Four talented artists riding a wave of fashion inspiration in our region.
Home to brands like Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and TV shopping giant QVC, the Main Line area has deep roots in the fashion industry. Recently, those roots have sprouted anew. Meet four local designers who are reshaping trends and making a name for themselves- in our region and around the world.
With a career focused on business marketing, King of Prussia’s Addie Elabor was looking for a creative venture. “I didn’t really have a fashion background at the time,” she says.
But she knew what she liked—crop tops, shorts, skirts, blouses and dresses, all in trendy styles. Well aware that few U.S. brands were selling African-inspired apparel in modern silhouettes, she launched her debut collection in 2014, working with a local designer to translate her concepts into chic garments she describes as “very cultural and very niche.” Through D’IYANU—which loosely translates to “of or from something wonderful”—Elabor rolls out about eight distinct collections each year. It’s also no coincidence that Iyanu is her middle name. Like her clothes, her company’s name mixes Western and African cultures.
D’IYANU currently offers seasonal, resort, activewear and holiday lines. There’s also a collection for Black History Month, which features high-low, maxi and midi dresses, jumpsuits, pants, swimwear, and more—all in bold, colorful prints. The pieces are largely made using ankara, a wax-printed cotton fabric prominent in West Africa. The patterns pay homage to Elabor’s native Nigeria. She immigrated to Pennsylvania with her family at age 6.
D’IYANU’s showroom and warehouse is headquartered in Norristown. There, shoppers can peruse the latest collection and purchase items directly. Largely an online business, Elabor’s company attracts customers from all over the country, with a particular draw in Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles. She also has customers from France, Spain, Australia and the United Kingdom. Her brother, Dara Ajayi, has served as the company president since 2016. “We see it as a way to empower people to celebrate the culture and express themselves in a beautiful way,” says Elabor of the label’s distinctive patterns.
Elabor has since expanded into men’s and children’s clothing. “The men’s line really took off because, in our niche market, there aren’t many companies or brands that offer men’s clothing,” she says.
Earlier this year, Elabor and her team began designing face masks with the patterns used in their clothing, selling them on their website. They’ve also donated over 12,000 masks to organizations throughout the country, including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. D’IYANU also supports Water.org and Charity Water in their efforts to ease the potable water crisis that plagues millions of people around the world. “We want to be very much inclusive, celebrate the beauty of the culture and bring everyone together,” Elabor says.
“Fashion is really a part of our fiber,” says Bryn Mawr’s Maddalena Casale Palermo.
Inspired by a fashion-forward mother and an interest in drawing, Palermo was born and raised in Italy, the source of such iconic names as Donatella and Gianni Versace, Emilio Pucci, and Giorgio Armani. Now, she’s the creative force behind the lifestyle brand Madda.co and the Ambitious Elegance leather handbag line. “What really interested me most was not the product—it has always been the designing process,” she says.
Palermo kicked things up a notch when she moved to Milan, where she worked as a personal shopper. “I’m really not a trendy person,” she says. “But I started to become very sensitive to what the Italian style represents. I learned that I love classy, beautiful shapes.”
Palermo first came to the United States in the early 2000s, ultimately settling on the Main Line after meeting her husband, a Philadelphia native. The ideas for her own line started swirling in 2014, and she launched the following year.
For her accessory of choice, Palermo took on the challenge of creating bags that are both beautiful and practical. “Every time I leave my house, I have everything with me,” she says. “I’m like Mary Poppins.”
But only Mary Poppins has the luxury of a never-ending bag. “I always keep in mind the woman I’m designing for,” says Palermo, who focuses on shape, comfort and versatility. “The modern woman has a very cosmopolitan lifestyle—she travels for business or fun. But she also goes from the boardroom to the soccer field.”
Spending years traveling back and forth between here and Italy, Palermo is no stranger to the struggles women face at the airport. Her ingenuity led to a line of all-purpose year-round totes and clutches. The combo tote offers a clutch neatly tucked away so it can be worn multiple ways—even cross-body. Handmade in Italy and tooled mostly in leather, her line was a sellout, both online and in her Paoli showroom. “When you study handbags, you can pinpoint times in history where women have really developed their own position in society,” says Palermo. “They used to carry nothing—they didn’t go anywhere. Then, as they become stronger and empowered, you see how
David Ferron’s Kennett Square shop has become an unlikely mecca for women seeking out custom eveningwear creations and ready-to-wear looks. Inside, his robust debut line welcomes visitors. It’s inspired by the “idea of living out in the country but still having a sophisticated point of view,” says Ferron.
