8 Philly Designers to Watch: Philly Mag Fashion Project

See who made the cut—and how to get a behind-the-scenes peek at their designs.


So gorg, right? | Photo by Victoria Stern.

The Philly Mag Fashion Project is back in full swing, and I couldn’t be more excited about the eight incredibly talented designers who are participating in this year’s competition. As a refresher, the Philly Mag Fashion Project (PMFP) is our annual fashion design contest in which we seek out the best and brightest local fashion talent. We choose the top eight designers and task them with designing one exclusive piece each for our major September fashion feature.

Last week was our official check-in with the designers. I evaluated their progress along with two of my industry pals, the immensely talented Dom Streater, who won this past season of Project Runway and who offered the designers construction tips, and Ann Gitter, the owner of Knit Wit, who doled out whip-smart advice on how to break into the industry, and actually make a living doing it.

 Below are the eight awesome designers vying for the final prize—which will, by the way, be decided by you in an online voting poll. (More on that later.) Want to get a sneak peek at their progress? Tune in to 6ABC this Saturday at 7:30pm for a behind-the-scenes look at what went down at our check-in meetings. FYI Philly was on hand to chat with some of the designers, so you’ve got a front-seat viewing of the coolest, most fashionable minds in Philly.


Diana Bader and Lindsay Leichner
Both graduated with Bachelor of Science degrees from Drexel University. They launched their clothing line, Black Wednesday, in 2011, and have designed, created and managed the production of more than 350 pieces. Their designs have been sold in local boutiques The Geisha House and Kiki Hughes, and their fall/winter 2013 collection was sold by online retailers Urban Outfitters, Dolls Kill, and Edge of Urge.

Their PMFP Design: “The various design elements of witchcraft—exemplified by the folklore surrounding Abigail Williams and her involvement in the Salem Witch Trials, as well as the Voodoo practices of the Louisiana Bayous—have always been a source of inspiration to us.”
Designer Inspiration: Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent, Ann Demeulemeester, Gareth Pugh.


Emily Carrello
Currently in her final year at Drexel University, Carrello will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Fashion Design Engineering this month. She was a curator’s assistant at Drexel’s Historic Costume Collection, where she researched and catalogued vintage and historic clothing and accessories, and hand-mended small imperfections on historic costume pieces, and also a dress design intern at Destination Maternity Corporation.

Her PMFP Design: “It will feature an original embellishment design based on the intricate patterns found in traditional Moroccan tile work.”
Designer Inspiration: Balmain, Nanette Lepore, Helmut Lang.


Melissa Choi and Pia Panaligan
The two met in college in 2003 and launched their clothing line, Senpai + Kohai, in 2012. Both graduated from Philadelphia University with Bachelors of Science in Fashion Design. Choi worked in India designing for Urban Outfitters Inc., while Panaligan worked as a freelance stylist for fashion brands including Anthropologie, Free People, Autumn Cashmere and Leifsdottir. Both are also graduates of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator program, and are currently working on their spring/summer 2014 collection for Senpai + Kohai.

Their PMFP Design: “We are inspired mostly by handcrafted textiles from around the world, our personal travels, art, vintage and antique design.
Designer Inspiration: Manish Arora, Suno, Isabel Marant.


Bianca De Pietro
A graduate of Philadelphia University with a Bachelor of Science in Fashion Design, De Pietro also studied fashion design at Accademia Italian in Italy and Central Saint Martins in London. She’s worked as a freelance designer for several companies, including Haldora, Nilah and Company, DIYANU, Michele Helene and Suomi Underground. She launched her line of high-end womenswear, Bianca Rachele, in 2010, and opened Fishtown’s Toile Atelier in 2013, a custom atelier featuring her own line and custom work as well as handmade products by local designers (including fellow PMFP designer Katharine Possage).

Her PMFP Design: “I aspire to find the perfect balance between theatrics and practicality. Wearable couture is what I strive for, sophisticated and smart design that is intricate, yet refined.”
Designer Inspiration: Galliano, Gaultier, McQueen.


Chexnu Gu
Originally from China, Chexnu is in her final year as a graduate student at Drexel University’s fashion design program. She’s worked in various fashion jobs including assistant designing in China, and interned at Zara in the US. Her dream is to have a studio in Philadelphia to create her own brand. Gu has an interest in fiber technology, and creates digital patterns with 3D effects.

Her PMFP design: “It’s inspired by the Salvador Dali Museum, and the spiraling helical staircase of solid concrete.”
Designer Inspiration: Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons.


Nicole Haddad
Haddad is a graduate of Skidmore College, and received her Masters of Science in Fashion Design from Drexel University. She is currently an adjunct professor of fashion design at Drexel, and the founder and creative director of Lobo Mau Designs, LLC, a clothing and accessories line she launched in 2008. Lobo Mau is currently sold in numerous stores throughout the country, including six local boutiques. Haddad has worked with prominent Philadelphia jewelry designer John Wind and fashion designer Frank Agostino, and plans to design in Philadelphia until she is “too old to pick up a pair of scissors.”

Her PMFP Design: “I am inspired by 1960s mod, and this piece is inspired by optical art of the 1960s.”
Designer Inspiration: Oswald Helgason, Prabal Gurung, Alexander Wang.


Katharine Possage
Possage earned a Bachelor of Science from Philadelphia University, where she majored in fashion design. She’s worked with top Philly fashion designers Paula Hian and Frank Agostino, where she currently works as a design assistant. She launched her line, Katharine Roman, in 2013, and her pieces are sold at Toile Atelier in Fishtown (owned by fellow PMFP designer Bianca De Pietro).

Her PMFP Design: “Most of my inspiration comes form the beauty of decaying nature. I look at how the decay of one season switches over into the beauty of the next.”
Designer Inspiration: Elie Saab, Proenza Schouler, Alice + Olivia.


Arielle Salkowitz
Salkowitz graduated from Philadelphia University with a Bachelor of Science. She’s held design internships at Destination Maternity and Urban Outfitters, and launched her womenswear line, Earl Salko, in 2011 with a collection of motorcycle-inspired denim goods. She is a co-owner of Nostalgia Vintage and Contemporary Boutique in Queen Village, where she sells her apparel, all of which is manufactured in Philadelphia.

Her PMFP Design: “All of my designs are vintage-inspired. My favorite time periods in fashion are the 1940s and 1950s.”
Designer Inspiration: Christian Dior (the New Look era), Adrian, Charles James.