundation.

-Paychi Guh by Paychi Karen Guh "Paychi Karen Guh has taken her expertise in sweaters and made a collection of cashmere styles that go beyond the basics with geometric patterns and draping. She has put careful thought into each piece for versatility on function and an amazing and flattering fit. Many of the styles you could wear more than one way for a different look." -Vivian Miller-Rahl

-Sarsen by Heather Ellrod: Think new world hoodies with leather arms and graphic, black and white patterns on proven (but not easy) silhouettes.

-Trina Pierre by Trina Kelly: "Her collection of jackets, dresses, tops and bottoms takes you through the day from a board meeting, out to dinner, and even to driving the kids and all of their friends to a soccer game afterwards. The secret is in the luxury performance fabrics she used, the look is elegant, but gives you the movement to take you thru anything that comes your way." -Vivian Miller-Rahl

-Wyatt Orr by Liise Wyatt & Karly Orr: Here's a good place to bring in the Bellevue Collection's Sarah Butler, who manages the Independent Designer Runway Show. Those chosen to cycle through this mentorship-centric program, "have caught the fashion community’s eye and proven they are really here do business in the industry," she told me. The Wyatt Orr designers, whom we've chronicled off and on over the past four years, are a good example of what I mean when I tell others that this process is all about helping talented folks who help themselves.

 

Image: Kyle Johnson
A look from Wyatt Orr's spring/summer 2013 collection.

So there you have it. From now until Bellevue Fashion Week, the panel and I and the designers will meet numerous times with different focus, with the ultimate goal of helping them all present really tightly edited, relevant, and exciting ten-look collections. At stake: that $5,000 cash prize, a month-long display at Bellevue Square, and a sustainable start to a really chic career.

Follow along here for updates along the way.