Designed to easily transition from day to night in both professional and social settings, “Collection One” is a mix of textured and sequined showstoppers and approachably elegant pieces in solid colors and bold symmetrical patterns inspired by a handkerchief that was once on display in his parent’s Maine cottage. Ferron has made a conscious decision to design for varying body shapes. Eveningwear has power-mesh lining to help smooth lines. One of his signature dresses can be worn several ways by simply tying the belt differently. A bomber jacket in his signature cottage print appeals to both genders. Select made-to-order pieces can be tailored to individual measurements and color preferences. “Material wise, I’m really conscious about how the pieces fit and how comfortable they are,” he says.
From his beginnings as a bespoke designer, Ferron has always addressed fit concerns. “[I create] pieces that can check all those boxes for women while also doing my own take on really versatile styles,” he says.
Ferron’s family nurtured his love for the arts growing up in Chadds Ford. His mom is an art teacher at Patton Middle School, and his father is a carpenter. He went on to pursue fashion design at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York, where he “started sewing for really the first time” and was named Designer of the Year as a senior.
After school, Ferron signed on with Tomas Maier, then creative director for luxury brand Bottega Veneta. “That’s where I really learned how to design a collection from start to finish,” he says, “from first color story and mood to merchandising the collection and creating pieces that were more lifestyle.”
After a season-long stretch as a senior designer at Nicole Miller, he lost his job. “That threw me into a tailspin,” Ferron admits.
During a trip home, Ferron discovered what would soon become his atelier in Kennett Square. “Within 48 hours, I’d approached the landlord, signed a lease for three years and wrote a business plan,” he recalls. “My goal is to have a store that really has meaning and substance. I think that’s how people are thinking about clothes now.”
Ferron recently introduced two curated vintage collections, along with wares from local creators, including candles, artwork and handbags. His second collection will launch this fall and be delivered come late winter for the upcoming season.
During the pandemic, Ferron made masks for Chester County Hospital and other frontline workers, which led to the Everywear Market brand. Using an antibacterial, waterproof neoprene, he launched masks for active lifestyles. “It’s extremely breathable,” he says.
And cute, too. “The more people want to wear masks because they’re beautiful, the better we can do at containing the virus,” says Ferron.
As a child, Alexis Kletjian would spend weekends perusing her family’s jewelry shop in Boston. She also spent a lot of time at an antique jewelry store near her school. There, the staff encouraged her interest, educating her along the way. “It’s where I really developed my love for jewelry and the stories attached to it,” says Kletjian, who now lives in Chadds Ford.
Though Kletjian would go on to pursue a fashion career, her passion for jewelry never went away. In 2011, desperate for a bangle to fit her tiny wrists, Kletjian forged her own in silver. That was all it took. She set about learning the art of jewelry and ultimately created her own line, working almost exclusively in gold and diamonds.
Among her earliest efforts was the Shield Yourself line, inspired by an armor exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Her talismans are designed to shield the wearer from negative energy and “create a protection around you and the ones you love.”
“I feel very attracted to armor—the decoration and just the over-the-top craftsmanship of the time,” says Keltjian. “I’m inspired by antique pieces that have survived and hold a lot of meaning.”
More recent collections include Lotus—like the flower, where each design is unique. For another, diamonds or gemstones are set at the center of a star design. Kletjian also has a zodiac collection, and she creates custom designs for her most passionate customers. “It’s a luxury for the soul,” she says. “I feel like women who purchase from me are drawn to do it.”
For three years, shoppers could peruse her gallery in Kennett Square, which she’s since closed. Though her jewelry is still available online, Kletjian is considering a mobile store by way of a recently purchased vintage motorhome. Her husband, Garrett—who works in the motorsports field—is restoring it to look like a jewel box. “We’re supposed to be here to live a life, to connect with each other, to love and take care of each other, and to leave something beautiful behind,” says Kletjian. “I just want to leave something beautiful behind.”